Snowpack news: Greeley and Pueblo plan to lease water to farmers this season #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

April 24, 2014
Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 23, 2014 via the NRCS

Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 23, 2014 via the NRCS

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

With the water outlook now drastically better than it was in 2013, many Front Range cities in Colorado, which leased little or no water to ag users last year due to shortages, are now saying they will have extra water to lease out this year.

Harold Evans, chairman of the city of Greeley Water and Sewer Board, said board members officially decided at their recent meeting they would have extra water to lease to agriculture this year, although they would have to examine requests from farmers and take other things into consideration before deciding how much they would lease out.

Officials with the city of Loveland, too, said this week they will have extra water to lease to agriculture.

Snowpack on Tuesday in the South Platte River Basin — which supplies northeast Colorado — was 130 percent of historic average, according to NRCS figures, and reservoir levels in the basin are also above normal, sitting at 108 percent of historic average on April 1.

While the outlook has been good for months in northern Colorado, many city officials in the area were waiting to see how much water would be released this year from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest water-supply project in the region, before giving the official yay or nay on leasing to agriculture.

The Northern Water board set its spring quota for the C-BT Project on April 11, and even though the board set it at a below-average 60 percent, it was enough to give most cities the green light to lease to ag.

While the C-BT quota played a large part in determining how much water most northern Front Range cities can lease out this year, the situation is a little different for the city of Longmont. Ken Huson, water resources administrator for Longmont, said that because some of its water-delivery systems are still under repair from September’s flooding, the city likely won’t be renting any water out this year.

Evans noted that while Greeley has plenty of water to lease this year, cities typically get fewer requests in years of good snowpack like this year, because so much snowmelt makes its way down the mountains, filling irrigation ditches and reducing the farmers’ needs of supplemental water from cities.

But even with plenty of snowmelt expected to fill ditches this spring, farmers still like to have water available to lease from cities as a back-up supply, if nothing else. Local farmers say they never know how fast the snow is going to melt and flow by, or how dry it’s going to get later into the summer.

At the beginning of last year, the state was coming off the 2012 drought, during which reservoirs were drained to low levels, and snowpack in the mountains was also historically bad.

As early as January of 2013, a number of cities — like Greeley, Pueblo, Longmont, Fort Collins and Loveland, each of which typically lease thousands of acre-feet of excess water each year to producers across eastern Colorado — were telling local farmers they would have little or no water to lease to ag users.

Back in 2011, which was a historically wet year, the city of Greeley — located in the most ag-productive part of the state — leased 25,427 acre-feet of water (nearly 8.3 billion gallons) to ag users, but last year, could only honor its long-term ag agreements of about 5,000 acre-feet.

Water officials from cities around the state said last year marked the first time in about a decade, longer in some cases, that they’d had such little water to lease to agricultural users.

This year is different.

Even in the southeast part of the state, where cities have less water compared to their neighbors to the north, it’s looking like those municipalities will have enough extra for agriculture.

According to NRCS figures, snowpack in the Arkansas River Basin that supplies southeast Colorado was at about historic average Wednesday and reservoirs were only filled to 60 percent of average on April 1.

Still, Sharon Carleo, water resources coordinator with the Board of Water Works of Pueblo, said they could lease in the range of 6,000 acre feet of water this year to farmers.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

On his farm just outside of Mead, [Kent Peppler] relies both on irrigated water and spring runoff. While water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project can be an integral part of keeping his crop alive, Peppler only gets that water through cities like Fort Collins, which regularly lease extra water to irrigators and Front Range farmers.

“We’re hoping to rent some Big Thompson water this year, absolutely,” he said on Tuesday.

But this year it’s unlikely that Peppler, who lives well outside the Poudre basin and is on the city’s lowest priority rung, will get water from Fort Collins. When the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District announced two weeks ago how much water customers will get from the reservoir system — 60 percent of their full allotment — city officials were concerned that amount would minimize the water leasing market. While “domestic” customers like homeowner associations will be able to lease water from the city, others like Peppler most likely will not.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project, or C-BT, rentals make up one of three water leasing markets the city runs. Fort Collins Utilities also leases water to the North Poudre Irrigation Co. and the Water Supply and Storage Co. in Fort Collins. C-BT leases have garnered the city the least money of the three since 2009. Last year, the city made $74,585 from the leases, down from $227,920 in 2009.

While not a huge moneymaker for a city with a nearly $500 million annual budget, C-BT leases can be cruicial for farmers like Peppler, who has leased water from Fort Collins sporadically over the past 30 years.

“We do depend on rented irrigation water,” he said. “We don’t have enough water rights to get us through.”

The city normally takes half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a network of basins and reservoirs that brings water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. While the bulk of the water serves the daily needs of city residents and businesses, some fills city irrigation ditches, is channeled to homeowners associations, or feeds city parks. Fort Collins leases any leftover water to farmers like Peppler, who put in requests every year for a certain number of acre feet.

Leasing water from Fort Collins Utilities has been tricky after burn-scar debris from the High Park Fire polluted the Poudre River, forcing the city to rely more on reservoir water. The city is also partially reliant on the C-BT water when spring runoff and late-summer monsoons reduce Poudre River water quality.

High snowpack years like this can be mixed a blessing to those hoping for more C-BT water, as a plentiful snowpack doesn’t translate into a higher quota of water.

“It’s just the opposite,” said Susan Smolnik, a water resources engineer for Fort Collins Utilities. “Colorado-Big Thompson is a supplemental system. In the higher snowpack year, we will not get as much CB-T water.”

To manage the water it does receive, Fort Collins Utilities keeps strict priorities, dividing lessees into tiers. The first tier, made up of HOAs, city ditches and parks, had all its water requests fulfilled this year, worth about 80 acre feet, said Smolnik. Poudre basin farmers in the second tier had only about 25 percent of their requests for water fulfilled, although customers have requested leases for all 10,480 acre feet potentially available to the tier.

Peppler is among those in the bottom tier of users living outside the basin, who have no prospects of getting water from the city yet. Thus far, that group has requested 4,664 acre feet of water from the city.

Despite this year’s plentiful snowpack, Utilities has been “conservative,” Smolnik said, when it came to meeting regional water needs, because it will mostly rely on C-BT water until it is satisfied with the quality of Poudre River water.

“We planned that we are not going to treat more Poudre water until we know more about fire effects,” she said.

Ultimately, if city demands for C-BT water is less than expected, Utilities will be able to release more acre feet of water to those who seek leases.

For now, Peppler, who is president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, hopes that a good spring runoff season will help fill the ditches that irrigate his corn, wheat and barley. Like most farmers he has crop insurance, which could help if planting season doesn’t turn out to be as lucrative as expected. But falling back on insurance is hard to justify during a year with a deep snowpack, even if that doesn’t translate into more water for Peppler’s fields.


Arkansas River Basin Water Forum: “What happens when you overdevelop?” — Jim Pokrandt #COWaterPlan

April 24, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Chris Woodka was front and center at the Arkansas Basin Water Forum. Below are 3 articles recapping the first day of the event.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A team of paragliders won’t cut it out of a glacier with a chainsaw. A ski patrol can’t bring it down from the top of a snowy mountain. Deep-sea divers won’t blow up an iceberg to get at it. In other words, no Silver Bullet for the state water plan. But it will provide options, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“If you want to do planning, you have to do it before the crisis hits,” Eklund told the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College on Wednesday. “We’re not going to luck into what we want for our kids. We have to be intentional.”

The state water plan occupied all of the attention at the first day of the forum, along with the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s basin implementation plan. The forum continues today with the focus on preserving irrigation for farms. The basin plan will be part of a draft state water plan that will be submitted to the governor in December.

“I can’t tell you what will be in the plan,” Eklund said. “It has to come from the grassroots up.”

The basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the CWCB have been talking about the core issues of a water plan — alternatives to ag dry-up, urban conservation, new supply, storage and environmental needs — for 10 years. New meetings are pushing to include more people in the statewide conversation, with about a dozen more planned in the next three months.

Eklund stressed the need to preserve watershed health to prepare for drought, floods and fires that have plagued the state for the past two years. While there will be measurable outcomes, the state water plan likely will not contain blanket solutions for filling the needs of cities on the Front Range as more people move into the state, he added.

“There may be tough decisions in the future,” Eklund said, speaking about some climate models that show reduced snowpack in coming years. “If climate change occurs, at that point dramatic steps will be taken. We have to be comfortable as a state.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas River basin is no stranger to the troubles of overdevelopment of water resources. But its neighbors also have complaints as they develop their part of the state water plan. Experts from four other basins shared some of those Wednesday at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College.

September’s record floods were a mixed blessing for the South Platte basin, said Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.

“While some reservoirs filled, it wiped out the infrastructure to deliver water to ditches,” Cronin said.

The Rio Grande basin has been in drought since 2002, and will provide little help in meeting the state’s water gap because it’s struggling to fill its own needs, said Mike Gibson, general manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District.

“We’re an ag-based economy, and we have a gap already,” Gibson said.

He jokingly suggested moving Interstate 70 — the dividing line for the state’s wet and dry weather — 300 miles south to solve state water problems.

The Gunnison River basin is softening its hard line against taking water out of its basin, but would demand tough conservation measures and no Colorado River Compact complications before agreeing to any further diversions out of the basin, said John McClow, attorney for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. It’s still not a popular idea.

“We’re an untapped basin and intend to keep it that way,” McClow said. “And, we’re paranoid.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

The Colorado River basin is also resistant to more transmountain diversions, said Jim Pokrandt, an education and communication specialist for the Colorado River District. The Front Range already takes 450,000-600,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River each year, so there is no excess water. Pokrandt applauded cooperative agreements with the Denver Water Board and proposals by the Northern Water Conservancy District as examples of moving ahead collaboratively. The Colorado River basin is cautious because of the types of problems the Arkansas River and Republican River basins already have faced.

“What happens when you overdevelop?” Pokrandt asked. “The Colorado River Basin Roundtable does not want that kind of future.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An aquatic biologist who worked to establish a high-quality fishery on the Upper Arkansas River was honored Wednesday. Greg Policky, who works for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, received the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas River award at the 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum. The award is named for the late Bob Appel, who was a farmer and conservationist who helped found the forum 20 years ago. Policky has been the state’s primary biologist for the Upper Arkansas River for more than 20 years and has worked to improved the brown trout fishery.

“His attention to detail and collection of objective fishery data has provided numerous benefits to the river’s fishery,” said Jean Van Pelt, in introducing him at the forum.

In addition to programs and studies, his ability to provide public education about fisheries was cited.

“His goal is to increase the public understanding of aquatic ecology and fishery management,” she said. “He has actively targeted angling organizations and land resource agencies, but he finds his most rewarding beneficiaries in school-age children.”

Policky was humble in accepting the award, thanking members of the Arkansas River basin forum for working together on the voluntary flow program, which modulates reservoir releases for the benefit of fish.

Past winners of the Appel award are Mike Conlin, Denzel Goodwin, Paul Flack, Reed Dils, Carl Genova, Allen Ringle, Bud O’Hara, Alan Hamel and Steve Witte.

More Forum coverage from Bette McFarren writing for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

The 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum “Planning and Planting for the Future” got under way on Tuesday evening at Otero Junior College. Welcoming the group was La Junta Utility Board Chairman Lorenz Sutherland.

The first session was “Landscaping for Drought Tour of Otero Junior College Campus,” an informative session on selecting drought tolerant plants, xeriscape principles and growing drought tolerant trees, conducted by Genia Short of Otero Junior College, Liz Catt of Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and Shelly Simmons of the Colorado State Forest Service. The group urged use of drip irrigation and showed the simple and inexpensive tubing needed to accomplish the job. Also stressed were weed barrier material which is water permeable, gravel for mulch and edging to keep out encroaching grass. Also, look at your neighbors’ yards for good drought-tolerant plants. Anything with a bulb or tuber, such as irises and tulips, are drought-tolerant. Also, the old-fashioned bushes like spirea and rose of Sharon are good. Many other design suggestions and tree selection pointers made the session extremely worthwhile.

In the next session, Kevin Rein of the State Engineer’s Office explained the complications of the Colorado water rights system. It sounds simple, first in, first rights, but industrial, agricultural and municipal needs have complicated matters. Many states, in fact more than half of the United States, depend on water originating in Colorado, known as the Headwater State. “It falls as snow on our mountains,” said Rein, “melts, and runs off out of state. We try to catch a little of it as it goes by.”

La Junta’s Director of Water and Wastewater Joe Kelley led off the session on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, supported by Erin Mink, of Senator Mark Udall’s office. She recalled 20 years ago when she was warned about our drinking water while she was working at Bent’s Old Fort. Also making comments about the conduit were Doris Morgan of Congressman Cory Gardner’s office and Brian McCain, of Congressman Scott Tipton’s office. They emphasized that all of Colorado’s congressional representatives are supporting the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

On Wednesday morning, the really big crowd arrived, filling the adjacent parking lots around the Otero Junior College Student Center. Host Chairman Lorenz Sutherland, Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin, and La Junta City Manager Rick Klein welcomed the group. The local color guard presented the colors. The keynote speaker was James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who spoke on “Colorado’s Water Plan.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Grand County Commissioners announce benefits from pact with Denver Water — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Here’s the release from the Grand County Commissioners via the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The Grand County Board of County Commissioners has announced a major economic win for the county. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which went into effect Sept. 26, 2013, is already paying off – literally – in the county. The agreement between Denver Water and Grand County, as well as other West Slope governments, water providers and ski areas, was reached after years of negotiations.

Earlier this year, Denver Water began to meet dozens of obligations outlined in the agreement. In January, Denver Water made a payment of $1.95 million to Grand County for two water supply projects:

• The Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline, which Winter Park Water and Sanitation District is already designing, will help protect water quality at its water treatment plant in low-flow periods, and provide system flexibility. In addition, the project will be constructed following a competitive bid process, which will be an economic boost for the county. Because Denver Water is funding the Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline project, Winter Park Water and Sanitation District will not need to raise service fees to pay for it.

• The Fraser River Pump Station, Pipeline and Discovery Park Pond project, which pays for much-needed improvements that will help stabilize the business of Winter Park Resort and other businesses in the upper Fraser Valley. The project will enhance Winter Park ski area’s snowmaking capability, allowing the resort to open more ski areas earlier in the season, which will drive early-season income to local businesses, as well as provide additional jobs for local residents. In addition, water previously provided by Denver Water only in the winter to the ski area, Winter Park Water and Sanitation District, Grand County Water and Sanitation District, and the Towns of Fraser and Granby, will now be available on a year-round basis. The pond also will provide a source of water for wildfire suppression.

“More than five years of negotiations with Denver Water have paid off,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. “It was important to us to make sure Grand County’s future was secure, and we believe the economic value we’re receiving from the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement achieves that.”

The agreement ushers in a new era of cooperation between Denver Water and West Slope entities to create a spirit of cooperation instead of litigation over water resources.

“The relationship forged through this agreement was bearing fruit for Grand County even before the agreement was officially in place,” said Newberry.

Commissioner Newberry pointed to the recent drought as an example of this cooperation. “In 2012, Denver Water implemented a critical component of the agreement in Grand County to provide more water for county streams than would have been available without the agreement. Instead of the historic practice of significantly reducing the bypass flows at its diversion points during droughts, Denver Water gave approximately 1,500 acre-feet of water back to the Fraser River when they legally could have diverted it to Denver.”

Another project, which created a settling pond on the east side of U.S. Highway 40 near the entrance of the Mary Jane ski area, was also completed and has been operated by Denver Water since before the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was official. The pond improves water quality in Fraser Basin by trapping sand applied to Berthoud Pass by CDOT before it is carried down the river. The project was completed in 2011, and 680 tons of sediment was removed in 2013.

“The removal of sediment not only improves water quality, which assists the wastewater plants, but over time it will help restore the trout fishing habitat that President Eisenhower travelled to the Fraser River to enjoy,” said Newberry. “It’s these types of collaborative projects that will serve Grand County well into the future.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Aspinall Unit Operation Coordination Meeting, April 24 #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2014

Apr 2014 Agenda


What does a potential El Niño mean for cities around the world? #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2014

midmarchplumeofensopredictionsviacpc

Here’s a look at the potential effects of an El Niño on cities around the world from Eric Holthaus writing for Slate. Here’s an excerpt:

To be declared an official El Niño, surface water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean must warm by half a degree Celsius averaged over three months and maintain that level for five consecutive three-month periods. That’s an arbitrary definition, sure, but it gives us the ability to crunch the numbers on weather patterns that tend to associate with El Niños on a global scale.

Statistically, this time of year has the least predictability at any time all year. But peering below the ocean’s surface, water temperatures are already off-the-charts-hot. If that warm water makes it to the surface, the planet could be in line for one of the most intense El Niños ever recorded. That would be enough to shift weather patterns worldwide and make the next couple of years among the hottest we’ve ever known. Earlier this month I wrote that taking into account current forecasts, El Niño could be the biggest global weather story of 2014. The new data shows that forecast is still on track. And that means El Niño could officially begin in a matter of weeks…

…there are some parts of the world that have a relatively predictable weather signal when El Niño rolls around.

There have been only a handful of El Niño events in the last few decades, and in many cases it’s difficult to generalize based on such a small sample size. Only once in the last 30 years—1998 (see above animation)—were subsurface water temperatures as warm as they are now. Which makes forecasting even more difficult.

But by averaging all the recent El Niño events together, we can take a guess at the general trends for what the next few months might bring. (Since all the websites offering El Niño impacts seem to be based on a Microsoft Encarta CD-ROM from the late 1990s, I figured we needed an update.) Let this be your warning: Not all of these predictions will come to pass. Some surely won’t. Frankly, I’m overgeneralizing a lot of nuance here. The below should be read as a tilt of the odds, not a black-and-white forecast. But it’s grounded in the past, and given the current state of the ocean and atmosphere, it offers a good idea of how planet Earth might deal in 2014–15…

Denver: Colorado Front Range snowstorms are significantly heavier during El Niño autumns and springs, though precipitation as a whole is roughly the same. A National Center for Atmospheric Research analysis shows a 20-inch snowstorm is roughly seven times more likely in an El Niño year than in a La Niña year. Neutral years—neither El Niño nor La Niña—are somewhere in between.

The Colorado River basin: Some good news! El Niño could help fill dwindling reservoirs and boost water supplies by bringing unseasonably heavy rains across the Southwest…

The Corn Belt: In sharp contrast to other major agricultural regions (India, Southeast Asia, Australia, Central America, Brazil), the U.S. Corn Belt could be in for a relatively mild summer. Near-average temperatures and slightly above-average rainfall could provide ideal growing conditions this summer, with farmers taking advantage of price spikes caused by shortages in other parts of the world. Midwest farmers could pay for it during summer 2015, though, if global temperature spikes as predicted. Poor corn harvests have been documented in Iowa in the year following El Niño…

The Antarctic: El Niño brings warmer winds to the frozen south during the summer months of December through February, and has been linked to greater loss of ice from the Antarctic Peninsula and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. These are two of the regions on Earth that contribute most to sea level rise.

The Arctic: El Niño winters tend to be cooler than average across the Arctic Ocean, but only by a degree Celsius or so. That’s not enough to offset the rapid warming the region has seen over the last few decades—twice the rate of the planet as a whole. The impact of this year’s El Niño on the long-term trend toward ice-free summers in the Arctic should be minimal.

Greenland: There isn’t a whole lot of evidence pointing to impacts in Greenland one way or the other during El Niño years. Southern Greenland may be slightly warmer than normal, but El Niño’s impacts peak in midwinter, which this isn’t melt season here, so the effects on ice should be minimal.


El Paso County: “I think folks up here [Ute Pass] have really learned a lesson” — John Chavez #COflood

April 23, 2014

From KRDO (Emily Allen):

Almost every chair was filled at the meeting hosted at Ute Pass Elementary on Tuesday evening. The Coalition of the Upper South Platte, El Paso County and Colorado Department of Transportation answered residents’ questions about flood season.

Last summer, people living along Ute Pass watched cars float down Highway 24 and debris take out homes during flash floods.

El Paso County has spent $3.3 million on flood mitigations along Ute Pass. The county’s storm water quality coordinator John Chavez said despite the work, he is still apprehensive about flood season. Based on questions raised during the meeting, he is not alone in his concerns.

“I think folks up here have really learned a lesson. Immediately after the fire, I think there was some denial relative to flooding but once the rains really started, they realized this was serious and they needed to take action,” said Chavez.

The city of Colorado Springs is also moving ahead on flood mitigation work in preparation for flood season. Workers are clearing sediment, vegetation and loose concrete along Camp Creek between Fontanero and Bijou Streets on 31st Street.

Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

If debris blocks culverts along Camp Creek, it will push water onto the road and homes along 31st Street. Resident Claudia Roldan said there were a lot of close calls last flood season.

An engineer with the City of Colorado Springs overseeing the project said it will improve conditions in Camp Creek this summer, but there is more work that needs to be done to keep homes safe in the area…

Temporary work on Camp Creek will wrap up at the end of May. City engineers have long-term plans to overhaul Camp Creek so it can withstand heavy rain in the future.


The April newsletter from Protect the Flows is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

April 22, 2014

Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado


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

In late March an agreement between the US and Mexico to release water to the parched delta region was realized with water from the Morales Dam released in a “pulse flow”. This release provided water to the region that has been dried up and experienced desertification over years of a lack of Colorado River water reaching the sea. The event received a great deal of media attention including amazing coverage by National Geographic. This was a perfect example of a variety of interests working together to achieve a solution that benefits the environment, the economy and the interests of 2 nations.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Happy Earth Day: How did Earth Day come to exist?

April 22, 2014

cuyahogariverfire1131952

From NOAA:

On June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River on the southern shores of Lake Erie caught on fire as chemicals, oil, and other industrial materials that had oozed into the river somehow ignited. Just a few months before, on January 28, 1969, an oil rig leaked millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Santa Barbara. That same year, reports surfaced that our national symbol, the bald eagle, was rapidly declining as a species due to the chemical DDT, while around the world, whales were being hunted nearly to extinction. These and other incidents caught the attention of the national media and galvanized public awareness of the many environmental insults being hurled at the nation and the planet.

In response to the public outcry, Earth Day Founder Gaylord Nelson, who served as the Governor of Wisconsin (1958-1962) and in the U.S. Senate (1963-1981), organized a nationwide “teach-in” about environmental issues to take place on April 22, 1970. More than 2,000 colleges and universities, 10,000 public schools, and 20 million citizens participated—nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population at that time.

This outpouring of grassroots environmental activism marked the first Earth Day—a recognition of the importance of caring for the environment and accepting stewardship responsibility for the nation’s resources. It also helped establish a political climate conducive to forming both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on October 3, 1970.

We like to say that “Every day is Earth Day at NOAA.” But ever since April 22, 1970, people the world over take time to recognize the importance of protecting the Earth’s natural resources—be they oceanic, atmospheric, terrestrial, or biological—for future generations.


National Climatic Data Center Global Analysis March 2014

April 22, 2014

significantclimateanomaliesandeventsmarch2014noaa

Click here National Climatic Data Center Global Analysis website hosted by NOAA. Click on the thumbnail graphic above for selected events. Here’s an excerpt:

Global Highlights

  • The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces was the fourth highest for March on record, at 0.71°C (1.28°F) above the 20th century average of 12.3°C (54.1°F).
  • The global land surface temperature was 1.33°C (2.39°F) above the 20th century average of 5.0°C (40.8°F), the fifth highest for March on record. For the ocean, the March global sea surface temperature was 0.48°C (0.86°F) above the 20th century average of 15.9°C (60.7°F), tying with 2004 as the fifth highest for March on record.
  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–March period (year-to-date) was 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average of 12.3°C (54.1°F), the seventh warmest such period on record.

  • Snowpack/runoff news: “At this point we [Denver Water] do expect that our reservoirs will fill” — Stacy Chesney #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

    April 22, 2014
    Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 21, 2014 via the NRCS

    Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 21, 2014 via the NRCS

    From CBSDenver4.com:

    The mountain snow is melting and it looks like Colorado’s white winter in the high country will bring good news for residents along the Front Range. Denver Water thinks Dillon Reservoir will fill to capacity for the first time in years.

    It was the end of March last year when Denver Water put in Stage 1 water restrictions as Lake Dillon was only 65 percent full. As on Monday it’s at about 85 percent full and it’s actually being drained to get ready for more melting snow, which will mean even more water.

    “It’s always a balancing act with our reservoirs across the state — Dillon in particular. We want to ultimately keep it full so people can enjoy recreation on the reservoir, but we have to be really conscious too as to what happens below the reservoir,” Stacy Chesney with Denver Water said.

    With the snowpack well above average surrounding the largest reservoir that sends water to Denver, officials have been planning all winter to let some go.

    “We’ve been proactively releasing water into the river below to create that room to help reduce any risk of flooding that could happen later in the season,” Chesney said.

    But officials from Denver Water are keeping an eye on the snowpack with the hope of having full reservoirs for the first time since July of 2011.

    “At this point we do expect that our reservoirs will fill and we hope that customers will continue that wise water use and not overuse water and follow our watering rules which will start on May 1,” Chesney said.

    What many people in the high country are going to be watching is a layer of dust on the Western Slope that has sat on the snow for nearly a month. That, along with rain and warm temperatures over the last week, helped rush the melt over the past few days.

    From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

    This week, the persistent snow in the mountains just outside Steamboat Springs is reminiscent of the impressive snowpack of 2011, when the Yampa River overran Bald Eagle Lake and caused the youth minister at the Steamboat Christian Center and his family to evacuate their parsonage.

    Is spring 2014 another 2011 in the making? It’s unlikely, according to a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who keeps close tabs on the Yampa River Basin.

    Ashley Nielson confirmed that the total volume of water that flowed down the Yampa in 2011 beginning on April 1 and continuing through July 31 was the highest on record. And this year’s snowpack doesn’t measure up.

    “We do see a 10 percent chance the peak flow on the Yampa will go over flood stage, but it’s totally dependent on what kind of spring we have and how that snow comes off,” Nielson said Monday. “There’s a lot less snow than what we had in 2011.”

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reporting that the snow at the top of Buffalo Pass is currently 134 inches deep, which is down from 149 inches April 14, and the snow water equivalent is 112 percent of median. That compares to a record 180 inches of snow depth that stood at 130 percent of average in 2011. At the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass on Monday, the snow water equivalent was 150 percent of median compared to 157 percent April 23, 2011…

    Still, the hydrograph for this week closely mirrors 2011, Nielson agreed, when low elevation runoff peaked on April 23. Nielson’s office is forecasting that the Yampa will shoot up Wednesday at about 1,900 cfs, then slip back to the range of 1,000 to 1,200 cfs through the end of the month when a cold front is expected to apply the brakes. It’s very typical, she said, for the Yampa to rise steeply in late April as snow melts suddenly from the valley floor and lower slopes.


    Jamestown recovery from #COflood

    April 22, 2014

    From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Mayor Tara Schoedinger says 80 percent of the [Jamestown’s] 300 residents remain displaced. They’ve rented houses in Boulder, Longmont, or elsewhere. This winter, Schoedinger feared few would return if water service and roads were not restored by August.

    Now, it looks like they will. Bids will soon go out for design and construction of restored infrastructure of water treatment, mains and service lines. If all goes as planned, construction will begin in late May or early June. Completion is expected by August.

    For repairs above ground, the town’s insurance will pay for replacements. But for the more costly below-ground work, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75 percent of costs and the state of Colorado 22.5 percent.

    That leaves the town paying just 2.5 percent. This is expected to cost just under $2 million.

    In an interview at the Boulder County Courthouse, where the town board has met since last September, Schoedinger recently explained that temporary roads associated with the water works will be completed by early August, with one significant bridge repair likely to be done by November.

    As before, sewage treatment is handled through individual septic tanks, and $50,000 has been donated to that cause.

    Roots of the settlement are traced to 1863, when evidence of gold nearby drew prospectors. It’s the most northerly extent of the belt of gold and other precious metals that sweeps across Colorado to the Durango area. The gold never amounted to that much, but the town stayed.

    This isn’t the first challenge. Schoedinger describes floods in the late 1800s, then again in 1913 and 1969—and with at least comparable ferocity to that which occurred in September.

    Jamestown was probably drenched worse than any other town in the four days of storms that dropped up to 18 inches in some locations. The flooding waters destroyed 20 percent of the houses and 50 percent of roads, plus the water treatment plant and the fire station. A mudslide also killed Schoedinger’s next-door neighbor, Joey Howlett, who was regarded as the town’s patriarch.


    Combined impacts of current and future dust deposition and regional warming on #ColoradoRiver Basin snow dynamics and hydrology

    April 21, 2014
    Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

    Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

    Click here to read the abstract (J. S. Deems, T. H. Painter, J. J. Barsugli, J. Belnap, and B. Udall):

    The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people in seven western states and two countries and to 5.5 million irrigated acres. The river has long been overallocated. Climate models project runoff losses of 5–20% from the basin by mid-21st century due to human-induced climate change. Recent work has shown that decreased snow albedo from anthropogenic dust loading to the CO mountains shortens the duration of snow cover by several weeks relative to conditions prior to western expansion of the US in the mid-1800s, and advances peak runoff at Lees Ferry, Arizona, by an average of 3 weeks. Increases in evapotranspiration from earlier exposure of soils and germination of plants have been estimated to decrease annual runoff by more than 1.0 billion cubic meters, or ~5% of the annual average. This prior work was based on observed dust loadings during 2005–2008; however, 2009 and 2010 saw unprecedented levels of dust loading on snowpacks in the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB), being on the order of 5 times the 2005–2008 loading. Building on our prior work, we developed a new snow albedo decay parameterization based on observations in 2009/10 to mimic the radiative forcing of extreme dust deposition. We convolve low, moderate, and extreme dust/snow albedos with both historic climate forcing and two future climate scenarios via a delta method perturbation of historic records. Compared to moderate dust, extreme dust absorbs 2× to 4× the solar radiation, and shifts peak snowmelt an additional 3 weeks earlier to a total of 6 weeks earlier than pre-disturbance. The extreme dust scenario reduces annual flow volume an additional 1% (6% compared to pre-disturbance), a smaller difference than from low to moderate dust scenarios due to melt season shifting into a season of lower evaporative demand. The sensitivity of flow timing to dust radiative forcing of snow albedo is maintained under future climate scenarios, but the sensitivity of flow volume reductions decreases with increased climate forcing. These results have implications for water management and suggest that dust abatement efforts could be an important component of any climate adaptation strategies in the UCRB.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Black Hills Exploration & Production is bankrolling $7 million cost to develop #ColoradoRiver diversion near De Beque

    April 21, 2014

    Colorado River near De Beque

    Colorado River near De Beque


    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Ranchers and De Beque residents will gain irrigation water and the energy industry will have access to water for drilling under a project that will pump water out of the bottom of the Colorado River. Energy companies will pay most of the cost of the project that will use an existing intake at the bottom of the river to draw water out and pipe it into existing ditches and a small impoundment that energy companies can draw on for their drilling activities.

    “It’s definitely an asset to the community,” said De Beque-
area rancher Tom Latham. “The town will benefit, irrigation and agricultural people will benefit and the oil and gas business will benefit.”

    Latham and rancher Dale Albertson represent the Bluestone Water Conservancy District along with members of the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in pushing the project, for which work could begin this year.

    Called the Kobe Project, the water it draws from the Colorado will be devoted mostly — 75 percent — to agricultural use and 25 percent for industrial use.

    Black Hills Exploration & Production is bankrolling almost all the estimated $7 million development cost, some of which it will recoup through lower water costs and from other energy companies that use water from the project, officials said.

    The Kobe project will draw 25 cubic feet per second from the Colorado, with 5 cfs set aside for industry and the rest for De Beque and agriculture, said Ray Tenney, an engineer with the River District.

    The water won’t necessarily expand agriculture in the area, but it will be a welcome layer of security against continued drought, Latham said.

    “The last two years, if it had been in place, it would have been a benefit,” Latham said.

    Water availability also will make it easier to develop natural gas in areas that otherwise might have been impossible because of the difficulty of trucking it in, said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who until recently served as the county’s representative on the project.

    “This really is a great local project converting local conditional rights to absolute rights for diverse purposes,” Acquafresca said.

    The project also illustrates the need for water to remain in the Colorado as opposed to being diverted east to the Front Range.

    “If we want to be more than a donor basin, we need to have a robust economy,” Acquafresca said.

    “Kobe is a good example of what we need to be doing here with our water resources.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    AWRA – Colorado Section EARLY BIRD PRICES EXTENDED : MAY 2 Annual Symposium – Water Hazards: From Risk to Recovery

    April 21, 2014

    Northern Water’s 2013 Annual Report is hot off the presses

    April 21, 2014
    Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

    Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

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

    In April when the Board considered the quota, forecasts indicated below average runoff. Because the C-BT Project delivered more than 300,000 acre feet in 2012, storage reserves were significantly below normal in early 2013, and inadequate to provide the higher quota many would have preferred.

    As this roller coaster year progressed, mountain snowpack and resulting runoff increased. The Board felt it prudent to not increase the declared 60 percent quota, hoping to build C-BT reserves and be better positioned for future years.

    The September record-breaking rains and devastating floods will be forever remembered. Our hearts go out to all who were impacted. In addition to the personal and public property devastation, water supply infrastructure suffered severe damage. In many areas streamflows exceeded maximum levels recorded since the advent of South Platte Basin irrigation in 1859.

    Rebuilding has been the region’s focus since the floods. Some efforts have succeeded, some will require more time. The Colorado Water Conservation Board stepped up and provided

    As this roller coaster year progressed, mountain snowpack and resulting runoff increased. The Board felt it prudent to not increase the declared 60 percent quota, hoping to build C-BT reserves and be better positioned for future years.

    The September record-breaking rains and devastating floods will be forever remembered. Our hearts go out to all who were impacted. In addition to the personal and public property devastation, water supply infrastructure suffered severe damage. In many areas streamflows exceeded maximum levels recorded since the advent of South Platte Basin irrigation in 1859.

    Rebuilding has been the region’s focus since the floods. Some efforts have succeeded, some will require more time. The Colorado Water Conservation Board stepped up and provided $2.55 million in grants to help those in need. Northern Water was honored to act as CWCB’s agent, administering over 100 grants in accordance with CWCB criteria and direction.

    Northern Water suffered relatively light flood damage compared to many. We are blessed with a very dedicated and talented workforce that aggressively took on the challenge of flood recovery. As a result, Northern Water completed flood repairs by early January.

    Reclamation repaired additional C-BT Project facilities damaged by the floods. The exception is the Dille Tunnel Diversion on the Big Thompson River, which will likely not be fully operational until the beginning of the 2015 irrigation season.

    In 2013 Northern Water successfully finished refurbishing the original Carter Lake outlet. This past year also marked the culmination of a 13-year effort to meet the annual water delivery requirements of the Colorado River Endangered Species Recovery Program. Through a unique solution that does not diminish C-BT Project yield, water was released from Lake Granby for beneficial uses in the Grand Valley while also meeting endangered species needs. This effort, implemented by Northern Water, was funded by East Slope entities that divert water from the Colorado River.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Snowpack/runoff news: “Broomfield is well positioned” — David Allen

    April 20, 2014

    From the Broomfield Enterprise (Megan Quinn):

    Snowpack in the watersheds from which [Colorado-Big Thompson Project] draws water are “significantly above average” for the year. One, in the Upper Colorado River Basin, is at 134 percent of typical levels, while the South Platte River tributaries are at 147 percent of typical levels, according to a news release.

    The C-BT project supplies water to Broomfield and 32 other municipalities, according to the release.

    David Allen, director of Broomfield Public Works, said C-BT is one three suppliers from which the city gets water, and the increased allotment allows Broomfield a cushion in case it is a hot, dry summer.

    “Broomfield is well positioned” for water in 2014, Allen said.

    The C-BT project will offer Broomfield 7,709 acre-feet of water this year instead of 6,424 acre-feet originally allocated, Allen said.

    Broomfield’s other water sources include Denver Water, which will offer 4,700 acre-feet of water this year. Denver Water also allows Broomfield to “roll over” water allocations it did not use the prior year.

    Broomfield also uses water from the Windy Gap project, which could offer up to 5,600 acre-feet, Allen said…

    At its highest, Broomfield’s water demand is about 12,745 acre-feet a year. Last year, peak demand was closer to 11,000 acre-feet.


    The latest Water Center at CMU newsletter is hot off the presses

    April 20, 2014
    Snowpack Upper Colorado River Basin via snowpack.Water-data.com

    Snowpack Upper Colorado River Basin via snowpack.Water-data.com

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

    The latest SNOTEL reports indicate that the snowpack has peaked and begun to run off in the Colorado River headwaters. The Yampa, Upper Green, and Upper Colorado snowpacks all peaked well above average, while the Duchesne and San Juan Basins peaked below average, and the Gunnison Basin overall peaked at about average (wetter to the north, drier to the south). The related drought outlook shows Colorado mostly in the clear, but persistence or intensifying drought tendency to the South and West.


    SB14-147 hits a wall in the Senate Ag Committee — indefinite postponement

    April 20, 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 Sterling Journal-Advocate:

    Senate Bill 14-147, “A Study to Determine the Impact of Increased Well Alluvial Well Pumping In District 2 of Water Division 1,” would have allowed wells to pump 20 percent more than their decrees permitted under the auspices of a study.

    Testimony was given during the hearing that the additional 20 percent of pumping proposed in connection with the study would injure other water rights and should not be used to solve high ground water issues. Additionally, Jim Yahn of the North Sterling Irrigation District told lawmakers that, based on court documents, there have been localized areas of high ground water in the South Platte since the early 1900s.

    “The bill would have conflicted with existing water court decrees and undo stipulations between parties in hundreds of water court cases, making it unconstitutional,” the press release from WRASP said. “It could also interfere with Colorado’s obligations under the South Platte River Compact.”

    Following the hearing, WRASP member Joe Frank expressed ongoing concern with the idea behind this legislation: “Water rights in Colorado are property rights. WRASP will always oppose proposals that undermine these property rights to the detriment of Colorado farmers. Taking our water should never be an option to solving water shortages in other areas. WRASP remains committed to working with all parties for reasonable solutions.”

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    “Lower Rio Grande in [New Mexico] will have 50% less water by 2100″ — Brad Udall

    April 20, 2014

    “Front Range wants dibs on the” #ColoradoRiver — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COWaterPlan

    April 20, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A coalition of Front Range water utilities is calling in a letter for assurance that a new transmountain diversion project will be a part of a state plan aimed at filling the anticipated future gap between demand and supply.

    That desire by the Front Range Water Council is unsettling others who question whether the Western Slope has any more water left to give.

    [...]

    The letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board was written by James Lochhead, chief executive officer and manager of Denver Water. Other utilities also on the council are Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

    It says that the planning process “should begin with an assurance, and not simply a hope,” that a new project involving Colorado River water will be a fundamental part of the package for meeting the state’s future water needs.

    Roundtable groups around Colorado, including in the Colorado River Basin, are preparing proposals that the conservation board will consider in trying to come up with a statewide plan.

    The Front Range Water Council’s concerns center on meeting notes from a March 17 conference call involving chairmen of the roundtable groups. The notes include a reference to a goal of giving water providers “an indication that there is hope for new supply” if the providers do their part. They went on to refer to various conservation and other milestones that would have to be met prior to an agreement for new supply being reached.

    Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River Water Conservation District is chairman of the Colorado River Basin roundtable and sits on the Interbasin Compact Committee. He described the conference call conversation as a “schematic on how to talk about diversion, illustrating how the discussion might go” in the state planning process.

    “It was purely contemplative but it had stuff in there that could be taken out of context and that’s what the Front Range Water Council got excited about … but they’re reacting to something that doesn’t exist,” he said.

    That said, Pokrandt questioned how the utilities can expect a new diversion to be a sure thing.

    “They’re looking for more than hope and I don’t know how there can be hope when you don’t know if there’s enough water, you don’t know if all the other conditions can be answered, if the public will go for it and finance it, if you can get permits,” he said.

    Western Slope water officials long have worried that a statewide plan would simply be a means of paving the way for further diversions of water to the Front Range.

    However, the Interbasin Compact Committee now envisions that the plan won’t identify a specific diversion project, but will lay out conditions under which one could be pursued.

    In an interview, Lochhead said no one can currently say what a new diversion project would look like, where it would be located, or how much water will be involved.

    “But we need to all agree that that is an option that needs to be secured and preserved and not just kind of put out in the future for some future discussion,” he said.

    Pokrandt said he thinks the Colorado River Roundtable’s position will be that it doesn’t think any more water is available to support more Front Range diversions.

    He said the group is willing to study the idea, but there’s no guarantee enough water exists for a diversion and the outcome can’t be preordained to meet the Front Range utilities’ desire for an assured project.

    “I don’t know how you get more than hope with all the questions out there,” he said.

    For years, the focus in terms of filling Colorado’s water gap has involved what officials call a four-legged stool involving conservation/reuse, completion of projects already in the planning process, transfers of agricultural water, and new diversions.

    “That’s been the most difficult thing to talk about,” Pokrandt said of the diversion concept.

    Said Lochhead, “The option of the development of that leg needs to be preserved.”

    He said he thinks it’s premature for the Western Slope to say there’s no water available. New supply needs to be part of the strategy and there needs to be a discussion of how and when it should occur, and what the Western Slope benefits can be, he said.

    Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca has been keeping an eye on what the Colorado River roundtable group has been preparing and thinks it is doing a good job of articulating the region’s best water interests.

    That includes the possible conclusion about the lack of more water for diversions in part because of Colorado’s water obligations to downstream states under an interstate compact.

    “I think the Colorado River roundtable really makes a good case,” he said.

    He expects the water conservation board to receive conflicting plans from western and eastern roundtables.

    “It’s going to be really interesting to see how the CWCB manages these diverging views as they integrate them together into some statewide water plan,” he said.

    Lochhead noted that the letter he signed is from a group of utilities, and when it comes to Denver Water alone, it has a new agreement with Western Slope entities that would require their buy-in for any future diversions by that utility. He said it remains committed to that agreement.

    But speaking for Front Range utilities more generally, “If the (Western Slope) position is there’s no water to be developed, what that says is there’s no room for discussion. We need to move beyond platitudes and politics and parochialism and move toward actual discussion,” he said.

    At the same time, Lochhead conceded the potential for discussions to start to fall apart when parties start engaging in letter-writing.

    “I’ll plead guilty to that here,” he said.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    “…the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts” — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

    April 20, 2014
    Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    Another independent journalist covering water issues is Allen Best purveyor of The Mountain Town News. Here’s an analysis of the recent agreement between Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, and Grand County for operating the Colorado River Cooperative agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

    Located at the headwaters of the Colorado River, the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts…

    Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

    “It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water.

    “Instead of platitudes or politics or parochialism, you need to do it by sitting down and working together and dealing with the issues,” he adds…

    There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

    Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

    In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

    Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

    A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take.

    Based on the firm yield of the water and Denver’s rate for outside-city raw water to customers, this commitment is valued at $55 million.

    Denver will make this water available for release into the creeks and rivers, to keep water temperatures colder and hence more hospitable to insects and fish. The water can also be used for flushing, to mimic what happens naturally during spring runoff, scouring river bottoms, to clear out the silt that clogs the spaces between rocks where mayflies and other insects live – and upon which fish feed…

    A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

    A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

    In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

    At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

    The agreement represents a new wave of thinking about impacts of water diversions. The older way of thinking was demonstrated in the Colorado Big-Thompson project. Financed by the federal government, it gave the Western Slope a one-time package, Green Mountain Reservoir, between Kremmling and Silverthorne, to serve Western Slope needs, particularly the farmers near Grand Junction who need water for late-summer fruits and produce. The agreement did not cover a more recent problem seemingly caused by the diversion, algae that obscure the clarity of Grand Lake.

    The most recent of of the new agreements since the 1990s provides more living, breathing elasticity. The foundation for the new agreement was announced in 2011 but not finalized until recently. Called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, it sharply restricts Denver’s ability to develop new water sources on the Western Slope and also calls for Denver to provide both water and money to address problems in the Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park areas.

    Then, in 2012, came agreements addressing the ambitions by five cities along the northern Front Range to increase the take of spring flows at Windy Gap, similar to what Denver wants to do at the Moffat Tunnel.

    The Windy Gap settlement introduced adaptive management, an idea gaining favor in management of rivers of the West for several decades. The essential idea of Learning by Doing, the program embraced for both Windy Gap and the Moffat projects, is that it’s impossible to know exactly what to do in advance…

    “In the past, you’d build a project, do the required mitigation and move on. That’s no longer the case. Denver Water is committed to a new way of doing business – one that approaches water management in a way that is collaborative and as beneficial to West Slope interests as possible. The partnership we’ve created through Learning by Doing is permanent. Our commitment is t o work with Grand County, Trout Unlimited and all the partners in Learning by Doing in an ongoing manner permanently into the future.”

    More Denver Water coverage here.


    The Colorado Basin Roundtable trims the list of potential projects for the basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

    April 20, 2014

    maroonlakewikipedia

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News covering water issues in Colorado. I met one of their reporters, Nelson Harvey, last Wednesday at the Water Availability Task Force meeting. Aspen Journalism now has boots on the ground in Denver and on the Front Range.

    Here’s an article about the Colorado Basin Roundtable basin implementation plan from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News:

    Consultants for the Colorado River Basin Roundtable earlier this week passed out a much shorter list of water projects to be potentially included in a draft water-supply plan for the area.

    New reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks were not included on the working draft list, but enlarging three existing reservoirs in the Roaring Fork River watershed are.

    The potentially expanded reservoirs include Spring Park Reservoir on Missouri Heights; Ziegler Reservoir just outside of Snowmass Village; and Martin Reservoir just above the Sunlight ski area.

    Instead of over 500 potential projects and updated policy suggestions, the draft list passed out at a roundtable meeting on Monday by consulting engineer Louis Meyer of SGM included 95 potential projects and policies.

    SGM has divided the broader Colorado River Basin in Colorado into seven sub-regions: the Roaring Fork, Grand Valley, Middle Colorado, State Bridge, Eagle, Summit and Grand County regions.

    Meyer expected to ultimately see about seven to 10 of the projects identified per region under the category of “needs and vulnerabilities.”

    In discussing the earlier list of 500-plus potential projects and policy changes identified for the Colorado River Basin, Meyer noted that many projects on the longer list would likely remain conceptual.

    “Now mind you, a lot of these reservoirs will never be built,” Meyer said. “There are reservoirs, say, up Maroon Creek or Castle Creek — the chances are they will never be built.”

    “Let’s just say, ‘won’t be built for quite a while,’” interjected Mike McDill, the deputy director of utilities for the city of Aspen.

    The city holds conditional water rights for reservoirs on both upper Castle and Maroon creeks and wants to see the reservoirs mentioned in the statewide water plan…

    Many of the projects on the shorter draft list are designed to leave more water in the rivers to the benefit of aquatic environments.

    However, Meyer said there is still a non-consumptive, or environmental, gap in the Colorado basin’s draft plan.

    Meyer said the plan did not yet have solutions to leave more water in all of the 64 critical stream segments in the basin identified by the state.

    “This plan will recommend that more work be done on identifying a systemic approach to projects and polices to restore and maintain healthy rivers,” Meyer said.

    As an example, Meyer cited three reaches of river in the Roaring Fork watershed that had at times run well below the minimum in-stream flows defined by the state as necessary to protect the environment “to a reasonable degree.”

    The critical reaches are on the lower Crystal River below the Sweet Jessup Ditch, on the Roaring Fork just above its confluence with the Fryingpan River in Basalt, and on the Roaring Fork in central Aspen below the Salvation Ditch.

    Many of the projects identified on the short list for the Roaring Fork region are being recommended for their ability to “protect, maintain and restore healthy rivers.”

    Projects that have been identified toward that goal include: restoring sections of the Roaring Fork as it winds through the Northstar nature preserve east of Aspen; the ongoing river restoration work in Basalt; and a restoration project on Cattle Creek, which flows into the Fork between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

    Other environmental projects listed were whitewater parks in Basalt and Carbondale, which can help ensure a certain amount of water will flow down the Fork; the city of Aspen’s project to re-use wastewater for irrigation and snowmaking; Pitkin County’s effort to leave more water from its open space properties in the Fork; and efficiency efforts by local water utilities.

    Also mentioned were ongoing discussions with irrigators on the Crystal River to find a way to leave more water in the river below the Sweet Jessup Ditch, where the river often runs nearly dry…

    In 2010, a state study identified a gap of 110,000 acre-feet between supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin by 2050.

    And the state found that projects already in the planning stage could produce 63,000 acre-feet of water, leaving an expected gap of 48,000 acre-feet.

    Lurline Curran, the Grand County manager and roundtable member, said it would be wrong to leave the impression that there was still plenty of water to be taken out of the Colorado River Basin.

    “We can build every reservoir we’ve got here, but we’re not going to have healthy rivers and streams if we do that,” Curran said. “It worries me when we say ‘We’ve got 10 times more than we need to meet our gap.’ No, we don’t, not if we’re going to protect and maintain healthy rivers and streams and protect our drinking water.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    “Efficiency and conservation need to be permanent programs” — Matt Rice/Bart Miller #COWaterPlan

    April 20, 2014
    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

    Here’s a guest column from the Denver Business Journal suggesting that prioritizing wet water in the streams, in the Colorado Water Plan, will have the best economic benefit. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Healthy rivers are essential to Colorado’s multibillion-dollar agriculture, recreational, tourism and business economies, not to mention the Colorado River’s impact on the 36 million people who rely on it for drinking water. Yet, for more than a decade Colorado and surrounding states have experienced unrelenting drought. One good snowpack – even on the heels of a historic flood – can’t erase that.

    It’s no surprise that in its fourth annual poll of voters across six Western states on issues ranging from public lands to oil and gas development, Colorado College found water issues to be among the top priority issues. In fact, “low levels of water in rivers,” ranked as the No. 2 concern for Western voters, second only to unemployment.

    Further emphasizing this sentiment, 78 percent of voters in Colorado agree that using the currently developed water supply more wisely is the best solution to low river levels. In addition, these same voters agree conservation, reducing use and increasing water recycling make more sense than costly, controversial water diversion projects.

    An issue that concerns 82 percent of voters should get immediate and sustainable action…

    The first common-sense measure that must be included in the state water plan is to keep our rivers flowing at healthy levels…

    In addition, it’s critical that we modernize our agricultural policies so voluntary, water-sharing agreements can flourish to benefit agriculture, cities, and the environment. We can also provide better incentives for efficient agricultural water use, storage and infrastructure upgrades.

    We need to avoid any new major water diversion projects. Expensive and controversial projects that drain water from the Western Slope to the Front Range are highly controversial, and fail to address the fact that there’s a finite amount of water available amid a rapidly growing population. Buying up agricultural water rights to support urban growth isn’t a sustainable solution, either.

    The bottom line? The most cost-effective uses of dollars from water customers and the state, and the most practical and successful ways of ensuring that Colorado has enough water to go around, are conservation and efficiency. Our state water plan must incorporate these measures.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    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:

    ji

    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.


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