Colorado Springs Utilities named “WaterSense Partner of Year” — Monica Mendoza

October 22, 2014

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Colorado Springs Utilities is the winner of the 2014 “WaterSense Partner of the Year” award. The team celebrated Wednesday at the Colorado Springs Utilities Board meeting.

The award comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which publicly recognized Utilities was honored in Las Vegas at the WaterSmart Innovations Conference.

Utilities was presented the award for its “commitment to water efficiency and efforts to educate Americans about WaterSense during 2013.”

By producing and promoting WaterSense labeled products, new homes and programs, WaterSense partners helped Americans save 271 billion gallons of water in 2013 alone —enough water to supply all U.S. homes for 26 days, Utilities officials said. More than 1,500 utility, manufacturer, retail, builder and organizational partners participated.

Colorado Springs Utilities was honored as a 2014 WaterSense Partner of the Year for helping low-income and non-profit housing providers improve efficiency with WaterSense retrofits, supporting apartment owners and managers in property upgrades, helping builders incorporate WaterSense Home certification and educating customers through events, classes, and its WaterSense product demonstration at its Conservation and Environmental Center.

“WaterSense is a crucial venue to discuss conservation and performance,” said Ann Seymour, Utilities water conservation manager. “By leveraging the WaterSense program, we can reach our conservation goals, as well as help customers save water, energy, and money. It’s a true example of win-win.”


EPA Region 8 calls for comments from water managers in West’s arid climate on “Waters of the US”

October 22, 2014


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

October 22, 2014

wyutcoprecipitation1001thru10192014

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


Water Lines: Water year review & outlook — the Grand Junction Free Press

October 22, 2014

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

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


From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Golden cottonwood trees and shorter days signal not just the changing of the seasons, but also the transition from one water year to the next, as irrigation demands taper off and snow starts to accumulate in the high country. Oct. 1 is the official turning point, so 2015 has already arrived in water time.

The 2014 water year brought relief to most of Colorado and the Upper Colorado River Basin after two very dry years. Above-average precipitation eased drought conditions and allowed reservoir levels to creep upwards.

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest, is now 71-percent full, in much better shape than at this time last year, when it was just 42-percent full. Near average inflows brought Lake Powell, the “savings account” for the Upper Colorado River Basin to meet downstream obligations, up to 51-percent full. It was just 45-percent full at this time last year. Inflows to Lake Powell in both 2012 and 2013 were less than half of average.

Soil moisture is also looking pretty good, with levels in most of the Upper Colorado Basin above average, although there are some dry spots in the four-corners area of New Mexico and Arizona and in southwestern Wyoming. Soil moisture in the fall is a factor in how much snowmelt reaches streams and reservoirs the following year, as opposed to being sucked into dry ground.

What will the [2015] water year bring? That remains a largely open question, although it does appear that the Southwest will get some relief from persistent drought. The three-month outlook issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in September indicates that conditions are likely to be wetter than average in Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Utah and Southern Colorado. Farther north in Colorado and Utah and in Wyoming, the three-month forecast shows “equal chances” of drier and wetter conditions.
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The Bureau of Reclamation forecasts that the “most probable” inflows into Lake Powell in the 2015 water year will be 98 percent of average, while acknowledging that water supply forecasts at this time of year are highly uncertain. Conditions do appear favorable for another high-flow experimental release in November to benefit the Grand Canyon ecosystem by flushing sediment downstream. Total releases from Powell in 2015 are expected to 8.23 million acre feet, up from 7.480 million acre feet in 2014, which was the lowest release since Lake Powell filled in the 1960s.

This is also the time of year when we can start to look at snowpack numbers to get clues about what the coming water year (and ski season!) will bring. However, it’s also impossible to draw any reasonable conclusions from snowpack numbers now, since the total amounts are so small and “percent of normal” can swing wildly overnight.

So, keeping in mind that this is largely a recreational exercise, we do have some early data: Most Colorado river basins have less than half of the average water content in their snowpack for this time of year, except that the Gunnison has 65 percent and the Arkansas Basin has 93 percent. In Utah, the snowpack in the river basins that drain the Wasatch Mountains into the Great Basin have between 400-900 percent of their average water content for this time of year, while levels in Utah’s portion of the Colorado Basin range from 41-83 percent of average. Snowpack numbers for Wyoming are also way below average, and no data is available yet for New Mexico.

Here are two websites that are very useful for keeping track of climate, water supply and streamflow information:

• The Colorado Climate Center and National Integrated Drought Information System page on Upper Colorado River Basin water conditions, at http://climate.colostate.edu/~drought.

• The University of Colorado-based Western Water Assessment’s “Intermountain West Climate Dashboard,” at http://wwa.colorado.edu/climate/dashboard.html.

You can also get information on current conditions and operations at Lake Powell from the US Bureau of Reclamation at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/gcd.html.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


The latest Climate Briefing from the Western Water Assessment is hot off the presses

October 22, 2014

West Drought Monitor October 14, 2014

West Drought Monitor October 14, 2014


Click here to go the Western Water Assessment website (scroll down for the latest assessment). Here’s an excerpt:

Highlights

  • Water year 2014 closed with a wetter-than-average September for most of the region, but October has been much drier than average so far, except in southeastern Colorado.
  • At the end of September, nearly all of the region’s reservoirs were in better shape than at the same time last year, but most reservoirs in Utah and southern Colorado were still lagging the long-term average.
  • The NOAA CPC monthly and seasonal outlooks show mostly equal chances for above-average or below-average precipitation for late fall and early winter, while the ‘SWcast’ shows more of a wet tilt for Utah and Colorado.
  • ENSO indicators are more consistently pointing towards El Niño onset, which is likely to officially occur by spring, according to the latest forecasts.
  • [...]

    September and early October Precipitation and Temperatures, and Current Drought

    Water year 2014 concluded with a wet September Western US Seasonal Precipitation for most of the region, with nearly all of Utah and most of Wyoming and Colorado seeing above-average precipitation for the month. Through October 19, water year 2015 has gotten off to a dry start across the region Western US Seasonal Precipitation, with the exception of southeastern Colorado.

    For the 12 months of water year 2014, most of the region saw above-average precipitation Western US Seasonal Precipitation, with nearly all of Wyoming, northern and central Colorado, and eastern, northern, and southeastern Utah ending up on the wet side of the ledger. Southeastern and southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah, and central Utah were on the dry side. Very few areas saw less than 70% of average water year precipitation. Because the best months for precipitation across Utah were July, August, and September—a time of year that produces less efficient runoff—water-year streamflows were generally lower than would be expected given the water-year precipitation.

    Despite the generally above-average precipitation in September, the temperatures were 0-4°F warmer than average over nearly the entire region Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Thus far, October has also been running warmer than average.

    With the ample precipitation in September, the latest US Drought Monitor US Drought Monitor, based on conditions as of October 14, shows overall less drought in the region compared to early September. Drought conditions improved in southeastern and southwestern Colorado, southern Wyoming, and multiple areas in Utah. For the first time since June 2012, there are no areas of D3 or D4 drought in the region. The proportion of the region in D2 or worse drought is likewise on the decline: Utah down to 13% from 19%, Colorado down to 12% from 16%, and Wyoming unchanged at zero.


    Great example of how hard it is to build simple water management widgets – why can’t Phoenix store surplus in Mead — John Fleck #ColoradoRiver

    October 21, 2014


    Subdistrict remedies stream depletions — the Valley Courier

    October 21, 2014
    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    From the Valley Courier (Rob Phillips):

    This is the 15th article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the formation and implementation of the Basin Water Plan. The primary goal of Subdistrict No. 1 is to remedy injurious depletions to senior surface water rights and keep those water users whole.

    The Subdistrict has several methods to do this. First, the subdistrict has purchased and leased water, both native to the Rio Grande Basin and water imported from the West slope. This water is stored and released as directed by the Division Engineer to replace stream depletion replacement within stream reaches of the Rio Grande as they occur. By doing this, the river itself is kept whole with wet water replacing the depletions in time, location and amount.

    The subdistrict can also use what are known as forbearance agreements. Colorado law allows the subdistrict to remedy injurious depletions by a means other than supplying wet water. The subdistrict can do this by agreeing with a ditch that, rather than replace depletions with water, the subdistrict will pay the ditch some amount of money for each acre-foot of water the ditch does not receive because of depletions caused by subdistrict wells.

    Each day the Division Engineer tells the subdistrict which ditch is “on the bubble,” that is the most junior ditch that is in priority that day and that is not receiving its full water supply under that priority. The subdistrict then looks at the Annual Replacement Plan to see the depletions caused by subdistrict wells on that day, water that the ditch on the bubble would have received. The subdistrict keeps track of the total amount of water due to each ditch that has a forbearance agreement and pays them at the end of the year. The ditch can then do what it wants with the money, for example upgrading the ditch or simply dividing it up among the ditch users. Forbearance agreements allow ditches and water users to remain whole, while not locking up scarce water resources. So far, the subdistrict and the forbearing ditches are very happy with this arrangement and look forward to continuing working together to reach the best solution for everyone. How the subdistrict is working towards aquifer sustainability

    Throughout the recent drought, the aquifer has been shrinking as producers pump more water than is recharged back to the aquifer. The other primary goal of Subdistrict No. 1 is to recover and sustain the Unconfined Aquifer below the subdistrict to the level that existed in the early 1980s. The primary way the subdistrict plans to do this is by reducing the amount of irrigated acres within the subdistrict, which will reduce the amount of pumping from the aquifer. This concept is built into the Subdistrict’s Plan and requires 20,000 acres be retired by the fifth year from judicial approval of the plan, 30,000 acres less by the end of the seventh year, and up to 40,000 acres less by the end of the tenth year all from a base year of 2000.

    One tool the subdistrict has to meet these goals is financial incentives and participation in the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to retire up to 40,000 irrigated acres. Currently, 1,970 acres were enrolled in the program in 2013 while another 1,370 acres are currently proposed in 2014. However it is not just CREP acres that count towards the 40,000-acre goal, any program or change that retires acres reduces pumping and assists in achieving and maintaining sustainability . But remember, the subdistrict can only provide incentives, it does not have the power to require wells stop pumping.

    Conclusion

    The producers of the closed basin area within the San Luis Valley stepped forward when no one else did and created a subdistrict and imposed fees on themselves to replace their wells’ depletions and work to recover and sustain the unconfined aquifer. They did this not because rules or regulations were in place requiring this action, but because they believed these things had to be done.

    The process has never been easy and the debate about the best way to achieve the subdistrict’s goals continues. But the subdistrict, led by its board of managers, has continuously worked towards those goals and they remain the leaders in the Valley for replacing depletions and working towards sustainability . Currently, other proposed subdistricts within different hydrological areas of the San Luis Valley are going through the same processes in an attempt to have their plan up and running before the state engineer’s ground water rules are approved within the Rio Grande Basin.

    These forming subdistricts have watched and learned from Subdistrict No. 1’s struggles and accomplishments . Those other subdistricts will provide the same protection to their wells, a locally based and operated group that provides an alternative to state administration of ground water withdrawals in Division 3 while protecting senior surface water rights and providing for a long-term , sustainable ground water system.

    The Plan of Water Management, Annual Replacement Plans and other information on the subdistrict and the aquifers are available on the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s website: http:// http://www.rgwcd.org/page9.html

    Meanwhile Sub-district No. 2 is gearing up for operations according to this report from Lauren Krizansky writing for the Valley Courier:

    Well owners residing in the Valley’s second sub-district are ready to push forward with a petition after months of voluntary work.

    Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program Manager Cleave Simpson updated the Alamosa County Commissioners (ACC) Wednesday morning on the latest happenings regarding the creation of the next sub-district , which sits in both Alamosa and Rio Grande Counties.

    Sub-district No. 2, also known as the Rio Grande Alluvial Sub-district , is comprised entirely of unconfined wells, and is taking on a different form than Sub-District No. 1, he said. The zone is much smaller, only 300 wells compared to 1,000, participation is voluntary and there is no “sustainability requirement” because the wells do not tap into the confined aquifer.

    “We are not drawing a boundary,” Simpson said. “We will go to each individual landowner… There are not the same benchmarks to meet.”

    Out of the second sub-district’s 300 wells, 152 average more than 10 acre-feet a year, making them subject to the state’s demand to either join a sub-district or to develop an augmentation plan. There are 10 non-private wells in the mix and 60 private well owners.

    “It will be a patchwork of parcels,” Simpson said.

    Out of those well owners, he said between 12 and 15 have regularly participated in the workgroups over the past few months, and they represent more or less half the wells in the second subdistrict .

    In addition, the City of Monte Vista, the Town of Del Norte, Homelake, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and two school districts are in the zone, but will not join the second sub-district because government entities cannot legally be assessed.

    They will be held, however, to the same standards, he said, and have the option to contract with Sub-district No. 2, which would include them in its Annual Replacement Plan.

    Although assessment methods and fees to replace depletions are still to be determined, he said Subdistrict No. 2 is ready to petition for legitimacy.

    “They are ready to go to the public,” Simpson said. “They are ready to start these discussions.”

    It depends on where the state is with its pending water rules and regulations in coming months, he said, but the second sub-district hopes to submit its petition to the district court in January 2015.

    “The (water) model and rules and regulations are not final ,” Simpson said. “That could cause a delay.”

    Once Sub-district No. 2 is established, he said a board of managers (BOM) will be appointed via a court-approved process.

    If there is no opposition to the to the second subdistrict’s formation, he said the BOM’s first task will be to draft a management plan, and, if it is also goes unchallenged , fees assessments will begin in late 2015 with collection notices delivered to Sub-district No. 2 participants in conjunction with their January 2016 county issued tax documents.

    Due to its uniqueness, he said the second sub-district has options when it comes to mitigating its groundwater depletions.

    “There could be some reduction in irrigated agriculture,” Simpson said, “but we might see changes in technologies, crops requiring less consumption and increases in (water) efficiency.”

    He added the value of the zone’s water could also increase, but that is also to be determined.

    Sub-district No. 1 has resulted in increased values, in some cases almost double, and is drawing interest from buyers from outside of the Valley. The Rio Grande Alluvial Sub-district is the second out of six identified in the Valley to come to fruition under the watch of the RGWCD. Alamosa County will eventually have three within its borders. In addition to Subdistricts No. 1 and No. 2, the fourth sub-district will also fall within its jurisdiction, but it is still in an infant stage.

    “It’s good to see the well owners come together,” said Alamosa County Chair Michael Yohn. “Everyone has to be accountable for their water use.”

    More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.


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