Boulder County: Check out this video about our collaborative Comprehensive Creek Planning Initiative

July 28, 2014

Rain or shine, Colorado State University’s Campus Weather Station celebrated July 28

July 28, 2014
The Fort Collins Weather Station on the Colorado State University campus northwest of Lory Student Center and the Transit Center

The Fort Collins Weather Station on the Colorado State University campus northwest of Lory Student Center and the Transit Center

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Kate Hawthorne Jeracki):

The important scientific contributions of the Colorado State University Campus Weather Station to the City of Fort Collins, the State of Colorado and the nation over the past 125 years will be celebrated on the 17th anniversary of the Spring Creek Flood that devastated campus and the Fort Collins community.
Weather experts will gather at Weather Station on the CSU campus for the presentation of a historic plaque, self-guided tours of the weather station, and a community open house on Monday, July 28, 3-6 p.m. with remarks at 3:30 p.m..

Event is free and open to the public.

“The Weather Station is an historical part of the University,” said State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. “Data collection began near the site of the former ‘Old Main’ in the 1870s. Daily climate records since Jan. 1, 1889, are complete and available in a variety of digital and hardcopy forms, making this one of Colorado‘s oldest weather stations and an incredible scientific resource.”
The Campus Weather Station is next to the CSU Transit Center just northwest of the Lory Student Center, off Plum Street. In case of inclement weather, the event will take place in the atrium of the Suzanne and Walter Scott Jr. Bioengineering Building, northwest of the Weather Station on the corner of Loomis and Laurel streets.

Experts on hand

Among the experts on hand will be Doesken; James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Nezette Rydel, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Boulder; and Jim Wirshborn, longtime weather reporter and CSU weather observer. Mike Nelson, meteorologist with Channel 7 News in Denver, will be the master of ceremonies.

CSU Atmospheric Science graduate students will be available to provide explanations of the various parts of the station.

The commemoration is hosted by the CSU College of Engineering, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado Climate Center and the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station.

Outreach at Colorado State University

Outreach is among the pillars upon which Colorado State University was founded upon and is an effort that continues today through interaction with our Colorado communities and around the globe. CSU’s Commitment to Community is a reflection of the University’s promise of service and engagement to Colorado citizens, executed by providing resources, participating in events, and building community partnerships.


New study from @UCIrvine finds groundwater loss greater threat to western US than understood #ColoradoRiver

July 28, 2014
Groundwater movement via the USGS

Groundwater movement via the USGS

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

While water levels at lakes Mead and Powell have visibly slipped in the current drought, another source, groundwater, is disappearing even more rapidly, according to a satellite study of the Colorado River Basin.

A University of California, Irvine, study posted on the website of the American Geophysical Union said that the three-quarters of the water lost in the basin was drawn from groundwater and noted that the extent of groundwater loss “may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.”

But for some water produced far below the surface in drilling for natural gas and oil, there is no groundwater production on the West Slope, said Jim Pokrandt, who chairs the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

Other water production from the ground taps return flows making their way to creeks and rivers, Pokrandt said.

What is at issue in the loss of groundwater is the unregulated tapping of groundwater in California, said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

California groundwater “is completely unregulated,” Treese said. “So when drought hits, they turn on the pumps.”

Researchers said they were surprised by the extent to which groundwater appeared to be affected.

“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, lead author of the study. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

The Colorado River, which serves some 40 million people, supplies water to the Colorado Front Range, as well as the populous cities of California, Arizona and Nevada.

Those lower basin states appear to be on their own, for the moment, said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District.

The upper basin of the Colorado is ahead of its requirement to deliver 75 million acre feet of water to the lower basin over 10 years, “so I don’t think they can come back on us” for more water, Clever said.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there is water in the river to be diverted to the Front Range, Clever said.

“The key issue in this thing is that Powell is going down and there is no water to send to the East Slope.”

Lake Powell’s levels are low enough that water managers are concerned that the lake might be unable to generate electricity, a significant factor in deciding how the river will be managed.

The research was led by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists, who used satellite data to gauge changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin that are related to changes in water on and below the surface.

In the period from December 2004 to November 2013, the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet of fresh water.

About 41 million acre feet of the loss came from groundwater.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Grand Valley: It’s Our Food, Forests, and Water: A Climate Change Discussion August 4 #ColoradoRiver

July 28, 2014
Grand Valley Irrigation Ditch

Grand Valley Irrigation Ditch

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

A climate change panel discussion set for Aug. 4 at Mesa County Central Library features local experts who will chew over the impact of climate change on the Grand Valley.

The two-hour talk begins at 5:30 p.m.

The panel, titled “It’s Our Food, Forests, and Water: A Climate Change Discussion,” will cover topics such as geology, water and agriculture, library spokesman Bob Kretschman said.

Panelists include:

■ Jay Scheevel, a geologist;

■ Gigi A. Richard, faculty director of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University;

■ Jerry Nelson, agricultural economist and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign;

■ Chris Jauhola, who worked on wildlife and forest health issues for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Scheevel will explain carbon, its uses and impacts. He is the founder and president of Scheevel Geo Technologies, a consulting company that works with Matrix Oil Corp., which is based in Santa Barbara, California.

Richard will look at the implications of climate change on Colorado’s water resources. She teaches several relevant courses at CMU, including “Natural Hazards and Environmental Geology.”

Jauhola will focus on climate change and forest health.

The event, sponsored by Conservation Colorado, Mesa County Libraries and the John McConnell Math and Science Center, is free and open to the public.


The Largest Latino-Themed Environmental Festival to be Held in Colorado this Fall — Latino Post

July 28, 2014

anewshadeofgreenamericaslatinecofestival
From The Latin Post (Nicole Akoukou Thompson):

Non-whites, including Latinos, are disproportionately affected by water and air pollution. Patterns of environmental injustice have shown that toxic waste sites, landfills, congested highways and similar hazards are in close proximity to low-income communities and communities of color, producing health risks.

The largest Latino-themed environmental festival, “A New Shade of Green,” will be held in Colorado this fall to address those concerns; attendees will discuss counter measures and environmental protection, an important issue that’s important to the U.S. Hispanic community.

Twenty-one percent of Colorado’s population is Latino. By 2021, Latinos will constitute more than 50 percent of Colorado’s high school students, 32 percent of Denver County’s population and 24 percent of the under-18 population in Boulder, according to the Hemispheric Conservation Latino Network. Future generations of Latinos will ikely suffer health risks if the trend of positioning pollution close to minority dwellings isn’t corrected.

Colorado is the perfect state to host the event, as the many residents of the state have raised concerns over climate change, fracking and water shortages. Air pollution, landfills, and urban highways are also concerns for the state’s citizens.

“Latinos are increasingly concerned with creating and living sustainable lives and reconnecting with their cultural origins which were, and are, intrinsically green, nature driven, and traditionally marked by recycling and upcycling,” said Boulder resident and festival founder Irene Vilar in a press release. “There is a need to empower and validate the green cultural heritage of Latinos and recast the green national conversation that frames Latinos as the solution and not the problem.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council has has presented research that shows 9 of 10 Hispanic voters believe that funds should go toward renewable, clean energy sources rather than fossil fuels. Also, 86 percent of Latinos support the Obama administration’s decision to limit carbon pollution.

History has shown that urban highways were routed through minority communities because they were easier to uproot than middle-class white neighborhoods. Middle-class whites were also able to better access their homes with ease without having to stop in unsavory neighborhoods. That exposure to pollutants from highway fumes and other pollutants has been linked to heart attacks, higher risks of asthma and developmental disabilities.

The second annual Americas Latino Eco Festival (ALEF) will take place in Denver and Boulder, Sept. 11-15. The event will be produced by Americas for Conservation + the Arts (AFC+A), and presented by The Sierra Club and The Dairy Center of the Arts. Also, HCLN, which was launched by ALEF, will facilitate networking opportunities and conversation to address environmental advocacy and forge an international collation of Latino conservation leaders.

Educator, activist and actor Edward James Olmos and
environmental global leader Jean-Michel Cousteau will have a role at the environmental event. In addition, 50 organizations and 50 crucial leaders that include scientists, artists, grassroots mentors, celebrities and community and public policy leaders will offer solutions and increase awareness in diverse communities.

There will also be 50 presenters, 20 films, 10 art exhibits, and seven artists there to present to workshops. The festival will additionally showcase performances and activists for every age, race, interest and economic background. And the endeavor will help to reconnect and acquaint Latinos with their agricultural past and “green” legacy.

“A New Shade of Green” will bring forth a newfound environmental awareness and it will unlock a dialogue on environment, health, education, culture and small business entrepreneurship, to bring healthy environments to low-income individuals, minorities and America.

For more information on Americas Latino Eco Festival visit http://www.americasforconservation.org, http://www.americaslatinofestival.org, or connect on Facebook and follow on Twitter.

More education coverage here.


West’s water worries rise as Lake Mead falls — USA Today #ColoradoRiver

July 27, 2014
Receding Lake Mead (2010)

Receding Lake Mead (2010)

From USA Today (William M. Welch):

“I hate to see it,” [Allen Keeten] the 58-year-old truck driver from Kenesaw, Neb., says, peering over the side of the massive concrete dam on the Colorado River. “Nowadays you’ve got to be careful when you are out on a boat because of all the exposed ground.”

Like a giant measuring stick in the desert, the dropping water level of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest man-made reservoir, provides a vivid representation of the drought that is gripping the Southwest and much of the West…

Only a fraction of the river’s flow makes it to Mexico as millions of acre-feet leave the Colorado River system through pipes and aqueducts for use by farms, businesses and homes of the southwestern United States — the water rights apportioned by decades of court cases, contracts and legislation.

Now that measuring stick is drier than ever. Federal water managers say Lake Mead is just 39% full. The water level fell in July to its lowest level since 1937, when water began backing up to form Lake Mead after the dam was completed…

As the water recedes, left behind is a broad white stripe of mineral deposits on the lake’s shoreline, as visible as a dirty bathtub ring. New islands poke through the lake’s lowered surface, and buoys stand amid desert scrub.

Entire coves and miles of lake fingers have dried up, forcing boat landings and marinas to close or relocate. Marina operators who want to stay in business have had to move their floating docks — and the fuel, electricity, water and sewer lines that serve them — in a costly chase to stay on the water…

Lake Powell is down, too, though not as badly at 52% of capacity. The entire Colorado River system of four impoundments, ending with Lake Havasu in Arizona, has just over half the water it is capable of holding this summer.

Still, federal water managers are optimistic that they can avoid reducing agreed-upon amounts of water to all who depend on it, at least until next year. Beyond that, much depends on how long drought continues…

Water from the Colorado River makes up about a quarter of all water that flows from Southern California taps, and water from the Sierras makes up about 30%, with the remainder coming from local sources, groundwater and reclaimed water…

An especially wet winter would help. A big snowpack in 2011 raised Lake Mead nearly 50 feet in one season.

“We need several above-average years to replenish the storage,” Bunk says.

But the trends are worrisome. While California is in the third year of drought, Bunk says Colorado River data suggests this is the 15th year of a broader regional drought, interrupted by an occasional wet year.

Scientists studying tree rings for clues to past water seasons calculate that the period since 2000 is one of the driest in centuries. Bunk says the evidence shows the past 15-year period ranks in the driest 1% of the past 1,200 years.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Tour highlights Smart Ditch, hydro-power and organic farming — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

July 27, 2014

smartditchtrapezoidalditchliner

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Amy Hadden Marsh):

[Mike Kishimoto], a civil engineer for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which cosponsored the tour, told over two dozen participants that Smart Ditch is basically a corrugated plastic liner that stops leaks and allows water to flow through a ditch unimpeded by plants, rocks, sediment and other debris. He said this particular segment, part of a county road project south of Silt, captures tail water from sprinkler irrigation and brings it back to the fields.

“You can’t get tail water to go into a pipe,” he explained. “So this is a perfect use for Smart Ditch.”

The Smart Ditch demo was part of a five-hour tour, which began with a stop at the 3,200-acre Porter Ranch, along Alkali Creek south of New Castle, and ended at Eagle Springs Organic Farm south of Rifle.

Kishimoto and other district staff and board members joined the tour to point out various projects and answer questions about the district’s mission, services and history…

Colorado State Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), was a tour participant, along with Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. Rankin took particular interest in a small-scale, hydro-power generator at the Porter Ranch, which produces six kilowatts of electricity. Water comes from Alkali Creek through a 7,000-foot pipe.

A small, metal wheel acts as a turbine. As the water turns the wheel, electricity is generated, which powers Terry and Mary Porter’s home and a nearby cabin. Excess electricity is sold to Holy Cross Energy. The water is reused for irrigation.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service designed the irrigation system with the hydro-power generator in mind, aid Scot Knutson, an engineer with the agency. Funding for the project came from the conservation service and the federal Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which pays incentives for conservation practices.

“There are approximately 100 small-scale hydro-power projects statewide and a dozen in [House District 57],” said Rankin.

He also praised U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s Hydro-power and Rural Jobs Act, which went into effect last summer.

“Tipton simplified Congressional approval for small-scale hydro-power,” he said. “In my view, it’s a great, untapped source for renewable energy.”

Eagle Springs Organic farm, the final stop of the tour, generates its own power from a solar array that offsets all electricity used on the 1,600-acre farm.

Owner Ken Sack led guests through a two-acre complex of production rooms, coolers and greenhouses, including a tropical grow room, replete with banana, fig and citrus trees, and a fish farm. Sack, whose wife and children are vegan, raises Highland Angus beef, sheep, goats, poultry and pigs on the property, along with vegetables, herbs, flowers and hay. All food products are sold at the farm’s store or served at the café and steak house in Rifle.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Community leaders rally for water solutions on #ColoradoRiver Day — Conservation Colorado

July 27, 2014

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

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


Here’s the release from Conservation Colorado (Chris Arend):

Colorado Students, local elected leaders, Denver Water officials, water educators and conservationists, rallied for Colorado River Day to highlight Colorado’s progress on water conservation and reuse and work left to protect communities and meet future water needs.

The West is facing increasing water challenges and the future of Denver, our businesses, agriculture and the West depend on the health of the Colorado River. Colorado is currently drafting a statewide Water Plan to manage our water future. The Denver Colorado River Day rally had diverse leaders calling attention to local, common sense solutions that should be expanded and included in our community’s approach to managing and providing water.

Below are highlighted quotes from the rally:

“I love joining my friends and making a difference for the Colorado River,” said Lizabeth. “Whenever we do outreach or take adventures it makes me want to do more. It feels good to know I am helping my community and protecting things that are important to me. It is cool to know one day I could have kids that will benefit from the work we are doing.”

- Lizbeth Sandoval Serrano, 9th Grade Student, Escuela, describing rafting down the Colorado through youth program.

“The Latino community has a long legacy of being stewards of our natural resources, including water. The caucus will continue to work on a policy level to protect the Colorado River and other rivers across the state. We understand we must do all we can for our people today and future generations tomorrow.”

- Joe Salazar, State Representative and Latino Water Caucus member

“Half of Denver’s water supply comes from the Colorado River, so we have a direct interest in the health of the entire Colorado River system. As part of our approach to creating a healthier system, Denver Water is committed to encouraging and maintaining a culture of conservation — through aggressive programs and campaigns — which thus far has led to Denver area citizens using 21 percent less water than they were before 2002, despite an increased population.”

- Angela Bricmont, Denver Water’s Director of Finance

“When we talk about needing diverse voices and stakeholders, that includes all members of society. Water flows into every aspect of our life, and educating all community members about water conservation and stewardship is the key to creating the water future we need.”

- Tom Cech, Director of One World One Water

“Under existing water policies, demands on our water outstrip the supply. But we can be part of the solution. We can use less, conserve more. So to celebrate Colorado River Day, we urge residents to tell our water leaders we need common sense solutions that conserve water so our communities and businesses thrive. We learned today there is a lot being done to conserve water in Denver, but we need to do more.”

- Theresa Conley, Water Advocate, Conservation Colorado

More education coverage here.


Jamestown has re-established running water to about 40 percent of homes in town — Boulder Daily Camera

July 27, 2014

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Alex Burness):

Jamestown has re-established running water to about 40 percent of homes in town, a major step for a community that may still be years away from restoring normalcy after September’s flood.

As of July 7, Mayor Tara Schoedinger confirmed, 48 out of the town’s 115 homes have water service, though residents are being told to boil first until quality tests confirm potability.

The foothills town of 275 suffered immeasurable losses — one resident was killed, half of all roads were either washed away or badly damaged, and the town square and fire station need to be rebuilt from scratch.

Schoedinger said fixing the water system took precedent on the flood recovery wish list.

“The water system is our first priority because that’s what’s going to bring people home,” she said. “We want people to be able to bring their families back home and get settled before school starts.”

Flooding stripped away 50 percent of the town’s water distribution system, plus the entire underground infrastructure at its water treatment plant, and those who stuck it out in Jamestown went nearly 10 months without running water.

Those who stayed relied on above-ground water filtration systems, for which about $60,000 was raised through donations from the local Rotary Club, Salvation Army and Red Cross.

While the donations covered the cost of installation — about $1,700 per system — residents have had to pay out of pocket for $150 refills.

As for drinking water, the Red Cross has sent a truckload of Eldorado Natural Spring bottles up to Jamestown once every two weeks.

Schoedinger said the entire town will likely have running water by some point next month. She hopes it’ll draw back the 50 percent of residents who still haven’t returned.

“Everybody who can come home will come home,” she said. “But people who don’t have systems or town water can’t live in their homes.”

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


“We are going to have to be sure [Colorado] protects #RioGrande compact apportioned water” — David Robbins

July 27, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

WildEarth Guardians have not backed off from seeking more water from Colorado to keep fish afloat in New Mexico. This week the environmental group wrote to U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor asking the department to become more actively involved in management of the Rio Grande to protect endangered species like the silvery minnow and provide water for wild and scenic river and recreational uses as well as bolstering bosque and wildlife refuge areas in New Mexico. The group specifically asked, for example, that the department “engage” the states of Colorado and New Mexico “in order to find a way to ensure the Rio Grande receives its fair share of water.”

The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) is watching the WildEarth actions closely since they could ultimately affect water use in Colorado. The group maintains that downstream states are already receiving their “fair share of water” through Rio Grande Compact requirements that have been in place for decades.

RGWCD Attorney David Robbins told the water district’s board of WildEarth’s latest move this week and said although the environmental group acknowledges the compact, it does not agree with it.

“There is no panacea that will right the wrongs of the past century on behalf of the Rio Grande,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers program director at WildEarth Guardians . “The fate of the river, however, depends on the willingness and leadership of state and federal agencies to create a water right that belongs to the Rio Grande ” The wild west approach to managing water in the Rio Grande Basin cannot continue without further serious consequences for flows in the river. Interior is in a unique position to implement and navigate new strategies and to reform the archaic system of water management under which it currently operates.”

WildEarth in its letter to the Department of Interior recommended: 1) expanding “the scope of the solutions” by engaging the states of Colorado and New Mexico in order to find a way to ensure the Rio Grande receives its fair share of water, 2) providing funding so the Bureau of Land Management can determine the flows necessary in the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River to preserve recreational , scenic and other values of the designated reach in central New Mexico, and 3) investigating and planning to remove or modify the dams and reservoirs that segment the Rio Grande to reconnect isolated habitat.

Robbins said the water district needs to keep track of this situation.

“We are going to have to pay more attention. We are going to have to be more involved. We are going to have to be sure the state of Colorado protects compact apportioned waters for beneficial use within Colorado.”

Robbins said it was ironic that within a few days of Gary Boyce’s video presentation on the internet proposing to take San Luis Valley Water north WildEarth Guardians sent a letter to the Department of Interior proposing to send more water south.

“We are going to end up having to deal with a proposal to take water north for the metro area, Front Range and demands that federal agencies take an active role trying to force more water out of the Valley going south,” Robbins said.

He said there have been efforts by people in New Mexico to buy senior water rights in Colorado to try to send more water downstream, but the compact that governs how much water goes downstream is between states, not individuals. If someone were to buy water rights in Colorado and retire them in hopes of sending more water downstream, it would just mean that the next water right in line would get to use the water, and it would not affect the total volume sent to downstream states.

RGWCD Board Member Cory Off said it is interesting the WildEarth group wants to improve the bosque in New Mexico but does not seem to care about Colorado’s scenic areas. Robbins said the cooperation the Valley and Colorado have experienced in protecting riparian areas in this state does not exist in the same manner in New Mexico, but Colorado should not have to “disassemble what’s good in Colorado because they would like to see that happen in New Mexico.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

For more than four decades, Colorado has followed the letter of the law that dictates how flows on the Rio Grande are divvied up with downstream neighbors New Mexico and Texas.

But a New Mexico environmental group concerned with the survival of an endangered fish says that is not enough. WildEarth Guardians told Colorado officials in January it intended to sue the state over its management of the Rio Grande, claiming that the miserly flows that cross the state line in May and June of dry years were not enough to preserve the Rio Grande silvery minnow. Last week, the group wrote to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has the responsibility of preserving the fish and also plays a large role in managing the river in New Mexico, asking that it exert more influence over Colorado.

“We just see the federal government playing some role in making the conversation more broad,” said Jen Pelz, an attorney for the guardians who specializes in water issues.

Pelz said she has not gotten a formal response from the state regarding the January notice.

But David Robbins, an attorney for the Alamosa-based Rio Grande Water Conservation District, was clear in his review of the letter to the Interior with the district’s board.

“It’s wrong and it deserves to be resisted strenuously,” he said.

Water users in the valley have lived up to the compact’s obligations and aren’t required to go beyond it, he said.

“We don’t have to let the water go downstream,” Robbins said. “We’re entitled to use it in our state and we always want to remember that.”

Colorado has complied with the 1939 Rio Grande Compact for more than four decades after settling a lawsuit brought by New Mexico and Texas. Following the 1968 settlement, Colorado’s state engineer initiated the practice of curtailing surface water rights — even those that predate the compact — to ensure that enough water made it downstream to satisfy compact requirements.

The delivery requirements vary from year to year, depending on the size of Colorado’s water supply. When the Rio Grande has a wet year, more water must be sent downstream. In dry years, water users in the San Luis Valley keep a bigger share.

But there are no requirements that dictate what time of year the water has to be delivered. When the irrigation season begins April 1 in the valley, irrigators divert water for nearly 600,000 acres of potatoes, barley, alfalfa and pasture. Moreover, what the plants don’t soak up in late spring and early summer, often percolates down to the unconfined aquifer, which many water users then tap to finish their crops after the stream flows have dwindled.

But for Pelz, the compact, with its emphasis on the role of the states, is not enough to solve the river’s problems.

“No one really looks at it as a whole river,” she said.

The timing of Colorado’s diversions are a problem, WildEarth Guardians argued, because in dry years the compact allows Colorado water users to take nearly all of the river’s flows. The group’s letter to interior officials noted that on May 18 of last year, the Rio Grande reached its peak flow and Colorado was diverting 98 percent of the river before it crossed the state line. That leaves an insufficient amount of water left over when the minnow enters breeding season in May and reduces the chances of the fish’s survival, the group said.

And the dry years in which this scenario occurs are likely to become the norm as climate change advances, the group said in the letter.

Pelz estimated that shutting down irrigators for three days would produce the flows needed to clean out sediment and produce the habitat needed for the minnow.

“It doesn’t take shutting down the San Luis Valley for two weeks,” she said.

But Robbins pointed to a host of problems in New Mexico that could be solved before asking Colorado to send additional water downstream.

For example, New Mexico has five dams that hinder the minnow and Colorado has nothing to do with their operations.

Moreover, Robbins said that as early as 1916, the minnow was effectively healthy despite the fact that Colorado already had reached its peak use along the Rio Grande.

And the conservation district has undertaken its own plan to preserve habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, a federally endangered species that also is of concern to WildEarth Guardians.

The demands from the south for more water out of the valley also come just as valley rancher Gary Boyce has developed a new proposal to export water to the Front Range.

The timing of the two developments was not lost on Robbins.

“If everybody in the room and all of your neighbors are starting to feel a little bit pulled asunder or under threat of being drawn and quartered, you’re probably awake and your senses are working,” he said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


CWCB: Colorado Watershed Symposium Succeeds At Preparing Coalitions to Move Forward on Stream Recovery

July 26, 2014

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Kevin Houck):

More than 150 community leaders last week resolved to work together in strong coalitions to focus on rebuilding streams and watersheds damaged by last fall’s flooding.

The Colorado Watershed Symposium, a daylong event July 18 in Loveland with the theme “Working with Watersheds: It’s More Than Just the River”, included presentations on disaster-relief funding, watershed master-planning, and intergovernmental agreements. Most importantly, representatives from nine watershed coalitions met and developed joint plans for the “next steps” in restoring their watersheds.

The symposium was sponsored by the Colorado Recovery Office, the Department of Local Affairs, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Molly Urbina, Colorado’s Chief Recovery Officer, told participants: “Each of you have taken a collaborative approach to watershed planning, even though it may be easier to plan alone. If nothing else, this past year has taught us just how interdependent we are. Every action in the watershed impacts another point in that watershed, up or down stream. We are in this together.”

The nine watershed coalitions in attendance echoed Urbina’s call for continued collaboration. Representatives from each coalition shared best practices from their public outreach programs and emphasized the need to continue involving private stakeholders in the recovery process.

“Creek restoration cannot happen in a vacuum. It must be accomplished along with efforts to restore public and private infrastructure and floodplain management.” said Julie McKay, director of the Boulder, Left Hand, and St. Vrain coalitions. “It’s really great to be able to compare experiences and approaches of all the coalitions across the Front Range.”

“When you win the hearts and minds, you win the river,” said Gordan Gilstrap, of the Little Thompson Coalition. Dave Skuodas of the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District echoed Gilstrap’s sentiments. “Even though we have the power to dictate, we choose to facilitate. We want people down in the stream using it and recreating in it. We want people to take ownership in the creek.”

Carol Ekarius, director of the highly successful Coalition of the Upper South Platte, delivered the day’s keynote address, emphasizing the need for coalitions to consider a broad array of potential issues when they create master plans. “The flood doesn’t start in the corridor; the flood starts in the shed,” said Ekarius. “I tell people we’re a watershed collaborative, forest collaborative, and emergency response collaborative. It allows us to do all kinds of work.”

Each of the nine coalitions split into breakout sessions to coordinate next steps. In their informal discussions, many expressed interest in becoming formal non-profit organizations. They also agreed that Colorado’s watersheds are interconnected and that any successful recovery effort has to take into account both the upstream and downstream portions of the river.

“I was pleased at how the various coalitions came together and focused on how they can move forward,” said Chris Sturm of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This is very important, because the coalitions will be very well positioned for disaster relief funding as it becomes available.”

Representatives from the Big Thompson, Boulder Creek, Coal Creek, Fall River and Fish Creek, Left Hand, Little Thompson, St. Vrain, Upper Fountain and Cheyenne Creek, and South Platte all reported different challenges and expressed interest in continued coordination on recovery issues.

All stakeholders recognized the difficulties of the recovery process and emphasized the need for effective long-term recovery planning. The Symposium is part of a larger series of events that work toward achieving coordinated and efficient recovery planning. For those interested in attending the next event, the 2014 Sustaining

Colorado Watersheds Conference will be held in Avon on October 7-9 at the Westin Riverfront Resort.

The flooding affected 24 counties. It triggered nine small dam failures, damaged or destroyed nearly 225 water-diversion structures, damaged an estimated 32,000 acres of croplands and swept away $540,000 in state-owned stream-gauge equipment. During the floods, many northern Colorado waterways experienced 100-year or 500-year events.


CWCB: July 2014 Drought Update #COdrought

July 26, 2014

From the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

Despite the warm temperatures of the past week, temperatures for the summer, and the water year as a whole, have been very close to average. Mild temperatures have helped to moderate impacts from a very dry June statewide, where only 29% of normal precipitation fell and some portions of the state (Southwest) saw only 9% of normal precipitation for the month. By comparison, July has been quite wet (92% of average to-date) and has resulted in large improvements to drought designations along the eastern plains, including southeastern Colorado where they have been dealing with extreme and exceptional drought conditions for nearly 4 years. Weak El Nino conditions have developed but are unlikely to result in short term significant moisture. Water providers indicated that storage levels remain strong, with many reservoirs near or at capacity.

  • Currently, 40% of the state is in some level of drought classification according to the US drought monitor. 13% is characterized as “abnormally dry” or D0, while an additional 11% is experiencing D1, moderate drought conditions. 12% is classified as severe, 3% as extreme and less than 1% of the state remains in exceptional drought (D4). These conditions are an improvement over last month.
  • Year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites is 101% of average, with the northern half of the state seeing more moisture than the southern half.
  • Current streamflow forecasts statewide range from greater than 150% of average in the South Platte and Colorado to a low of 36% of average in parts of the Rio Grande basin. The northern portion of the state has forecasts that are near to above normal, while the southern portion of the state has forecasts below normal.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 94% of average at the end of June 2014. The lowest reservoir storage statewide is in the Upper Rio Grande & Arkansas basins, with 58% and 66% of average storage, respectively. The Yampa/White and the South Platte have the highest storage level at 115% and 113% of average.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for the state, which takes into account both reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts, is near normal across much of the state, with an “abundant” index in the northern basins of the South Platte, North Platte, and Colorado. The lowest values in the state are in the Southwest and indicate moderate to severe drought.
  • El-Nino ENSO conditions continue, but remain weak. The next few months are not likely to see major changes in that condition, but above average moisture is more likely by fall.
  • The short term forecast projects continued warm conditions west of the divide with cooler temperatures east of the continental divide over the next 14 days; coupled with above average probability of moisture in the southern half of the state.
  • August is typically the month with the most monsoon activity in Colorado, and a strong monsoon may help to further alleviate drought conditions.

  • Feds sued over #RioGrande flow for minnow, bird — Albuquerque Journal

    July 26, 2014


    From the Albuquerque Journal (Mike Bush/John Fleck):

    Citing “two decades of broken promises by federal and state water managers,” a Santa Fe-based environmental group filed a federal lawsuit against two government agencies Thursday alleging they failed “to secure dynamic and perennial flows for the Rio Grande” needed to protect the silvery minnow and Southwestern willow flycatcher.

    Water managers of one agency say they have made major changes in how they operate, while another said it has spent at least $50 million over the past decade to protect the fish.

    In its suit, WildEarth Guardians accuses the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of failing to adopt “even the most modest changes in management on behalf of the Rio Grande.”

    WildEarth Guardians has its eye on the two endangered species the silvery minnow and a small bird, the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

    “The primary objective of this litigation is to secure the congressionally mandated protections of the (Endangered Species Act) to protect and conserve the silvery minnow and the willow flycatcher,” it says.

    Neither of the defendant agencies would comment on the complaint Thursday, although the Corps of Engineers said it may issue a statement next week after a review of the document.

    Here’s the release from Wild Earth Guardians:

    WildEarth Guardians filed suit today [July 24, 2014] in federal court citing two decades of broken promises by federal and state water managers to secure dynamic and perennial flows for the Rio Grande. The group believes that these agencies’ failure to exercise the full range of their authority to protect the river and its imperiled species not only violates the Endangered Species Act, but also makes it impossible to restore a functioning Rio Grande ecosystem.

    “The Rio Grande is central to the history, culture and beauty of New Mexico,” said Jen Pelz the Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The river has sustained the valley for centuries, and we have a moral obligation to hold water managers and users accountable to ensure that the river does not vanish.”

    The group’s lawsuit details the failures by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement even the most modest changes in management on behalf of the Rio Grande. A 2003 management plan attempted to return some balance to the Rio Grande in central New Mexico by requiring certain flows and physical infrastructure changes—reconnecting the river from fragmentation by dams—for the benefit of the species. The federal and state agencies, however, failed to honor their commitments to the detriment of the endangered species.

    “The plan of the past decade did not go far enough to protect and maintain a living river,” added Pelz. “This lawsuit seeks to provide the shake up necessary to realign our collective values and secure new commitments from all water managers to ensure that the river has a right to its own water and it is a sustainable, dynamic ecosystem.”

    The lack of oversight and accountability in the Rio Grande also adds to the decrease of flows in the river. As just one example, the “Water Bank” operated by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District—which distributes water throughout the District to land without water rights—requires authorization by the State and federal government. However, even though both entities have expressed notable concerns about the validity of the Water Bank and requested proof of beneficial use of the District’s water rights prior to any such approval, the District operates the Water Bank each year without any oversight or authorization.

    “It’s a bank without a charter. Not even the worst Wall Street bankers could have established a system so lacking in accountability and supervision,” said Pelz. “Stealing water like this from our river and our future is reckless and cannot continue.”

    Steve Sugarman and in-house lawyer, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, represent the organization in the litigation. This lawsuit is the latest action in WildEarth Guardians’ campaign to protect and restore the Rio Grande, America’s third longest and one of its most iconic rivers.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    This year’s snowpack has been good for the rafting business

    July 26, 2014
    Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph June 26, 2014 via the NRCS

    Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph June 26, 2014 via the NRCS

    From The Mountain Mail (Allison Dyer Bluemel):

    Due to higher waters and a better overall economy, local rafting outfitters report the 2014 season has been a fruitful one. Overall, the feeling is that business is up anywhere from 15 to 20 percent from last year, said John Kreski, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area rationing and agreement coordinator.

    “It’s been going gangbusters. It’s been busy, busy,” Independent Whitewater owner Mike Whittington said.

    This time last year, 15,585 commercial rafts floated the Arkansas within the AHRA management area, according to the 2013 season summary.

    Overall, 2013 saw 36,508 commercial rafts, 4,320 kayaks and 186,268 paying clients on the Arkansas, according to the summary.

    This year, outfitters such as Independent Whitewater, Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center and Wilderness Aware Rafting have been seeing an increase in inquiries and traffic on the river.

    Wilderness Aware has seen an 8-percent increase from last year, but is still down in numbers from its record years, owner Joe Griener said.

    The increase for companies is due to more water from winter snowpack and an increase in tourism to the area, he said.

    “There’s a lot more water in the ditch. The increase in water also means a decrease in fire risk, which definitely helps tourism,” RMOC owner Brandon Slate said.
    While RMOC has seen “exponentially more rafting,” it canceled inflatable kayaking trips and reduced the size of stand-up paddleboard outings earlier in the year due to safety concerns, Slate said.

    “Safety is No. 1, but it can make it harder to profit when we run lower ratios,” he said.

    Whittington and Griener said their most popular section was Browns Canyon this year.
    “Browns Canyon is the longest half-day trip. It offers good, solid Class III rapids,” Whittington said.

    American Adventure Expeditions owner and operator Mike Kissack said the company’s most popular trips this year were Browns Canyon and Royal Gorge half-day trips.

    Wilderness Aware has had a banner year for multi-day trips on sections of the river starting north of Buena Vista all the way down to Cañon City as well, Griener said.
    The popularity of the river is due to the variety of whitewater and the lengthier season, Whittington said.

    “All is great on the river, but the best thing is the variety. We have 100 miles of Class II to Class V rapids to raft,” Slate said.

    The difference in rapid difficulty throughout the river means there is something for every type of person looking to float the Arkansas, Griener said.

    “There’s no measure as to how much variety we have. It is what it is on other rivers, but on this one there’s 100-plus miles of river and stuff that’s also good for kids,” he said.

    Additionally, the Arkansas’ longer season means tourists are drawn from across the state after other rivers’ seasons end.

    “The word is out that we’re still rafting,” Slate said.

    Griener said the “Front Range is creeping closer,” and visitors from the area are realizing outfitters in the Arkansas River Valley “offer one more thing to do while they’re in the area.”

    “I believe the main reason that people come to the Arkansas River is because of the perfect mix of world-class whitewater and breathtaking Colorado scenery,” Kissack said.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


    Brett Walton: Want a thesaurus of gloom? Ask a California water manager what 2015 is like if there’s another dry winter #ColoradoRiver

    July 26, 2014
    California Drought Monitor July 22, 2014

    California Drought Monitor July 22, 2014


    In Colorado rainwater harvesting is complicated

    July 26, 2014

    stormoverthelagaritahills

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Don’t run out and buy a rain barrel. Even if you’re lucky enough to catch a downpour, it is illegal to collect rainwater from rooftops in Colorado in most cases.

    The Pueblo Chieftain ran an article in its Real Estate section Friday that suggested rain barrels could be used to meet water needs. That may be true in other parts of the United States, but collecting water in rain barrels in Colorado is allowed only under certain circumstances.

    Two bills passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor in 2009 allow for rainwater collection:

    SB80 allows residential well owners to collect water from the roof of primary homes only, if no other water supply is available from a city or water district. The collection has to be part of the well permit for the property.

    HB1129 provided for developers to build in rainwater collection if the development is approved as one of 10 statewide pilot projects.

    Otherwise, rainwater collection is illegal.

    The Colorado Division of Water Resources considers rainwater to be part of the property of the people of the state as defined by the Colorado Constitution.

    “As a result, in much of the state, it is illegal to divert rainwater falling on your property expressly for a certain use unless you have a very old water right or during occasional periods when there is a surplus of water in the river system,” the division states on its website.

    “This is especially true in the urban, suburban and rural areas along the Front Range.

    “This system of water allocation plays an important role in protecting the owners of senior water rights that are entitled to appropriate the full amount of their decreed water right, particularly when there is not enough to satisfy them and parties whose water right is junior to them.”

    More water law coverage here.


    Op-Ed: Happy Birthday, Colorado River – long may you live!

    July 26, 2014

    Coyote Gulch:

    Contribute to Bob’s father-son climate reporting project here.

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    kn

    No room for mistakes in the Colorado River Basin.

    Conservation has to be the centerpiece of local, state and regional water planning efforts

    By Bob Berwyn

    FRISCO — When Congress 93 years ago formally renamed the Grand River as the Colorado, it probably didn’t have any inkling about what the mightiest river in the West would be subjected too early in the 21st century.

    Now far removed from that era of hopeful development, the river is over-exploited from beginning to end. Headwater streams are diverted to water acres of bluegrass lawns in Denver, and mountain resorts mindlessly draw down tributaries for snowmaking during the low-flow season, just when trout most need the water.

    Just this week, scientists said they’ve documented an astounding rate of water loss in the basin from groundwater pumping alone, which may turn out to be a worse problem than we think, groundwater development is state-regulated, therefore…

    View original 738 more words


    Colorado Springs City Council endorses regional stormwater plan — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    July 25, 2014

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

    The council voted Tuesday on a resolution, which was merely a public statement of endorsement. It now is up to the El Paso County Commissioners to put the stormwater issue on the November ballot. Commissioners will be asked by the stormwater task force to finalize the ballot language by Aug. 28.

    The City Council still must consider, and will vote on, an intergovernmental agreement, which spells out the details of how an authority would operate. The proposed authority is modeled after the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority and the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority.

    PPRTA, which was created in 2004 by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls. PPRTA collects 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements. Voters approved a list of projects when they approved the creation of the PPRTA.

    The Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority includes Centennial, Arapahoe County, and three water districts. The authority sets and collects fees, has a staff and oversees the projects for the region.

    Under the Pikes Peak stormwater task force proposal, voters will be asked to approve a stormwater fee based on their property’s impervious surface. The fee could be collected for 20 years. Organizers of the proposal say a typical Colorado Springs residential property owner would pay $9.14 a month, based on the average lot size with about 2,000 to 3,000 impervious surface.

    Voters also would see a list of proposed flood control projects as part of the ballot question and a breakdown of what percentage of the collected funds would go toward new construction, maintenance and operations.

    Task force leaders are hopeful that El Paso County, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Fountain will join the authority and work on regional flood control projects together.

    More stormwater coverage here.


    “Buy and dry no silver bullet” — Environmental Defense Fund #ColoradoRiver

    July 25, 2014
    Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture

    Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

    From the Environmental Defense Fund (Aaron Citron):

    On Colorado River Day, it’s worth considering how we can write the next chapter in the water story of the American West.

    With the recent news that Lake Mead is at its lowest level in history, it’s impossible to ignore the trajectory of America’s hardest-working river. In the Colorado River Basin, we are already using more water annually than is being supplied by snowpack and other precipitation. The Bureau of Reclamation and others predict that this gap in water supply and demand will increase to nearly 4 million acre-feet by 2060, with significant shortages possible as early as 2017.

    It has become clear that, over time, our water uses are going to have to change. In thinking about where – in what sectors – this change should take place, we must also consider the environmental, cultural and economic services that each sector provides.

    “Buy and dry” is no silver bullet

    In the discussions about how to deal with the growing gap between water supply and demand, the default solution too often involves permanently taking water out of agricultural irrigation and transferring it to meet the needs of a growing urban population.

    Agriculture uses approximately 80 percent of Colorado River water to irrigate nearly 4 million acres, providing 15 percent of America’s crop output and 13 percent of our livestock production. It is a significant contributor to rural economies and provides a number of environmental, cultural and ecosystem services benefits.

    It’s true that all water-using sectors will have to be part of the solution, but the “buy and dry” of farms and ranches around the West has left a litany of problems: remaining irrigators can no longer afford to operate their ditches, farm supply businesses are seeing dramatically reduced revenues, farmworkers are left unemployed, and in some cases, river reaches and wetlands once dependent on return flows are being left to dry.

    As water scarcity increases the interest in buying water from farms and ranches, we will need to find ways to address these economic and environmental impacts.

    Designing solutions for rivers, people and the economy
    There are a number of ways to improve the health of our working rivers while also making water sharing profitable for agricultural water users.

    Continued investment in improving agricultural efficiency and infrastructure is an important first step to improve both agricultural and environmental sustainability.

    Water banks and markets that pay irrigators a fair price – taking long-term agricultural productivity, regional economics and environmental impacts into consideration – need to be part of a portfolio of solutions to address the significant issues of water shortages exacerbated by drought and climate change.

    A portfolio approach

    Even though most of the water in the Colorado River Basin and the West is used in agricultural production, there are significant opportunities to conserve water in other sectors.

    Urban water use is one sector where demands are projected to increase significantly. If the cities that use Colorado River water want to grow, the first place they should look for water is in their existing supply. After all, urban water conservation is a proven strategy: the Los Angeles region added more than 3 million residents since 1990 without increasing its total water use.

    Cities can and must make a significant contribution to the supply-demand gap at lower cost and with fewer impacts to our rural western economies and environmental values.

    The Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Supply and Demand Basin Study identified 1 million acre-feet of water-savings potential from municipal and industrial conservation programs and an additional 1.15 million acre-feet from municipal and industrial water reuse programs. Cost-effective conservation savings can be achieved through a number of programs and incentives, including improved water rate structures, conversion to high efficiency appliances, improvements in urban irrigation systems, and other public education and incentive programs.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Scientists measure surging global freshwater runoff

    July 25, 2014

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    A monsoon squall rolls off the sea near Darwin, Australia. PHOTO FROM THE CREATIVE COMMONS, VIA WIKIPEDIA.

    Rivers delivered 18 percent more water to the oceans in a 13-year span from 1993 to 2006 as global warming intensifies the water cycle

    By Summit Voice

    SUMMIT COUNTY — More frequent and extreme storms linked to global warming have resulted in a surge of freshwater flows into the oceans, according to a group of researchers who studied satellite records of sea level rise, precipitation and evaporation to put together a unique 13-year record of freshwater run-off.

    The trends were all the same, according to the study from the University of California at Irvine: Increased evaporation from the ocean led to increased precipitation on land and more flow back into the ocean. Based on the 13-year record, the scientists said flows increased by 18 percent between 1994 and 2006, at a rate of about 1.5 percent each year.

    “That might not sound like much … but after a few…

    View original 311 more words


    “I have been proud to work for years to ensure the [support for] the Arkansas Valley Conduit” — Sen. Mark Udall

    July 25, 2014
    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A draft federal energy and water funding bill includes an additional $90 million for projects such as the Arkansas Valley Conduit, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, said Thursday. The Senate appropriations committee approved the bill, which contains a provision supported by both senators that explicitly makes data collection and design work eligible for funding through these accounts. It will help ensure the Arkansas Valley Conduit is eligible for these funds and sends a clear signal to the Bureau of Reclamation that the conduit is a priority project.

    The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, conduit sponsor, was dismayed earlier this year when it learned only $500,000 was budgeted for the conduit next year. It is hoping to get at least $3 million for continuing data and design tasks that will lead to construction of the $400 million conduit.

    The conduit is the final piece of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, authorized in 1962. When complete, the 130-mile pipeline will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

    “For more than five decades, folks in Southeastern Colorado have been waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

    That’s far too long for these communities to wait for a reliable source of clean drinking water,” Bennet said.

    “I have been proud to work for years to ensure the federal government supports the Arkansas Valley Conduit. This funding brings the people of Southeastern Colorado one step closer to having a clean, safe and reliable source of water,” Udall said.

    More Arkansas Valley Conduit funding here and here.


    EPA: Waters that have never been protected remain outside the scope of the Clean Water Act

    July 24, 2014

    Drought news

    July 24, 2014

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

    Summary
    Early in the period, a strong cold front brought unseasonably cool air (and dozens of daily record or near-record minimums and low maximums) to the eastern two-thirds of the Nation while also triggering numerous showers and thunderstorms across the southern and central Plains, lower Mississippi Valley, Southeast, mid-Atlantic, and coastal New England. Lows dropped into the forties as far south as Kansas, and 7-day temperatures averaged more than 12oF below normal in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Another cold front late in the week dropped heavy rain on northern sections of North Dakota and Minnesota. In contrast, a ridge of high pressure over the West kept the weather hot and mostly dry. Weekly temperatures averaged 4 to 8oF above normal in the Northwest and Great Basin, with highs reaching triple-digits in many locations. Numerous large active wild fires were reported in the Far West, particularly in Washington and Oregon. Wetter weather was reported in both Hawaii and Puerto Rico, but the heaviest rains fell on areas without D0 or D1…

    Pacific Northwest
    A second consecutive week of hot (temperatures averaged 4 to 8oF above normal, triple-digit highs) and mostly dry weather greatly increased moisture demand across the region. Numerous large active wild fires, many triggered by lightning strikes from dry thunderstorms, were reported in the West. As of July 23, Oregon had 13 active large wildfires totaling more than 578,000 acres, while Washington had 5 large active fires affecting almost 300,000 acres, according to NIFC. Although July precipitation is normally low, the combination of hot weather and no rain has exacerbated conditions, resulting in the expansion of D0 along the Washington coast, just east of the Washington Cascades, across north-central Idaho, and into parts of western and central Montana based upon 30- and 60-day shortages. In the latter state, recent heat, spotty rains, and windy conditions have quickly decreased moisture conditions from June into July. In southeastern Oregon, light rain (0.1-0.4 inches) on day 7 of the period in Malheur and Harney counties helped wet one of the largest fires (Buzzard Complex), but dry and hot weather in southwestern ( Jackson County) and central Oregon (Deschutes, Crook, and Grant counties) expanded D3 and D2, respectively. In Idaho, irrigation water was shut off this week for Magic Reservoir and Salmon Falls water users, while Little Wood Reservoir irrigators will be out of water soon – earlier than last year. Owyhee Reservoir is nearly empty, and ran out of available water much earlier than last year…

    Southern and Central Plains
    Widespread moderate to heavy showers and thunderstorms, plus unseasonably cool air, highlighted a very beneficial and welcome weather week for much of the region. Southeastward tracking thunderstorms dropped swaths of ample rain (>2 inches) on southwestern Kansas, central and southeastern Oklahoma, southwestern Arkansas, eastern Texas, and most of Louisiana. Additional heavy rains fell on southeastern Colorado, the Texas Panhandle, along the Red River Valley, and on central and southwestern Texas. Even after a dry 7-day period in much of Texas last week, 60-day precipitation is generally at or above normal in most of the state, along with Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and eastern Colorado. The issue, however, is to balance the short-term wetness with the long-term (multi-year) drought which has impacted hydrological interests. Taking this into consideration, 1-category improvements were made in most areas where this week’s rainfall exceeded 2 inches. A 2-category improvement (D1 to nothing) was made in extreme southeastern Texas (Jefferson County) were 8-10 inches fell. A few areas were slightly degraded as the rains missed the extreme southern Texas coast and parts of the west Texas. The July 20 NASS/USDA state summaries mentioned that pastures were greening up across much of Texas and Oklahoma with the recent rains and lower temperatures, and most crops benefited from the moisture and lack of excessive heat. 28-day average USGS stream flows were spotty in Texas, but most sites in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas were in the normal (25-75th percentile) category, including several stations in northern Texas in the above to much-above normal categories…

    Southwest and Great Basin
    Somewhat similar to the southern Plains, abundant moisture triggered scattered moderate to heavy showers and thunderstorms in parts of New Mexico and southeastern Colorado, but totals quickly dropped to zero in western sections (e.g. most of Arizona, Utah, western Colorado, southeastern California). And like the southern Plains, the balancing of short-term wetness and long-term drought tempered the potential improvements in New Mexico and southeastern Colorado. Nevertheless, where decent rains (more than an inch) fell this week and Water Year-to-date surpluses existed, a 1-category improvement was made, namely in central New Mexico (north to south) – D3 to D2, and in southeastern Colorado. D3 was slightly expanded to reflect similar conditions at various time scales in north-central New Mexico and northeastern Arizona. In northeastern Utah, hot and dry conditions justified a general 1-category downgrade to reflect poor soil and vegetative health models. Monsoonal moisture made it north and west into the central Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe area, producing showers and thunderstorms that dropped 0.3-1 inches, locally to 3 inches, but these totals weren’t even close to making a dent in the long-term drought. In California, the June 30 reservoir update (based upon 154 intrastate reservoirs) had storage at 60% of average – better than this time in 1977 where storage was at a record low of 41%. Storage totaled 17.25 million acre feet (maf), and a typical seasonal withdrawal is 8.24 maf. The last two years (2012 and 2013), withdrawal has topped 11 maf. Due to early melting of this year’s meager snowpack, withdrawal through June 30 was already at 2.1 maf (versus average withdrawal through June 30 of less than 0.6 maf)…

    Looking Ahead
    During July 24-28, wet weather is forecast for the eastern third of the Nation, Pacific Northwest, and parts of the northern and south-central Plains. Later in the period, some monsoonal moisture is expected to trek northward into Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado and trigger scattered light to moderate showers. Little or no precipitation for the 5-day period is expected in California and the Great Basin, north-central Rockies, southern Plains, and central Great Plains. Temperatures should average below normal across the northern tier of States and above normal across the southern third of the U.S., with the greatest positive departures in the Southwest.

    For the ensuing 5-day period, July 29-August 2, the odds favor above median precipitation from the eastern Great Basin and Arizona southeastward along the Gulf Coast and northeastward along the southern and middle Atlantic Coast. Sub-median precipitation is likely in the Pacific Northwest, and from the northern Plains and upper Midwest southeastward into the Tennessee Valley. Western Alaska is expected to observe below median rainfall, with the opposite forecast in the southeastern Panhandle. An expected strong ridge of high pressure over the Far West and a deep trough over the eastern U.S. will favor strong chances of above-median temperatures in the West and below-median readings in the eastern half of the U.S.


    New study from @UCIrvine finds groundwater loss greater threat to western US than understood #ColoradoRiver

    July 24, 2014

    Here’s the release:

    A new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists finds more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

    This study is the first to quantify the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal water management agency, the basin has been suffering from prolonged, severe drought since 2000 and has experienced the driest 14-year period in the last hundred years.

    The research team used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which are related to changes in water amount on and below the surface. Monthly measurements in the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater. That’s almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater.

    “We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the University of California, Irvine, and the study’s lead author. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

    Water above ground in the basin’s rivers and lakes is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and its losses are documented. Pumping from underground aquifers is regulated by individual states and is often not well documented.

    “There’s only one way to put together a very large-area study like this, and that is with satellites,” said senior author Jay Famiglietti, senior water cycle scientist at JPL on leave from UC Irvine, where he is an Earth system science professor. “There’s just not enough information available from well data to put together a consistent, basin-wide picture.”

    Famiglietti said GRACE is like having a giant scale in the sky. Within a given region, the change in mass due to rising or falling water reserves influences the strength of the local gravitational attraction. By periodically measuring gravity regionally, GRACE reveals how much a region’s water storage changes over time.

    The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwest part of the United States. Its basin supplies water to about 40 million people in seven states, and irrigates roughly four million acres of farmland.

    “The Colorado River Basin is the water lifeline of the western United States,” said Famiglietti. “With Lake Mead at its lowest level ever, we wanted to explore whether the basin, like most other regions around the world, was relying on groundwater to make up for the limited surface-water supply. We found a surprisingly high and long-term reliance on groundwater to bridge the gap between supply and demand.”

    Famiglietti noted that the rapid depletion rate will compound the problem of short supply by leading to further declines in streamflow in the Colorado River.

    “Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico,” Famiglietti said.

    The study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which posted the manuscript online July 24. Co-authors included other scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado. The research was funded by NASA and the University of California.

    For more information on NASA’s GRACE satellite mission, see: http://www.nasa.gov/grace and http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace

    More groundwater coverage here.


    SDS construction reaches Colorado Springs ahead of schedule and under budget — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    July 24, 2014
    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Emily Donovan):

    Huge pipes being tunneled underground near the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue is the first big sign after almost two decades of work to increase the water available to the Colorado Springs area by a third…

    Pipeline construction at the busy intersection is ahead of schedule, expected to be complete in September rather than November, said SDS spokesperson Janet Rummel…

    A $125 million facility that will be able to process 50 million gallons of water a day, the treatment plant on the east side of Colorado Springs is halfway constructed, also ahead of schedule. Construction began in March 2013 and will be finished in fall of 2015. The plant is expected to put out drinking water in April 2016…

    SDS construction is estimated to cost $847 million – $147 million less than the original estimation in 2009.

    Rummel said money was saved by asking engineers to make designs that would be cost-effective without damaging drinking water quality, like keeping every part of the water treatment plant under the same roof instead of separate buildings.

    This means SDS will cause less of a utilities rate increase for CSU customers than originally expected in 2009…

    “This is the future of Colorado Springs,” said Jay Hardison, CSU water treatment plant project manager.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


    Lower Dolores study details native fish needs — The Dolores Star

    July 24, 2014

    From The Dolores Star (Jim Mimiaga):

    A conceptual plan for aiding native fish on the Lower Dolores River was approved by the Dolores Water Conservancy District in June. The District has been negotiating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM, Forest Service, and conservation groups on ways to improve native fish habitat below McPhee Dam. The result is the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation Plan, focusing on three native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

    “The plan provides a more coordinated approach for improving native fish habitat, with a focus on additional monitoring,” said Amber Clark, with the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance.

    After McPhee Dam was built, small spills, as well as non-spill years from 2001-2004, began reducing the quality and amount of habitat required to meet the needs of native fish. Spring releases from the dam are later in the season, which has reduced the chance for spawning and survival of native fish.

    “Protecting the native fish species locally is important because the healthier they are, the less likely they will be seen by the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) agency as requiring protective status under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “Working to help these species keeps control of our river at a local level.”

    The implementation plan presents known and preferred habitat conditions and lifecycles of native fish within six separate stretches of the river below McPhee dam, four of which are a focus of conservation: Dove Creek Pump Station to Pyramid (Reach 3), Pyramid to Big Gypsum Valley (Reach 4), Slickrock Canyon (Reach 5), and Bedrock to San Miguel confluence (Reach 6) Reach 3 (nine miles)

    Roundtail Chub are most abundant in Reach 3 and have a relatively stable population there. Mature roundtail are smaller than in other Western Slope rivers, indicating they are adapting to low flows. Fish counts at the Dove Creek area counted 140 roundtail chub, the highest in 13 years.

    Bluehead and flannelmouth suckers are present, but in low abundance. In 2013, eight bluehead and one flannelmouth were counted. Habitat is good for bluehead, a more cold tolerant fish.

    Reach 4 (38 miles)

    Disappointment enters the Dolores in this stretch, flushing sediment into the main channel.

    All three native species are found in this stretch as well as problematic non-natives including the black bullhead and smallmouth bass, a voracious predator.

    Studies show that populations shift toward non-native species during prolonged low-flow periods. In 2004, native species made up less than 50 percent of the fish caught. After a prolonged spill in 2005, 84 percent of the fish sampled were flannelmouth sucker or roundtail chubs. Because of silt buildup from Disappointment Creek, improving flows here would especially help native fish beat out non-natives.

    In August 2013, flooding showed that Reach 4 below Disappointment caused unnatural silting, causing a significant fish kill.

    A lack of water limits critical dilution effects, and there is an unnatural buildup of silt because of infrequent flushing flows. “During a flash flood event on Disappointment, the surge of debris-filled water flows into the Dolores River, but there is no water to help dilute the surge of silt-laden water,” said Jim White, a CPW fish biologist.

    Monitoring native species at Big Gypsum will remain a priority as it appears that the population may be sensitive to low flow.

    Flows are a big factor. In 2005, when there was a managed spill, biologists found 150 flannelmouth per hectare at the Big Gypsum site. While in 2004 when there was no spill, flannelmouth were counted at five fish per hectare.

    In April 2013, a PIT-tag array was installed across the river just above the Disappointment Creek confluence. Fish are implanted with grain-size microchips and can be detected when they move. Only a few fish have been tagged in the lower Dolores, but more implants are planned. Data shows native fish move up and down the river. The cost of the PIT-tag array is about $75,000.

    Slickrock Canyon (32 miles)

    All three native fish species are found,but in low abundance. This canyon is difficult to survey, and can usually be floated if there is a spill from McPhee reservoir. The last survey was in 2007, but more are needed to determine if the stretch has rearing habitats for native fish. A relatively large number of small native fish was found near the mouth of Coyote Wash, suggesting tributaries play an important role for young fish.

    Bedrock to the San Miguel River confluence (12 miles)

    There are a lot of unknowns. It is highly affected by natural salt loading through the Paradox Valley. The salinity is a barrier for fish between the Dolores River below the San Miguel and Slickrock Canyon. A salinity injection well is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation here to mitigate the problem. Researchers want to ascertain the levels of salinity. A second PIT-tag array is considered near Bedrock to help figure out how fish move .

    Spill management

    Mimicking a natural hydrograph for native fish is one goal of the implementation plan.

    McPhee stores most of the Dolores River spring runoff, and exports much of the storage to the Montezuma Valley of the San Juan River Basin. The result is a lack of spring flushing flows in the Lower Dolores to move sediment and create natural habitat.

    When inflow into the reservoir exceeds capacity, the spill benefits boaters and the downstream fishery. However, a prolonged drought has limited spill years. The reservoir holds a fishery pool of 29,824 acre-feet allocated downstream throughout the year by CPW. Spill water doesn’t count against the fishery pool, but it is subject to shortages in dry years.

    The report suggests ways to optimize the fish pool and spills for the benefit of native fish.

    Thermal regime management sends water downstream earlier, in March and April rather than in May, to keep water cooler and delay the fish spawn until after the whitewater season.

    Biologists have documented that when spill water is released in May, the low flows on the lower Dolores have heated up, cueing fish to spawn early.

    “The fry and eggs are washed away in the whitewater, a hit on survival,” White said.

    A model indicates that flow volumes of 125-200 cfs on May 1 may be necessary to keep water below 15C at the Dove Creek Pumps. More water downstream may keep water cool enough to delay spawning. A gauge at James Ranch will monitor conditions.

    Flushing flows range from 400-800 cfs are important to prepare spawning areas and improve oxygenated flow around eggs.

    Habitat flows ranging from 2,000 cfs to 3,400 cfs are necessary for resetting channel geometry, scouring pools, creating channels for fish nurseries. The Bureau of Reclamation urges increasing the fish pool to 36,500 acre-feet a year. A fund of $400,000 is earmarked for buying additional water, but none has been acquired using these funds.

    “There has always been a desire for more water for the downstream fishery,” says Curtis, of DWCD. “Before there is a blanket grab for additional water, there needs to be a specific focus on how it will help, and those questions are being pursued.”

    The goal of the Implementation Plan is to maintain, protect, and enhance the native fish populations in the Dolores River.

    The area is susceptible to being overrun by small mouth bass and affords opportunity for their suppression by removing caught fish.

    Managed spills scour the river bottom, and move sediment in ways that benefit native fish and their young.

    Blueheads are rarely detected in this stretch.

    Biologists see the problem as two-fold:

    The Snaggletooth Rapid is in this stretch, making fish sampling a challenge, but regular fish monitoring is encouraged in the report.

    More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.


    EPA: Our proposal to protect clean water preserves all exclusions and exemptions for agriculture

    July 24, 2014

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


    “…the way things are structured right now, a traditional El Niño will struggle to form” — @BrianBledsoe

    July 24, 2014

    sstanomalyjuly2014viaweather5280

    From Weather6280.com (Brian Bledsoe):

    As you can see, a warmer than normal pool of water is located off the west coast of South America in areas referred to as Niño Regions 1+2. Farther west across the Pacific the water is actually a bit cooler than normal until you get to the western Pacific Ocean. In order for the El Niño to develop in a traditional fashion, the water must cool in the western Pacific Ocean allowing the Southern Oscillation Index to drop and the subsequent oceanic and atmospheric coupling to take place. Sounds like a lot of geek speak…but the way things are structured right now, a traditional El Niño will struggle to form. Recently the SOI has started to drop a bit, but has a long way to go to where it indicates a true El Niño.


    East West Divide Apparent At Colorado Water Meeting #COWaterPlan

    July 23, 2014

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


    From KUNC (Stephanie Paige Ogburn):

    Water managers are taking the next steps in formulating a statewide water plan, following a meeting where representatives from Colorado’s eight water basins met and presented drafts of their individual plans.

    There have been longstanding tensions between the state’s Western side and the Front Range over water transfers, and those differences came through in some of the presentations.

    “We are already a major donor of water to the Front Range of Colorado,” said Jim Pokrandt, a representative from the Colorado River District, which manages water for six counties in that basin on the Western Slope.

    Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, represents the South Platte and Metro interests in the state water plan discussions. In his presentation, Cronin pointed out the Front Range will likely need additional sources of water from the Colorado River.

    “The South Platte Basin is in favor of further development of Colorado’s [Colorado River] entitlement,” Cronin said.

    The difference between Pokrandt’s western perspective and Cronin’s eastern one has been in existence for decades, say water experts…

    The Western Slope’s Pokrandt said that while he appreciates existing conservation efforts from certain entities like Denver Water, Aurora, and Colorado Springs, the Front Range could do a lot more overall to use its water more efficiently.

    “That’s going to include addressing your urban conservation, how we landscape, appliances and things that we have in our house. And Colorado hasn’t totally embraced that,” he said.

    From the metropolitan side, Cronin said he saw the South Platte as a “model throughout the state” from a conservation standpoint.

    “We agree, we feel there can be more done in the way of conservation. Where it starts to get controversial is to what degree.”

    Cronin said the Metro/South Platte roundtable favored the preservation of local control over water, shying away from any measures that might force municipalities to use water in certain ways.

    Another big focus for the South Platte is keeping water in agriculture, rather than doing what is called “buy and dry,” allowing farmland to go dry while the water is used in cities.

    On the flip side, the desire to keep water in agriculture in the state’s eastern side is part of what drives the need for more transfers from the west, noted Pokrandt.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

    July 23, 2014
    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation July 1 thru July 20, 2014

    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation July 1 thru July 20, 2014

    Click here to read the current assessment from NIDIS (hosted by the Colorado Climate Center).


    Fountain Creek: “It seems to me at some point there will be a balance between water rights and property rights” — Steve Witte

    July 23, 2014
    Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Would a dam on Fountain Creek make a difference in a situation such as last week’s drainage along the Arkansas River?

    “It is something we need to talk about,” Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte said Monday, looking back at a wild ride of a week on the river. “It’s a discussion that needs to take place. It seems to me at some point there will be a balance between water rights and property rights.”

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable earlier this month turned away a grant request from the Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District to study the practical effects of building a dam or system of detention ponds on Fountain Creek.

    Chief among objections: the damage to junior water rights. By changing the peak flow on Fountain Creek floods — delaying the time it takes water to reach points downstream — junior water rights might not come into priority.

    On the other hand, the peak flows that came crashing off the prairie into already full canals caused three of them to blow out after storms early last week.

    “We already have an example, Pueblo Dam, of how we can reduce flood damage,” Witte said. “On the South Platte, they already are using upstream, out-of-priority storage. They use the water where it exists and determines who gets it later.”

    Answering the basic question of whether those types of programs might work on Fountain Creek — the largest single tributary to the Arkansas River in Colorado — needs to be explored. Otherwise the only option to catch floodwater below Lake Pueblo is John Martin Reservoir, Witte said.

    “I hope they’ll come back with a revised request,” he said.

    One of the problems with last week’s storms is that much of the water was flowing in from unmeasured creeks and gullies. There are no gauges on Chico Creek or Kramer Creek, both a few miles east of Pueblo. Chico Creek boosts flows past the Avondale gauge, but no one can be sure just how much is being contributed to the river. The break in the Colorado Canal was caused by heavy flows on Kramer Creek near Nepesta.

    “We were just flying blind,” said Witte, who witnessed the flooding at Nepesta.

    The water from several tributaries hit the Arkansas River at the same time, creating “waves” that peaked quickly and then subsided. Some falsely high readings caused unnecessary worries downstream, where no major flooding occurred.

    While the system of satellite river gauges has grown in the past 25 years, and provide easy access to information on the Internet, some malfunctioned during last week’s storms. Division of Water Resources staff scrambled to find out what was happening.

    “I think we’ve improved, but there is still an element of human judgment,” Witte said. “We need to have people on the ground to verify if our gauges are accurate.”

    More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


    Snowmass: Colorado Water Congress summer meeting “Rallying Our Water Community” August 20-22

    July 23, 2014
    Westin Snowmass Resort

    Westin Snowmass Resort

    From email from the Colorado Water Congress (Doug Kemper):

    Excitement continues to build for our 2014 Summer Conference and Membership Meeting. It will be held at the Westin Snowmass Resort, August 20-22. Our theme this year is “Rallying Our Water Community.” To register please visit: Conference Registration.

    We will know in a couple of weeks if enough signatures have been gathered to place Initiative 89, Local Government Regulation of the Environment, on the 2014 Ballot. Whether it does or not, the water community will need to develop a greater public presence on these issues. Our conference is designed to help develop your advocacy skills and knowledge base.

    We want to ensure we are focused on our member’s priorities when the Water Congress Board sets our priorities this fall. Summer Conference activities are designed to give you the opportunity to provide direct input to our leadership. We hope that you will take this chance to engage with us.

    Our exciting program will again include a session with the Water Resources Review Committee. Additional honored guests include both Republican and Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House Third District, and Attorney General. Don’t miss this chance to catch up with colleagues and meet new community members during our POND networking activities.

    Highlights of our unique program sessions include:

    Strategies for Finding Your Voice
    Do you have adequate tools to advocate on behalf of Colorado’s water community? Practice conveying your message with other attendees and workshop leaders.

    Senator Udall, Congressman Gardner, Congressman Tipton, and Former State Senator Tapia
    We are pleased to host candidates for some of our top political offices as they address issues of keen importance to Colorado’s water community.

    Costs of Doing the Right Thing
    As we plan for our water allocation in the future, we rarely examine the full social and economic costs, including burdens on individual ratepayers. This panel will examine those costs, along with a brief overview of other economic challenges currently faced by Colorado water providers.

    Mono Lake
    For 100 years, the L.A. Aqueduct has been the source of legend and controversy. Today, drought imperils much of California’s water supply. How is Los Angeles handling the drought within the confines of a Public Trust Doctrine?

    Mitigation for Transbasin Diversion
    Past Aspinall Water Leaders will discuss historic transbasin water projects and their mitigation. What can we learn from the past?

    We are looking forward to seeing you in Snowmass, August 20-22. Additional conference information and registration can be found at: Conference Information.

    More education coverage here.


    Big Thompson River restoration meeting set July 31 — Loveland Reporter-Herald

    July 23, 2014
    Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water

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

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

    A Big Thompson River master planning meeting will be held at 6-8 p.m. Thursday, July 31, at the Thompson School District Administration Building, 800 S. Taft Ave.

    The third in a series of meetings held to look at options for river restoration after last September’s flood, the session will present preliminary recommendations for restoration of the river and design plans.

    Stakeholders will get the chance to offer feedback.

    For details, call 420-7346 or visit http://bigthompsonriver.org.


    The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch files pilot rotational fallowing application with the CWCB

    July 23, 2014
    Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch is planning a pilot program next year under a 2013 state law encouraging water sharing programs as an alternative to permanent dry-up of farm ground. The plan, filed with the Colorado Water Conservation Board last week, would lease up to 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons) annually from the Catlin Canal to Fowler, Fountain and Security. About 1,128 acres would be dried up on a rotational basis to deliver the water.

    “What we’re trying to do is see if a lease-fallowing program is viable,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We’re trying to keep the water in the Arkansas basin. That’s what it’s all about.”

    The application is the first to be filed under HB1248, passed last year by the state Legislature, which allows the CWCB to look at 10 test projects throughout the state. The projects are supervised by the state water board, with input from the state engineer. It may finally launch Super Ditch pilot projects that have stalled because of drought and second thoughts by farmers.

    The Super Ditch submitted a substitute water supply plan with the state Division of Water Resources in 2012 for a lease-fallowing pilot project with Fountain and Security that failed because there was not enough water to move. The state restrictions that were placed on the project, fueled by objections from other water users, made moving any water in that dry year futile, Winner explained.

    Last year, the Super Ditch was prepared to move some High Line Canal water to Fowler, but the deal was stopped when farmers pulled out. Fowler leased 125 acre-feet of water for $25,000 from the Pueblo Board of Water Works instead.

    Under the plan outlined in the application, Fowler would lease up to 250 acre-feet, while Fountain and Security would lease up to 125 acre-feet each annually.

    State law provides that the plan can be operated for 10 years.

    “I think we’ll try it for a year or two, just to see if lease-fallowing is feasible,” Winner said. “We have to see if we can move water to Lake Pueblo. One of the drawbacks of HB1248 is that it only allows for municipal leasing, but if this works, there’s the possibility for industrial or agricultural leases as well.”

    More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.


    Climate: Has global warming slowed down?

    July 23, 2014

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    Study shows natural variability still a factor in climate change

    op

    op

    Staff Report

    FRISCO — A cool phase of natural climate variability may have canceled out the heat-trapping effects of greenhouse gases the past 15 years, which would explain the so-called global warming slowdown, according to McGill University physicist Shaun Lovejoy.

    In a paper published recently in Geophysical Research Letters, Lovejoy concluded after a statistical analysis of average global temperatures between 1998 and 2013 thatslowdown in global warming during this period is consistent with natural variations in temperature.

    In a paper published this month in Geophysical Research Letters, Lovejoy concludes that a natural cooling fluctuation during this period largely masked the warming effects of a continued increase in man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

    View original 375 more words


    EPA: Our proposal to protect clean water does not regulate puddles and water on driveways and playgrounds

    July 22, 2014

    From the Public News Service (Stephanie Carson):

    Groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and other “big ag” organizations are protesting proposed federal rules that would redefine which bodies of water are regulated under the Clean Water Act.

    Among the exceptions to that protest are farmers represented by the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Bill Midcap, director of external affairs with the union, says he and his peers recognize the importance of maintaining the state’s limited water supply.

    “We’ve broken ranks, but we think that education and clarity of these rules is something ag’s going to need,” says Midcap.

    While opponents of the proposed regulations say they place a burden on the farm community, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union launched a campaign this month called “They Don’t Speak for Me,” intended to underline the fact not all farmers agree with the “big ag” lobby’s opposition to the water rules.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the proposed rule clarifications are needed to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act, and to ensure the ability of a new rule which would still offer exemptions for everyday agricultural activities. EPA representatives have been traveling around Colorado to help farmers understand the proposed regulations, and to demonstrate how the clarifications will enable farmers to continue irrigation of crops.

    Julia McCarthy, environmental life scientist with the EPA, also notes the proposed regulations simply reinstate rules initially put into place in the 1970s.

    “We want to make sure these headwater areas are providing a clean source of water for downstream communities and downstream irrigators so we don’t have issues with high pollution levels in the water that we’re using to water our crops,” says McCarthy.

    The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 to address water pollution, but Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 limited the Clean Water Act to waters deemed “navigable.” The EPA says this has created confusion when it comes to enforcement of water regulations.

    Bill Midcap says he just wants to make sure farmers have a voice as the rules develop.

    “Despite the opposition, these rules are going to move forward,” he says. “So, why not try to get real clarification of how the rules are being written, before they are written?” The EPA has extended their public comment period to Oct. 20.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


    Drought news: It’s no picnic for direct irrigators this season #COdrought

    July 22, 2014


    From The Washington Post (Lydia DePillis):

    At the appointed hour, [Chuck Pointon] turns the head gate at the Fort Lyon Canal, sending water sluicing through ditches bordering the fields. He tracks up and down the rows, adjusting pipes and valves to make sure the water is flowing just right. Almost as soon as he’s got it working, it’s another field’s turn, and he lifts the dams to send water in a different direction. That goes on through the night: If a piece of trash were to block a gate, they could lose thousands of gallons of water, which might leave whole rows of corn lacking the moisture they need to grow.

    They call it “babysitting the water,” for its finicky nature and the sleep they lose over it. And in an age of automation, the Pointons have no machines to help. Without a sprinkler system — which the Pointons couldn’t afford to install, even if they could spare the extra land it takes up — they rely on gravity to spread it across the fields…

    This drought is worse and longer-lasting than anyone here has ever seen — so punishing that it’s pushing people like the Pointons, whose families have survived on the land for decades, to the brink of giving up. Their farm is in an angry red splotch on the USDA’s drought map, indicating sustained, abnormal dryness – less rain fell in the 42 months before May of last year than in the stretch in the mid-1930s now called the Dust Bowl.

    The lingering dryness, combined with the loss of access to the irrigation systems that used to make up for it, is one of the biggest forces dragging America’s rural areas further behind its dynamic cities: While the poverty rate stabilized for metropolitan areas in 2012, it kept growing on farms and in tiny towns, ticking up to 17.7 percent. Rural counties lost people overall — rather than just as a percentage of the U.S. population — for the first time ever from 2010 to 2012. With climate change shortening the wet times and prolonging the dry ones on into the future, it’s unclear that they’ll ever truly recover…

    And it’s not just the weather. Over the years, the farms have also lost a war with fast-growing urban centers: There’s already much less water than there used to be trickling through the surrounding fields, since investors had bought up their water rights — which are normally attached to the land, entitling the owner to take a certain percentage of the water flowing through a river — and profited by flipping them to thirsty cities. Just down the road in Rocky Ford, melon farmers sold their shares to pay off debts in the early 2000s, for tens of thousands of dollars each, leaving the farms baking and dry. In her pessimistic moments, Anita worries about nearby cities damming Fowler Creek to make a reservoir, which could choke off her lifeline as well…

    Anita and Chuck were once part of that younger generation that moved away from these ranchlands. They lived in Denver for seven years, where Anita worked as an accountant — but returned in 1990 to take over her family farm, which Anita finds more satisfying. Still, it’s not been like what she remembered growing up there as a girl. This year, the farm has weathered dust storms the likes of which nobody had seen before: high-velocity clouds of dirt and debris that coated everything in muck.

    “The dirt flows in, and it’s on your walls, and in your car. You can’t do anything. You’re in the house,” Anita shudders. “It’s horrible.” Her grainy cellphone pictures just show farm equipment as smudges in a brown miasma.

    The couple’s financial reserves are wearing thin. Last year, farms fed by the Fort Lyon Canal in the Arkansas Valley got less than half the volume of water they usually do and almost no rain, leaving the land bone-dry. The Pointons sold half the cattle off their land, and leaned on the insurance on their failed corn crop for income.

    If the crops fail again this year, they’ll likely go further into debt. Chuck could go work at the fish hatchery, which he did during a bad spell in 2003, and Anita might focus harder on the joy she feels in watching calves grow up every spring, rather than whether she can afford to keep raising them.

    “There’s a lot of things in play,” Anita said. “After you start laying it out, it’s like, why are we farming?”

    “Because we don’t have enough money to move away,” says Chuck, from the living room, where he’s taking a break from irrigating with a tall glass of ice water.​


    Colorado Water Officials Association (CWOA) conference October 1-3

    July 21, 2014
    Steamboat Springs

    Steamboat Springs

    From email from the Division of Water Resources (Laura Kalafas):

    Hello, we are having our annual Colorado Water Officials Association (CWOA) conference October 1-3, 2014, in Steamboat Springs, CO. Please let me know if your company/organization is interested in being an event sponsor…We would be happy to list your company/organization in our conference program and other publications.

    Click here for the agenda
    Click here for more information
    Click here for the registration form
    Click here for the sponsorship form

    More Colorado Division of Water Resources coverage here.


    Northern Water: The first C-BT Project water was released from Horsetooth Reservoir into the Poudre River on this day 63 yrs ago #ColoradoRiver

    July 21, 2014

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    Horsetooth Reservoir gets its water from a network of Western Slope reservoirs fed by mountain snowmelt. Water is usually pumped up from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir, where gravity eventually pulls it down through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel and into a couple of more reservoirs before it reaches Horsetooth.

    Back in 1951, hundreds of people came to the reservoir to mark the event — it was a long-awaited milestone for farmers and cities along the Front Range, who had survived decades of drought.

    The shuttling of Western Slope water into Horsetooth and the Poudre River is a system that Northern Colorado has been reliant on for decades. In Northern Colorado, the plea for more water started in the Great Depression, when a devastating drought plagued the western and central United States.

    The federal government agreed to come to the aid of Colorado’s farmers and in the late 1930s began building the Colorado-Big Thompson project. Today, the C-BT project supplies Fort Collins with 65 percent of its water.

    I was 4 months and 16 days old at time. I don’t remember the event. More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Public comment period open for Cotter Mill license

    July 21, 2014
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    Public comment is being accepted on the process of licensing the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill until decommissioning is complete. A total of six new documents are available for comment until Sept. 16. The documents outline the radioactive materials license changes that Cotter officials will operate under while cleaning up the mill site.

    The mill has not processed uranium since 2006 and Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are working toward a full cleanup of the site which has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list since 1984. Although the state will not terminate the license until all decommissioning, remediation and reclamation activities are complete, provisions in the license need to change.

    The site can no longer be used to produce yellowcake from uranium and only the Zirconium ore that already is on site will be allowed there. The cleanup of the site will address an impoundment that has been used to store tailings and the recently torn down mill buildings. Cotter officials have agreed to set aside a financial assurance of $17,837,983 to cover the cost of decommissioning activities. In addition, a longterm care fund will cover post-license termination activities. The $250,000 fund was created in 1978 and has grown to $1,018,243 through interest payments.

    The documents pertaining to the license changes and a map of the Cotter Mill site can be viewed at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/2014/14cotterdocs.htm. Comments should be sent to Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the state health department via email at warren.smith@state.co.us or mailed to Smith at Colorado Department of Public Health, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246-1530.

    More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


    COGCC requires changes at injection well after review finds potential linkage to seismic activity

    July 20, 2014

    Deep injection well

    Deep injection well


    From the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has required operators of a wastewater injection site in Weld County to make changes to their well and adjust their disposal activities after determining actions at the location are potentially related to low-level seismic activity nearby.

    On June 23, the COGCC directed NGL Water Solutions DJ LLC* to stop disposing wastewater into the well for a 20-day period while the agency worked with the operator and a team of University of Colorado researchers to determine whether deep injection at the site may be tied to recent seismic activity detected within the general vicinity. Following a 3.2 magnitude event on May 31, seismometers placed by CU recorded other small earthquakes, including one of magnitude 2.6 on June 23.

    Since the shutdown, the COGCC has further analyzed data associated with the injection well, as well as seismic data recorded by a local network of instruments placed and maintained by CU geophysicists. While seismic activity in the area around the well continued during the shutdown period, it occurred at a lower energy level, according to the CU researchers.

    Flow rate tests conducted by NGL indicated a high permeability zone near the bottom of the well that created a preferred pathway for injected wastewater. As a result of the findings, NGL, with approval and oversight from the COGCC, has plugged the basement of the well from a depth of 10,770 feet to 10,360 feet in order to seal off the preferential pathway and to increase the distance between the zone of injection and “basement” rock. These measures are expected to mitigate the potential for future seismic events.

    Beginning Friday, July 18 the COGCC will allow NGL to resume limited injections, at lower pressures and lower volumes, under continued seismic monitoring, to ensure the facility is operating safely. Specifically, the operator will be permitted to inject at an initial maximum rate of 5,000 barrels per day with a maximum pressure of 1,512 psi. After 20 days, the maximum injection rate may be increased to 7,500 barrels a day at the same pressure.

    Continued use of the injection well will be reviewed and may be halted if seismic events within a 2.5-mile radius of the well occur at or above a magnitude of 2.5 – the U.S. Geological Survey’s default threshold for displaying seismic events. CU geophysicists will continue to monitor the location, and the COGCC has required NGL to install a permanent seismometer near the well to allow for real-time monitoring. The company is also required to provide access to the monitor and all its data to the COGCC and any third parties authorized by the agency.

    “We are proceeding with great care, and will be tracking activities at this site closely,” said Matt Lepore, director of the COGCC. “We’re moving slowly and deliberately as we determine the right course for this location.”

    The COGCC is also reviewing a potential violation of the operator’s permitted injection volumes. The matter remains under investigation and any further information on possible enforcement would be contained in a Notice of Alleged Violation from the agency. Such a determination could result in financial penalties against the company.

    The well, SWD C4A, is located east of the Greeley-Weld County Airport. It was permitted by COGCC in March 2013 and injection began in April of 2013.

    More oil and gas coverage here.


    Can we conserve our way out of our supply gap in the #ColoradoRiver Basin? #COWaterPlan

    July 19, 2014

    thehardestworkingriverinthewestcolooradoriver

    Update: I heard from the Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers media guy, Gil Rudawsky. Scroll down to read the update.

    Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers attempt to answer that question with a new report. Here’s their release:

    On July 17 2014, Western Resource Advocates joined with American Rivers to release a new report that identifies conservation, reuse and other innovative solutions that could eliminate Western water shortages stemming from the over-taxed and stressed Colorado River. The report defines five cost-effective and clearly defined solutions that – if implemented at a larger scale across the basin – could meet the water needs of the West’s business, agricultural and growing population through 2060.

    The Hardest Working River in the West: Common-Sense Solutions for a Reliable Water Future for the Colorado River Basin provides a comprehensive package of proven methods to conserve water.

  • Download the Executive Summary
  • Download the Full Report
  • See the full press release
  • The new report estimates that 4.4 million acre-feet of water could be saved and made available for other uses if these proven methods are implemented throughout the basin – more than enough water to meet projected growth in water needs in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, for the next half-century.

    This report comes at a critical time for Western States with record droughts, depleted reservoirs hitting all-time lows, and a growing population increasing water demands.

    “Our report showcases the ‘All-Star’ water solutions – actions that are proven, cost-effective and ready to meet our current and future water needs,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “The fact is, there is a lot of concern about the Colorado River right now but these solutions will work and help everyone – from agriculture to growing cities –

    “There is a widening water gap creating 3.8 million acre-feet of additional water needed to meet the needs of the growing population of the West. This is an enormous amount which, if not carefully managed, could deplete the river and dramatically alter the landscape of the seven basin states,” said Matt Rice, Director of Colorado Basin Programs for American Rivers. “These solutions will ensure the river’s resources meet all future water needs for urban, rural, business and agricultural communities across all seven basin states, while still protecting the natural environment of the West.”

    The five critical steps for solving our current and future water shortages are:

  • Municipal conservation, saving 1.0 million acre-feet through such efforts as improved landscaping techniques, rebate programs that incentivize water-saving devices and standardized water audits
  • Municipal reuse, saving 1.2 million acre-feet through gray water treatment and re-use for irrigation, industrial uses and other purposes
  • Agricultural efficiency and water banking, saving 1.0 million acre-feet via voluntary, compensated improvements in irrigation efficiency and technology, crop shifting and other measures (while avoiding permanently taking agricultural lands out of production)
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency, saving 160 thousand acre-feet using wind, solar PV, and geothermal energy solutions, and new water-efficient thermoelectric power plants
  • Innovative water opportunities, generating up to 1.1 million acre-feet through creative measures such as invasive plant removal, dust-on-snow mitigation and targeted inland desalinization.
  • I’ve got email into their media guy about the dust-on-snow savings in their plan. 400,000 acre-feet is a lot and I haven’t run across an estimate like that. I thought the only historical adjunct for dust mitigation was the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and we certainly didn’t have accurate measurement of snowpack back then. We do know that the act lowered dust levels.

    Update: Gil Rudawsky got back to me with a paragraph from their report, I believe, it’s unclear from his email. At any rate the text reads, “By implementing measures to reduce the accumulation of dust on snow, lower evaporative losses are anticipated.”

    I told him that it’s a long way from “anticipated” to wet water. No one even knows if we can successfully implement dust-on-snow mitigation to the extent needed to back up their number. It’s just a little careless on their part.

    As an aside they also have a weather modification number in their totals. I have not been apprised of solid data from cloud-seeding efforts. That being said many large water providers set aside substantial funds each year for projects.

    I think everyone nowadays agrees that river health should be right up there when setting policy so I think that is one good takeaway from the report.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    The undefined transmountain diversion to be addressed by the Colorado Water plan would be unnecessary under conservation proposals that would keep more water in the Colorado River, two environmental organizations said.

    Five proposals listed by the organizations in “The Hardest Working River” could be of immediate and long-term benefit to the river, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, which issued the report along with American Rivers, which releases an annual report listing endangered rivers.

    Conservation measures “absolutely” could offset the need for new storage in the river, said Matt Rice, director of Colorado conservation for American Rivers, in a conference call with reporters.

    “We’re having a hard enough time keeping waters in the reservoirs as it is” without a new one, Rice said.

    Augmenting Colorado’s water supply from outside sources also wouldn’t help, Rice said, dismissing the idea of new pipes and water projects to deliver water into the state.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is moving ahead on the task of drafting a statewide water plan.

    Front Range water providers have floated the idea of a new transmountain diversion, but have offered no information as to where it might be located. One proposal calls for water to be diverted only during years with heavy runoff.

    Two dozen transmountain diversions now send as many as 600,000 acre feet of water to the east side of the Continental Divide.

    Colorado and the other upper Colorado River basin states are required to send at least 7.4 million acre feet of water per year to Arizona, Nevada and California. Five solutions that American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates are suggesting “would go a long ways toward meeting the needs in the future,” Miller said.

    Taken together, the proposals could keep 4.4 million acre feet in the river, Miller said.

    The proposals call for conservation and reuse of municipal water, with both more efficient fixtures and reduced irrigation of lawns and other outside uses; greater agricultural efficiency and water banking.

    Further, the proposal calls for more efficient water use by the energy industry and the use of rooftop solar and wind sources; and the removal of water-guzzling invasive plants such as tamarisk.

    Xeriscape landscape

    Xeriscape landscape

    From Colorado Public Radio (Ana Hanel):

    The goal is not to divert water from one area to another, said American Rivers’ Matt Rice.

    “We deliberately don’t address and don’t believe that the right approach is with new pipelines and new large-scale water projects, because they’re significantly more expensive,” Rice says.

    The report says millions of people’s drinking water is at risk over the next few decades if demand continues to outpace the Colorado River’s water supply.

    It’ll be important over the next few years for communities to continue to encourage water conservation, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

    “We can look to having landscapes that use more native vegetation, that are smaller in size,” Miller says. “We can greatly decrease the amount of water that’s used outside, which is about half of the water use for most metropolitan areas.”

    Miller said it’ll be important to replicate successful conservation and water-reuse programs in cities throughout the southwest.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Pop quiz — perceptions of water use

    July 19, 2014

    Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

    By Lindsay Weber, Denver Water demand planner

    promolabel_blue_lookPop quiz: Why is it important to know how much water different activities use — like flushing a toilet or taking a shower?

    Answer: Because knowledge is power, and if you know how much water you are using, you can also figure out how much water you can save.

    So, are you up for the challenge? Below are questions about common household indoor uses of water. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, or if you don’t think that they have a major impact on your daily water use, you’re not alone. A recent national study shows that Americans are likely to underestimate the amount of water used by various activities by a factor of two, and are likely to greatly underestimate activities that use a lot of water — such as filling a swimming pool.

    Take the challenge:

     Answers:

    1) B

    In 2011, Denver Water conducted a residential water use study and found that the toilets in our service area have a median volume of 2.4 gallons of water per flush. To save water, you can flush less, but you can also use Denver Water’s rebate program to offset the purchase of a WaterSense-labeled toilet that uses as little as 1.28 or even 1.0 gallons per flush. This is especially important if you have an old, water-guzzling toilet from before 1996 that can use three or more gallons per flush. In…

    View original 276 more words


    Eating the #ColoradoRiver shortage elephant, one bite at a time — John Fleck

    July 19, 2014
    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

    John Fleck lays out a strategy to reduce the long-term shortage on the Colorado. Here’s his report from Inkstain. Here’s an excerpt:

    This line from a paper a few years back by Edella Schlager and Tanya Heikkila may seem obvious, but in the context of current discussions over the future of Colorado River management, it bears repeating:

    A water allocation rule that allocates more water than is available in a river is not well matched to its setting.

    Yup. That in a nutshell is the problem highlighted by this oft-revisited Bureau of Reclamation slide demonstrating how the Lower Colorado River Basin’s water budget works. Everyone here is following the rules, living within their legal allocation, and Lake Mead keeps dropping because the Law of the River has allocated more water than is available in the river.

    This is the critical thing to understand as we see the beginnings of the new “Colorado River System Conservation Program” taking shape, which would create a framework to pay farmers to leave water in the river. It’s not enough to simply save water. The way we go about it must be embedded within, and take into account, the rules governing allocation and distributions of Colorado River water…

    The 1990-2003 experience suggests that the water conservation piece of this may be the easy part. As a nice new Western Resource Advocates white paper explains, we know how to conserve the water. The key piece here, and the reason the System Conservation Program is so interesting and important, is that we need to get the water allocation rules and river management policies right in order to cause those conservation savings to happen.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Northern Water opts for gradual rate increase — Fort Collins Coloradoan

    July 18, 2014
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District will increase the cost of its water step-by-step over 2016 and 2017, which will mean 28 percent cost increase per year for cities like Fort Collins.

    The district’s board came to a decision about the rate increases on July 11, after months of considering the best way to hike prices to balance out the district’s budget. The board initially considered a more than 40 percent increase in 2016, but decided to compromise with cities and other water users concerned that such drastic increases would harm their finances.

    Fort Collins Utilities, which now gets the bulk of its water from the district, says that in the short term customers’ utility rates will not be affected…

    For 2015, allotment prices for cities were set at $30.50 per acre foot, up from $28. While that cost will only increase for cities over the next few years, irrigators will face a 61 percent increase in allotment costs in 2016 and 2017.

    Fort Collins Utilities directly owns 18,855 units in addition to about 14,000 units it leases from the North Poudre Irrigation Co. But, in terms of actual use for 2014, the city has used 14,900 acre feet of water since Nov. 1, when the water year begins.

    After the High Park Fire, Utilities became even more reliant on C-BT water since the Poudre River, the city’s other water source, was filled with fire and flood debris. This year, the city gets about 65 percent of its water from Northern Water, and 35 percent from the Poudre.

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

    Costs are expected to increase every year until 2018, when municipal and industrial C-BT users will be charged $53.10 per unit and agricultural users will be charged $30.20 per unit. That represents a nearly 90 percent increase for municipalities and 202 percent increase for agricultural users.

    The city of Loveland owns 12,118 units of C-BT water, 5,112 of which are fixed at a rate of $1.50 per unit that will not change.

    The increase for Loveland’s remaining 7,006 open-rate units will cost the city about $176,000 more by 2018. Loveland Water and Power staff will budget for the increase in the coming years, senior water resources engineer Larry Howard said.

    “It’s real money, but it’s not something that’s devastating to the utility or something,” Howard said.

    Next year, rates are set to increase by 9 percent. That’s a manageable increase that will not require rate increases for Loveland Water and Power customers, Howard said.

    Whether customers will see an impact from the increase in future years is not known.

    “When we do our cost of service study next year, the cost increase will be taken into account, along with any other changes in our costs,” Utility Accounting Manager Jim Lees said.

    The city of Loveland’s primary two sources of water are the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir and water diverted directly from the Big Thompson River at the Big Dam.

    “We generally rely on those each year and then start filling in with C-BT and Windy Gap water,” Howard said. “It depends on the year and how much we need.”

    Depending on conditions year to year, the city rents C-BT water to farmers, so Howard said that could help to absorb the cost of the rate increases over the next few years.

    Brian Werner, Northern Water’s public information officer, said that the increases are the result of a comprehensive study that started last year.

    “The cost of doing business is going up,” Werner said. “Our management has charged us with looking at where we can control costs.”

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    NOAA: Climate data from air, land, sea and ice in 2013 reflect trends of a warming planet

    July 18, 2014

    SOTC2013Cover

    Here’s the latest State of the Climate release from NOAA:

    In 2013, the vast majority of worldwide climate indicators—greenhouse gases, sea levels, global temperatures, etc.—continued to reflect trends of a warmer planet, according to the indicators assessed in the State of the Climate in 2013 report, released online today by the American Meteorological Society.

    Scientists from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., served as the lead editors of the report, which was compiled by 425 scientists from 57 countries around the world (highlights, visuals, full report). It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on air, land, sea, and ice.

    “These findings reinforce what scientists for decades have observed: that our planet is becoming a warmer place,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D. “This report provides the foundational information we need to develop tools and services for communities, business, and nations to prepare for, and build resilience to, the impacts of climate change.”

    The report uses dozens of climate indicators to track patterns, changes, and trends of the global climate system, including greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover. These indicators often reflect many thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets. The report also details cases of unusual and extreme regional events, such as Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated portions of Southeast Asia in November 2013.

    Highlights:

  • Greenhouse gases continued to climb: Major greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide, continued to rise during 2013, once again reaching historic high values. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations increased by 2.8 ppm in 2013, reaching a global average of 395.3 ppm for the year. At the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the daily concentration of CO2 exceeded 400 ppm on May 9 for the first time since measurements began at the site in 1958. This milestone follows observational sites in the Arctic that observed this CO2 threshold of 400 ppm in spring 2012.
  • Warm temperature trends continued near the Earth’s surface: Four major independent datasets show 2013 was among the warmest years on record, ranking between second and sixth depending upon the dataset used. In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia observed its warmest year on record, while Argentina had its second warmest and New Zealand its third warmest.
  • Sea surface temperatures increased: Four independent datasets indicate that the globally averaged sea surface temperature for 2013 was among the 10 warmest on record. El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-neutral conditions in the eastern central Pacific Ocean and a negative Pacific decadal oscillation pattern in the North Pacific. The North Pacific was record warm for 2013.
  • Sea level continued to rise: Global mean sea level continued to rise during 2013, on pace with a trend of 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year over the past two decades.
  • The Arctic continued to warm; sea ice extent remained low: The Arctic observed its seventh warmest year since records began in the early 20th century. Record high temperatures were measured at 20-meter depth at permafrost stations in Alaska. Arctic sea ice extent was the sixth lowest since satellite observations began in 1979. All seven lowest sea ice extents on record have occurred in the past seven years.
  • Antarctic sea ice extent reached record high for second year in a row; South Pole station set record high temperature: The Antarctic maximum sea ice extent reached a record high of 7.56 million square miles on October 1. This is 0.7 percent higher than the previous record high extent of 7.51 million square miles that occurred in 2012 and 8.6 percent higher than the record low maximum sea ice extent of 6.96 million square miles that occurred in 1986. Near the end of the year, the South Pole had its highest annual temperature since records began in 1957.
  • Tropical cyclones near average overall / Historic Super Typhoon: The number of tropical cyclones during 2013 was slightly above average, with a total of 94 storms, in comparison to the 1981-2010 average of 89. The North Atlantic Basin had its quietest season since 1994. However, in the Western North Pacific Basin, Super Typhoon Haiyan – the deadliest cyclone of 2013 – had the highest wind speed ever assigned to a tropical cyclone, with one-minute sustained winds estimated to be 196 miles per hour.
  • State of the Climate in 2013 is the 24th edition in a peer-reviewed series published annually as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The journal makes the full report openly available online.

    “State of the Climate is vital to documenting the world’s climate,” said Dr. Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director. “AMS members in all parts of the world contribute to this NOAA-led effort to give the public a detailed scientific snapshot of what’s happening in our world and builds on prior reports we’ve published.”


    The Lower Ark District approves letter to the EPA about new rule as “water grab”

    July 18, 2014
    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A district formed to protect water in the Lower Arkansas Valley plans to weigh in on proposed rules that some say amount to a federal water grab. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District voted Wednesday to send a formal comment to the Environmental Protection Agency on its proposed Waters of the United States, claiming that it goes too far in regulating wetlands and even groundwater connected to streams.

    The rules are an attempt to resolve conflicting U.S. Supreme Court decisions that center on the issue of “navigable waters.”

    “East of the Mississippi River, all waters may be navigable, but it doesn’t make sense for the arid West,” said Mark Pifher, the Arkansas River basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Quality Commission. Pifher, a Colorado Springs Utilities executive, typically attends Lower Ark meetings to update the Lower Ark on stormwater issues. He recently testified against the rule in Washington, D.C., on behalf of municipal and agricultural water interests.

    Leroy Mauch, the Prowers County director on the Lower Ark board, urged the board to jump into the federal fray.

    “We need to research this and send out a letter objecting to this,” Mauch said.

    Wayne Whittaker, the Otero County director, said the new policy sounds like continuation of years of federal attempts to insert control into state water issues.

    Most water groups in the West have taken a position that the rules are too intrusive. An exception is the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, which claims the rules have sufficient exemptions that protect agriculture.

    Some in Congress are backing legislation that would simply not fund enforcement of the policy.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Activities on several fronts are aimed at improving surface sprinkler irrigation in the Lower Arkansas Valley. Several studies are aimed at reducing the obligation of farmers in group plans, known as Rule 10 plans, under state consumptive use rules designed to prevent expanded water use through increased farm efficiencies. Sprinklers have been the most effected by the rules, although drip irrigation, ditch lining and other methods are accounted for as well.

    On Wednesday, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District reviewed its projects that aim at the rules:

    A $70,000 state grant looking at the legal implications of using flood irrigation water rights decreed for the same ground as sprinklers as augmentation water. The district has suggested legislation to allow this, but it so far has not been introduced.

    A $175,000 proposed state grant to determine if tailwater measurements in state irrigation models are too high.

    A $120,000 study to determine if leakage from ponds that supply water to surface-fed sprinklers is too high.

    The goal is to reduce the obligation and find sustainable sources of replacement water, said General Manager Jay Winner.

    “These are parallel paths,” he told the board. “The day is coming when you won’t be able to buy water on the spot market.”

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


    Runoff news: 950 cfs in Black Canyon

    July 17, 2014
    Black Canyon via the National Park Service

    Black Canyon via the National Park Service

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Flows at the Whitewater gage on the lower Gunnison River are right at the baseflow target of 1500 cfs and the forecasts show the river flows trending downward over the next several days. Therefore releases at Crystal will be increased by 100 cfs today, July 17th. This should result in flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon of around 950 cfs.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Despite all the rain last night, we have not seen any operational changes at Pueblo Dam. The rain was largely downstream of the reservoir. Pueblo is still around 60% full and operating normally.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Just a quick update on Granby spill releases.

    We had more rain on the East Slope last night. As a result, we once again shut down diversions through the Adams Tunnel. Without the tunnel pulling water from Granby Reservoir to the east, more water is now being released to the west at Granby Dam to the Colorado River.

    Granby releases bumped up to about 630 cfs. That release is a combination of what is going through the river gate and what is coming over the spillway. The river gate is releasing about 430 cfs; the remainder is coming over the spillway.

    Later this afternoon, the total release is expected to drop down to about 530 cfs. The plan is to maintain the 530 cfs release through the night into tomorrow.


    Drought news: Wetter May and June along with start of the monsoon allow for improvement in New Mexico and Colorado #COdrought

    July 17, 2014

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

    Summary

    During the past 7-days, a series of slow-moving cold fronts traversed the eastern two-thirds of the Nation, triggering numerous and widespread showers and thunderstorms. Areas that recorded over 2 inches of rain for the week included portions of the central Plains, Midwest, Tennessee Valley, lower Delta, the Appalachians, most of Florida, the coastal Carolinas, and the mid-Atlantic. A northward surge of monsoonal moisture into the Southwest brought welcome rainfall to portions of the Four Corners States and Nevada, including more than 2 inches in southern and eastern Arizona, western New Mexico, and eastern Colorado. Unfortunately, hot and dry weather enveloped much of the Far West, including California. In the Northwest, temperatures averaged 8 to 12oF above normal with highs in the 90’s and 100’s, and numerous wild fires were reported. In Puerto Rico, scattered showers fell across the northern and eastern sections of the island, but dry weather prevailed in the southwest as D0 developed there. Scattered showers on Hawaii were enough to maintain conditions.

    Southern and Central Plains

    Similar to the middle Missouri Valley (e.g. Nebraska), southeastward moving thunderstorms dumped heavy rain (>2 inches) on swaths of central Kansas into eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, providing improvement where the greatest rains fell. In central Kansas, D2 replaced D3 as both short and medium-term (to 6-months) surpluses existed. In Oklahoma, D3 and D2 were improved by 1-category in the northeast, D2 was chipped away in central sections, and D0 was eliminated in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas. However, the southwestern section of Oklahoma observed dry and warm weather, justifying a small expansion of D2 there. In Texas, it was a relatively dry week, following a wet May and near-normal June. Accordingly, only small changes were made, with a slight reduction of D4 and D2 in the Panhandle, some trimming of the D0 along the western Gulf Coast, and slight downgrades in southwestern, south-central, and extreme south Texas. Although Oklahoma’s winter wheat crop was estimated to be the smallest since 1957 (51 million bushels) and its 17 bushels per acre yield matched 1967 (due to drought and freezes), summer row crops and pastures were rated much better, with the worst conditions in the west. Similarly, Texas crops were doing okay, with oats, cotton, and sorghum rated 28, 23, and 9% poor or very poor, respectively, and pastures and ranges at 22%, generally better off than the past several years.

    Southwest and Great Basin

    With much of California in either D3 or D4 and May-September normally dry, there is not much more room for further deterioration, at least during the dry season. With that said, however, further investigation of the long-term (36-month) deficits in southern California east of San Diego were similar to conditions to the north, along with overall impacts. Therefore, D3 was expanded east of San Diego to include the mountains, and to cities such as Riverside and San Bernardino. With June in the books, NCDC rankings for California for the July 2013-June 2014 period were the warmest and 3rd driest since 1895. The only drier July-June periods were in 1923-24 and 1976-77. This is the first time California experienced 3 consecutive years in the top 20 for dryness: 2011-12 ranked 20th, 2012-13 ranked 18th, and statewide precipitation has averaged 67% of normal during this 3-year period, and was just 56% of normal in 2013-14. Fortunately California’s reservoirs hold more water than they did in 1977 when the state experienced its 4th and 2nd driest years on record from July 1975-June 1977. However, a recent study estimated that this drought will cost California $2.2 billion in 2014, with a loss of over 17,000 agricultural jobs.

    In contrast, a robust start to the July southwest monsoon was seen in parts of the Southwest. More than 2 inches of rain fell on central and southeastern Arizona, much of western and central New Mexico, and most of southern and eastern Colorado. Totals were much lower (<0.5 inches) in southwestern Arizona, southeastern California, most of Nevada and Utah, western Colorado, and southeastern New Mexico. Since this was the first wet week in Arizona, only small improvements were made where the largest rains fell (southern sections). In New Mexico and Colorado, wetter weather back in May and June, plus this week’s rains, allowed for larger and more significant 1-category improvements as both short and medium-term (to 180-days) surpluses existed, albeit somewhat tempered in New Mexico and southeastern Colorado by 2- and 3-year deficits. Fortunately, over 2 inches of rain fell on D4 areas of eastern Crowley, northeastern Otero, and northwestern Bent counties, improving conditions to D3 there, while just to the south, similar totals upgraded conditions from D3 to D2 (southern sections of Otero and Bent and northern Las Animas). Eastern Colorado and adjacent western Kansas also saw a 1-category improvement with additional rains this week. Elsewhere, status-quo prevailed.

    Looking Ahead
    During July 17-21, moderate to heavy rains are expected from the central Rockies southeastward to the lower Delta, and then into the Southeast during Days 6-7. Florida should also see moderate rains. The largest amounts (3 to 6 inches) for the 5-day period are forecast for the Red River Valley and eastward into Arkansas. The West will be seasonably dry, and the southwest monsoon is predicted to be quiet, with only light totals (<0.5 inches) in eastern Arizona and New Mexico. The northern Rockies and Plains, plus the Midwest, should be mostly dry. Subnormal temperatures are forecast for the West Coast and eastern half of the Nation, with above-normal readings expected in the Rockies and northern Plains.

    For the ensuing 5-day period, July 22-26, the odds favor above-median precipitation in the eastern half of the U.S., Pacific Northwest, and northern Alaska, with below-median rainfall likely in the Great Basin, Rockies, High Plains, and south Texas. Temperatures are expected to average below normal in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, but likely to be above-median in the Southwest, Rockies, Plains, Great Lakes region, and New England.


    EPA: Proposed rule to protect clean water — exclusions and exemptions for agriculture will not change

    July 17, 2014

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