Climate Predication Center 90-day outlooks from August 21, 2014 (sorry California)

August 21, 2014

Click on a thumbnail to view a gallery of 90-day predication from the Climate Predication Center. Click here to go the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center website.

Drought news #COdrought

August 21, 2014

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

The Far West
Seasonably dry conditions kept drought conditions unchanged in most of the region, but unusual rainfall did lead to 2 areas of improvement. Some daily record rainfall amounts were recorded in southwestern Oregon, improving the marginal D3 conditions to D2 in part of that area. Farther south, rainfall during the last few weeks has been many times normal in part of the deserts of southeastern California, and severe drought was improved to moderate drought in some of this area where precipitation totals are now above normal for at least the last 6 months. Unfortunately, rainfall in this arid region will have no impact on the water shortages and seriously low reservoir stores reported throughout the state…

The Rockies and Intermountain West
Heavy monsoonal rains were reported through parts of southern and western New Mexico, central and eastern Arizona, southern Utah, and part of eastern Nevada. Most of these areas received at least an inch of rain, with larger amounts (3 to at least 6 inches) soaking some of the higher elevations in Arizona from north of Phoenix to the central New Mexico border.

Intense rainfall led to serious flash flooding north of Phoenix, AZ, but most of this fell after Tuesday morning August 19, which would be outside the period under consideration for this week’s Drought Monitor. Nonetheless, improvements to D2 were introduced in part of central Arizona where the heavier rain fell, with other spotty improvements noted in southeastern and east-central Arizona, and across southern New Mexico. D0 conditions were removed from part of interior southeastern New Mexico where more than 10 inches of rain has fallen in the past few weeks.

It should be noted that in spite of abundant rainfall this monsoon season, reservoirs primarily fed by the Rio Grande River remain seriously low due to upstream dryness and the very long-term precipitation deficits.

Elsewhere, moderate rains of 0.5 to 2.0 inches fell on part of the northern Intermountain West and part of the northern Rockies, but drought conditions remained unchanged outside Arizona and New Mexico…

The Western Great Lakes and the Plains States
It was a typical summer week in this region as a whole, with a highly variable rainfall pattern observed. Over 3 inches of rain was reported from south-central Iowa and adjacent Missouri southeastward into southern Illinois, with 5 or more inches soaking parts of northern Missouri. To wit, the small area of D0 there was removed.

Over 2 inches of rain, with scattered reports of 3 to 5 inches, fell on east-central Wisconsin, parts of southeastern Minnesota and North Dakota, and a few spots in central and northeastern Texas. Most other locations received somewhere between a few tenths of and 2 inches of rain, but little or no rain fell on northern Illinois, eastern Iowa, a strip from southwestern South Dakota through northeastern Nebraska, much of southern Kansas, and numerous locations in the southern Plains outside central Oklahoma, central Texas, and a few other isolated spots.

The rains prompted some improvement in central Oklahoma, central and part of northeastern Texas, and some small areas farther north. However, short-term moisture deficits have increased enough to warrant the introduction of D0 in a swath from south-central Minnesota through eastern Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin, and northwestern Illinois. Less than half of normal precipitation has fallen since mid-July in most of these areas, and 8-week rainfall is 5 to 8 inches below normal in much of the region.

Growing short-term moisture deficits also prompted the expansion of D0 southward into broader regions of southern Missouri…

Looking Ahead
During August 20 – 25, 2014, A swath of moderate to heavy rain is forecast from the northern Intermountain West eastward through the northern half of the Plains, the Great Lakes Region, the central Appalachians, and the mid-Atlantic. Between 2 and 5 inches is anticipated across much of Montana, western and southeastern parts of the Dakotas, southwestern and northeastern Minnesota, the southern Great Lakes, the central Appalachians, and the mid-Atlantic from central Pennsylvania southward through Maryland and eastern Virginia west of the Chesapeake Bay.

Light to locally moderate rain is forecast for most other parts of the central and southern Rockies, the Southeast, and areas immediately adjacent to the primary precipitation swath.

Little or no precipitation is expected along the West Coast, in the lower half of the Mississippi Valley, and across the southeastern Plains. Mild temperatures are expected from the Rockies and northern Plains westward to the coast. Montana and western North Dakota are expecting daily high temperatures 6oF to 15oF below normal. Hot weather is anticipated from the Southeast and central Appalachians westward through the southeastern half of the Plains, with daily highs averaging 9oF or more above normal from the Tennessee and lower Ohio Valleys northwestward through Illinois.

For the ensuing 5 days (August 26 – 30, 2014), odds at least slightly favor above-normal rainfall for a large swath of the country from the Southwest and the Rockies eastward through the Northeast, the central Appalachians, the central and eastern Gulf Coast region, and the Southeast as far east as Georgia and Florida. Enhanced chances for below-normal precipitation are restricted to the Northwest and southern Texas.

Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference recap #COWaterPlan

August 21, 2014
Westin Snowmass Resort

Westin Snowmass Resort

From The Aspen Times (Jill Beathard):

Climate change is globally impacting natural resources, particularly water supplies, and that can’t go unchecked, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said Wednesday in Snowmass Village.

Managing water supply is clearly a critical issue in the West, but it is also an issue of national and international security, Udall said to a crowd gathered for the Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference at the Westin Snowmass Conference Center. Between now and 2040, the world’s water supply will not keep up with demand without better management, according to a recent assessment by the director of National Intelligence, Udall said.

“Water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and energy … hobbling economic growth here and around the world,” Udall said. “In turn, that will increase the risk of political instability, state failure and mounting regional tensions.”

Global water consumption has tripled in the past 50 years, and furthermore, the supply is diminishing due to climate change, he said.

“Our climate is changing, and the only thing constant and predictable on the subject is science, which shows we can’t ignore the problem,” Udall said. “Despite the mountains of proof, the volumes of scientific and peer-reviewed articles, some lawmakers and many talking heads still refuse to recognize that climate change even exists, much less that federal and state governments have a role to play alongside the private sector in solving it.”[...]

That stance is what sets him apart from his opponent in the upcoming Senate election, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, who also spoke to the Water Congress on Wednesday. Gardner doesn’t acknowledge that climate change is occurring, Udall said.

Without looking at the facts, legislators will not be working toward a solution that “maintains our special way of life” in Colorado, Udall said.

The Colorado River reaches 40 million people, and as the headwater state, Colorado has to fight to protect its interests from being overshadowed by those of downstream users, Udall said.

That is part of the role of Colorado’s representatives in Congress, by advocating to protect the state’s water rights as well as educating senators from parts of the country that are not faced with the same tight resources, Udall said.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Aspen Daily News:

Three members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation spoke on Wednesday in Snowmass Village at the annual summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress, which represents the interests of water providers and owners at the Colorado state house and in Washington, D.C.

Republican congressmen Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton spoke at lunch on the opening of the three-day water conference, while Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, spoke in an afternoon session. Also speaking in the afternoon was Abel Tapia, a Democrat from Pueblo who is challenging Tipton for his 3rd Congressional District seat.

Rep. Gardner, who is running against Udall for Senate, called for new water storage projects to be built in Colorado.

“I believe we have to focus on water storage, what we can do to move forward on common-sense, water-storage projects,” Gardner said. “If we were to build every water project on the books today and every one that’s under construction, we are still short of water into the future. And how are we going to meet the needs of industry and agriculture and our communities if we don’t store more water?”

Gardner called for simplifying the permitting process for water projects, including new dams and reservoirs, and said he wants to see federal, state and local partnerships formed to help pay for new projects.

And Gardner said he wanted to “stop and defeat” a new proposed rule from the EPA that would clarify the definition of “waters of the U.S.”

“Almost every molecule of water could come under the jurisdiction of that new rule the way it is currently written,” Gardner said.

The EPA, on its website about the proposed rule change, states that “the proposed rule does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Rep. Scott Tipton also denounced the EPA’s proposed rule change.

“That’s going to have a regulatory impact and cost to us and it’s effectively going to be a taking,” Tipton said, “because if the EPA can step in this room and start to tell the state of Colorado, start to tell the western United States, how our water is going to be handled, we’re going to be stripping our farm and ranch community of the ability to be able to grow our crops, our communities to be able to grow and to be able to prosper and to be able to create jobs and certainty for our children to be able to have a prosperous future.”

After he spoke, Tipton was asked a question by Pitkin County commissioner Rachel Richards, who sits on the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which is helping to shape the state’s forthcoming Colorado Water Plan.

“One of our big uncertainties is really water availability,” Richards said, noting that projections show that climate change could reduce water supplies in Colorado by 15 percent. “What is your position on climate change?”

“I always like to be able to say on climate change, I grew up in the shadow of some of the greatest climate change this nation’s ever seen — it’s called the Rocky Mountains,” Tipton answered lightly. “I guarantee you, the climate will change. And it will continue to do so. Unfortunately, we have some people that try and make this a political issue, for some reason.”

Sen. Udall had a different take on the subject.

“Our climate is changing, and the only thing constant or predictable on the subject is science that shows we can’t ignore the problem,” Udall said during his remarks to the crowd at the conference center in Snowmass.

“Rising temperatures and ongoing drought are only exacerbating the pressure on our river basins by contributing to insufficient rainfall and snowpack,” Udall said. “This has led to dwindling reservoir levels, leaving water managers in this room and across the state with difficult decisions on how to meet the water needs of cities, farmers and the environment.”

The Colorado Water Congress meeting runs through Friday noon in Snowmass.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

Just as the Colorado Water Congress kicked off its summer conference Wednesday, the political waters already were churning as the state’s U.S. Senate candidates traded jabs.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Republican opponent U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner spoke at the premier summer conference on water issues.

Udall issued a news release at the start of the conference, attacking Gardner for supporting a 2008 ballot initiative when Gardner was a state representative that would have diverted millions from water projects to fund transportation. Amendment 52 would have redirected some gas and oil severance-tax revenues from water to highway projects.

The initiative was seen as a competing measure to another ballot question at the time, Amendment 58, that would have eliminated a state tax credit to increase severance-tax collection for college scholarships, among other areas.

Both ballot questions were rejected by voters.

“Senators have a duty to represent and protect the well-being of all Coloradans,” said former U.S. Sen. and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a news release issued by the Udall campaign.

Opponents of Amendment 52 pointed out at the time that three out-of-state energy companies contributed to the initiative.

“It is deeply disturbing that Congressman Gardner sided with out-of-state interests over the water needs of Colorado communities,” Salazar said. “Almost two-thirds of Colorado’s voters from every part of the state rejected Gardner’s scheme. Coloradans deserve better than Congressman Gardner.”

In a phone interview with The Durango Herald on Wednesday, as Gardner was driving to the Water Congress engagement, the congressman said Udall’s campaign was “running out of steam.”

“There’s a saying that I have for Mark Udall,” Gardner said. “Once again, Sen. Udall is missing the mark.”

Gardner turned the debate back on Udall, pointing out that the incumbent supported Amendment 58, which was viewed as being anti-energy industry. Gardner also said that Udall has shown no leadership on transportation, including easing congestion along Interstate 70.

“It’s a shame that Sen. Udall can’t even talk about how we need additional dollars for transportation and the water infrastructure in the state, he would rather resort to partisan attacks,” said Gardner.

The congressman said he would speak to the Water Congress about “federal intrusion,” including a proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency that would clarify regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act to protect streams and wetlands. Some farmers fear that the rule would allow the EPA to regulate small bodies of water, even ponds or puddles on their land.

Gardner also said he would discuss increased water-storage opportunities.

“I am passionate about water issues in Colorado I have been a leader at the state Legislature and U.S. Congress to protect Colorado water and Colorado water rights from intrusion,” Gardner said.

For his part, Udall was expected to speak to the Water Congress about how water is “the liquid gold that makes our lives possible.”

“Managing the supply and availability of our water is one of the most critical natural-resource issues facing the United States and the world,” Udall was expected to say, according to prepared remarks emailed to the Herald.

“The bottom line is, when it comes to water, we are living beyond our means,” Udall added. “And that’s a dangerous way to live.”

Udall used the opportunity to also highlight climate change, suggesting that the science is conclusive and Republicans continue to ignore concrete evidence.

“Yet, despite the mountains of proof, the volumes of scientific and peer-reviewed articles, some lawmakers and many talking heads still refuse to recognize that climate change even exists … much less that the federal and state governments have a role to play – alongside the private sector – in solving it,” Udall said. “Like you, I have made it one of my top priorities to protect our water and invest in our water infrastructure.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Hundreds of people are helping to write and thousands more taking in interest in a state water plan, a legislative committee learned Wednesday.

“This really shows that we’ve gotten to the point where people are taking a real interest in the plan,” John Stulp, who advises Gov. John Hickenlooper on water issues, told the Legislature’s interim committee on water resources.

The committee was thrust in the middle of the state water debate by SB14-115 in the last legislative session. It is kicking off its own hearings tonight in Glenwood Springs and then will embark on seven more in each of the basins.

The Arkansas River basin hearing will be 9 a.m.-noon Aug. 29 at the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library.

More than 1,000 separate comments were received by basin roundtables at 120 outreach meetings in developing implementation plans that were submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board last month.

More than 160,000 unique hits have been recorded on the website for the plan (coloradowaterplan. com) with 2 million page views, he added.

By mid-September, those comments will be integrated into draft chapters for review by the CWCB.

The basins are in agreement on many issues, including the need to preserve agriculture, conserve water, protect recreation and preserve the environment.

The Arkansas River basin also has pushed ahead the need for watershed health to anticipate and counteract the ravages drought and wildfire have had in recent years.

Basins also agree that storage or other types of water projects should have multiple benefits, interstate compacts present challenges and more education of the public on water issues is needed, Stulp said.

“You’ve said the basins work together, but how do we resolve fundamental conflicts,” state Sen. Gail Schwartz, DSnowmass Village, asked Stulp.

“At this point, we recognize areas of agreement and will address conflicts as we move forward,” Stulp replied.

The Interbasin Compact Committee, established in 2005 along with the roundtables, is moving ahead on resolving conflicts, he added. Recently, it reached a “conceptual agreement” on transmountain diversions.

Diane Mitsch-Bush, DSteamboat Springs, said the amount of water for energy development has been a moving target for Western Colorado and also needs to be given priority in the state water plan.

The water needs for both oil shale and hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells are being accounted for in the ongoing Statewide Water Supply Initiative, due for revision in 2016.

The draft state water plan is scheduled to be presented to the governor in December.

“This is a historic document we’re working on, and many people have had a part in it,” Stulp said.

From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

The Water Congress is an advocacy organization that gets involved with state and federal water issues, like water rights. The group’s annual summer conference brings together water managers, politicians and others involved in the resource. This week features candidates for a range of offices.

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck was the first to speak. Regarding water, the republican says he’s developed a great pride for Northern Colorado.

“The pride is seeing people come together, work together and seeing people turn a desert into a very productive agricultural area. The frustration is seeing the government screw everything up.”[...]

Congressman Scott Tipton was up next. The republican touted his record including legislation signed into law last year that eliminates regulations on small-scale hydroelectric projects.

He spent much of his 10 minute talk criticizing regulations from the federal government. He highlighted the EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” rulemaking, saying it gives the agency too much power.

“If the EPA can step in this room and start to tell the state of Colorado and the western United States how our water’s going to be handled, we’re going to be stripping our farming and ranching community of the ability to grow our crops,” he said.

The only question came from Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards who asked Tipton about his position on climate change.

“I always like to be able to say with climate change, I grew up in the shadow of some of the greatest climate change this nation’s ever seen. It’s called the Rocky Mountains. I guarantee the climate will change, and it will continue to do so,” said Tipton.

Cory Gardner of Yuma began his talk by denigrating Congress, where he currently represents Colorado’s fourth congressional district.

“It’s always great to be at the Colorado Water Congress, a congress that has a much higher approval rating than other congress’ that we know of!”

Gardner is challenging Senator Mark Udall in a close and expensive race. He spent most of his time stumping – discussing not just water, but his so-called “Four Corner Plan,” that includes economic growth.

“What we are going to do to get this country’s economy growing again. Where does it start? I believe it starts with simple things like regulatory reform and getting government out of the way and letting America work,” he said.

Later in the day, democrat Abel Tapia stepped to the microphone. He is running against Congressman Tipton. The former engineer and Colorado state lottery director says he understands the challenges facing the Colorado River, which is over-utilized.

“I am committed to fighting to ensure that the Colorado and the Third Congressional District are protected, and get the water it deserves. I support a balanced water policy that takes into consideration the multiple users of our water – agriculture, municipalities and industrial.”

Calling water Colorado’s “liquid gold,” Senator Mark Udall was the last to speak. He pointed to the need for solving a projected water shortage on the Colorado River.

“Let’s have ongoing, tough and ongoing conversations within Colorado and between the Upper Colorado Commission and the lower basin states. If we don’t do that we risk losing site of our shared economic dependence.”

Climate change will exacerbate the problem of water shortages in Colorado and globally. He is concerned the majority of republicans in congress continue to deny climate science.

“Just last month, I tried to get a resolution passed that would put the senate on record acknowledging that climate change is a problem and poses a problem to the United States but enough members of the republican caucus objected and blocked it. But, Coloradoans know better,” said Udall.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Barr-Milton Watershed Association video: EPA Urban Waters Grant #SouthPlatte

August 21, 2014

Conservation Easements: Water Conservation in Northeast Colorado — High Plains Public Radio

August 21, 2014


From High Plains Public Radio (Dale Bolton):

When Denver physician and sportsman Kent Heyborne bought land in northeast Colorado, his intent was to leave it undeveloped as bird habitat.

But working with Ducks Unlimited along the South Platte River, he created a water-conservation project resulting in neighboring farms gaining additional irrigation credits. By putting the land under perpetual easement, he created a development-free zone spanning from one wildlife park to another, ensuring a corridor of waterfowl habitat several miles long. Plus, he earned state and federal tax credits along the way.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

Water Lines: New film on Grand Valley’s rivers #ColoradoRiver

August 21, 2014

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

Without the Colorado and Gunnison rivers, and the human determination to apply their waters to the land, there would be no human settlement as we know it in the Grand Valley. Instead of our towns, parks, farm fields and orchards, the landscape would resemble the desolate, empty territory along I-70 between the state line and Green River, Utah.

In order to cultivate appreciation and understanding of the ways we depend on our rivers, the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University contracted with local filmmaker Mara Ferris of Gen9 Productions to create a 30-minute documentary film.

The film tells the story of how the communities in the Grand Valley have depended on the Colorado and Gunnison rivers since the origins of these communities in the late 1800s, and how the communities’ relationship to the rivers has changed over time. It also addresses regional and climate factors that could pose challenges for current uses and the health of the river. The film is narrated by Steve Acquafresca and includes interviews with numerous local residents.

The Water Center is inviting the public to the first showing of this new film on Thursday, Aug. 28, at 6:30 p.m. in CMU’s University Center Ballroom. This free event will include a reception with a cash bar, displays by film sponsors, and a panel discussion. People who pre-register at may receive a free drink donated by the Palisade Brewing Company at the reception.

The panel discussion following the film will feature Mark Harris of Grand Valley Water Users Association; Bennett Boeschenstein of the Riverfront Commission, Grand Valley Audubon and Grand Junction City Council; Stacy Kolegas Beaugh of the Tamarisk Coalition; and Tom Kleinschnitz of Adventure Bound Outfitters.

Following the Aug. 28 event, the film will be made available for showings to schools and community groups around the region. It was made possible by financial contributions from the following sponsors: Chevron, the Colorado River District, the City of Grand Junction, the Western Colorado Community Foundation, Xcel Energy, the Grand Valley Water Users Association, Redlands Water and Power, the Grand Valley Irrigation Company, the Tamarisk Coalition, Colorado Riverfront Foundation, Grand Valley Audubon, Trout Unlimited’s Colorado River Project, and the John McConnell Math & Science Center of Western Colorado.

Full details on this event are available at or by calling 970-248-1968.

New Report Shows Overwhelming Latino Support for Conservation #COpolitics

August 21, 2014
Acequia cleaning prior to running the first water of the season

Acequia cleaning prior to running the first water of the season

From the Hispanic Access Foundation:

Today, Latino Decisions and Hispanic Access Foundation released a new research brief — analyzing nine major public opinion polls from the last three years — that finds Latinos overwhelming support greater environmental protections, such as preserving parks and public lands, so much so that conservation issues could influence voting decisions in the mid-term elections.

“This report provides definitive proof to what we’ve seen across the country – there is a significant, growing Latino movement that is advocating for greater environmental protections of our parks and public lands and is willing to support candidates that share that same value,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation. “The Latino population is the fastest growing segment in the country — their engagement in conservation is critical and could have a far-reaching impact.”

“Hispanic Voter Perspectives on Conservation and Environmental Issues” additional findings include:

  • When it comes to policy priorities, water and air pollution are especially important to the overwhelming majority of Latino voters.
  • Looking at Latino attitudes on a range of conservation matters, conservation is viewed as essential to a better quality of life.
  • There is ample evidence Latinos in the West and Southwest have strong ties to the region and regularly partake in outdoor activities, all of which serve to sharpen interest in conservation and clean air and water.
  • Latino voters believe individuals and governments have important roles in protecting natural resources and promoting healthy, clean communities.
  • Latinos prefer policies and candidates that actively promote a cleaner environment and preserving public lands. They are more likely to vote for candidates based on their environmental positions.
    “Clean air and water, preserving public lands, climate change and promoting clean energy solutions are all matters of concern for this rapidly growing electorate,” said Dr. Adrian Pantoja, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions and Professor of Political Studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. “Decision makers and advocates with national and regional constituencies will need to demonstrate their attention to these concerns and policy preferences as the Latino population and electorate continues to grow into the foreseeable future.”

    “We know that regardless of the issue, Latinos, like most Americans, will seek policy approaches that better the quality of life for them, their families, and their community” said Leo Murrieta, National Field Director of Mi Familia Vota. “From immigration reform to conservation, Latinos want candidates and elected officials who will best represent the issues they care about and will do so by promoting laws that will treat our community with dignity and respect. Ensuring that our families have access to clean air and water, cleaner environments, and preservation of outdoor recreational areas will continue to be important to Latino voters across the nation.”

    Since its founding in 2010, HAF has made building environmental awareness among Latinos, going outdoors and empowering advocates one of its top priorities. During the last four years, HAF has experienced a growing number of Latino youth and community leaders clamoring for opportunities to participate in efforts for clean water, balanced energy development on public lands in the west, conservation funding, and enhanced protections for parks and monuments.

    “When you recognize how many aspects of our lives are affected by the environment, it’s not surprising that Latinos are so passionate about conservation,” said Arce. “The outdoors provides a connection to their cultural heritage. Recreation, tourism and farming provide employment and financial security to many. Getting outdoors and experiencing nature benefits the physical and mental wellness of youth and adults. And unfortunately, Latinos are much more likely to suffer negative health issues due to environmental hazards,” said Arce.

    The full report can be downloaded at:

    Fires leave land unable to absorb water — The Pueblo Chieftain

    August 21, 2014
    West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo the Pike Hot Shots Wildfire Today

    West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo the Pike Hot Shots Wildfire Today

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    When fires raged through the eastern San Juan Mountains last summer, they left a threat to public safety even after the flames had gone out. Of the 88,000 acres burned on the Rio Grande National Forest last summer by the Papoose and West Fork fires, more than 21,000 acres of the burn scars were left with water-repellent soils. The condition, known as hydrophobicity, heightens the risk of flooding during summer and fall thunderstorms and, in part, prompted the formation of the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team.

    The watershed team received $2.5 million in state funding last year for recovery work and emergency response and has installed rain and stream gauges throughout the burn scars to better detect flooding.

    The team also deployed a temporary Doppler Radar to get a better picture of thunderstorms passing over the burn scar during the monsoon season. Last summer, the team placed a radar unit on Bristol Head Mountain, roughly six miles southwest of Creede. At the end of this month, the group will put a temporary unit at a new location on Lobo Overlook near Wolf Creek Pass.

    “It actually gives a little bit better coverage over the burn scar,” Tom Spezze, the watershed team’s director, said.

    The site is also more accessible than Bristol Head and will bring the radar unit closer to Internet and power utilities, he said.

    The need for the radar stems from the inability of permanent National Weather Service radar units in Grand Junction and Pueblo to give a complete look at storms coming through the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

    “There’s a black hole right there,” Spezze said.

    Pamela Stevenson, a meteorologist in the weather service’s Pueblo office, said that’s because the radar units are set at such an angle that their signals rise in elevation the further they travel. By the time a signal from Pueblo’s radar reaches the burn scars, it’s at roughly 24,000 feet, she said While stronger storms are often detectable at that elevation, she said the watershed team’s temporary unit will give a better look at storms below that elevation “Definitely having the radar close to the burn scar is going to help,” she said.

    Spezze said the need to closely monitor flood threats and inform locals of the dangers will likely last until vegetation can return to the sections of the burn scars with damaged soils. Spezze said that process can take anywhere from two to four years, according to discussions he’s had with officials monitoring the Hyde Park and Waldo Canyon burn scars near Fort Collins and Manitou Springs, respectively.

    So far, property owners below the Papoose and West Fork scars have avoided much trouble with flooding and debris flows. The most significant event came at the end of last month when rain washed out a U.S. Forest Service Road near Shaw Lake.

    Most of the significant rain since the fires have come from fast-moving storms, rather than slow-moving ones that pose a greater flood risk, Spezze said.

    “We’ve been lucky and dodged a bullet,” he said.

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

    Biodiversity: Will the rain crow sing again?

    August 21, 2014

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    Feds map critical habitat for yellow-billed cuckoo

    Yellow-billed cuckoos have nearly been extirpated from the western U.S. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

    Yellow-billed cuckoos have nearly been extirpated from the western U.S. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

    Will yellow-billed cuckoos make a comeback in Colorado?

    Will yellow-billed cuckoos make a comeback in Colorado?

    By Summit Voice

    FRISCO — The long endangered species odyssey of the yellow-billed cuckoo may be one step closer to resolution, as federal wildlife officials this week proposed designating more than half a million acres of critical habitat for the birds, sometimes known as rain crows for their habit of singing before a storm.

    The bird was once common along most rivers and streams in the West, but the decline of the species, eyed for protection since 1986, shows how much human activities have degraded riparian riverside habitat. Yellow-billed cuckoos are neotropical migrants that winter in South America and nest along rivers and streams in western North America.

    View original 551 more words

    BLM okays new Colorado River whitewater park #ColoradoRiver

    August 21, 2014

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    kayakPumphouse site to get new play feature for boaters

    Staff Report

    FRISCO — Along with the incredible natural terrain of the Colorado River through Gore Canyon, boaters will soon also have an artificial place to play. The Kremmling Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management this week announced approval of the proposed Gore Canyon whitewater park at the Pumphouse Recreation area, west of Kremmling in the Upper Colorado River Valley.

    View original 197 more words

    Will Front Range growth trump river health? — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    August 20, 2014

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

    Climate change might not be the end-all, be-all in the state’s water discussion, but Brad Udall knows it needs to at least be a part of it.

    “The proper way to deal with climate change is to get out of the scientific battles and deal with it as a risk,” said Udall, who is the director and principal investigator of the University of Colorado-National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Western Water Assessment.

    While Colorado isn’t dealing with what Udall says is the biggest climate change impact, sea level rise, it is dealing with impacts of the overall water cycle. The West faces an unprecedented 14-year drought, resulting in low water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, supply-demand gaps, power losses and threats to conservation.

    As the atmosphere warms, it also holds more moisture, resulting in water cycle changes. Udall said the effects are already appearing as more rain and less snow, earlier runoff, higher water temperatures and more intense rain.

    The higher water temperatures are something that water conservation folks throughout the Western Slope are concerned about. At a recent Colorado Basin Roundtable meeting, Holly Loff, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, introduced to the group a recent assessment of the Upper Colorado River. The study shows that elevated water temperatures are occurring in the Upper Colorado that are above the known thermal tolerance of trout.

    Loff said more transmountain diversions out of the basin to the Front Range would only further affect aquatic life, which goes beyond just fish and bugs.

    “It impacts everything that uses the riparian area, which is every creature,” Loff said. “Temperature, that is huge. When you take the water out [of the streams for diversions], the water that’s left heats up more. Water temperatures rise, and it completely changes the fish that want to be in that water. Our fishermen are going to see that.”

    Loff said she isn’t so quick to join in on the finger-pointing to the Front Range. The Front Range has cut back on wasteful bluegrass lawns, for example, and is doing a great job in terms of per-capita water use.

    “They’re actually doing much better than we are” in per-capita water use, she said. “We are all going to have to make some changes.”[...]

    [Martha Cochran] points out that agriculture efficiencies could help improve water supplies, but the use-it or lose-it concept hampers progress.

    Use-it or lose-it means that a water user who fails to divert the maximum amount of water that their right allows loses some of their rights the next time they go to court to transfer those rights.

    “Sprinkling systems for agriculture are more efficient and use less water, they’re easier to control, you can direct them better, they’re more specific about how and when,” Cochran said. “And that’s a good thing, but it’s not [a good thing] if it means you lose your water rights because you’re not using all the water you traditionally used.”[...]

    As the state crafts the Colorado Water Plan, one development holds out hope that East and West Slope entities can work together. Just last year, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was signed between Denver Water and Western Slope water providers and municipalities. The agreement is a long-term partnership that aims to achieve better environmental health in the Colorado River Basin, as well as high-quality recreational use.

    The agreement, which included 43 parties from Grand Junction to Denver, states that future water projects on the Colorado River will be accomplished through cooperation, not confrontation. It’s debatable whether that will happen, given the finger-pointing cropping up during the draft stages of the Colorado Water Plan process.

    James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and head of the development of the Colorado Water Plan, believes it can happen, but he admits it won’t be easy.

    “The idea is to take that paradigm shift that occurred with the Cooperative Agreement and exploit that and replicate and scale that up to the entire state,” he said. “Doing that is going to require some work.”

    But positions like Loff’s that are 100 percent against more transmountain diversion projects are widespread on this side of the Continental Divide, and it’s going to take more than some conversations and a few handshakes to find some middle ground.

    “The biggest thing for us, and the entire basin, is that we want to make it perfectly clear that having another transmountain diversion over to the Front Range is really going to damage our recreation-based economy,” she said. “And that it’s going to have more impacts on the environment and on agriculture. They need to understand that we’re not saying we don’t want to share the water, it’s just that there isn’t any more water to share. We have obligations through the compact [to downstream states with legal rights], so more water leaving our basin — that water doesn’t ever come back.”[...]

    So that will be part of the process in the coming months as each of the nine basins drafting implementation plans polish up their drafts before sending them off to the state. Two of the Front Range basins, Metro and South Platte, are combining theirs into one document, for a total of eight plans being rolled into the Colorado Water Plan.

    It’s like a community development plan that lays out a vision and direction, but it will require execution, said Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director for the Colorado River District.

    “Hopefully it will address how we can get down the path of efficiency and the land use discussion,” he said. “It’s a very painful discussion, but not as painful as the need to start digging a new transmountain diversion tomorrow.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    AWRA Colorado Section: Wastewater as a New Supply, webinar August 20

    August 20, 2014

    Drought news: Southeast Colorado sees some relief from the #COdrought

    August 20, 2014

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Once again, Southern Colorado has drawn the short end of the cloud. The latest state drought assessment shows that a wet, cool summer is alleviating drought conditions in much of Colorado, but the southern third of the state is still in some sort of drought condition. Parts of Crowley, Otero, Bent and Kiowa counties remain in the worst shape with extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, an assessment compiled by the nation’s top scientists. For other parts of the region, it is the first time in more than two years that no areas of exceptional drought — the highest stage — have been reported.

    “The drought is well into its fourth year, but recent rains have brought relief,” according to a report co-authored by Taryn Finnessey of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Tracy Kosloff of the Division of Water Resources. “It will likely take years for rangelands and producers to recover.”

    In all, about 40 percent of the state remains in some sort of drought condition, which is much better than a year ago, when nearly all of the state was affected.

    The good news is that much of the state is bouncing back to normal following rains that have been sufficient to douse fire danger while not causing the widespread flooding seen in 2013.

    That’s not to say it’s been nothing but peaceful, gentle sprinkles. In the town of Eads, located north of Lamar, 7 inches of rain fell in just a few hours ending the dust in torrents of mud.

    Statewide, Snotel weather stations are showing precipitation is 103 percent of average, while reservoir storage is at 97 percent of average. Storage and streamflow conditions remain worst in the Rio Grande basin.

    July rainfall was plentiful along the Front Range, with many areas — El Paso, Huerfano and western Otero counties among them — receiving two-three times average amounts.

    Temperatures during the first two weeks of August have been 3-4 degrees cooler than normal, helping to alleviate drought conditions, the report noted.

    Meanwhile many eyes are watching the development of El Niño. Here’s a report from 9News (Maya Rodriguez):

    Earlier this year, scientists predicted “El Nino” would be strong this year. That didn’t happen right away, but it’s picking up steam again…

    For a state that’s grappled this year with heavy snow in the mountains and a severe drought in the plains, it sometimes seemed like Colorado’s weather had a split personality. With an El Nino now predicted to strengthen in the Pacific, Colorado’s winter could look different, depending on your elevation.

    “When I think of El Nino, it’s giving us a little bit to hang our hats on in the very challenging world of trying to make seasonal climate predictions,” said Nolan Doesken, state climatologist for Colorado and part of the Colorado Climate Center at CSU.

    Doesken said El Ninos don’t create a certainty for what the weather might bring in the future, but historically, they do show patterns.

    “El Nino tips the odds a little bit towards certain factors dominating more often than ‘usual,'” he said.

    One example: snowfall…

    “The stronger the El Nino, the more likely we are to have some big fall and winter storms at lower elevations,” Doesken said.

    Yet, the opposite can be true in the northern and central mountains, where a strong El Nino historically means less snow there…

    “Winter recreationists and springtime whitewater rafters all love to watch accumulation of snow in mid-winter, but El Nino does not necessarily bode well for winter accumulations,” Doesken said, speaking about areas in the northern and central mountains.

    Climatologists say there are many factors that could determine how much snow we see this winter. Still, El Nino is something they keep an eye on.

    From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

    If “drought” is the villain, is “El Niño” – the climate pattern that brings our winter snows – the hero?

    And if the answer is “yes,” has our hero abandoned us? What had been looking over the late spring and early summer like it could be gangbuster of an El Niño looks like it’s fizzling, slashing the odds of a wet winter to bail us out of this drought.

    But maybe things aren’t as bad as all that. After a couple of recent trips up and down the Rio Grande this month, it was easy to shrug and ask, what drought?

    Driving down I-25 the first weekend in August, I crossed the Rio Salado in northern Socorro County in its full flash-flood mode. Jumping off the freeway at the next exit, I drove out to see the Rio Grande roaring through the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s San Acacia Diversion Dam. It was big and muddy and roiling with that unmistakable smell of a desert flash flood and, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey’s gauge just downstream of the dam, the most water at San Acacia in nearly a year.

    Then last week, I drove through rain and saw many of the usually dry little arroyos between here and Las Cruces flashing with muddy thunderstorm remnants. The landscape the whole way was a lovely shade of green.

    But when I pulled off in Truth or Consequences, and headed through town and up to Elephant Butte Dam, I looked down into a great big empty. Fifteen years of mostly lousy snowpacks in the upstream watersheds that feed the Rio Grande, combined with continued downstream water needs, have left Elephant Butte Reservoir in a hole that will take far more than a couple of wet months to dig out of.

    The following day, I got off the freeway and drove the old road toward Las Cruces past irrigation ditches already dry and a bunch of farm fields left fallow because of the irrigation shortfalls. It was a reminder that drought is not one thing and fixing our water shortfalls takes more than a month or two of good rain.

    @rfconservancy: Colorado Water Plan Hearing – Thursday Aug. 21,5:00 pm in the Glenwood Springs Library #COWaterPlan

    August 19, 2014

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    CWCB: August 2014 Drought Update #COdrought

    August 19, 2014
    Colorado Drought Monitor August 12, 2014

    Colorado Drought Monitor August 12, 2014

    Click here to read the current update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Here’s an excerpt:

    Mild temperatures and above average precipitation across much of the state has brought continued drought relief to the eastern plains. The four corners region is experiencing less precipitation and deteriorating conditions. Monsoon rains could potentially help alleviate the drying. Water providers indicated that storage levels remain strong, with many reservoirs near or at capacity and demands slightly below normal.

  • Currently, 40% of the state is in some level of drought classification according to the US drought monitor. 13% is characterized as “abnormally dry” or D0, while an additional 11% is experiencing D1, moderate drought conditions. 13% is classified as severe, 3% as extreme and for the first time in 110 weeks none of the state is in exceptional drought (D4).
  • Year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites is 103% of average, this is in part due to strong July precipitation of 122% of average. August to-date is already 90% of average.
  • Eads, which has been in drought for nearly 4 years, received seven inches of rain in just a few hours and for the first time in 110 weeks the southeastern portion of the state is out of exceptional drought conditions, although extreme and severe conditions persist.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 97% of average at the end of July 2014, 26% ahead of where we were for storage this time last year. The lowest reservoir storage statewide is in the Upper Rio Grande, with 62% of average storage. The South Platte has the highest storage level at 125% of average.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for the state is near normal across much of the state, with an “abundant” index in a few northern basins of the South Platte, Yampa/White, and Colorado. The lowest values in the state are in the Southwest and reflect very low reservoir and streamflow levels. This area of the state has not received the same moisture as the rest of the state.
  • The chance of El Niño has decreased to about 65% during the Northern Hemisphere fall and early winter, but it is still expected that El Niño will emerge in the next several months and persist through Northern Hemisphere winter; a weak event is most likely.

  • “We don’t want to demonize the Front Range” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    August 19, 2014

    From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

    The soothing sound of the Colorado River as it meanders its way across Colorado’s Western Slope is the sound of a thriving economy, a fragile environment and also an impending crisis.

    The state of water supplies in the arid West is volatile and forecasts are grim. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at alarmingly low levels, while populations across the West are swelling past the capacities of current water supplies.

    The Colorado River Basin is facing a battle of sorts as Colorado creates a statewide water plan. It’s a battle against time and against competing water needs, both here in Colorado and in lower basin states like Nevada and California.

    Regionally, some view it as an Eastern Slope vs. Western Slope battle, although water officials are carefully shaping the public relations message as one of unity and collaboration. There’s a very real fear that exists west of the Continental Divide, though, that Colorado’s growing Front Range population is going to suck the Colorado River Basin dry. Some even say that has already happened…

    “Population is still growing and there’s a need to find more water for municipal uses,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “We don’t want to demonize the Front Range.”[...]

    …the state’s water planning has really been going on for over a decade, said Brad Udall, a research faculty member at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and Environment and former director of the Western Water Assessment.

    Udall has written extensively about climate change issues as they relate to water resources but his passion for Western water began outside of books and classrooms. His mother took him down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the early 1970s, paving the way for Udall’s future in guiding Grand Canyon river trips. After getting into environmental engineering at Stanford University and developing a passion for water issues, he also began working on climate change issues. That’s when he realized that climate change means water change. They’re one in the same, he said…

    …none of the states want to go back and draft new laws based on the realistic flows, except for maybe California, [Glenn Porzak] said.

    “If you go back and say, ‘We made a mistake when we negotiated, we thought there was 17 million acre feet.’ If you renegotiate, (Colorado’s) going to lose,” he said. “All water is political.”[...]

    The major concern at Lake Powell is that it’s getting down to such a level that it will no longer be able to generate power, said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney based in Boulder who represents water entities and municipalities in both Summit and Eagle counties, as well as Vail Resorts.

    “The cost of power is going to quadruple,” Porzak said of Lake Powell, should it drop below power generating levels. “Almost all of the Western Slope’s power comes from the power grid that’s generated off Colorado River storage projects. That hits the ski industry and every other industry if the cost of power goes up four times.”

    It also hits the average citizen, who has been enjoying relatively cheap water at home, Udall said.

    “You hear we’re running out of water and we gotta get more, but we’re running out of cheap water,” he said. “Water that people are putting on lawns, that shouldn’t just be free, it should come with significant costs. … One of the lessons here is that water is going to get more expensive in the municipal sector, and a little bit more in the (agriculture) sector.”

    When prices are low, people over-use water, but when they’re high, conservation becomes a lot easier and more attractive. And conservation is a big theme in the first draft of the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, which came out last month and will undergo several more revisions before it’s sent to the state later this year for incorporation into the state water plan.

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

    Nathan Fey’s passion for kayaking led him to a career in river conservation and water quality issues. As the Colorado stewardship director for the nonprofit American Whitewater, he’s watching carefully as the state progresses through its water planning process.

    The state must address some major conflicts as it creates the Colorado Water Plan, he said.

    “Sure, our population is focused on the Front Range, but the reason we all live here is because recreation is a way of life for us,” Fey said. “I think there’s a big disconnect for people in our urban areas about where their water comes from. They don’t understand that if they grow green grass, there’s less water in the river when they’re fishing.”[...]

    Recreation along the Colorado River and its tributaries is a $9.6 billion industry, and that’s just within the state of Colorado. According to a 2012 study for Protect The Flows, done by the consulting firm Southwick Associates, which specializes in recreation economics, the Colorado River would rank as the 19th-largest employer on the 2011 Fortune 500 list based on the jobs it generates.

    “People moved here for the environment — it underpins the economy,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and the communications and education director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Water in the streams is an economic driver in and of itself.”

    The recreation-based economies in mountain resort towns depend on healthy streams for more than just the water-based activities. Indirectly, hikers, campers and mountain bikers, to name a few, also depend on healthy streams.

    “That’s the value we’re hoping Colorado embraces, so the desire to push for another transmountain diversion is deferred for a long time, if not forever, in favor of using the water we already have to its highest and most efficient use,” Pokrandt said…

    Pokrandt likens the process to economizing, just like any business would do during tough times. You look at internal expenses, in this case water uses, and you cut back…

    With the Colorado Water Plan’s deadline more than a year away, the Colorado Basin Roundtable is polishing its plan to make sure it gets the point across that more transmountain diversions would be detrimental to tourism economies, the environment and agriculture…

    In the mountains, many of the major water providers such as the town of Breckenridge, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, have senior, or pre-compact, water rights. The same goes for the Grand Valley and Grand Junction areas, said water attorney Glenn Porzak, who represents those entities as well as Vail Resorts and other local municipalities.

    “The water rights really affected the most (under a compact curtailment) are all of the transmountain diversions,” Porzak said. “Fifty percent of Denver’s supply comes from the Dillon and Moffat systems and are post-compact. All of the Northern Colorado Conservancy District comes from the Thompson project, also junior. All of Colorado Springs and Aurora diversions are junior to the compact.”

    When 75 percent of the Front Range supply comes from junior diversions, Porzak said it’s clear what municipalities will do: They’ll buy up more senior agriculture rights for the Western Slope.

    More Front Range municipalities buying Western Slope agriculture water rights depletes rivers. When the water is diverted over the Continental Divide, it never returns to the basin. That affects flows, which affect water quality, stream health and the economic powerhouse that is recreation-based tourism…

    The ski industry is the pulse of Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties during winter months. Water is the source of winter-based recreation, but the fact that it doesn’t always fall from the sky at the right times or in the right quantities means water must be taken from elsewhere.

    Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts have bought and maintained important water rights since the beginning of each company’s existence…

    Predictability like a start date for the season — something the company typically announces during the previous ski season — is crucial to lock in season pass sales. Without important water rights and water supplies, Hensler said opening for Thanksgiving might be impossible, and Christmas would even be a challenge…

    Hensler points out that snowmaking is only about 20 percent consumptive.

    “About 80 percent of the water we put on the mountain as snow melts and flows back into the streams — it’s a very sustainable use,” Hensler said.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    NOAA: Global Analysis – July 2014

    August 18, 2014


    Click here to go to the National Climactic Climate Center website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Global Highlights

  • The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for July 2014 was the fourth highest on record for July, at 0.64°C (1.15°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.4°F).
  • The global land surface temperature was 0.74°C (1.33°F) above the 20th century average of 14.3°C (57.8°F), marking the 10th warmest July on record.
  • For the ocean, the July global sea surface temperature was 0.59°C (1.06°F) above the 20th century average of 16.4°C (61.5°F), tying with 2009 as the warmest July on record.
  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–July period (year-to-date) was 0.66°C (1.19°F) above the 20th century average of 13.8°C (56.9°F), tying with 2002 as the third warmest such period on record.

  • Water in the West: Conservation measures take center stage — Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    August 18, 2014

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Laura Glendenning):

    Gary Bumgarner doesn’t like to hear statistics that say irrigated agriculture makes up 85 percent of Colorado’s consumptive water use. It’s misleading, he says, and as a fourth-generation Grand County rancher with senior and junior water rights, he knows a thing or two about water.

    Agriculture uses the same water more than once, he says, referring to return flows and downstream water uses. Transmountain diversions use water up and never return it. It’s known as consumptive use in the water world, meaning the use permanently removes the water from its natural stream system. Bumgarner and plenty of other ranchers and farmers argue that the agriculture industry’s share of the total consumptive use in Colorado is much less than 85 percent.

    More than half the water in Grand County heads east to the Front Range through transmountain diversions, which has Bumgarner concerned about the current statewide water planning process, sure, but he’s more concerned about what has already happened to water in the Colorado River Basin.

    Bumgarner, who is also a Grand County commissioner, remembers when his mother used to have to cross high water in a rowboat on her way up to Kremmling, he said.

    “In my teens and 20s, there was so much water,” he said. “Now, it’s a pretty stark contrast.”

    When a river is over-developed — meaning too much water is taken from it — danger lurks. The effects range from water quality issues to riparian habitat depletions to economic and recreational devastation.

    The agriculture industry in Colorado has a bull’s-eye on it as the state creates its Water Plan. Municipalities want to buy up senior agriculture water rights to secure supplies that can meet the demands of population growth — it’s known as “buy and dry” — and being that the agriculture industry uses more water than any other, it has found itself at the center of the discussion.

    At a recent Colorado River Basin Roundtable meeting, Bumgarner and others brought up the consumptive use point time and time again. The agriculture representatives at the roundtable want to be sure there’s more clarification in the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan before it’s sent off to the state.

    Six themes have emerged from the first draft of the basin’s plan, one of which is to “sustain agriculture.”

    That’s the million dollar question. Senior agriculture water rights are private property rights, meaning the owners can do whatever they want with their property — including buy, sell and transfer their water rights. If a Front Range municipality wants to come in a buy the rights, and the farmer or rancher wants to sell, there’s not much anyone can do to stop it.

    “If you’re making money, it’s sustainable. If you’re not making money, it’s not sustainable,” Bumgarner said. “Do I want my neighbor to sell out? No. Do I want the ability to sell out? Yes.”

    Bumgarner said the agriculture industry has to be nimble in order to sustain itself. His family has changed its operations around three times from a dairy farm to a sheep operation to its present day business of cattle and calves.

    “(Agriculture) has to learn to adapt,” he said. “Just because I do it, doesn’t mean my kids or grandkids should be doing it. It’s no different than any job. What you’re doing today doesn’t mean you should be doing it in 120 years.”

    Reducing the stress on the basin

    The Colorado Basin Implementation Plan does include projects and policies that “provide incentives and protections necessary to support agriculture.”

    It also calls for improved water laws that would allow the agriculture community the flexibility to implement efficient irrigation without the loss of water rights.

    “An additional (transmountain diversion) that supports more bluegrass lawns on the Front Range while decreasing Colorado Basin irrigated agricultural lands and associated food supply is poor planning and not sustainable,” the draft reads.

    But the level of conservation that irrigation efficiencies could create is debatable. Much of the water lost through irrigation inefficiencies returns to the river or groundwater system for use by downstream water diverters, according to a 2008 Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance study, “Meeting Colorado’s Future Water Supply Needs.”

    “Increased agricultural water conservation could potentially result in a voluntary reduction in the diversion of water to the farm, creating benefits such as improved water quality, allowing more water to remain in the streams, reduced waterlogging of soils, and reducing energy costs for pumping, but may not result in water that can be legally transferred to other uses,” according to the study. “If the use of water conservation measures can improve water supply availability without causing injury to downstream users or the environment, then the result may be improved water supplies for agriculture and other uses.”

    Irrigation for agriculture isn’t the only water use under conservation scrutiny. Homeowners with non-native landscaping such as Kentucky bluegrass lawns could also start to face regulations and consequences, or at the very least some dirty looks from the neighbors.

    Talk to Western Slope water officials and conservationists, and you’ll hear a lot of criticism over bluegrass lawns along the Front Range, as well as in the High Country — and especially in resort towns where $20 million homes spare no expense for opulence.

    Martha Cochran, executive director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, thinks Coloradoans have to start thinking differently about water resources and personal responsibility. She thinks a new standard could emerge for home landscaping that shuns those with bluegrass lawns, but that day will never come if citizens don’t become more educated about water resources. It also might not happen without government regulation.

    “I think we can do huge amounts to reduce what’s creating the stress on the basin,” she said. “There was a time when (bluegrass lawns and swimming pools) were kind of a symbol of prosperity. I think that some day it’s going to be looked upon as just tacky.”

    Municipalities are teaching and encouraging xeriscaping, a practice in which native plants and grasses, mulch and other low-water landscaping replaces landscaping that wastes water such as bluegrass.

    An informed citizenry is the best protection for Western Slope water, said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    “If you turn on your faucet and water didn’t come out, you’d be interested real fast,” he said.

    Values differ across the state

    With more than a decade of persistent drought conditions, there’s a focus on conservation. The U.S. Department of the Interior and municipal water suppliers in Arizona, Colorado, California and Nevada signed a landmark water conservation agreement last month called the Colorado River System Conservation Program. The suppliers — which include Denver Water in Colorado ­— are contributing $11 million to fund pilot conservation projects on the Colorado River.

    And municipalities across the Western Slope like Aspen, Winter Park and Snowmass are looking at both conservation efforts and also land use codes that limit growth based on water supplies.

    The City of Aspen has also incorporated a Center for Resource Conservation Slow the Flow Sprinkler Inspection program for the past two years, and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District offers a similar program through certified irrigation professionals.

    These are all steps applauded by conservation groups like Western Resource Advocates. Water Program Director Bart Miller said if Colorado and the Colorado River Basin as a whole can do the right amount of urban conservation, water recycling, irrigation and energy efficiencies, the vast majority of future water needs should be met.

    “I think the state Water Plan provides a really unique opportunity, the first ever opportunity for the state to embed, articulate and follow through on the broad range of values that folks across the state have,” he said.

    While great opportunities exist, it’s also a safe bet to assume the state water plan won’t please all stakeholders — there will likely be some grumbling from each of the basins, but the hope is the plan can strike the right balance so it’s not about Eastern Slope versus Western Slope, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state water plan’s development director.

    “Doing that is going to require some work,” he said. “(Colorado’s Water Plan) won’t read exactly the way every stakeholder wants it to.”

    Western Slope stakeholders like Bumgarner fear the worst for the Western Slope: More transmountain diversions.

    “I don’t think there’s any doubt that they’re going to come get more water, and (agriculture) will be the loser — and the tourism industry,” he said. “You’re not going rafting on rocks if there’s no water. I’m very much anti-government getting into things, but at some point the state has to figure out how many people the state can contain. We’re not going to get more water, and we’re going to double the population, so they have to take it from existing users.”

    Part three in this series will explore the relationships between water and Western Slope economies. It will appear in Tuesday’s PI.

    Read Part one at

    More conservation coverage here.

    Upcoming Water Center at Colorado Mesa University events

    August 18, 2014

    Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 5.47.35 AM
    Click here for all the inside skinny on the events.

    Study blames humans for most of melting glaciers — The Pueblo Chieftain

    August 17, 2014

    From the Associated Press (Seth Borenstein) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    More than two-thirds of the recent rapid melting of the world’s glaciers can be blamed on humans, a new study finds. Scientists looking at glacier melt since 1851 didn’t see a human fingerprint until about the middle of the 20th century. Even then only one-quarter of the warming wasn’t from natural causes. But since 1991, about 69 percent of the rapidly increasing melt was man-made, said Ben Marzeion, a climate scientist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

    “Glaciers are really shrinking rapidly now,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say most of it is man-made.”

    Scientists fault global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas as well as changes in land use near glaciers and soot pollution. Glaciers in Alaska and the Alps in general have more human-caused melting than the global average, Marzeion said.

    The study is published Thursday in the journal Science.

    The research is the first to calculate just how much of the glacial melting can be attributed to people and “the jump from about a quarter to roughly 70 percent of total glacier mass loss is significant and concerning,” said University of Alaska Fairbanks geophysicist Regine Hock, who wasn’t part of the study.

    Over the last two decades, about 295 billion tons (269 billion metric tons) of ice is melting each year on average due to human causes and about 130 billion tons (121 million metric tons) a year are melting because of natural causes, Marzeion calculated. Glaciers alone add to about four-tenths of an inch of sea level rise every decade, along with even bigger increases from melting ice sheets — which are different than glaciers — and the expansion of water with warmer temperatures.

    Marzeion and colleagues ran multiple computer simulations to see how much melting there would be from all causes and then did it again to see how much melting there would be if only natural causes were included. The difference is what was caused by humans.

    Scientists aren’t quite certain what natural causes started glaciers shrinking after the end of the Little Ice Age in the middle of the 19th century, but do know what are human-causes: climate change, soot, and local changes in land use.

    There is a sizable margin of error so the 69 percent human caused can be as low as 45 percent or as high as 93 percent, but likely in the middle.

    “This study makes perfect sense,” said Pennsylvania State University glacier expert Richard Alley, who wasn’t part of the research. “The authors have quantified what I believe most scientists would have expected.”

    Not all of the human-caused melting is from global warming from the burning of fossil fuels, but climate change is the biggest factor, said Ted Scambos, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

    The study showed that it took time for global warming and other factors to build up and cause melting. That lag effect means the world is already locked into more rapid melting from the warming that has already occurred, Marzeion and Alley said.

    Report: Hot times ahead for Colorado

    August 16, 2014

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    More heatwaves, wildfires and water shortages in the outlook


    Colorado will warm dramatically in the next few decades.

    Staff Report

    FRISCO — By the middle of this century, Denver’s average temperature could be 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than today — on par with Albuquerque, according to a new climate report released by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in early August.

    Even with deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, Colorado will continue to get warmer. An increase of at least 2 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century is all but certain, and that will have a big impact on the state’s water supplies, state officials said, reinforcing the results of a series of studies all showing that rising  temperatures will reduce the amount of water in many of Colorado’s streams and rivers, melt mountain snowpack earlier in the spring, and increase the water needed by thirsty crops and cities.

    View original 407 more words

    Mesmerizing monsoon cloud video by @todd_shoemake @NWSAlbuquerque — @jfleck

    August 16, 2014

    Loveland receives $1.66 million check from FEMA for #COflood damage

    August 15, 2014

    New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call

    New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Craig Young):

    The city received its first FEMA reimbursements for flood losses this week — four checks totaling $1.66 million.

    The checks came through the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, the state agency that is funneling Federal Emergency Management Agency payments to local governments.

    Loveland suffered almost $24 million in infrastructure losses during the Sept. 12-13 flooding, and city finance director Brent Worthington said he expects FEMA to cover about $9 million of that.

    Normally, FEMA pays 75 percent of eligible expenses, and local governments cover the rest. Last fall, Gov. John Hickenlooper pledged that the state would split that 25 percent remainder with city and county governments.

    Worthington said the state’s share will be about $1.5 million, but Colorado won’t pay until each project is completed and the state does a complete review of the work.

    “They’re doing advances of 50 percent of the FEMA share,” Worthington said. “They will hold back the remainder.”

    The first checks from FEMA went to cover mostly water and sewer line repairs and replacements — $792,458 for emergency protective measures to save a 48-inch waterline in the first days of the flood, and $777,865 for water and sewer line repairs including replacement of the city’s “Meadow Pipeline,” according to a press release.

    Colorado’s Water Plan — KRCC #COWaterPlan

    August 15, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Click through to listen to the radio show. From KRCC (Sam Fuqua):

    “Civilization in this part of the world,” Preston says, “is really based on capturing the runoff that comes out of the snowpack, storing it, and being able to deliver it when it’s needed. Without that, this reverts to desert.”

    Preston also coordinates the Southwest Basin Roundtable, a regular gathering of agricultural, municipal, environmental, and recreational water users…

    In the Southwest Basin, Preston says some of the roundtable’s conversations have centered around balancing agriculture and the environment.

    “A lot of the challenge—and I think the roundtable’s done a very good job of it, because everybody gets along and tries to understand each other’s perspectives,” Preston says, “is how you reconcile or integrate the need for agricultural deliveries with the environmental values and keeping kind of adequate water in the streams.”

    Trying to support healthy ecosystems and a healthy farm and ranching economy with limited water is a big challenge, but add to that the state’s projected population growth of 5.5 million now to over 10 million by 2050.

    Then, says James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, there’s drought.

    “We’ve had it over our history,” says Eklund. “What makes it unique now, or different now, is that we are seeing patterns of extreme drought in more sustained periods than we’ve ever seen them in our history. The Colorado River basin has been in a 14-year period of drought that has not been equaled in human recorded history.”[...]

    There’s broad agreement that one of the biggest issues for the Colorado Water Plan—both now and in the foreseeable future—is the question of transbasin diversions. That’s the technical term behind moving water from the Western Slope to growing cities on the Front Range. It’s always been a sensitive topic, and the Delores Water Conservancy District’s Mike Preston says his basin roundtable favors tougher limits on household water use, especially on lawns.

    “People aren’t really interested in bringing the Colorado River across the Continental Divide and diminishing agricultural potential in order to grow bluegrass in front of suburban households.”

    Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund says he’s seeing more cooperation from Front Range cities looking for more West Slope water.

    “They’re saying that kind of for the first time,” Eklund says. “Saying, ‘We understand that even though we have a legal right to go take that water because we secured those rights a long time ago, we’re not just going to go do it because it’s something that we can do and we’ll see you in water court.’”

    Eklund says the state water plan will not supersede prior appropriation– Colorado’s seniority-based system of water laws. But, he says, prior appropriation may need to bend to reflect the changing times, just as it’s done for over a century.

    “Prior appropriation has had to either adjust or flex in each one of those times,” Eklund says, referencing the growth of cities and the agriculture economy across the state, as well as environmental needs, and even the connection between surface and ground water.

    From Steamboat Today (Ren Martyn/Marsha Daughenbaugh):

    The Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Roundtable gave preliminary approval to the first draft of their Basin Implementation Plan on July 23. The plan now will be submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will consolidate plans from the nine Colorado water basins and develop a State Water Plan to be delivered to the governor by December 2015.

    The BIP addresses our basins’ responsibilities to balance current and future needs of our water resources. Development of this document has been a labor of love and concern by countless volunteers and a culmination of years of professional studies commissioned by the roundtable.

    Our roundtable identified eight primary basin goals for Northwest Colorado:

    • Protect existing decreed and anticipated future water uses in the Yampa-White-Green basins.

    • Protect and encourage agricultural uses of water in the basins within the context of private property rights.

    • Improve agricultural water supplies to increase irrigation land and reduce shortages.

    • Identify and address municipal and industrial water shortages.

    • Quantify and protect non-consumptive water uses.

    • Maintain and consider the existing natural range of water quality that is necessary for current and anticipated water uses.

    • Restore, maintain and modernize water storage and distribution infrastructure.

    • Develop an integrated system of water use, storage, administration and delivery to reduce water shortages and meet environmental and recreational need.

    The roundtable acknowledges long-standing discussions of trans-mountain diversions of West Slope water to the East Slope and are taking a position that prior to any development of a new trans-mountain diversion, the Front Range first must integrate all other water supply solutions including conservation and reuse plus maximize use of its own native water resources and existing trans-mountain supplies.

    The BIP also states: “Before it could be considered by the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable, any proposed trans-mountain diversion out of the Colorado River Basin must undergo a full operational analysis to determine its impact on the entire river system. The analysis must recognize that, within the Colorado River system, the diversion of any ‘extra’ water available during wet years may occur under certain ‘trigger’ conditions of a full (or nearly full) supply in reservoirs designed to carry the Colorado River Basin through a drought. This analysis must be sufficient to determine that the risks of operating project(s) in a junior manner to identified Colorado River Basin needs are understood by all. Such a project should not be funded by the state of Colorado, but by interests, public and/or private, willing to accept such operational and financial risk.”

    Future projects and agreements cannot impact existing legal compact obligations to provide water to downstream users…

    The current BIP, as presented to Colorado Water Conservation Board, is a working document. The roundtable continually will update and refine it in response to the needs and demands of our region. It is available for public review on the Colorado Water Conservation Board website at

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    Analysis: Thompson Divide waters ‘healthy, uncontaminated’ — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

    August 15, 2014
    Thompson Creek via the Summit County Citizens Voice

    Thompson Creek via the Summit County Citizens Voice

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud:

    A second round of baseline water quality testing within the Thompson Divide region south of Glenwood Springs where natural gas development is proposed finds that two of the major drainages where samples were taken are presently “uncontaminated by any human activities.”

    The study, released Thursday by the Thompson Divide Coalition, analyzed both surface and ground water within the Four Mile and Thompson Creek watersheds.

    It is in follow-up to the first phase of the study in 2009-10, which produced similar results. Both studies were commissioned by the coalition, which is working to protect the Thompson Divide region from drilling, and were conducted by researchers from the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

    Robert Moran, a water quality, hydrogeologic and geochemical specialist with Michael-Moran Associates, worked with the conservancy to analyze the data and is the main author of both reports.

    Together, the baseline data contained in the studies should provide a yardstick against any changes in water quality within the two drainages, whether it’s from oil and gas development or other activities, Moran said during a telephone press conference Thursday arranged by Thompson Divide Coalition Executive Director Zane Kessler.

    Moran also reiterated one conclusion in his analysis, which is that “some degradation of water quality is inevitable if oil and gas exploration and development becomes a reality within the Four Mile Creek and Thompson Creek watersheds.”

    “This should serve as an important reminder that our fisheries and watersheds in the Thompson Divide are at risk,” Kessler said. “These watersheds are the lifeblood of our communities and they deserve to be protected for posterity.”

    More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.

    Drought news: Last area of D4 removed from Colorado #COdrought

    August 14, 2014

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Far West
    It was seasonably dry along the West Coast, with measurable precipitation limited to parts of the Sierra Nevada and northeastern California. To wit, areas of dryness and drought remained unchanged. The major reservoirs in California are in aggregate at 59% of the historical average, still above the 41% of average recorded during the 1976-77 drought. But some reservoirs are below 1977 levels, especially in west-central parts of the state, and water restrictions have been imposed statewide…

    The Rockies and Intermountain West
    Generally moderate to heavy rains of 0.5 to locally over 3.0 inches fell from central Idaho and northwestern Wyoming southward through northeastern Nevada and adjacent Utah. Farther north, little or no rain fell, and across the southern half of the Rockies and Intermountain West, only scattered totals of over 0.5 inch and isolated reports topping one inch were noted.

    Monsoonal rainfall was relatively light in most locations, and with little or no rain affecting the southern deserts of Arizona, D3 conditions were expanded throughout that region. Farther north, increasing deficits led to deterioration in several areas of Utah, and dryness and drought expanded in central and western Montana, where streamflows and vegetative health were declining. Across Utah, most of Arizona, and adjacent sections of New Mexico and southwestern Colorado, only one-half to two-thirds of normal precipitation has fallen during the last 6 to 9 months.

    The elevation of the Lake Mead water level has dropped to 1080 ft. (54% of the historical average), the lowest since the lake was being filled in the 1930’s. This is closest Lake Mead has come to dropping to its “ration level one” of 1075 ft. It has been below its “drought” level of 1l25 ft. for 28 of the past 33 months.

    Lake Powell is low, but faring better. After reaching a level of 3574 ft. in mid-April (just over the 3rd percentile since 1964, and 64% of the historical average), the lake rebounded to 3608 ft. at the end of July (20th percentile)…

    The Western Great Lakes and the Plains States
    Moderate to very heavy rain, 4 to 8 inches in some areas, fell on many locations from the northeastern half of Oklahoma, Kansas, and southern Missouri northward through southern South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota, and the southwestern half of Iowa. Moderate rain was more scattered through the rest of this large region, with 0.5 inch or less falling on most of the upper Midwest, the central High Plains, southwestern Oklahoma, and central through northeastern Texas.

    As a result, areas of dryness and drought improved significantly across south-central South Dakota, central Nebraska, central Missouri, southeastern Kansas, central through eastern Oklahoma, and parts of central and northern Texas, plus a few smaller, isolated locations. The small area of exceptional drought was removed in eastern Colorado, and extreme dryness was eliminated in southern New Mexico, with additional improvements in other central and eastern parts of the state. However, in areas that missed the heavier precipitation, some areas of abnormal dryness were introduced, specifically in western Nebraska, western South Dakota, southwestern Wisconsin, north-central Iowa and adjacent Minnesota, and north-central Missouri. These areas generally received well under half of normal rainfall since mid-July, and 60-day shortages of 2 to almost 4 inches affect north-central Missouri, north-central Iowa and adjacent Minnesota, and southwestern Wisconsin…

    Looking Ahead
    August 14 – 18, 2014 is expected to bring a swath of moderate to locally heavy rain (0.5 to 2.5 inches) from the northernmost reaches of the Cascades, Intermountain West, and Rockies southeastward through most of the Dakotas, the upper Mississippi Valley, the southern Great Lakes Region, and the Ohio Valley. Light rainfall is expected for most other regions of dryness and drought, with scattered moderate rains dampening the Rockies. Little if any precipitation is expected in much of Georgia and South Carolina, central and southern Texas, the Great Basin, and the Far West south of the Cascades.

    The ensuing 5 days (August 19 – 23) favor above-median rainfall from the northern Rockies eastward through the northern Plains, the middle and upper Mississippi Valley, the Great Lakes, the Ohio Valley, the upper South, and the Northeast outside of New England. Below-median precipitation is anticipated for Oregon, Nevada, Utah, the Four Corners States, Texas, and adjacent parts of neighboring states. Elsewhere, neither unusually dry nor wet weather is favored. What’s the hottest Earth’s ever been?

    August 14, 2014


    From (NOAA):

    Our planet probably experienced its hottest temperatures in its earliest days, when it was still colliding with other rocky debris (planetesimals) careening around the solar system. The heat of these collisions would have kept Earth molten, with top-of-the-atmosphere temperatures upward of 3,600° Fahrenheit.

    Even after those first scorching millennia, however, the planet has sometimes been much warmer than it is now. One of the warmest times was during the geologic period known as the Neoproterozoic, between 600 and 800 million years ago. Another “warm age” is a period geologists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which occurred about 56 million years ago…

    History of hot
    Temperature records from thermometers and weather stations exist only for a tiny portion of our planet’s 4.54-billion-year-long life. By studying indirect clues—the chemical and structural signatures of rocks, fossils, and crystals, ocean sediments, fossilized reefs, tree rings, and ice cores—however, scientists can infer past temperatures.

    None of that helps with the very early Earth, however. During the time known as the Hadean (yes, because it was like Hades), Earth’s collisions with other large planetesimals in our young solar system—including a Mars-sized one whose impact with Earth is thought to have created the Moon—would have melted and vaporized most rock at the surface. Because no rocks on Earth have survived from so long ago, scientists have estimated early Earth conditions based on observations of the Moon and on astronomical models. Following the collision that spawned the Moon, the planet was estimated to have been around 2,300 Kelvin (3,680°F).

    Even after collisions stopped, and the planet had tens of millions of years to cool, surface temperatures were likely more than 400° Fahrenheit. Zircon crystals from Australia, only about 150 million years younger than the Earth itself, hint that our planet may have cooled faster than scientists previously thought. Still, in its infancy, Earth would have experienced temperatures far higher than we humans could possibly survive.

    But suppose we exclude the violent and scorching years when Earth first formed. When else has Earth’s surface sweltered?

    Thawing the freezer
    Between 600 and 800 million years ago—a period of time geologists call the Neoproterozoic—evidence suggests the Earth underwent an ice age so cold that ice sheets not only capped the polar latitudes, but may have extended all the way to sea level near the equator. Reflecting ever more sunlight back into space as they expanded, the ice sheets cooled the climate and reinforced their own growth. Obviously, the Earth didn’t remain stuck in the freezer, so how did the planet thaw?

    Even while ice sheets covered more and more of Earth’s surface, tectonic plates continued to drift and collide, so volcanic activity also continued. Volcanoes emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. In our current, ice-age-free world, the natural weathering of silicate rock by rainfall consumes carbon dioxide over geologic time scales. During the frigid conditions of the Neoproterozoic, rainfall became rare. With volcanoes churning out carbon dioxide and little or no rainfall to weather rocks and consume the greenhouse gas, temperatures climbed.

    What evidence do scientists have that all this actually happened some 700 million years ago? Some of the best evidence is “cap carbonates” lying directly over Neoproterozoic-age glacial deposits. Cap carbonates—layers of calcium-rich rock such as limestone—only form in warm water.

    The fact that these thick, calcium-rich rock layers sat directly on top of rock deposits left behind by retreating glaciers indicate that temperatures rose significantly near the end of the Neoproterozoic, perhaps reaching a global average higher than 90° Fahrenheit. (Today’s global average is lower than 60°F.)

    The tropical Arctic
    Another stretch of Earth history that scientists count among the planet’s warmest occurred about 55-56 million years ago. The episode is known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

    Stretching from about 66-34 million years ago, the Paleocene and Eocene were the first geologic epochs following the end of the Mesozoic Era. (The Mesozoic—the age of dinosaurs—was itself an era punctuated by “hothouse” conditions.) Geologists and paleontologists think that during much of the Paleocene and early Eocene, the poles were free of ice caps, and palm trees and crocodiles lived above the Arctic Circle. The transition between the two epochs around 56 million years ago was marked by a rapid spike in global temperature.

    During the PETM, the global mean temperature appears to have risen by as much as 5-8°C (9-14°F) to an average temperature as high as 73°F. (Again, today’s global average is shy of 60°F.) At roughly the same time, paleoclimate data like fossilized phytoplankton and ocean sediments record a massive release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, at least doubling or possibly even quadrupling the background concentrations.

    It is still uncertain where all the carbon dioxide came from and what the exact sequence of events was. Scientists have considered the drying up of large inland seas, volcanic activity, thawing permafrost, release of methane from warming ocean sediments, huge wildfires, and even—briefly—a comet.

    Like nothing we’ve ever seen
    Earth’s hottest periods—the Hadean, the late Neoproterozoic, the PETM—occurred before humans existed. Those ancient climates would have been like nothing our species has ever seen.

    Modern human civilization, with its permanent agriculture and settlements, has developed over just the past 10,000 years or so. The period has generally been one of low temperatures and relative global (if not regional) climate stability. In our next Q&A, then, we’ll tackle this same question on a more Homo sapien-scale time frame: What’s the hottest Earth has been “lately”?

    Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

    August 14, 2014
    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation August 1 to August 10, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center

    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation August 1 to August 10, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center

    Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    Bonus water likely for Lake Mead in 2015, but it’ll just keep dropping anyway — John Fleck #ColoradoRiver

    August 14, 2014
    Low Lake Mead August 2014 via Yahoo!

    Low Lake Mead August 2014 via Yahoo!

    From Inkstain (John Fleck):

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s key August forecast, out today (pdf),projects that there will be enough water in the Colorado River system next year to release a bonus pulse of 770,000 acre feet of water from Lake Powell down to lake Mead above and beyond the legal requirements of the Colorado River Compact. But even with that extra water, Lake Mead is projected to fall another five feet during 2015, flirting with levels that could trigger the Lower Colorado River Basin’s first formal shortage declaration in 2016.

    How could this be? The Lower Basin is getting extra water above and beyond its minimum legal entitlement, yet Lake Mead keeps dropping?

    It’s simple, really. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 Arizona v. California decision effectively allocates more paper water than there is wet water in the system, (click here for the wonky explanation of the mistake, and the fact that folks kinda knew at the time it was a mistake but ignored it) and as long as each of the Lower Basin states keeps using its full entitlement, Mead will keep dropping unless a giant climatic wet spell delivers magic extra water.

    Meanwhile, here’s a photo gallery of the California drought from the Huffington Post. From the article:

    With major wildfires burning six at a time, more than half of California now experiencing the most severe category of dryness and experts warning that even an El Niño year won’t be enough to redeem the west in 2015, residents of California and beyond must face the terrifying reality that the drought probably isn’t done breaking records — and it’s not something just farmers and firefighters have to face.

    The Huffington Post asked readers to share photos through the hashtag #OurDroughtIsReal to show how the drought is affecting them in their own backyards, literally. Here are some of the heartbreaking photos and stories you shared. Tweet @HuffPostGreen or use the hashtag if you have your own photo to share.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    “Conservation and cooperation is the new paradigm” — Steve Acquafresca #COWaterPlan

    August 13, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Mike Wiggins):

    Efforts to forge a state water plan to bridge the anticipated gap between supply and demand should focus on enhanced conservation efforts on the Front Range and shun any new transmountain diversions, according to a group of primarily Western Slope residents.

    In a meeting this week with The Daily Sentinel editorial board, Adventure Bound River Expeditions owner Tom Kleinschnitz, Silt Town Trustee Aron Diaz, Western Resource Advocates Program Director Bart Miller, Bruce Talbott of Talbott Farms, Mesa Park Vineyards co-owner Brooke Webb and Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said they want to see river basins in other areas of the state call more for reducing water usage. Some of them also pitched the ideas of investing in improving existing infrastructure and building smaller storage projects at higher elevations.

    “Conservation and cooperation is the new paradigm,” Acquafresca said.

    Colorado’s population is expected to double by 2050, one of the reasons why Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order calling for the development of a statewide water plan by 2015. The state’s eight largest river basins will present draft plans to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Western Slope water stakeholders say arguments that the majority of Colorado’s water should be used on the Front Range because the vast majority of the population resides there ignore usage of the river by the entire basin. The Colorado River Compact requires the Upper Basin states to deliver no less than 7.5 million acre-feet of water to the Lower Basin states during any 10-year period.

    “My biggest fear is we will get a call (on the river) from the Lower Basin,” Talbott said.

    Members of the group applauded Clark County, Nevada, and its county seat, Las Vegas, and organizations like Denver Water for their conservation efforts. Las Vegas has redesigned its golf courses to be more water-efficient and pays residents to rip out their lawns, while Denver Water has dramatically reduced municipal water usage over the last several years. As a result, Western Slope water users say they enjoy a good relationship with Denver Water. That relationship, though, doesn’t yet exist with entities like the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, group members said.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    Colorado dry beans rebounding; Weld farmers say prices, water helping boost acres 54 percent statewide — The Greeley Tribune

    August 13, 2014
    Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center

    Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    Colorado dry bean farmers are on pace to make up for last year’s historically “horrible” crop — and then some. Not only is this year’s abundant moisture expected to give the crop a boost, but the number of acres devoted to the crop this year has skyrocketed. According to recent crop reports, farmers planted about 60,000 acres of the crop this year in Colorado, ranking seventh nationally, and also marking a 54 percent increase over last year — far outpacing the nationwide 29 percent uptick in dry bean acres.

    Larry Lande, who operates Northern Feed and Bean in Lucerne and serves on the Colorado Dry Bean Administrative Committee, said the uptick in acres across the board has much to do with dry bean prices holding strong while grain prices, particularly corn, have dropped.

    More specific to Colorado, Lynn Fagerberg — who grows onions, corn, wheat and dry beans near Eaton — added that the improved water situation, with this year’s abundant snowpack, led him to replace many of his wheat acres with dry beans this year.

    “And so far, it’s a good-looking crop,” Fagerberg said.

    Last year, when water was in much shorter supply, Fargerberg upped his wheat acres because it’s a less water-dependent crop than others, like corn and dry beans. So, with more water now and corn prices low, increasing his dry bean acres made plenty of sense, he said.

    The sharp uptick in dry bean acres comes less than a year after Colorado farmers saw one of their worst crops in memory.

    Significant amounts of moisture in September — harvest time for dry beans — can cause discoloration and sprouting for mature beans still out in the fields, negatively impacting the appearance, which is important for a crop that’s sold on grocery store shelves.

    And there was no shortage of rain last September.

    In addition to destructive flooding that caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage across northeast Colorado, the local dry bean crop, too, fell victim.

    Weld County farmers were delivering to the local elevators the worst quality beans they’d harvest in years, or ever in many cases, local farmers said.

    “The way things are going, that won’t be the case this year,” said Lande.

    An increase in dry bean production this year would help Colorado — where sales of dry beans in recent years have amounted to about $30 million — rebound from its steady decline.

    Dry bean acreage in the state has taken a hit in recent years as producers began planting crops that were seeing huge increases in commodity prices, and as Mexico, a big buyer of U.S. beans, has started growing more of its own crop. In 2001, 105,000 acres of dry beans were harvested in Colorado, nearly tripling the acres harvested in 2011 and 2013.

    Colorado Springs City Council OKs regional stormwater contract — Colorado Springs Gazette

    August 13, 2014

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

    Members of the regional stormwater task force cheered Tuesday when the Colorado Springs City Council voted 7-2 to approve a contract for a stormwater funding program that was two years in the making.

    With a sigh of relief following the vote, council member Jan Martin said the city has been trying to find a way to pay for millions of dollars in stormwater, flood control and drainage projects needs for a decade…

    The contract and proposed November ballot language that would create a regional stormwater authority still needs to be approved by the other parties in the intergovernmental agreement: the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain and Manitou Springs. All have indicated they will OK the contract.

    The contract – the result of dozens of public meetings, community surveys and hours of public discussion – outlines the terms and duties of a Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority, a governmental agency that would plan regional flood control projects.

    Voters are expected to be asked to OK an annual stormwater fee, which would be roughly $92 a year for a home with 3,000 square feet of impervious surface. If approved, a regional authority expects to collect about $39.2 million a year for 20 years. Most of the money would be spent on new construction projects, and maintenance and operations of existing flood control projects. A pot of money – about 10 percent of the fees collected – would be set aside for flooding emergencies.

    An 11-member board would oversee the planning of the regional stormwater projects, and Colorado Springs would have six seats on the board.

    But not everyone is happy. Mayor Steve Bach plans to hold a press conference Wednesday to detail his objections to the contract. He says it binds the city to a list of projects and does not give the city flexibility in cases of flooding emergencies. The contract infringes upon the city’s ability to manage its affairs, he said.

    The stormwater contract requires that money collected from property owners in each city be spent in their city over a five-year rolling average, except for the emergency fund. Bach said spending the emergency pot of money will be decided by the authority’s board, which could reject a Colorado Springs project, he said.

    “(The emergency fund) will not be returned to each city over a five-year rolling average,” he said. “Is it fair for third-party bureaucracy to have no responsibility to return it if we have an emergency in our city?”[...]

    Bach also raised concerns about the proposed ballot language. He said it doesn’t detail the amount of the fees that will be assessed on each property.

    “We need to be straight with the voters,” Bach said…

    El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, a member of the stormwater task force, noted that Colorado Springs is guaranteed a majority of the seats on the board, and said it is disingenuous for Bach to suggest that Colorado Springs, which has 80 percent of the flood control needs, would get short shrift.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs City Council approved, 7-2, an intergovernmental agreement Tuesday that is expected to lead to a vote on a regional drainage authority for El Paso County.

    “I supported a regional process (when a stormwater task force started meeting). It made sense at the time and it still makes sense,” said Keith King, council president. “Let’s put it in the hands of the voters.”

    Most council members said the agreement is not perfect, but supported the opportunity to ask voters for approval of the authority. Helen Collins said there are too many taxes already and Don Knight said it does not protect Colorado Springs adequately in voting against the agreement.

    The authority would raise $39 million in 2016 and is expected grow over the next 20 years to meet a backlog of more than $700 million in stormwater projects and to maintain them. Money would be spent proportionally in the participating communities.

    While council OK’d the agreement, El Paso County Commissioners will have to place the issue on the November ballot, which they could do as early as next week. The IGA also must pass muster with Manitou Springs, Fountain and Green Mountain Falls.

    It’s important to Pueblo County because Colorado Springs City Council abolished its short-lived stormwater authority in 2009. The authority was one of the premises of the Southern Delivery System, including Pueblo County’s 1041 land-use permit and the Bureau of Reclamation’s contract for use of Pueblo Dam and Lake Pueblo.

    Colorado Springs Utilities pledged to avoid worsening flooding on Fountain Creek as a result of SDS in permit hearings.

    “Down-streamers like me have watched the stormwater issue for some time and we’re excited something is being done,” said Dennis Hisey, an El Paso County commissioner from Fountain who sits on the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

    “This is a collaborative process such as I have never seen,” said Amy Lathen, a commissioner who has worked with the El Paso County stormwater task force since 2012. “We will not take a step without full agreement on the IGA.”

    Council spent nearly three hours wading through the agreement’s details, with Assistant City Attorney Tom Florczak, former Pueblo city attorney, leading the panel through changes Mayor Steve Bach wanted.

    Bach met Monday and Tuesday with the council and county to negotiate changes, which was portrayed in contrasting ways by his chief of staff, Steve Cox, and Lathen.

    Cox maintained that Bach had little time to review the document.

    Lathen said Bach had made public, misleading statements about the agreement, particularly in portraying the assessment to property owners as a tax, rather than a fee.

    During the council meeting there also was some discussion about how costs would be divided among authority members and an emergency fund. Bach wants to make sure Colorado Springs’ needs are met, and some council members were wary that Colorado Springs would bankroll payments owed by smaller communities.

    “We could have a huge storm that messes up the Fountain River through Pueblo,” King said. “Do we need to treat this as an insurance policy?”

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

    Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace has closely followed the negotiations over the proposed El Paso County stormwater initiative and is crossing his fingers that political bickering won’t keep the issue from the November ballot.

    Pace has talked about Colorado Springs’ floodwaters for years and says the stormwater initiative is directly tied to the $1 billion Southern Delivery System, a regional project that brings Arkansas River water stored in Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.

    Stormwater management in Colorado Springs has been on Pueblo’s radar since Colorado Springs Utilities committed to Pueblo and Pueblo County that it would be in compliance with stormwater responsibilities before 2016 – when the water is due to start flowing north.

    When the permits for SDS were inked, Colorado Springs had a stormwater fee in place and a list of projects designed to head off floodwaters going south, Pace said. But the fee ended in 2011 and left Pueblo officials wondering if the promised flood control projects would be built.

    “We know there will be more water in Fountain Creek because of SDS,” Pace said. “Part of the SDS permit was a guarantee of no increase in stormwater flows.”

    Pace said if Colorado Springs’ stormwater issues are not resolved, Pueblo could take Utilities to court and challenge the SDS permits that were based on stormwater controls. No one wants to go down that path, he said.

    “The fact that Colorado Springs and El Paso County are moving in this direction is a very positive step,” he said.

    Colorado Springs City Council is expected to vote on the proposed regional stormwater contract, called an intergovernmental agreement, for the creation of the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority at its Tuesday meeting. El Paso Board of County Commissioners will consider the contract and ballot language at its Aug. 19 meeting.

    The authority, if approved by voters in November, would collect about $39 million a year for the next 20 years to pay for flood control projects in the Fountain Creek Watershed, 928 square miles with a perimeter of 160 miles. Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and Manitou Springs also are considering joining the authority.

    Mayor Steve Bach has raised concerns about the proposed contract, saying that it is too restrictive when it comes to the city planning stormwater projects within the city limits. He also worries that the city would not be able to quickly respond to a flood emergency.

    “We have to be careful not to put ourselves in a straight jacket,” Bach said. “What if priorities change in a few years? Colorado Springs can’t change its priorities without a supermajority of the (stormwater) board.”

    Bach sent a letter to the council July 31 outlining his concerns, which include the need for Colorado Springs to have seven seats on the 11-member governing board. He said he hoped the council would consider his concerns and adjust the contract before approving it.

    “I would like to support the IGA,” Bach said. “But if it is so onerous and interferes with the business of the city, I may be forced to oppose the ballot initiative.”

    The council appears ready to approve the contract without the mayor’s changes.

    Council president Keith King said the stormwater task force designed a regional program so that flood control projects could be planned together among the four cities and county. It would defeat the purpose of a regional project if it were to change the contract to allow Colorado Springs to act on its own.

    “I’m afraid we are probably at an impasse,” King said.

    Last weekend, the stormwater task force conducted a phone survey asking potential voters whether it would matter to them if Bach did not support the stormwater initiative. The results, however, are “being kept close to the vest,” said Rachel Beck, a task force member.

    Councilwoman Jill Gaebler said a conflict between the mayor and council could affect voters. Some, she said, equate the bickering to distrust.

    “People want us to work together,” she said.

    Gaebler said she believes Bach has the city’s best interests in mind with his proposed changes to the stormwater contract. But his proposal comes too late, she said.

    “This task force has been meeting for two years,” she said. “Ever since I’ve been on council, every month an invitation was sent to (the city attorney) and the staff and no one ever attended.”

    Richard Skorman, business owner and member of the stormwater task force, said he doesn’t expect the recent strife to influence voters.

    “No one should beat themselves up for bringing up issues at the last minute,” Skorman said. “I think everyone at the table wants the same thing.”

    Skorman said Bach’s request for seven seats on the board seems reasonable, given that Colorado Springs will contribute roughly 80 percent in fees and need 80 percent of the flood control projects.

    “All of those things are important,” he said. “But the biggest goal is for us to finally address flooding problems. There seems to be unanimous support for that.”

    More stormwater coverage here.

    Warmer state in your future? — The Pueblo Chieftain

    August 12, 2014
    Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES

    Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A state report predicts climate change would stress Colorado’s water supplies by mid-century.

    “It shows why the state water plan effort is timely,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “There’s a lot of good information that can help the state in the report.”

    Warmer temperatures are projected to reduce spring snowpack, cause earlier snowmelt and increase the water use by all types of vegetation as the growing season expands, a report for the CWCB states.

    “While future increases in annual natural streamflow are possible, the body of published research indicates a greater risk of decreasing streamflow, particularly in the southern half of the state,” it concludes.

    The report was written by a team of climate scientists from the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, looking at historic records and future projections. It was funded by the CWCB, Western Water Assessment and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Annual temperature averages have heated up by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years, and the trend is expected to continue. However, there has been no longterm trend in precipitation, according to the report.

    Although snowpack has been below average in all basins since 2000, no long-term trend has been detected. But runoff is occurring one to four weeks earlier because of higher spring temperatures and dust on snow.

    Tree-ring research indicates that there were multiple droughts more severe than anything experienced since 1900 in Colorado.

    The rise in temperature is expected by nearly all climate models to continue at the same rate or greater in Colorado through 2050, and climb even faster in the second half of the century.

    There is little agreement about precipitation in climate models, except that more of it is expected to occur in the winter months and that it will melt off earlier.

    The models project an increase in heat waves, droughts and wildfires.

    The report suggests water planners incorporate climate change into scenarios, rather than focusing on a single trajectory of the future.

    That’s already been initiated by the CWCB, which has used scenarios for variable climate and growth conditions in the state.

    “Planning for longrange water supplies, it is critical to consider changes in climate,” Hamel said. “You have to have scenarios going forward. Just look at 2013 with record droughts, record fires and record floods, all in the same year. You have to plan for variability, as many of the state’s utilities are doing.”

    From (Phil Tenser, Mike Nelson):

    “Climate Change in Colorado,” the report issued Tuesday and led by a University of Colorado researcher, is based on compiled climate science. It focuses on current observed trends and forecasts for the mid-21st century.

    Over the past 30 years, average temperatures in Colorado have increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit, the report finds. That is the same amount by which North America has warmed over the same period.

    “These global changes have been attributed mainly to anthropogenic (human-caused) influences, primarily the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to the highest levels in at least 800,000 years,” the report’s executive summary says.

    While it says that warming in Colorado is “plausibly linked to anthropogenic influences,” it says recent variability in annual precipitation here “has not exhibited trends that might be attributed” to humans. The next paragraph, however, states human influences may have increased the severity of the drought in the western United States.

    “Drought is not just a matter of precipitation, the amount of evaporation is just as important. Even if the total annual precipitation were to remain the same, a warmer Colorado will experience more drought due to the increase in evaporation,” 7NEWS Chief Meteorologist Nelson said…

    The report says, “The uncertainty in projections of precipitation and streamflow for Colorado should not be construed as a ‘no change’ scenario, but instead as a broadening of the range of possible futures, some of which would present serious challenges to the state’s water systems.”

    According to the report, these observations and predictions could influence reservoir operations including flood control and water storage. Changes in the timing and volume of runoff may also “complicate” future water rights issues and interstate water compacts. Lower streamflows could also lead to higher concentrations of pollutants.

    Earlier peak flows could have impacts on aquatic ecosystems and rafting or fishing industries, while reduced snowpack may also impact Colorado mountain tourism.

    Every climate model assessed in the report indicates future warming will increase average annual temperatures by 2.5 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions are in the lower range of estimates. If emissions are in a higher range, the increase could be 3.5 to 6.5 degrees.

    “We will still have cold winters and cool summers, but as the global climate warms, these cooler trends will become less frequent in the coming decades,” Nelson said.

    “Climate model projections show less agreement regarding future precipitation change for Colorado,” the report states. Most predict additional precipitation by 2050 during the winters, but there is weaker consensus in the projections for the other seasons.

    Hydropower facilities or power plants that need water for cooling could also be impacted, it says.

    “Water truly is liquid gold in Colorado, the long term trend toward a warmer and drier climate is something we will need to plan for in the future,” Nelson said.

    More CWCB coverage here.

    “We’re still bringing water through the Boustead Tunnel. It’s running at twice of average” — Roy Vaughan #COdrought

    August 12, 2014

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Summer rains have prolonged river flows in Southern Colorado beyond anyone’s expectations this year.

    It’s been great for rafting on the Upper Arkansas River, a blessing for farmers and helped to replenish reservoir levels after years of drought.

    “We’re seeing an increase in private boaters,” said Stew Pappenfort, lead ranger for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. “A lot have taken up kayaking or canoeing after going on a commercial outing.”

    Caution was needed during the very high flows that occurred earlier this year, he added. There have been 11 deaths on the upper portion of the river, including seven drownings from boating accidents and one medical emergency.

    Flows above Canon City remained above 1,000 cubic feet per second Friday, thanks to both wet conditions and releases to make even more space for imports in Turquoise and Twin Lakes in Lake County, near the headwaters of the Arkansas River.

    “We’re still bringing water through the Boustead Tunnel. It’s running at twice of average,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation.

    The Boustead Tunnel brings water from the Roaring Fork watershed into Turquoise Lake.

    So far, nearly 80,000 acre-feet (26 billion gallons) of water has been brought over, which is about 25 percent more than Reclamation forecast in June. Snowpack was about 25 percent above the median this year in Colorado’s central mountains. But regular summer rains, missing in 2012 and 2013, have boosted flows to more normal levels, Vaughan added.

    For farmers, the wet conditions are welcome.

    “We were dry early,” said Dale Mauch, who farms near Lamar. The Fort Lyon Canal has had 16 runs of water so far this year, compared with 12 total in 2013 and just seven in 2012. “We had a slow start, because it had been so dry, but it picked up in mid-June. We ran out of snow water on July 4, but then it started raining. You need rain. It really makes a difference.”

    Many eyes are on Lake Powell and the power pool #ColoradoRiver

    August 12, 2014
    A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR

    A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

    Here’s a look at the Lake Powell power pool and the cascading effects if the reservoir drops below the level necessary to continue to deliver power to the southwestern US, from Allen Best writing in The Denver Post:

    Colorado water leaders used a curious approach last week in announcing a new water conservation program involving the Colorado River. They talked about electricity and the effect of spiking prices on corn farmers in eastern Colorado, ski area operators on the Western Slope, and cities along the Front Range.

    The scenario? A Lake Powell receding to what is called a minimum power pool, leaving too little water to generate electricity. Glen Canyon Dam, which creates the reservoir, is responsible for 81 percent of the power produced by a series of giant dams on the Colorado River and its tributaries, including those on the Gunnison River. This electricity is distributed by the Western Area Power Administration to 5.8 million people in Colorado, Arizona and other states.

    Should this power supply be interrupted, WAPA would make good on its contracts with local utilities by buying power in the spot market, such as from gas-fired power plants. But extended drought on the Colorado would certainly increase prices to reflect the higher costs of replacement by other sources.

    Hydropower is far cheaper than renewables but also fossil fuels. Rural electrical cooperatives get nearly half the production, followed closely by municipalities, including Colorado Springs, Delta and Sterling, plus Longmont, Loveland, Estes Park and Fort Collins.

    Right now, WAPA is selling the energy from Glen Canyon and the other dams at $12.19 per megawatt-hour with a separate charge for transmission. Just how much prices would increase in event of prolonged interruption is speculative. The same agency, however is shoring up August deliveries with purchases of power from other sources at $55 per megawatt-hour, according to Jeffrey W. Ackerman, the Montrose-based manager of WAPA’s Colorado River Supply Project’s Energy Management Office.

    This illustrates the bone-on-bone relationship between energy production and water during time of drought.

    Yet the broader story about the Colorado River is about a narrowing razor’s edge between supply and demand. There’s no crisis, but water officials are planning for one. A healthy snowpack in Colorado last winter helped, but did not solve problems. The basin as a whole was still below average, as it has been 11 of the last 14 years.

    “As leaders, we simply cannot wait for a crisis to happen before we come together to figure out how to address it,” said Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water. “That would be irresponsible.”

    Denver Water and providers in Arizona, Nevada and California, plus the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, are pooling $11 million to launch a demand-management program. Utilities such as Xcel Energy have similar programs, offering to pay customers willing to suspend use of air conditioners for a couple hours on hot summer afternoons.

    In this case, $2.5 million is being allocated to fund programs that would yield reduced demands in Colorado and other states upstream of Lake Powell. The obvious idea is fallowing of crops, such as a hay meadow, with the irrigator to be reimbursed. But Lochhead stresses that it’s a blank chalkboard. The intent is to solicit ideas and then “demonstrate effective demand-management techniques.”

    “It’s not something we expect to do. It’s not something we want to do, but if the drought continues, we want to be ready,” says John McClow, Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    The bulk of the $11 million will be allocated to demand-management programs in the lower-basin states.

    Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment, sees the agreement as representative of broad shift in states sharing water from the Colorado River. “In the past, they could get together to build things such as dams. Now, they are teaming up to save water,” he says. “That’s a paradigm shift.”

    An effort involving The Nature Conservancy and water agencies based in Durango and Glenwood Springs has been underway for five years. That parallel effort, however, is driven by a different trigger: the prospect of a compact curtailment or “call.” The 1922 Colorado River Compact requires Colorado and the other upper-basin states — Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — to deliver an average 75 million acre-feet over any given 10-year period.

    Upper basin states at this point have a cushion of 15 million acre-feet, or two years’ supply. Yet abundant snowfall last year in Colorado only slightly filled Lake Powell. One relatively good year does not compensate for several bad ones.

    Always hovering in the background is the prospect of even worse. Tree rings from across the River Basin provide clear evidence of longer, more intense droughts 800 to 900 years ago. An additional layer is the prospect of higher temperatures caused by global warming.

    Chris Treese, external affairs director for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, acknowledges a growing sense of urgency. “We could be back in a near-crisis or crisis situation in as little two or three years,” he says. And for water planners, who typically try to think decades ahead, that’s a current event, he adds. [ed. emphasis mine]

    How likely is this dead pool? U.S. Bureau of Reclamation modelers in April found a 4 percent chance of a minimum power pool in 2018 and a 6 percent in 2019. The models are based on recorded hydrology of the last 105 years.

    What if Powell does decline and electricity cannot be generated? It depends upon how long the shortage lasts. A longer outage would affect electrical consumers from Arizona to Nebraska. “We’re struggling to quantify the impact,” says Andrew Colismo, government affairs manager for Colorado Springs Utility.

    Tri-State is the single largest consumer, purchasing 28 percent of all power produced in 2012 from the dams. It sells this power to 44 member co-operatives in a four-state region, including those who sell to irrigators in eastern Colorado.

    Irrigation is a huge consumer of cheap power. In northeastern Colorado, Holyoke-based Highline Electric meets demand that ranges from a low of 25 megawatts to a high of 190 megawatts, the latter occurring when irrigation pumps are drawing water from the Ogallala aquifer to spread across 123-acre circles of corn, beans and other crops. Some large irrigators pay hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in electrical costs, says general manager Mark Farnsworth.

    The irony is that if a drought occurs accompanied by heat, as is usually the case, irrigators will probably pump more water and air conditioners will work even harder. Power demands will rise as water levels drop.

    Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey says existing rate structures anticipate both droughts and heavy precipitation.

    Lochhead and others also point to other ripples from interrupted power sales. Revenues from hydroelectric sales, which were $198 million last year, are used for a great many programs: selenium control in the Delta-Montrose area, work to maintain ecosystem integrity downstream from Glen Canyon and ongoing efforts to preserve four endangered fish species in the Colorado River and its tributaries.

    On Wednesday, Lochhead met with an interim legislative water committee at the Colorado Capitol to report about the new agreement. The testimony all day had been about potential measures to expand water conservation as Colorado tries to figure out how to accommodate a population expected to double from today’s 5.3 million residents to 10 million people by mid-century without drying up rivers and farms.

    Denver Water already serves 1.3 million, but gets about half of its water from the Western Slope. “We have a vested interest” in the Colorado River, Lochhead told legislators.

    One outstanding question is whether Denver and other water providers on the High Plains should try to be able to get additional water from new or expanded transmountain diversions.

    With this story from Lake Powell, the take-home message is don’t count on it.

    Allen Best writes frequently for The Post about water and energy and also publishes an online news magazine, found at

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    “…there is a proposal afoot that would extend [EPA] jurisdiction and accompanying regulations far beyond what makes sense” — Sallie Clark

    August 11, 2014

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Here’s a guest column (The Pueblo Chieftain) from Sallie Clark dealing with the Environmental Protection Agencie’s proposed clarification of “Waters of the US” under the Clean Water Act:

    Coloradans have a special appreciation for the beauty of nature all around us. Everyone benefits from the beauty and bounty of America’s rivers, streams, lakes and other waterways. Of course, these natural resources should be protected from irresponsible polluters, and regulations are in place to ensure clean water in our communities.

    But, there is a proposal afoot that would extend federal jurisdiction and accompanying regulations far beyond what makes sense. The National Association of Counties (NACo) sees this proposal as a critical issue, and in my role as First Vice President of NACo and a Colorado county commissioner, I am concerned about how these rule changes will impact local communities.

    A new rule, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, would erase the distinction between bodies of water — such as streams and lakes — and ditches on the side of a road. According to the proposed redefinition of “Waters of the U.S.,” a river would be no different than a public safety ditch; a lake no different than an emergency flood mitigation system.

    This latest example of over-regulation makes no sense and creates more confusion than it seeks to address.

    Local water conveyances, such as ditches and flood control channels, may fall under federal regulation in this unworkable proposal. It is unclear how far it would extend into drainage systems. That means counties would be required to obtain federal permits to do routine maintenance work on a roadside ditch or storm-water drain. These are essential components of effective water management.

    In many cases, the nation’s counties are responsible for maintaining storm drains and other water conveyance systems that keep people safe from rising waters. They often pay a high price to wait for the federal government to issue permits. This new red tape would slow down the process even more and potentially put more people in harm’s way by inhibiting projects that keep water off of roads and away from homes.

    The costs and delays of this federal over-regulation would have a significant impact on public safety and economic prosperity. To give a concrete example of some of these concerns, maintaining drainage is critical to keeping our roads safe and open for use, and it requires daily attention. Increasing fees due to additional regulatory permitting for all runoff, as anticipated by the proposal, could bring maintenance efforts to a halt.

    How this regulation would be administered is unclear and would be especially cumbersome if it went directly through federal offices not adequately equipped to accommodate heavier permitting.

    The expense for plan preparation would add costs not accounted for in our existing budgets.

    If fully exercised every basic culvert maintenance or repair could be held up, placing not only a burden on counties financially, but also putting citizens at risk due to delays, as all work would have to first be reviewed and approved by a federal agency.

    The approach taken by this proposal would drain local budgets and create delays in critical, time-crucial repairs with no demonstrated long-term environmental benefit.

    Federal over-regulation and unfunded mandates unnecessarily hinder counties’ ability to get things done for local citizens. All of us want to protect the environment, but we cannot allow over-regulation to do more harm than good.

    Sallie Clark is first vice president of the National Association of Counties and an El Paso County Commissioner.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Carrots vs. sticks, and how can Colorado push deeper water conservation? — Allen Best

    August 11, 2014

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Having a conversation about conservation may be clever word play. Having that conservation is rather more difficult than saying it, as became evident in legislative committee hearing last week in Denver.

    Nobody testifying before the committee opposed the idea of saving water as Colorado seeks to accommodate 10 million people at mid-century, up from today’s 5.3 million. In fact, it became clear that much is already being done.

    But neither was there clear agreement about what the next steps should be and what role state government might have. State Sen. Ellen Roberts, whose bill last winter spurred the legislative hearing, summarized the testimony as recommending “local control, state conversation.”

    Without specific mandates, per capita water use has declined dramatically since the late 1990s. Per capita residential use in Pueblo dropped from 185 gallons per capita daily to 120 this year. “We’ve changed, the culture changed,” said Paul Fanning, of the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

    Changes provoked by severe drought of 2002 has remained. Before the drought, people were giving turf 22 gallons per square foot in Denver. Now, it’s down to 16 gallons, said Chris Pipher, governmental affairs coordinator for Denver Water.

    Municipalities use only 8 percent of water in Colorado, suggesting the state can easily reallocate or develop water for new residents. It’s not that simple. Water available for additional development in the Colorado River Basin is uncertain and highly contested in the case of new transmountain diversions. Rural, farming areas want to survive – while preserving the right for individuals to sell their water to cities, if they wish.

    Roberts’ bill originally proposed sharp restrictions on lawn sizes when new subdivisions are built that use water obtained by drying up farms. That proposal didn’t survive.“I now know what it’s like to be between people and grass in Colorado,” said Steve Harris, of Durango, who originally came up with the idea.

    The idea now on the table is to specify a ratio between indoor and outdoor use. The size of the dwelling wouldn’t matter. It’s currently at about 50-50, but in some places 60 percent of annual water at homes is used indoors. Some thing it can be pushed to 70 percent.

    Why does this matter? Indoor water is typically flushed down drains and ultimately 85 to 90 percent is returned, after treatment, to streams and rivers. Water is being directly reused after treatment in several places in metropolitan Denver.

    If that proportion is higher, that means less water is used outdoors.

    Water budgets were also mentioned frequently. Boulder has already embraced the concept. The budget is the amount of water you are expected to use during a specific month. Each customer’s budget is based on the unique water needs and past use. Stay within your budget and you pay less for the water you use.

    Two water districts in the southwest metropolitan Denver, Centennial and Highlands Ranch, also have adopted water budgets for customers.

    “The water budget for outdoor irrigation provides enough water for healthy landscapes, but not so much that our resource is wasted,” the Centennial Water and Sanitation District website says. “Progressively higher tiered rates over the allotted budget serve to encourage conservation.

    Several speakers made the point that it’s far easier to install water conservation when homes and other buildings are developed, instead of afterward. Rebecca Mitchell, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, further offered that incorporating water conservation is much less expensive than developing new supply.

    John Barnett, long-range planner for Greeley, noted that a 20 percent increase in density will yield a 10 percent decline in per-capita consumption.

    But Greeley, like all other municipal representatives, pushed back at a “one size fits all” approach to conservation.

    Joseph Stibrich, planning director for Aurora Water Department and the Metropolitan Roundtable representative at statewide negotiations, says one all-encompassing standards “does not work in Colorado as the ability to reach higher levels of conservation is dependent upon what has already been accomplished to date.”

    Stibrich also spoke to the perceived drawbacks of conservation that goes too far in towns and cities: reduced tree canopy, increased “heat island” effects, increased stormwater runoff and accompanying water quality degradations, and reductions in property values.

    A recurring theme was a call for “measurable outcomes.” Bruce Whitehead, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, said the conversation needs to lead to outcomes that are “meaningful and quantifiable.”

    Drew Beckwith, of Western Resource Advocates, suggested one way that Colorado might allow local autonomy while move statewide conservation forward is to use funding as incentive. That’s what California does, he said.

    April Washington, chairwoman of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, lives in Norwood, and as a resident of the Western Slope, she said she feels there needs to be something that is a “little more forceful.”

    Despite the absence of clear ideas of how future legislation may take shape, Whitehead said he was pleased with the conversation in Denver. “I heard loud and clear that he entities do have conservation measure sin place, but they are all using different methods,” Whitehead said in a later interview. “I can’t say enough about the work that Denver has done, and other communities, too.”

    Whitehead continues to think the proposal coming out of Durango might work. It sets a goal of indoor use vs. outdoor use, clearly pushing local governments to deeper conservation, but letting them figure out how to do it.

    Also of note:

    Denver Water’s Chris Pipher called “bluegrass still the path of lease resistance.”

    Chris Elliot, a developer of master planned communities in Arvada, Aurora and Golden, said that planning offices generally are very open to landscaping that requires less water use, but parks departments are old school, wanting to lavish water.

    Brenda O’Brien of Green Co said the role of state government is to provide consistency.

    State Rep. Don Coram, of Montrose, listened to Denver Water’s Jim Lochhead talk about Colorado River problems, and then responded: “We’ve heard a lot today about water budgets,” he said. “It’s time they lived within their budget, as far as I’m concerned,” taking swipe at California’s water use in excess of its compact allocation.

    More conservation coverage here.

    Western watershed priority: Manage wildfire risk and impacts

    August 11, 2014

    From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

    Krista Bonfantine can look up into the mountains behind her Sandia Park home and understand, better than most, the connection between the forested watersheds that provide most of New Mexico’s water and the stuff coming out of her tap.

    As she opened the lid on the concrete box that surrounds Cienega Spring, which supplies her neighborhood’s water, she pondered what might happen if a fire burned through the overgrown woods above – the risk of floods tearing down the picturesque canyon, ash and debris wiping out the water supply intake.

    Fire and the resulting damage to watersheds have been an increasing concern in recent years, and Bonfantine is part of an ambitious effort to tackle the cause – overgrown forests in New Mexico’s mountains.

    While the risk to Bonfantine’s neighborhood is nearby, and therefore immediately apparent, the widespread risk of fire in the watersheds that provide much of New Mexico’s water supplies is harder to see.

    The problem is not just the forests themselves, explained Beverlee McClure, president of the Association of Commerce and Industry, a business group. The threat of upland fires threatens the reliability of the water supplies on which we all depend, she said…

    McClure’s organization is part of The Rio Grande Water Fund, a broad-based coalition that is working to scale up patchwork efforts underway in the mountains of northern and central New Mexico to restore forests in order to protect the watersheds and water systems on which they depend.

    As McClure spoke, a crew from a Corona-based company called Restoration Solutions was at work up the road with chain saws, felling trees in an overgrown patch of woods at a place called Horse Camp on the edge of the Cibola National Forest.

    The overgrown woods in the mountains of New Mexico are the result of a century of firefighting that prevented natural, low-intensity fires that used to clear out undergrowth. The result is forests that are so thick in places that they are hard to walk through…

    Trees being cut last week on Forest Service land near the Sandia Crest Road can be used as firewood, but there is not enough money to be made from cutting the small timber clogging the unhealthy forests to make such work self-supporting, Racher said. “There’s not enough value in that wood to pay for what needs to be done,” Racher said.

    That is at the heart of the Forest Trust, which is attempting to raise $15 million per year in government money and private contributions to pay to expand the work, said Laura McCarthy, director of New Mexico conservation programs for the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group…

    “This is a big problem that the federal government is not going to be able to solve for us,” McCarthy said.

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

    #ColoradoRiver water conservation project gets $11 million in funding

    August 9, 2014

    From the Colorado Independent (Bob Berwyn):

    The money will primarily be used to buy or lease water rights from ranchers and farmers in the Upper Colorado River Basin, including Colorado. Instead of being diverted for irrigation, the water will flow to Lake Powell, the giant desert reservoir in southeast Utah.

    Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Southern California want to boost flows to Lake Powell, because if the reservoir’s water level drops below a certain threshold, it changes everything.

    In a worst-case scenario of extended drought, Denver Water might have to send water from its reservoirs down to Nevada and California, cutting the amount of water available to water bluegrass suburban lawns.

    Under the deal announced last week, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District, Denver Water and the Southern Nevada Water Authority pledge to work cooperatively with farmers and ranchers to find new and flexible ways of managing existing water supplies to avert a crisis.

    Conservation is one of the ways to manage water supplies, and includes everything from fixing rusty, leaking irrigation pipes to installing high-tech soil moisture monitors that ensure efficient irrigation. The new agreement also specifically aims to pay farmers and ranchers in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico to stop irrigating some of their land, at least temporarily, and letting it lie fallow, or uncultivated.

    Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said the agreement is not a water grab by cities.

    “This is about water security,” Lochhead said, explaining that, in times of shortages, it’s important to manage the existing water supply as efficiently as possible. “We have to put our money where our mouth is,” he said. “Part of this is to try and determine really how much water we can obtain for the system through programs like this.”

    A key principle of the agreement is demand management, which means focusing on water use rather than on building new diversions or dams. It can include using water more efficiently, and the sale or temporary lease of water rights. Since water managers only have a finite amount of water to work with, shifting around uses within the system is one of the few options for avoiding interstate conflicts while meeting projected gaps in supply…

    The agreement looks good on its surface but raises a slew of thorny new legal issues, said Mark Squillace, a leading water law scholar at a University of Colorado natural resource think tank. According to Squillace, agreements reached under the new program could violate state laws that govern water allocation. Participants to voluntary agreements can bind each other legally with a water contract, but the new multi-state program doesn’t address what happens if those deals affect other water users not party to the agreement, Squillace said. At this point, the transfers envisioned under the agreement are probably more of a Band-Aid than the major surgery that may be required to equitably distribute Colorado River water during times of shortage, according to some water law experts.

    Along with colleague Douglas Kenney at CU-Boulder’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment, Squillace has been advocating for revisions to the basic legal framework to reflect 21st-century realities, including climate change and shifts in the demand for water away from agriculture and to municipal use.

    And with agriculture using so much of the water, those changes would mainly have to address concerns related to water use by farms and ranches. Squillace said the governing laws need to give farmers more flexibility to save water without losing their water rights.

    “Right now, the incentives are for agriculture to use as much water as they can,” Squillace said. Instead, there should be incentives that would encourage farmers to switch to crops that use less water, he explained.

    For example, if a farmer switches from growing alfalfa to growing a less water intensive crop like barley, he or she shouldn’t lose their water rights, which is the way things are under the existing use-it-or-lose-it doctrine. Instead, that farmer should be able to market the “extra” water, Squillace explained.

    Once the basic laws have been revamped, market-based transfers of water like those envisioned by the new agreement have a much better chance of succeeding, he concluded.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    Another transmountain diversion for the Front Range? #COWaterPlan

    August 9, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

    The nascent Colorado Water Plan has begun to materialize in the form of draft implementation plans for each of the state’s eight largest river basins. And Front Range interests are once again looking toward the Colorado River to cushion water demand in the face of rising populations and interstate water obligations on the other side of the divide…

    Each roundtable released its draft plan last week, and the joint draft plan from the South Platte and Metro roundtables, which includes the Denver Metro Area, identifies new Colorado River water supplies as one of the “four legs of the stool” to address water needs in the South Platte River Basin.

    The draft plan cites a growing population in the South Platte River Basin and obligations to send water to other states as major factors that justify additional trans-mountain diversion.

    As of yet, the South Platte and Metro roundtables haven’t established just how much extra water it would need to divert from the Colorado River.

    “There’s a lot of speculation out there from different folks, but I think the basin plan was very deliberate not to put a number to it because it really seemed to stall the conversation,” said Sean Cronin, the chair for the South Platte Roundtable. “It really felt like it was more prudent that we ought to be having a discussion about additional supplies, and we ought to be having a discussion about what those additional supplies would look like.”

    The South Platte and Metro roundtables saw that the gap between water supplies and water demands on the West Slope left room for additional diversions, Cronin said. Additional diversions would also be limited to wet years, when more water is available.

    “In the end, it really wasn’t a matter of how much water,” Cronin said. “It was simply a matter of do we want to pursue this idea for the greater good for Colorado.”

    But the Colorado River Basin Roundtable’s draft plan doesn’t view its resources as expendable.

    “We think that a new project should be the last thing that’s sought in that there still might not be enough resources or water to make that viable,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. “We base that on the fact that the we are already big donors of water to the Front Range.”[...]

    But as Mark Koleber, chair of the Metro Roundtable, explained, Denver Water doesn’t supply all of the Denver-Metro area and outlying parts of the South Platte River Basin.

    “The metro area is much larger than that outside of the Denver water system,” Kobeler said. “So what might be provided by the Moffat-Gross expansion wouldn’t necessarily go to areas outside of the Denver Water service area unless they have a contract for it.”

    This means another entity could seek permitting for a transmountain diversion project from the Colorado River, which wouldn’t fall under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.

    But Pokrandt said any additional diversions to the South Platte, in theory, would have to come from other basins like the Yampa or the Gunnison.

    “Some new big transmountain diversion would probably have to go somewhere else,” Pokrandt said. “It would have to go somewhere else that’s not hard hit.”[...]

    The draft basin implementation plan issued from the Colorado River Basin Roundtable has found that additional transmountain diversion would damage agriculture and degrade environmental conditions in the Colorado River basin.

    “There’s already so much water taken out of the headwaters that we don’t think that there’s any more water to give without severe economic and environmental degradation,” Pokrandt said…

    Each roundtable will submit its final plan to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in April 2015. The board will submit the final state water plan to the governor in December 2015.

    For more information on each roundtable’s draft plan, visit

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    The latest newsletter from the #ColoradoRiver District is hot off the presses

    August 9, 2014

    Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

    Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

    Click here to read the newsletter from the Colorado River Water Conservancy District. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado River District is working with partners on a new regional program to study agricultural conservation projects involving fallowing or deficit irrigation and is advocating the focus be larger than just Western Colorado agriculture, that Front Range agriculture and all municipal users also “share the pain.”

    In discussing the subject at the July quarterly meeting of the Board of Directors, General Counsel Peter Fleming said that some degree of temporary fallowing and deficit irrigation may be required to manage the Colorado River Basin under a future dry scenario.

    The River District would need to monitor closely and participate in pilot project proposals to ensure that West Slope agriculture and its related economies are best protected, he said.

    General Manager Eric Kuhn said that as regional efforts focus on work in Colorado, they need to reach out more broadly than just Western Colorado agriculture. A successful program needs to explore methods to reduce Colorado River demands among all use sectors in the state: municipal, industrial, East Slope agriculture, as well as West Slope agriculture.

    A program focused solely on West Slope agriculture will not be successful, he said.

    More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.

    Huerfano County: Shell fails to convince the Division of Water Resources that produced water is non-tributary

    August 9, 2014


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    An oil company’s claim for underground water near Gardner in Huerfano County was rejected last month by the state.

    Shell Oil argued produced water from planned drilling is non-tributary, meaning it could be claimed for other uses. Produced water refers to excess water that nearly always accompanies oil and gas drilling operations.

    But the Colorado Division of Water Resources said Shell failed to prove its case, in an initial report. Shell has until Aug. 22 to appeal the finding.

    Shell’s consultant, AMEC, failed to consider local geologic factors that connect as well as separate the deep Niobrara shale formation with the natural stream system, according to a decision written by Ralf Topper and Matthew Sares of the hydrogeological services section of the division.

    Shell’s application was opposed by Citizens for Huerfano County, a group of about 450 local residents and 600 total members that advocates for clean water and air.

    “We’re contending that the water is connected because of the vertical dikes in the particular geology of the area,” said Jeff Briggs, president of the citizens group.

    Shell made the claims for water underlying three 25,000-acre tracts known as the Seibert, State and Fortune federal units. It plans to drill 7,000 feet deep with horizontal fracturing at a depth of 5,000 feet.

    That plan troubles area residents because of past contamination from drilling, Briggs said.

    “We feel the state Legislature and executive branch have tried to facilitate as much oil and gas exploration as possible,” Briggs said. “I think what we are saying is that the decision by all levels of government and the oil and gas industry to go all in on fracking was economic and political and not scientific or medical.”

    However the Huerfano County decision might not have statewide implications because it applies to specific geologic conditions found in the Spanish Peaks area.

    A nontributary designation has advantages for a driller, because containing produced water for either direct use, treatment or deep injection would not require finding other sources to augment stream depletions

    More coalbed methane coverage here.

    New partnership formed to address drought in Colorado River Basin — Denver Water

    August 8, 2014
    Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    From Denver Water (Travis Thompson):

    In a first-of-its-kind partnership, agricultural and environmental organizations, West Slope water districts and Denver Water have come together to explore measures that could help benefit the Colorado River and avoid reaching critically low water levels in Lake Powell. Should levels in this important reservoir continue to decline due to the prolonged drought in the basin, it could result in a compact call, putting water supplies to much of Colorado and the upper basin states at risk. This also could result in a loss of regionally important hydropower production, a reduction in revenues derived from the sale of this power, and an associated loss of funding for important programs like the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program that provides the means by which all existing water use and an increment of future use in the upper basin can comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.

    The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Denver Water, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited are working together to leverage $11 million made available under the Colorado River System Conservation Program, which will fund pilot projects to reduce demands in the Colorado River Basin and improve reservoir levels in Lake Powell as well as Lake Mead, which also has declined to its lowest level in its 80 year history.

    “Without collaborative action, water supplies, hydropower production, water quality, agricultural output, recreation and environmental resources are all at risk in the next several years in the upper basin, if Lake Powell reaches critically low levels,” said Doug Robotham, Colorado water project director of The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.

    The Colorado River System Conservation Program, announced last week, was created by the Bureau of Reclamation and four municipalities in the upper and lower Colorado basins, including Denver Water, to provide funding to develop, test and gather data on potential short-term demonstration or pilot programs that keep water in lakes Powell and Mead through temporary, voluntary and fully compensated mechanisms. If a pilot program proves to be successful, it could be part of a contingency toolbox developed by states and the federal government to be implemented only if a severe shortage looks imminent and discontinued when conditions improve.

    “Our interest is to protect water users in Colorado and the upper basin. We know that if there is a compact call, agriculture is the first area that will be looked at for the solution,” said Don Shawcroft, Colorado Farm Bureau. “A crisis is bad for everyone — especially agriculture. It is vital that we have a voice at the table.”

    The upper basin pilot projects developed under the System Conservation Program will be used to demonstrate ways to put water immediately in Lake Powell, through voluntary, compensated means, and only for as long as a drought continues.

    “Lake Powell is the ‘bank account’ that assures the upper basin has the wherewithal to meet our obligation to the lower basin under the Colorado River Compact. While the risks of Lake Powell going below its power pool are low, the consequences are high,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “Currently there are no contingency plans for such an event. Denver gets half its water supply from the Colorado River so we have a big stake in the future security of the river, not just for ourselves, but for all water users in Colorado. As leaders, we simply cannot wait for a crisis to happen before we come together to figure out how to address it. That would be irresponsible.”

    “For a number of years now we have been working with Colorado, Front Range water providers, Southwestern, TNC, and agricultural producers on a long-term water banking solution. The System Conservation Program is a natural outgrowth of that effort. The challenge is to be sure all parties are represented and that we have fair and transparent processes,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District.

    In order to ensure that local concerns are addressed, and that there is equity and fairness among all parties, the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and the Upper Colorado River Commission will have a direct role in program efforts. This envisioned structure is distinct from that of the Lower Colorado River Basin, where the Bureau of Reclamation will manage conservation actions in Arizona, California and Nevada to address declining reservoir levels in Lake Mead in a manner consistent with past programs.

    “Complying with the Colorado River Compact is a shared responsibility across all water-use sectors and among all the upper basin states” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “We must control our destiny. The worst case is a compact call or a situation where the federal government determines how we will manage critical flows. We simply must work together to protect the future of this state, all our economies and critical industries to avoid a future compact call.”

    As this is a basin-wide project, the coalition will continue to seek additional stakeholders throughout the upper basin states. The members also plan to actively seek additional funding for education and outreach.

    “This is not a one-sector or one-state solution. The pilot programs will demonstrate the viability of cooperative means to reduce water demand from any number of different sources where water is lost or consumed — agriculture, municipal and industrial,” said Frank Daley, president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

    “We have learned in Colorado though our Water Conservation Board and Basin Roundtables how critical public awareness is to project success. Education and awareness of the pilot projects may be equally as beneficial as the projects themselves. We have to be sure people have the real facts of what we are trying to do, buy in to the process and then document the benefits,” stated Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Conservation District.

    The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, and the combined metropolitan areas served by the Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product per year along with agricultural economic benefits of just under $5 billion annually.

    More Denver Water coverage here.

    Evans scores $1 million in flood relief #COflood

    August 8, 2014
    Evans Colorado September 2013 via

    Evans Colorado September 2013 via

    From 9News (Blair Shiff):

    The City of Evans received notice from Governor Hickenlooper’s office on Aug. 1 of a $1-million grant awarded to the city from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Division – Natural Disaster Grant Program…

    The City of Evans will use the grant monies according to the guidelines established by the Water Quality Control Division of CDPHE for the following:

  • Repairs to the existing wastewater treatment facility to allow reliable and effective wastewater treatment until the new facility is fully operational
  • Hazard Mitigation Plan implementation at the Evans Wastewater Treatment Facility
  • Preliminary site applications, process design report, design of a future wastewater treatment facility and associated approvals.
  • When the flood occurred in September 2013, the City Council was already evaluating needed improvements to increase capacity of the wastewater infrastructure at the Evans Wastewater Treatment Facility. The flood caused serious damage to the facility, highlighting the vulnerability of maintaining a treatment facility in a floodplain. Receipt of these grant monies moves Evans one step closer to a treatment facility of appropriate capacity, out of the floodplain and which meets upcoming state regulatory standards.

    From 9News (Meagan Fitzgerald):

    Nearly a year after last September’s historic floods, many businesses in Boulder County are still trying to recover.

    The U.S. Small Business Administration says they have approved nearly $11 million in loans to help with relief efforts…

    Matt Varilek with the USBA says the long-term loans that were approved for businesses in Boulder County were at a 4 or 6 percent interest rates…

    An SBA spokesperson says the window to apply for the business loans have passed. But, those who are in need of assistance can contact their local Small Business Development Center. There is still grant money available for businesses devastated by flood water.

    The Small Business Development Center is an economic development organization that helps small businesses. There are 14 centers across Colorado to include to include one in Boulder and Larimer County.

    Drought news: Vigorous monsoon circulation leads to heavy rain in the central and southern Rockies #COdrought

    August 8, 2014

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    A vigorous monsoon circulation led to heavy rain (locally 2 inches or more) in parts of Arizona and the central and southern Rockies. The rain provided some drought relief, benefited rangeland and pastures, and eased irrigation demands. At times, showers spread as far west as California, resulting in some rare, locally heavy summer rainfall but having little overall impact on the state’s 3-year drought. Moisture also spilled across portions of the central and southern Plains, where interaction with a cold front led to copious rainfall (2 to 6 inches) in Oklahoma and environs. Rainfall totals were much lighter, however, across the majority of Texas. Farther north, however, only isolated showers interrupted an otherwise dry pattern from the Pacific Coast to the northern Plains and western Corn Belt. Despite a July drying trend, many Midwestern crops continued to thrive due to moderate temperatures and adequate subsoil moisture reserves. On August 3, USDA rated nearly three-quarters of the U.S. corn (73%) and soybeans (71%) in good to excellent condition—the highest such ratings this late in the season since 2004. In stark contrast, the return of extremely hot weather to the interior Northwest maintained stress on rangeland, pastures, and rain-fed crops. Elsewhere, locally heavy showers peppered the East, although amounts were highly variable. Some of the heaviest rain fell in the southern Mid-Atlantic States, helping to ease the effects of short-term dryness…

    A strange thing happened on the path to California’s historic drought: it rained. Although the rain’s overall effect on the drought were inconsequential, there were some short-term benefits such as reduced irrigation demands and evaporation rates; lower temperatures in the wake of record-setting heat; and temporary relief for drought-stressed rangeland and pastures. Reasons that California’s rain did not provide substantial drought relief included: 1) a lack of widespread coverage of the heaviest showers, 2) the fact that heavy showers mostly fell outside California’s key watershed areas in the Colorado River basin and the Sierra Nevada, and 3) the fact that the high runoff rate of the heaviest rain did not allow for significant percolation into drought-parched soils. Nevertheless, intense rainfall on August 3 led to memorable flooding on the slopes of Mt. Baldy in southern California. Selected daily-record rainfall totals in California on August 3 included 0.49 inch in Needles and 0.07 inch in Long Beach. Scattered showers were reported in other parts of California on various days. Despite the cooler weather and showers, California’s rangeland condition remained steady (70% very poor to poor on August 3). Similarly, topsoil moisture (80% very short to short) and subsoil moisture (85% very short to short) were unchanged from the previous week. Across the northern tier of California, several wildfires—including the 30,000- to 40,000-acre Eiler and Bald fires—remained active in early August…

    Northern Plains and Midwest
    Spotty showers accompanied below-normal temperatures across the northern Plains and Midwest. Due to persistently cool weather and a lack of heat stress, impacts from short-term dryness have been slow to emerge. Nevertheless, there was some minor expansion of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) in the southwestern Corn Belt, while a new region of D0 was introduced in northeastern Wisconsin and northwestern Michigan. From June 1 – August 5, rainfall in Traverse City, Michigan, totaled 4.77 inches (71% of normal). Similarly, Green Bay, Wisconsin, netted a June 1 – August 5 total of just 5.29 inches (67% of normal). In Wisconsin, USDA reports indicated that “dry soil conditions and a lack of heat units were keeping corn development behind normal, especially for late-planted fields.” Reports from Michigan echoed those comments: “cool, dry weather in most regions has been a challenge [with respect] to crop development.” In Nebraska, “another week of only scattered rainfall stressed dryland crops and pastures, [while] irrigation continued non-stop in many areas.” North Platte, Nebraska, completed its driest July on record, with rainfall totaling just 0.14 inch (5% of normal) [ed. emphasis mine]. Previously, North Platte’s driest July had occurred in 1901, when 0.34 inch fell. By August 3, topsoil moisture was rated at least one-third very short to short in Missouri (52%), Montana (52%), Nebraska (49%), South Dakota (36%), and Wisconsin (33%). On the same date, nearly one-fifth of the rangeland and pastures were rated very poor to poor in Montana and Nebraska—both at 18%…

    Record-setting heat returned to the interior Northwest, leading to some further increases in drought coverage—mainly in Washington and Oregon. In Washington, Omak posted consecutive daily-record highs (105 and 104°F, respectively) on July 29-30, followed by another record setting high of 100°F on August 2. Wenatchee, WA, also notched a pair of daily-record highs (105 and 103°F, respectively) on July 29-30. Other triple-digit, daily-record highs on July 29 included 105°F in Yakima, WA, and 104°F in Pendleton, OR. Effects of heat and drought were apparent on rangeland, pastures, and rain-fed summer crops. For example, 35% of Washington’s spring wheat crop was rated in very poor to poor condition on August 3, according to USDA. On the same date, 39% of Oregon’s rangeland and pastures were rated very poor to poor. And, topsoil moisture was rated more than half very short to short in Washington (65%), Oregon (62%), and Idaho (56%)…

    Southern Plains
    Heavy rain swept across Oklahoma and environs on July 30-31, resulting in modest reductions in drought intensity and coverage. A stripe of 2- to 6-inch rainfall totals stretched across southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, central and eastern Oklahoma, and northeastern Texas, with official, 2-day totals reaching 5.18 inches in McAlester, Oklahoma; 4.02 inches in Paris, Texas; and 2.18 inches in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Oklahoma’s topsoil moisture was rated 36% very short to short on August 3, an improvement from 47% the previous week. However, the effects of a multi-year drought were still apparent in the fact that, on August 3, subsoil moisture was rated 59% very short to short in Oklahoma, along with 52% in both Colorado and Kansas.

    Aside from some heavy showers in northern and eastern Texas, significant rainfall largely bypassed the Lone Star State in late July and early August. As a result, both topsoil and subsoil moisture was rated 67% very short to short on August 3, according to USDA. Several degradations in the drought depiction were introduced in Texas, while USDA reported that rangeland and pasture “conditions began to deteriorate in areas of Edwards Plateau due to dry weather.” In addition, some producers in southern Texas “began to provide supplemental feed.”[...]

    Locally heavy showers associated with the monsoon circulation continued to pepper the Great Basin, Intermountain West, and Southwest, resulting in further improvements to the drought depiction where significant rain fell. Many of the improvements were concentrated across New Mexico, as well as portions of west-central and southeastern Arizona. On August 3, rangeland and pastures were rated 56% very poor to poor in New Mexico and 50% very poor to poor in Arizona. However, those numbers represented improvements from 65 and 56%, respectively, from the previous week. Shower activity continued to bypass many areas in Utah, which topped the Southwestern States on August 3 with 61% of its topsoil moisture rated very short to short. In northeastern Arizona, rain also continued to skirt much of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Indian Reservation, leading to an increase in the coverage of severe drought (D2)…

    Looking Ahead
    From August 7 – 11, showery weather will gradually shift from the north-central U.S. into the Southeast. Five-day rainfall totals could reach 2 to 4 inches from the southwestern Corn Belt to the Carolinas. Meanwhile, mostly dry weather will prevail across the Great Lakes region and the southern Plains, although generally cool weather in the Midwest will contrast with hot conditions in the south-central U.S. Farther west, monsoon showers will be mostly confined to the northern Intermountain region, although a new surge of moisture may reach the Southwest during the next few days. In Hawaii, the remnants of Hurricane Iselle will pass over or very close to the Big Island during the night of August 7-8. Iselle, expected to be a tropical storm upon reaching the Big Island, could result in torrential rainfall and gusty winds. Effects from Iselle may also reach some of the other Hawaiian Islands, mainly on August 8.

    The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for August 12 – 16 calls for the likelihood of below-normal temperatures from the central Plains into the Midwest and Northeast, while hotter-than-normal conditions can be expected across the northern High Plains, Deep South, and much of the West. Meanwhile, near- to above-normal rainfall across the majority of the U.S. will contrast with the likelihood of drier-than-normal weather in southern Texas and from the Pacific Northwest to the northern High Plains.

    Geothermal in Pagosa Springs — The Mountain Town News

    August 8, 2014

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Nobody doubts that the Colorado town of Pagosa Springs has hot water. It bubbles to the surface at around 140 degrees and in quantities sufficient to sustain a large commercial spa and several more public pools along the San Juan River.

    As well, the hot water heats 13 businesses and 5 homes in downtown Pagosa Springs plus the Archuleta County courthouse, delivering this energy at a cost roughly 20 to 25 percent below the going rate for natural gas and 30 percent less than electricity.

    But is there sufficient hot water available to produce electricity, warm 10 acres of greenhouses, and deliver heat to 600 homes?

    Geologic modeling suggests there is, but until additional wells are drilled, as is expected later this summer, there’s no way of knowing for sure. If those exploratory wells confirm large volumes of hot water, then two large-bore wells will be required to extract the hot water and, after the heat is transferred from the water, return it underground.

    Federal and state grants this year have given the project traction. The U.S. Department of Energy delivered $3.9 million, followed by $1.9 million from state sources. The town and county governments created a consortium called the Pagosa Area Geothermal Water and Power Authority to provide 30 percent in local funds, or $520,000, as required by the federal grant.

    A private company, Pagosa Verde, which is pushing the project, came up with an equal amount in in-kind services. It owns 20 percent of the project and has the backing of a South Carolina-based investment firm called Natural Energy LLC.

    Another milestone occurred in late May, when Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper stopped in Pagosa to sign H.B. 14-1222 into law. The law, co-sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Democrat from Snowmass Village, lengthens the repayment period and otherwise provides great flexibility for private-activity bonds issued with the backing of the state government for geothermal and other renewable energy projects.

    Michael McReynolds, policy advisor at the Colorado Energy Office, says the new law recognizes the large costs of proving the geothermal resource exists before development can occur.

    However, other areas of the state are interested in replicating the business model of diverse revenue streams being assembled at Pagosa Springs. “It really depends upon the specific communities and what they want to pursue,” he said when asked if the new law will be used to finance other community renewable energy projects.

    Jerry Smith, the chief executive at Pagosa Verde, says the new law was “huge” in allowing the project in Pagosa Springs to go forward.

    In providing access up to $16.7 million available for as little as 2 percent interest, Smith’s project can now proceed. He estimates the need to spend $26 million before revenue can be gained.

    “It’s a community-scale project, replicable throughout the Rocky Mountain states. I wanted town and county citizens to own it,” says Smith. “They only way they could participate was by forming an authority, similar to a housing authority. It’s a quasi-governmental authority.”

    The public-private partnership is called Pagosa Waters LLC.

    Because of the lower-cost money produced by the state and federal grants plus the clear bonding authority enabled by the new state law, he sees a financial path opening up.

    Bonds will be just 2 percent. “That’s essentially free money,” he says. “We can borrow as much as we need to secure revenue for the project, “and it’s a way we go.”

    Cheap borrowed money also relieves the onus of finding extremely hot water and arranging for sale of electricity, says Smith. If tests reveal merely hot water, such as bubbles up in the local springs, then that’s still hot enough for greenhouses and living rooms.

    From the Romans forward

    Hot water originating underground has long been put to practical uses. Romans at Pompei used hot water to heat buildings.

    The Idaho Capitol Building has been heated with water drawn from 3,000 feet below ground, but 86 buildings with more than 5.5 million square feet of space are also heated by a separate geothermal heating district, according to Jon Gunnerson, geothermal coordinator for the City of Boise Public Works. It is the largest geothermal heating system in the United States, he says.

    Commercial electrical production from geothermal sources began in 1911 in Larderello, Italy. The first commercial electrical production in the United States began in 1960 at The Geysers in California.

    In 2013, according to the Geothermal Energy Association, the United States had 3,386 megawatts of installed geothermal capacity, or about three times as much as the trio of giant coal-fired power plants found in the Comanche complex near Pueblo, Colo.

    Less prominent than photovoltaic panels, geothermal was nonetheless responsible for 0.41 percent of all electrical generation last year, ahead of solar at 0.23 percent. Biomass, wind, and hydro all produced more than geothermal.

    California far and away has the most geothermal installed capacity, followed by Nevada, then trailed more distantly by Hawaii, Utah, and Idaho.

    In Colorado, geothermal resources have been used to heat small greenhouses associated with the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, near Buena Vista, as well as commercial springs. But no electrical production has been achieved because of concerns that new uses will rob existing users of their heat.

    “Until very recently, Colorado’s geothermal potential for generating electricity has been assigned little promise,” notes the Colorado School of Mines at its geothermal website. “This appears to be based more on a lack of study, rather than on sound science.”

    The website article goes on to note that a 2008 report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that Colorado is the top state in the nation for potential commercial development of its heat, mostly if deep wells are drilled near Rico, Trinidad and other hot spots in a process called enhanced geothermal recovery.

    Potential in Pagosa

    Just how much electricity the Pagosa project could produce depends upon the heat of water. Colorado School of Mines studies concluded a strong likelihood of substantial hot water 2,000 to 5,000 feet under the land leased by Smith’s company about two miles south of downtown Pagosa Springs. Hot water for the downtown heating district is drawn from a depth of 300 feet.

    Smith says it’s a cinch that the water found 2,000 to 5,000 deep will be at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of the water found closer to the surface. If so, it should be enough to produce four megawatts of round-the-clock electricity, what is called base-load generation.

    If the water is 250 degrees, as the geological modeling suggests, it could generate 12 megawatts—and still have residual heat for the greenhouses and the homes.

    Archuleta County altogether has baseload demand for 20 megawatts of generation. Another renewable source, a proposed biomass plant that would burn forest products to generate electricity, would generate 5 megawatts. Both biomass and geothermal generators probably need to get paid more for their electricity by the local electrical cooperative, La Plata Electric, than what the cooperative currently pays.

    Biomass plant proponent J.R. Ford last winter said he needed 15 to 20 percent more than what the La Plata and other electrical cooperatives pay wholesale provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Tri-State’s power comes primarily from coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric.

    Distributed generation

    Both the geothermal and biomass projects in Archuleta County are representative of small sources of electricity called distributed generation. In a famous 1976 essay published in Foreign Affairs, Aspen-area resident Amory Lovins advocated more localized generation as necessary to shift power production from giant but often distant coal-fired power plants. In that same essay, Lovins also stressed that more local sources of electricity would reduce the vulnerability of the grid to terrorism.

    “Distributed energy is what the world needs to get to,” says Smith, who cites Lovins as one of his heroes.

    Smith moved to Archuleta County in 1989 after a career in the entertainment industry in California. He describes himself as a “liberal arts guy who values things that most people find technical and dry.”

    Pagosa Skyrocket via Native Ecosystems

    Pagosa Skyrocket via Native Ecosystems

    Geothermal is wet, of course, but whether it moves forward in Pagosa Springs depends upon the outcome of a review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The 600 acres of land leased for the drilling between the San Juan River and Highway 84 has a plant species, the Pagosa skyrocket (Ipomopsis polyantha), which has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

    The plant grows one or two feet tall, often in the understory of Ponderosa pine, and has been found in only three places, all near Pagosa Springs.

    The federal grant money triggered the need for a biological assessment, which will be the basis for a biological opinion. If adverse effects can be avoided, such as by using care in the placement of wells, the Fish and Wildlife Service can approve the drilling this summer.

    Existing wells reach a maximum 1,200 feet, but Smith expects to need wells 2,500 to 5,000 feet deep. The working hypothesis is that the underground rocks at the site are fractured than those that provide the water for the commercial hot springs and downtown heating district.

    How will anybody know if the new wells are tapping a new source of heat instead of robbing the existing geothermal resource? Smith says his company will inject heat and pressure gauges on all local hot-water wells, “so they know immediately whether we are tapping the resource.” Colorado law and new regulations in Archuleta County protect existing geothermal users in case of damage to their resource.

    Chris Gallegos, who administers the town’s geothermal heating district, says it’s “an unknown” whether Smith’s project would impair the existing users. “Through the test wells we should be able to determine whether the extraction of that heat would affect us or not,” he says.

    Additional resources:

    Water Plan Input, Round 2: The Legislature

    August 8, 2014

    Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

    Even if you live here, you have a chance to give input to Colorado’s Water Plan

    Unless you’ve been living off-the-grid in a far corner of our beautiful state, you know that the Colorado Water Conservation Board is leading an effort to craft Colorado’s Water Plan.

     After almost a decade of work, nine Basin Roundtables have crafted individual plans that will offer solutions for how each basin’s future water needs will be addressed at the local level.  These ‘Basin Implementation Plans’ will then be incorporated into Colorado’s Water Plan, with a draft due in December 2014. There have been over 100 meetings held by the roundtables to educate about the plan and offer opportunities for input since Summer 2013.

    Our esteemed lawmakers want to hear from you!

    Now that the roundtables have submitted their draft plans, and are taking a breather to regroup, the State Legislature is picking up…

    View original 299 more words

    Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COdrought

    August 7, 2014
    Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal July 2014 via the Colorado Climate Denver

    Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal July 2014 via the Colorado Climate Denver

    Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

    From KRDO (Zach Pagano):

    New numbers from the U.S. Drought Monitor suggest more than half of Colorado is drought-free.

    This is significant improvement over this time last year, when nearly the entire state was in some sort of drought condition.

    Dan Hobbs owns Hobbs Family Farm, in Avondale. He says farming in southern Colorado hasn’t always been easy.

    “The last 14 years, on balance, have been pretty challenging due to the dry conditions,” Hobbs said.

    But it appears help may be on the way for Hobbs and his fellow farmers. Heavy rainfall is bringing places, such as Pueblo County, out of the “exceptional drought” category.

    “We’ve had some fun problems, and that’s more water than we can actually use,” Hobbs said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

    For portions of southeast Colorado, drought fears are far from over.

    “It takes a long time to get into a drought, and it takes a long time to get out of a drought,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Wolyn.

    Hobbs says he understands how vital precipitation can be to agriculture.

    “It’s a precious resource, and to the extent possible, we need to figure out solutions to keep that water on the land so we can keep feeding the people of Colorado,” said Hobbs.

    CIRES Report: Climate Change in Colorado A Synthesis to Support Water Resources Management and Adaptation

    August 7, 2014


    Click here to read the executive summary. Here’s an excerpt:

    In the past 30 years, Colorado’s climate has become substantially warmer. The recent warming trend in Colorado is in step with regional and global warming that has been linked to increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Annual precipitation, which has high natural variability, has not seen a statewide trend over that period. However, some drought indicators have worsened due to the warmer temperatures.

    As greenhouse gases and other human effects on the climate continue to increase, Colorado is expected to warm even more by the mid-21st century, pushing temperatures outside of the range of the past century. The outlook for future precipitation in Colorado is less clear; overall increases or decreases are possible. The risk of decreasing precipitation appears to be higher for the southern parts of the state.

    The future warming is projected to generally reduce Colorado’s spring snowpack, cause earlier snowmelt and runoff, and increase the water use by crops, landscaping, and natural vegetation. While future increases in annual natural streamflow are possible, the body of published research indicates a greater risk of decreasing streamflow, particularly in the southern half of the state.

    From (Phil Tenser, Mike Nelson):

    Colorado’s warming climate is projected to cause significant changes for state’s water supply, according to a new study.

    Released by the Western Water Assessment and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the study echoes many of the predictions included in a national assessment issued by the federal government in May. Both forecast that ongoing warming of the local climate will reduce Colorado snowpack, cause earlier snowmelt and increase water use for agriculture and landscaping.

    “Climate Change in Colorado,” the report issued Tuesday and led by a University of Colorado researcher, is based on compiled climate science. It focuses on current observed trends and forecasts for the mid-21st century…

    The authors also stated that Colorado snowpack has been mainly below-average since 2000 and snowmelt timing has shifted earlier in the spring over the past 30 years. Projections call for the peak runoff time to continue shifting earlier, but the report says that changes in the timing are more certain than predictions for the amount of runoff.

    The report says, “The uncertainty in projections of precipitation and streamflow for Colorado should not be construed as a ‘no change’ scenario, but instead as a broadening of the range of possible futures, some of which would present serious challenges to the state’s water systems.”

    According to the report, these observations and predictions could influence reservoir operations including flood control and water storage. Changes in the timing and volume of runoff may also “complicate” future water rights issues and interstate water compacts. Lower streamflows could also lead to higher concentrations of pollutants.

    Earlier peak flows could have impacts on aquatic ecosystems and rafting or fishing industries, while reduced snowpack may also impact Colorado mountain tourism.

    Every climate model assessed in the report indicates future warming will increase average annual temperatures by 2.5 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions are in the lower range of estimates. If emissions are in a higher range, the increase could be 3.5 to 6.5 degrees.

    “We will still have cold winters and cool summers, but as the global climate warms, these cooler trends will become less frequent in the coming decades,” Nelson said.

    Here’s a release from the University of Colorado at Boulder:

    As Colorado’s climate continues to warm, those who manage or use water in the state will likely face significant changes in water supply and demand, according to a new report on state climate change released today by the Western Water Assessment and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Rising temperatures will tend to reduce the amount of water in many of Colorado’s streams and rivers, melt mountain snowpack earlier in the spring, and increase the water needed by thirsty crops and cities, according to the new report, “Climate Change in Colorado: A Synthesis to Support Water Resources Management and Adaptation,” which updates and expands upon an initial report released in 2008.

    The Colorado report comes on the heels of international and national assessments that discuss likely impacts of climate change in broad regions, and it leverages those assessments to provide state-specific information. Because Colorado is located between an area likely to dry further (the U.S. Southwest) and one likely to get wetter (Northern Great Plains), our precipitation future is less certain.

    “Despite some uncertainties around precipitation, it’s clear that as temperatures rise in Colorado, there will be impacts on our water resources,” said Jeff Lukas, lead author of the new report and a researcher at the Western Water Assessment, a program of the University of Colorado Boulder funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    “Already, snowmelt and runoff are shifting earlier, our soils are becoming drier, and the growing season has lengthened,” Lukas said. “Wildfires and heat waves have become more common, too. Climate projections suggest those trends—all of which can affect water supply and demand—will continue.”

    The newest climate models are split on whether the future will see increasing, decreasing or similar amounts of annual precipitation in Colorado. Even if the future brings more precipitation, the report notes, skiers, farmers and cities may not benefit because a warmer atmosphere will pull more moisture out of the state’s snowpack, soils, crops and other plants.

    In producing “Climate Change in Colorado,” the authors sought to provide information that would be useful to people involved in making long-term decisions about Colorado’s water in the face of climate change.

    “This report will help to inform critical products like the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) and Colorado’s Water Plan,” said James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board director. “This report will add value, just as the 2008 report was widely used by the state and other entities to inform their long-term planning processes such as the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan and the city of Denver’s Climate Adaptation Plan.”

    Among the findings presented in the new report:

  • Colorado has warmed: Statewide average annual temperatures are 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they were three decades ago.
  • Climate models indicate that the state’s average annual temperature will continue to increase, by 2.5 to 6.5 degrees by 2050.
  • A 2-degree increase would make Denver’s temperatures in 2050 more like Pueblo’s today.
  • A 4-degree increase would make Denver more like Lamar in southeastern Colorado, and a 6-degree shift would push Denver’s temperatures beyond any found in Colorado today, to more like those in Albuquerque, New Mexico, today.
  • Future warming in the state is likely to lead to more heat waves, wildfires and droughts. Observations show there have already been increasing trends in these three extremes over the past 30 years.
  • Warmer temperatures and other changes (dust on snow) mean that snowpack is melting earlier, on average, by one to four weeks compared with 30 years ago. This creates a strain for farmers and other users who draw water directly from rivers.
  • Colorado has seen no long-term increase or decrease in total precipitation or heavy rainfall events. Climate models are split about Colorado’s future precipitation, showing a range of possible outcomes from a 5 percent decrease in precipitation to an 8 percent increase by midcentury.
  • Climate models tend to show a shift toward higher midwinter precipitation across the state.
  • Hydrology models show a wide range of outcomes for annual streamflow in Colorado’s river basins, but an overall tendency towards lower streamflow by 2050, especially in the southwestern part of the state.
  • The Western Water Assessment (WWA) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) is a division of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and spearheads the state’s climate change adaptation efforts.

    Co-authors of the report are Joseph Barsugli of CIRES and NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL), Nolan Doesken of Colorado State University and the Colorado Climate Center, Imtiaz Rangwala of WWA, and Klaus Wolter of CIRES and ESRL.

    Read a summary of the report at, and see the full report at

    Water Lines: Gunnison Basin contributes to #COWaterPlan debate — Grand Junction Free Press

    August 7, 2014
    Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From the Grand Junction Free Press (George Sibley):

    In July, the Gunnison River Basin Roundtable completed a “Gunnison Basin Water Plan,” finishing a year of concentrated hard work. This basin plan went to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, along with eight other plans from other Colorado basin roundtables; and by the end of the year a single consolidated Colorado Water Plan will emerge to shepherd the use of the state’s water resources out to 2050.

    Exactly what this consolidated Colorado Water Plan will look like is not yet known. So fear fills the knowledge gap: Metropolitan water users (~80 percent of the population) fear that the Plan will impose draconian conservation measures; East Slope farmers fear that it will either outright redirect their water to the cities or will hatch complex “water-sharing” schemes that will slowly erode their property in water; and West Slope inhabitants fear that it will direct more water from our side of the mountains to Front Range cities.

    Realistically, the plan will probably fulfill all of those fears to some extent. The planning was initiated when Colorado’s water leaders realized that, by mid-century, Colorado will probably have another 3-5 million people, all needing water from a supply that is already stressed by people pressures. Most of the new people will congregate in Colorado’s Front Range cities.

    How do we equitably distribute an already stressed but essential resource among maybe twice as many people – most of them concentrated in one water-short area? And since most of that resource is already being used to produce food – also something urban dwellers need – how do we share out the water without diminishing the food supply?

    Complicating matters, all nine basins, except for Colorado’s small part of the North Platte River, have discovered that they themselves are likely to be short of water for their own anticipated population growth. But the four West Slope basins (Yampa-White, Colorado, Gunnison and San Juan-Dolores) and the Rio Grande basin found that through a combination of small water projects, conservation programs, and “willing seller” agricultural transfers, they should be able to resolve their communities’ projected shortages from within their own basins.

    The two East Slope “natural” basins (South Platte and Arkansas) and the Metropolitan “Sink” (the non-basin encompassing Denver and its first and second ring of South Platte suburbs) found that they would need to find “new supply” from outside their basins. The annual metropolitan shortfall by mid-century is estimated at 200,000-600,000 acre-feet, depending on actual growth and the extent of conservation programs. An acre-foot of water serves roughly two homes (with yards) for a year under current usage.

    All of the “natural” basins have also quantified agricultural shortages – the difference between the water available and the “ideal” amount of water that would maximize the productivity of their land; these shortages added up to 2 million acre-feet statewide. Some of that shortage could be reduced through irrigation infrastructure repair and efficiency and more small storage.

    None of the eight natural basins have discovered a big pool of unused water to resolve the metropolitan gap. That will have to be addressed in the state plan.

    Where will the “new” metro water come from? There is a tendency in the state’s rural areas to sing the old song: “It’s your misfortune and none of our own.” But that requires forgetting what we learned in 2006 when a December blizzard shut down the Front Range – and suddenly our supermarkets were out of food. Like it or not, we hinterlanders need the Front Range as much as the Front Range needs hinterland water.

    It is unlikely that there will be a significant transmountain diversion from the Upper Gunnison Basin, especially since water rights were quantified for the Black Canyon National Park and downstream flow targets were set for recovering endangered fish. Still, every gallon of water that goes to the Front Range from any West Slope stream decreases our local options under the terms of the Colorado River Compact, which prevents us from holding onto water relied upon by downstream states.

    The Gunnison Basin Water Plan addresses the statewide issue by stressing, first, the absence of any significant pool of water not already being used to the max within the basin; and second, the high risk and high cost of very junior transmountain diversions that would only get water in above-average water years.

    The core of each basin plan is the list of projects for meeting its own needs and goals; the Gunnison Basin plan lists over 100. These will require some projects for physically moving water around, but the harder work will be moving our minds around to figure out how a twice as many people can reasonably and equitably share out an already mostly developed resource.

    To see the Gunnison Basin Water Plan (or any other basin’s), go to, and click on “Community” in the top menu. There are tracks on that website for submitting your own input on the planning process – but you may also send it directly to Gunnison Basin Plan Chair Frank Kugel,, or give this correspondent a call at 970-641-4340.

    George Sibley is chairman of Gunnison Basin Roundtable Education Committee.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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