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:


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

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

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

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

Business community invited to discuss water policy principles


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


    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.

    “The more water you develop, the more risk you take on” — James Eklund #ColoradoRiver

    July 7, 2014
    Drought affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

    Drought affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    America’s largest reservoir, Las Vegas’ main water source, and an important indicator for water supplies in the Southwest — will fall this week to its lowest level since 1937 when the manmade lake was first being filled, according to forecasts from the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

    The record-setting low water mark — a surface elevation of 1,081.8 feet above sea level — will not trigger any restrictions for the seven states in the Colorado River Basin. Restrictions will most likely come in 2016 when the lake is projected to drop below 1,075 feet, a threshold that forces cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada, states at the head of the line for rationing.

    But the steadily draining lake does signal an era of new risks and urgency for an iconic and ebbing watershed that provides up to 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico with a portion of their drinking water. The rules governing the river are complex, but the risk equation is straightforward: less supply due to a changing climate, plus increasing demands from new development, leads to greater odds of shortages…

    Yet despite a shrinking lake, diminishing supplies, and ardent pleas from tour guides and environmental groups to preserve a canyon-cutting marvel, the four states in the basin upriver from Lake Mead intend to increase the amount of water they take out of the Colorado River. All of the states are updating or developing new state water strategies, most of which involve using more Colorado River water, not less.

    “We have mapped out how the remainder of our allocation can be used,” Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, told Circle of Blue. “It’s going to happen sooner rather than later. We have a place for every drop.”

    Utah — like fellow upper basin states Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming — is not using all the Colorado River water it was granted by a 1922 interstate compact. The four states have the legal authority to increase their Colorado River diversions.

    However, the water they seek may not be available. The calculations of availability stem from wetter hydrological conditions and supply forecasts made nearly a century ago. Under the 1922 compact, the upper basin is entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet. A later agreement apportioned each state a percentage of the available supply. The upper basin’s average annual use between 2007 and 2011, the most recent figures, was 4.6 million acre-feet.

    The legal entitlement, granted at a time when the river’s hydrology was poorly understood, is surely too high. All the states acknowledge that fact. “We’re not pegging our hopes or analysis on the full 7.5,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state water planning agency…

    The upper basin put forward a plan this spring to keep more water in Powell. The states would do this by paying farmers not to farm and by changing how smaller mountain reservoirs are managed. Three urban water utilities in the lower basin, along with Denver and the federal government, put up $US 11 million to develop a similar basin-wide program…

    Though the lower basin is using its entire allocation, the four upper basin states are not. They desire more water from the Colorado, yet exactly how much water is available is uncertain.

    The only concrete number to emerge so far is 5.8 million acre-feet of water available for the upper basin, or three-quarters of what was granted. That figure, called the hydrological determination, was developed by New Mexico and the Department of the Interior in 2007 as part of a water supply study.

    New Mexico is the only state using 5.8 million acre-feet as a firm number. Millis said Utah is using 6.5 million acre-feet of upper basin supply for its planning, and Colorado and Wyoming are looking at a range of values.

    Eklund told Circle of Blue there is “vigorous debate” both within and between states over what number should be used to assess water availability and what the acceptable levels of risk are as water use increases.

    “There’s a sliding scale of risk,” Eklund said. “The more water you develop, the more risk you take on. But that doesn’t necessarily counsel against a project.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Runoff/snowpack news: Whitewater recreation buoyed by streamflow

    July 6, 2014


    From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

    Colorado rafting outfitters are relishing a surge in visitation after two years of business-sinking drought and wildfire. As river flows become less intimidating, trips are selling out. Guests are spending more. Snowpack lingers in the high country, promising a paddling season that could push into fall.

    “All the indicators are super positive right now,” said Alex Mickel, who has all 90 of his employees working this week as guests flock to his Mild To Wild rafting and tour company in Durango. “We are definitely benefiting from the economic rebound, too. People are looking at longer trips, stepping up to longer days, adding Jeep tours.”

    Signs are good that Colorado’s rafting industry could host more than 500,000 user days, returning to the heydays of 2006, 2007 and 2008. Even if the visits don’t reach record levels, tourists are opening wallets wider, with resort towns across the state reporting record sales tax revenue last summer and this past winter. Last year, more than 461,000 rafters riding Colorado’s rivers and streams spent $56.7 million, creating an economic impact of $145.3 million. That was a step toward recovery from the drought- and wildfire-plagued 2012 season, which ranks as the second-worst year for Colorado rafting since 1995. But 2013, too, was haunted by wildfire.

    Fires around Durango pinched traffic on the popular Animas River. The Royal Gorge fire near Cañon City deterred rafters on the Arkansas River, the most trafficked river in the country. The heavily publicized Black Forest fire in Colorado Springs kept more rafters at bay.

    “We will suffer more from a fire up by Colorado Springs or Denver than we will from a fire down here because those are the ones who get the big press,” said Durango’s Mickel, noting how wildfire coverage tends to deter vacationers.

    This year — knock wood — lasting snowpacks and spring storms have dampened the wildfire scene, giving outfitters a head start on what could be the best season in five years.

    As river flows recede from the initial gush of spring snowmelt, rafters are flocking. Last week, Ryan Barwick’s MAD Adventures and Rocky Mountain Adventures rafts filled to capacity on the Colorado and Cache la Poudre rivers and Clear Creek.

    “My gut feeling is that we are seeing some pent-up demand, but it’s hard to quantify,” said Barwick, who had all 75 of his employees on deck as he reached capacity for tours on the Poudre and Clear Creek. “The economy has stabilized and people are traveling. We had our best preseason bookings in five years. Now that we are past the high-water phase, the floodgates are open.”

    High flows and stormy afternoons delayed the start of the rafting season, which hits its peak this holiday weekend. But the winter’s healthy snowfall has built a lasting snowpack up high, translating to consistent flows in rivers down low. Flowing rivers have sated agricultural users farther east, and those users have yet to place widespread calls for irrigation water from reservoirs. That means rafters could enjoy sustained, buoyant flows when those calls do happen in the next two months.

    The river riding season is shaping up to last well into September, maybe even October, said David Costlow, president of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, which represents 44 outfitters operating on 19 rivers and creeks in the state. That promise of consistent flows allows outfitters to book trips into the shoulder months.

    “When you are not sure what the water flows are going to be, you tend not to book. But when you are going to have flows, you are more positive and people are more inclined to book trips,” said Costlow, who predicts the season user tally could top the half-million mark last seen in 2008. “Let’s hope things stay strong for a while.”

    Meanwhile, the runoff was pretty well-behaved keeping flooding losses down. Here’s a report from Ryan Maye Handy writing for the Fort Collins Coloradon. Here’s an excerpt:

    The snowmelt season is over in Northern Colorado and it was far less damaging than state officials initially feared.

    Although state highway officials were bracing for catastrophic spring flooding in areas weakened by the September 2013 flood, there was little severe flood damage along the Front Range as the state’s snowpack melted…

    Water flow in parts of the canyon almost broke records this year, according to measurements taken at the canyon’s mouth. There the river hit its peak on May 31, when it hit 6,000 cubic feet per second — equal to about 6,000 basketballs floating by each second.

    That’s the second-highest peak flow recorded at the canyon mouth since 1957, according to records kept by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    “The only other time it went higher was in 1983, when it was 6,725 cfs,” said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the district.

    The Poudre’s levels can be fickle — subject to rain, snowmelt and water use — and rafter Ryan Barwick, owner of Rocky Mountain Adventures, cautioned against letting one gauge speak for the rest of the river.

    “We can have great flows up there for rafting, but have a trickle at the canyon mouth,” he said.

    The 6,000 cfs level didn’t strike him as unusually high.

    “If you talk to most boaters, they remember most years when over 5,000 in the canyon was commonplace,” he added.

    The mountains west of Fort Collins have been emptied of most of their water, said Treste Huse, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder. Snowpack measurement gauges at Joe Wright Reservoir are down to 1.7 inches of snow water equivalent — the amount of water the snow contains. The reservoir gauge had 32 inches of snow water equivalent at its peak.

    Many of the northern Front Range’s snow gauges are “all melted out,” Huse said.

    Spring rains in May and snowpack levels have left most of Northern Water’s reservoirs full — Horsetooth Reservoir has been full at least twice this spring, and Lake Granby is just 3 feet from spilling over, Werner said.

    “We are as full as we have ever been,” he said. “We may have been this full in 1962.

    The Summer 2014 Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

    July 6, 2014
    Geothermal Electrical Generation concept -- via the British Geological Survey

    Geothermal Electrical Generation concept — via the British Geological Survey

    Click here to read the newsletter.

    More education coverage here.

    US Senate candidate Cory Gardner gets an earful about the federal role for water in the West #COpolitics

    July 6, 2014

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    Proposed rules could place “basically every drop of Colorado water” under the federal government’s jurisdiction, increasing permitting requirements, mitigation and costs for projects needed to ensure future water supplies in a state that’s expecting big shortages.

    That was the general consensus among the several water officials, representatives of the agriculture industry and others who traveled from across the state to voice their concerns to Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., at his Greeley office on Thursday.

    Gardner encouraged those at the table and others who are concerned to continue raising their voices to the Environmental Protection Agency, which will take comments on its proposed rule through Oct. 20.

    The EPA has long stressed that its proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule is simply an effort to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands, since determining Clean Water Act protection became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.

    But many are stressing now that the EPA’s attempted clarification would instead expand the federal government’s reach, with much more water and area falling under the EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” rules, according to their interpretations of the proposed rules.

    New projects and certain maintenance on “Waters of the U.S.” requires federal permitting and, depending on the circumstances, possibly environmental mitigation efforts, which can mean a lot of time and money for the municipality, ditch company or whoever is overseeing the effort.

    As an example, Mark Pifher with Colorado Springs Utilities compared the permitting and mitigation costs of Aurora’s Prairie Water Project — which was only $1.5 million, because it didn’t fall under “Waters of the U.S.” rules — to the $150 million in permitting and mitigation it took for the Colorado Springs Southern Delivery System, which did fall under “Waters of the U.S.” rules.

    Along with more projects and maintenance facing increased permitting and costs, some on Thursday even expressed concerns of the EPA eventually taking control of water in Colorado, because the state’s individual water-rights holders wouldn’t be able to put them to use.

    Water officials from across Colorado stressed that the EPA’s rules are a one-size-fits-all approach, and don’t take into account how differently water works in the semi-arid or arid West — where water storage, reuse, groundwater recharge and other efforts are needed to get by —­ compared to the much wetter eastern U.S.

    The “connectivity” language in the proposed rules — which places areas and waters that are merely “connected” to “Waters of the U.S.” under the federal government’s jurisdiction — is particularly concerning to those who were at Gardner’s table Thursday.

    The group said the fact that the EPA still believes it’s only clarifying its rules and not expanding its reach only reveals a big misunderstanding of how water works in the West and in Colorado.

    Some at the table Thursday said that perhaps Congress — with representation of all states — is better equipped than the EPA to take charge of the rule-making.

    Ag groups — like the Colorado Farm Bureau, which was represented at the table by Don Shawcroft, the organization’s president — are pushing their “Ditch the Rule” campaign.

    Among other points, Shawcroft noted that the EPA’s existing “agriculture exemptions,” which would still apply under the new rules, wouldn’t do much good for farmers and ranchers, since those exemptions only apply to operations that are still under the same ownership and under the exact same practices as they were in 1977.

    “Agriculture has changed a lot since then,” he added.

    Impacts on NISP?

    Eric Wilkinson — general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees the largest water-supply project in the region, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — said “basically every ditch” and “every drop of Colorado water” could fall under the EPA’s jurisdiction under the new rules.

    Because of that, he and everyone else at the table stressed, that the future costs and time to permit water projects or maintenance might detour officials, water providers or others from pursuing certain needed actions.

    And in a state that, according to the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, is expected to see a municipal and industrial water-supply gap of as many as 1 million acre-feet by 2050, and also see as many as 700,000 acres of irrigated farm ground dry up by that same year, many water projects are needed, they say.

    Under the proposed rule, Wilkinson said one of the “needed projects” that Northern Water is overseeing — the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, which would build a new reservoir near Fort Collins and another one near Ault — could possibly have to “go back to the drawing board” on some its federal permitting efforts, which have already been in the works by Northern Water for more than a decade.

    Wilkinson and others said the complications resulting from more area and water in Colorado falling under “Waters of the U.S.” rules could also detour collaborative water efforts between cities and farmers. As many retiring farmers over the years have sold their valuable water rights to growing cities, many are now pushing for alternative water transfers between farmers and cities that would reduce the amount of water permanently leaving the state’s farms.

    Improvements to irrigation ditches and other irrigation systems, too, could require more permitting and more costs under the new rules.

    “There’s certainly more questions than answers,” noted West Slope rancher and Colorado Farm Bureau Vice President Carlyle Currier.

    More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

    Drought news: Conejos, Mineral and Rio Grande counties eligible for low-interest emergency loans #COdrought

    July 5, 2014

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


    During the past 7-days, a series of weak upper-level disturbances and frontal systems at the surface brought widespread precipitation to much of the contiguous United States, outside of the Southwest and California. Heavy rain (2”-4”, locally greater) fell across portions of the Upper Mississippi Valley, the northern Plains, the Pacific Northwest, the west-central Gulf Coast region, the general vicinity of the southern Appalachians, and the Northeast. A low pressure area off the East Coast of Florida was in the process of developing into a tropical depression, and would become Tropical Storm Arthur by the end of the period.

    Southern and Central Plains

    Two to four inch rains fell over southern and central portions of Nebraska, prompting 1-category upgrades for these areas. In central and southern Kansas, 2-5 inch rains (locally heavier) warranted one-category improvements, especially in places which received two to three times their normal rainfall for the week. In Oklahoma, widespread one-category improvements were made in the northern portion of the state, due to very heavy rains during the past 30-days. For example, in the town of Buffalo, OK, 10.44 inches of rain fell during the past month, compared to the normal June rainfall of 4.08 inches. Flash flooding was also reported in Buffalo. On June 30th, the Oklahoma Panhandle experienced a very impressive dust storm. In the southeast portion of the state, minor degradations were rendered to the drought depiction. Texas had an unexpectedly wet week, with very heavy precipitation along the Gulf Coast (generally 3-5 inches, locally greater), and moderate to heavy precipitation (0.5-3.0 inches) in the interior East, supporting 1-category improvements. Relatively small alterations were made to the depiction in southern and far western Texas, both improvements and degradations.

    Southwest and California

    Little if any precipitation was observed in the Southwest during the past week. In western New Mexico, severe drought (D2) was downgraded to extreme drought (D3), and a general one-category degradation was rendered to the depiction in the southernmost counties of Luna, Dona Ana, and Otero. El Paso has received only 25 percent of its normal precipitation since January 1, 2014, making this the 7th driest year on record (so far) since 1879. High temperatures have been exacerbating drought-related impacts. Every day in June, El Paso was at or above normal, with a June departure of about +6.1 degrees F, making this the second warmest June on record, only behind June of 1994. In northeast Utah, most of the D2 area was downgraded to D3 conditions, while moderate rain (0.5-2.0 inches) supported a one-category improvement to parts of northeast Colorado. In southern Nevada, the continued lack of rain prompted the expansion of extreme drought (D3) conditions across parts of Nye, Lincoln, and Clark Counties, while in southern California, exceptional drought (D4) was expanded across Ventura, Los Angeles, and much of Orange Counties.

    Looking Ahead
    During July 3-7, 2014, most of the contiguous United States is expected to receive a half-inch or less of rain, though there are a few exceptions. Northern and central Florida, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, near the mid-Atlantic Coast, and the southern and eastern New England coasts may get 2-4 inches of rain, in part from what is currently Tropical Storm (projected to be hurricane) Arthur and from an active cold front approaching from the west. In the Middle Mississippi Valley, 0.5-1.0 inch of rain is forecast during this period, while 0.5-1.5 inches of rain is expected in association with the onset of the Southwest Monsoon across portions of Arizona, New Mexico and northern Texas. Temperatures during the period are anticipated to be mostly within 4 degrees of normal, though very brief departures of 8-10 degrees above normal are projected for the northern Plains region.

    For the ensuing 5-day period, July 8-12, 2014, there are enhanced odds of above-median rainfall in the east-central CONUS, the Great Lakes region, southern Florida, and the Southwest. Below-median precipitation is favored over the Pacific Northwest, the northern Rockies, and southwest Alaska. Mean temperatures for this period are favored to be above-normal over approximately the eastern and western thirds of the lower 48 states, and the southern half of Alaska, and near to below-normal temperatures are favored over the central third of the CONUS.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated three San Luis Valley counties as drought-related natural disaster areas. The move, announced this week, makes farmers and ranchers in Conejos, Mineral and Rio Grande counties eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

    While drought conditions have improved in the valley since last year, the three counties were eligible because they are contiguous to counties on the other side of the Continental Divide that have been declared primary disaster areas.

    Farmers have until the beginning of March to apply for the loans from the Farm Service Agency.

    The U.S. Drought Monitor currently lists the valley as abnormally dry, its least severe drought designation.

    Last year, the valley was mired in severe drought, the third-most extreme of the monitor’s five designations.

    Pueblo County and seven other Southeastern Colorado counties were given natural disaster designations in January.

    Mountain towns should support a tax on greenhouse gas emissions — Allen Best @MountainTownNew

    July 4, 2014

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Hot and dry? Not in Colorado this year. Exactly the opposite. In Breckenridge last week, flowers overflowed the planters along Main Street. They were new, I was told, because the lingering cold had killed previous efforts at civic gaiety.

    Evidence of global warming? No, but weather should not be confused with climate. We still have a major problem.

    I was in Breckenridge to attend a meeting of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns. CAST consists of municipalities in all the destination ski resorts, but it has expanded to include several counties and also a few towns with a slightly looser affiliation, including Estes Park and Grand Lake, the two gateway towns to Rocky Mountain National Park.

    At the meeting, Ketchum, Idaho, and Whistler, B.C., were also approved for membership, joining Jackson, Wyo., and Park City, Utah, as non-Colorado ski towns. Nederland, located west of Boulder, near the Eldora ski area, also was voted in. As the business meeting was in the middle of libations, part of a social hour at the end of the Colorado Municipal League annual conference, this approval was granted with raised glasses and cheers.

    Then it was my time to speak. I nearly begged off. Walking to the front, I thought to tell my joke and announce I’d return at a later meeting, before cocktail hour, to speak my piece.

    My joke went over well, and so I laid out my pitch after all. CAST, I said, should consider an advocacy role on behalf of a national carbon tax.

    Now, I’m glad that I was bold. By a few days, I preceded an op-ed in the New York Times by Henry Paulson, the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs and then treasury secretary in the second term of George W. Bush.

    About the same time, Rolling Stone published an essay by Al Gore, the former vice president, who also mentioned the need for a carbon tax.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Holyoke: Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors meeting July 10

    July 3, 2014
    Republican River Basin by District

    Republican River Basin by District

    From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

    The Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors will be holding its regular quarterly meeting Thursday, July 10, in Holyoke. It will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Biesemeier Meeting Room in the Phillips County Events Center.

    The agenda includes a report from Colorado State Engineer Dick Wolfe on negotiations with Kansas regarding the compact compliance pipeline resolution and the Bonny Reservoir resolution. The board will receive the 2013 audit report, and is expected to approve an engagement letter for the 2014 audit.

    Public comment will be heard at 1 p.m.

    For more information, please contact RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel at 332-3552, or 630-3525, or email deb.daniel@rrwcd.com. The RRWCD’s website is http://www.republicanriver.com.

    More Republican River Basin coverage here.

    Water Lines: Water, democracy and private property rights

    July 3, 2014

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    Which is more important: The public’s enjoyment of healthy streams, or preserving private property rights and agriculture? Do we really have to choose?

    Questions swirling around proposed ballot initiatives that assert public rights to Colorado’s water and environment reflect broader tensions between public and private rights that are inherent in our democracy, as well as changing public values regarding natural resources.

    The U.S. Constitution barely mentions water, but the Colorado Constitution has an entire article (16) on “Mining and Irrigation,” which provides the underpinnings of Colorado water law. In summary:

    • Water in streams is owned by the public: “The water of every natural stream, not heretofore appropriated, within the state of Colorado, is hereby declared to be the property of the public, and the same is dedicated to the use of the people of the state …”

    • At the same time, individuals’ rights to take water out of a stream to use it are assured: “The right to divert the unappropriated waters of any natural stream to beneficial uses shall never be denied.” Further details explain that “priority of appropriation shall give the better right…” In other words, first in time, first in right.

    • Rights of way have to be provided to move water from a stream to where it’s needed: “All persons and corporations shall have the right-of-way across public, private and corporate lands for the construction of ditches, canals and flumes for the purpose of conveying water … upon payment of just compensation.”

    These provisions reflect the necessity of access to water from streams for life and livelihoods in semi-arid Colorado and, according to legal scholar David Schorr, a desire to prevent that access from being controlled by a privileged few. This is a very democratic kind of desire.

    Over the last 100-plus years, public values related to water have become more complicated. We all still want to drink water and eat food, but water in streams for recreation and a healthy environment have also become high priorities. And sometimes water taken out of streams to serve those long-established values of domestic use, agriculture and industry, and the livelihoods related to them, ends up leaving streams depleted and unhealthy.

    The constitution clearly provides for taking water out of streams, but gives no direction about when water should be left in. The General Assembly passed laws allowing water rights to be filed for environmental and recreational purposes, but most of these rights are very junior to others and vulnerable to going unmet.

    Proposed ballot initiatives to establish public rights in water and the environment seek to reverse the priority of these values. Initiative 103, “Public Trust Resources,” which focused on water, was derailed from its track to the ballot by the Supreme Court, but Initiative 89, “Local Government Regulation of Environment,” was cleared for signature collection.

    Initiative 89 would amend Colorado’s constitution by asserting that Colorado citizens “have a right to Colorado’s environment, including its clean air, pure water and natural and scenic values.” It directs the state and local governments to protect these resources, and says that when local and state laws conflict, the more restrictive or protective would govern.

    In his dissenting opinion, Justice Gregory Hobbs argued that the new public right to the environment “would override existing private and publicly held property rights,” and would require state and local officials “to act adversely to the interests of private parties …”

    In addition to reflecting the ever-present tension between public and private rights, the dispute also reflects polarization between parties primarily interested in preserving the status quo and those seeking enhanced environmental protections.

    Longtime environmental advocate and vice president of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District Steve Glazer, speaking at the Colorado Water Workshop in Gunnison in June, urged both sides in the conflict to “listen to each other more, and move together instead of apart” in order to find solutions that don’t sacrifice one set of values to serve the other.

    From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

    Douglas Kemper, executive director of Colorado Water Congress, joined Bruce Whitehead of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, and elected leaders to educate the council on two initiatives that could change the state’s prior appropriation system for managing water claims. Prior appropriation is a way of water allocation that controls who uses how much water, the types of uses allowed and when those waters can be used.

    The secretary of state’s website said any person can draft a statewide initiative to amend the state constitution. If proponents of the ballot measure gets enough signatures, about 86,105, all voters in the state would decide the issue. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed initiatives 89 and 75.

    The Water Congress, a nonprofit group providing leadership on water issues, created a stewardship project that tracks, what it believes are, “public trust doctrine” initiatives that would change how Colorado allocates water. The group opposes public-trust initiatives. Switching to a public-trust system would mean the government would decide how to allocate water rights instead of who came first, according to Kemper.

    Initiative 75 would give local governments the power to approve laws that would establish the fundamental rights of residents, communities and nature. It would give local governments expanded power over businesses, such as allowing local laws to establish or eliminate the rights of corporations and other businesses operating in the community to protect the rights of people, communities and nature.

    “Those are some pretty far-reaching powers,” Kemper said. “Basically, it says those local laws would be superior to international, federal or state law.”

    Initiative 89 declares that Colorado’s environment is the common property of all Coloradoans, including the clean air, pure water, and natural and scenic values. It makes state and local governments trustees of the environment and requires them to protect the environment.

    Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs Jr. wrote in a dissenting opinion on Initiative 89 that the initiative would create a new common property right that would override existing private and publicly held property rights.

    “Initiative 89 would upend the existing regulatory balance and thrust private-property owners and governments into an uncertain future,” Hobbs wrote…

    State Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, urged city councilors to draft a resolution opposing these initiatives. The Southwestern Water Conservancy District has issued a resolution in opposition to public trust initiatives.

    More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

    Runoff/snowpack news: Water supply for Ag producers north of I-70 = OK, south, not so much #COdrought

    July 3, 2014

    Colorado Drought Monitor June 24, 2014

    Colorado Drought Monitor June 24, 2014

    From The Produce News (Lora Abcarian):

    [Dick Wolfe] said I-70, which runs east and west through the Centennial State, has become something of a line of demarcation. Agricultural producers north of I-70 are seeing more favorable water supplies in 2014. Traveling south of the interstate, conditions begin to change and become more extreme.

    “A large driver of the water in aquifers is snowpack and runoff,” Wolfe commented, adding that snowpack was generally good in the Rocky Mountains this year. “The lowest water levels on record are in the Rio Grande Valley. In the Rio Grande, runoff continues to be bad.” Much of Colorado’s San Luis Valley, known for its production of potatoes for the fresh market, lies within the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

    The district saw the formation of Colorado’s first-ever groundwater management subdistrict which continues to take measures to reduce water consumption by agricultural interests and, at the same time, address ongoing depletions in the aquifer. “Mother Nature is that other part we have no control over,” Wolfe commented. “Over the last 10 to 15 years, the southern half of the state has been getting drier. And the Rio Grande has been consistently been in drought conditions.”

    Elsewhere in Colorado, it’s another story. “The Arkansas River Basin is not looking too bad in the upper part of the state,” Wolfe noted. The headwaters of the river are located in northern Colorado, and the basin supplies water to agricultural producers in southeast Colorado.

    Growers in Colorado’s Western Slope, located west of the Continental Divide, are generally reporting good water availability this season for their crops. The Colorado River and its tributaries flow through the region. “The Colorado and Gunnison rivers had great runoff conditions in the north,” Wolfe said. “The south [Western Slope] is in drought.”

    There is considerable agricultural production in northeastern Colorado, the location of the South Platte River Basin. Last September, unprecedented flooding occurred in the area, with the greatest impacts affecting infrastructure and residential areas. “The runoff is now over, but we are not out of the woods yet,” said Wolfe of the potential for possible flooding attributed to rainfall.

    There is concern in the South Platte River Basin about high water tables in the Sterling and Gilcrest/LaSalle areas. “That’s certainly a concern at the governor’s level,” Wolfe commented…

    Officials continue with recovery efforts in northern Colorado following 2013 flooding. Wolfe said 27 dams were damaged. “That didn’t make those reservoirs unusable,” he commented. “Seventy-five percent of structures have been restored from last year’s damage.” Another 23 stream-gauging stations and 220 diversion structures were also damaged.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Inflow keeps coming up. As a result, we are upping the release from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue River, again. By 4 p.m. [July 2] the release from the dam to the river should be around 1700 cfs.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Not a lot of changes for the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project this week. Horsetooth and Carter are full and will stay full through the holiday weekend. Flatiron, Pinewood and Lake Estes all fluctuate slightly, due mostly to power generation, but remain at the upper end of their storage pools. In fact, the water elevation at Pinewood is on the rise again after going down last week.

    The outflow from Olympus Dam to the canyon remains at 125 cfs.

    Our big news is at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon. We have curtailed the release of water through the concrete chute to the river. Instead, we are once again running water through the Big Thompson Power Plant. This is an exciting moment for us as the plant had been off-line since the flood.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    We have increased releases twice from Green Mountain since my note yesterday. Yesterday afternoon, we went up to about 1400 cfs. This morning around 9 a.m. we went up to about 1600 cfs. We are still storing in Green Mountain Reservoir. It is 97% full.

    The reason for these changes is we are seeing the high elevation snow melt runoff come down the Blue River. It is very likely we will see another change or two before the Holiday Weekend.

    Union Pacific plans treatment plant for discharge mitigation at the West Portal of the Moffat Tunnel #ColoradoRiver

    July 2, 2014


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

    The Union Pacific Railroad announced on June 19 that it plans to construct a water treatment facility that will remove fine particulates and metals discharged in flows from the west portal.

    As part of its discharge permit, Union Pacific must meet preset effluent limitations by April 30, 2017. The new treatment plant will help Union Pacific reach compliance with those limitations.

    “It’s a victory,” said Mike Wageck, president of the East Grand Water Quality Board. “It’s definitely a victory for the river, if they’re going to be removing that coal dust that’s getting in there and removing those metals.”

    The way the tunnel is bored, ground water flows from seepages inside the tunnel, picking up coal dust left by passing trains and heavy metals leached from the railroad ballast and exposed rock.

    “This isn’t much different than a mineral mine,” said Kirk Klancke, East Grand Water Quality Board member. “If you just put a hole in the ground and have water leeching out, it’s going to carry the heavy metals you’ve exposed that have been buried for millennia.”

    The way the Moffat Tunnel is pitched, water flows from both portals of the tunnel. To the east, water flows through a sedimentation pond before it’s discharged into South Boulder Creek. But to the west, water flows untreated into the Fraser. In 2013, average daily flows from the west portal were 171 gallons per minute, according to an implementation schedule sent from Union Pacific to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    The sediment in this discharge increases turbidity, or cloudiness, in the Fraser River…

    Slag, a by-product of metal processing found in railroad ballast, leeches copper, lead, mercury and arsenic, among other elements, into the discharge and ultimately the river, according to the implementation schedule.

    “Basically, from 2007 to today, we’ve been reviewing various ways we could treat the water coming out, primarily the water when it comes out of the tunnel,” said Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union Pacific.

    Union Pacific examined a number of options for reaching compliance with effluent levels in the discharge, including diverting the water to publicly-owned treatment works in Winter Park, though the town ultimately decided that it would not benefit from receiving the water, pretreated or not…

    Davis said he wasn’t sure when construction on the facility would begin or how much it would cost, though the state requires that Union Pacific have something in place by its compliance date of April 30, 2017.

    More Fraser River watershed coverage here.

    Tim Barnett of @Scripps_Ocean predicts Lake Mead may be out of water by 2036 #ColoradoRiver

    July 2, 2014

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

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

    July 2, 2014
    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation thru June 29 via the Colorado Climate Center

    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation thru June 29 via the Colorado Climate Center

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

    Runoff/snowpack news

    July 2, 2014

    Dillon Reservoir via the Summit County Citizens Voice

    Dillon Reservoir via the Summit County Citizens Voice

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Warmer weather is bringing down that high elevation snow pack. [June 30], Denver Water upped releases from Dillon Reservoir. [July 1], we are increasing releases from Green Mountain to the Lower Blue in two changes of 100 cfs each. At 9:00 this morning, releases will go up to 1200 cfs. At 10:00 a.m., releases will go up to 1300 cfs.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Despite only two days with temperatures over the century mark, June was hotter and drier than usual. Monday’s high temperature of 103 tied the record for the last day of June, following a 100-degree reading on Sunday. Yet water use is down in Pueblo and the surrounding area.

    “We’re unusually low,” said David Simpson, manager of the St. Charles Mesa Water District. “We really haven’t peaked at all.”

    The district east of Pueblo usually sees use of 5.5 million gallons per day during hot spells, but so far has not gone above 4.5 mgd.

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works is about 12 percent behind last year in pumping for the month of June, said Seth Clayton, director of administrative services.

    “The city is using less in the parks,” Clayton said.

    The city’s water use has averaged about 39 mgd, compared with 44 mgd last year in June. Peak use came June 20, at 46 mgd, while a year ago, the peak hit nearly 50 mgd.

    “I think it’s been a little more humid, if you can ever say it’s humid in Pueblo,” Clayton said. “I think the afternoon cloud cover has helped things.”

    Pueblo West has seen about 93 percent of 2013 water use so far this year. June watering was down 10 percent from 2013 and 13 percent from 2012, said Jack Johnston, metro district manager.

    “We’ve hit a peak of 9 million gallons per day so far, and expect to hit 10 million in the next few days,” Johnston said. Consumers in all three areas are tending to use less water since the severe drought of 2001-03.

    “We have never come back to the usage we saw prior to 2002,” Simpson said. “People have started using water more wisely.”

    In Pueblo, the trend has been the same, with reduced water use in similar weather conditions for the past 12 years. One problem with selling less water is that it hurts revenues for water providers. Outdoor water use accounts for about half of all water sales.

    “A lot of ours is reduced consumption by the city of Pueblo, which is not paid for anyway,” Clayton said. “On the revenue side, we’ll make up for it in other areas.”

    Climate study projects more severe thunderstorms

    July 2, 2014

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:


    Lightning flashes over Peak 1 in Frisco, Colorado, during a late-summer thunderstorm. bberwyn photo.

    Eastern U.S. may see more winter and autumn storms

    By Summit Voice

    FRISCO — A warmer and wetter atmosphere is likely to drive up the number of severe thunderstorms in coming decades, potentially resulting in more economic losses associated with extreme weather.

    The new study led by Stanford University scientists shows  that global warming is likely to cause a robust increase in the conditions that produce these types of storms across much of the country over the next century, including more severe weather during the spring, fall and winter.

    To date, efforts to project thunderstorm activity under various global warming scenarios has been hampered by sparse historical data. But the Stanford-led team, headed by professor Noah Diffenbaugh, was able to use a complex ensemble of physics-based climate models to produce the most comprehensive projections of…

    View original 617 more words

    #COWaterPlan Pueblo meeting recap: “I feel like I have a bull’s-eye on my back” — farmer Doug Wiley

    July 2, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The ideal state water plan: Don’t destroy the farms; keep the faucets flowing; be prepared for emergencies; leave some water in the river for fish; and teach future generations why water is so important. At least according to the crowd of 60 people who showed up Tuesday at Pueblo Community College for the final public outreach meeting of the Arkansas Valley Roundtable.

    The most poignant moment of the evening came when farmer Doug Wiley spoke, quite eloquently, about the importance of agriculture to the Arkansas River basin: “My family has been putting water to good use near Avondale for 100 years, but I feel like I have a bull’s-eye on my back. . . . We call it a water plan, but it’s broader than that. It’s a free-for-all, but there’s not much farmland. We have to preserve it. . . . I think we should be talking about how we fallow parts of the cities in a drought.”

    It was the one comment that drew applause from a group that grazed freely on a verdant field of topics.

    A state water plan is being written by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the order of Gov. John Hickenlooper. It’s due by the end of the year. The Arkansas Basin plank of that document is due by the end of this month. The primary purpose is dealing with a shortfall of water, which for the Arkansas Valley means supplying enough water each year by the year 2030 to serve a city the size of Pueblo. Most of that need will be in El Paso County. But filling that need means working with other needs.

    Pueblo Chieftain Assistant Publisher Jane Rawlings and Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya talked about the need to control flooding on Fountain Creek caused by that growth.

    Ben Wurster of the local Trout Unlimited chapter said water providers need to provide more water and operate Pueblo Dam more efficiently in order to preserve the Arkansas River fishery below the dam.

    And perhaps most unexpectedly, Donna Stinchcomb, curator of the Buell Children’s Museum spoke on the need to reach out to the next generation in connection with an upcoming fall program on how artists view water: “We’re looking for children’s programs that connect them to water.”

    Betty Konarski, the chairwoman of the roundtable, summed it up: “It’s a precious resource, the basis for life, and we have to make sure we will have enough.”

    Meanwhile, here’s a report about the Colorado Water Plan from Marianne Goodland writing for The Fort Morgan Times. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado Water Plan draws upon a decade of work by the state’s eight basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It also incorporates information from the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which predicted the state will have a gap between water supply and demand of about 500,000 acre feet of water by 2050, with the largest gap projected for the South Platte River Basin.

    During the past year, the basin roundtables and the CWCB have held dozens of town meetings on the water plan, seeking input from citizens and organizations interested in the state’s water future. Those meetings wrapped up in April, and then the basin roundtable members went to work to develop their basin implementation plans (BIPS), that will be submitted to the CWCB at the end of July. Those plans will be incorporated into the draft Colorado Water Plan, which is due to the Governor at the end of the year. The plan is to be finalized by December, 2015.

    In addition to the basin implementation plans, the state water plan will include a “framework” document that outlines the issues to be addressed. The CWCB has already released eight draft chapters of this framework document this year, with four coming out in the last month. The most recent drafts covered water quality, conservation and re-use, and alternative agriculture to urban transfers. The drafts will be updated based on input from the BIPs.

    The draft on agricultural transfers focused on alternative agricultural transfer methods (ATMS) and current efforts to develop more creative solutions to “buy and dry.” The draft noted several ATMs are already in place and more are on the way. These include deficit irrigation, water co-ops, water banks, water conservation easements; and flexible water markets, which was proposed in the 2014 legislative session but failed to clear the Senate. Another ATM, farrowing-leasing, which would allow for farrowing of irrigated farmland with temporary leasing of water to municipalities, is being studied under legislation passed in 2013.

    More than 1,000 emails and documents have come in to the CWCB, addressing the draft chapters. Almost half of the responses came from stakeholders in the South Platte River and Metro Denver districts.

    Most of the comments received by the CWCB have come either through emails to cowaterplan@state.co.us or through a webform on the water plan website, coloradowaterplan.com. CWCB staff responded to all of the comments, even those that might not be financially or technically feasible. One such comment said the state should cover its reservoirs with a thin membrane “similar to bubble wrap” to slow evaporation. Another suggested that the state halt all housing development along the Front Range.

    A handful of comments addressed agricultural use, including responses that encourage more efficient irrigation systems and pointing out that agriculture is far and away the biggest user of water. But one commenter suggested a new form of “buy and dry.” Kristen Martinez of Metropolitan State University of Denver said the city of Denver could pay for businesses and residents to xeriscape their lawns, similar to a plan implemented by the city of Las Vegas. She also recommended the city of Denver invest in more efficient irrigation systems for farmers, as a trade-off for buying up agricultural water rights.

    “…agriculture stands as the biggest water user, but farmers should not be the only ones to feel the pain of supply and demand,” Martinez wrote. “Most Denverites don’t give heed to the serious task of stewarding their water — not as a farmer must. Why aren’t local industries or municipal users being asked to sacrifice their lifestyle or adjust their operations?…can Colorado’s water plan please ask urban users to take ownership of their consumption, in addition to solving it by diverting farm water?”

    Sean Cronin, director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, chairs the South Platte River Basin roundtable, and pointed out that the South Platte and Metro Denver basin are collaborating on a joint BIP.

    Cronin noted that although they are submitting a joint BIP, the two districts are quite diverse and one size will not fit all. “Water is very local!” he said recently. Feedback in the town meetings has been very different throughout the two districts. In Sterling, for example, he said the focus was on agriculture. In Longmont, people spoke about groundwater because of the well issues in the area. Denver’s focus was more on municipal conservation and recreational/environmental concerns.

    So how will the two roundtables come up with one BIP, given the divergent views? Cronin said that they knew going into the process it would be difficult to address all of the different interests and cultures surrounding water. “It’s incredibly challenging to par it down to one solution that will make everyone happy,” he said. Cronin believes the draft BIP will instead reflect the diverse interests of the basin districts.

    From KKTV (Gina Esposito):

    Residents talked about flooding conditions around Fountain Creek and ways to store water during the hot and dry months. This includes ways to improve forest health and conditions after a wildfire. They also talked about they can improve the quality of delivering water to small towns.

    “If we’re going to remain a vital community and economic secure, we are going to have to look how water impacts our water, our food,” the chair of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, Betty Konarski, said.

    Their input, as well as the input from similar meetings across the state, will help craft a state water plan that Governor Hickenlooper requested to improve water conditions. The governor issued an executive order last year to develop a statewide water plan. Each water basin in the state is in charge of creating a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP).

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    Governor Hickenlooper pow wows with Club 20

    July 1, 2014
    Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

    Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

    Many talking points touched on the need for the rural mountain West to have a seat at the table, particularly on issues relating to public lands and the economy. Major talking points included regulations on gas and coal development, water usage and diversion, and the need to attract business on this side of the Continental Divide.

    The scale of the conversation ranged from the hyper-local to the global. When the discussion touched on oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide, Hickenlooper, who has a geology background, expressed doubt about the area’s production potential, but acknowledged he wasn’t an expert.

    When it came to global climate change, he was more vehement.

    “Climate change is serious. Colorado has a lot at risk,” Hickenlooper asserted. “Half our water storage is in snowpack, and we don’t have clear places for reservoirs if we have to make up for that.”

    The issue of water is a fraught one, with growing resentment for ongoing diversion of Western Slope water to the more populated Front Range. Hickenlooper was sympathetic, but challenged the idea that litigation is the best means of combatting further diversion.

    “If you want to change a culture, you can’t just sit there and throw stones at each other,” he said. “Every discussion, whether it’s on the West Slope or the Front Range, needs to start at conservation.”[...]

    In the end, nothing was decided at the meeting. The governor has little direct authority to implement programs that pull from the state coffers. Still, the assembled roundtable seemed gratified at the dialogue.

    Rep. Coram even ventured a lighthearted comment before they adjourned.

    “Empty your bladder before you go,” he quipped. “No water leaves the Western Slope.”

    From KREX (Travis Khachatoorian):

    Governor Hickenlooper was receptive to finding solutions to the problems. He said he’s been working to combat federal control of lands, is a proponent of exploring energy development in the potential Bookcliff Coal Mine north of Fruita and will continue urging various water basins throughout the state to come together and hash out a sensible water plan.

    “I think we’re all seeing that people of goodwill can sit down and listen to the other side and say ‘all right, let me think about how we can get you what you need’,” Hickenlooper said about a Colorado water plan.

    #ColoradoRiver Basin: “Temperatures have been above average since the 1980s” — Wendy Ryan

    July 1, 2014

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

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

    From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

    Wendy Ryan stood in front of a room packed with water professionals and offered this historical perspective. In the last 1,400 years, the last 14 years were not the driest. But it’s as dry as it has ever been. Ryan is with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. She and her peers were curious about drought and wanted data, not anecdotes.

    So Ryan and the Climate Center crew collected data from the years 762 through 2005, poring over records and studying tree rings, to calculate precipitation during those vast expanses of time before computers measured this sort of thing. They found that we’ve had 14 similar dry stretches during that millennia and a half. But this 14-year stretch is as dry as any of them.

    “It was among the driest,” Ryan said.

    Temperatures have been above average since the 1980s, Ryan said.

    “The last 14 years have been a drought,” said John McClow, General Counsel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and one of the West’s foremost water experts…

    The rivers flowing into Lake Powell are running 105 percent of normal, Ryan said, so it’ll fill a little bit. It’ll need to, [John McClow] said. Lake Powell is 45 percent full right now, McClow said. This year, for the first time in several years, it should receive more water than it releases — if it keeps raining. The years 2012-13 were the two driest years since they started keeping records 140 years ago, McClow said. Two more consecutive years like that would leave Lake Powell so low it would be unable to generate electrical power.

    “People in seven states would see their power cut. They’d be forced to pay double to quadruple for power for at least eight years,” McClow said.

    If that happens, it would take 12 years for Lake Powell to refill, assuming those are normal water years…

    Snowpack is a fickle thing. In the Colorado River basin — that’s Eagle County and the Central Rockies resort region — it was 19 percent of normal in the drought year of 2012, and 83 percent last year. It was 121 percent this year.

    On the other hand, the last four years were slightly wetter than normal, based on the average of the last 30 years, Ryan said. But it also depends on where you’re measuring. The Colorado River Basin was hammered with 223 percent of the median snowpack and 180 percent of last year’s. At the other end of the state, the drought continues. The Rio Grande basin saw just 39 percent of the median snowpack.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    Initiative 103, Public Trust Resources, Denied by the Supreme Court Colorado Water Congress shifts focus to Initiatives 75 & 89

    July 1, 2014


    From email from the Colorado Water Congress (Fiona Smith):

    The Colorado Supreme Court published an opinion today declaring that Initiative 103 (Public Trust Resources) may not proceed towards the 2014 Ballot. A 4-3 majority holds that the Title Board lacked authority to proceed with a substituted designated representative when one of the proponents could not attend the rehearing. This decision validates a May 1 appeal by the Colorado Water Congress (CWC) and Coloradoans for Responsible Reform.

    Initiative 103, by Phil Doe and Barbara Mills-Bria, proposed to establish an “inalienable right” of the people of Colorado to clean air, clean water (including groundwater), and the preservation of the environment and natural resources (called “Public Trust Resources”), as common property of all people, including future generations. It would require the state, as trustee of Public Trust Resources, to conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people. CWC and over 70 supporting entities from around the state opposed this Initiative on the grounds that it was unwise, unnecessary, expensive and disruptive to the responsible allocation and stewardship of Colorado’s water resources.

    CWC will now shift its energy towards Initiatives 75 and 89, both of which are of concern to Colorado’s water community. A 5-2 Supreme Court majority decided today that Initiative 89 may proceed towards the 2014 Ballot. The Court similarly confirmed Initiative 75 last month. Each will require 86,105 valid signatures to be placed on the ballot in November.

    Initiative 75 would strengthen “local control,” allowing local governments to adopt environmental regulations that override state laws, including the laws that limit and balance local governments’ regulation of water facilities. Initiative 89 would combine this local control theme with a Public Trust Doctrine, declaring “common property” in Colorado’s water and environment and obligating state and local government to conserve these resources as trustees. In his dissenting opinion today, Justice Gregory Hobbs cautioned that “Initiative #89 proposes to create an entirely unprecedented form of public trust duty requiring state and local governments to ‘conserve’ what are predominately privately held resources… [It] would upend the existing regulatory balance and thrust private property owners and governments into an uncertain future.”

    The Colorado Water Stewardship Project, a special project of CWC, will continue to monitor Initiatives 75 and 89 and inform water stakeholders of the serious implications of amending the constitution to create a Public Trust Doctrine in Colorado.

    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    The so-called “public trust doctrine” measure, No. 103, had drawn opposition from the Colorado Water Congress, representing water users across the state, and the business-backed group Coloradans for Responsible Reform.

    The high court ruled Monday that the Title Board, which reviews ballot proposals, made a mistake when it allowed the backers of No. 103 to have a substitute fill in during a hearing on the measure.

    The court said that state law “does not allow designated representatives who are unable to attend a Title Board meeting to substitute alternates to serve in their place. Instead, the Title Board must delay its considerations until the next meeting at which both of the designated representatives who were so designated at the initial stages of the initiative process are able to attend the Title Board meeting.”

    The ruling means that the proposal can’t be considered for the 2014 ballot because the Title Board is no longer meeting for the 2014 election cycle, said a spokesman for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

    The backers of the proposal were Phil Doe and Barbara Mills-Bria. But Mills-Bria couldn’t attend a meeting of the Title Board because she as traveling to an out-of-state funeral, according to the court ruling.

    The court said the Title Board should have postponed its hearing on No. 103 until Mills-Bria could attend rather than allowing a designee to fill in.

    The proposal sought to establish a common property right to “clean air, clean water, including ground and surface water, and the preservation of the environment and natural resources.” It also would have required the state to conserve and maintain those elements for the benefit of all people.

    The Colorado Water Congress said it opposed the initiative on the grounds that it was “unwise, unnecessary, expensive and disruptive to the responsible allocation and stewardship of Colorado’s water resources.”

    The Colorado Water Congress said it would shift its resources to oppose Initiatives No. 75 and 89.

    No. 75 is a proposal by the Colorado Community Rights Network that would allow cities to ban any for-profit business that community leaders don’t want to see in their towns.

    No. 89, which says that Coloradans have a right to clean air, water and scenic values, is one of nine proposals that are backed by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder.

    The Colorado Supreme Court has rejected challenges to proposals No. 75 and No. 89, meaning supporters have until Aug. 4 to collect more than 86,105 valid signatures in order to have the initiatives placed on the fall ballot.

    More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

    Colorado Springs: What do the next 50 years look like after SDS is completed?

    July 1, 2014
    Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    With Southern Delivery System nearing completion, Colorado Springs is going to work on a plan to provide water for the next 50 years.

    “There is a lot of uncertainty in the West when it comes to water,” Leon Basdekas, project manager for Colorado Springs Utilities integrated water planning, told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday.

    Utilities’ last water plan was in 1996 and focused almost entirely on supply. It provided options about how to develop water rights that Colorado Springs obtained in the Arkansas Valley during the 1980s. Among the options were direct reuse, reservoirs and pipelines. The water plan eventually led to SDS, a $940 million pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs that will be completed by 2016. Those types of options still will be considered.

    “Everything is on the table,” Basdekas said.

    But the new plan also will look at demand, water quality, infrastructure, energy, regulation, legal issues and public opinion, he added. The goal is to develop a sustainable future supply that also respects social values, Basdekas said.

    Among the biggest challenge is managing risk during climate change. Severe drought in 2012-13 was only one indication of how future water supplies could be affected.

    At the same time, Colorado Springs is looking for as much public input as possible as it begins looking at the next 50 years.

    “We need public involvement, so we just don’t go into a dark room and come out with a plan,” he said.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage <a href="

    River series: The state of the river — The Vail Daily #ColoradoRiver

    June 30, 2014

    From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

    Lake Powell is being drained to fill Lake Mead, which is being drained by states downstream from it.

    Ken Neubecker, executive director of the Western Rivers Institute, has often put it this way: “The West will always be a semi-arid environment, no matter how much we move the water around.”

    However, how that water gets moved around is a constant matter of contention for those pulling it from the Colorado River — which is almost everyone who lives in this part of the country…


    Delphus Emory Carpenter, an early Colorado attorney and rancher, was the first native-born Coloradan to serve in the Colorado state legislature. Carpenter litigated the early conflicts over Colorado River water and saw California developing much faster than Colorado.

    “He could foresee a time when all the water would go to California,” said John McClow, general counsel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and one of the West’s foremost water experts.

    Carpenter created the Colorado River Compact in 1922 to equitably divide the river’s water among seven Western states — split into the Upper Basin and Lower Basin — and Mexico. Everyone wants a share — and then some.

    Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President's Award Reception

    Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President’s Award Reception

    “If you use more than your share, you have to pay it back before anyone puts in any more water,” McClow said. “The Compact has been tested but has proven to be pretty adaptable.”

    It apportions Upper Basin and Lower Basin each 7.5 million acre feet per year. The dividing line between the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states is Lee Ferry, Arizona. Upper Division states cannot deplete flows at Lee Ferry below an aggregate of 75 million acre feet over any period of 10 consecutive years.

    However, at their current rate of consumption, the Lower Basis states would be at 90 million acre feet over 10 years, McClow said.

    That water has to come from somewhere, and it’s coming from Lake Powell. However, since 2000, inflows into Lake Powell have only hit the average for three years.

    “The problem is that Lake Powell is emptying fast,” McClow said.

    Lake Powell is full when its water surface is 3,700 feet above sea level. The last time that happened was 1999. Right now, it’s about 44 percent full…

    “Efficiency is improving immensely and rapidly,” McClow said.

    In 2000, California was using 5.6 million acre feet. Two years ago, Californians were forced to cut consumption to their allotted 4.4 million acre feet.

    “There’s a lot of blood on the floor in California,” McClow said…

    In May, forecasts said Lake Powell will fill to 3,610 feet above sea level by the end of this year. Right now, it’s at 3,491 feet, 44 percent full.

    “We dodged the bullet,” McClow said.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    NOAA: Why care about the ocean? Here are just a few reasons.

    June 30, 2014

    Give your input on regional stormwater management. Starting 7/1, a regional task force will hold public meetings

    June 30, 2014

    Conservation: Big water savings in Aspen — Mountain Town News #ColoradoRiver

    June 30, 2014

    Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

    Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

    From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    In 1974, Aspen’s future seemed clear enough. The town was growing briskly, the ski industry booming, and by the 1990s the town would need to make major investments to provide water for the future.

    With that in mind, town officials filed for storage rights on two upstream creeks, Castle and Maroon, where the municipality already had significant senior water rights. Had the town gone ahead with construction of those reservoirs, the cost today would be roughly $50 million.

    Instead, in about 1994, Mayor John Bennett and council members chose a different approach. They would emphasize water savings.

    Phil Overeynder, who was the city’s utility manager then, says he has calculated that today water rates would need to be quadrupled to pay for the reservoirs and other infrastructure.

    But there was another reason for Aspen to pursue conservation beginning in the 1990s. Overeynder said improved efficiency bolstered the argument that Eastern Slope water providers needed to make do with what they had before expanding diversions. In his eyes, Eastern Slope water providers still have not done everything they can. “Not to the extent it was promised 40 years ago,” he says.

    For Aspen, improving water efficiency has several components. The city couldn’t account for 55 percent of the water being sent to customers. There were leaks, lots of them. It was, says Overeynder, a third-world water system. But a lot of water was used to bleed pipes. Water mains were buried deep, but the service lines to individual houses were within the frost line. During winter, homeowners left their faucets running, to avoid freezing. It was city policy to overlook that use.

    Over time, these inefficient uses have been eliminated. The rate structure was revised to strongly recommend efficiency.

    From 450 gallons per capita daily in 1974, use peaked in 1993 at 516 gallons.

    Last year, it was 164 gallons per capita daily.

    Use still spikes in summer, but not as much. The water treatment plant expanded in the 1980s has surplus capacity.

    More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.

    “Local entities can also derail projects more readily now than in the past” — Candace Krebs #COWaterPlan

    June 30, 2014


    From the Bent County Democrat (Candace Krebs):

    During the third annual Protein Producer Summit, a joint summer business meeting of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Livestock Association, four panelists shared a wish list of items they think could improve the state’s ability to fully capture and utilize its water resources…

    Last fall’s historic northern Colorado flood sent water surging downstream to Nebraska and Kansas, much of it technically Colorado’s water, although the state could neither capture it nor use it for credit toward meeting compact obligations.

    Developing storage to bank that water isn’t as straightforward as it was a generation ago. Conflicting definitions and rules between multiple state and federal agencies have made it increasingly costly and time-consuming to build new reservoirs or refurbish old ones.

    Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, has spent the last 14 years leading an effort to build two more reservoirs in Northern Colorado at a cost so far of at least $13 million. The Northern Integrated Supply Project has yet to move beyond the permitting stage. Wilkinson wants to see federal agencies grant permits on a parallel basis. He also said better communication is needed between federal agencies and between federal and state agencies.

    Chris Treese, manager of external affairs for the Colorado River District — the oldest in the state — recalled that in the early 1980s a special division of state government existed solely to facilitate coordination between state and federal agencies.

    “I think that was a real benefit,” he said. “I think that’s a role the state could assume again.”

    Local entities can also derail projects more readily now than in the past. Several groups are currently gathering signatures for a local control ballot initiative that Wilkinson said would be like “1041 on steroids,” referring to the act passed in 1974 that gives local land use interests more say in the development of large-scale water projects. The ballot initiative is primarily targeted at oil and gas development but would likely stall future water projects as well, he said…

    How to develop more water without overdeveloping is another issue. Joking that he hailed from the “wetter, better side of the mountains,” Treese said the recent compact calls along the Arkansas and Republican rivers had been a wake-up call for everyone. More water capture on the western slope would also lead to more demands on the system…

    Farming directly downstream from 3 million hungry (and thirsty) consumers is both a blessing and a curse, said Robert Sakata, a produce farmer from Brighton who is active on water issues. Sakata is the only ag producer to serve on the Denver metro water roundtable but he called it a valuable experience at a time when farming’s long-term sustainability is pitted against the growth of municipalities.

    Sakata said at one point he joked with Aurora officials that instead of buying his water, they should buy his farm and then hire him to farm it. That way the city could have locally grown produce with the option of growing less in dry years when the municipality needs more water. “I was only half-joking,” he said during the panel.

    Better water conservation by cities won’t address shortages without causing new problems, he added. “As cities become more efficient, there’s less water downstream,” he said.

    That puts pressure on water rights holders at the end of the line to sell now “while there’s still some value” in those rights, added Sakata, who is on the board of two ditch companies. His water rights only convey about a third of the water they once did.

    Currier said he wrestled with whether it was possible to stem the “buy and dry” scenario that permanently transfers water from farms to cities without infringing on private property rights.

    “Should we make it harder to sell ag water rights? Should there be incentives to keep water in agriculture?” he wondered aloud.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    South Platte and Metro roundtables #COWaterPlan update

    June 30, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

    The Colorado Water Plan draws upon a decade of work by the state’s eight basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It also incorporates information from the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which predicted the state will have a gap between water supply and demand of about 500,000 acre feet of water by 2050, with the largest gap projected for the South Platte River Basin.

    During the past year, the basin roundtables and the CWCB have held dozens of town meetings on the water plan, seeking input from citizens and organizations interested in the state’s water future. Those meetings wrapped up in April, and then the basin roundtable members went to work to develop their basin implementation plans (BIPS), that will be submitted to the CWCB at the end of July. Those plans will be incorporated into the draft Colorado Water Plan, which is due to the Governor at the end of the year. The plan is to be finalized by December, 2015.

    In addition to the basin implementation plans, the state water plan will include a “framework” document that outlines the issues to be addressed. The CWCB has already released eight draft chapters of this framework document this year, with four coming out in the last month. The most recent drafts covered water quality, conservation and re-use, and alternative agriculture to urban transfers. The drafts will be updated based on input from the BIPs.

    The draft on agricultural transfers focused on alternative agricultural transfer methods (ATMS) and current efforts to develop more creative solutions to “buy and dry.” The draft noted several ATMs are already in place and more are on the way. These include deficit irrigation, water co-ops, water banks, water conservation easements; and flexible water markets, which was proposed in the 2014 legislative session but failed to clear the Senate. Another ATM, farrowing-leasing, which would allow for farrowing of irrigated farmland with temporary leasing of water to municipalities, is being studied under legislation passed in 2013.

    More than 1,000 emails and documents have come in to the CWCB, addressing the draft chapters. Almost half of the responses came from stakeholders in the South Platte River and Metro Denver districts.

    Most of the comments received by the CWCB have come either through emails to cowaterplan@state.co.us or through a webform on the water plan website, coloradowaterplan.com. CWCB staff responded to all of the comments, even those that might not be financially or technically feasible. One such comment said the state should cover its reservoirs with a thin membrane “similar to bubble wrap” to slow evaporation. Another suggested that the state halt all housing development along the Front Range.

    A handful of comments addressed agricultural use, including responses that encourage more efficient irrigation systems and pointing out that agriculture is far and away the biggest user of water. But one commenter suggested a new form of “buy and dry.” Kristen Martinez of Metropolitan State University of Denver said the city of Denver could pay for businesses and residents to xeriscape their lawns, similar to a plan implemented by the city of Las Vegas. She also recommended the city of Denver invest in more efficient irrigation systems for farmers, as a trade-off for buying up agricultural water rights.

    “…agriculture stands as the biggest water user, but farmers should not be the only ones to feel the pain of supply and demand,” Martinez wrote. “Most Denverites don’t give heed to the serious task of stewarding their water — not as a farmer must. Why aren’t local industries or municipal users being asked to sacrifice their lifestyle or adjust their operations?…can Colorado’s water plan please ask urban users to take ownership of their consumption, in addition to solving it by diverting farm water?”

    Sean Cronin, director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, chairs the South Platte River Basin roundtable, and pointed out that the South Platte and Metro Denver basin are collaborating on a joint BIP.

    Cronin noted that although they are submitting a joint BIP, the two districts are quite diverse and one size will not fit all. “Water is very local!” he said recently. Feedback in the town meetings has been very different throughout the two districts. In Sterling, for example, he said the focus was on agriculture. In Longmont, people spoke about groundwater because of the well issues in the area. Denver’s focus was more on municipal conservation and recreational/environmental concerns.

    So how will the two roundtables come up with one BIP, given the divergent views? Cronin said that they knew going into the process it would be difficult to address all of the different interests and cultures surrounding water. “It’s incredibly challenging to par it down to one solution that will make everyone happy,” he said. Cronin believes the draft BIP will instead reflect the diverse interests of the basin districts…

    A recent presentation on the BIP by the roundtable to Colorado Counties Inc. laid out the plan’s major premise: “You can’t have conservation without storage, and you can’t have storage without conservation.” Even with the “Identified Projects and Processes” already in discussion (which came out of the 2010 SWSI), the gap in the South Platte would at best be reduced to about 100,000 acre feet of water, and many of those solutions are years, and maybe decades, away.

    And that raised red flags for environmental groups, with one warning Coloradans that the BIP will further endanger the rivers of the South Platte basin…

    Cronin encourages people to continue to submit comments through the South Platte Basin Roundtable website (http://cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/basin-roundtables). Public comments also will be accepted on draft versions of the plan through September, 2015, and can be submitted through the Colorado Water Plan website noted earlier.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    SDS: There is no Plan B — Colorado Springs Business Journal

    June 29, 2014
    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

    From The Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

    CSU’s ongoing billion-dollar bet is the Southern Delivery System. Scheduled to go online in 2016, SDS will convey water from Pueblo Reservoir via a 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline to Colorado Springs. It will expand the city’s raw water delivery capacity by an eventual 55 million gallons per day (MGD), a nearly 50-percent increase in system capacity…

    “What we’re hoping for is a record snowpack,” CSU Chief Financial Officer Bill Cherrier said in late March, “followed by a hot, dry summer.”

    Cherrier said it with a smile, but he had neatly summarized CSU’s dilemma. Water in the reservoirs must both be replenished and sold. The sell side of the equation is driven by fixed costs, including system maintenance and replacement, energy costs and continuing capital investment. But buyers don’t care about CSU’s problems; they prefer to water their lawns with free water from the skies.

    Per-capita water use has dropped sharply in the past 20 years, leading to corresponding reductions in the city’s long-term consumption estimates.

    “The Base (i.e. revenue) forecast is for an estimated service area population (city, suburban, Green Mountain Falls, military) of about 608,552 and about 106,000 AF/yr for demand,” wrote CSU spokesperson Janet Rummel in an email. “The ‘hot and dry’ scenario uses the same service area population and estimates about 120,000 AF/yr demand. This particular ‘hot and dry’ scenario equates to an 80 percent confidence interval and adds about 13 percent to annual demands.”

    That’s a precipitous drop from the high-side estimate of the 1996 water resources plan, which forecast a population in 2040 as high as 900,000 and water demand of 168,150 acre-feet. The base forecast, at 106,000 acre-feet annually, is only 1,800 acre-feet more than the community used in 2000, 40 years previously.

    Does that mean CSU’s water managers dropped $841 million into a new water delivery system that we may not need until 2016? Does this prove that the project, originally conceived to furnish water for the Banning-Lewis Ranch development, is now entirely unnecessary?

    Perhaps not…

    “SDS is not a short-term solution,” Rummel said in a 2010 email. “The time to build a major water project is not when you have run short of water … [we need] to better prepare our community for drought, climate change and water supply uncertainty on the Colorado River.”

    Many factors entered into the decision to build SDS. In 1996, there was no discussion of system redundancy, of having an additional water pipeline that could serve the city in case one of the existing conduits needed emergency repair. But 18 years later, the pipelines are that much more vulnerable to accident or malfunction.

    In 1996, population growth and per capita water use were expected to continue indefinitely at historic levels. But they didn’t. Commercial and industrial use declined, and price-sensitive residents used less water. Indoor use declined as well as outdoor, thanks to restricted-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets.

    SDS stayed on track. In the eyes of the water survivalists who conceived and created the project, the city’s rights on the Arkansas River had to be developed. They saw long, hot summers in the city and dry winters in the mountains. Opponents could make any arguments they liked, but these five words trumped them all.

    Use it or lose it.

    Undeveloped water rights are like $100 bills blowing down the street — someone will grab them and use them for their own benefit…

    “This will be our last pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom. “We will never be able to develop a new water delivery system. When SDS is finished, that’s it.”

    Bostrom’s peers in Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles have reason to envy him. Colorado Springs has won the water wars. We’ve bought ourselves decades of time. Whether we save or squander this liquid bounty is up to us.

    In 2040, the city may have 30,000 to 50,000 acre-feet a year of unneeded delivery capacity. That cushion will allow for decades of population growth and for the introduction of sophisticated irrigation techniques that will preserve our green city and minimize water use.

    In years to come, members of the Colorado Springs City Council will decide how to preserve the city’s future. Will they heed Bostrom’s warning and encourage radical conservation? Will new developments be required to xeriscape, and preserve trees with drip irrigation devices?

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

    Climate change: Video of John Oliver’s “balanced” 97% to 3% debate

    June 29, 2014

    NSFW — strong language

    Summer Monsoon Watch 2014

    June 29, 2014


    Click here to go to the CWCB’s Colorado Flood Threat website. Here’s an excerpt from the June 26 update:

    An area of cloudiness and disorganized showers and thunderstorms extends for several hundred miles offshore of the coast of southern Mexico and Central America. An area of low pressure is expected to form in a couple of days within this region of disturbed weather south of the coast of Mexico. According to the National Hurricane Center, conditions appear favorable for this system to become a tropical cyclone by late this weekend or early next week while it moves west-northwestward. As it does it’ll set off a chain of events that will culminate with the emergence of the 2014 summer monsoon in Colorado.

    The figure [above] shows the NOAA GFS model forecast for ~10,000 ft over the United States and bordering areas. The blue arrows show the Pacific storms track moving into a more northerly location. The black arrows highlight flow of monsoon moisture into the Southwestern states ahead of a tropical disturbance near the Gulf of California. Based on this forecast expect a weak surge of monsoon moisture into the West Slope for July 3-4 followed by a stronger surge July 10-15. This latter surge will likely enhance the threat of flooding statewide and begin a new summer storms season statewide.

    “Come Hell or High Water!” — Sustaining Watersheds Conference, October 7-9

    June 29, 2014


    Water Lines: What can local governments do to protect & conserve water?

    June 29, 2014



    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    As people around the state debate how to make Colorado’s limited water supplies stretch to accommodate nearly twice as many people by 2050, the topic of growth surfaces repeatedly. Some call for outright limits on population growth, while others point out that how communities grow can have as big an impact on their water use as how much they grow. For example, smaller lots equal smaller lawns, resulting in less water consumed per household.

    In May, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) held a workshop to explore how land-use planning practices and regulations can be employed to achieve water conservation and water-quality goals. According to the workshop report prepared by Torie Jarvis, staff to NWCCOG’s Water Quality & Quantity Committee, some communities are already taking substantial action in these areas. The full workshop report is available here: http://www.nwccog.org/index.php/programs/water-qualityquantity-committee. Key points are highlighted below.

    For some communities in Colorado’s High Country, conservation measures serve the dual purpose of ensuring that new developments have reliable water supplies and protecting streams. The Town of Winter Park places a high value on the Fraser River, which runs right through town, despite the fact that 65 percent of its natural flow is diverted to the Front Range before it reaches the town. The Town limits the issuance of development permits to maintain 10 cubic feet per second in the Fraser River, and does not allow outside irrigation in the town limits. The Town of Eagle requires that water rights attached to developments annexed by the Town to be donated to the Town. The rights are then leased back for use by the development, but the Town retains ultimate control.

    Tools to regulate the pace and location of growth are also tools to limit pressure on water supplies. Pitkin County has a growth management quota system, which establishes a set number of development permits on a competitive basis, while the Town of Eagle uses an urban growth boundary to control density and the location of new growth.

    In addition to ensuring the long-term reliability of their water supplies, local governments use various tools to protect habitat along stream banks and water quality in streams. The Town of Eagle’s Brush Creek Management Plan identifies values that should be protected in the stream corridor and then requires any new development to protect those values in order to receive permits. Pitkin County limits which portions of a property can be developed and landscaped in order to protect its stream banks, while annexation to the Town of Winter Park generally requires Town ownership of the river corridor. Several local governments have also invested substantial funds in stream restoration projects.

    Ultimately, the workshop participants agreed that local governments have the tools to ensure that new growth doesn’t outstrip water supplies. They also agreed that water conservation targets should be incorporated into land-use plans, but were wary of any state mandate regarding what such targets should be or how they should be reached. The report states that all workshop participants agreed that the dialogue on the intersection between land-use planning and water conservation should continue.

    What do you think? To communicate your opinion to the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and water planners at the state and local levels, take a brief survey here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Water-land.

    More conservation coverage here.


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