Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities has spent $26.6 M on land-related expenses

April 19, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs has spent $26.6 million to acquire land for its $984 million Southern Delivery System. Most of the money was spent in El Paso County, although properties in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches were purchased either permanently or for temporary easements.

Pipeline easements totaled $961,681 for 388 acres in Pueblo County, compared with $2.5 million for 486 acres in El Paso County.

Another $1 million was paid to buy homes in Pueblo West.

The big money was paid for other features of the project in El Paso County, a total of about $22 million.

“It would be misleading to simply do the math on the values above and conclude that more was paid for land in El Paso County than Pueblo County,” said Janet Rummel, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, in an e-mail responding to a request from The Pueblo Chieftain.

Permanent easement prices ranged from 50-90 percent of fee value, while temporary easements are valued at 10 percent per year, varying from one to four years.

“The fee value of land depends primarily on location, but also is subject to size, shape, development entitlement and improvements, if any,” Rummel explained.

“Within the raw water pipeline alignments for SDS, fee values for easements and facilities ranged from $1,389 per acre to almost $20,000 per acre,” Rummel said. “Pueblo West properties were generally valued in the range between $10,900 to $13,000 per acre.”

At the high end of that scale were 6 homes on about 10 acres in Pueblo West purchased for $1.044 million.

But even below that scale were 103 acres, two-thirds in permanent easements, on Walker Ranches, which could be purchased for $82,900, or about $804 per acre. Utilities also paid Walker $600,000 to relocate cattle during construction, as required by Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Gary Walker will contest the amount of the easement payment in court this November, one of four cases still in dispute.

Walker also has raised complaints, most recently during a county public hearing, about erosion along the pipeline route. The bulk of the money, however, has gone for the treatment plant, pump station and reservoir sites in El Paso County.

Utilities paid $259,519 for 43 acres for the Bradley Pump Station; $2.4 million for 124 acres at the treatment plant and $19.3 million for a future reservoir site on Upper Williams Creek.

At the reservoir site, T-Cross Ranches, owned by the Norris family, received $9,500 per acre for 791 acres ($7.5 million), while the state land board received $10,500 per acre for 1,128 acres ($11.8 million).

SDS is a pipeline project that will deliver up to 96 million gallons of water daily from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

The figures do not include money Utilities paid to purchase homes in Jimmy Camp Creek at a reservoir site that later was abandoned.


HB14-1026: “In theory, it sounds good [flexible markets], but there are still not enough sideboards on it” — Jay Winner #COleg

April 19, 2014
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Local officials still are skeptical of pending legislation that would establish a flex marketing water right. The bill, HB1026, as introduced would have allowed agricultural water to be used anywhere, any time and for any purpose, apparently in contradiction of the state’s anti-speculation doctrine.

[...]

It breezed through the state House, but has been snagged for weeks in the Senate agriculture committee.

“In theory, it sounds good, but there are still not enough sideboards on it,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Winner has been trying to get a provision added to the bill that would limit fallowing of farmland to three years in 10 — a staple of current law regarding temporary transfers. Backers of the bill have pushed for allowing transfers to occur five years in 10, with nearly unlimited dry-up of farm ground during that time.

The bill was supposed to be heard in the Senate ag committee Thursday, but was again delayed. Winner thinks it should be referred to the interim water resources committee to work out differences.

Meanwhile, the Pueblo Board of Water Works also is backing off from supporting the bill. Even though provisions were added that prevent moving water from the water district where it originally was used, farms might be permanently dried up, said Terry Book, executive director of the water board.

“Our question is does it do what it’s intended to do?” Book said. “We would support something that allows farmers to market water, but not this bill.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


South Platte Basin: High snowpack feeds speculation on runoff pattern #COflood #COdrought

April 18, 2014

St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call


From Rocky Mountain PBS (Jim Trotter):

During the weekly climate webinar Tuesday hosted by the Colorado Climate Center, snowpack in the South Platte basin was reported at 138 percent of normal for this time of year.

What’s more, the South Platte’s tributary rivers – including the Big Thompson, the St. Vrain and the Cache la Poudre – have been reporting base flows of as much as 300 percent above normal. Base flows this time of year are measured before snowmelt. Those high flows are still attributable to the September floods.

“The groundwater contribution from the flooding is still working its way to the river,” assistant State Climatologist Wendy Ryan told I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS. “It’s a rule of thumb that there’s quite a lag time before all the water makes its way to the stream.”

Many irrigation districts along the South Platte sustained heavy damage in September to headgates and other infrastructure. In some places, the river changed course sufficiently for intake structures to be left high and dry.

“There are places where headgates were scoured away,” Ryan said. “Longmont is still trying to figure out what they need to do on the St. Vrain – leave it where it is or restore it to where it was.”

Many irrigation companies have made essential repairs with FEMA money and other resources, Ryan said, and they can play a valuable role in removing water from the river if flooding occurs. Some of the smaller ditch companies have not made repairs.

Meanwhile, she said, everyone is hoping that the spring warmup in the Rockies will be mellow enough to produce “a nice, well-behaved runoff.”

There are parts of the state, of course, that would like to have those kinds of worries. As of now, drought conditions are persisting into the fourth year in the southeast quadrant of the state, with the driest areas for March centered over the already drought devastated areas in Lincoln, Cheyenne and Kiowa counties, according to the climate center.

Las Animas and Baca counties are reporting less than 50 percent of average precipitation for the water year, which began last October.


Snowpack news: Statewide graph shows some melting over the past two weeks #COdrought

April 18, 2014

Snowpack/runoff news: “Things are going to start happening fast” — Terry Dawson #COdrought

April 18, 2014
Statewide snowpack map April 17, 2014 via the NRCS

Statewide snowpack map April 17, 2014 via the NRCS

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Levels at Lake Pueblo have returned to average levels as the Bureau of Reclamation continues to move water from reservoirs near to headwaters to make room for spring imports. The content of the reservoir is approaching 200,000 acre-feet, or about 80 percent of its limit during flood season.

Meanwhile, Turquoise and Twin Lakes near Leadville are 80-85 percent full, as Reclamation prepares for a banner runoff this year.

“This is the fourth highest snowpack level since 1991,” said Terry Dawson of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Snowpack is 123-143 percent of average in the Upper Arkansas River basin, and 130-150 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River basin.

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Twin Lakes, Homestake Project and Pueblo Board of Water Works diversions all bring water from the Upper Colorado River basin into the Arkansas basin. The Fry-Ark Project was projected to bring in 73,900 acre-feet as of April 1, but snowpack has continued to build and the May 1 projection should increase, Dawson said.

Weather forecasts are calling for a warmer, wetter spring, meaning that runoff may begin sooner than usual and will be heavy.

“Things are going to start happening fast,” Dawson said.

Early summer is expected to be drier than usual, with heavier rains predicted toward the end of summer.

From the Boulder Weekly (Bob Berwyn):

The San Juan Mountains often feel the brunt of the dust events, but a recent surge of desert air brought a thick layer as far north as Summit County at the end of March. If you’ve been skiing in the high country lately and noticed the pinkish snow, no need to check your goggles. It’s red-rock dust from your favorite mountain bike trail in Moab, and the strongest storms can drop up to 419 pounds of dust per acre atop the mountain snow…

Last year brought record amounts of dust to Colorado. A single 16-hour dust storm on April 8, 2013 dropped more dust on the San Juans than the annual total from any previous winter since the start of detailed measurements, says Chris Landry, director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, which tracks the dust-on-snow events via a statewide network of observation sites.

The April 8 storm deposited about 419 pounds of dust per acre, or about 47 grams per square meter, Landry says, explaining that the melt-out equation also has to include year-to-year weather variations…

Real-time observations of dust-on-snow events just started recently, but scientists have other ways to track dust deposition back through the ages. Long sediment cores from alpine lakes with distinct annual layers show that dust in the mountains didn’t increase during known historic megadroughts in the Southwest.

But dust did increase starting in the mid-1800s, when settlement and grazing started in the Southwest. The findings suggest that human disturbance to desert soils are driving the increase. The depositions decreased in the late 1800s then leveled off at about five times the natural background levels due to continued disturbance.

The most recent spike starting in the late 1990s appears to be due to increasing aridity in the Four Corners source area and increasing human disturbance of the soils.

Physical and biogenic soil crusts make the deserts naturally resistant to wind erosion — but only if they are left in place. The crusts are easily disturbed by grazing, oil and gas exploration and drilling, agriculture, and off road vehicle use. Once disturbed, soil particles can be picked up by strong winds and transported hundreds of miles from the source.

From Steamboat Today (Larry Sandoval):

While it still is too early to tell what will come from the current above-average snowpack in the Yampa River Basin, it could mean many things for the Routt National Forest’s resources and visitors in the coming months. “Record-breaking” is how the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service described the 175 percent of average snowpack in the Yampa River Basin on May 1, 2011. Such heavy late-season snowpack resulted in delayed openings of forest roads and campgrounds as well as an essentially absent fire season.

Conditions were a stark contrast just one year later, with only 17 percent of average snowpack on May 1, 2012. This, of course, was the year that Colorado and Wyoming experienced significant fire seasons, including four large fires in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Although above-average spring snowpack is favorable for the Routt National Forest’s 2014 fire season, it still is early and conditions can change rapidly between now and the start of the season, which typically begins in late June.

As of April 2, the NRCS was reporting snowpack in the Yampa and White River Basins at 127 percent of average.

By comparison, these basins were at 78 percent of average on April 1, 2013, before recovering with above average April snowfall to about 99 percent of average by May 1.

Last year turned out to be a below-average fire season in the Routt National Forest…

Fire managers and meteorologists at this point are saying that snowpack has minimized any concern for an early start to the fire season and that a repeat of a season like we experienced in 2012 is unlikely. Based on early indicators, projections are for 2014 to be an average to slightly below average fire season across the Rocky Mountain Area. Visit http://gacc.nifc.gov/rmcc/predictive/outlooks.html for more predictive information about the coming fire season.

From the Estes Park Trail Gazette (Kara Lamb):

Spring runoff in the Estes Valley and surrounding area is slowly beginning to take off, according to officials who are monitoring it closely.

The Bureau of Reclamation sent out an email notification on Wednesday which was picked up and posted on the Town of Estes Park’s Facebook page.

The notification essentially said it had noticed an increase in water flow in the Big Thompson River coming into Lake Estes in the past couple days.

“It isn’t much water, just a few more cubic-feet-per second, depending on which guage you check, but late last night (Tuesday), we saw flows in the Big Thompson coming into Lake Estes inch up a bit,” said Kara Lamb, the public information officer for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office in Loveland. “We usually see runoff start to come on in mid-April; and, the slight flow increase has been happening the past few nights as the warmer weather during the day has melted snow in the high country.

“This morning (Wednesday), around 7 a.m., water through Olympus Dam out of Lake Estes bumped up from 26 to around 35 cfs.

“The full reason for this slight increase is two-fold: higher rising inflows and a required change via the state to meet a seasonal minimum flow below Olympus Dam. The state required minimum out of Olympus corresponds with typical seasonal changes in river flow. In spring, we see three such changes: one in mid-April, one on May 1 and another in mid-May.

“This spring, Big Thompson River ebb and flow above Lake Estes will correspond with warmer or cooler weather and snow melt as usual. However, below Lake Estes and Olympus Dam this spring, we will continue coordinating with the state and CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) contractors currently working on U.S. Highway 34 to follow the minimum flows as closely as possible while they finish work in the Narrows section of the canyon.”


The latest newsletter from the Colorado Water Congress is hot off the presses #COleg #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 18, 2014
Colorado River near De Beque

Colorado River near De Beque

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

A record 180 people registered for the Wednesday, April 16 webinar, “Adapting the Law of the Colorado River.” John McClow, Colorado’s Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission and CWC Board President, provided a brief summary of the Law of the Colorado River: the Colorado River Compact, the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, and the Mexican Treaty of 1944. This was followed by a description of collaborative efforts among the seven Colorado River Basin states, the Department of the Interior, and Mexico to adapt the law to changing conditions on the river.

Read an overview of the presentation on the CWC blog and view the presentation on the CWC website.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Gov. Hickenlooper expects federal money to start moving soon to help with with recovery from the September #COflood

April 18, 2014
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

He was coy about specifics except to say he’s built up solid relationships with federal officials during Colorado’s series of disasters, including having cooked dinner at his house for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

“They aren’t going to bend any rules for you, but they’ll do everything they can possibly do to help us,” Hickenlooper told the editorial board of the Coloradoan on Thursday.

He predicted accelerated approval of recovery plans, which allows $62 million from HUD recovery money to start flowing. The plan dictates how it will be spent.

“I think we’re going to get some very encouraging news in the next week,” he said.

Hickenlooper added the federal government has pledged tens of millions more for disaster recovery above original predictions. HUD pledged almost $200 million in March, on top of the original grant.

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s plans call for rebuilding roads to better withstand the floods that devastated Northern Colorado in September, he said. It could even include a 6-foot-wide bike path up the Big Thompson Canyon, though it doesn’t have set money yet.

“We’re not just going to build it back to what you had before, we’re going to build it back better than before,” he said.


Drought news: Not much relief for SE Colorado, dryness creeping into Four Corners

April 17, 2014

Click an a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought map data.

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

The Plains

As with the Midwest and south, the temperatures this week were quite variable as very warm temperatures were followed by very cold temperatures at the end of the week. Most of the region was 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for the week outside of the northern High Plains. Portions of Nebraska and eastern Kansas saw a mix of thunderstorms, rain, and wet snow, but this was not enough to show improvements. The drought intensity increased to D3 over central Kansas while D2 was expanded into more of eastern Kansas…

The West

Another dry week over much of the western United States. Areas of the Pacific Northwest did record up to an inch of precipitation while the central Rocky Mountains continued receiving precipitation as rain and snow was recorded in Wyoming and Colorado. The warm temperatures continued over the west with almost all areas above normal for the week, and in California, temperatures were 9-12 degrees above normal. This was detrimental to the low snowpack as some areas of California lost half of the snow water equivalence (SWE) in a single week and there was little response to inflows into reservoirs. Drought conditions worsened as D2 was expanded in eastern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. In southwestern Colorado, D1 was also expanded. A reanalysis of conditions was done in southwest Wyoming and northeast Oregon this week, which allowed for the improvement to D0 conditions there…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5-7 days, there is a good chance of precipitation from the plains to the upper Midwest, with more than an inch anticipated from northern Wisconsin into eastern Nebraska and south into Oklahoma and Arkansas. A storm system will move into the Pacific Northwest, potentially bringing up to 4 inches of rain into portions of Washington. In the southeast from Florida up the Carolinas coast, there is a good opportunity for heavy rain as well. A warming pattern looks to bring above-normal temperatures over much of the United States from the Great Basin into the northeast, and high temperatures will be up to 10-12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in the central plains.

The 6-10 day outlook continues to show higher-than-normal chances for above-normal precipitation over most of the southern plains, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest. The best chances for above-normal temperatures are in the middle and eastern sections of the United States, from the Rocky Mountains and to the east. Chances for cooler-than-normal temperatures are greatest along the west coast.


Vail: ‘Restore the Gore’ campaign to kick off April 25

April 17, 2014

gorecreekwinter

From the Vail Daily:

An awareness campaign to help improve the health of Gore Creek is being introduced this spring with a focus on best practices for landscapers and gardeners. The “Restore the Gore” kick off takes place April 25 with a free Moe’s BBQ lunch and learn session from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at Donovan Pavilion. Landscape contractors, gardeners, commercial applicators and lodging managers, in particular, are encouraged to attend. Lunch service will begin at 11:45 a.m. with presentations taking place from noon to 12:45 p.m.

Sponsored by the Town of Vail and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the program will include short presentations on the causes of Gore Creek’s decline and the everyday actions that can be implemented to help make a difference when it comes to water use, special irrigation permits, invasive plants and pesticides.

In 2012 Gore Creek was added to the State of Colorado’s 303(d) List of Impaired Waters due to the decline in aquatic life. Scientists have determined the impact is due to degradation and loss of riparian buffer areas, impacts of urban runoff and pollutants associated with land use activities. A Water Quality Improvement Plan has since been adopted that includes an emphasis on community awareness as well as strategies for regulatory measures, site specific projects, best management practices and an ongoing monitoring program.

In addition to the lunch and learn kick off, the town is distributing a handout on recommended pesticide practices for commercial landscapers and property owners. Additional information is available on the town’s website at http://www.vailgov.com/gorecreek.

If you plan to attend the April 25 lunch and learn program, please RSVP to Kristen Bertuglia, town of Vail environmental sustainability coordinator, at 970-477-3455 or email kbertuglia@vailgov.com no later than 5 p.m. April 23.

More Gore Creek watershed coverage here.


La Plata County: “[In the SW corner of the county] Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought” — Trent Taylor

April 17, 2014

organicdairycows

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

Agriculture is a difficult profession in the best of times, but it’s an even bigger challenge during a drought.

That’s one of the many takeaways from Wednesday evening’s panel discussing current and future issues for local agriculture sponsored by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County. About 85 people filled the Program Rooms at the Durango Public Library, including representatives from agricultural areas around the county and numerous local residents, as well.

“Everyone in this room is in agriculture because we’re all consumers,” said Patti Buck, president of American National Cattlewomen, who ranches with her husband, Wayne, in the Ignacio area. “We need to be heard. Cattle ranchers are a small number of people, but we feed the world.”

Other members of the panel included Trent Taylor of Blue Horizon Farms, who farms on the Dryside; Maria Baker, a member of a Southern Ute ranching family; Steve Harris of Harris Water Engineering; and Darrin Parmenter, the Colorado State University Extension agent for La Plata County. Marsha Porter-Norton, who grew up in a ranching family north of Cortez, served as moderator…

The idea for the panel came out of a national study the League did, said Marilyn Brown, the local chapter’s secretary and a member of the committee that’s been studying the local agricultural sector with an eye on public policy…

Harris gave a lesson about how water works in La Plata County, from the natural average runoff of about 950,000 acre-feet a year (an acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre in 1 foot of water, or 325,851 gallons). Almost two-thirds, 600,000 acre-feet, comes down the Animas River, with the Pine River drainage accounting for another 230,000 acre-feet…

All domestic use, including wells, is “insignificant,” he said, about 10,000 acre-feet.

Ranchers and farmers actually have been fighting drought conditions for more than a decade. Baker talked about how the tribe, which grants grazing units to the four or five full-time ranchers in the tribe, declared a complete moratorium on grazing units for five years starting in 2000 and still limits time or location on the ones it grants.

After taking everyone through a short history of farming and ranching in the southwest corner of the county, Taylor summed up the situation: “It’s a harsh area. Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought.

More Animas River watershed coverage here. More La Plata River watershed coverage here.


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

April 16, 2014
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through April 13, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through April 13, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center

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


Snowpack news

April 16, 2014


From The Produce News (Lora Abcarian):

Officials are guardedly optimistic that the 2014 runoff season in Colorado’s high country will be a good one. A potential for flooding does exist, however, if meltdown comes too quickly as a result of sustained hot temperatures during the prime runoff months of May and June.

Craig Cotten, division engineer for Div. 3 of the State Engineer’s office in Alamosa, CO, said conditions in the Rio Grande River Basin and Colorado’s San Luis Valley have improved somewhat this year. As of April 1, snowpack was 80 percent of normal. “We’re the lowest basin in the state,” he told The Produce News. “But that’s actually higher than the last two years.”

This is the sixth consecutive year for below-average stream flows in southern Colorado. “Runoff will be closer to normal,” he added. Agricultural producers have been complying with ever-tightening water regulations governing use. According to Cotten, the level of the region’s aquifer continues to drop owing to drought conditions.

Cotten said water quality will likely be affected as a result of ash content from last year’s devastating West Fork Fire. He said the potential for flooding also exists due to the fire.

Turning to northern Colorado, Dave Nettles, division engineer for Div. 1 of the State Engineer’s office in Greeley, CO, said, “We’re running well ahead of average snowpack [in the South Platte River Basin].” As of the beginning of April, snowpack was 133 percent of normal. “We have more snow water equivalent than our average peak,” he told The Produce News.

The good news about anticipated runoff could be dampened if the snowpack melts too quickly. Meltoff typically begins in May and peaks in June. Last September, northern Colorado experienced extreme flooding, and the impact of the devastation continues to be felt today. “It depends on temperatures and how the flow moves,” Nettles stated about the coming runoff. “A quick flush, if it happens, could contribute to potential for flooding. But many areas will be fine.”

Another complicating factor, which could contribute to the potential for flooding in the South Platte River Basin, stems from the fact that last year’s flooding was so severe that rivers jumped their banks, creating new flow channels. Debris, Nettles added, may also disrupt flow and create potential for flooding.


Colorado wetlands to regain federal protection

April 16, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

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High alpine wetlands that aren’t directly connected with larger rivers will regain more protection under a proposed new federal rule. bberwyn photo.

New rule aims to clear up regulatory limbo for seasonal streams and isolated wetlands

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A proposed federal rule would restore protection to hundreds of Colorado streams and big swaths of wetlands, including beloved alpine creeks and the sandy washes of the Front Range that only hold water seasonally.

The seasonal streams and disconnected wetlands long were covered under the Clean Water Act, but a pair of complex U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 opened some loopholes the regulations. At the least, the legal limbo caused headaches for scientists and regulators trying to assess impacts of housing developments and new roads. In some cases, they weren’t sure if they even had authority to regulate filling or draining of some wetlands.

View original 732 more words


Drought Regions Show High Levels of “Water Stress” — US News and World Report

April 16, 2014

waterstressfromdroughtworldresourcesinstituteapril2014

From US News and World Report (Alan Neuhauser):

California’s drought has become the state’s worst on record, draining reservoirs and destroying crops. Yet it’s far from unique. Severely dry conditions are now afflicting about two-thirds of Texas, and droughts also are being felt in parts of Oklahoma, Minnesota and Colorado…

The World Resources Institute, an environmental advocacy group, compared those dry regions with their respective levels of water consumption. Certain drought areas, it found, are still using huge amounts of water, which is putting “high” and “extremely high” levels of stress on their water supplies…

“Drought and water stress overlap in many regions facing water shortages in the United States,” Andrew Maddocks, communications coordinator for the Aqueduct project, wrote on the group’s website.

It’s a trend that poses potentially great dangers to local populations. “Climate change will generally make precipitation more extreme, variable and unpredictable in the years ahead,” Maddocks wrote, citing climate scientists. “Hotter average temperatures mean drier soil, so farms may face greater risks to their crops and ranchers to their herds, even if it rains more regularly.”


Ditches are running along the Roaring Fork #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014

haymeadowsneargunnison

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

For Gavin Metcalf, April 15 isn’t just tax day. It’s the beginning of six months of full time work as Carbondale’s official “Ditch Rider.”

Metcalf’s steed is a John Deere utility vehicle, but otherwise his job description looks like something out of the previous century. He starts the morning by turning a wheel on a large metal gate along the bank of the Crystal River. When the water in the Carbondale Ditch reaches a certain point, he locks the gate in place.

“You can tell it’s the right depth because that root is just barely sticking out of the water,” he explains. Sure enough, when he walks down to the flume for a more scientific measurement, it’s dead on…

In addition to natural challenges, Metcalf struggles with human interference. People construct makeshift dams which can flood upstream and burn out downstream pumps. They dump all manner of things into ditches they wouldn’t dream of throwing in the river. Not that most of it makes it that far. Even grass clippings tend to stick around and clog the system, explains Metcalf. And when he has to turn off the water to fix the problem, few residents connect the dots.

“The water is there to be used,” Metcalf says, “but a lot of people don’t seem to understand what it takes to make that happen.”

Carbondale’s water rights on the Crystal are as old as the town itself. It’s one of the few municipalities in the region — along with Aspen and Silt — that has kept its system intact. The original 1880s rights were expanded considerably in the 1920s. Since then, usage has fluctuated as the community expands and the ranches begin to disappear.

So far, the runoff forecast for this year looks bright, but Carbondale’s utilities department is planning ahead. “If, at some point, we elect to go into water rationing, we want a really firm idea of what it’s going to take to maintain the system under drought conditions,” explains Utilities Director Mark O’Meara. “It’s going to take some time to really dial in, but I think we have enough foundation to make better judgment calls on how much we take out of the river.”

More Roaring Fork watershed coverage here.


“We want to plan for extreme hydrology the likes of which we have never seen” — Don Ostler #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

Still in the earliest stages of negotiation, two remedies have emerged, both of which seek to fortify Lake Powell, the nation’s second largest reservoir, and preserve its capacity to generate electricity and supply water to the 40 million people who live in the watershed.

One strategy is an operational revision: release more water from upper-basin reservoirs during drought emergencies. The other option would cut demand: ask – or perhaps pay – farmers to stop growing crops in order to save water. Both approaches are technically and legally feasible, according to those involved in the discussions and outside experts.

“We’ve never had to do this before because we never planned for this degree of low water storage,” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, an administrative body, told Circle of Blue. “We want to plan for extreme hydrology the likes of which we have never seen.”[...]

… in the iconic Colorado River, flows have been above average in only three of the last 14 years. If the rest of the decade follows a similar hydrological trajectory, “dramatic problems emerge rather quickly,” said John McClow, Colorado’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission. McClow told Circle of Blue that the basin states used computer simulations last June to replicate the 2001 to 2007 river flows, a rather dry period, from 2014 until the end of the decade…

The upper basin wants to prevent a call on the river, a circumstance in which the four states are unable to meet their legal obligations to send water downstream to Arizona, California, and Nevada. A call has never happened.

The upper basin also wants to keep Lake Powell’s surface elevation from dropping below 3,490 feet, the point at which hydropower generation from Glen Canyon Dam, which forms the reservoir, would probably stop. Lake Powell has never tested that limit, a theoretical threshold. Today, Powell’s surface elevation is 3,574 feet, having fallen 60 feet in two years.

Glen Canyon provides as many as 5.8 million people with a portion of their electricity. Revenue from electricity sales helps pay to operate the dams. It also underwrites measures to reduce salt in the Colorado River and revive fish habitat.

To keep Powell from draining, one option is to release more water from reservoirs located higher in the basin: Flaming Gorge, in Wyoming; Navajo, in New Mexico; and a Colorado cluster known as the Aspinall Unit. These Rocky Mountain reservoirs evaporate less water than Powell, located in Utah’s arid canyon country, said Malcolm Wilson, chief of the Bureau of Reclamation’s water resources group, which operates the reservoirs. But that does not preclude a shift in operations.

“There’s nothing to say we couldn’t release more water than we have to sustain Powell,” Wilson told Circle of Blue, stating that the interests of the upper basin and Reclamation align, both wanting to keep the dam’s cash register ringing…

McClow noted that recreation and environmental constraints would need to be respected. Each of the higher-elevation reservoirs has an endangered species in its watershed, he said.

Along with the reservoir shuffle, upper basin negotiators are debating what a farmland fallowing program would look like. More questions – Who pays for it? Which lands are targeted? – than answers exist now, McClow said.

Doug Kenney, a water policy expert at the University of Colorado’s Natural Resources Law Center, said he saw no obvious legal problems with the two options.

“As long as they don’t try to be too picky about who owns that water, then I think it’s entirely realistic,” Kenney told Circle of Blue. “If they want to be picky, then all sorts of legal issues and potential problems come forward.”

Kenney said that ascribing ownership to the water begins to resemble the selling or transfer of water rights across state lines, a bête noire for the basin. Better, he said, if the water is not earmarked and simply flows downstream.

Ostler, the river commission’s executive director, said that the upper basin would like to have a plan finalized by the end of the year…

…none of the [Lower Basin] representatives that Circle of Blue contacted offered many details about their drought planning.

“We’re certainly having discussions about existing drought and contingency planning for an ongoing sustained drought,” said Colby Pellegrino, who handles Colorado River issues for Southern Nevada Water Authority, the state’s largest water utility. “But we’re not to a point where we can say what those options will be.”

Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, also demurred and declined to comment.

Pellegrino did say that the lower basin states are using hydrology models used in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin study, a comprehensive supply and demand assessment published in December 2012.

That study assessed water use through 2060, but the current drought discussions take a narrower view. Pellegrino said the lower basin interests are looking at options through 2026, the year that the shortage sharing agreement expires.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


“…I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2014

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR


Ken Neubecker posted the comment below in response to this post:

I can forgive Chris Treese for perhaps not knowing that I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while. I have been on the Basin Roundtable and very involved in the discussions for a very long time and Western Slope water issues for over 20 years. [Gary Harmon, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel], who has my contact info from the MER release, should have given any one of us a call and could have found that out.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Loveland crews are racing to complete repairs ahead of runoff #COflood

April 15, 2014
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald Jessica Maher:

When floodwaters poured across South Lincoln Avenue last September, damaging businesses and closing the street for a week, the culprit was the Big Thompson River at the fire training grounds.

That’s where the flood caused an avulsion, or the creation of a new river channel by rapid erosion, that cut southeast across a private pond and spilled out onto Lincoln Avenue.

Now, emergency repairs are underway at the fire training grounds to make sure it doesn’t happen all over again.

“This was one of our top four priority projects to beat spring runoff,” said public works engineer Chris Carlson, who heads river restoration work for the city.

The $226,000 project started earlier this month, with crews from Wheat Ridge-based RMC Consultants removing debris, pumping water from the new channel and then backfilling it. When complete, there will be about 7 feet of fill — much of it hauled in from repair work under the Lincoln Avenue bridge — where the land had been washed out.

The entire area is in the floodway, so Carlson said there’s no doubt it will flood again. But the restoration was designed in attempt to reduce the cost of any future damages and the effort required to make future repairs.

“One of the themes of all the recovery work is resiliency,” Carlson said. “We want to try to do everything we can to prevent it from having as much damage as it did before.”[...]

Crews are expected to be complete with the spring runoff preparation river work by the end of this week, designed to withstand a 50-year flood event, or about 14,000 cubic feet per second.

While snowpack levels remain far above average with anyone’s guess as to peak river flows during spring runoff, Carlson is confident that the emergency work will hold up.

“Everything we’re doing now will easily handle spring runoff. The only thing that put this at risk is if we get a major rain event,” he said.

The city’s other top priority spring runoff preparation projects — the waterline replacement project at the Water Treatment Plant, repairs to the Lincoln Avenue bridge and work at Morey Wildlife Reserve — are all wrapping up or on schedule to be completed before peak river levels.

“We’re starting to see these things come together,” Carlson said. “There’s still years of work ahead, but I think we’ll get to catch our breath.”


Snowpack news: “It’s Mother Nature’s way of thinning” — Manny Colon

April 15, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A wet, heavy snow Sunday provided more relief from persistent drought in parts of the Arkansas River basin, but could cause some damage to blossoming fruit trees.

“It will take about four days to know for sure, but I’m sure there is some damage,” said Manny Colon, a Canon City fruit grower.

He explained that while some buds were open, the snow in the trees also could have an insulating effect, protecting the unopened buds. The length of time for freezing temperatures and humidity also are factors.

“It’s Mother Nature’s way of thinning,” he laughed. “All the moisture in the snow is wonderful and will help the trees, grass and hay.”

The heavy snow also could cause damage to young trees, but overall its impact should be positive for this parched portion of Colorado.

Pueblo, Fremont, Custer, Huerfano and Las Animas counties received the most moisture from a storm that started as rain, then quickly turned to snow as it hovered over the area all day Sunday. In places, it dropped about a foot of snow, although 6-8 inches was more common, according to readings from the Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow network.

Moisture content of 0.75 inches was recorded in Pueblo, while an inch was listed in the Rye area. One site in western Custer County listed 1.18 inches of moisture from the snow.

Moisture and snowfall was far less on the Eastern Plains and in the Rio Grande valley, where snow measured 1-3 inches, and moisture content was .02-0.25 inches.

Mountain areas fared better, with 5-7 inches of snow containing up to half an inch or more of water.

Snowpack in the mountains already has passed the median peak and continues to grow. The typical peak at higher elevations usually comes during the first week of May.

Basinwide, snowpack is at 108 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Upper Colorado River basin, which supplies supplemental water for the Arkansas River, is about 121 percent of average.

The Arkansas River this week is flowing 25 percent higher than last week, but still is below average for this time of year. About half of the water in the river above Lake Pueblo consists of releases by the Bureau of Reclamation to make room for transmountain imports. About one-third of the releases from Lake Pueblo consists of stored water being released for irrigation.

Pueblo’s year-to-date precipitation was 2.4 inches Monday, 17 percent above normal, according to the National Weather Service.


Piedra River: Say hello to Chimney Rock Farms #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2014
Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):

At Chimney Rock Farms on the Piedra River, Brewer has built two commercial-scale aquaponic greenhouses that house fish tanks and thousands of square feet of troughs where kale, lettuce and tot soy float on a foot of water in rafts from seed to harvest.

“We’re pioneering this, no doubt,” said Brewer. He said that the operation, located 6,600 feet above sea level, is the largest commercial aquaponics farm venture in Colorado.

Brewer plans to supply new Southwest Farm Fresh, A Farm and Ranch Cooperative, which was started in Montezuma County. He also plans to supply the Pagosa Springs farmers market, his Community Supported Agriculture membership, organic grocery stores and restaurants.

In March, the operation had already been supplying a grocery store for three weeks.

In the aquaponic environment, the greens mature in six weeks, which allows him to provide custom mixes of greens and meet demand quickly.

“It’s revolutionary for us,” he said.

In addition to greens, his tilapia – the “aquaponic” aspect of the hydroponic system – can also be sold. Brewer may sell the fish whole on ice at farmers markets, but they are not his main focus.

How it works

In the most basic terms, fish poop feeds plants. In technical terms, the tilapia excrete ammonia. Bacteria break the ammonia down into nitrites and then into nitrates, which feed the plants. The plant roots filter the water, and the water is pumped back to the fish.

The tilapia can’t be kept with the plants because they’d eat the roots. But very small mosquito fish clean the roots and fend off potential mosquitoes.

The seeds are germinated in soil, and the fish-fertilized water flows beneath. As the plants mature, they are transferred into rafts that allow for more space and push down the trough. This system reduces man hours and eliminates all weeds.

“We were spending 60 percent of the time to produce a leafy green, weeding our beds,” he said. To harvest, the roots just need to be trimmed off.

It is also very efficient in terms of water. Aquaponic systems use less than 5 percent of the water of traditional agriculture, Brewer said.

“This is a good fit for us in the desert Southwest,” Brewer said.

As green as possible

Brewer was looking for ways to grow year round, but the inefficiencies of a greenhouse held him back.

“Heating traditional greenhouses with fossil fuels – propane and natural gas – is a very, very tough way to make a living,” he said.

In his newly built greenhouses, the water is heated by solar panels, and a wood boiler. This allows him to grow when temperatures are below freezing outside. He also uses solar panels to power air and water pumps, and grow lights. The solar panels allow him to put electricity back into the grid, and his monthly electricity bill has dropped from more than $600 to just $16.

In the new greenhouses, he hopes to grow from mid-February through Thanksgiving.

He expects that he will make back his investment in his capital improvements in five to six years.

It was important to him to reduce his use of fossil fuels because they are limited resource and their ballooning costs can cut into thin farm profit margins.

“As a farmer, your margins are too thin to rely on fossil fuel costs as a line item,” Brewer said…

“Hopefully, we can prove the economic viability of this such that other people are willing to take the capital intensive risk to build a system like this to grow local food,” he said.

More San Juan Basin coverage here.


Snowpack news: The latest South Platte Basin Time Series graph keeping pace with 2011

April 14, 2014

Snowpack news (% of avg): North Platte = 143% (tops in state), Upper Rio Grande = 73%, Upper Colorado = 121% #COdrought

April 14, 2014


Click on a thumbnail graphic to view the gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Associated Press via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Up to 18 inches of snow are on the ground after snow returned to Colorado over the weekend.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said Monday the northern Front Range got as much as 18 inches of snow from this storm, and Loveland Pass area received almost 12 inches. The northern Colorado region also got up to 18 inches of new snow.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Andrea Sinclair):

The spring storm that passed over Colorado Springs didn’t leave behind as much snow as originally predicted, but enough to make 2013-2014 the snowiest season in 13 years, according to the National Weather Service.

The official report from the Colorado Springs Airport was 1.5 inches, putting the season’s total at 34.4 inches, said meteorologist John Kalina.

In 2000-2001, Colorado Springs received 56.8 inches of snow, Kalina explained…

The snowiest winter in Colorado Springs on record was in 1956-57, when 89.4 inches dumped on the city.

El Paso County seemed to get the worst of the storm Sunday afternoon and evening, when up to an inch of snow piled up in Monument and Black Forest…

Higher elevations, both north and south of Colorado Springs got double-digit snowfall totals, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the weather service in Pueblo.

The northern Front Range got up to 18 inches and the Loveland pass measured up to 12 inches overnight, prompting the avalanche center to warn of a moderate risk of snowslides.

In the Wet Mountains, west of Westcliffe reported up to 13 inches, Kalina said.


“American Rivers needs to come to the joint talks, as well as issue press releases” — Chris Treese #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 14, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The upper reaches of the Colorado River make up one of the nation’s most endangered rivers, largely because of the possibility of a transmountain diversion, according to an annual listing. The upper Colorado came in second among the most endangered rivers, according to American Rivers, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization, which last year put the Colorado River on top of the list of endangered rivers, criticizing the “outdated water management throughout the region.”

The upper Colorado’s listing this year gives ammunition to the Western Slope in dealing with Front Range interests looking at a new diversion, said Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

The listing “serves to highlight the uncertainty about the Colorado water plan,” Treese said.

It also, however, reflects a lack of knowledge about the inner dynamics of Colorado water and how the state already is dealing with those matters, he said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper last year ordered the development of a statewide water plan to be on his desk this December and be complete by the end of 2015. State officials are aware that they’re under close observation, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We know that downstream states, the federal government, and numerous national organizations are watching what Colorado is doing with our water, and that’s an important reason why we’re engaged in Colorado’s water plan,” Eklund said, noting that the plan is being drafted with the state’s system of prior appropriation in mind.

The water plan is to take into account the work already done by various groups, or roundtables, representing the state’s river basins, the Colorado River Basin among them.

“American Rivers isn’t coming to the roundtables” or the Interbasin Compact Committee, Treese said. “American Rivers needs to come to the joint talks, as well as issue press releases.”

The statewide water plan won’t include a transmountain diversion, but it could outline the way that one could be pursued.

American Rivers worked with several conservation and environmental organizations in listing the upper Colorado as endangered, among them Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. The statewide water plan, said Bart Miller of Western Resource Advocates, offers “both a threat and an opportunity” to the Western Slope. To be sure, some Front Range water providers view it as an opportunity to send more water east from the Yampa, Gunnison or Colorado mainstem, Miller said.

Many of the river basins in Colorado already suffer water shortages, so the water plan discussion is an opportunity to find ways to protect rivers “that are so valuable for irrigation, recreation and other things,” Miller said. In any case, the plan should focus on preserving the 80,000 jobs and the $9 billion the river generates on the Western Slope, Miller said.

American Rivers called on Colorado to avoid a transmountain diversion, increase the efficient use of water in cities and towns, modernize agricultural practices and give priority to river restoration and protection. The organization listed the San Joaquin River in California as the most endangered in the nation and also placed the White River in northwest Colorado as the seventh-most endangered because it’s threatened by oil and gas development.

The listing, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, is “vague and hyperbolic and it disregards the fact that Colorado has the most robust regulations in the nation, and probably the world, when it comes to protecting water.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Pure Cycle Corporation Announces Second Fiscal Quarter 2014 Financial Results

April 14, 2014

waterfromtap

Here’s the release from Pure Cycle Water:

Pure Cycle Corporation (NASDAQ Capital Market: PCYO) today reported financial results for the six months ended February 28, 2014. Basic and diluted loss per share decreased 38% from a loss of $.08 per share in last year to $.05 per share this year.

“During the second quarter we continued to see our business grow and develop driving long- term shareholder value” commented Mark Harding, President of Pure Cycle Corporation. “We are very excited to have record water sales and deliveries and are continuing to add value to our Company through monetizing our valuable water assets.”[...]

Revenues increased approximately 51% during the our six months ended February 28, 2014 compared to our six months ended February 28, 2013 primarily as a result of increased water sales used for fracking.

More infrastructure coverage here.


El Niño on the horizon?

April 14, 2014

midmarchplumeofensopredictionsviacpc

From Wired.com (Adam Mann):

Official NOAA Climate Prediction Center estimates peg the odds of El Niño’s return at 50 percent, but many climate scientists think that is a lowball estimate. And there are several indications that if it materializes, this year’s El Niño could be massive, a lot like the 1997-98 event that was the strongest on record.

“I think there’s no doubt that there’s an El Niño underway,” said climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “The question is whether it’ll be a small or big one.”

On top of some late-’90s nostalgia, a strong El Niño would bring pronounced changes to weather patterns around the globe, and possibly relief from some of the less-pleasant weather trends that have dominated headlines this year. After a Polar Vortex-fueled, unbearably cold winter in the U.S. Midwest and East Coast, a strong El Niño could bring warmer, drier weather in late 2014. And to parched California and its prolonged drought, El Niño might provide drenching rainstorms to fill up reservoirs. But the news won’t all be good. Rainstorms in California could mean floods and mudslides and, coupled with climate change, El Niño could bring harsher droughts to parts of Australia and Africa…

El Niño (which is Spanish for “the Niño”) is a recurring weather pattern affecting the world every two to seven years. In the tropical Pacific Ocean, the trade winds typically blow east to west, gathering warm water as they go and pooling it in the west. This creates a temperature gradient with cold water in the east, near the coast of South America, and warmer water southwest of Hawaii.

“But at some point the system says, ‘There’s too much warm water piling up here, I’m going to have an El Niño,’” said Trenberth.

The trade winds at this point usually weaken or even reverse entirely, moving warm water eastward. As it travels, this warm water starts emerging from deep in the ocean and heating up the atmosphere. These are the conditions that scientists are seeing right now. Moreover, the blob of warm water in the east is unusually large this year, leading many researchers to predict a monstrous El Niño is on its way.

“The main question right now is if this entire warm-pool region will accelerate to the eastern basin or stick in the middle of the Pacific,” said meteorologist Michael Ventrice of Weather Services International.

If the warm water decides to stick around at the International Date Line or so, we will get what is called an El Niño “Modoki” (which is Japanese for “similar, but different,” a word that every language should really have). Cold water would remain in the eastern Pacific during El Niño Modoki, leading to less rainfall in California than during a strong El Niño. But scientists have only noticed El Niño Modokis events in a few recent years and they are not yet exactly sure what brings it about.

Should the warm pool make it all the way to the South American coast, a much stronger “full-basin” El Niño will appear. And then we could be in for some big weather changes.

A strong El Niño could start affecting the world as early as the fall. The Pacific hurricane season, which gets active around September, is greatly enhanced during El Niño. This likely means more tropical thunderstorms that could affect eastern Pacific areas such as Mexico. In contrast, Atlantic hurricanes are suppressed, meaning fewer and less severe storms with a lower chance of making landfall and doing damage.

The winter is when El Niño really gets going, though. Moisture flows from Hawaii to southern California in an atmospheric river colloquially known as the “Pineapple Express.” This creates heavy rainfall that dumps on the region. Though this could bring some relief from California’s drought, it also comes with the risk of flash floods and mudslides because the ground has been so hard and dry.

El Niño has other effects further into North America. It tends to enhance the jet stream, creating a wall that prevents Arctic air (and the Polar Vortex) from dipping down to mid-latitudes. East Coast winters are generally drier and warmer during El Niño years, which is probably good news to those still smarting from this recent frigid season. The mild winter has interesting downstream effects, like a boost for the U.S. economy during the Christmas season.


Breck snowfall above average 4 months in a row

April 14, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Fourth-snowiest year on record in Summit County

Big snows coated the Gore Range in March 2014. bberwyn photo.

Big snows coated Colorado’s Gore Range in March 2014. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Another month of above-normal snowfall has put Breckenridge on track for its fourth-snowiest winter on record, according to National Weather Service observer Rick Bly, who measured 37.4 inches at his backyard gauge.

That makes it the 10th-snowiest March, a month that sees average snowfall of 25.5 inches. Bly said precipitation has been above average for four straight months. During the current water year, which started Oct. 1, only November saw slightly below normal snowfall. Precipitation (the combination of melted snow and rain) for the water year to date is already at 15.2 inches, nearly six inches more than average.

View original 300 more words


The latest GOCO News Update is hot off the presses #COflood

April 13, 2014

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280


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

Governor, GOCO announce $13M in funds for flood recovery projects

GOCO this week approved $5 million divided into 14 grants to help communities restore damaged parks, trails and open spaces, and $8 million in GOCO funds will start work on a trail corridor between Lyons and Estes Park. The trail corridor would be in conjunction with Highway 36 flood reconstruction efforts now underway.


SB14-103 contains “soft enforcement” provisions

April 13, 2014

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

Colorado will set higher efficiency standards for its plumbing fixtures starting in September 2016 — though the stricter standards might be a case of policy catching up with practice…

Senate Bill 14-103, sponsored in the House by Fort Collins Democrat Rep. Randy Fischer, prohibits the sale of plumbing fixtures that don’t meet federal WaterSense standards. WaterSense certification means the plumbing fixture uses at least 20 percent less water without sacrificing performance compared to standard models. For toilets, that means using 1.28 gallons of water or less per flush, as opposed to the federally mandated maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush.

The bill passed this month unanimously in the Senate and 35-28 in the House. Eric Brown, a spokesman for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said Wednesday that the policy team is reviewing the bill and talking with legislators.

Some communities, such as Thornton, have already put these standards into effect, Fischer said. He called the bill an attempt to “speed up the transition” to fixtures that are more efficient.

“There is a certain amount of penetration in the market already from these fixtures,” he said…

Fischer said the bill contains only “soft enforcement.” By March 2017, manufacturers must submit to the state the percentage of WaterSense-certified products sold to retailers. Retailers have no requirement and can sell non-WaterSense fixtures after the deadlines.

The requirements should help address the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s predictions of water supplies running short by 500,000 acre-feet of water per year in 2050 if habits don’t change. That would leave urban water users drinking up what would otherwise go to crops, Fischer said. The bill will help mitigate that without requiring a change of habits, he said…

Fort Collins rebate program

The city of Fort Collins offers rebates on water bills if you replace inefficient toilets and showerheads with models that are WaterSense-certified or those that perform better.

• $75 for a MaP-certified toilet (uses 1.06 gallons per flush or less)

• $50 for a WaterSense-certified toilet (1.28 gallons or less)*

• $10 for the purchase of WaterSense-certified showerhead

• The city estimates 4.7 million gallons of water a year will be saved with 2012’s rebated toilets alone.

• Information: http://noconow.co/waterrebates.

* May be discontinued with new law’s higher water efficiency standards.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition host first of a hoped-for series of master planning meetings #COflood

April 13, 2014
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

Leaning over a map of the post-flood Big Thompson River in the Loveland High School cafeteria on Saturday, John Giordanengo asked Glen Haven residents to point to their properties.

Then the million-dollar question: How do you think the river should be restored?

The first of what’s expected to be a series of master planning meetings hosted by the Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition focused on gathering input to that very question, as well as explaining the numerous factors that are involved in its answer.

The coalition, chaired by Giordanengo, has grown to include hundreds of stakeholders, nonprofit groups, local businesses and government entities, representatives of which were available Saturday to meet one on one with property owners.

“As we’re turning gears toward long-term recovery, us being able to coordinate on meaningful restoration will impact the river for years to come, including where you live,” Giordanengo told meeting attendees.

In an hour-long presentation, about 70 people were introduced to the early stages of a master plan for the entire river corridor, which is being developed by Fort Collins-based Ayres Associates.

It started with an analysis of the kind of damage that occurred during September’s historic flood, including bank erosion, channel shifting, flanking of bridges, loss of hillsides and massive sediment deposition.

“Our master plan effort will be largely focused on looking at these different types of damage and do what we can to mitigate and reduce the risk of those types of damage,” said John Hunt with Ayres Associates.

More Big Thompson River Watershed coverage here.


“…nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 13, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

…it’s important to note that “nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow,” and organizations like the Glenwood Springs-based River District are active at the table in working to protect Western Colorado interests in the face of growing Front Range water needs, [Jim Pokrandt] said.

“There are a lot of top-10 lists when it comes to rivers and water conservation,” Pokrandt said in reaction to the listing last Wednesday by the nonprofit conservation group American Rivers. “It’s a good way to generate publicity for these various causes.”

American Rivers calls on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to prevent new water diversions and instead prioritize protection of Western Slope rivers and water conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan, which remains in discussions through a roundtable process that involves stakeholders from across the state.

Already, about 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water per year is diverted from the Colorado basin to the Front Range, Pokrandt noted.

The prospect of more diversions “is definitely being advocated in some quarters from those who say a new project is not a question of if, but when and how soon,” he said.

“We’re saying that’s a big ‘if,’ because there are a lot of big issues around that.”

Pokrandt said any new trans-mountain diversions are “questionable, if it’s even possible.” That’s primarily because of the Colorado River Compact with down-river states that guarantees their share of river water.

“It’s important that we don’t overdevelop the river, and any more transmountain diversions should be the last option out of the box [for Front Range needs],” said. “First and foremost, it behooves all of Colorado to be more efficient in our water use.”[...]

Pokrandt notes that many municipalities across the state, not just the Front Range, are scrambling to find water to take care of projected population growth. That means more water demand on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“But there’s a big question about how much water is really left to develop,” he said. “There’s also an economic benefit to leaving water in the river without developing it, so there’s that issue as well.”[...]

Another Colorado river on the American Rivers endangered list this year is the White River, which was No. 7 due to the threat of oil and gas development and the risk to fish and wildlife habitat, clean water and recreation opportunities.

The White River flows from the northern reaches of the Flat Tops through Rio Blanco County and into the Green River in northeastern Utah.

“Major decisions this year will determine whether we can safeguard the White River’s unique wild values for future generations,” said Matt Rice of American Rivers in their Wednesday news release.

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

The conservation group American Rivers releases the annual list, and rivers that are threatened include sections of the Colorado that run through Eagle County, including headwater rivers, which include the Eagle River.

According to the group, the river is threatened as many Front Range cities look for future water sources to meet growing municipal and industrial needs. Some of those communities are eyeing various parts of the Colorado for diversion.

Advocates hope the list garners some national awareness and spurs lawmakers to prevent new water diversions and prioritize river protection and water conservation measures in the state water plan.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Ken Neubecker, of American Rivers. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin. If we want these rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure the rivers have enough water.”[...]

For decades, Front Range growth has been fed by Western Slope rivers. Around a half million acres of water is already being diverted east from the Upper Colorado and growing cities need more. The problem with diversions, said Neubecker, is that the water leaves the Western Slope forever, citing a proposed project to tap into Summit County’s Blue Mountain Reservoir and divert water from the Blue River.

“Grand and Summit counties are justifiably worried about a Green Mountain pumpback, and so should Eagle County, because that project isn’t possible without a Wolcott reservoir,” he said. “With water diverted to the Front Range, we never see it again. It has serious impacts on us as far as drought and growth. It’s a finite resource.”

Historically, there have been agreements that have benefited both the Western and Eastern slopes, and river advocates said they want to see more such projects. The Colorado Cooperative Agreement, announced in 2011, involved the cooperation of many Eagle County entities. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, signed in 1998, was also a major victory for mountain communities, significantly capping the amount of water that could be taken at the Homestake Reservoir and keeping some water in Eagle County.

Another settlement with Denver Water in 2007 was a big win for the local water community, said Diane Johnson, of Eagle River Water and Sanitation. “Denver Water gave up a huge amount of water rights, pretty much everything leading into Gore Creek, and as for a Wolcott Reservoir, it could only be developed with local entities in control,” she said. “Things are done more collaboratively now. It’s not the 1960s and ’70s anymore, where the Front Range developed the rivers without thought of how it affected local communities.”[...]

A new Colorado State University report commissioned by the Eagle River Watershed Council studied the state of the Eagle River.

“It’s clearly showing that the biggest threat to this portion of the Upper Colorado is reduced flows. It’s impacting wildlife for sure, most notably the fish,” said the council’s executive director Holly Loff.

With less water, the average river temperature is rising, and many cold-water fish have either been pushed out or killed as a result. Less water also means less riparian (riverside) habitat, an ecosystem that supports 250 species of animals. Of course, less water also affects river recreation and means there’s less water to drink.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Gov. Hickenlooper signs SB14-017

April 13, 2014

Sprawl

Sprawl


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that initially sought to tie water supplies for new developments to minimal landscaping irrigation was signed into law Friday by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The bill, SB17, was amended as it moved through the state Legislature to identify and encourage “best practices” that could be used by cities, water districts and homeowners to limit outdoor water consumption.

It also referred further legislation to the interim water resources committee of the Legislature to determine if any mandatory limits are needed.

The original legislation would have limited irrigated landscaping to 15 percent of any new development that used water obtained from agricultural dry-up.

The Colorado Water Congress opposed the legislation because it interfered with local control and ignored benefits provided by lawns.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


HB14-1332 isn’t getting much love from the legislature #COleg

April 12, 2014
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A bill supported by a group of local farmers and the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley is struggling to find support in other circles. House Bill 1332 — aimed at providing relief for areas of Weld County and elsewhere where groundwater wells have been curtailed and where high groundwater levels have caused damage — will have its first committee hearing Monday.

But already it’s hitting roadblocks.

On Monday, the Colorado Water Congress voted 20-3 against supporting the bill, and the next day, members of the South Platte Basin Roundtable — a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to discuss the region’s water challenges — spoke out against the bill. Rather than support the proposed legislation, the roundtable voted in favor of having further discussions about the high groundwater levels and curtailed wells, and, if reaching consensus on the issues down the road, adding such suggestions to the South Platte basin’s long-term water plan and eventual statewide Colorado Water Plan, which are currently in the works.

“Any legislation right now is premature,” said Boulder water attorney and roundtable member Mike Shimmin, noting that the Colorado Water Institute’s study of groundwater in the basin was released just a little over three months ago, and further examination and discussion of that information, and other studies, is needed before changes are made.

HB 1332 calls for de-watering measures in areas of high groundwater, funding more groundwater monitoring and studies, and potentially creating a “basin-wide management entity.”

But the majority of South Platte Roundtable members on Tuesday said such measures, like the de-watering efforts, are more complex than they appear. They also said the state putting forth more dollars for more groundwater studies is unnecessary since the recent Colorado Water Institute’s study is available for further examination, and the State Engineer’s Office is in the midst of a separate groundwater study.

Furthermore, creating an entity for basin oversight would add “another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy,” noted Harold Evans, South Platte Roundtable member, and chairman of the city of Greeley Water and Sewer Board.

It was another setback for LaSalle and Gilcrest area farmers, who, due to changes over the years in the state’s administration of groundwater and other factors, had their groundwater wells curtailed or shutdown several years ago. They’ve pushed for several other bills that address the issue, but have been voted down.

For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the aquifer. The pumping of that groundwater draws down flows in nearby rivers and streams — surface supplies owned and used by senior water rights holders. But, because of increasing water prices, some in the ag community have struggled, and continue to struggle, to find affordable water they can use for augmentation.

In addition to losing the ability to pump their wells, many of those impacted believe the lack of well-pumping is what’s caused the high groundwater levels that in recent years flooded basements and ruined crops in saturated fields.

Others, though, believe the high groundwater levels were caused by a variety of factors, and the existing system for groundwater management is needed to protect senior surface water rights, some of which date back to the 1800s.

The debate goes back years and came to a head during the 2012 drought, when crops were struggling in fields but some farmers couldn’t pump their wells to provide relief, even though groundwater was at historically high levels in some spots.

That summer, those local farmers, along with Weld County commissioners, asked Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to make an emergency declaration that would allow them to temporarily pump some of those curtailed or shutdown wells — in hopes of bringing down the damaging high groundwater, and to also save their crops. But many other water users urged the governor not to allow it. The governor didn’t allow any emergency groundwater pumping for local farmers, saying the state would likely face a barrage of lawsuits if he did so.

However, those 2012 discussions led to lawmakers approving the recent Colorado Water Institute groundwater study — known as the House Bill 1278 Study. It’s the approval of that study that now gives hope to HB 1332 supporters.

“We’ll keep plugging away,” said Randy Ray, executive director for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley, which, among other things, acquires and provides augmentation water to many of the impacted farmers. “We saw the same people speak out against that bill, and it still went through.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers” — Louis Meyer #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 12, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

“It’s a bunch of river with serious targets on them,” said Ken Neubecker of Carbondale about the upper Colorado basin. Neubecker, a longtime volunteer with Trout Unlimited and the former head of Western Rivers Institute, now works with American Rivers on policy and conservation issues.

In addition to rivers in the Roaring Fork watershed, Neubecker said the Blue, Eagle, Fraser, Yampa, Gunnison and Green rivers are all threatened by more water diversions.

“We continue to treat rivers as engineered plumbing systems and not ecosystems,” Neubecker said. “And the river doesn’t get a seat at the planning table.”

Aspenites will have a chance to learn more about the current threats and challenges to local and regional rivers when Louis Meyer of Glenwood Springs-based SGM engineering firm makes a presentation today at 6 p.m. in the Rio Grande meeting room in Aspen behind the county courthouse.

Meyer is an engineer, a member of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and a consultant to the roundtable, which is charged with developing a detailed water plan for the Colorado River basin by July. That basin plan will help inform a statewide plan called the Colorado Water Plan.

For the past several months, Meyer has been talking to members of the public and water providers across the upper Colorado River basin, which extends in Colorado from Rocky Mountain National Park to the state line west of Loma.

“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers,” Meyer said. “Not just flat rivers where the hydrograph has been taken off by reservoirs, but rivers that can support healthy biology.”

During a recent presentation in Carbondale sponsored by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Meyer said 41 percent of the Fryingpan River and Hunter Creek is diverted to the Front Range, while 37 percent of the water in the Roaring Fork River and its upper tributaries is sent east under the Continental Divide.

Each year, about 98,900 acre-feet of water is sent out of Pitkin County to growing cities on the Front Range, which is equal to almost all the stored water in a full Ruedi Reservoir. By comparison, Grand County sends 307,500 acre-feet east, Summit County, 73,100 acre-feet, and Eagle, 32,000 acre-feet…

He suggested that people in the Roaring Fork River valley need to better understand what the “PSOP,” or “Preferred Storage Options Plan” is.

“PSOP is something you have to start paying attention to,” Meyer said. “It is an effort by the consortium of East Slope water providers in the Arkansas basin — the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, the cities of Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

“They would like to enlarge Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville — that’s where water out of the Fryingpan is diverted — and they want to enlarge Pueblo Reservoir down very low in the basin so they can store more water.

“Where is that water going to come from? It’s going to come from out of this basin. The infrastructure is already there,” Meyer said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on it.”

Southeastern’s current strategic plan, available on its website, includes the goal to “maximize Fry-Ark diversions to the limit of (the district’s) water rights.”

In addition to PSOP, that could mean diverting more water from a “deferred area” in the Fryingpan headwaters through diversions planned, but not built, as part of the original Fry-Ark project…

Meyer also said that three Front Range counties between Denver and Colorado Springs — Douglas, Arapahoe and El Paso — are growing fast, need more water and are looking at some relatively dramatic potential solutions referred to as “big straws.”

The straws, or big pipelines and pump-back projects, could take water from the Green, Yampa, or Gunnison rivers and send it back over the Continental Divide to the Front Range.

And Meyer said discussions are happening now between Front Range and Western Slope water interests to determine under what conditions the Western Slope parties might agree to such a project…

Land use, not water use, may be the real key to leaving water in Western Slope rivers, he added.

“The biggest single issue that has come to the forefront in our work is that it’s not a water issue, it is a land-use issue,” Meyer said. “People are asking the questions, ‘shouldn’t we have our land use connected to our water use?’ and ‘shouldn’t the land use of the future respect that we already have a water shortage?’

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Snowpack news: “You’ve had a great snow year” — Nolan Doesken #ColoradoRiver

April 12, 2014

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

“You’ve had a great snow year,” said Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist at Colorado State University, “and it doesn’t take a crazy scientist to tell you that.”

The Summit Ranch measurement site recorded 30 percent above the 30-year median Friday. The Fremont Pass, Hoosier Pass and Grizzly Peak sites recorded between 126 and 139 percent of that median Friday.

“February was huge, March was plentiful and April so far has had just a storm or two,” he said, “but there’s another one coming for the weekend.”

The sites at lower altitudes, like the Copper Mountain site, have already started showing some snow melt, he said. The county is almost assured an excellent run-off season with full reservoirs.

Notwithstanding dry weather in the spring, the county should avoid drought conditions through the summer, said Troy Wineland, Summit’s water commissioner…

And snowpack has treated other parts of the state well. The South Platte Basin has recorded the most above-average snowpack, he said, which means the East Slope should take less water from across the Continental Divide, leaving more for the mountain region…

The settled base at Breckenridge Ski Resort is about 10 inches above normal for this time of year, said spokeswoman Kristen Petitt Stewart, and snowfall for the season so far is about 70 inches above average.

At Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac said, “year-to-date snowfall is just over 360 inches, and any season with that much snow is going to bode well for our business.”[...]

The Blue River water levels were too low for rafting for the last two years, said Campy Campton, co-owner of Kodi Rafting in Frisco, who has been rafting locally for almost 30 years. In 2013, he said, the weather was shaping up to repeat the drought conditions of 2012.

“It was little stressful going into April,” he said, “but Mother Nature came through and saved us.”[...]

This year’s above-average snowpack was likely caused by climate patterns around the country. With the “bone-chilling relentless cold” in the Northern Plains and Great Lakes region and the warm dry winter in California and the Pacific Northwest, Doesken said, Colorado was “sort of in a squeeze zone between the two.”

Summit County especially was hit with jet stream air blowing from the northwest, “popping it right up the Blue River Valley” and concentrating snow in an ideal and consistent way.

“Does that mean anything for the future?” he asked. “No. That’s just how it happened this year.”


The Gunnison County Commissioners take a look at the Gunnison Roundtable basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (George Sibley):

Concern about possible transmountain diversions dominated a public information-and-input meeting in Gunnison on Gunnison Basin Roundtable water planning.

The Gunnison County Commissioners hosted the meeting during their work session Tuesday, March 25. Thirty-five or 40 citizens participated in the discussion through the course of a two-hour meeting.

The water plan under consideration was the Gunnison Basin Roundtable’s contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered by Governor John Hickenlooper in May 2013; the plan will create possible solutions for a significant gap between the known water supply and the needs of a population projected to grow 60-100 percent by mid-century, mostly in the Front Range metropolis. Presenting information on the Gunnison Basin plan were roundtable members Frank Kugel, Rufus Wilderson and George Sibley.

The meeting focused mainly on goals that have been identified for the Gunnison Basin over the next four decades, and some “statewide principles” that it hopes to persuade at least the other West Slope basin roundtables to adopt in negotiations for the statewide water plan; some may be acceptable to all eight state river basins plus the metro area.

The priority goal stated for the Gunnison Basin is “to protect all existing water uses.” Roundtable members, according to Sibley, feel that the Gunnison Basin now has a good mix of consumptive uses (agricultural and municipal/domestic/industrial) and non-consumptive uses (environmental, recreational and hydropower), town-and-country, working-and-playing landscapes, and they want to carry that forward into the future. Change should be incremental, and weighed against its impact on existing uses.

Some of the citizen input warned the roundtable presenters to anticipate possible major changes in the headwaters region, from the oil and gas industry and potential mining operations for copper, molybdenum and “rare earth” minerals. Several citizens wanted to see more focus on water quality.

Other intra-basin goals discussed supporting the priority goal. While the planning process was brought about by a projected metropolitan water shortage, the municipal/industrial shortage in the Gunnison Basin is projected to be small, around 6,500 acre-feet (enough for approximately 13,000 four-person households) — roughly one percent of the projected statewide municipal/industrial shortage, and probably manageable through some anticipated agricultural land-use changes.

The heavily agricultural basin does, however, have a significant existing shortage of agricultural water, mostly late in the season, limiting the productivity of the land. Concern over these shortages is not limited to the ranchers; it acknowledges the close relationship between the valley’s agricultural land base and its economically important non-consumptive uses — the environmental and recreational uses also dependent on the extensive groundwater storage, wildlife wetlands and increased late season flows that result from irrigated floodplains, as well as aesthetic open-space considerations.

Most of the concerns expressed by the citizens present, however, reflected a Gunnison Basin antipathy toward headwaters diversions across the Continental Divide going back to the 1930s. These fears were not entirely allayed by the “Statewide Principles” being advanced in the Gunnison Plan. Kugel and Sibley explained that the strategy was to set the bar so high, for Front Range demand reduction preceding any diversion and West Slope compensations in exchange for any diversion, that the diversion would prove to be economically unfeasible. This strategy is furthered by the fact that both the Gunnison and Upper Colorado Basins are now over-appropriated in sub-average water years; any new diversion would be limited to above-average water years — a serious risk for the Front Range water suppliers to contemplate, given the projections for climate change on the one hand and the high cost of “pumpback” projects on the other.

That notwithstanding, the message from the audience was clearly for the roundtable to not be “soft” on the inevitable discussion of further transmountain diversion from any West Slope basin, since water removed from any of them increases the amount of water the other basins must send downstream for still undefined Lower Basin obligations.

Other public-input meetings are planned for other communities throughout the Gunnison Basin over the coming weeks. In addition, a public survey is available online, through the Upper Gunnison River District website — http://www.ugrwcd.org.

The roundtable is now moving into the stage of generating specific plans for meeting the identified needs and expressed goals. The roundtable meets the first Monday of every month, except for January, July and September, at 4 p.m. in the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose; the meetings are open to the public. The meeting on June 2 will precede a “State of the River” informational event held in conjunction with the Colorado River District at 7 p.m.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


The snowstorm this weekend should help delay runoff effects of the recent dust on snow events

April 11, 2014
Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

Snow forecast for the central mountains of Colorado this weekend will further bury the melt-hastening layer of dust that blasted the state 11 days ago.

“Wherever dust is exposed, the fresh snow will hopefully bury it and postpone the dust effect a little longer,” said Silverton’s Snow and Avalanche Studies director Chris Landry, who has chronicled the impact of desert dust blanketing Colorado snowpack since 2003.

But the fresh snow will only delay the detrimental impact of those dust layers.

“Without a doubt this dust layer has done its deed, helping to melt the snow. The danger is getting more dust. Eventually dust layers converge, melting out the clean snow between them and then really help burn through the snowpack,” said Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Right now, we aren’t especially alarmed. But those spring winds are swirling.”

The speedy melt sends a deluge downstream that not only elevates flood potential, but hinders the ability of ranchers and farmers to retain or use the water before it rushes out of state. (And, on a more minor note, it’s marred plenty of formerly pristine ski slopes.)

Without the dust, a gradual, natural melt cycle keeps things more manageable. While this season has yet to match last season — which had two huge dust events in April — the regularity and impact of dust so far this season is pacing with the last decade, Landry said.

The first-week of April is the halfway mark of the typical dust season.

Landry and his crew have so far measured five dust events at 11 Snotel sites on mountain passes across Colorado.

March 30 and April 1 events in Crested Butte, Aspen and across the southern San Juans were dramatic — with ominous red skies preceding a choking swirl of dust — but they likely will not match the huge event of April 8 last year. On that day, a whopper of a storm coated western Colorado with a layer of dust that measured 47.5 grams per square meter, more than the total annual accumulation of dust in any year since Landry began measuring in 2003.

A two-day dust event that began April 15 last year blanketed the central and Front Range snowpack with a layer measuring 9 grams per square meter, another record event.

With snow continuing to accumulate, the melt has not begun in most high-altitude parts of Colorado, meaning those dust layers have yet to see direct sunlight, Landry said.

“The snowpack at those elevations are still retaining some cold,” he said.


CWCB: The next Water Availability Task Force meeting is April 16

April 11, 2014

sanmiguelriver2006aerialmontrosedailypres

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

A Joint Flood & Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 from 1:00-4:00p at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

An agenda will be posted at the CWCB website.

More CWCB coverage here.


Southwestern Water Conservation District Annual Water Seminar recap #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014

sanjuan

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

With continuing population growth in Southwestern states and ongoing drought, water issues are becoming more and more about who has to cut back their use when there isn’t enough to meet demand.

That thread ran through presentations at the annual Water Seminar on April 4 in Durango, sponsored by the Southwest Water Conservation District.

“How will we handle the water and other needs of 10 million people,” asked John Stulp, a former state agriculture commissioner and current chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) which is developing a State Water Plan along with nine basin water roundtables…

Harris cited a statewide statistic that with municipal water use, half is used inside and half outside. Ninety percent of the inside use returns to the stream. With outside use, 70 to 80 percent is “consumed” and does not return to the stream. The Southwest Roundtable has approved a goal to shift the percentage of municipal use to indoor, especially where the water comes from ag dry-up or trans-mountain diversion, he said.

Harris initiated the idea of legislation to limit lawn sizes in residential developments after 2016 where the water would come from a permanent transfer from ag. It didn’t get through the State Senate but will be a study topic by an interim committee on water resources during the off-session.

“The lawn bill, this is just the first time, not the last,” Harris asserted. “Reduction of lawn size is a significant conservation measure to help meet 2050 water supply.”

State Rep. Don Coram from Montrose commented “On the Front Range, they haven’t addressed storage or depleting the aquifer. They are more interested in trans-mountain diversion.”[...]

John McGlow from the Upper Colorado River Commission said curtailment such as this will affect water rights decreed after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Upper Basin is western Colorado, eastern Utah, southwest Wyoming, and northwest New Mexico. They have begun discussions on how cutbacks would be shared, or how to avoid getting to that point with things like fallowing fields and reducing frequency of irrigation.

“Lake Powell is our bank account for complying with the compact,” he said. It’s the cushion for the Upper Basin states to deliver mandated quantities of water to the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) and Mexico over a 10-year average. Navajo Reservoir also is part of that.

McGlow said 1999 was the last year that Powell was full. The goal is to get enough water into Lake Powell each year to avoid curtailment or the possibility of the water level getting too low for hydropower generation, which he said would have its own serious impacts.

The good news is there’s enough snowpack in northwest and north central Colorado that these won’t be issues this year, McGlow said…

Panelist Dan Birch from the Colorado River Conservation District said most pre-compact rights on the Western Slope are in the Grand Valley and Uncompaghre Valley. There is around 1 million AF of pre-compact irrigation on the West Slope, he said. Most of that land is in pasture or hay. Pasture can’t be fallowed, he said.

With a target to make up for 350,000 AF of post-compact use, Birch said, “I don’t think we want one-third of ag to go away. What we’re talking about is interruptible voluntary market-based contracts” for pre-compact users to reduce their water use. “This has to work for the farmers and the ditch companies,” he said.

Birch said power plants in Northwest Colorado are significant post-compact water users. “In the event of a (water) shortage, it will be important to keep critical uses going,” including power generation, he said.

Demand management is a key to avoiding Upper Basin curtailment or loss of hydro generation. “We are way behind on actual implementation of demand management,” including agricultural fallowing and reducing municipal demands, McGlow said. “It’s still a concept. It’s in its infancy.”

Fallowing and reduced irrigation are part of what’s called water banking. Panelist Aaron Derwingson said, “Pretty much everyone supports water banking in concept. It gets a lot more complex actually doing it.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


SB14-103: If you like your toilet you can keep your toilet #COleg

April 11, 2014
Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

From the Craig Daily Press (Bob Rankin):

“If you like your toilet, you can keep your toilet.” Does that sound familiar? Does it sound like the Affordable Care Act?

One of the longest- and hardest-fought floor debates last week had to do with toilets. The sponsor actually made that statement. The bill will require that all new shower and toilet fixtures be energy-efficient to conserve water. Our own Colorado Water District supports it in the hope that the Front Range will divert less water. But I don’t think government should limit choice unless it’s a public safety issue or offers some other very clear benefit. I have to flush the efficient toilet in our rented Denver apartment about three times, so I don’t think they work as advertised. The shower, in this touted “green energy-efficient” building, takes five minutes of running in order to get hot water.

But water conservation is a very serious topic in Colorado. Follow the progress of the water plan being developed this year. It supposedly will guide water use and conservation for years into the future…

We had a very controversial bill and debate in the Agriculture Committee that could have a big effect on water for irrigation and stream flow in our area. The bill would allow irrigators to use more efficient means of watering crops and fields and then sell or donate the saved water to keep our streams flowing all year. I like the concept, but we can’t seem to get agreement between the irrigators, lawyers, fishermen like me and environmentalists.

We haven’t voted as of this writing. I would like to see us work on the bill this summer and come back with agreement, since I really don’t think the committee, of which I am a member, is capable of sorting out this complicated water law issue.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

The Blue and the Snake are in trouble. These two Summit County rivers are part of the Upper Colorado River Basin, which was named the second most endangered river in the country Wednesday by American Rivers, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit focused on river advocacy.

“If you want to have healthy rivers and a recreational economy and agriculture on the West Slope, there really is nothing left to take,” said Ken Neubecker, associate director of the organization’s Colorado River project…

The nonprofit’s biggest fear is a new diversion, Neubecker said, because taking a lot of water out of the Colorado anywhere would have serious repercussions.

American Rivers and other conservation organizations say the Colorado Water Conservation Board, charged with creating the state water plan, should make sure it prioritizes river restoration and protection, increases water efficiency and conservation in cities and towns, improves agricultural practices and avoids new transmountain diversions.

Rivers on the Western Slope are already drained and damaged, Neubecker said. He called it wrong to divert more water instead of focusing on alternative methods to meet the gap between water supply and demand.

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Right now, he said, details on a new diversion project have been vague, but Front Range proposals have considered developing the Yampa, Flaming Gorge and Gunnison and taking more water out of the Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers…

The Colorado River and its headwaters are home to some endangered fish species. They support wildlife, agriculture and multi-billion dollar tourism industries.

And they provide some or all of the drinking water for the resort areas of Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Winter Park and Crested Butte and most of the urban Front Range.

To meet its customers’ water needs, Denver Water is focused on Gross Reservoir enlargements as well as conservation and forest health efforts, said CEO Jim Lochhead Thursday.

Colorado’s largest water provider has no current plans to construct a new transmountain diversion, he said, but the state as a whole should consider that option.

A new diversion is “probably inevitable at some point,” he said. “We want to do that in partnership with the West Slope.”

And after signing the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement last year, the utility has to.

The agreement does not allow future water development without the permission of all parties, including Western Slope representatives. Lochhead said, it “establishes a framework where we are really working together as partners instead of the old framework of East Slope versus West Slope.”

But the push is not coming from Denver Water.

“They’re really not the ones that are after a new diversion,” Neubecker said. “They got what they want.”

Pressure for more water from new or existing transmountain diversions comes mainly from north and south of Denver, the Arkansas and South Platte basins and especially Douglas County, he said. Those areas should look at conservation efforts more seriously, he said, and “pay attention to land use policies that basically encourage wasteful water use.”[...]

“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” instead of engineering conduits for delivering water, Neubecker said, and “understand that we may think that growth should be infinite, but the resources like water that support the growth are not.”

From the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Mike McKibbin):

There is no more unclaimed water in the Colorado River Basin, so if the state’s population nearly doubles by 2050, as some have projected, the consequences for everyone along the river – including Rifle – could be dire. That was the message Louis Meyer, a civil engineer, president and CEO of SGM in Glenwood Springs, told City Council as he detailed the ongoing Colorado Water Plan process at an April 2 workshop…

Of the counties in the Colorado River basin, he noted, Garfield is projected to have the most growth, around 274 percent, or 119,900 people, by 2030.

“The Front Range is expected to have serious water shortages by 2020, unless they find more water,” he said. “They can’t take any more from agriculture on the Front Range, so they want a new supply from the Colorado River basin.”

“We have a target on our back,” Meyer continued. “But we have no more water to give.”

If every entity on the Front Range implemented some strict conservation measures, such as banning all new lawns and perhaps the removal of some existing lawns, Meyer said, the water gap could possibly be eliminated in coming years.

“But if we put that in the [water] plan, we need to do the same thing in our basin,” he added.

All storage water in Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs is allocated, along with nearly every other reservoir in the state, Meyer said.

Water quality issues are already becoming acute, Meyer said, because there is less water in the Colorado River.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Transmountain diversions: “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded” — Jay Winner #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Twin Lakes collection system

Twin Lakes collection system

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Twin Lakes Reservoir & Canal Co. took umbrage at the way working drafts of an upcoming state water plan viewed its future. A report prepared by the Interbasin Compact Committee uses an example of a way to create new supply, suggesting that Twin Lakes could cut back its diversions from the other side of the Continental Divide in drought years to aid the Western Slope. Trouble is, Twin Lakes has no plans to do that, said Kevin Lusk, who is president of the Twins Lakes company as a representative of Colorado Springs Utilities, the majority shareholder in Twin Lakes.

“In our discussions, we’re trying to keep what we’ve got, and we have no intentions of increasing the use,” Lusk told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

Lusk asked for a retraction of the statement by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and from the basin roundtable chairs. The document was discussed in a March 17 conference call among roundtable chairs and alluded to in an Aspen Daily News story. Several roundtable members questioned how the statement landed in the document, since it was not discussed at a meeting.

“It was cited as an example in the process as we move forward,” said Betty Konarski, chairwoman of the roundtable.

Lusk said the distribution of the information is detrimental to Twin Lakes. While there have been past discussions along the same lines, the company has never committed to changing its operations to accommodate the Western Slope.

“Twin Lakes is not considering a reduction of diversions. We haven’t agreed to do it or not to do it,” added Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the second largest Twin Lakes shareholder. “We wouldn’t have a reason to give any of it up unless there was some benefit to us. It’s gravity-flow and inexpensive water for us.”

But a minority Twin Lakes shareholder, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the company should be more open to actions that could have a statewide benefit. comments,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded. It’s looking at what’s good for Colorado Springs Utilities, not the whole state.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


The latest ENSO update is hot off the presses

April 10, 2014

midmarchplumeofensopredictionsviacpc

Click here to read the latest ENSO discussion from the Climate Prediction Center. Here’s an excerpt:

ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch

Synopsis: While ENSO-neutral is favored for Northern Hemisphere spring, the chances of El Niño increase during the remainder of the year, exceeding 50% by summer.


Drought news

April 10, 2014

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of images from the US Drought Monitor website.

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

The Plains

As was observed in the Midwest, the plains states are experiencing a delayed spring with cooler than normal temperatures. This week was not any different, with departures from normal temperatures of 4-6 degrees Fahrenheit quite common. Precipitation was scarce in the region, with a few areas of eastern Kansas, northeast and central Nebraska, and western South Dakota recording amounts that were generally less than 1 inch total for the week. Even with the delayed spring, the departures from normal precipitation for the year are starting to reach 4 inches below normal from southern South Dakota into eastern Nebraska as well as eastern and central Kansas. Drought conditions were expanded in southeast Nebraska so that D1 now includes the entire region. In South Dakota, D0 was expanded into the southern portions of the state and including all of north central Nebraska as well. As the northern plains begin to thaw, there is ample moisture in the snowpack, which will help diminish any concerns for dryness, allowing for the D0 in North Dakota to be removed this week as well…

The West

Most of the western United States was dry this week, with the heaviest precipitation recorded in areas west of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon. The warmer than normal conditions also continue for much of the region; this has been the trend for 2014 up to this point. In response to continued dryness and also approaching the end of the typical rainy season and snow accumulation seasons, some drought areas were expanded this week. In northern Arizona and southern Utah, D1 was pushed to the north while D1 was also pushed to the east in eastern Utah. In the Four Corners region, D2 was expanded into southwest Colorado and southeast Utah. In New Mexico, D2 was pushed to the east in the western portion of the state while D2 was expanded in the north central areas of the state. In response to the snowpack conditions, which are well above normal, the D0 and D1 conditions were improved upon in the eastern regions of northern Utah…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5-7 days, an active weather pattern will take shape over portions of the plains, Midwest, and southeastern United States. Precipitation chances and amounts are greatest over the Midwest, the Ohio River Valley, and portions of the Gulf Coast. Areas of thunderstorms may produce 2-3 inches of rain locally. Precipitation chances are also high over the central to northern Rocky Mountains. Temperatures during this time should be above normal over the western United States, where high temperatures will be up to 12 degrees above normal in the Great Basin and northern California. Normal to slightly below normal high temperatures are expected in the plains and northern plains, respectively, while high temperatures will be above normal over the eastern United States.

The 6-10 day outlook continues with the cooler than normal temperature pattern over the eastern half of the United States, with the best chances for below-normal temperatures in the Great Lakes region. The chances for above-normal temperatures will also continue west of the Great Divide and also for southern Florida. The eastern seaboard and the Pacific Northwest are the two areas with the best chances of above-normal precipitation during this time. The Midwest and southwestern United States have the best chances of recording below-normal precipitation during this period.


American Rivers names the Upper #ColoradoRiver the #2 most endangered for 2014 #COWaterPlan

April 10, 2014
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From American Rivers:

Threat: Water diversions
At Risk: River health and recreation

The Upper Colorado River and its tributaries include some of the most heavily degraded rivers and some of the last truly healthy rivers in the West. The rivers are critical to Colorado’s heritage; they are the life-line for much of the state’s fish and wildlife, they sustain a vibrant agricultural economy, and they provide world-class opportunities for fishing, paddling, and hiking. However, these renowned rivers are threatened by increasing water demands and new proposed water diversions. The Governor of Colorado must take a stand now and keep water flowing in the rivers by promoting responsible conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan.

The River

The Colorado River Basin in the State of Colorado includes the mainstem Colorado River and headwater rivers, such as the Eagle, Roaring Fork, Blue, Yampa, White, and Gunnison. Gold medal trout fisheries, world class paddling, and glorious massive canyons can be found throughout this river system. The resort areas of Winter Park, Breckenridge, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, and Vail, as well as much of the urban Front Range (on the other side of the Continental Divide), all get some or all of their drinking water from these rivers. The Upper Colorado River Basin is home to 14 native fish species, including several fish listed as endangered.

The Threat

n 2013, American Rivers listed the Colorado River as #1 on our list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® due to the overarching concern of outdated water management throughout the entire basin. To begin addressing this concern in the Upper Basin, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop the first statewide Water Plan to determine how Colorado will meet its water needs in the future. With its population expected to double by 2050, Colorado must seize this opportunity to chart a more sustainable course for water management.

Approximately 80% of Colorado’s population lives on the Front Range in cities like Denver, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins, but 80% of Colorado’s snow and rain falls on the Western Slope, primarily within the Upper Colorado River Basin. The Front Range has long depended on “trans-mountain” projects that pump, pipe, and divert water over the Continental Divide from the Colorado River Basin for municipal use, lawn irrigation, and agriculture. These dams and diversions decrease river flows, degrade the environment, and harm river recreation that is a key element for the tourism economy on the Western Slope. Having tapped the headwaters of the Colorado mainstem, some Front Range water interests are currently considering diversions from rivers further away, like the Yampa and Gunnison Rivers— rivers not yet impaired by trans-mountain diversions.

The Governor of Colorado and the Colorado Water Conservation Board cannot afford to fall back on outdated, expensive, and harmful water development schemes as acceptable solutions when they develop the water plan for Colorado’s future. Rivers are vitally important for Coloradans, and protecting and restoring rivers needs to be a top priority. If we want rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture, and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure they have enough water.

What Must Be Done

Colorado Basin Rivers have played an important role providing water for Front Range development, but many of the rivers are drained and have no more water to give. The Draft Colorado Water Plan is scheduled to be released in December 2014, and the Governor and Colorado Water Conservation Board must make the following common sense principles a core part of the plan:

  • Prioritize protecting healthy flowing rivers and restoring degraded ones
  • Increase water efficiency and conservation in cities and towns
  • Modernize agricultural practices and make it easier for irrigators— who now use more than 80% of Colorado’s water— to share water with urban areas in ways that both maintain valuable ranches and farms and keep rivers healthy
  • Avoid new major trans-mountain diversion projects so as not to further harm Upper Colorado rivers and the communities that depend upon them
  • Adopting these strategies will allow sustainable use of water from the Upper Colorado River Basin, without building costly, environmentally harmful, and ultimately ineffective projects on these cherished rivers. Greater cooperation, innovative technologies, and best practices will enable Colorado to build prosperous communities, support thriving agricultural and tourism industries, and keep our rivers healthy and flowing.

    Colorado’s Water Plan will influence water development and impacts to rivers in Colorado for decades to come. Taking additional water from the Upper Colorado River Basin, already over-taxed by existing water diversions, should not be an option and will be unnecessary if the Governor and Colorado Water Conservation Board adopt a sensible Water Plan.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    A nearby tributary of the Colorado, the White River, is No. 7 on the list because of the amount of energy exploration taking place along its length, American Rivers’ Director of the Colorado River Basin Program Matt Rice said Wednesday.

    #The threat of future trans-mountain diversion that would export water from the upper Colorado to the state’s Front Range is the reason the basin ranks high among the top 10 again in 2014. However, Rice said, it’s also the process already underway to establish a new water plan for Colorado that is putting the focus on the Colorado and Yampa rivers.

    #“We want to make sure common-sense principles are included and prioritized in Colorado’s new water plan. We want healthy rivers to be a core component,” Rice said. “And we want to make sure this plan doesn’t support a new trans-basin project. That’s why it’s No. 2 on our list this year.”

    #Steamboat resident Ken Vertrees is uniquely situated in the ongoing discussions about the future of the Yampa as it fits into the Upper Colorado Basin and the water needs of all of Colorado. He sits on the combined Yampa, White, Green river basin roundtable that was tasked by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May 2013 with coming up with a water plan for this basin that will be incorporated into a statewide draft plan in December 2014 and ultimately into the finalized Colorado Water Plan due to be completed no later than Dec. 10, 2015.

    #In addition, Vertrees sits on the board of the Steamboat-based nonprofit, Friends of the Yampa, which is a partner with American Rivers on its 10 most endangered project. He said the rivers of the upper Colorado have in-basin needs of their own to meet before other basins come after their water.

    #“The state has a 20 percent gap in water supply going out to 2050. That’s the whole impetus for everything we’re doing right now,” he said.

    #Vertrees thinks there is potential for the people of the Yampa Basin to become a “complete loser” in the statewide planning process as water officials seek to close that gap either by redirecting water across the state or conserving, or both.

    #One presumption is that the Front Range, where 82 percent of the state’s population is located, will seek the last great trans-mountain diversion, with water now leaving the state in the Yampa, on its way to the Green and ultimately the Colorado, one of the primary targets.

    #The possibility of spending several billions of dollars to capture some of the water leaving Colorado in the Yampa and pumping it eastward across the Continental Divide to the Front Range surfaced in the middle of the past decade. But two proposals to do just that since have languished…

    Ultimately, Vertrees said, he’s hopeful that the state of Colorado as a whole will recognize the intrinsic value of the Yampa in its lower reaches as a wild desert river that supports a rare community of plants and animals.

    #“It’s a very scary time, in some ways, for our river and our basins,” Vertrees said. “Our non-consumptive water rights are critical to the health of the river. It maintains globally rare habitats and federally endangered fish that are found nowhere else. Isn’t that critical for us, as the state of Colorado, to protect forever?”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    “The roundtables have no authority…But let’s define what a good project looks like” — Gary Barber #COWaterPlan

    April 10, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Preparing for a flood of meetings on the state water plan, Arkansas Basin Roundtable members are wondering what style of umbrella to bring.

    “How will the plan be used?” asked Sandy White of the Huerfano County Conservancy District. “There are a lot of cranky people like me in Huerfano County who want to know.”

    White elaborated, saying that it’s apparent that projects listed in the plan won’t be fast-tracked and those omitted won’t be black-listed. The plan also won’t alter water rights.

    Betty Konarski, roundtable chairwoman, said it’s important to know which projects are being contemplated, even if the plan doesn’t say how or when they will be accomplished.

    “One of our goals is following on,” she said. “Which of these can we turn into a project and initiate. Once we see them all, we can see how they can work together.”

    Alan Hamel, the basin’s director on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said there is value in identifying needs in order to reinforce the importance of projects and coordinate permitting by state agencies.

    Dave Taussig, of Lincoln County, asked how the state plan would interact with local planning efforts, which could override state edicts on growth and water development.

    “The roundtables have no authority,” said Gary Barber, who stepped down as chairman of the roundtable in order to work as a consultant on the basin implementation plan. “But let’s define what a good project looks like.”

    Barber spent most of Wednesday afternoon going over details of the plan, and reviewed the history of how the roundtable formed after the 2004 State Water Supply Initiative was crafted.

    SWSI was updated in 2010, and from it, Gov. John Hickenlooper charged the roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop a state water plan.

    Roundtable members are being asked to fan out into the countryside to gather input before an Arkansas Basin implementation plan — just one ingredient in the state’s recipe for its water future. Some meetings already have been held and comments are filtering back to the roundtable.

    At least 15 meetings are planned throughout the basin. A complete list, as well as details about the water plans, can be found at the website, http://arkansasbasin.com.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Full list of Great Outdoors Colorado flood-recovery grants #COflood

    April 9, 2014

    Snowpack news (% of avg): South Platte = 140% (best in state), Arkansas = 106%, Upper Rio Grande = 83% #COdrought

    April 9, 2014

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Last week’s snow and rain will get the farming season off to the best start it has seen in four years.

    “I’m always optimistic about farming,” said Tom Rusler, who farms near Avondale on the Bessemer Ditch. “But last week’s moisture was about as nice as they come, we got about half an inch down here, but I just got back from Leadville and the snow is beautiful up there.”

    The snow helped winter wheat, triticale and alfalfa crops already in the ground. It also softened up the ground for spring planting, which will occur between now and mid-June.

    “I got about six-tenths of an inch, which is the most moisture I’ve had in three years,” said John Singletary, who was surveying his fields near Vineland. “It came at a great time and will allow us to plant in moisture this year.”

    Farmers also are encouraged by winter water, which finished 50 percent better than last year but shy of average, and Fryingpan-Arkansas Project imports, which are expected to be above average.

    Snow and rain fell over most of the Arkansas River basin last week, but was heaviest in the mountains and foothills. Five-day precipitation totals ranged from just 0.14 inches in Prowers County to nearly 2 inches at Twin Lakes. Some places in Pueblo County got as much as an inch during that period.

    More moisture and cooler weather are expected to move into the area by the weekend.

    From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

    Spring runoff in the Roaring Fork Valley typically starts around this time, in early to mid-April. It peaks later in the spring. This year mountain snow is plentiful and once it melts, river flows are predicted to be higher than average. But, the timing of the melt is important. Aspen public Radio’s Marci Krivonen spoke with Sarah Johnson, the Outreach Coordinator for the Roaring Fork Conservancy. She says the snowpack in the Roaring Fork watershed is well above average.


    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is sponsoring a dozen meetings to gather input for their basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

    April 9, 2014
    Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From The Pueblo
    Chieftain
    (Chris Woodka):

    Ready to dive in? A dozen meetings have been scheduled to get input from communities on the Arkansas River basin’s portion of the state water plan. The meetings, sponsored by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, are in response to last month’s decision by the roundtable to reach out into the sprawling basin to gather input as the state moves toward developing a draft water plan by the end of the year under an order by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The meetings also address concerns by some state lawmakers that community outreach on water issues is lacking, despite nine years of roundtable meetings throughout Colorado.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable has launched a website (http://arkansasbasin.com) that lists the meeting times and places, as well.

    Included are the roundtable’s monthly meeting, 11:30 a.m. today at Colorado State University-Pueblo; and the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 22-24 in La Junta. Smaller community meetings will begin next week, with meetings in Trinidad and Walsenburg on April 16. Upcoming meetings will be in Gardner, April 25; La Veta, April 29; Springfield, April 29; Lamar, May 1; Salida, May 6; Hugo, May 7; Las Animas, May 20; Rocky Ford, May 27; and Fowler, May 27. Meetings also will be scheduled for Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Simla.

    The website also includes more detailed information about the water plan through a link to the state water plan website at http://coloradowaterplan.com.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain editoral staff:

    When the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum convenes for its 20th annual gathering April 23-24 in La Junta, there should be just one topic at the top of its agenda — water for agriculture. Those attending this year’s forum will take time to discuss the Colorado Water Plan, which is currently being developed thanks to an executive order by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Arkansas River basin water users and officials will talk about a number of topics — including drought, irrigation rules and weed control — during the two-day gathering. But their discussion and eventual input into the water plan shouldn’t stray from agriculture and the need for consistent water supplies in Southern Colorado.

    Agriculture is the backbone of the region’s economy. Without a reliable water supply that will ensure a sustainable future for farmers and ranchers in the Arkansas Valley, our most important industry and our overall economy will be in jeopardy.

    Water interests in the Arkansas River basin need to send a clear and unified message through the Colorado Water Plan process that agriculture, more than growing cities, should be the state’s No. 1 priority when it comes to the allocation of water resources.

    If we don’t stay together in that belief, growing communities to the north will continue to come shopping for water in Southern Colorado, leading to the loss of productive farms and ranches throughout the region.

    There are effective tools available to hang on to Arkansas River water, including conservation easements with farmers and ranchers to tie water rights to specific land. A legislative measure to forbid the transfer of more water out of a basin of origin could be part of the debate as well.

    Our water resources are valuable and finite. The new water plan needs to acknowledge that fact, and strengthen agriculture’s grip on its fair share of the available resources.

    Meanwhile it’s full steam ahead with work on the Rio Grande Roundtable basin implementation plan according to this report from Charlie Spielman writing for the Valley Courier:

    This is the sixth article in the Narrow the Gap water series addressing the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan. VALLEY In 2004, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) completed the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) Phase 1 Study. One of the key findings of the study was that while SWSI evaluated water needs and solutions through 2030, very few municipal and industrial (M&I) water providers have identified supplies beyond 2030.

    Beyond 2030, growing demands may require more aggressive solutions. Since the SWSI Phase 1 Study was completed, Colorado’s legislature established the

    “Water for the 21st Century Act.” This act established the Interbasin Compact Process that provides a permanent forum for broad-based water discussions in the state. It created two new structures : 1) the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), and 2) the basin roundtables. There are nine basin roundtables each located in one of Colorado’s eight major river basins and the Denver metro area.

    The CWCB determined that the forecast horizon for the water demand projections needed to be extended to the year 2050 to better represent the long-term water needs that the state will face. The West Slope basin roundtables suggested the 2050 timeframe for the demand projections so that potential growth rates on the West Slope could be better characterized. Infrastructure investments and commitment of water supplies also require a longer view into the future. In addition, several of the SWSI Identified Projects and Processes (IPPs) with Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) requirements have used a planning horizon of 2050. Finally, the 2050 timeframe matches the ongoing energy development study conducted by the Colorado and Yampa-White Basin Roundtables. (CWCB, M&I Water Projections.)

    The Municipal and Industrial Rio Grande Basin Water Plan workgroup knows that unless action is taken, water shortages for San Luis Valley cities and towns will be inevitable. So the team set about laying out frame work for the Rio Grande Basin’s Municipal and Industrial uses. By working together the committee has uncovered some interesting facts:

  • The Division of Water Resources doesn’t characterize any wells as “industrial” but as commercial.
  • There is a healthy photovoltaic solar electric business established in the San Luis Valley, and future growth of this sector seems assured. As an added bonus, this generating capacity uses relatively little water.
  • Reasonable projections of future oil and gas drilling indicate that the industry’s future water use will probably not be extensive.
  • Opportunities for significant water requirements for hydro power plants appear limited at this time.
  • Total municipal and industrial water use in the Rio Grande Basin is likely to remain at less than 1-3 percent of the agricultural water use. A situation that is much different, when looking at other cities and towns in river basins across the state.
  • The several municipalities in the Rio Grande Basin that obtain their water from confined aquifer wells provide significant water to the surface system and to the unconfined aquifer in the form of treated waste water. Presently these towns receive no credit or benefit from their contribution. Moving forward these municipalities will need to secure their well water resources by obtaining water augmentation plans or by joining a sub-district . The implementation of new water rules and regulations will lay out a specific blueprint of how these communities can move forward. Further complicating the water outlook for San Luis Valley municipalities is the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) lowering of the maximum arsenic limits tolerances to 2 parts per billion . This action will greatly increase water treatment costs.

    Water is nearly as “invisible” as air. Unfortunately this creates a complacency that has led to failing infrastructure and severe water shortages in unexpected places like Atlanta, Georgia where, according to Charles Fishmen author of “The Big Thirst” , several million people have been added to the population in the past 20 years without increasing its water supply.

    The key for municipalities is to improve their outreach and education efforts about conservation and population. When simple conservation techniques are implemented, the water savings are quite remarkable. Lowering water demands as a result of water efficiency can assist providers in avoiding, downsizing, or postponing the construction and operation of water supply facilities and wastewater facilities as well as eliminating , reducing, or postponing water purchases. In addition to these water supply benefits , there are other societal, political, and environmental benefits.

    At present there appears to be no communities within the upper Rio Grande Basin at risk regarding the development of adequate water supplies and /or obtaining augmentation water. Planning and conservation, however , will allow them to move smoothly towards 2050. The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable would like input in the development of the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan. The most effective methods to become involved are: attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings the second Tuesday of each month at the SLV Water Conservancy office , 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa; submit comments directly online at http://www.riograndewaterplan. webs.com or attend any one of the five Basin Water Plan subcommittee meetings. The lead consultant is Tom Spezze (tom@dinatalewater.com).

    Charlie Spielman, represents municipal and industrial water users on the Rio Basin Roundtable and also serves as chair of the M&I subcommittee for the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    The latest newsletter (The Current) from the Eagle River Watershed Council is hot off the presses

    April 8, 2014
    Eagle River Basin

    Eagle River Basin

    Click here to read the newsletter.

    More Eagle River Watershed coverage here.


    A look at James Eklund and the #COWaterPlan

    April 8, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From Colorado Public Radio (Rachel Estabrook):

    …Gov. John Hickenlooper has ordered the state to create a water plan; he wants a draft of it by December 2014, to be finalized in 2015. The plan will be based on what local groups organized around watersheds, called basin roundtables, come up with over the next several months. The basin roundtables will meet throughout the spring and will deliver their wish lists to the state over the summer.

    To lead the massive effort, Gov. Hickenlooper has chosen James Eklund to direct the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “We have water where we don’t have people, and we have to make sure we address that problem as best we can,” Eklund says.

    That also means there are people where there isn’t much water. Eklund says you can draw a line down the middle of Colorado.

    “If you think of Colorado as a rectangle…and you draw a line right down the middle of that rectangle…80 percent of the water falls on the left side of that line and 80-87 percent of the people are on the right side of that line,” Eklund says.

    In addition to the looming gap between how much water Colorado has and how much it needs, Eklund says he’s worried about a trend known as “buy and dry,” where cities, mostly on the Front Range, buy water rights from farmers, leaving the farms to dry up.

    “The challenge that we face as a state when that happens is a ripple effect that spreads through the local economy, the community,” Eklund notes. “If you’re not farming, you’re not paying into the tax base. You’re not sending your kids to school. You’re not going to the grocery store, the cafe. And that is a challenge for the entire community.”

    Eklund is careful to point out that he doesn’t want to stop arrangements between willing sellers and willing buyers.

    “But we want to give people options,” he says.

    That includes encouraging rotational fallowing, a method that allows farmers to let parts of land go dry for a year or more and sell the water rights for only that period of time, restarting production on that land later.

    Ultimately, Eklund says, the solution to Colorado’s water crisis will include more conservation – and that could mean sacrifices.

    “We’re all going to have to bear some pain,” Eklund says. “And how we bear that pain, and who bears what percentage of it, who bears what risk – that’s the conversation that’s going on right now in Colorado in shaping this water plan.”

    Eklund says that could mean rules about how much water people can use. It could mean water providers will start using aggressive tiered pricing schemes to make it expensive to use water. For farmers, Eklund says, continued buyouts of their land would be very painful.

    As the basin roundtables go on, some conservation groups worry that not enough attention will be paid to keeping the rivers flowing. Those rivers are important to Colorado’s natural habitats and to the state’s recreation industry. Eklund says he’s listening to those concerns.

    “We have been aggressive in reaching out to the conservation and environmental community to make sure their voice is heard in all of this,” he says, “and that our water plan doesn’t become some glossy report that sits on a shelf somewhere.”

    Eklund is encouraging citizens to participate in the planning process. A schedule of the basin roundtable meetings and a link to give input to the plan are at the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s website.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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