Fort Morgan kicks in another $45,000 for the Northern Integrated Supply Project

July 17, 2014
Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative

Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative

From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

Fort Morgan City Council members unanimously approved an extra $45,000 for the Northern Integrated Supply Project at their regular meeting Tuesday night.

Many of the necessary reports and studies for the water project are nearly done, but that effort cost more than anticipated, said Brent Nation, water resources and utilities director for the city.

Fort Morgan had paid the project $90,000 earlier this year, which is essentially the dues for the project, but the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District asked for an adjustment to the dues to pay for the studies that have been done recently, he said.

The city of Fort Morgan has a 9 percent share of the project, which will come to about 3,600 acre feet of water the city could tap when the NISP reservoirs are completed, Nation said…

Altogether, NISP is expected to cost $500 million, Nation said, and Fort Morgan’s share would cost $40 million.

Once the supplemental draft environmental impact statement is done, which could be soon, NISP will begin thinking about starting construction, said Fort Morgan City Manager Jeff Wells…

Once the environmental impact report is published, there will be a period of public review and public meetings, Nation said.

There are those who are opposed to the project, and they will come out to say so, he said. However, this will also be an opportunity for supporters to say why they want NISP.

Nation said it is encouraging to be at this point in the project after 10 years of work.

Wells said Fort Morgan has spent about $1.2 million on the project over the past 10 years…

McAlister noted that there are a number of municipalities on the plains that have serious water supply problems, and Fort Morgan must do something or it could have similar problems.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.


We must make sure Weld County’s voice is heard in water planning effort — The Greeley Tribune #COWaterPlan

July 17, 2014

lowersouthplatteriver

The Greeley Tribune editorial staff weighs in on the Colorado Water Plan:

We know that readers’ eyes tend to gloss over when we write about water issues in northern Colorado. One almost needs to go through four years of law school, with an emphasis on water law, to truly understand the complicated system that provides water throughout our state.

But we would strongly suggest that readers should pay attention to the South Platte Basin Roundtable, which is a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to address water issues and plan for the water future of northeastern Colorado.

We won’t blame you for being bored by the topic. But the truth is, the availability of water — or the lack thereof — probably will have more to do with the future of our region than any other issue.

The South Platte water plan is part of a statewide effort, coordinated by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is piecing together the South Platte Roundtables plans with seven other roundtables around the state, to create a comprehensive water plan by the end of 2015.

The South Platte Roundtable’s work outlines how agriculture, cities and industries can coexist in the future. The plan for northeastern Colorado is nearing completion, and probably will be released to the public by late July.

Once the draft plan is released, the Colorado Conservation Board wants the public’s input. That should be our cue to pay attention and participate.

The South Platte Basin includes six of the state’s 10 top ag-producing counties, including Weld County, which ranks ninth nationally for its value of production. Three of the other top 10 are also in northeast Colorado in the nearby Republican River Basin, which is impacted by South Platte basin functions.

Also, eight of the 10 largest cities in Colorado are in the South Platte basin, including Denver and Aurora. That’s why the South Platte and Metro roundtables are combining their implementation plans.

Because of that, and continued growth along the northern Front Range and in the metro Denver area, the South Platte basin faces the biggest expected water shortages in the state.

“With each basin having its own interests and each facing its respective challenges, it’s going to be a Herculean effort … to bring all of these together without something getting lost,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees the largest water-delivery system in northern Colorado and is working to put in place more water-storage projects. “Each basin has put in a lot of time and thought into their plans, and to see something get lost along the way going forward would be tough for any of us.”

If you only pay attention to one water discussion this summer, make sure this is the one.

We must make sure our eyes are clear and are voices are loud to help shape the future of Greeley, Weld County and northern Colorado in a real and direct way.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

July 16, 2014
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation July 1 to July 15, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation July 1 to July 15, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center

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


Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

July 16, 2014


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Colorado Water Congress webinar — today: The Story of SB-023 #COleg

July 16, 2014
Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

From the Colorado Water Congress:

SB14-023, Transfer Water Efficiency Savings to Instream Use, more commonly known as the “Ag Efficiency Bill” gained both controversy and publicity during the 2014 legislative session. On July 16th from 12:00 to 1:30 pm, the Colorado Water Congress will offer an informational webinar providing factual overview of the bill’s contents, intention, and process.

The presentation will include an introduction from the bill sponsor, Senator Gail Schwartz, an overview of the bill from Kevin Rein, Deputy State Engineer, and a narration of the bill’s long journey with Bruce Whitehead of Southwestern Water Conservation District and Aaron Citron of the Environmental Defense Fund. This is a not-to-miss opportunity whether you want to learn the facts about SB14-023 or you just want to better understand how a bill becomes a law.

Click here to register.


Forest Service ‘Groundwater Directive’ prompts questions from Western Governors on state authority, science

July 16, 2014
Fen photo via the USFS

Fen photo via the USFS

From the Western Governors Association:

Western Governors have expressed concern to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the United States Forest Service’s (USFS) recent Proposed Directive on Groundwater Resource Management.

Western states are the exclusive authority for allocating, administering, protecting and developing groundwater resources, and they are responsible for water supply planning within their boundaries. That authority was recognized by Congress in the Desert Land Act of 1877 and reasserted in a 1935 Supreme Court ruling.

Despite that background, the Proposed Directive only identifies states as “potentially affected parties” and asserts that the proposed actions would “not have substantial direct effects on the states.”

An initial review of the Proposed Directive, however, leads Western Governors to believe that this measure could have significant implications for states and their groundwater resources. (Read our letter)

As a result, the Governors are requesting that USFS seek “authentic partnership” with the states to help achieve policies that reflect both the legal division of power and the on-the-ground realities of the region. In addition, the letter from the Western Governors’ Association — signed by WGA Chairman and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Vice Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval — also asks a number of questions, including:

  • Given the legislative and legal context, what is the legal basis for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and USFS assertion of federal authority in the context of the Proposed Directive?
  • How will USFS ensure that the Proposed Directive will not infringe upon, abrogate, or in any way interfere with states’ exclusive authority to allocate and administer rights to the use of groundwater?
  • How will definitions be established, particularly regarding the definition of “groundwater-dependent ecosystems?” Will states be able to weigh in with information regarding the unique hydrology within certain areas?
  • To read all of the Western Governors’ questions, download our letter.

    More groundwater coverage here.


    CWCB: Basin implementation plan presentations will dominate today’s board meeting agenda #COWaterPlan

    July 16, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Plans that detail the needs of water users in each of the state’s eight river basins and the Denver metro area will be studied today by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The board, meeting in Rangely, will spend the entire day looking at the plans, beginning with the Arkansas River basin.

    The CWCB also will look at the Interbasin Compact Committee’s Conceptual Agreement.

    All of those reports feed into a state water plan that was ordered last year by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Hickenlooper has asked the CWCB to have a draft plan on the governor’s desk in December, whether he or Republican nominee Bob Beauprez is elected in November.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable held about 20 meetings during the last three months soliciting comments. It looks at how to meet the urban gap in the Arkansas River basin while preserving agricultural, recreational and environmental water interests.

    Most of the urban gap is driven by growth in El Paso County.

    More meetings on the state water plan also are planned by the Legislature’s Interim Water Resources Committee. It will have its public outreach meeting in Pueblo from 9 a.m.-noon Aug. 29 at the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Pueblo Board of Water Works board meeting recap

    July 16, 2014
    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs will be taking a more regional approach and looking at risk factors as it develops its 50-year water plan. That’s a shift from the 1996 water resources plan that focused solely on supply and led to Southern Delivery System, said Brett Gracely, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities.

    “We are seriously evaluating the timing of future SDS components,” Gracely told the Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday.

    Utilities is updating the plan that will determine its actions in water development after SDS comes online in 2016. The plan will look at watershed health, fire vulnerability and climate change, as well as social values and tradeoffs. It also will incorporate traditional factors like water supply, demand and quality.

    “Because of changes in technology and software, we can run thousands of scenarios through our models,” Gracely said.

    Another key difference is that Colorado Springs Utilities is not planning on building another $1 billion pipeline as a result of this plan, but more carefully evaluating its options after SDS.

    “It’s a completely blank page,” Gracely said. “But it will have no effect on SDS phase I.”

    The first phase is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, served by three pump stations and a treatment plant. The second phase of SDS includes the construction of two reservoirs on Williams Creek southeast of Colorado Springs.

    Water board members Tom Autobee and Kevin McCarthy questioned Gracely on what conservation measures Colorado Springs envisions in order to cut demand. Reduced water use after the 2002 drought has been complemented by a tiered rate structure that makes expanded water use more costly, he explained. Colorado Springs also has dropped minimum landscaping requirements that at one time would have encouraged greater water use.

    “What is your telescope telling you about West Slope imports?” McCarthy asked.

    “Warmer weather is what we’re expecting,” Gracely replied. “Half the (climate) models are showing it will be wetter, and half drier, but they all say it will be warmer.”

    More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


    Arkansas River: Aurora’s planned Box Creek Reservoir stirs questions from Mt. Elbert Water Association members

    July 16, 2014
    Proposed Box Creek Reservoir map including wetland mitigation area in red

    Proposed Box Creek Reservoir map including wetland mitigation area in red

    From The Leadville Herald (Marcia Martinek):

    Members of the Mt. Elbert Water Association had many questions for representatives of the Aurora Water Department Saturday regarding the proposed Box Creek Reservoir. Because of the timing of the processes for planning and then constructing the reservoir, not many answers were available. However the association members now know that they will be informed of what is happening through email, and there will be a representative of Aurora Water at subsequent annual meetings.

    The association held its annual meeting at the Lake County Public Library Saturday morning with 56 in attendance.

    Representing Aurora Water were Gerry Knapp, Aurora resources program manager, and Kathy Kitzmann, senior water resources engineer.

    An early question concerned the Box Creek well that supplies water to the association. Concerns were expressed that the reservoir might impact the well in some way.

    “We have no intent of adversely affecting your well,” Knapp responded. “We couldn’t build the project if we did.”

    In response to later questions about possible decreased river flow and its impact on rafting, he pointed out that any negative impact to river flow as a result of the reservoir cannot occur.

    “What comes in must go out,” he said.

    The pool at the reservoir also would have to be kept at 20 percent except in cases of extreme drought.

    Knapp said that Aurora would be following the National Environmental Policy Act process as set forth by the federal government regarding environmental issues. He made it clear that Aurora is not working with the federal government on the project.
    Other questions centered on the types of recreational activities that would be permitted once the reservoir is built.

    A separate study on appropriate recreation will be done, and Knapp anticipates broad public input. The county commissioners will be responsible for managing recreation on the reservoir although they could turn management over to another entity. Possible recreation could include fishing, boating, camping and more. Some concerns were expressed over ATVs and noise levels.

    Other concerns related to construction activities and dust. The construction period is estimated to be two years. Negative impacts on property values were mentioned by one resident.

    Kitzmann said one issue they’re dealing with is wetland restoration. Aurora has purchased a parcel of land from a private owner that will be restored as wetland to be used as a credit for wetland that would be used in the project.

    No decision has been made on what will happen to the old buildings that exist on the Hallenbeck Ranch where the reservoir will be built. Knapp said some talks are under way with Colorado Mountain College, owner of the Hayden Ranch, about possibly moving some of the buildings there, but no decisions have been made.

    There would be no road over the top of the reservoir dam and, according to Knapp, there are no plans to close the road leading to Pan-Ark subdivision, whose residents are served by the Mount Elbert Water Association.

    “We may have to move it a little bit,” he said.

    The permitting process could begin in one to three years, and is a 10-year-long process, Knapp said. Although there initially was hope that the process would move faster, 2030 was the date given at the meeting for possible completion.

    The Hallenbeck Ranch property was purchased by Lake County in 1998. The county granted Aurora an option to purchase the main portion of the ranch property in January 2001, retaining all water and ditch rights associated with the ranch. The purchase-option agreement stipulates that Aurora will design, construct and operate the reservoir project and manage the surrounding land in combination with the Lake County Open Space Initiative partners.

    Lake County will be able to use 20 percent of Aurora’s operational capacity for storage of its own water.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    NOAA’s Climatic Data Center National Overview for June 2014 is hot off the presses

    July 15, 2014

    significantclimateeventsjune2014noaa
    Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Climate Highlights — June

  • The average temperature for the contiguous U.S. during June was 69.6°F, 1.1°F above the 20th century average, ranking as the 33rd warmest June in the 120-year period of record. The average maximum (daytime) June temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 81.8°F, 0.4°F above the 20th century average, while the average minimum (nighttime) June temperature was 57.4°F, 1.7°F above the 20th century average, tying as the 10th warmest June minimum temperature.
  • Above-average June temperatures were observed along the East Coast and into the Midwest. The Southwest was also warmer than average, where Arizona and California both had their 11th warmest June on record. No state had a top 10 warm June.
    Near-average June temperatures were observed from the central Gulf Coast, through the Central Plains, and into the Northwest. Below-average temperatures were observed in the Northern Rockies and parts of the Northern Plains. No state had a top 10 cool June.
  • Interestingly, in much of the Lower Mississippi Valley and mid-South, afternoon temperatures were below average, while nighttime temperatures were much above average. This likely reflects a relatively wet and cloudy summer month acting to moderate both afternoon and overnight temperatures.
  • The June national precipitation total was 3.62 inches, 0.69 inch above the 20th century average, marking the sixth wettest June on record, and the wettest since 1989.
  • A significant portion of the contiguous U.S. — parts of the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and the Great Plains — had above-average precipitation during June. Eight states had one of their 10 wettest Junes on record, with Minnesota being record wet for the month. The 7.75 inches of precipitation averaged across Minnesota was 3.64 inches above the 20th century average, marking the wettest month of any month for the state, surpassing July 1897 and June 1914 when 7.32 inches of precipitation was observed. In Canton, South Dakota, 19.65 inches of precipitation fell during June, setting a new record among all months for any location in the state, according to the South Dakota State Climatologist.
  • Below-average June precipitation was observed in the Southwest, across parts of the coastal Southeast, and southern New England. Arizona tied its third driest June on record, with 0.01 inch of precipitation, 0.28 inch below the 20th century average; only June 1916 and 1951 were drier.
  • Alaska was much wetter than average during June with a statewide precipitation total 53 percent above the 1971-2000 average, the second wettest June for the state. The wettest June occurred in 1980 when the monthly precipitation was 74 percent above average. Juneau and Fairbanks each had their wettest June on record, while Anchorage had its second wettest.
  • According to the July 1 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 34.0 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down about 3.3 percent compared to the beginning of June.
  • Beneficial rain improved drought conditions by one to three categories across parts of the Midwest and the Central and Southern Plains. Nebraska, which had its fourth wettest June, saw dramatic drought improvement.
  • Warm and dry conditions in parts of the West led to scattered locations experiencing worsening drought conditions. In California, the percent area of the state experiencing exceptional drought, the worst category, expanded to 36.5 percent, up over 11 percent since early June. In the East, abnormally dry conditions expanded in the Tennessee River Valley and southern New England.
    Based on NOAA’s Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index (REDTI), the contiguous U.S. temperature-related energy demand during June was 33 percent above average and the 25th highest in the 1895-2014 period of record.
  • There were more record cool high temperature records (676) than record warm high temperature records (391), but warm nighttime temperatures dominated with more record warm low temperatures (1257) than record cold low temperatures (344). When aggregated together, there were more than one and a half times as many record warm daily highs and lows (1648) as record cold daily highs and lows (1020).

  • Northern Water board approves rate increase #ColoradoRiver

    July 15, 2014
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    A number of share holders in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado — will see assessment costs sharply increase during the next few years, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board recently decided.

    Although the numbers aren’t set in stone and are subject to change, the board on Friday approved a general outline that over time increases open-assessment fees for municipal and industrial water users from $28 this year to $53.10 by 2018, and increases those fees for agricultural users from $10 this year to $30.20 per unit by 2018.

    The increases won’t apply to those who own fixed-assessment C-BT shares. Those who bought shares before 1959 and still own those shares still pay a fixed assessment of $1.50 per unit. The majority of the city of Greeley’s C-BT shares, for example, are fixed-assessment shares, and won’t be impacted by the changes, according to Brian Werner, public information officer with Northern Water.

    The recently approved uptick for open assessments was made to keep up with the always-increasing expenses at Northern Water, Werner said, noting that the uptick in wildfire-mitigation efforts, water-quality measures and overall regulation, among other expenses, are making it more and more pricey to deliver water from the C-BT’s high-mountain reservoirs to its users across northern Colorado.

    “It’s just another example of how water is getting more and more expensive. There’s no getting around it,” Werner said, noting that, despite Northern Water continuing its efforts to reduce operating costs, the increase in open assessments was needed.

    Increases in water costs are nothing new for users in the state, particularly in northern Colorado, where rapid population growth along the Front Range, large ag use and increased oil-and-gas production have sharply increased demand for water.

    And as supplies have tightened, prices have skyrocketed.

    In January 2013, the price of a water unit in the C-BT Project was about $9,500. Now it’s well over $20,000 per unit.

    But while costs are increasing, Northern water officials stress that, in the global picture, C-BT users are still getting a good deal on good water.

    Werner noted that 1,000 gallons of water is still being delivered to C-BT share holders “for pennies.”

    The C-BT Project collects and delivers on average more than 200,000 acre feet of water each year (about 65 billion gallons). Most of this water is the result of melting snow in the upper Colorado River basin west of the Continental Divide. The project transports the water to the East Slope via a 13.1-mile tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park.

    C-BT water flows to more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land and 860,000 people in portions of eight counties within Northern Water boundaries, according to Northern Water data.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Garfield County Commissioners approve deep injection well

    July 15, 2014
    Deep injection well

    Deep injection well

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Garfield County commissioners on Monday approved an oil and gas wastewater injection well near Battlement Mesa after the company responded to concerns that it could trigger earthquakes.

    Duke Cooley, senior geologist at Ursa Resources, told commissioners there’s been no correlation between oil and gas injection wells and earthquakes in northwest Colorado’s Piceance Basin.

    The Battlement Concerned Citizens group and the Battlement Mesa Service Association, a homeowners group for the unincorporated community, had raised the seismic issue amid mounting concern about an apparent correlation between oil and gas injection wells and earthquakes in several states. Last month, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission suspended operation of an injection well in Weld County after a 3.4 magnitude earthquake struck in the Greeley area May 31, followed by smaller quake in June.

    “It was a wake-up call. It was the first seismic event there in 30 years,” Doug Saxton of Battlement Concerned Citizens told Garfield commissioners.

    He cited what he said is a lack of adequate earthquake monitoring by the U.S. Geological Survey.

    “Nothing under 4.0 (magnitude) really gets their attention,” Saxton said.

    Monitoring sites

    He said the agency’s closest monitoring site is 75 miles from Greeley, and the nearest to Battlement Mesa is in the Paradox Valley. He called for the installation of monitoring equipment in the Battlement area and for Ursa to cease injection activity if a quake occurs.

    But Cooley said a local monitoring station isn’t necessary because Geological Survey equipment can detect quakes of less than 1 magnitude hundreds of miles away.

    Garfield County already has 60 approved injection wells, and injection has occurred in 26 of them since 2013, according to the county’s oil and gas liaison, Kirby Wynn. Saxton said Ursa’s would be the seventh within 10 miles of Battlement Mesa.

    Cooley said seismic activity occurs where there has been geological folding, which in the case of the Piceance Basin is around its margins.

    He also said quakes can occur when water is added that reduces friction along a fault plane where geological compression is occurring, in places like Greeley and Oklahoma. The Piceance Basin, by contrast, is now undergoing geological relaxation after previously having been “folded up,” he said.

    State oversight

    Garfield County has surface authority over injection wells but the state oil and gas commission regulates technical “downhole” aspects of the wells such as injection pressure. Lindy Gwinn of Grand Junction, who consults for the industry, told Garfield commissioners Monday, “I can assure you they turn them down when they are not technically correct and there is any risk.”

    She noted that the commission recently did just that in Mesa County. In 2012 it turned down a proposal for an injection well southeast of Grand Junction out of concern it could contaminate ground and surface water due to its shallow depth, and possibly induce earthquakes at the U.S. Department of Energy’s uranium mill tailings disposal site a few miles away.

    That well would have been less than 2,000 feet deep. Ursa’s would be more than a mile deep.

    In agreeing to approve the well, Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson said, “The COGCC, they kind of go over these injection wells with a fine-tooth comb. … I have faith in the COGCC and their very strict regulations that they have.”

    Commissioner Tom Jankovsky agreed, and said if seismic activity did occur in the area, the county would ask companies to cease all injections until the cause could be determined.

    He also encouraged Ursa to install pipelines to the injection well as soon as possible to reduce truck traffic. Ursa officials indicated they hope to do that soon, and that reduced traffic resulting from being able to inject wastewater rather than otherwise dispose of it would be one of the benefits of the well.

    Said Monique Speakman, who supports the proposal and lives on the property where the well will be operated, “It’s going to eliminate truck traffic, noise, dust levels.”

    Battlement Mesa resident Mary Haygood said she had been concerned about both the truck traffic and seismic aspects of the well, but told Ursa officials Monday, “You have allayed my fears somewhat by your explanation and I thank you for that.”

    Ursa already has spent $2 million to drill the well. It needed to do that to do testing required by the oil and gas commission before it can approve the well. The agency is continuing to review the proposal.

    More oil and gas coverage here.


    The Last Drop: America’s Breadbasket Faces Dire Water Crisis — NBC News

    July 15, 2014
    Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

    Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

    From NBCNews.com (Brian Brown):

    The scope of this mounting crisis is difficult to overstate: The High Plains of Texas are swiftly running out of groundwater supplied by one of the world’s largest aquifers – the Ogallala. A study by Texas Tech University has predicted that if groundwater production goes unabated, vast portions of several counties in the southern High Plains will soon have little water left in the aquifer to be of any practical value.

    The Ogallala Aquifer spreads across eight states, from Texas to South Dakota, covering 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles. It’s the fountain of life not only for much of the Texas Panhandle, but also for the entire American Breadbasket of the Great Plains, a highly-sophisticated, amazingly-productive agricultural region that literally helps feed the world.

    This catastrophic depletion is primarily manmade. By the early eighties, automated center-pivot irrigation devices were in wide use – those familiar spidery-armed wings processing in a circle atop wheeled tripods. This super-sized sprinkler system allowed farmers to water crops more regularly and effectively, which both significantly increased crop yields and precipitously drained the Ogallala.

    Compounding the drawdown has been the nature of the Ogallala itself. Created 10 million years ago, this buried fossil water is–in many places—not recharged by precipitation or surface water. When it’s gone, it’s gone for centuries…

    “The depletion of the Ogallala is an internationally important crisis,” says Burke Griggs, Ph.D., consulting professor at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. “How individual states manage the depletion of that aquifer will obviously have international consequences.”[...]

    “We’re headed for a brick wall at 100 miles per hour,” says James Mahan, Bruce Spinhirne’s father-in-law and a plant physiologist at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service lab in Lubbock. “And, really, the effects of climate change are branches hitting the windshield along the way.”

    From NBCNews.com (Brian Brown):

    Last August, in a still-echoing blockbuster study, Dave Steward, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Kansas State University, informed the $15 billion Kansas agricultural economy that it was on a fast track to oblivion. The reason: The precipitous, calamitous withdrawal rates of the Ogallala Aquifer.

    The Ogallala is little known outside this part of the world, but it’s the primary source of irrigation not just for all of western Kansas, but the entire Great Plains. This gigantic, soaked subterranean sponge – fossil water created 10 million years ago – touches eight states, stretching from Texas all the way up to South Dakota, across 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles.

    The Ogallala supports a highly-sophisticated and amazingly-productive agricultural region critical to the world’s food supply. With the global population increasing, and as other vital aquifers suffer equally dramatic declines, scientists acknowledge that if the farmers here cannot meet ever-growing food demands, billions could starve.

    Steward’s study predicted that nearly 70 percent of the portion of the Ogallala beneath western Kansas will be gone in 50 years. He’s not the kind of person to shout these results; he speaks slowly and carefully. Yet, he has the evident intensity of one who’s serving a greater purpose. “We need to make sure our grandkids and our great grandkids have the capacity to feed themselves,” he says.

    Now the chief executive of the state, himself from a farming family, is using Steward’s report as a call to action.

    “One of the things we [have] to get over … is this tragedy of the commons problem with the Ogallala,” says Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican who at age 29 was the youngest agriculture secretary in state history. “It’s a big common body of water. It’s why the oceans get overfished … You have a common good and then nobody is responsible for it.”

    “That’s one of the key policy issues that you have to get around,” Brownback says in his roomy, towering office at the capitol in Topeka. “Everyone has to take care of this water.”

    In that spirit, a tiny legion of farmers and landowners in the northwest corner of Kansas, where the Rockies begin their rise, have just begun year two of what could be one of the most influential social experiments of this century.

    The group is only 125 in number but controls 63,000 acres of prime farmland in Sheridan County. Collectively, voluntarily, they have enacted a new, stringent five-year water conservation target, backed by the force of law and significant punishments.

    The Local Enhanced Management Act, or LEMA, is the first measure of its kind in the United States. Specifically, the farmers are limiting themselves to a total of 55 inches of irrigated water over five years – an average of 11 inches per year…

    “So now we have the high morality of the need to protect the ecosphere. But it’s legal to rip the tops off mountains. It’s legal to drill in the Arctic. It’s legal to drill in the Gulf. It’s legal to build pipelines. It’s legal to send carbon into the dumping ground called an atmosphere. So we’ve not yet reconciled the high moral with the legal.” [Wes Jackson]

    More Ogallala aquifer coverage here and here.


    Know the facts: Proposed rule to protect clean water — EPA

    July 15, 2014

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


    Climate change: “The fossil-fuel industry…has been able to delay effective action” — Bill McKibben

    July 15, 2014

    Inylchek Glacier Kyrgyzstan

    Inylchek Glacier Kyrgyzstan


    Here’s an essay about the risk of doing nothing about climate change from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Bill McKibben, a writer and activist, has made the most cogent arguments. Two years ago, after crunching the numbers, he concluded that private companies own five times more carbon in the ground than the world can possibly absorb. “On current trajectories, the industry will burn it, and governments will make only small whimpering noises about changing the speed at which it happens,” he wrote in an essay titled “A Call to Arms” that was published in the June 8 issue of Rolling Stone.

    He identifies a clear problem. “The fossil-fuel industry, by virtue of being perhaps the richest enterprise in human history, has been able to delay effective action, almost to the point where it’s too late,” he wrote. [ed. emphasis mine]

    McKibben’s 350.org has been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, which would export Alberta’s bitumen to refineries along the Gulf Coast. It’s largely a symbolic fight, as Michael Levi points out in his book The Power Surge. The tar/oil sands would, if fully developed, elevate atmospheric concentrations of C02 by 60 ppm. At current rates of tar/oil sands mining, that would take 3,000 years, he says. Isolating the climate debate to Alberta’s bitumen, he says, is a mistake.

    But Keystone XL represents business as usual. We need accelerated change. The United States should follow the lead of British Columbia in levying a carbon tax. My impression of B.C.’s tax is that it not precisely the best model. We need a revenue-neutral tax, accelerating over time, giving the private sector clear market signals to instigate changes.

    Henry Paulson, the former treasury secretary in the Bush years, made this case in an 1,800-word essay in the New York Times on June 22. A few days later, a group that includes Paulson, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Stanford’s George Schultz, who is another former treasury secretary, and a number of other high-profile individuals — including billionaire Tom Steyer — released a report titled “The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.”

    More climate change coverage here and here.


    Energy Fuels sells the Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

    July 14, 2014
    Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

    Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

    From the Denver Business Journal (Caitlin Hendee):

    Energy Fuels, which previously had plans to build the nation’s first new uranium mill in 30 years, sold its Piñon Ridge license and several other assets in Western Colorado.

    The Toronto, Canada-based company (TSE: EFR) that has an office in Lakewood bought a large quantity of land in the western part of the state almost five years ago.
    Colorado in May gave the mill the required “radioactive materials handling” license, but company spokesperson Curtis Moore told the DBJ that Energy Fuels wouldn’t begin construction until “market conditions warrant.”

    The company would also need an “air permit” from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to begin the $150 million project.

    The mill has been an area of hot debate for environmental activists, who in March sued the U.S. Forest Service to stop the government from allowing the mill to be built near the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

    Energy Fuels instead diverted plans to build it in Montrose County.

    But the company said it has entered into agreements to sell the license and the Piñon Ridge mill to a private investor group managed by Baobab Asset Management LLC and George Glasier.

    Glasier served as president from 2006 until March of 2010.

    The company said the sale also includes mining assets — such as the Sunday Complex, the Willhunt project, the Sage Mine, the Van 4 mine, the Farmer Girl project, the Dunn project and the San Rafael project — all located along the Colorado-Utah border.

    More nuclear coverage here and here.


    EPA’s efforts to clarify the Clean Water Act upsets some Colorado farmers — Colorado Public Radio

    July 14, 2014

    From Colorado Public Radio (Lesley McClurg):

    “It does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act and is consistent with the Supreme Court’s more narrow reading of Clean Water Act jurisdiction,” the EPA says.

    Yet the proposal is under attack by some the agriculture industry. The National Milk Producers Federation and the American Farm Bureau say the proposal could threaten farming, ranching, homebuilding and energy production.

    Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft worries that the changes could apply to small streams or ditches that cross his ranch in the San Luis Valley.

    “There are many places where that water is diverted into farmer lands from the Rio Grande in the San Luis Valley,” he says. “Because there’s that nexus — that connection — then it is subject to all of the rules in the Clean Water Act, including whether I can put a fence across that ditch; whether I can use herbicides or pesticides. Those are the types of pertinent implications that greatly concern us.”

    EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has been visiting farms throughout the country in an effort to further dialogue about the proposal. The EPA is taking comments on the proposed rule through October.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


    Where our water comes from — Fort Collins Coloradoan

    July 14, 2014

    Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012

    Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012


    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    With Colorado’s water year at its mid-July end and many Northern Colorado reservoirs still flush with the bounty of a plentiful water year, water woes of years past have turned into discussions of how the state will store water in the future.

    In the coming months, the Army Corps of Engineers will release an updated study on the Northern Water Conservancy District’s proposal to expand its water storage capacity near Fort Collins. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build Glade Reservoir northwest of the city, bringing a new reservoir larger than Horsetooth Reservoir to the area.

    Before the release of the study reignites the battle over the potential environmental impacts of expanding Northern Colorado’s water storage capacity, we look at where Fort Collins gets the water that provides the basis for everything from the natural resources residents enjoy to the craft beer they drink…

    Before the High Park Fire, which burned more than 87,000 acres of the Poudre watershed, Fort Collins Utilities split its water sources between the project and the river. But the Poudre’s water has since become filled with fire and flood debris, which prompted a total shutdown of river water for Fort Collins customers.

    Time and the September 2013 floods have cleaned out the river, but the city is still mostly reliant on the C-BT project for more than 60 percent of its water each year.

    Fundamentally, snowmelt fills the many reservoirs in the C-BT project. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which helps manage the project, delivers a certain amount of water to cities like Fort Collins as well as farmers and irrigators — all of whom own hundreds or thousands of acre-feet of the project’s water…

    Here’s a look at where our water comes from.

    THE WESTERN SLOPE

    The water that feeds Colorado — and a vast swath of the nation — begins its downward flow from the Continental Divide high in the Rocky Mountains. In order to harness water that otherwise would flow to the Pacific Ocean, water managers created a vast network of reservoirs, tunnels and canals to reroute Western Slope water to Colorado’s more populous Front Range.

    LAKE GRANBY

    For Fort Collins, and much of the northern Front Range, this is where it all begins. Snowmelt fills this Western Slope reservoir, and the water from it is pumped to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. From there, it’s literally all downhill — gravity pushes water through five reservoirs until it gets to Horsetooth Reservoir, southwest of Fort Collins. This year, due to above-average snowpack, Lake Granby soon will spill over its banks. It can hold up to 540,000 acre-feet of water.

    HORSETOOTH RESERVOIR

    Horsetooth was built along with the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and is a fraction of the size of Lake Granby — it holds about 156,000 acre-feet of water. This is where Fort Collins will get most of its C-BT water, which has traveled through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel, under U.S. Highway 34, and through several reservoirs. Fort Collins Utilities has its only operational water treatment plant at Horsetooth. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 65 percent of its water from the C-BT project.

    THE CACHE LA POUDRE RIVER

    The Poudre River typically provides Fort Collins with 50 percent of its water. But after the High Park Fire polluted the river, Fort Collins has been forced to shut down its Poudre River sources, sometimes for months. The upper part of the river is considered “wild and scenic” — a federal designation. It is also one of the few remaining dam-free rivers in Colorado. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 35 percent of its water from the Poudre.

    CARTER LAKE

    Carter Lake is one of many reservoirs that make up the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Some of Fort Collins’ water can come from this reservoir, but not frequently. Other reservoirs in the system include Grand Lake, Mary’s Lake, Lake Estes and Flatiron Reservoir, to name just a few.

    FORT COLLINS

    Treated water coming into Fort Collins comes from a plant near Horsetooth Reservoir. Since Nov. 1, the city has used about 9,700 acre-feet of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and about 5,200 acre-feet from the Poudre River. Before the High Park Fire, the city typically split its water use between the two sources but has since had to use more C-BT water.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Colorado to get $58 milllion in more federal aid for #COflood recovery — The Denver Post

    July 14, 2014
    Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

    Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

    From The Denver Post (Mark K. Matthews):

    Victims of the deadly floods that ravaged Colorado in September are in line for another $58.2 million in federal aid thanks to an upcoming grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The relief money, which the agency is expected to announce this week, will be available for a broad range of recovery efforts, from fixing homes to repairing local infrastructure.

    And it comes at a time when flood victims across north-central Colorado continue to struggle with the impact of a massive storm that killed at least 10 people and caused more than $3.3 billion in damages, according to disaster officials. An estimated 1,800 homes were destroyed by heavy rains and flooding. Ten months later, nearly 30 families remain in temporary housing, said Tom Schilling, a spokesman for the Colorado Recovery Office.

    “Colorado has pulled together in an incredible way,” Schilling said. “But there still remains a lot to be done to rebuild infrastructure, help families recover and help get economies back on track.”

    That sentiment was echoed by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who jointly announced the new aid money with fellow Colorado Democrat Mark Udall.

    “We knew we’d have a long road to recovery, and we’re making tremendous progress,” said Bennet in a statement.

    The $58.2 million grant adds to the $262.1 million that HUD already has sent to Colorado for recovery efforts, as well as $450 million in federal transportation funding that the state received to deal with storm-caused closures to more than two dozen highways and interstates.

    “This latest allocation is welcome news for Colorado and underscores the critical role HUD has played and will continue to play in helping us to rebuild smarter and stronger,” Udall said.


    Arkansas Basin Roundtable approves $175,000 for tailwater study

    July 14, 2014
    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The state is being asked to help fund a study that looks at farmers’ contentions that estimates for return flows to the Arkansas River are inflated. A standard of 10 percent for tailwater — water that sheets off fields during irrigation before it can soak in — is used in mathematical models adopted during the 24-year Kansas v. Colorado U.S. Supreme Court case under the Arkansas River Compact. Those models also affect consumptive use rules that apply to surface water improvements such as sprinklers or drip irrigation.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable last week forwarded a $175,000 grant request to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to determine if that number is too high.

    “Farmers on the Fort Lyon did not believe 10 percent was really happening,” said Leah Martinsson, a lawyer working with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which is applying for the grant.

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    The ditch is more than 100 miles long and irrigates 94,000 acres and usually water short. That increases the likelihood that the estimate of tailwater runoff is too high, since much of the water never makes it back to the river, she explained. The higher the tailwater number, the greater the obligation from farmers to deliver water to the Arkansas River. So, reducing the figure in the group augmentation plans filed with the state would mean a reduction in the amount of replacement water.

    While the concern of Fort Lyon farmers is the model used in the consumptive use rules, it also could affect the hydrologic-institution model that guides Colorado’s obligation from wells.

    “If we are prepared with good technical data, we will go in and try to change the H-I model,” said Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer with the Division of Water Resources.

    It would not be the first attempt to change the model. The state also is funding an ongoing lysimeter study at Rocky Ford to determine if evapotransporation rates in the Arkansas Valley are higher than assumed in the model.

    Another study is looking at whether ponds that feed sprinklers leak more than the model assumes.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


    The latest climate briefing from the Western Water Assessment is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

    July 12, 2014

    Upper Colorado River Basin June 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center

    Upper Colorado River Basin June 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center


    Click here to go to the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Highlights

  • June was much drier than average across most of the region, with southern Utah and far southwestern Colorado seeing the driest conditions.
  • With the above-average spring-summer runoff in Wyoming and most of Colorado, reservoir storage there has strongly rebounded. Utah and southwestern Colorado saw below-average runoff, and reservoir storage continues to lag compared to average conditions.
  • The NOAA CPC monthly and seasonal outlooks are tilted towards wetter-than-average conditions for our region for the summer and early fall. The PSD ‘SWcast’ is less optimistic about the monsoon season than the CPC outlooks, showing a dry tilt for most of Utah and Colorado.
  • In the past month, the progression of atmospheric and oceanic conditions towards El Niño status has slowed, but an El Niño event is still expected to emerge by fall.

  • County commissioners urge participation in developing the #COWaterPlan

    July 12, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Rachel Richards and Karn Stiegelmeier have penned a guest column that’s running in The Aspen Times. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado needs a State Water Plan for our water resources for many reasons. Colorado’s population is growing rapidly, with estimates that 4 million to 5 million more people will be living here by 2050. Not only do we need to ensure adequate amounts of drinking and municipal water in cities along the Front Range, but we also must maintain a secure supply for our state’s essential agricultural industry and the natural environment that our recreational and tourism economy depends upon, an industry that supports more than 80,000 Colorado jobs and contributes more than $9 billion to our economy.

    Water experts agree the plan must include a serious commitment to conservation as a key strategy to ensure the future of Colorado’s economy and natural resources. In addition to being less harmful to our natural environment, conservation is cost-effective and proven to work.

    With his pending State Water Plan, Hickenlooper has a chance to lead the entire Western region in implementing common-sense water conservation.

    We also hope more Coloradans will to get involved in the development of the State Water Plan. This is our chance to design a blueprint for intelligent growth, thriving economies and healthy rivers that are fundamental to our Rocky Mountain lifestyle. Let’s all agree to put politics aside because the reality is that everyone in both rural and urban Colorado owns this issue. The health of our rivers and streams equals the health of our state.

    To learn more about the State Water Plan, visit http://www.waterforcolorado.org and talk with your elected officials.

    Rachel Richards is a Pitkin County commissioner and former mayor of Aspen. Karn Stiegelmeier is a Summit County commissioner.

    Meanwhile, in other West Slope Colorado Water Plan news, the fight to prevent another transmountain diversion to the peopled side of Colorado is front and center. Here’s a report from Kattey Ortiz writing for KREXTV.com. Here’s an excerpt:

    According to the federal government, levels in Lake Mead are at their lowest since 1937. Lake Powell, a major source of hydro-power for a majority of the west, is less than half-empty.

    “It’s huge. It affects everybody, not just for water, but for the price of power,” said Ute Water General Manager Larry Clever.

    Clever is involved in a “roundtable” process for the Colorado Water Plan, specifically the Colorado River Basin, which serves Mesa County. The 9 roundtables of water basins throughout the state have approximately 30 members to represent the different aspects of their water use, including municipalities, recreational, agricultural and environmental.

    “All that work will be put together as part of the state water plan to look at the state as a whole and say, ‘Where are the big gaps and needs as far as water goes in the state?’” said Grand Junction Water Services Manager Rick Brinkman.

    The Front Range is asking for more water, and the Western Slope isn’t having it.

    “They think that we can build a project where we’ll take water only in our really good years. The problem with that is, it’s the really good years that help us in Lake Powell,” said Clever…

    Clever is also worried that since the west is already shipping enough water to the south, they won’t be able to meet their own needs for water if more is diverted to the east.

    According to Brinkman, the Bureau of Reclamation also uses the money generated from hydro-power at Lake Powell to run other reservoirs, including managing and hiring staff. This too, could be at risk.

    Still, there’s a chance the eastern half of Colorado will advocate for a trans-mountain diversion in the state water plan.

    “It’s going to end up as a fight at some point,” Clever said. “They’re going to say, ‘We’re going to build it.’ And we’re going to be sitting there saying, ‘No.’”

    Plans from all the basins will be submitted to the Water Conservation Board next week, and Governor Hickenlooper won’t see a plan on his desk until December of this year. Any sort of plan won’t be finalized until 2015, and permits to move forward with a trans-mountain diversion could take another 20-40 years.

    From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

    …business owners should be concerned, say experts helping form the Colorado Water Plan, because how the state decides to manage its water has major economic consequences.

    “Consider the value of water,” said Linn Brooks, general manager of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “Guests come here to enjoy our pristine natural environment, and water is really the centerpiece of that environment.”[...]

    As the experts explained, managing water in the West has always been a contentious topic. Before the past decade, there were no fruitful discussions on water policy, much less a consensus on future management, said James Eklund, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    He said that changed about a decade ago when groups began to come together to represent a wide array of interests and all of Colorado’s geographical areas. The goal is to address “the gap” — the amount of water needed by growing communities both in Colorado and the downstream states that depend on Colorado water, and the shortfall in how much water is actually available.

    “The good news is that we’ve acknowledged that problem, and it’s a challenge we’re working on now,” said Chris Treese, of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “(Our water sources are) not bankrupt. Our balance sheet is positive, but our income statement is bleeding red on an annual basis. We’re starting to look at solutions like reusing water. Other states have been doing this for awhile, but it’s still a new concept in Colorado.”

    In addition to the fact that many tourism industries directly depend on a good water supply — think ski resorts, raft and fishing guides and events like the GoPro Mountain Games — the cost of any business could rise if water becomes scarce.

    Treese explained that Colorado and the West has been in a 14-year drought (even with record snow years factored in). If Lake Powell and Lake Mead drop below certain levels, then the reservoirs will be unable to produce the same amount of hydropower. Also, the upper basins may have to cut its own water use in order to send the obligated amounts downstream to states such as California.

    “The estimates are that one year after the reservoirs stop producing electricity, power rates will quintuple,” Treese said. “Nobody wants to see that happen to any of their factors in their businesses and in their homes. Another factor is if we have to curtail our use here to meet our obligations to the lower basin. Both would be economically disastrous to the state.”[...]

    Some businesses are taking action by reducing their emissions and resources use across the board. Miller said that Alpine Bank was rated one of the “50 Greenest Businesses” in the state thanks to its energy reduction program. In 2006, the company aimed to reduce water use at its banks by 10 percent — to date, they’ve exceeded the goal and managed to reduce it by 30 percent.

    Larry Cavanaugh, president of Centennial Bank in Vail, said his bank is in the process of streamlining its resource use as well. As part of the local Actively Green 2015 program, the business is planning to focus on sustainability, an effort that includes reducing water use.

    “I think most people who live here recognize water as a limited resource, but I’m impressed that we appear to have a collaboration that recognizes a future problem. I’m glad we’re addressing this now instead of being reactionary. It bodes well for our state,” Cavanaugh said.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Colorado’s water plan should look outside Colorado’s borders to meet fast-growing demands within, the head of the largest water supplier on the West Slope and the mayor of Grand Junction said Thursday.

    “There’s no water left to take to the Front Range,” said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District, speaking at a discussion of the statewide water plan before an audience of about 30 people in the Grand Vista Hotel.

    The plan should take into account more than diversions of water to the east from the top of the Rocky Mountains, Clever said. It also should consider options such as diverting water from states that have a surplus, such as from spring flooding in the Midwest to helping fund desalination plants in California that would lessen demand there for Colorado River water, Clever said.

    The plan that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to see completed by the end of 2015 is “short-sighted” in that it envisions planning to meet the demands of 2050, Clever said. It could take decades to establish the kinds of relationships necessary to import water from other basins, such as the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Clever said.

    “It’s going to take 30 years at least,” Clever said.

    “There are other places to get water” than the West Slope, Grand Junction Mayor Phyllis Norris said.

    “I think you need to look outside the box and try something else,” she said.

    Clever and Norris spoke during a session on the plan sponsored by the Grand Junction, Rifle and Montrose chambers of commerce, as well as the Colorado Competitive Council and Accelerate Colorado, which represents business and local governments before federal agencies.

    The plan as envisioned now doesn’t include importation of water or other efforts, which he referred to as “augmentation” of the state’s water supply, said James Eklund, who heads up the planning effort as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “We’re not going to get bailed out by some basin that has water,” so Colorado has to look to better manage its own supplies, Eklund said.

    Colorado’s ability to manage its own water resources, however, is under pressure from other states dependent on the Colorado River, and the federal government.

    Federal efforts to acquire water rights from ski areas, control of groundwater and the extension of the Clean Water Act all show that the federal government is angling for a bigger role in water management in Colorado, Eklund said.

    “If we don’t have this conversation,” Eklund said, “then the feds or the lower-basin states are going to have it for us.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here


    Say hello to @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver

    July 12, 2014

    Meanwhile, Northern is looking at big rate increases to coverage operations. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

    Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could rise from $28 to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and from $10 to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to documents from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

    The extra money is needed because Northern Water’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years. Property taxes, which have remained flat since the recession, make up more than half of Northern Water’s revenue, while water-rate revenue accounts for about 20 percent of its funding.

    The agency has coped, up until now, by drawing from cash reserves to fund its operations. Reserve funds are partly intended to help stabilize revenue but are not a sustainable funding approach in the long term, according to Northern Water.

    The agency’s board is expected to decide on short-term rate hikes through 2018 this month. These potential hikes to $52.70 for municipal users and $32.20 for irrigation users would represent the largest dollar increase in Northern Water’s history, although the district has seen similar, double-digit percentage increases in the past.

    “In the early 1980s, there were several years with double-digit increases, similar to what we are looking at now,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

    The rate hikes are essential to maintain infrastructure, according to Northern Water, and experts believe they will lead to additional water conservation. But the higher prices will put pressure on farmers…

    Northern’s customers receive water under two types of contracts: fixed and open rate. The new rate hikes apply to those customers who buy open-rate water. In June, Northern Water board members raised the open-rate assessment 9 percent for next year. The 2015 rate for cities will increase to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit. Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

    Roughly two-thirds of Northern’s water is delivered via open-rate contracts, while one-third is governed by fixed-rate agreements…

    Northern Water isn’t the only water district that has had to raise water rates. The Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which supplies water to areas of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties, also has passed rate-assessment increases in recent years and plans to meet this month to consider additional rate hikes.

    “Our organization is looking at future (operations and maintenance costs) and how do we keep our finances up,” Central Water Executive Director Randy Ray said. “You’ve got regular operations costs like labor, electricity and gasoline for vehicles. Then you also have deferred maintenance.”

    The rate increases come as the nation faces challenges from deteriorating water infrastructure, which will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to fix in order to maintain current water service levels, according to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Customers will pick up the tab mostly through higher water bills.

    Similarly, users of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water will pay higher water bills as a result of the increased rate assessments. Increased revenue from the assessments will help fund Northern Water’s operations and maintenance budget, which accounts for almost half of the water district’s expenses. Northern Water says it needs to make major upgrades to water delivery infrastructure, much of which was built more than 60 years ago.

    Tom Cech, director of One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said higher expenses and a rising population have pressured water supplies, leading to elevated costs. He noted, however, that investments in water infrastructure are critical to maintaining water delivery systems.

    “Look at all the investments that water providers did 100 years ago in our water system: new reservoirs, delivery systems and so forth,” he said. “That’s just the process of keeping up with the costs and population growth.”

    The Northern Board did pass an increase. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Norther Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

    The board of directors for Colorado’s largest water wholesaler Friday passed a historic water-rate hike in terms of dollars, representing a 202 percent increase for agricultural users and 90 percent for municipal users from 2014 through 2018.

    Customers of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District receive water units under two types of contracts: open rate and fixed. By 2018, the open-rate assessment for a unit of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will cost $30.20 for agricultural users, up from $10 this year, and $53.10, up from $28, for municipal users.

    Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

    Board members unanimously approved a steep rate hike for the open-rate assessments, though Colorado-Big Thompson Project water users had requested a smoother transition of increases over time. The rate hike through 2018 represented the largest dollar increase in the public water district’s 77-year history, though the water district’s board members has passed similar percentage increases in the past.

    The steeper rate hikes will help Northern Water more quickly achieve a balanced budget, said Jerry Gibbens, project manager and water resources engineer for Northern Water. The water district’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years, but Northern Water expects to reach a balanced budget by fiscal 2017 through the rate hikes.

    Based on decades-old contracts, the fixed-rate assessments remained the same, a point of contention among some water users who pay the higher open-rate assessments and contend that Northern Water should raise the fixed-rate assessments.

    Northern Water’s board agreed to look into how it could adjust the fixed rates in the future, but the agency has indicated that it may not be able to do so because they are set “contractually in-perpetuity.”

    In June, the board decided to raise 2015 open-rate assessments to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit.

    Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could increase to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to Northern Water documents.

    Board members did not decide on increases after 2018, but they plan to set rates annually as well as make projections of rate adjustments two fiscal years in advance.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    San Isabel Land Protection Trust hosts water meeting

    July 12, 2014

    Sangres-a2-Coaldale,CO
    From The Mountain Mail:

    San Isabel Land Protection Trust will host an informational meeting on the future of agricultural land and water in western Fremont County at 6:30 p.m. July 24 at the Coaldale Community Building, 13607 CR 6 in Coaldale.

    The meeting will include a presentation about the tools the trust uses to protect land and water.

    For more information visit http://sanisabel.org or call 719-783-3018.

    More conservation easements coverage here


    A beautiful forecast this morning #monsoon

    July 11, 2014
    Seven day quantitative precipitation forecast July 11, 2014 via the Climate Prediction Center

    Seven day quantitative precipitation forecast July 11, 2014 via the Climate Prediction Center


    Lake Mead: “The last time the lake was this low, the town of St. Thomas still had a post office” — Las Vegas Review-Journal #ColoradoRiver

    July 11, 2014

    From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean @RefriedBrean):

    Lake Mead sank to a record this week, its surface nudging downward a few tenths of an inch late Wednesday night to 1,081.82 feet above sea level.

    The last time the lake was this low, the town of St. Thomas still had a post office. In late spring of 1937, water from the once-wild Colorado River was still rising steadily behind the new Hoover Dam, inundating empty desert as it pushed toward Moapa Valley. By June of the following year, St. Thomas would be under water, but Mother Nature and human thirst couldn’t keep it there.

    In 1983, when the lake was as full as it’s ever been, the ruins of the town were under about 80 feet of water. Today, you can’t even see the lake from St. Thomas.

    The past 15 years have been especially hard on the nation’s largest man-made reservoir. Lake Mead has seen its surface drop by more than 130 feet amid stubborn drought in the mountains that feed the Colorado River. The unusually dry conditions have exacerbated a fundamental math problem for the river, which now sustains 30 million people and several billion dollars worth of farm production across the West but has been over-appropriated since before Hoover Dam was built…

    Wednesday’s record is unlikely to last. Forecasters expect Lake Mead to hit another new low today, then break that mark Saturday, and so on for the next several weeks.

    The streak of all-time lows should end by late August, when current projections from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation call for the reservoir to tick up slightly. Then it should inch down again, bottoming out sometime in November before starting back up as downstream water users cut their orders heading into winter.

    Bureau officials acknowledged this week’s milestone but said it won’t impact operations at Hoover Dam.

    “We will meet our water orders this year, and we are not projecting a shortage condition in 2015,” said Terry Fulp, the Boulder City-based director for the Bureau’s Lower Colorado Region. “We continue to closely monitor the projections of declining lake levels and are working with stakeholders throughout the Lower Basin to keep as much water in Lake Mead as we can through various storage and conservation efforts.”[...]

    Lake Powell, meanwhile, is expected to start next year 21 feet higher than it was at the beginning of 2014. Right now, the reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border is swelling by almost a foot a day as the last of the mountain snow melts into the Colorado River and its tributaries.

    Forecasters are predicting another big drop at Lake Mead next spring, as the lake stair-steps its way down to elevation 1,069, and below. By June 2016, the reservoir could hit 1,064, just 14 feet away from shutting down one of two intake pipes the Southern Nevada Water Authority uses to deliver 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s water supply.

    With that in mind, the wholesale water agency is rushing to complete a new intake that will reach deeper into the lake. The $817 million project has seen its schedule slip by more than 2 years, but is on track to finish next summer.

    “We feel confident the third intake will be complete before we lose Intake Number One,” said authority spokesman Bronson Mack…

    Lake Mead’s decline has been a major headache for the National Park Service.

    For every two-foot drop in the water level, the shoreline can recede 60 feet or more. Already the shrinking reservoir has left some boat ramps high and dry, and has pushed marinas into deeper water or closed them altogether.

    A decade ago, Lake Mead was home to nine boat launch ramps and six marinas. Six ramps and three marinas remain open today…

    While access to the lake has grown more difficult in recent years, she said, there is still more than 125 square miles of open water and roughly 400 miles of shoreline to explore.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Fountain Creek: “Is there a way to balance the needs of flood control and water rights?” — Larry Small

    July 11, 2014
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    Fountain Creek Watershed

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Overshadowing the need to look at the technical details of a study for a dam or detention ponds on Fountain Creek is how it would be funded. As of this week, the study has been battered about with all the care of an uprooted tree bobbing in the water. Other water issues may be getting snagged on it.

    In May, Colorado Springs City Council stonewalled funding the study.

    This week, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable couldn’t get past the issue of water rights and shrugged off consideration of a state grant for $135,000 that would have been part of a $220,000, 2-year study to look at the consequences of a dam and the feasibility of building it.

    Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, was frustrated after the meeting. Small walked the roundtable through the years of studies that led up to the conclusion that the best way to protect Pueblo from stormwater runoff in Colorado Springs — much of it made worse by development in the last 40 years — is to stop the water upstream of Pueblo.

    “Is there a way to balance the needs of flood control and water rights or do we just throw up our hands?” Small said at one point during the meeting. “It may not be possible, but we need to find out.”

    After the meeting, he was clearly frustrated.

    “This is such a small part of the overall costs,” he said, slapping his hand against a folder of supporting information for the study.

    During the meeting, several roundtable members made the point that junior agricultural water rights could be harmed during a flood.

    The Fountain Creek district has attempted to deal with that in the past, including a comprehensive workshop on the topic, attended by some farmers, in December 2011.

    Some saw value in looking at the water rights question just to determine if the rest of the study could proceed.

    “This at least gets the conversation on the table,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    In the end, the water rights question became a deal stopper.

    There also are side issues that play into the question, such as a simmering feud between the Fountain Creek and Lower Ark districts about how matching money for grants has been applied under an intergovernmental agreement among the districts and Colorado Springs.

    “I would encourage the IGA partners to come together soon and resolve their differences,” said Alan Hamel, the basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Hamel was one of the few roundtable members who spoke in favor of the grant.

    “I think this is a wakeup call for the Fountain Creek district,” Winner said. “You don’t just sit up in Fountain and pretend to rule the world. The district needs to realize it’s in the water business.”

    More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here and here.


    Waters of the US: “We ought to care about clean water” — Bill Midcap (Rocky Mountain Farmers Union)

    July 11, 2014
    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Farmers like clean water.

    And the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has broken ranks with many other water users in Colorado to support proposed rules meant to clear up discrepancies in U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Clean Water Act.

    The group claims false claims are being made about the rules. The rules are proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

    The group placed an ad in Wednesday’s Chieftain claiming: “Washington lobbyists don’t speak for Colorado farmers.”

    It’s a message to Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, who asked for and received a delay in the deadline for comments last month.

    “It is critical that both Colorado senators and leadership at the USDA and EPA understand that ranchers and farmers need clean water to sustain our living, and appreciate balanced water policy. We believe the new rule targets both,” said Bill Midcap, external affairs director for the RMFU.

    Midcap said the rules have exemptions that protect the way farmers use water. [ed. emphasis mine]

    “We’ve had meetings with the EPA, so they could explain it to ag people,” Midcap said. “There is a lot of fear factor going on, and people ought to really pay attention to what the rule says.”

    The rule clears up how the Clean Water Act applies to farms, and does [not] mean agricultural ditches and ponds will be taken over by the federal government, Midcap said.

    “In our mission statement, it say we are stewards of the land,” he added. “We ought to care about clean water.”

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


    CWCB: Next Water Availability Task Force Meeting July 23 #COdrought

    July 10, 2014

    fogfilledblackcanyonofthegunnisonnps

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

    The next Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 from 9:30a-11:00a at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

    The agenda is posted at the CWCB website.

    More CWCB coverage here.


    The latest ENSO diagnostic discussion is hot off the presses — still in “Watch” status

    July 10, 2014

    plumeofensopredictionsmidjune2014

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

    Synopsis: The chance of El Niño is about 70% during the Northern Hemisphere summer and is close to 80% during the fall and early winter.

    During June 2014, above-average sea surface temperatures (SST) were most prominent in the eastern equatorial Pacific, with weakening evident near the International Date Line. This weakening was reflected in a decrease to +0.3°C in the Niño-4 index. The Niño-3.4 index remained around +0.5°C throughout the month, while the easternmost Niño-3 and Niño-1+2 indices are +1.0°C or greater. Subsurface heat content anomalies (averaged between 180º-100ºW) have decreased substantially since late March 2014 and are now near average. However, above-average subsurface temperatures remain prevalent near the surface (down to 100m depth) in the eastern half of the Pacific. The upper-level and low-level winds over the tropical Pacific remained near average, except for low-level westerly anomalies over the eastern Pacific. Convection was enhanced near and just west of the Date Line and over portions of Indonesia. Still, the lack of a clear and consistent atmospheric response to the positive SSTs indicates ENSO-neutral.

    Over the last month, no significant change was evident in the model forecasts of ENSO, with the majority of models indicating El Niño onset within June-August and continuing into early 2015. The chance of a strong El Niño is not favored in any of the ensemble averages for Niño-3.4. At this time, the forecasters anticipate El Niño will peak at weak-to-moderate strength during the late fall and early winter (3-month values of the Niño-3.4 index between 0.5°C and 1.4°C). The chance of El Niño is about 70% during the Northern Hemisphere summer and is close to 80% during the fall and early winter.

    From Climate.gov:

    Forecasters at the Climate Prediction Center haven’t declared El Niño conditions, even though the Niño3.4 index is currently around 0.5°C above normal, and has been for the past two months. What’s the hold up? In short, we’re waiting for the atmosphere to respond to the warmer sea-surface temperatures, and give us the “SO” part of ENSO.

    SO what? The Southern Oscillation, that’s what. The Southern Oscillation is a seesaw in surface pressure between a large area surrounding Indonesia and another in the central-to-eastern tropical Pacific; it’s the atmospheric half of El Niño. Since ENSO is a coupled system, meaning the atmosphere and ocean influence each other, both need to meet the criteria for El Niño before we declare an El Niño event.

    During average (non-El Niño) times, the waters of the western tropical Pacific are much warmer than in the east/central area (Figure 1). As warmer water extends out to the east during an El Niño, it warms the air, causing it to rise (lower pressure) (Figure 2). In turn, there is less rising motion (higher pressure) near Indonesia, due to the relatively cooler waters and overlying air…

    The pressure changes influence the wind patterns. The average (non-El Niño) state of the atmosphere over the tropical Pacific features convection and rainfall over Indonesia, low-level easterly winds (the trade winds that blow from east to west), and upper-level westerly winds (Figure 1). These are the basic components of the Pacific Walker Circulation.

    During El Niño, the system shifts: we see weaker trade winds over the Pacific, less rain than usual over Indonesia, and more rain than usual over the central or eastern Pacific. During some El Niño events, the trade winds along the equator even reverse, and we see low-level westerlies… but not every time. In fact, every El Niño is different, and both the ocean and atmospheric characteristics vary quite a lot from event to event–but that’s a topic for another post!

    This difference from average air pressure patterns across the Pacific is measured a few different ways. One is the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), which is based on a long record of pressure measured by two stations: one in Darwin, Australia (south of Indonesia) and the other in Tahiti (east-central tropical Pacific) (Figure 3). A negative SOI indicates Darwin’s pressure is higher than average and Tahiti’s is lower than average: El Niño conditions. (I keep saying “higher than average” because we’re not just comparing Darwin’s pressure to Tahiti’s, but rather comparing the anomalies at each. Imagine comparing the price of a gallon of water to that of a gallon of gas. A negative index is if the price of the water goes up, and the gas goes on sale. The gas may still cost more than the water, but it’s the relative changes in the two prices that matter.)

    A second way we describe the air pressure anomalies over the tropical Pacific is the Equatorial Southern Oscillation Index (EQSOI). The EQSOI is based on pressure differences between two regions located on the equator (Figure 3). The SOI is monitored because it has a very long record available, stretching back to the 19th century; the EQSOI depends on satellite observations, which means it is a shorter record, but it gives a better picture of what’s happening right along the equator…

    As of the end of June, both the SOI and the EQSOI are at +0.2 (they have trended downward over the past few months), and the wind patterns are roughly average over the tropical Pacific, with some slight weakening of the trade winds toward the end of the month. There is increased convection in the central Pacific, but also some over Indonesia… all of which says we’re still waiting for the atmosphere to get dressed in its El Niño clothes and come out to play.

    However, we think it’s likely that the atmosphere will get on board soon, and we’re still predicting El Niño, with about a 70% chance that conditions will be met in the next few months, and around an 80% chance by this fall. If you’re interested in how the ocean and atmospheric conditions are evolving, CPC has weekly updates available.


    Drought news: Otero County improves, western Kiowa County conditions “deplorable” — Drought Monitor #COdrought

    July 10, 2014

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

    Summary

    During the past 7-days, heavy rain (greater than 2 inches) fell in parts of the Northeast, eastern North Carolina, the Florida peninsula, the Great Lakes region, northern and central portions of the Mississippi Valley, and parts of the southern Great Plains and Southwest. An unusually strong cold front for early July moved across the eastern contiguous U.S. early in the period, approaching the Atlantic Seaboard as a Category-2 hurricane (Arthur) was moving across the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As the hurricane accelerated to the northeast, it gradually became incorporated into the larger-scale cold front and associated low pressure system, resulting in heavy rains across portions of the Northeast. Meanwhile, the onset of the Southwest summer monsoon across Arizona and New Mexico brought moderate precipitation (0.5-2.0 inches) to portions of the Four Corners region…

    Southern and Central Plains

    A relatively narrow band of heavy rain (greater than 2 inches) was observed from near Lubbock to Wichita Falls in Texas, while a fairly concentrated area of heavy rain was reported from about Houston to Victoria in eastern Texas. About a dozen relatively minor revisions were made to the depiction in Texas this week, some degradations and some improvements. No changes were made in Oklahoma, Kansas, or Nebraska this week, in part due to widespread areas of well above-normal precipitation in the past 30-days (3-6 inches, locally greater, especially in Kansas and Nebraska). Another reason for not making alterations this week is to better assess the impacts from recent precipitation, and to consider areas ripe for downgrades next week. In eastern South Dakota, no changes were rendered this week either to the drought depiction. However, the coverage of abnormal dryness in this area will need to be revisited next week, along with the possibility of introducing some moderate drought (D1). In Wessington Springs, corn still looks okay, but surface water is lacking and grasses are drier…

    Southwest and California

    The initial moisture surges of the summer monsoon commenced on schedule across Arizona and New Mexico this past week. River Forecast Center rain gauge data depicts a few widely scattered 2-3 inch rainfall amounts, but much of Arizona and New Mexico reported moderate amounts of precipitation (0.5-2.0 inches). In northwest New Mexico, which missed out on the significant rainfall this past week, extreme drought (D3) was expanded eastward across all of San Juan County, and continuing across the western one-third of Rio Arriba County. In south-central Colorado, a one-category downgrade was made, based on very dry short-term SPI’s (less than -1.5), and on VIC soil moisture model considerations. In southeast Colorado (western Kiowa County), conditions are still deplorable with little vegetation on the ground, and there is also the occasional dust storm kicking up. In Otero County, where better moisture conditions exist, a one-category improvement was made to the depiction. In Baca County, a one-category improvement was rendered based on June-early July precipitation, SPI values near and slightly above zero, and reports that the wheat harvest is looking better than it has in this county for several years. No other modifications were made throughout the Southwest or California. As an important side note, according to the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, southern Nevada’s Lake Mead is expected to fall this week to its lowest level since 1937, when the manmade lake (the largest reservoir in the United States) was first being filled…

    The Pacific Northwest

    No alterations were made to the depiction this week. In southwest Idaho, the flow of the Owyhee and Bruneau Rivers is near record lows for the second consecutive summer, while record low Water-Year-To-Date (WYTD) precipitation has fallen at various SNOTEL sites in central Idaho…

    Looking Ahead

    During July 10-14, 2014, a broad band of moderate precipitation (0.5-2.0 inches) is expected from Arizona and New Mexico northeastward and eastward across the north-central Plains, the north-central Mississippi Valley, the Ohio Valley, and interior Northeast. A band of moderate to heavy rainfall (1.0-3.5 inches) is forecast for the central and eastern Gulf Coast states, and the southern Atlantic states from Florida to Delaware.

    For the ensuing 5-day period, July 15-19, 2014, there are enhanced odds of above-median rainfall in the Southwest, the Southeast, and over northern and southwestern Alaska. There are enhanced odds of below-median rainfall in the Pacific Northwest, from eastern Montana to Michigan, southern Texas, southern Louisiana, and over south-central and southeast Alaska including the Panhandle.


    Another transmountain diversion garners skepticism on the rainy side of Colorado #COWaterPlan

    July 10, 2014

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

    Though Colorado River Basin water users strongly urge against any new trans-mountain diversions to the East Slope as part of a draft plan for the basin released last week, a key part of the process to create a state water plan recognizes a need to eventually have that discussion. In addition to further refining the basin plan itself, the Colorado Basin Roundtable has been reviewing a conceptual inter-basin agreement that outlines parameters for negotiating new diversion projects.

    “We do take the position that another big trans-mountain diversion would have a major impact on the Western Slope,” said Jim Pokrandt, chairman of the Colorado Basin Roundtable.

    Skepticism about new diversions is shared by other Western Slope basin roundtables, he said. But the Colorado basin in particular has placed a strong emphasis on setting the bar high for water conservation and exhausting other resources within the eastern basins before new diversion projects are considered.

    Last month, the Inter-basin Compact Committee, which includes representation from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, finalized a draft conceptual agreement to submit to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for inclusion in the draft state water plan, due out by the end of this year.

    Basin implementation plans from each of the roundtables are being submitted this month, all of which will go to create the comprehensive Colorado Water Plan that Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested be done by the end of 2015.

    East Slope water interests have been adamant that, in addition to water conservation measures, protecting agriculture and looking at more water storage within basins east of the Continental Divide, the state plan must keep open the possibility of diverting more water from the Western Slope.

    The draft agreement outlines seven “points of light,” as Pokrandt referred to them, that would have to be addressed collaboratively and agreed upon before a new diversion project could be OK’d. Those include concessions by eastern Colorado water users that they not seek a specific yield from a new trans-mountain diversion (TMD), and would accept hydrologic risk for any new projects.

    Also, any new TMD project would have to come with an agreement that it be in conjunction with existing eastern basin supply agreements, aquifer resources, reuse and other non-West Slope water sources, and that specific triggers be set for when diversions can occur.

    Future West Slope water needs, including for recreation and environmental protections, would have to be spelled out in the agreement.

    “There are lots of questions about hydrology, environmental concerns and compact considerations that would need to be addressed,” Pokrandt said. “Nevertheless, this is a way to talk about a project among the different groups and all the questions that have to be answered.”

    The state faces legal concerns to make sure compacts are fulfilled regarding how much water makes its way from the upper Colorado Basin to downstream users in other states, he emphasized.

    Each of the roundtable groups is scheduled to give a presentation on its basin implementation plan at a Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting in Rangely on July 16.

    Even after the draft basin plans are submitted, they are likely to be undergo further revisions as the process continues to draft the state plan, Pokrandt said.

    “Compared to where we were four months ago, we have made a lot of progress,” he said of the Colorado Basin plan, which was prepared by engineering consultants with SGM in Glenwood Springs.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper, during an interview with the Post Independent last week, said one of the main goals in asking for a state water plan was to get East Slope and West Slope interests talking.

    “The most important thing that can come out of this is to establish relationships, and to get to know each other … and each other’s habits and behaviors,” the governor said.

    In any case, conservation will be a key emphasis, Hickenlooper said.

    “What we’ve always said is that any conversation in the state about water has to start with conservation,” he said. “We will have to work out some compromises, and there will be some ruckus, but we will work it out.”

    The Colorado Basin Roundtable meets again from noon to 4 p.m. July 28 at the Glenwood Springs Community Center to further discuss and refine the basin implementation plan.

    Also, the interim Water Resources Committee of the Colorado General Assembly is coming to Glenwood Springs on Aug. 21 to take testimony from citizens on the Colorado Water Plan process.

    That meeting will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Branch Library at 8th and Cooper.

    For more information on the Colorado Water Plan process, visit http://1.usa.gov/1oIyjb0.

    Meanwhile, the South Platte and Metro Roundtables are ready to submit their basin implementation plan. Here’s a report from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:

    After years of discussion, the river basin that faces the “biggest challenges” is nearing completion of its first draft of a long-term water plan. That outline of how agriculture, cities and industries will coexist in the future — while minimizing expected water shortages — will be available to the public next week.

    Sean Cronin, chairman of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to address water issues in northeast Colorado, said the combined draft plan from the South Platte and Metro roundtables is expected to be approved at a meeting Monday.

    After that, it will go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will begin piecing it together with the implementation plans of the seven other roundtables in the state, to create the comprehensive Colorado Water Plan that Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested be done by the end of 2015.

    It’s been a long time coming, according to South Platte and Metro roundtable members, some of whom met Tuesday to finalize the language in its draft plan. The basin roundtables across Colorado have been meeting since 2005.

    In the draft that will be completed soon are the major points northeast Colorado water officials and users have been driving home during the past nine years — protecting agriculture, water conservation, more water storage and keeping open the possibility of diverting more water from the West Slope, among other key points.

    While the group has reached consensus on those issues, there remains some dispute on others, such as how groundwater management might be addressed in the plan, and how municipal land use — which has impacts on water functions — might factor in.

    That’s why the South Platte and Metro roundtables want public input once the draft plan is available next week, possibly as early as Monday evening.

    All basin implementation plans are due by July 16. The South Platte and Metro roundtables pushed the deadline, likely because of the complexity and unique challenges in the basin — perhaps the biggest “challenges in the state,” roundtable members say.

    The South Platte Basin includes six of the state’s 10 top ag-producing counties, including Weld County, which ranks ninth in the nation for its value of production. Three of the other top 10 are also in northeast Colorado in the nearby Republican River Basin, which is impacted by South Platte basin functions.

    Also, eight of the 10 largest cities in Colorado are in the South Platte basin, including Denver and Aurora (which is why the South Platte and Metro roundtables are combining their implementation plans).

    Because of that and continued growth, the South Platte basin, which stretches across northeast Colorado from southwest of Denver to the Nebraska stateline, faces the biggest expected water shortages in the state. According to projections, there will be a municipal and industrial water-supply gap of as many as 190,000 acre feet (about 60 billion gallons) annually by 2050, with as many as 267,000 acres of irrigated farmground dried up by then.

    How will it all fit together?

    In addition to the challenges within the basin, members of the South Platte and Metro roundtables are concerned about how their plan will mesh with others and are worried that in trying to make all eight plans come together, some of the South Platte’s priorities could get lost.

    “With each basin having its own interests and each facing its respective challenges, it’s going to be a Herculean effort … to bring all of these together without something getting lost,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees the largest water-delivery system in northern Colorado and is working to put in place more water-storage projects. “Each basin has put in a lot of time and thought into their plans, and to see something get lost along the way going forward would be tough for any of us.”

    South Platte Basin water officials have been particularly concerned all along that, because of its controversial nature, talks of bringing more West Slope water across the Continental Divide could take a backseat to other aspects of the Colorado Water Plan.

    The disagreement over trans-mountain water diversions between East Slope and West Slope water officials and users goes way back.

    About 80 percent of the state’s population lives on the East Slope ,but about 80 percent of the state’s water supplies — primarily snowmelt in the mountains — sits on the West Slope.

    To meet the needs of the growing Front Range and northeast Colorado’s robust ag industry, East Slope water providers have long built projects that bring water across the Continental Divide. There are now more than 30 such projects bringing about 450,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water each year from the West Slope to the East Slope. Many have stressed that without more water going to the East Slope, the ag industry, which uses about 85 percent of the state’s water, will especially suffer.

    But many on the West Slope have expressed concern and want the East Slope to stop diverting more of its water. The West Slope has its own water demands to meet, mainly its legal obligation to make sure several Western states downstream from Colorado receive certain amounts of water.

    Meeting those needs, while also contributing to those of Colorado’s East Slope, is stretching the West Slope thin, water officials from that part of the state say.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Chatfield Reallocation Project: “This a premier state park, and it’s going to have the heart knocked right out of it” — Polly Reetz

    July 10, 2014
    Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

    Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

    From The Denver Post (Joe Vaccarelli):

    The Army Corps of Engineers has approved an expansion of Chatfield Reservoir that will also bring some infrastructure improvements to the park, but patrons shouldn’t expect to see work done any time soon. According to Army Corps of Engineers project manager Gwyn Jarrett, it could be three to four years before work is underway and two to three years after that before it’s complete.

    The project was approved in late May and has been in discussion since the mid-1990s. The expansion will add 20,600 acre feet of water capacity — which could raise water levels in the reservoir by 12 feet — for joint use, flood control and water conservation. The $183 million project will help supply water providers in the metro area and across the Front Range as population and demand increases.

    “This project will meet a portion of the expected demand in Colorado,” Jarrett said. “It’s not going to solve the problem, but it will help with the growing population.”

    Once construction does start, most of the work will be done in the off-season, but people can expect that certain portions of the park could be closed at times. Part of the construction will include improving some of the amenities at the park such as new recreation buildings, picnic tables, beach areas and bathhouses.

    “A lot of amenities date back to the mid-to-late 1970s when the project was constructed,” Jarrett said.

    Chatfield State Park manager Scott Roush said the park doesn’t have to do much to get ready for the construction, but his staff will be involved with the design process when that kicks off, possibly this fall.

    Part of that discussion will include the marina, which may have to move because of the rising water levels.

    Public feedback had not been all positive, as some organizations feel that this project will damage some environmental aspects of the park.

    The plan will flood more than 500 acres of the park and inundate some cottonwood trees near the reservoir, destroying habitat for several species of birds.

    “We initially thought at first that (the project) was fairly benign, but we didn’t know that it will do massive environmental damage on one of the largest parks in the metro area,” said Polly Reetz, conservation chairperson for the Audubon Society of Greater Denver.

    Reetz had other problems with the plan, saying that increasing the capacity of the reservoir doesn’t guarantee more water. She was also displeased that the state passed legislation to permit loans to water providers in order to pay for the project.

    Roush said that while they will lose some trees, some would be relocated to other parts of the park.

    “There’s been a lot of feedback about the cottonwood trees. We’re going to lose some trees; they will come back eventually,” he said.

    But Reetz said there is no guarantee that the trees will come back and she was surprised the corps went with the proposal, saying it was the most harmful environmentally.

    “It’s a really bad deal for the public,” Reetz said. “This a premier state park, and it’s going to have the heart knocked right out of it.”

    More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here.


    “I cannot imagine storage on Fountain Creek unless John Martin Reservoir were full” — said Jeris Danielson

    July 10, 2014
    Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A study that could lead to building a flood-control dam on Fountain Creek stalled Wednesday over the question of how it might affect water rights. Determining if water rights could be protected would be the first task in the study, Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Director Larry Small explained to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

    “The prime objective is to evaluate whether water rights could be protected if a dam is built,” Small said. “There would be regular meetings with water rights holders to resolve the conflicts.”

    That didn’t sit well with several members of the roundtable, who argued that junior water rights could be harmed if floodwater were held.

    “I cannot imagine storage on Fountain Creek unless John Martin Reservoir were full,” said Jeris Danielson, a former state engineer who now heads the Purgatoire River Water Conservancy District. “It could mean a great deal of water lost to junior water rights holders, and I have a problem with the roundtable providing something that could damage the Arkansas River Compact.”

    Otero County farmers John Schweizer and Vernon John Proctor both made the point that the Fountain Creek district does not have water rights to hold back any water.

    Several other members of the board suggested that no part of the Fountain Creek study should go forward until the water rights question is answered.

    Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the farmers were ignoring the potential danger to agriculture from a flood on Fountain Creek.

    “I support this grant application,” Hamel said. “You just have to look at all the ditch headgates that were lost in Northern Colorado last fall.”

    The roundtable moves projects ahead only if there is consensus, so the application was denied. A revised application still could be considered.

    The study would build on a U.S. Geological Survey study that determined either a large dam on Fountain Creek or a series of detention ponds south of Colorado Springs would be the best protection for Pueblo of a 100-year flood on Fountain Creek. The USGS study, however, did not identify where a dam would be built or determine other factors such as engineering obstacles or water rights. The Fountain Creek district is trying to answer those questions prior to the arrival of $50 million in funding from Colorado Springs. That money, dedicated to flood control projects that benefit Pueblo, is a condition of the Pueblo County 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

    The $220,000 study promoted at the roundtable included financial backing from Colorado Springs Utilities, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Fountain, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo West and Security. It also had letters of support from city councils and county commissioners in El Paso and Pueblo counties.

    More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


    Basin Roundtables will present their Basin Implementation Plans to the CWCB next week #COWaterPlan

    July 9, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Per governor order, local water leaders and their professional consulting team are preparing to present a basin-wide water plan next week to the state agency that will compile plans from all of the basins into a statewide plan to address Colorado’s future water needs.

    At the same time the Rio Grande Roundtable, which is taking the lead on the basin-wide plan, is reviewing potential requests for funding and potential water threats and challenges.

    During its monthly meeting on Tuesday, the roundtable members, who represent various water interests throughout the San Luis Valley, reviewed the status of the local plan that will fit into the governor’s statewide plan; heard about a project that will come before the group for funding next month to study soil health practices in relationship to potential water savings; received a report on post-West Fork Complex Fire actions and heard a presentation on instream flows.

    What the group did not do was take a position on a water export project, proposed by Saguache County rancher Gary Boyce, that recently came to light. Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson said it was premature to take a position on the proposal at this point.

    “It seems to be a balloon that’s been floated ,” he said. “Who knows if it will pop or land?”

    He added, “If as a water community we need to mobilize , it’s been done before. We are in a better position to mobilize again if we have to.”

    Travis Smith, who sits on the statewide Interbasin Compact Committee, said, “You are going to have projects like this that will show up in spite of all the work that’s gone on.”

    He said water projects in the Valley should go through the roundtable and should fit within the water plan the Valley-wide roundtable has worked so hard to develop, but the plan does not prevent someone from going outside it. Tom Spezze with DiNatale Water Consultants, who is putting the Rio Grande Basin’s water plan together, told the roundtable members the plan would go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board next week during the CWCB’s meeting in Rangely. The water plan is currently 267 pages but is going through refinements and edits, Spezze said.

    The short version that will be presented to the CWCB board next week will consist of about 25 “slides” outlining the process the plan went through, particularly the amount of public outreach and involvement, and highlighting the 14 goals of the local plan such as meeting agricultural, environmental, municipal and recreational needs. This basin’s plan will be compiled, along with plans from the other basins in the state, into a statewide plan to be presented to the governor.

    Spezze also told the roundtable about the various activities of the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team that was set up after the fire in the western end of the Valley last summer. For example, the team is monitoring drainages with potential for flash flooding and has an audible alarm and evacuation plan in place for resorts and residences near the danger zones. Water quality is also being monitored, and Doppler Radar will be positioned again on Bristol Head from August to October so residents can be notified of storm events.

    Kip Canty, from the Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 office, said the weather service’s three-month forecast for precipitation for this region shows better-than-average chance for above normal precipitation.

    The roundtable did not The study would look at a variety of crops potato, barley and alfalfa encompassing a minimum of four growers of each crop. The study would include growers in different parts of the Valley because the soils vary across the Valley, Lopez explained.

    “Farmers can only implement the things they can truly afford to do,” Lopez added.

    That is why this will be a practical study of soil health practices farmers could afford to implement that would save them costs in the long run. Some of the money requested from the roundtable would offset producers’ costs to implement these practices, Lopez said. have any funding requests before it requiring action on Tuesday but heard an initial presentation from Judy Lopez regarding a request that will be formally presented to the roundtable next month. Lopez said the Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative will serve as the applicant requesting $25,000 for the first of a three-year soil health study and $40,000 each for two years afterwards. She explained that data is lacking on how different conservation practices affect water savings. It would take more than one year to see results, she added.

    “It takes a while to establish soil health and see gains from that,” she said. Also on Tuesday the roundtable heard a presentation from Linda Bassi of CWCB on in-stream flows . She encouraged the roundtable to utilize the CWCB in-stream program. The legislature established the in-stream program in 1973 and gave the CWCB legal authority over it. These water rights are designed to preserve water in stream channels or lakes for purposes such as maintaining fisheries . These are junior water rights that can be appropriated or acquired, Bassi explained.

    Typically the requests for in-stream water rights have come from entities such as the Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management and Trout Unlimited, Bassi added. She and her staff accept requests, review them and make recommendations to the CWCB, which may decide to file an in-stream application in court. Public input is part of the process.

    CWCB will only pursue an in-stream application if the natural environment exists, water is available for appropriation and no material injury to water rights will occur if the in-stream right is granted, Bassi explained. In-stream flows exist around the state for fisheries , waterfowl habitat, glacial ponds, bird species and aquatic macroinvertebrates.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

    July 9, 2014

    Upper Colorado River Basin June 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal

    Upper Colorado River Basin June 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal


    Click here to read the current briefing from NIDIS via the Colorado Climate Center. Click here to go to the NIDIS website.

    Meanwhile, here’s a look at the North American Monsoon forecast from Ryan Maye Handy writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

    The monsoonal flow of tropical moisture is a hallmark of late-summer weather in the Rocky Mountain West, where massive storms set up like clockwork almost daily in July and August. But this year an El Nino cycle, which pushes coastal moisture over the mountains, will add more water to what might be an already robust monsoon, said Mike Baker, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Boulder.

    “We always see the monsoon and it comes in different flavors and strengths,” he said on Tuesday. “We may be dealing with an enhanced monsoon.”

    This week Northern Colorado has started to see some monsoonal rain, albeit through a “back doorway,” as Baker called it. Some monsoonal moisture has looped around the state, entering the atmosphere from the north, instead of its typical route from the south…

    The bulk of monsoonal moisture is still sitting over Arizona and Nevada, but should move into the Rocky Mountains in the next two weeks, Baker said. The rains should also bring with them cooler than average summer temperatures, according to a three-month weather outlook…

    It’s been a wet year for Northern Colorado all around. Water from the devastating September 2013 floods saturated soil sand lingered through winter in Big Thompson and Poudre rivers. Winter brought a well above-average snowpack — more than 200 percent of normal — and a high spring runoff season, with peak river flows that were among the highest in nearly 60 years in Northern Colorado.

    June was dry in Grand Junction. Here’s a report from Rachel Sauer writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    If it was hard to swallow in June, if it seemed like there were not enough eye drops in the world to make your eyes stop feeling gritty, if you reapplied Chap Stick every two minutes and it still didn’t seem often enough, there’s a reason: June was dry. Very, very dry.

    “June’s typically our driest month, climatologically speaking, and this past June has been exceptionally dry for most of the region,” said Matthew Aleksa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

    “Last month, for the most part, most of the days in June didn’t really receive any rain at all.”

    In fact, during the entire month, Grand Junction received 0.13 inch of rain, 0.12 of that on June 8, Aleksa said. If it wasn’t for that one storm blowing through, June 2014 might have joined the ranks of June 2001, say, or June 1980 for being among the driest Junes on record.

    The average moisture level for June is 0.46 inch, Aleksa said, but because of a high pressure ridge over the West, the rain just didn’t fall.

    “We had some low-pressure systems over the Pacific northwest and one over the plains and Midwest and so they were getting a lot of storms out that way,” Aleksa said.

    “But since we were right in between, in that ridge of high pressure, we had a drier type of air mass where the moisture wasn’t there for producing the storms or giving us the weather systems that would bring rain.”

    July through September 2014 precipitation outlook via the Climate Prediction Center

    July through September 2014 precipitation outlook via the Climate Prediction Center

    However, the news gets better. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting above-normal precipitation for July, August and September.

    “We’re looking at models that are starting to hint in the next week at a potential for more moisture to work its way up over Arizona and the Four Corners region,” Aleksa said.

    “By the middle of next week, we’re going to start to see that high pressure start to shift into a more favorable pattern, start to see a more monsoon-like moisture surge.”

    Plus, he said, temperatures for the next six to 10 days are forecast to be around normal — which, granted, is still 93, but double digits are better than triple.


    Lake Mead drops to lowest level since first fill #ColoradoRiver

    July 9, 2014

    From the Associated Pres via the Cache Valley Daily:

    The projected lake level of about 1,080 feet above sea level will be below the nearly 1,082 feet recorded in November 2010, and below the 1,083 feet measured in April 1956 during another sustained drought. But U.S. Bureau of Reclamation regional chief Terry Fulp said water obligations will be met at least through next year without a key shortage declaration. The result will be full deliveries to cities, states, farms and Indian tribes in an area home to some 40 million people and the cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

    “We will meet our water orders this year and we are not projecting a shortage condition in 2015,” Fulp said in a statement. “We continue to closely monitor the projections of declining lake levels and are working with stakeholders throughout the Lower Basin to keep as much water in Lake Mead as we can through various storage and conservation efforts.”

    The lake on Tuesday was just under 1,082 feet above sea level, and the reservoir was about 39 percent full, said Rose Davis, a bureau spokeswoman in Boulder City, Nevada. The dropping level since the reservoir was last full in 1998, at just under 1,296 feet above sea level, has left as much as 130 feet of distinctive white mineral “bathtub ring” on hard rock surfaces surrounding the lake. Davis said the bureau expects a slight increase in water level to about 1,083 feet by Jan. 1, 2015.

    “We projected this was coming.” Davis said. “We are basically where we expected to be, given the in dry winters in 2012 and 2013,”[...]

    Las Vegas, with more than 2 million residents and some 40 million tourists a year, is almost completely dependent on Lake Mead for drinking water.

    Federal and state water officials have negotiated plans for a shortage declaration triggering delivery cuts to Nevada and Arizona if annual projections for the Lake Mead water level drop below a 1,075 foot elevation. That projection is based on data currently being compiled by the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Davis said the 1,075 foot trigger point is not expected this year or next. But last year, after back-to-back driest years in a century, federal water managers gave Arizona and Nevada a 50-50 chance of having water deliveries cut in 2016.

    California, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming wouldn’t see direct cuts in their share of river water, but officials have acknowledged there would be ripple effects.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    DARCA to host four workshops to develop input for the #COWaterPlan

    July 9, 2014
    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    From the Ag Journal:

    Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance is involving ditch and reservoir companies in Colorado’s Water Plan by hosting four free workshops across Colorado during July.

    Colorado’s Water Plan is a state driven effort to help find solutions to the ever increasing demand for water. With the vision of prosperous ditch companies, DARCA’s workshops will involve presentations on the state water plan and also ditch company planning. The workshops have the focus of soliciting input concerning the state water plan from ditch and reservoir companies and their farmer/rancher shareholders. The workshops also have the purpose of informing ditch companies on the importance of their own internal planning so that they can do well in an uncertain future.

    Schedule of DARCA workshops

    Brighton – July 12, Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon
    Brighton Recreation Center
    555 N. 11th Ave.
    Brighton, CO 80601

    Grand Junction, July 18, Friday, 8 a.m. to noon
    Ute Water Conservancy District
    2190 H.25 Rd.
    Grand Junction, CO 81505

    Durango – July 19, Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon
    Florida Grange
    656 Hwy 172
    Durango, CO 81303

    Pueblo – July 26, Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon
    Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
    31717 United Avenue
    Pueblo, CO 81001

    The Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, a nonprofit organization, established in 2001, is dedicated to serving the needs of mutual ditch and reservoir companies, irrigation districts and lateral companies. DARCA’s efforts include advocacy, education, and networking.

    For information about the workshops and to register please visit http://www.darca.org or contact John McKenzie at (970) 412-1960 or john.mckenzie@darca.org.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Rifle: “Many different eyes are on each [drill] pad each day” — Michael Gardner #ColoradoRiver

    July 9, 2014

    Rifle Gap

    Rifle Gap


    From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Mike McKibbin):

    Rifle City Council unanimously approved an amendment to the company’s original 2009 watershed district permit to allow the activity, subject to conditions. The 12-square-mile, 8,000-acre watershed, approximately 5 to 6 miles southwest of Rifle, is the source of 9 percent of Rifle’s drinking water. The vast majority of the city’s water comes from the Colorado River. Several years ago, the city established the district and considers permits for certain industrial activities to help protect the water source. The company would also need drilling permits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

    Michael Gardner, WPX environmental manager, outlined the drilling plans and noted various companies had been active in and near the Beaver Creek watershed since 1999. WPX is currently the only active company in the district. A total of 44 producing wells have been drilled from 11 pads in the district since 1999, with 27 of those wells located on a pad outside the district boundaries, Gardner said.

    “What we’re proposing is to drill up to 253 wells from 15 pads between now and 2018,” he told the council last week.

    WPX plans to drill up to 23 wells on the existing pad outside of the watershed and up to 112 wells on four new pads outside the watershed, but accessed through the watershed, Gardner noted. Up to 80 wells could be drilled on seven existing pads within the watershed and up to 65 wells on four new pads within the watershed.

    “A lot of this depends on the market price for gas, obviously,” Gardner added. “So this is a maximum-case scenario.”

    WPX would build access roads, install gathering and water lines and other associated facilities in the area, Gardner said.

    WPX spokesman Jeff Kirtland said in an interview Tuesday that the permit amendment was sought to keep the permit active, as it was due to expire soon.

    “It’s more to make sure we’re keeping up with what we need to do with the permit,” he stated. “So we would have this permit in hand if prices improved.”[...]

    Michael Erion, a water resources engineer with Resource Engineering of Glenwood Springs and a city consultant, said the amendment was acceptable and noted the target area is actually a tributary to Beaver Creek, which itself is often dry in the summer, so most direct activity in the district will be road crossings. The permit was amended last year to allow a water pipeline across the watershed and a temporary 1.5 million gallon water storage tank, Erion noted.

    Among the nine conditions already part of the permit and included with the latest amendment is a requirement for WPX to submit detailed drawings to the city at least 30 days before construction. New wells can be drilled on approved pads, provided WPX sends written notice to the city 15 days before that activity. WPX is also required to submit an annual activity plan for the entire district by March 1 of each year, and the project shall be subject to biannual inspections, or more frequently if needed, by the city and/or its consultants.

    WPX will also continue to participate in the city’s water quality monitoring program on Beaver Creek. This includes a periodic stream monitoring program with sampling at various locations along the creek and the operation and maintenance costs associated with a 24/7 monitoring system at the city intake structure on the Colorado River.

    “We understand how critical this area is to Rifle,” Gardner said. “We have all kinds of plans and procedures for spills, to protect groundwater and storm water control. Many different eyes are on each pad each day.”

    He also noted that no reportable spills, as defined by state regulations, had occurred in the district since 2008.

    More oil and gas coverage here.


    Saguache rancher hopes to export water from the San Luis Valley to the Front Range

    July 8, 2014

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    San Luis Valley Groundwater


    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Saguache County rancher Gary Boyce may be planning another water export project. Although Boyce has not yet filed any documents with the water court, he has met with representatives of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD), and that board held a special meeting to discuss Boyce’s proposal. The board unanimously voted not to support Boyce in any potential water export project.

    During Wednesday’s Alamosa city council meeting, Alamosa Mayor Josef Lucero read a letter from RGWCD Board Member Lewis Entz who shared initial information about the project.

    Entz related in the letter that in mid-June RGWCD Attorney David Robbins and RGWCD General Manager Steve Vandiver met with Boyce and Boyce’s attorney. At that June 14 meeting Boyce informed Robbins and Vandiver that he planned to file an application to withdraw 35,000 acre feet per year from the confined aquifer on his Saguache area property and export it to the Front Range where it would be sold as a permanent renewable water supply. According to Entz’s letter read at the city meeting, Boyce told RGWCD representatives his application was imminent. With the RGWCD’s blessing, he would create a SLV assistance fund of $150 million that would be distributed to local governments and schools as well as the water conservation district.

    On June 18 the RGWCD board held a special meeting to discuss Boyce’s proposal , and the board voted unanimously to reject Boyce’s proposal.

    Entz’s letter that Lucero shared with the council stated that so far Boyce has not filed anything in water court, so the RGWCD board does not know what the application would look like, who would be providing financing and what Front Range water users would be receiving the water.

    “It seems like the water wars are going to start again,” Mayor Lucero said.

    On Thursday, Vandiver confirmed that Boyce had met with Robbins and him, and the board had held a special meeting during which it voted unanimously not to accept Boyce’s offer of money from his potential project and not to support his project.

    “We haven’t heard another word from him,” Vandiver said.

    Vandiver added that two years ago Boyce also talked about another export project , but nothing was filed then or followed through, so he did not know if Boyce would actually move forward on this proposal or not.

    “We have not seen any filings and so we don’t know if Gary was trying to see if we could get bought.”

    Vandiver said he did not want “to get in front of the train” at this point, since Boyce has not filed anything .

    “There has been nothing concrete or in writing that it’s going to happen,” Vandiver said. “We are hoping it’s just some pipe dream.”

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


    USGS: Distinguishing Natural Climate Variability from Anthropogenic Climate Change

    July 8, 2014

    Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003

    Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003


    Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey:

    An important question in climate change research is whether we can distinguish the human fingerprint on climate from natural climate variability. Solar activity, volcanic emissions and greenhouse gases, including those from human activities, all affect the radiation and energy balance of the Earth. Variations in the energy balance lead to changes in the distribution and patterns of air temperature, rainfall, hydrology, polar sea ice and glacier mass. Internal modes of climate variability, such as ENSO and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) can cause large year-to-year and decade-to-decade changes in temperature and rainfall.

    Distinguishing human-induced climate change associated with carbon emissions and land use change from natural climate variability requires integrated research efforts that rely on climate modeling and paleoclimate reconstructions based on data from analyses of tree rings, ice cores, marine and terrestrial sediments, glaciers and instrumental records. In essence, this research aims to sort out the contributions from natural radiative forcing and internal climate processes from those caused either directly or indirectly by human activity. There is general and widely held scientific consensus that the observed trends in atmospheric and ocean temperature, sea ice, glaciers and climate extremes during the last century cannot be explained solely by natural climate processes and so reflect human influences.

    Projects conducting research on Distinguishing Natural Climate Variability from Anthropogenic Climate Change:

    Arctic Paleoclimatology
    Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain Climate Variability
    Cryospheric Studies
    Geologic Records of High Sea Levels
    Holocene Climate of the Pacific Coasts
    Holocene Hydroclimate
    Impacts of Climate Change on Coastal and Eolian Landscapes
    Pacific Ocean Climate Variability
    Paleoclimate Variability of the American Southwest
    Radiocarbon Dating


    Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill and Assets Set to Be Sold for $2 Million

    July 8, 2014

    More nuclear coverage here.


    Rifle: Bids for new water treatment plant blow budget

    July 8, 2014
    The water treatment process

    The water treatment process

    From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Mike McKibbin):

    Rather than wait up to another year and risk even higher costs, Rifle City Council unanimously rejected two bids on a new $25 million water treatment plant and decided to proceed under a “sole source” approach.

    At a special June 25 meeting, the council also approved nearly $150,000 in project expenses, an application for a $2 million state grant to help purchase filters and equipment for the plant and the return of a $600,000 grant that was to help build a new main waterline connection to South Rifle.

    The action came after two bids for the project came in $8 million to $11 million higher than the city engineer’s estimate and the funds available to build the plant. Alder Construction, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, submitted a base bid of $33.1 million and PCL Construction, located in Phoenix, Ariz., with an office in Glenwood Springs, submitted a base bid of approximately $36.5 million.

    The city received a $25 million low-interest loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, to help pay for the plant. Two years ago, Rifle voters approved a 3/4 cent sales tax increase to help repay the loan.

    Mayor Randy Winkler said the city had underestimated the cost of the new plant.

    “All building costs seem to have gone up greatly just in the last year,” he said. “So we were forced to really take a hard look at this project.”

    The project was originally designed to include improvements to the city’s raw water pump station, a new 24-inch raw water pipeline to the new 40,000-square-foot plant, a radio tower at the existing Graham Mesa water plant for remote data transmission of information about the city’s water system to the pump station and then by cable to the new plant, and connections to water transmission and main lines.

    City officials have said the Graham Mesa plant is aging, undersized to serve projected population growth and unable to meet possible tougher federal water quality standards in the future. Construction work was expected to last up to two years.

    More Rifle coverage here.


    Runoff news: Ruedi fills, 1480 cfs in the Blue River below Green Mountain

    July 8, 2014

    greenmountainreservoir
    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Ruedi Reservoir has basically filled. It hit its water level high mark on July 2. Since that time, we’ve seen inflows to the reservoir start to back off a little. As a result, tomorrow [July 8] we will curtail the releases from the dam to the Fryingpan River by about 50 cfs. We will make the change around 10:00 a.m. After, flows past the Ruedi Dam gage should be about 265 cfs.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Earlier today [July 7], we reduced releases from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue River. We have seen the inflows start to back off a bit. As a result, the Lower Blue is now running at about 1480 cfs.


    Ten Southwest and San Luis Valley Counties Receive Drought Disaster Designations from USDA #CODrought

    July 8, 2014

    Here’s the release from US Senator Michael Bennet’s office:

    Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued disaster designations for ten Southwest and San Luis Valley counties due to severe drought conditions. The designations make farmers and ranchers in these counties eligible for assistance from the Farm Service Agency.

    “Drought conditions continue to plague many parts of Colorado, and our producers’ crops and livestock are suffering,” Bennet said. “These designations make crucial assistance available to our farmers and ranchers that are dealing with losses due to the severe weather. This is why we fought hard to get a full, five-year Farm Bill signed into law so our producers have a safety net to help them through tough times like these.”
    Producers in the following counties are eligible for assistance: Archuleta, Conejos, Dolores, Hinsdale, La Plata, Mineral, Montezuma, Rio Grande, San Juan, and San Miguel [ed. emphasis mine].

    Producers in counties designated as primary or contiguous disaster areas are eligible to be considered for FSA emergency loans. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the disaster declaration to apply for assistance. Local FSA offices can provide affected farmers and ranchers with additional information.


    Pueblo: Rates are a complex question

    July 8, 2014
    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Other cities in the West ration water, use block rates to discourage water waste and even pay property owners to rip out sod. Pueblo does none of those things, and a couple of people who attended last week’s state water plan meeting at Pueblo Community College wondered why.

    “It’s driven by economics,” said Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “Using less water drives up rates. That puts more of a burden on poorer customers. It’s a complex question.”

    For years, the Pueblo water board has seen a decrease in water use that began after the city put outdoor watering restrictions in place following the 2002 drought. A 2007 study found customer attitudes had fundamentally changed. Instead of dragging hoses to water the lawn in the hottest part of the day, more Puebloans chose to set up automated sprinkler systems to run in the morning or evening. The water board also promotes Wise Water Use online and in its outreach programs. At the same time, Pueblo has kept its water rates the lowest on Colorado’s Front Range.

    One woman wanted to know why homeowners are penalized for not watering their lawns. There is a difference between xeriscaping and simply letting the weeds take over, Book said. Again, it’s the poor who suffer because redoing a landscape with drought tolerant plants and reducing the square footage of bluegrass can cost thousands of dollars. Many lawns in Pueblo have been lost because of the choice to cut back on the water bill, he said.

    At one point in the meeting, Book said Pueblo has a water supply for 220,000- 225,000 people — but the water board has learned that severe drought can stress even that supply. In most years, the water board has extra water to lease, mostly to farmers. Recently, the water board increased its rate on longterm contracts as a way to generate more revenue in order to keep rates low. By contrast, growth in El Paso County to the north will put pressure on other water resources in the Arkansas River basin, and water comes at a higher price.

    While Pueblo’s supply seems ample for now, the water board already has taken steps to provide water for future generations by buying water rights on the Bessemer Ditch. For now, the water is being leased back to farmers at a low cost. This decision was questioned by farmer Doug Wiley, who came to the meeting and suggested fallowing urban landscapes in times of drought to provide more water to farms.

    Both Wiley and Book agreed, however, that the quality of water in Pueblo is better than the Lower Arkansas Valley and so the water resources in this area should be preserved. Dissolved salts, selenium, radionuclides and minerals increase along the Arkansas River as it flows to Kansas.

    “The quality of water is the issue as you move down the Arkansas Valley,” Book said.

    More conservation coverage here.


    NOAA: Our Ocean Why should we care about it?

    July 7, 2014

    ourocean
    From Our Ocean Service:

    Our World Ocean Provides…

    The air we breathe: the ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere. Climate regulation: covering 70% of the Earth’s surface, the ocean transports heat from the equator to the poles, regulating our climate and weather patterns. Transportation: 76% of all U.S. trade involves some form of marine transportation. Recreation: From fishing to boating to kayaking and whale watching, the ocean provides us with many unique activities. Economic benefits: the U.S. ocean economy produces $282 billion in goods and services and ocean-dependant businesses employ almost three million people. Food: the ocean provides more than just seafood; ingredients from the sea are found in suprising foods such as peanut butter and soymilk. Medicine: many medicinal products come from the ocean, including ingredients that help fight cancer, athritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.


    Water policy briefing Thursday at Donovan Pavilion in Vail, RSVP by July 8 #COWaterPlan

    July 7, 2014

    eagleriver
    From email from the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (Diane Johnson):

    Business community invited to discuss water policy principles

    Contacts:

    Diane Johnson, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, 970-477-5457
    Alison Wadey, Vail Chamber & Business Association, 970-477-0075

    Join the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Vail Chamber & Business Association for a business briefing on the Colorado Water Plan from noon to 1:30 p.m., Thursday (7/10) at Donovan Pavilion in Vail. A complimentary lunch will be served.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered work to begin on the statewide water plan in May 2013; a draft is due to the Governor’s Office no later than Dec. 10, 2014, with the final plan complete by December 2015.

    Business leaders have developed statewide business community water policy principles to be part of Colorado’s Water Plan and are seeking regional input to finalize the principles. Working through local business chambers, this statewide initiative seeks local feedback on the principles, which address the business and economic development needs of Colorado.

    Thursday’s speakers include:

  • Tom Binnings of Summit Economics will discuss the economics of water from a statewide perspective.
  • Linn Brooks of Eagle River Water & Sanitation District will share local water operations and policy, and discuss needs in the Eagle and Colorado River basins.
  • James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board – the state agency tasked with drafting the Colorado Water Plan.
  • Bryan Blakely of Accelerate Colorado and Mizraim Cordero of the Colorado Competitive Council will discuss the business community water policy principles.
  • To ensure enough food for attendees, please RSVP to the Vail Chamber & Business Association at info@vailchamber.org or 970-477-0075 by tomorrow (7/8).

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Runoff news: Lake Granby spill imminent? #ColoradoRiver

    July 7, 2014
    Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

    Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

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

    Typically, reservoirs on the Front Range fill by May, which lowers Lake Granby enough to accept additional water during runoff season, said Kara Lamb with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. But flooding on the East Slope in September, coupled with additional precipitation and runoff, have kept Carter and Horsetooth reservoirs, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project’s main draw points for Front Range water users, too full to accept much water. Add above-average runoff on the Western Slope to the equation, and there is a fair amount of uncertainty whether the Alva B. Adams Tunnel will have anywhere to transport water if and when Lake Granby spills.

    “There could be a little pumping to help with the spill situation,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water. “It’s dependent on this side of the mountains, and if there’s any room to put any water, so demands really haven’t started, and like I said, we’re full everywhere.”

    There’s a possibility that pumping could be halted until Labor Day, Werner said.

    For Grand Lake residents, pumping can mean the difference between pristine clarity and a cloudy lake. Last year, reduced pumping saw the clarity of natural Grand Lake increase, while the shallower Shadow Mountain Reservoir became more turbid…

    As of July 3, Lake Granby was at 2.6 feet from capacity, with levels rising around a third of a foot per day. Werner, of Northern, said if the lake does spill, forecasters expect it to do so between July 10 and July 14.

    “Our forecaster, who I just talked to, said we’re still 50-50 on whether we’re going to spill,” Werner said.

    Spilling is not a very common occurrence for Lake Granby. The last time the lake spilled was in 2011, and before that it was in 2000. The large amount of snowpack has led to above-average flows this year, and reservoirs on the Front Range are already near capacity. Specifically, Carter Lake is at 99 percent full, while Horsetooth Reservoir is 99.2 percent full, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s website.


    Conservation front and center in Broomfield

    July 7, 2014

    broomfield

    From the Enterprise Broomfield News:

    Broomfield offers two water conservation programs to help residents save water and money. Residents and businesses could qualify for an irrigation audit and/or rebates if they receive treated water from Broomfield.

    Free irrigation audits are provided by Slow the Flow Colorado, a nonprofit program of the Center for Resource Conservation. To schedule an irrigation audit, call 303-999-3820 ext. 217 or go to conservationcenter.org/.

    Water rebates help offset the cost to replace inefficient toilets and irrigation components. More information on rebates, including qualifying models and residential rebate instructions, go to broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=1098.

    More information on water conservation, including lawn watering guidelines, can be found at broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=439.

    More conservation coverage here.


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