SB14-103 contains “soft enforcement” provisions

April 13, 2014

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

Colorado will set higher efficiency standards for its plumbing fixtures starting in September 2016 — though the stricter standards might be a case of policy catching up with practice…

Senate Bill 14-103, sponsored in the House by Fort Collins Democrat Rep. Randy Fischer, prohibits the sale of plumbing fixtures that don’t meet federal WaterSense standards. WaterSense certification means the plumbing fixture uses at least 20 percent less water without sacrificing performance compared to standard models. For toilets, that means using 1.28 gallons of water or less per flush, as opposed to the federally mandated maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush.

The bill passed this month unanimously in the Senate and 35-28 in the House. Eric Brown, a spokesman for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said Wednesday that the policy team is reviewing the bill and talking with legislators.

Some communities, such as Thornton, have already put these standards into effect, Fischer said. He called the bill an attempt to “speed up the transition” to fixtures that are more efficient.

“There is a certain amount of penetration in the market already from these fixtures,” he said…

Fischer said the bill contains only “soft enforcement.” By March 2017, manufacturers must submit to the state the percentage of WaterSense-certified products sold to retailers. Retailers have no requirement and can sell non-WaterSense fixtures after the deadlines.

The requirements should help address the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s predictions of water supplies running short by 500,000 acre-feet of water per year in 2050 if habits don’t change. That would leave urban water users drinking up what would otherwise go to crops, Fischer said. The bill will help mitigate that without requiring a change of habits, he said…

Fort Collins rebate program

The city of Fort Collins offers rebates on water bills if you replace inefficient toilets and showerheads with models that are WaterSense-certified or those that perform better.

• $75 for a MaP-certified toilet (uses 1.06 gallons per flush or less)

• $50 for a WaterSense-certified toilet (1.28 gallons or less)*

• $10 for the purchase of WaterSense-certified showerhead

• The city estimates 4.7 million gallons of water a year will be saved with 2012’s rebated toilets alone.

• Information: http://noconow.co/waterrebates.

* May be discontinued with new law’s higher water efficiency standards.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition host first of a hoped-for series of master planning meetings #COflood

April 13, 2014
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water

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

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

Leaning over a map of the post-flood Big Thompson River in the Loveland High School cafeteria on Saturday, John Giordanengo asked Glen Haven residents to point to their properties.

Then the million-dollar question: How do you think the river should be restored?

The first of what’s expected to be a series of master planning meetings hosted by the Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition focused on gathering input to that very question, as well as explaining the numerous factors that are involved in its answer.

The coalition, chaired by Giordanengo, has grown to include hundreds of stakeholders, nonprofit groups, local businesses and government entities, representatives of which were available Saturday to meet one on one with property owners.

“As we’re turning gears toward long-term recovery, us being able to coordinate on meaningful restoration will impact the river for years to come, including where you live,” Giordanengo told meeting attendees.

In an hour-long presentation, about 70 people were introduced to the early stages of a master plan for the entire river corridor, which is being developed by Fort Collins-based Ayres Associates.

It started with an analysis of the kind of damage that occurred during September’s historic flood, including bank erosion, channel shifting, flanking of bridges, loss of hillsides and massive sediment deposition.

“Our master plan effort will be largely focused on looking at these different types of damage and do what we can to mitigate and reduce the risk of those types of damage,” said John Hunt with Ayres Associates.

More Big Thompson River Watershed coverage here.


“…nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 13, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

…it’s important to note that “nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow,” and organizations like the Glenwood Springs-based River District are active at the table in working to protect Western Colorado interests in the face of growing Front Range water needs, [Jim Pokrandt] said.

“There are a lot of top-10 lists when it comes to rivers and water conservation,” Pokrandt said in reaction to the listing last Wednesday by the nonprofit conservation group American Rivers. “It’s a good way to generate publicity for these various causes.”

American Rivers calls on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to prevent new water diversions and instead prioritize protection of Western Slope rivers and water conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan, which remains in discussions through a roundtable process that involves stakeholders from across the state.

Already, about 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water per year is diverted from the Colorado basin to the Front Range, Pokrandt noted.

The prospect of more diversions “is definitely being advocated in some quarters from those who say a new project is not a question of if, but when and how soon,” he said.

“We’re saying that’s a big ‘if,’ because there are a lot of big issues around that.”

Pokrandt said any new trans-mountain diversions are “questionable, if it’s even possible.” That’s primarily because of the Colorado River Compact with down-river states that guarantees their share of river water.

“It’s important that we don’t overdevelop the river, and any more transmountain diversions should be the last option out of the box [for Front Range needs],” said. “First and foremost, it behooves all of Colorado to be more efficient in our water use.”[...]

Pokrandt notes that many municipalities across the state, not just the Front Range, are scrambling to find water to take care of projected population growth. That means more water demand on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“But there’s a big question about how much water is really left to develop,” he said. “There’s also an economic benefit to leaving water in the river without developing it, so there’s that issue as well.”[...]

Another Colorado river on the American Rivers endangered list this year is the White River, which was No. 7 due to the threat of oil and gas development and the risk to fish and wildlife habitat, clean water and recreation opportunities.

The White River flows from the northern reaches of the Flat Tops through Rio Blanco County and into the Green River in northeastern Utah.

“Major decisions this year will determine whether we can safeguard the White River’s unique wild values for future generations,” said Matt Rice of American Rivers in their Wednesday news release.

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

The conservation group American Rivers releases the annual list, and rivers that are threatened include sections of the Colorado that run through Eagle County, including headwater rivers, which include the Eagle River.

According to the group, the river is threatened as many Front Range cities look for future water sources to meet growing municipal and industrial needs. Some of those communities are eyeing various parts of the Colorado for diversion.

Advocates hope the list garners some national awareness and spurs lawmakers to prevent new water diversions and prioritize river protection and water conservation measures in the state water plan.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Ken Neubecker, of American Rivers. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin. If we want these rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure the rivers have enough water.”[...]

For decades, Front Range growth has been fed by Western Slope rivers. Around a half million acres of water is already being diverted east from the Upper Colorado and growing cities need more. The problem with diversions, said Neubecker, is that the water leaves the Western Slope forever, citing a proposed project to tap into Summit County’s Blue Mountain Reservoir and divert water from the Blue River.

“Grand and Summit counties are justifiably worried about a Green Mountain pumpback, and so should Eagle County, because that project isn’t possible without a Wolcott reservoir,” he said. “With water diverted to the Front Range, we never see it again. It has serious impacts on us as far as drought and growth. It’s a finite resource.”

Historically, there have been agreements that have benefited both the Western and Eastern slopes, and river advocates said they want to see more such projects. The Colorado Cooperative Agreement, announced in 2011, involved the cooperation of many Eagle County entities. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, signed in 1998, was also a major victory for mountain communities, significantly capping the amount of water that could be taken at the Homestake Reservoir and keeping some water in Eagle County.

Another settlement with Denver Water in 2007 was a big win for the local water community, said Diane Johnson, of Eagle River Water and Sanitation. “Denver Water gave up a huge amount of water rights, pretty much everything leading into Gore Creek, and as for a Wolcott Reservoir, it could only be developed with local entities in control,” she said. “Things are done more collaboratively now. It’s not the 1960s and ’70s anymore, where the Front Range developed the rivers without thought of how it affected local communities.”[...]

A new Colorado State University report commissioned by the Eagle River Watershed Council studied the state of the Eagle River.

“It’s clearly showing that the biggest threat to this portion of the Upper Colorado is reduced flows. It’s impacting wildlife for sure, most notably the fish,” said the council’s executive director Holly Loff.

With less water, the average river temperature is rising, and many cold-water fish have either been pushed out or killed as a result. Less water also means less riparian (riverside) habitat, an ecosystem that supports 250 species of animals. Of course, less water also affects river recreation and means there’s less water to drink.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Gov. Hickenlooper signs SB14-017

April 13, 2014

Sprawl

Sprawl


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that initially sought to tie water supplies for new developments to minimal landscaping irrigation was signed into law Friday by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The bill, SB17, was amended as it moved through the state Legislature to identify and encourage “best practices” that could be used by cities, water districts and homeowners to limit outdoor water consumption.

It also referred further legislation to the interim water resources committee of the Legislature to determine if any mandatory limits are needed.

The original legislation would have limited irrigated landscaping to 15 percent of any new development that used water obtained from agricultural dry-up.

The Colorado Water Congress opposed the legislation because it interfered with local control and ignored benefits provided by lawns.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


HB14-1332 isn’t getting much love from the legislature #COleg

April 12, 2014
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A bill supported by a group of local farmers and the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley is struggling to find support in other circles. House Bill 1332 — aimed at providing relief for areas of Weld County and elsewhere where groundwater wells have been curtailed and where high groundwater levels have caused damage — will have its first committee hearing Monday.

But already it’s hitting roadblocks.

On Monday, the Colorado Water Congress voted 20-3 against supporting the bill, and the next day, members of the South Platte Basin Roundtable — a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to discuss the region’s water challenges — spoke out against the bill. Rather than support the proposed legislation, the roundtable voted in favor of having further discussions about the high groundwater levels and curtailed wells, and, if reaching consensus on the issues down the road, adding such suggestions to the South Platte basin’s long-term water plan and eventual statewide Colorado Water Plan, which are currently in the works.

“Any legislation right now is premature,” said Boulder water attorney and roundtable member Mike Shimmin, noting that the Colorado Water Institute’s study of groundwater in the basin was released just a little over three months ago, and further examination and discussion of that information, and other studies, is needed before changes are made.

HB 1332 calls for de-watering measures in areas of high groundwater, funding more groundwater monitoring and studies, and potentially creating a “basin-wide management entity.”

But the majority of South Platte Roundtable members on Tuesday said such measures, like the de-watering efforts, are more complex than they appear. They also said the state putting forth more dollars for more groundwater studies is unnecessary since the recent Colorado Water Institute’s study is available for further examination, and the State Engineer’s Office is in the midst of a separate groundwater study.

Furthermore, creating an entity for basin oversight would add “another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy,” noted Harold Evans, South Platte Roundtable member, and chairman of the city of Greeley Water and Sewer Board.

It was another setback for LaSalle and Gilcrest area farmers, who, due to changes over the years in the state’s administration of groundwater and other factors, had their groundwater wells curtailed or shutdown several years ago. They’ve pushed for several other bills that address the issue, but have been voted down.

For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the aquifer. The pumping of that groundwater draws down flows in nearby rivers and streams — surface supplies owned and used by senior water rights holders. But, because of increasing water prices, some in the ag community have struggled, and continue to struggle, to find affordable water they can use for augmentation.

In addition to losing the ability to pump their wells, many of those impacted believe the lack of well-pumping is what’s caused the high groundwater levels that in recent years flooded basements and ruined crops in saturated fields.

Others, though, believe the high groundwater levels were caused by a variety of factors, and the existing system for groundwater management is needed to protect senior surface water rights, some of which date back to the 1800s.

The debate goes back years and came to a head during the 2012 drought, when crops were struggling in fields but some farmers couldn’t pump their wells to provide relief, even though groundwater was at historically high levels in some spots.

That summer, those local farmers, along with Weld County commissioners, asked Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to make an emergency declaration that would allow them to temporarily pump some of those curtailed or shutdown wells — in hopes of bringing down the damaging high groundwater, and to also save their crops. But many other water users urged the governor not to allow it. The governor didn’t allow any emergency groundwater pumping for local farmers, saying the state would likely face a barrage of lawsuits if he did so.

However, those 2012 discussions led to lawmakers approving the recent Colorado Water Institute groundwater study — known as the House Bill 1278 Study. It’s the approval of that study that now gives hope to HB 1332 supporters.

“We’ll keep plugging away,” said Randy Ray, executive director for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley, which, among other things, acquires and provides augmentation water to many of the impacted farmers. “We saw the same people speak out against that bill, and it still went through.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers” — Louis Meyer #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 12, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

“It’s a bunch of river with serious targets on them,” said Ken Neubecker of Carbondale about the upper Colorado basin. Neubecker, a longtime volunteer with Trout Unlimited and the former head of Western Rivers Institute, now works with American Rivers on policy and conservation issues.

In addition to rivers in the Roaring Fork watershed, Neubecker said the Blue, Eagle, Fraser, Yampa, Gunnison and Green rivers are all threatened by more water diversions.

“We continue to treat rivers as engineered plumbing systems and not ecosystems,” Neubecker said. “And the river doesn’t get a seat at the planning table.”

Aspenites will have a chance to learn more about the current threats and challenges to local and regional rivers when Louis Meyer of Glenwood Springs-based SGM engineering firm makes a presentation today at 6 p.m. in the Rio Grande meeting room in Aspen behind the county courthouse.

Meyer is an engineer, a member of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and a consultant to the roundtable, which is charged with developing a detailed water plan for the Colorado River basin by July. That basin plan will help inform a statewide plan called the Colorado Water Plan.

For the past several months, Meyer has been talking to members of the public and water providers across the upper Colorado River basin, which extends in Colorado from Rocky Mountain National Park to the state line west of Loma.

“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers,” Meyer said. “Not just flat rivers where the hydrograph has been taken off by reservoirs, but rivers that can support healthy biology.”

During a recent presentation in Carbondale sponsored by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Meyer said 41 percent of the Fryingpan River and Hunter Creek is diverted to the Front Range, while 37 percent of the water in the Roaring Fork River and its upper tributaries is sent east under the Continental Divide.

Each year, about 98,900 acre-feet of water is sent out of Pitkin County to growing cities on the Front Range, which is equal to almost all the stored water in a full Ruedi Reservoir. By comparison, Grand County sends 307,500 acre-feet east, Summit County, 73,100 acre-feet, and Eagle, 32,000 acre-feet…

He suggested that people in the Roaring Fork River valley need to better understand what the “PSOP,” or “Preferred Storage Options Plan” is.

“PSOP is something you have to start paying attention to,” Meyer said. “It is an effort by the consortium of East Slope water providers in the Arkansas basin — the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, the cities of Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

“They would like to enlarge Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville — that’s where water out of the Fryingpan is diverted — and they want to enlarge Pueblo Reservoir down very low in the basin so they can store more water.

“Where is that water going to come from? It’s going to come from out of this basin. The infrastructure is already there,” Meyer said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on it.”

Southeastern’s current strategic plan, available on its website, includes the goal to “maximize Fry-Ark diversions to the limit of (the district’s) water rights.”

In addition to PSOP, that could mean diverting more water from a “deferred area” in the Fryingpan headwaters through diversions planned, but not built, as part of the original Fry-Ark project…

Meyer also said that three Front Range counties between Denver and Colorado Springs — Douglas, Arapahoe and El Paso — are growing fast, need more water and are looking at some relatively dramatic potential solutions referred to as “big straws.”

The straws, or big pipelines and pump-back projects, could take water from the Green, Yampa, or Gunnison rivers and send it back over the Continental Divide to the Front Range.

And Meyer said discussions are happening now between Front Range and Western Slope water interests to determine under what conditions the Western Slope parties might agree to such a project…

Land use, not water use, may be the real key to leaving water in Western Slope rivers, he added.

“The biggest single issue that has come to the forefront in our work is that it’s not a water issue, it is a land-use issue,” Meyer said. “People are asking the questions, ‘shouldn’t we have our land use connected to our water use?’ and ‘shouldn’t the land use of the future respect that we already have a water shortage?’

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Snowpack news: “You’ve had a great snow year” — Nolan Doesken #ColoradoRiver

April 12, 2014

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

“You’ve had a great snow year,” said Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist at Colorado State University, “and it doesn’t take a crazy scientist to tell you that.”

The Summit Ranch measurement site recorded 30 percent above the 30-year median Friday. The Fremont Pass, Hoosier Pass and Grizzly Peak sites recorded between 126 and 139 percent of that median Friday.

“February was huge, March was plentiful and April so far has had just a storm or two,” he said, “but there’s another one coming for the weekend.”

The sites at lower altitudes, like the Copper Mountain site, have already started showing some snow melt, he said. The county is almost assured an excellent run-off season with full reservoirs.

Notwithstanding dry weather in the spring, the county should avoid drought conditions through the summer, said Troy Wineland, Summit’s water commissioner…

And snowpack has treated other parts of the state well. The South Platte Basin has recorded the most above-average snowpack, he said, which means the East Slope should take less water from across the Continental Divide, leaving more for the mountain region…

The settled base at Breckenridge Ski Resort is about 10 inches above normal for this time of year, said spokeswoman Kristen Petitt Stewart, and snowfall for the season so far is about 70 inches above average.

At Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac said, “year-to-date snowfall is just over 360 inches, and any season with that much snow is going to bode well for our business.”[...]

The Blue River water levels were too low for rafting for the last two years, said Campy Campton, co-owner of Kodi Rafting in Frisco, who has been rafting locally for almost 30 years. In 2013, he said, the weather was shaping up to repeat the drought conditions of 2012.

“It was little stressful going into April,” he said, “but Mother Nature came through and saved us.”[...]

This year’s above-average snowpack was likely caused by climate patterns around the country. With the “bone-chilling relentless cold” in the Northern Plains and Great Lakes region and the warm dry winter in California and the Pacific Northwest, Doesken said, Colorado was “sort of in a squeeze zone between the two.”

Summit County especially was hit with jet stream air blowing from the northwest, “popping it right up the Blue River Valley” and concentrating snow in an ideal and consistent way.

“Does that mean anything for the future?” he asked. “No. That’s just how it happened this year.”


The Gunnison County Commissioners take a look at the Gunnison Roundtable basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (George Sibley):

Concern about possible transmountain diversions dominated a public information-and-input meeting in Gunnison on Gunnison Basin Roundtable water planning.

The Gunnison County Commissioners hosted the meeting during their work session Tuesday, March 25. Thirty-five or 40 citizens participated in the discussion through the course of a two-hour meeting.

The water plan under consideration was the Gunnison Basin Roundtable’s contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered by Governor John Hickenlooper in May 2013; the plan will create possible solutions for a significant gap between the known water supply and the needs of a population projected to grow 60-100 percent by mid-century, mostly in the Front Range metropolis. Presenting information on the Gunnison Basin plan were roundtable members Frank Kugel, Rufus Wilderson and George Sibley.

The meeting focused mainly on goals that have been identified for the Gunnison Basin over the next four decades, and some “statewide principles” that it hopes to persuade at least the other West Slope basin roundtables to adopt in negotiations for the statewide water plan; some may be acceptable to all eight state river basins plus the metro area.

The priority goal stated for the Gunnison Basin is “to protect all existing water uses.” Roundtable members, according to Sibley, feel that the Gunnison Basin now has a good mix of consumptive uses (agricultural and municipal/domestic/industrial) and non-consumptive uses (environmental, recreational and hydropower), town-and-country, working-and-playing landscapes, and they want to carry that forward into the future. Change should be incremental, and weighed against its impact on existing uses.

Some of the citizen input warned the roundtable presenters to anticipate possible major changes in the headwaters region, from the oil and gas industry and potential mining operations for copper, molybdenum and “rare earth” minerals. Several citizens wanted to see more focus on water quality.

Other intra-basin goals discussed supporting the priority goal. While the planning process was brought about by a projected metropolitan water shortage, the municipal/industrial shortage in the Gunnison Basin is projected to be small, around 6,500 acre-feet (enough for approximately 13,000 four-person households) — roughly one percent of the projected statewide municipal/industrial shortage, and probably manageable through some anticipated agricultural land-use changes.

The heavily agricultural basin does, however, have a significant existing shortage of agricultural water, mostly late in the season, limiting the productivity of the land. Concern over these shortages is not limited to the ranchers; it acknowledges the close relationship between the valley’s agricultural land base and its economically important non-consumptive uses — the environmental and recreational uses also dependent on the extensive groundwater storage, wildlife wetlands and increased late season flows that result from irrigated floodplains, as well as aesthetic open-space considerations.

Most of the concerns expressed by the citizens present, however, reflected a Gunnison Basin antipathy toward headwaters diversions across the Continental Divide going back to the 1930s. These fears were not entirely allayed by the “Statewide Principles” being advanced in the Gunnison Plan. Kugel and Sibley explained that the strategy was to set the bar so high, for Front Range demand reduction preceding any diversion and West Slope compensations in exchange for any diversion, that the diversion would prove to be economically unfeasible. This strategy is furthered by the fact that both the Gunnison and Upper Colorado Basins are now over-appropriated in sub-average water years; any new diversion would be limited to above-average water years — a serious risk for the Front Range water suppliers to contemplate, given the projections for climate change on the one hand and the high cost of “pumpback” projects on the other.

That notwithstanding, the message from the audience was clearly for the roundtable to not be “soft” on the inevitable discussion of further transmountain diversion from any West Slope basin, since water removed from any of them increases the amount of water the other basins must send downstream for still undefined Lower Basin obligations.

Other public-input meetings are planned for other communities throughout the Gunnison Basin over the coming weeks. In addition, a public survey is available online, through the Upper Gunnison River District website — http://www.ugrwcd.org.

The roundtable is now moving into the stage of generating specific plans for meeting the identified needs and expressed goals. The roundtable meets the first Monday of every month, except for January, July and September, at 4 p.m. in the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose; the meetings are open to the public. The meeting on June 2 will precede a “State of the River” informational event held in conjunction with the Colorado River District at 7 p.m.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


The snowstorm this weekend should help delay runoff effects of the recent dust on snow events

April 11, 2014
Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

Snow forecast for the central mountains of Colorado this weekend will further bury the melt-hastening layer of dust that blasted the state 11 days ago.

“Wherever dust is exposed, the fresh snow will hopefully bury it and postpone the dust effect a little longer,” said Silverton’s Snow and Avalanche Studies director Chris Landry, who has chronicled the impact of desert dust blanketing Colorado snowpack since 2003.

But the fresh snow will only delay the detrimental impact of those dust layers.

“Without a doubt this dust layer has done its deed, helping to melt the snow. The danger is getting more dust. Eventually dust layers converge, melting out the clean snow between them and then really help burn through the snowpack,” said Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Right now, we aren’t especially alarmed. But those spring winds are swirling.”

The speedy melt sends a deluge downstream that not only elevates flood potential, but hinders the ability of ranchers and farmers to retain or use the water before it rushes out of state. (And, on a more minor note, it’s marred plenty of formerly pristine ski slopes.)

Without the dust, a gradual, natural melt cycle keeps things more manageable. While this season has yet to match last season — which had two huge dust events in April — the regularity and impact of dust so far this season is pacing with the last decade, Landry said.

The first-week of April is the halfway mark of the typical dust season.

Landry and his crew have so far measured five dust events at 11 Snotel sites on mountain passes across Colorado.

March 30 and April 1 events in Crested Butte, Aspen and across the southern San Juans were dramatic — with ominous red skies preceding a choking swirl of dust — but they likely will not match the huge event of April 8 last year. On that day, a whopper of a storm coated western Colorado with a layer of dust that measured 47.5 grams per square meter, more than the total annual accumulation of dust in any year since Landry began measuring in 2003.

A two-day dust event that began April 15 last year blanketed the central and Front Range snowpack with a layer measuring 9 grams per square meter, another record event.

With snow continuing to accumulate, the melt has not begun in most high-altitude parts of Colorado, meaning those dust layers have yet to see direct sunlight, Landry said.

“The snowpack at those elevations are still retaining some cold,” he said.


CWCB: The next Water Availability Task Force meeting is April 16

April 11, 2014

sanmiguelriver2006aerialmontrosedailypres

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

A Joint Flood & Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 from 1:00-4:00p at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

An agenda will be posted at the CWCB website.

More CWCB coverage here.


Southwestern Water Conservation District Annual Water Seminar recap #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014

sanjuan

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

With continuing population growth in Southwestern states and ongoing drought, water issues are becoming more and more about who has to cut back their use when there isn’t enough to meet demand.

That thread ran through presentations at the annual Water Seminar on April 4 in Durango, sponsored by the Southwest Water Conservation District.

“How will we handle the water and other needs of 10 million people,” asked John Stulp, a former state agriculture commissioner and current chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) which is developing a State Water Plan along with nine basin water roundtables…

Harris cited a statewide statistic that with municipal water use, half is used inside and half outside. Ninety percent of the inside use returns to the stream. With outside use, 70 to 80 percent is “consumed” and does not return to the stream. The Southwest Roundtable has approved a goal to shift the percentage of municipal use to indoor, especially where the water comes from ag dry-up or trans-mountain diversion, he said.

Harris initiated the idea of legislation to limit lawn sizes in residential developments after 2016 where the water would come from a permanent transfer from ag. It didn’t get through the State Senate but will be a study topic by an interim committee on water resources during the off-session.

“The lawn bill, this is just the first time, not the last,” Harris asserted. “Reduction of lawn size is a significant conservation measure to help meet 2050 water supply.”

State Rep. Don Coram from Montrose commented “On the Front Range, they haven’t addressed storage or depleting the aquifer. They are more interested in trans-mountain diversion.”[...]

John McGlow from the Upper Colorado River Commission said curtailment such as this will affect water rights decreed after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Upper Basin is western Colorado, eastern Utah, southwest Wyoming, and northwest New Mexico. They have begun discussions on how cutbacks would be shared, or how to avoid getting to that point with things like fallowing fields and reducing frequency of irrigation.

“Lake Powell is our bank account for complying with the compact,” he said. It’s the cushion for the Upper Basin states to deliver mandated quantities of water to the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) and Mexico over a 10-year average. Navajo Reservoir also is part of that.

McGlow said 1999 was the last year that Powell was full. The goal is to get enough water into Lake Powell each year to avoid curtailment or the possibility of the water level getting too low for hydropower generation, which he said would have its own serious impacts.

The good news is there’s enough snowpack in northwest and north central Colorado that these won’t be issues this year, McGlow said…

Panelist Dan Birch from the Colorado River Conservation District said most pre-compact rights on the Western Slope are in the Grand Valley and Uncompaghre Valley. There is around 1 million AF of pre-compact irrigation on the West Slope, he said. Most of that land is in pasture or hay. Pasture can’t be fallowed, he said.

With a target to make up for 350,000 AF of post-compact use, Birch said, “I don’t think we want one-third of ag to go away. What we’re talking about is interruptible voluntary market-based contracts” for pre-compact users to reduce their water use. “This has to work for the farmers and the ditch companies,” he said.

Birch said power plants in Northwest Colorado are significant post-compact water users. “In the event of a (water) shortage, it will be important to keep critical uses going,” including power generation, he said.

Demand management is a key to avoiding Upper Basin curtailment or loss of hydro generation. “We are way behind on actual implementation of demand management,” including agricultural fallowing and reducing municipal demands, McGlow said. “It’s still a concept. It’s in its infancy.”

Fallowing and reduced irrigation are part of what’s called water banking. Panelist Aaron Derwingson said, “Pretty much everyone supports water banking in concept. It gets a lot more complex actually doing it.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


SB14-103: If you like your toilet you can keep your toilet #COleg

April 11, 2014
Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

From the Craig Daily Press (Bob Rankin):

“If you like your toilet, you can keep your toilet.” Does that sound familiar? Does it sound like the Affordable Care Act?

One of the longest- and hardest-fought floor debates last week had to do with toilets. The sponsor actually made that statement. The bill will require that all new shower and toilet fixtures be energy-efficient to conserve water. Our own Colorado Water District supports it in the hope that the Front Range will divert less water. But I don’t think government should limit choice unless it’s a public safety issue or offers some other very clear benefit. I have to flush the efficient toilet in our rented Denver apartment about three times, so I don’t think they work as advertised. The shower, in this touted “green energy-efficient” building, takes five minutes of running in order to get hot water.

But water conservation is a very serious topic in Colorado. Follow the progress of the water plan being developed this year. It supposedly will guide water use and conservation for years into the future…

We had a very controversial bill and debate in the Agriculture Committee that could have a big effect on water for irrigation and stream flow in our area. The bill would allow irrigators to use more efficient means of watering crops and fields and then sell or donate the saved water to keep our streams flowing all year. I like the concept, but we can’t seem to get agreement between the irrigators, lawyers, fishermen like me and environmentalists.

We haven’t voted as of this writing. I would like to see us work on the bill this summer and come back with agreement, since I really don’t think the committee, of which I am a member, is capable of sorting out this complicated water law issue.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

The Blue and the Snake are in trouble. These two Summit County rivers are part of the Upper Colorado River Basin, which was named the second most endangered river in the country Wednesday by American Rivers, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit focused on river advocacy.

“If you want to have healthy rivers and a recreational economy and agriculture on the West Slope, there really is nothing left to take,” said Ken Neubecker, associate director of the organization’s Colorado River project…

The nonprofit’s biggest fear is a new diversion, Neubecker said, because taking a lot of water out of the Colorado anywhere would have serious repercussions.

American Rivers and other conservation organizations say the Colorado Water Conservation Board, charged with creating the state water plan, should make sure it prioritizes river restoration and protection, increases water efficiency and conservation in cities and towns, improves agricultural practices and avoids new transmountain diversions.

Rivers on the Western Slope are already drained and damaged, Neubecker said. He called it wrong to divert more water instead of focusing on alternative methods to meet the gap between water supply and demand.

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Right now, he said, details on a new diversion project have been vague, but Front Range proposals have considered developing the Yampa, Flaming Gorge and Gunnison and taking more water out of the Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers…

The Colorado River and its headwaters are home to some endangered fish species. They support wildlife, agriculture and multi-billion dollar tourism industries.

And they provide some or all of the drinking water for the resort areas of Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Winter Park and Crested Butte and most of the urban Front Range.

To meet its customers’ water needs, Denver Water is focused on Gross Reservoir enlargements as well as conservation and forest health efforts, said CEO Jim Lochhead Thursday.

Colorado’s largest water provider has no current plans to construct a new transmountain diversion, he said, but the state as a whole should consider that option.

A new diversion is “probably inevitable at some point,” he said. “We want to do that in partnership with the West Slope.”

And after signing the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement last year, the utility has to.

The agreement does not allow future water development without the permission of all parties, including Western Slope representatives. Lochhead said, it “establishes a framework where we are really working together as partners instead of the old framework of East Slope versus West Slope.”

But the push is not coming from Denver Water.

“They’re really not the ones that are after a new diversion,” Neubecker said. “They got what they want.”

Pressure for more water from new or existing transmountain diversions comes mainly from north and south of Denver, the Arkansas and South Platte basins and especially Douglas County, he said. Those areas should look at conservation efforts more seriously, he said, and “pay attention to land use policies that basically encourage wasteful water use.”[...]

“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” instead of engineering conduits for delivering water, Neubecker said, and “understand that we may think that growth should be infinite, but the resources like water that support the growth are not.”

From the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Mike McKibbin):

There is no more unclaimed water in the Colorado River Basin, so if the state’s population nearly doubles by 2050, as some have projected, the consequences for everyone along the river – including Rifle – could be dire. That was the message Louis Meyer, a civil engineer, president and CEO of SGM in Glenwood Springs, told City Council as he detailed the ongoing Colorado Water Plan process at an April 2 workshop…

Of the counties in the Colorado River basin, he noted, Garfield is projected to have the most growth, around 274 percent, or 119,900 people, by 2030.

“The Front Range is expected to have serious water shortages by 2020, unless they find more water,” he said. “They can’t take any more from agriculture on the Front Range, so they want a new supply from the Colorado River basin.”

“We have a target on our back,” Meyer continued. “But we have no more water to give.”

If every entity on the Front Range implemented some strict conservation measures, such as banning all new lawns and perhaps the removal of some existing lawns, Meyer said, the water gap could possibly be eliminated in coming years.

“But if we put that in the [water] plan, we need to do the same thing in our basin,” he added.

All storage water in Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs is allocated, along with nearly every other reservoir in the state, Meyer said.

Water quality issues are already becoming acute, Meyer said, because there is less water in the Colorado River.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Transmountain diversions: “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded” — Jay Winner #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Twin Lakes collection system

Twin Lakes collection system

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Twin Lakes Reservoir & Canal Co. took umbrage at the way working drafts of an upcoming state water plan viewed its future. A report prepared by the Interbasin Compact Committee uses an example of a way to create new supply, suggesting that Twin Lakes could cut back its diversions from the other side of the Continental Divide in drought years to aid the Western Slope. Trouble is, Twin Lakes has no plans to do that, said Kevin Lusk, who is president of the Twins Lakes company as a representative of Colorado Springs Utilities, the majority shareholder in Twin Lakes.

“In our discussions, we’re trying to keep what we’ve got, and we have no intentions of increasing the use,” Lusk told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

Lusk asked for a retraction of the statement by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and from the basin roundtable chairs. The document was discussed in a March 17 conference call among roundtable chairs and alluded to in an Aspen Daily News story. Several roundtable members questioned how the statement landed in the document, since it was not discussed at a meeting.

“It was cited as an example in the process as we move forward,” said Betty Konarski, chairwoman of the roundtable.

Lusk said the distribution of the information is detrimental to Twin Lakes. While there have been past discussions along the same lines, the company has never committed to changing its operations to accommodate the Western Slope.

“Twin Lakes is not considering a reduction of diversions. We haven’t agreed to do it or not to do it,” added Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the second largest Twin Lakes shareholder. “We wouldn’t have a reason to give any of it up unless there was some benefit to us. It’s gravity-flow and inexpensive water for us.”

But a minority Twin Lakes shareholder, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the company should be more open to actions that could have a statewide benefit. comments,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded. It’s looking at what’s good for Colorado Springs Utilities, not the whole state.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


The latest ENSO update is hot off the presses

April 10, 2014

midmarchplumeofensopredictionsviacpc

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

ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch

Synopsis: While ENSO-neutral is favored for Northern Hemisphere spring, the chances of El Niño increase during the remainder of the year, exceeding 50% by summer.


Drought news

April 10, 2014

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of images from the US Drought Monitor website.

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

The Plains

As was observed in the Midwest, the plains states are experiencing a delayed spring with cooler than normal temperatures. This week was not any different, with departures from normal temperatures of 4-6 degrees Fahrenheit quite common. Precipitation was scarce in the region, with a few areas of eastern Kansas, northeast and central Nebraska, and western South Dakota recording amounts that were generally less than 1 inch total for the week. Even with the delayed spring, the departures from normal precipitation for the year are starting to reach 4 inches below normal from southern South Dakota into eastern Nebraska as well as eastern and central Kansas. Drought conditions were expanded in southeast Nebraska so that D1 now includes the entire region. In South Dakota, D0 was expanded into the southern portions of the state and including all of north central Nebraska as well. As the northern plains begin to thaw, there is ample moisture in the snowpack, which will help diminish any concerns for dryness, allowing for the D0 in North Dakota to be removed this week as well…

The West

Most of the western United States was dry this week, with the heaviest precipitation recorded in areas west of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon. The warmer than normal conditions also continue for much of the region; this has been the trend for 2014 up to this point. In response to continued dryness and also approaching the end of the typical rainy season and snow accumulation seasons, some drought areas were expanded this week. In northern Arizona and southern Utah, D1 was pushed to the north while D1 was also pushed to the east in eastern Utah. In the Four Corners region, D2 was expanded into southwest Colorado and southeast Utah. In New Mexico, D2 was pushed to the east in the western portion of the state while D2 was expanded in the north central areas of the state. In response to the snowpack conditions, which are well above normal, the D0 and D1 conditions were improved upon in the eastern regions of northern Utah…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5-7 days, an active weather pattern will take shape over portions of the plains, Midwest, and southeastern United States. Precipitation chances and amounts are greatest over the Midwest, the Ohio River Valley, and portions of the Gulf Coast. Areas of thunderstorms may produce 2-3 inches of rain locally. Precipitation chances are also high over the central to northern Rocky Mountains. Temperatures during this time should be above normal over the western United States, where high temperatures will be up to 12 degrees above normal in the Great Basin and northern California. Normal to slightly below normal high temperatures are expected in the plains and northern plains, respectively, while high temperatures will be above normal over the eastern United States.

The 6-10 day outlook continues with the cooler than normal temperature pattern over the eastern half of the United States, with the best chances for below-normal temperatures in the Great Lakes region. The chances for above-normal temperatures will also continue west of the Great Divide and also for southern Florida. The eastern seaboard and the Pacific Northwest are the two areas with the best chances of above-normal precipitation during this time. The Midwest and southwestern United States have the best chances of recording below-normal precipitation during this period.


American Rivers names the Upper #ColoradoRiver the #2 most endangered for 2014 #COWaterPlan

April 10, 2014
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From American Rivers:

Threat: Water diversions
At Risk: River health and recreation

The Upper Colorado River and its tributaries include some of the most heavily degraded rivers and some of the last truly healthy rivers in the West. The rivers are critical to Colorado’s heritage; they are the life-line for much of the state’s fish and wildlife, they sustain a vibrant agricultural economy, and they provide world-class opportunities for fishing, paddling, and hiking. However, these renowned rivers are threatened by increasing water demands and new proposed water diversions. The Governor of Colorado must take a stand now and keep water flowing in the rivers by promoting responsible conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan.

The River

The Colorado River Basin in the State of Colorado includes the mainstem Colorado River and headwater rivers, such as the Eagle, Roaring Fork, Blue, Yampa, White, and Gunnison. Gold medal trout fisheries, world class paddling, and glorious massive canyons can be found throughout this river system. The resort areas of Winter Park, Breckenridge, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, and Vail, as well as much of the urban Front Range (on the other side of the Continental Divide), all get some or all of their drinking water from these rivers. The Upper Colorado River Basin is home to 14 native fish species, including several fish listed as endangered.

The Threat

n 2013, American Rivers listed the Colorado River as #1 on our list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® due to the overarching concern of outdated water management throughout the entire basin. To begin addressing this concern in the Upper Basin, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop the first statewide Water Plan to determine how Colorado will meet its water needs in the future. With its population expected to double by 2050, Colorado must seize this opportunity to chart a more sustainable course for water management.

Approximately 80% of Colorado’s population lives on the Front Range in cities like Denver, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins, but 80% of Colorado’s snow and rain falls on the Western Slope, primarily within the Upper Colorado River Basin. The Front Range has long depended on “trans-mountain” projects that pump, pipe, and divert water over the Continental Divide from the Colorado River Basin for municipal use, lawn irrigation, and agriculture. These dams and diversions decrease river flows, degrade the environment, and harm river recreation that is a key element for the tourism economy on the Western Slope. Having tapped the headwaters of the Colorado mainstem, some Front Range water interests are currently considering diversions from rivers further away, like the Yampa and Gunnison Rivers— rivers not yet impaired by trans-mountain diversions.

The Governor of Colorado and the Colorado Water Conservation Board cannot afford to fall back on outdated, expensive, and harmful water development schemes as acceptable solutions when they develop the water plan for Colorado’s future. Rivers are vitally important for Coloradans, and protecting and restoring rivers needs to be a top priority. If we want rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture, and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure they have enough water.

What Must Be Done

Colorado Basin Rivers have played an important role providing water for Front Range development, but many of the rivers are drained and have no more water to give. The Draft Colorado Water Plan is scheduled to be released in December 2014, and the Governor and Colorado Water Conservation Board must make the following common sense principles a core part of the plan:

  • Prioritize protecting healthy flowing rivers and restoring degraded ones
  • Increase water efficiency and conservation in cities and towns
  • Modernize agricultural practices and make it easier for irrigators— who now use more than 80% of Colorado’s water— to share water with urban areas in ways that both maintain valuable ranches and farms and keep rivers healthy
  • Avoid new major trans-mountain diversion projects so as not to further harm Upper Colorado rivers and the communities that depend upon them
  • Adopting these strategies will allow sustainable use of water from the Upper Colorado River Basin, without building costly, environmentally harmful, and ultimately ineffective projects on these cherished rivers. Greater cooperation, innovative technologies, and best practices will enable Colorado to build prosperous communities, support thriving agricultural and tourism industries, and keep our rivers healthy and flowing.

    Colorado’s Water Plan will influence water development and impacts to rivers in Colorado for decades to come. Taking additional water from the Upper Colorado River Basin, already over-taxed by existing water diversions, should not be an option and will be unnecessary if the Governor and Colorado Water Conservation Board adopt a sensible Water Plan.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    A nearby tributary of the Colorado, the White River, is No. 7 on the list because of the amount of energy exploration taking place along its length, American Rivers’ Director of the Colorado River Basin Program Matt Rice said Wednesday.

    #The threat of future trans-mountain diversion that would export water from the upper Colorado to the state’s Front Range is the reason the basin ranks high among the top 10 again in 2014. However, Rice said, it’s also the process already underway to establish a new water plan for Colorado that is putting the focus on the Colorado and Yampa rivers.

    #“We want to make sure common-sense principles are included and prioritized in Colorado’s new water plan. We want healthy rivers to be a core component,” Rice said. “And we want to make sure this plan doesn’t support a new trans-basin project. That’s why it’s No. 2 on our list this year.”

    #Steamboat resident Ken Vertrees is uniquely situated in the ongoing discussions about the future of the Yampa as it fits into the Upper Colorado Basin and the water needs of all of Colorado. He sits on the combined Yampa, White, Green river basin roundtable that was tasked by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May 2013 with coming up with a water plan for this basin that will be incorporated into a statewide draft plan in December 2014 and ultimately into the finalized Colorado Water Plan due to be completed no later than Dec. 10, 2015.

    #In addition, Vertrees sits on the board of the Steamboat-based nonprofit, Friends of the Yampa, which is a partner with American Rivers on its 10 most endangered project. He said the rivers of the upper Colorado have in-basin needs of their own to meet before other basins come after their water.

    #“The state has a 20 percent gap in water supply going out to 2050. That’s the whole impetus for everything we’re doing right now,” he said.

    #Vertrees thinks there is potential for the people of the Yampa Basin to become a “complete loser” in the statewide planning process as water officials seek to close that gap either by redirecting water across the state or conserving, or both.

    #One presumption is that the Front Range, where 82 percent of the state’s population is located, will seek the last great trans-mountain diversion, with water now leaving the state in the Yampa, on its way to the Green and ultimately the Colorado, one of the primary targets.

    #The possibility of spending several billions of dollars to capture some of the water leaving Colorado in the Yampa and pumping it eastward across the Continental Divide to the Front Range surfaced in the middle of the past decade. But two proposals to do just that since have languished…

    Ultimately, Vertrees said, he’s hopeful that the state of Colorado as a whole will recognize the intrinsic value of the Yampa in its lower reaches as a wild desert river that supports a rare community of plants and animals.

    #“It’s a very scary time, in some ways, for our river and our basins,” Vertrees said. “Our non-consumptive water rights are critical to the health of the river. It maintains globally rare habitats and federally endangered fish that are found nowhere else. Isn’t that critical for us, as the state of Colorado, to protect forever?”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    “The roundtables have no authority…But let’s define what a good project looks like” — Gary Barber #COWaterPlan

    April 10, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Preparing for a flood of meetings on the state water plan, Arkansas Basin Roundtable members are wondering what style of umbrella to bring.

    “How will the plan be used?” asked Sandy White of the Huerfano County Conservancy District. “There are a lot of cranky people like me in Huerfano County who want to know.”

    White elaborated, saying that it’s apparent that projects listed in the plan won’t be fast-tracked and those omitted won’t be black-listed. The plan also won’t alter water rights.

    Betty Konarski, roundtable chairwoman, said it’s important to know which projects are being contemplated, even if the plan doesn’t say how or when they will be accomplished.

    “One of our goals is following on,” she said. “Which of these can we turn into a project and initiate. Once we see them all, we can see how they can work together.”

    Alan Hamel, the basin’s director on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said there is value in identifying needs in order to reinforce the importance of projects and coordinate permitting by state agencies.

    Dave Taussig, of Lincoln County, asked how the state plan would interact with local planning efforts, which could override state edicts on growth and water development.

    “The roundtables have no authority,” said Gary Barber, who stepped down as chairman of the roundtable in order to work as a consultant on the basin implementation plan. “But let’s define what a good project looks like.”

    Barber spent most of Wednesday afternoon going over details of the plan, and reviewed the history of how the roundtable formed after the 2004 State Water Supply Initiative was crafted.

    SWSI was updated in 2010, and from it, Gov. John Hickenlooper charged the roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop a state water plan.

    Roundtable members are being asked to fan out into the countryside to gather input before an Arkansas Basin implementation plan — just one ingredient in the state’s recipe for its water future. Some meetings already have been held and comments are filtering back to the roundtable.

    At least 15 meetings are planned throughout the basin. A complete list, as well as details about the water plans, can be found at the website, http://arkansasbasin.com.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Full list of Great Outdoors Colorado flood-recovery grants #COflood

    April 9, 2014

    Snowpack news (% of avg): South Platte = 140% (best in state), Arkansas = 106%, Upper Rio Grande = 83% #COdrought

    April 9, 2014

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Last week’s snow and rain will get the farming season off to the best start it has seen in four years.

    “I’m always optimistic about farming,” said Tom Rusler, who farms near Avondale on the Bessemer Ditch. “But last week’s moisture was about as nice as they come, we got about half an inch down here, but I just got back from Leadville and the snow is beautiful up there.”

    The snow helped winter wheat, triticale and alfalfa crops already in the ground. It also softened up the ground for spring planting, which will occur between now and mid-June.

    “I got about six-tenths of an inch, which is the most moisture I’ve had in three years,” said John Singletary, who was surveying his fields near Vineland. “It came at a great time and will allow us to plant in moisture this year.”

    Farmers also are encouraged by winter water, which finished 50 percent better than last year but shy of average, and Fryingpan-Arkansas Project imports, which are expected to be above average.

    Snow and rain fell over most of the Arkansas River basin last week, but was heaviest in the mountains and foothills. Five-day precipitation totals ranged from just 0.14 inches in Prowers County to nearly 2 inches at Twin Lakes. Some places in Pueblo County got as much as an inch during that period.

    More moisture and cooler weather are expected to move into the area by the weekend.

    From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

    Spring runoff in the Roaring Fork Valley typically starts around this time, in early to mid-April. It peaks later in the spring. This year mountain snow is plentiful and once it melts, river flows are predicted to be higher than average. But, the timing of the melt is important. Aspen public Radio’s Marci Krivonen spoke with Sarah Johnson, the Outreach Coordinator for the Roaring Fork Conservancy. She says the snowpack in the Roaring Fork watershed is well above average.


    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is sponsoring a dozen meetings to gather input for their basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

    April 9, 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):

    Ready to dive in? A dozen meetings have been scheduled to get input from communities on the Arkansas River basin’s portion of the state water plan. The meetings, sponsored by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, are in response to last month’s decision by the roundtable to reach out into the sprawling basin to gather input as the state moves toward developing a draft water plan by the end of the year under an order by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The meetings also address concerns by some state lawmakers that community outreach on water issues is lacking, despite nine years of roundtable meetings throughout Colorado.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable has launched a website (http://arkansasbasin.com) that lists the meeting times and places, as well.

    Included are the roundtable’s monthly meeting, 11:30 a.m. today at Colorado State University-Pueblo; and the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 22-24 in La Junta. Smaller community meetings will begin next week, with meetings in Trinidad and Walsenburg on April 16. Upcoming meetings will be in Gardner, April 25; La Veta, April 29; Springfield, April 29; Lamar, May 1; Salida, May 6; Hugo, May 7; Las Animas, May 20; Rocky Ford, May 27; and Fowler, May 27. Meetings also will be scheduled for Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Simla.

    The website also includes more detailed information about the water plan through a link to the state water plan website at http://coloradowaterplan.com.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain editoral staff:

    When the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum convenes for its 20th annual gathering April 23-24 in La Junta, there should be just one topic at the top of its agenda — water for agriculture. Those attending this year’s forum will take time to discuss the Colorado Water Plan, which is currently being developed thanks to an executive order by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Arkansas River basin water users and officials will talk about a number of topics — including drought, irrigation rules and weed control — during the two-day gathering. But their discussion and eventual input into the water plan shouldn’t stray from agriculture and the need for consistent water supplies in Southern Colorado.

    Agriculture is the backbone of the region’s economy. Without a reliable water supply that will ensure a sustainable future for farmers and ranchers in the Arkansas Valley, our most important industry and our overall economy will be in jeopardy.

    Water interests in the Arkansas River basin need to send a clear and unified message through the Colorado Water Plan process that agriculture, more than growing cities, should be the state’s No. 1 priority when it comes to the allocation of water resources.

    If we don’t stay together in that belief, growing communities to the north will continue to come shopping for water in Southern Colorado, leading to the loss of productive farms and ranches throughout the region.

    There are effective tools available to hang on to Arkansas River water, including conservation easements with farmers and ranchers to tie water rights to specific land. A legislative measure to forbid the transfer of more water out of a basin of origin could be part of the debate as well.

    Our water resources are valuable and finite. The new water plan needs to acknowledge that fact, and strengthen agriculture’s grip on its fair share of the available resources.

    Meanwhile it’s full steam ahead with work on the Rio Grande Roundtable basin implementation plan according to this report from Charlie Spielman writing for the Valley Courier:

    This is the sixth article in the Narrow the Gap water series addressing the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan. VALLEY In 2004, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) completed the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) Phase 1 Study. One of the key findings of the study was that while SWSI evaluated water needs and solutions through 2030, very few municipal and industrial (M&I) water providers have identified supplies beyond 2030.

    Beyond 2030, growing demands may require more aggressive solutions. Since the SWSI Phase 1 Study was completed, Colorado’s legislature established the

    “Water for the 21st Century Act.” This act established the Interbasin Compact Process that provides a permanent forum for broad-based water discussions in the state. It created two new structures : 1) the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), and 2) the basin roundtables. There are nine basin roundtables each located in one of Colorado’s eight major river basins and the Denver metro area.

    The CWCB determined that the forecast horizon for the water demand projections needed to be extended to the year 2050 to better represent the long-term water needs that the state will face. The West Slope basin roundtables suggested the 2050 timeframe for the demand projections so that potential growth rates on the West Slope could be better characterized. Infrastructure investments and commitment of water supplies also require a longer view into the future. In addition, several of the SWSI Identified Projects and Processes (IPPs) with Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) requirements have used a planning horizon of 2050. Finally, the 2050 timeframe matches the ongoing energy development study conducted by the Colorado and Yampa-White Basin Roundtables. (CWCB, M&I Water Projections.)

    The Municipal and Industrial Rio Grande Basin Water Plan workgroup knows that unless action is taken, water shortages for San Luis Valley cities and towns will be inevitable. So the team set about laying out frame work for the Rio Grande Basin’s Municipal and Industrial uses. By working together the committee has uncovered some interesting facts:

  • The Division of Water Resources doesn’t characterize any wells as “industrial” but as commercial.
  • There is a healthy photovoltaic solar electric business established in the San Luis Valley, and future growth of this sector seems assured. As an added bonus, this generating capacity uses relatively little water.
  • Reasonable projections of future oil and gas drilling indicate that the industry’s future water use will probably not be extensive.
  • Opportunities for significant water requirements for hydro power plants appear limited at this time.
  • Total municipal and industrial water use in the Rio Grande Basin is likely to remain at less than 1-3 percent of the agricultural water use. A situation that is much different, when looking at other cities and towns in river basins across the state.
  • The several municipalities in the Rio Grande Basin that obtain their water from confined aquifer wells provide significant water to the surface system and to the unconfined aquifer in the form of treated waste water. Presently these towns receive no credit or benefit from their contribution. Moving forward these municipalities will need to secure their well water resources by obtaining water augmentation plans or by joining a sub-district . The implementation of new water rules and regulations will lay out a specific blueprint of how these communities can move forward. Further complicating the water outlook for San Luis Valley municipalities is the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) lowering of the maximum arsenic limits tolerances to 2 parts per billion . This action will greatly increase water treatment costs.

    Water is nearly as “invisible” as air. Unfortunately this creates a complacency that has led to failing infrastructure and severe water shortages in unexpected places like Atlanta, Georgia where, according to Charles Fishmen author of “The Big Thirst” , several million people have been added to the population in the past 20 years without increasing its water supply.

    The key for municipalities is to improve their outreach and education efforts about conservation and population. When simple conservation techniques are implemented, the water savings are quite remarkable. Lowering water demands as a result of water efficiency can assist providers in avoiding, downsizing, or postponing the construction and operation of water supply facilities and wastewater facilities as well as eliminating , reducing, or postponing water purchases. In addition to these water supply benefits , there are other societal, political, and environmental benefits.

    At present there appears to be no communities within the upper Rio Grande Basin at risk regarding the development of adequate water supplies and /or obtaining augmentation water. Planning and conservation, however , will allow them to move smoothly towards 2050. The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable would like input in the development of the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan. The most effective methods to become involved are: attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings the second Tuesday of each month at the SLV Water Conservancy office , 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa; submit comments directly online at http://www.riograndewaterplan. webs.com or attend any one of the five Basin Water Plan subcommittee meetings. The lead consultant is Tom Spezze (tom@dinatalewater.com).

    Charlie Spielman, represents municipal and industrial water users on the Rio Basin Roundtable and also serves as chair of the M&I subcommittee for the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    The latest newsletter (The Current) from the Eagle River Watershed Council is hot off the presses

    April 8, 2014
    Eagle River Basin

    Eagle River Basin

    Click here to read the newsletter.

    More Eagle River Watershed coverage here.


    A look at James Eklund and the #COWaterPlan

    April 8, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From Colorado Public Radio (Rachel Estabrook):

    …Gov. John Hickenlooper has ordered the state to create a water plan; he wants a draft of it by December 2014, to be finalized in 2015. The plan will be based on what local groups organized around watersheds, called basin roundtables, come up with over the next several months. The basin roundtables will meet throughout the spring and will deliver their wish lists to the state over the summer.

    To lead the massive effort, Gov. Hickenlooper has chosen James Eklund to direct the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “We have water where we don’t have people, and we have to make sure we address that problem as best we can,” Eklund says.

    That also means there are people where there isn’t much water. Eklund says you can draw a line down the middle of Colorado.

    “If you think of Colorado as a rectangle…and you draw a line right down the middle of that rectangle…80 percent of the water falls on the left side of that line and 80-87 percent of the people are on the right side of that line,” Eklund says.

    In addition to the looming gap between how much water Colorado has and how much it needs, Eklund says he’s worried about a trend known as “buy and dry,” where cities, mostly on the Front Range, buy water rights from farmers, leaving the farms to dry up.

    “The challenge that we face as a state when that happens is a ripple effect that spreads through the local economy, the community,” Eklund notes. “If you’re not farming, you’re not paying into the tax base. You’re not sending your kids to school. You’re not going to the grocery store, the cafe. And that is a challenge for the entire community.”

    Eklund is careful to point out that he doesn’t want to stop arrangements between willing sellers and willing buyers.

    “But we want to give people options,” he says.

    That includes encouraging rotational fallowing, a method that allows farmers to let parts of land go dry for a year or more and sell the water rights for only that period of time, restarting production on that land later.

    Ultimately, Eklund says, the solution to Colorado’s water crisis will include more conservation – and that could mean sacrifices.

    “We’re all going to have to bear some pain,” Eklund says. “And how we bear that pain, and who bears what percentage of it, who bears what risk – that’s the conversation that’s going on right now in Colorado in shaping this water plan.”

    Eklund says that could mean rules about how much water people can use. It could mean water providers will start using aggressive tiered pricing schemes to make it expensive to use water. For farmers, Eklund says, continued buyouts of their land would be very painful.

    As the basin roundtables go on, some conservation groups worry that not enough attention will be paid to keeping the rivers flowing. Those rivers are important to Colorado’s natural habitats and to the state’s recreation industry. Eklund says he’s listening to those concerns.

    “We have been aggressive in reaching out to the conservation and environmental community to make sure their voice is heard in all of this,” he says, “and that our water plan doesn’t become some glossy report that sits on a shelf somewhere.”

    Eklund is encouraging citizens to participate in the planning process. A schedule of the basin roundtable meetings and a link to give input to the plan are at the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s website.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    @CoCoRaHS — The newest animation is now on YouTube: Weather vs Climate

    April 8, 2014

    Colorado River District state of the river meetings scheduled #ColoradoRiver

    April 8, 2014
    Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From email from the Colorado River District (Martha Moore):

    Annual Colorado River District State of the River public information meetings:

    v Tues., May 6, Summit County State of the River meeting, co-sponsor: Blue River Watershed Group (more info TBD)

    v Tues., May 13, Grand County State of the River meeting; co-sponsor: Grand County Board of County Commissioners
    Mountain Parks Electric, 321 West Agate Avenue, Granby, CO, 6:00pm

    v Wed., May 14, Middle Colorado State River meeting; co-sponsor: Middle Colorado Watershed Council
    Garfield County Library, 815 Cooper Ave., Glenwood Springs, CO, 6:00pm

    v Thurs., May 15, Mesa County State of the River meeting; co-sponsor: Water Center at Colorado Mesa University
    Mesa County City Hall, 250 North 5th Street, Grand Junction, CO, 6:00pm

    v Mon., June 2, Gunnison County State of the River meeting; co-sponsor: Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (more info TBD)

    v Eagle River Valley State of the River meeting; co-sponsor: Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (more info TBD)

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    NRCS: The April 1 Basin Outlook Report is hot off the presses #COdrought

    April 8, 2014

    Click here to read the report from the Natural Resources Conservation Services. Here’s an excerpt:

    SUMMARY OF WATER SUPPLY CONDITIONS

    SNOWPACK
    Snow surveys conducted on April 1 reported the snowpack in the Colorado River basin to be at 130 percent of median. The basin received above normal snow accumulation for the third consecutive month. March precipitation was 116 percent of average in the basin and total precipitation for the water year remains at 118 percent of average this month.

    RESERVOIR
    Reservoir storage has greatly improved over the past year in this basin. End of March reports had storage volumes at 93 percent of average compared with 65 percent of average reported last year at this time.

    Streamflow forecasts improved again this month thanks to continued snow accumulation in the basin. April to July forecasts currently range from 153 percent of average for the Inflow to Dillon Reservoir to 109 percent
    of average for the Roaring Fork at Glenwood Springs.


    Snowpack news (% of normal): Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin = 126%

    April 8, 2014
    Statewide snowpack as a percent of normal April 7, 2014 via the NRCS

    Statewide snowpack as a percent of normal April 7, 2014 via the NRCS

    From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

    Snowpack in any given year is compared to a 30-year median of measurements. The 2012 snow year was a historic low. The 30-year part of the chart shows the “snow water equivalent” — the amount of water in the snowpack peaking in late April, before runoff hits.

    On average, the snowpack at the Vail measurement site is melted off about June 7. In the 2012 snow year, the snowpack peaked before March 20 at a paltry 12.5 inches of water, and was melted off before the end of April.

    This year, as of Friday, the measurement site at Vail was already above the 30-year peak of 22.5 inches. More snow would likely drive the snowpack higher, although this week’s forecast calls for clear, warm weather…

    Across the Colorado River basin, of which the Vail Valley is a part, snowpack was 31 percent higher than the 30-year average…

    What the runoff season will be like is anyone’s guess, of course. We could have a cool, moist spring that slows the runoff to a relative dribble, leaving rivers rising but clear enough to fish, or we could see a string of warm days in April and May that quickly evaporates the snow and muddies the streams…

    Given how quickly snow and water can ebb and flow, [Steve Visosky] thinks the valley is probably in good shape for its water supply for the coming summer. But, he said, things could be better.

    “I really think we should have more water storage,” he said. “You hate to see all that water just go down the river and not have it when you need it.”

    Meanwhile dust on snow is trending upward, according to this report from John Peel writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

    “The notable thing is that we are still on that same pace,” Chris Landry, director of the center, said Friday afternoon just after posting the most recent report on http://www.codos.org. “That is a pace where the frequency of dust events is much higher than it was 10 years ago.

    “We’re not retreating back to the 20th century, when the frequency of these events was much lower,” he said.

    What it means in terms of how it affects humans is, first of all, very possibly the snowpack will melt sooner than normal.

    Weather to come will still have a large effect, but the bottom line is that when dust settles on the snow’s surface it “dramatically advances” the rate at which snow melts. White snow reflects much of the sun’s energy, but darker-colored dust particles absorb that energy, heat up and contribute to the melting of the snow. That means spring runoffs occur sooner, affecting everyone from farmers and ranchers to river runners.

    Another, perhaps less-obvious effect, is that dust in the snowpack can cause a destabilizing effect in the snowpack, making spring avalanches more likely in the backcountry. There’s little that skiers can do to combat that – even skiing earlier in the day may not help, Landry said.

    And large dust deposits have a more obvious effect.

    “Dust is miserable to ski on,” Landry said. “Essentially, you’re skiing on mud.”

    Since 2003, the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies has kept track of dust events in Senator Beck Basin just to the northwest of Red Mountain Pass. This snow season, five such events have been catalogued in the basin…

    Studies show that most of the dust comes from the greater Colorado Plateau, an area that includes all the Four Corners states. Dust storms are exacerbated by soil conditions (drought, for example) and soil disturbance, Landry said.

    Although 10-plus years of study was not in itself enough to convince Landry of the certainty of a continuing trend toward dustier snowpack, a paper by Janice Brahney of the University of British Columbia did. Brahney’s study “very clearly verified” a 200 percent increase in dust deposited in western Colorado since the mid-1990s.

    “Her paper really validated what was sort of glaring, obvious, but not statistically sound trend in our own dust log,” Landry said. “Now, I do say that this frequency and intensity of these dust storms has definitely increased in the last decades and maybe most dramatically in the last eight to 10 years.”

    Overall so far this season, the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies categorizes dust deposits as “moderate to heavy” and snowpack as “average” for the Senator Beck Basin.

    Snowpack in the basin that includes the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel rivers was 82 percent as of Friday, putting it below average.


    NOAA Sea ice update: 2014 Arctic winter maximum, Antarctic summer minimum

    April 8, 2014

    seaiceextentapril2014vianoaa

    From NOAA:

    It’s finally here! Yesterday, scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced the ultimate sign of spring: Arctic sea ice reached its winter peak on March 21, 2014, and the annual melt season is underway.

    This winter’s maximum sea ice extent in the Arctic was 14.91 million square kilometers (5.76 million square miles), making it the fifth smallest winter maximum since satellite records began in 1979.

    Meanwhile, Southern Hemisphere sea ice reached its annual low point on February 23, 2014. This year’s summer minimum extent was 3.54 million square km (1.37 million square mi), which was the fourth largest in the satellite record.

    Global warming due to rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is having different impacts on sea ice patterns in the Arctic versus the Antarctic. The Arctic is experiencing declines in ice cover in nearly all areas and all seasons, with especially large losses in summer.

    In the Antarctic, sea ice trends are more variable. Over the Southern Ocean as a whole, sea ice extent has increased by a small amount on an annual basis, with decreases in some basins and increases in others and changes in some seasons but not others.


    SB14-115′s goal is greater public participation in the #COWaterPlan #COleg

    April 8, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

    …legislators fret they will be left out of the process. And they worry the public will be caught unaware, even though years of work and hundreds of public meetings have gone into drafting the plan.

    Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, said he wants to avoid repeating mistakes the state government made when it partnered with a private company to expand the highway between Denver and Boulder and add toll lanes.

    Even though every local government in the area signed off on the plan in public meetings, hundreds of angry people turned out last winter to oppose that plan and said they were taken by surprise.

    “Perception is reality,” Lebsock said. “It’s absolutely critical that our government, with an assist from the Legislature, is willing to hold public meetings.”

    That’s the idea behind Senate Bill 115, which advanced Monday after an 11-1 vote in the House Agriculture Committee.

    It was proposed by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, who thought Hickenlooper’s administration was ignoring the Legislature while drafting the water plan. Originally, the bill would have required the Legislature to approve the Colorado Water Plan.

    Now, the bill requires the Legislature’s summer water committee to hold hearings around the state this year and in 2015 to take public testimony on the plan.

    Two of the meetings would have to be in Southwest Colorado…

    Nine years ago, the Legislature created a system of “water roundtables” in each major river basin to start working on a state water plan while reaching out to as many people as possible.

    Those roundtables have been at work for nearly a decade and have held hundreds of public meetings, which have not always been well-attended.

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    “There is no additional water for additional support to other basins” — Steve Acquafresca #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

    April 7, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    New transmountain diversions of water from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range got a frosty reception from Grand Valley water users and residents Thursday.

    At certain times during the year, more water travels east through tunnels than flows downhill along the Western Slope, said Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, during a town hall meeting in Grand Junction City Hall on the development of a statewide water plan.

    “There’s nothing left to give,” Schmidt said to about 40 people gathered in the meeting sponsored by the Colorado River Basin roundtable and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.

    Grand Valley water users haven’t strayed from their original reaction to calls for a new transmountain diversion, said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District, the largest supplier of water in the Grand Valley.

    “It’s going to be a fight” if a new transmountain diversion is proposed, Clever said. “If Lake Mead and Lake Powell spill over, then maybe, but until then, we fight.”

    State officials have said the statewide water plan, which is to be complete by December 2015, with a draft due to Gov. John Hickenlooper by this December, won’t include a transmountain diversion. The plan, however, is expected to outline the terms under which one might go forward.

    Comments in the town hall are to be reflected in a Colorado River Basin plan. It, along with other basin plans, are to be reflected in the statewide plan.

    The Colorado River Basin is already a donor basin unable to meet the demands that officials expect by 2050, Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said.

    “There is no additional water for additional support to other basins,” Acquafresca said.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    The City of Aspen has a long list of projects for the #ColoradoRiver Basin Implementation Plan #COWaterPlan

    April 7, 2014

    aspen
    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    Tall new dams in pristine spots on upper Castle and Maroon creeks. Bigger dams on Lost Man and Lincoln creeks in the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. A bigger reservoir at the city’s water plant. Water pumped up from deep underneath Aspen. Treated effluent pumped from the Aspen wastewater plant to the city golf course. Water left in the river instead of being diverted to the Wheeler irrigation ditch.

    These projects are all on a list that Mike McDill, the city of Aspen’s deputy director of utilities, wants included on a larger list of regional water projects now being compiled by the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

    “If it is already on the list, at least people can’t say they didn’t know we were thinking about it,” McDill said…

    Over 500 “projects, policies and processes” are now on the Colorado roundtable’s draft priority list, including Aspen’s suggested projects. The list, which is part inventory, part to-do list, and part wish list, is to be winnowed down in the next two months by the roundtable.

    “Putting projects on the roundtable’s list is a good way to provoke conversation,” said Louis Meyer, a consulting engineer with SGM, who is leading the development of the Colorado roundtable’s basin plan. “It is also incumbent on us to show the state that we have a list of water needs.”[...]

    During recent public roundtable meetings, McDill has described Aspen’s list of projects in a calm and pragmatic matter, despite the scale of some of them.

    “Our concern is we have a lot of water in June and not so much water the rest of the year,” McDill said about the potential value of reservoirs on upper Maroon and Castle creeks.

    Today the city of Aspen diverts water from lower Castle and Maroon creeks for its water supply, but it does not have any water storage capacity beyond the tiny Leonard Thomas Reservoir at the water plant, which can hold 14 acre-feet of water.

    If built someday as described by the city’s conditional water right, the Maroon Creek reservoir would store 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam just below the confluence of East Maroon and West Maroon creeks, which is known as a stunningly beautiful location. A Maroon Creek reservoir would cover 85 acres of U.S. Forest Service land about a mile-and-a-half below Maroon Lake.

    The Castle Creek reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam located about two miles below the historic town site of Ashcroft in a verdant valley. It would inundate 120 acres of mostly private land.

    The city has renewed the conditional water rights for the two reservoirs eight times since they were decreed in 1971 and is required to do so again in 2016, when it must show it is making progress toward building the reservoirs.

    “Aspen will build the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs if necessary and if in the best interest of citizens of the community,” city officials said in 2012…

    Also on Aspen’s list of potential projects is the enlargement of existing reservoirs, including Grizzly Reservoir and Leonard Thomas Reservoir…

    Grizzly Reservoir was built in the 1930s on upper Lincoln Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River. The reservoir is owned by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., of which the city of Colorado Springs is now the majority owner. The reservoir holds about 570 acre-feet of water and primarily serves as the forebay to the tunnel that Twin Lakes uses to divert water under the Continental Divide…

    The smaller Lost Man Reservoir, also owned by Twin Lakes, backs up water on Lost Man Creek and then diverts it to Grizzly Reservoir…

    But Kevin Lusk, a principal with Colorado Springs Utilities, and the president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., threw cold water this week on the idea of expanding either Grizzly or Lost Man reservoir.

    “Twin Lakes has no plans or interest in enlarging these facilities,” Lusk said via email. “Nor has anyone talked to us about these ideas.”[...]

    Also on the city’s list is expanding Leonard Thomas Reservoir at the city’s water plant above Aspen Valley Hospital so it can hold 25 acre-feet instead of 14 acre-feet…

    Another water project on the municipal list is to determine just how much water is under the city of Aspen, and whether it is suitable for drinking.

    In 2012 and 2013, the city drilled a water-well near Herron Park 1,520 feet underground in search of hot water it could use for geothermal energy.

    But in July 2013 the city announced that it did not find water hot enough to make electricity, but it did find a steady stream of clear water coming up out of the well at 29 pounds per square inch, about half of the water pressure in a normal household.

    “This summer, we’re putting a pump into the well to analyze the water and get some feel for the capacity of the aquifer,” McDill said.

    If it turns out there is still a lot of water 1,500 feet underground Aspen, the city may install a larger, permanent pump into its test well to create a back-up supply of water…

    The pump back project, which is well under way, will allow the city to reuse water from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District to supplement its irrigation water on the municipal golf course, and to provide irrigation and snowmaking water for other entities, including the Buttermilk Mountain ski area.

    “It is intended to keep more water in the Castle Creek by not diverting for the golf course,” McDill said.

    The source of the water is “treated municipal effluent” and pipes already have been installed from the sanitation plant, past the Burlingame neighborhood, and to a pond on the city golf course.

    The city is still seeking a water right for its pump back project from state water court, and has been working out agreements with a long list of opponents.

    The water is to be primarily used to irrigate 12.3 acres of landscaping along Highway 82 and Cemetery Lane, according to documents in water court. It also could supplement irrigation on 131 acres of the Aspen golf course, 21 acres of land in the Burlingame project, and 80 acres of the Maroon Creek golf course.

    In all, 233 acres of land could receive water from the project and water could be used to make snow on as much as 156 acres of land at Buttermilk…

    The Fork is often below a flow level of 32 cfs, which is the minimum amount of water the CWCB has determined is necessary to protect the environment “to a reasonable degree.” Last year, the city entered into a short-term water [lease] with the CWCB to leave 6 cfs of water in the river instead of diverting the water into the Wheeler Ditch, which is located river-left just downstream of the Aspen Club pedestrian bridge. The water in the Wheeler Ditch is typically used by the city for landscaping and irrigation in various parts of central Aspen…

    The Colorado River basin roundtable is scheduled to next discuss its draft list of projects on Monday, April 14, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs community center.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Snowpack/runoff news: Roaring Fork watershed early April accumulations looking good #COdrought #COflood

    April 7, 2014


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

    he state as a whole is roughly 115 percent of normal, with a sub-par winter in the southern mountains (including the Rio Grande, Dolores and San Juan drainages) bringing the average down somewhat. Snow telemetry (SNOTEL) data provided by the Roaring Fork Conservancy shows a snow-water equivalent of 126 percent of normal in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

    That’s the equivalent of about 20 inches of liquid water across the valley’s high country, well above peak snowpack in both 2012 and 2013, as well as the 30-year average for the region. It has been a good year for skiers, and it looks promising for healthy rivers and forests into the summer.

    April is a key month in forecasting the year’s stream flow. Often it represents the peak snowpack for the Water Year, which runs October through September. This trend has been subverted in recent years. Early melting in 2012 signaled the beginning of one of the worst fire years in memory, while late runoff in 2013 was a small salvation in an otherwise below average year…

    Dust storms, a frequent occurrence in recent years, also speed melting. The Colorado Dust-On-Snow Program recorded five such storms in the Rockies so far this year. That’s slightly less than 2012 and 2013, with a clean fall and an average March. April and May are big months for dust storms, so it’s too early to be sure how this year will compare on that metric.

    “We’re now entering the thick of it,” Chris Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, told the Aspen Times. He called the most recent dust storm on April 1 “a significant event,” but added that subsequent weather will dictate how this dust will play out.

    So far, stream flows throughout the region are mostly above average. Discharge at Ruedi Reservoir has been set to 210 cubic feet per second, well over the 45-year average of 137 cfs. That might increase if snowpack continues to accumulate in coming weeks.

    Meanwhile, many eyes are on the snowpack and the potential runoff problems in the flood affected areas along the Front Range. Here’s an report from Ryan Maye Handy writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

    Since September 2013 flooding swept across the Front Range, communities from Colorado Springs to Glen Haven have been preparing for the spring runoff, which could dislodge leftover flood debris and further damage areas torn apart by fall floodwaters. In a year with above-average snowpack, everyone from federal government conservationists to mountain fire departments are bracing for the worst.

    But hydrologists and climatologists say there is no guarantee this year’s spring runoff will be as catastrophic as many anticipate. As with wildfire season, the intensity of spring runoff depends entirely on weather.

    “Not all runoff seasons are created equal,” said Nolan Doesken, the state’s climatologist. “Just because you have a certain amount of snow, doesn’t mean you have a certain flooding potential. It all comes down to how snow melts.”[...]

    Colorado hasn’t had this good of a snowpack — roughly 130 percent of normal — since 2011. Northern Colorado soils are still saturated after the fall floods; reservoirs are filled higher than normal, and rivers are running at twice or three times their average volume for early April.

    River communities like Drake, Glen Haven, and parts of Estes Park are still scrambling to remove flood debris from the Big Thompson River’s path.

    Since the September floods, places like Big Thompson Canyon have been in a race against time, trying to beat the arrival of spring runoff. The Colorado Department of Transportation hastily rebuilt the ravaged U.S. Highway 34, and has since been readying the canyon for snowmelt. Since January, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has poured all of its local energy into clearing debris or shoring up more than 44 weak points — or “exigent sites” — along the river…

    Treste Huse, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, worries that runoff will move sediment left behind by the September floods, or possibly cause land and rock slides along highways. River channels changed after the floods, and Northern Colorado residents could see water and dirt being poured into new places this spring.

    But for Huse, like Doesken, this spring’s runoff potential depends on a few relatively unpredictable factors.

    “It’s going to be dependent on future snowfall, how high stream levels are during the snowmelt, freezing and thawing in the mountains, future rainfall and the timing, and whether the rain falls on the snowpack,” she said.

    The long and variable list of factors recently convinced Doesken that runoff might not be the catastrophe that everyone expects it to be. The state climatologist has changed his mind about this year’s snowmelt a few times–at first it wasn’t a big deal, then it was, and now the current weather pattern has him thinking Colorado could escape relatively unscathed.

    If Colorado has a consistently warm spring, then the snowpack will slowly melt over time, as it did in 2011. Come summer, there will be little left once the temperatures rapidly rise, Doesken said.

    On the other hand, a colder spring with a few lower-elevation snowstorms could create the opposite effect. Then, the snowpack would stay intact — even increase — until warmer temperatures suddenly hit, melting the snow rapidly. If Colorado gets a multi-day upslope winter storm that dumps moisture on the foothills, then Doesken says he will start to worry.

    “The longer you push the snowmelt to when it (summer) starts, the closer to midsummer you are, it’s going to be really interesting,” he said. “It will all unfold day by day, week by week, over the course of the next six to seven weeks.”


    NOAA: Heat-trapping gas concentrations top 400 ppm, two months earlier than last year

    April 7, 2014

    coalfiredpowerplant

    From NOAA:

    Over the last five days beginning on March 16, 2014, carbon dioxide levels have surpassed 400 parts per million at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is nearly two months earlier than last year when the concentration of this greenhouse gas was first recorded above 400 parts per million on May 9, at the historic NOAA observatory.

    We caught up with James Butler, Ph.D., Director of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division, to ask about what it means that we reached this milestone earlier than last year. To track carbon dioxide concentrations daily click here.

    What does it mean that carbon dioxide levels topped 400 ppm on March 16 this year at Mauna Loa Observatory, nearly two months earlier than last year?

    JB: 400 ppm is essentially a milestone along the way, reminding us that carbon dioxide continues to increase in the atmosphere, and at faster rates virtually every decade. This is consistent with rising fossil fuel emissions.

    Why is it earlier this year?

    JB: Seasonal swings in atmospheric carbon dioxide with highs in the Spring and lows in the Fall make “400 ppm” an annual event that must come earlier every year with rising atmospheric carbon dioxide.

    Is there a tipping point, or carbon dioxide concentration that sets off severe consequences for human and planetary health?

    JB: 400 ppm is not a tipping point. It is a milestone, marking the fact that humans have caused carbon dioxide concentrations to rise 120 ppm since pre-industrial times, with over 90 percent of that in the past century alone. We don’t know where the tipping points are.

    How long do you expect these higher levels to last?

    JB: Two to three months; the peak should occur again in May and this year may be over 402 ppm. Next year we expect it will be over 404 ppm, etc.

    Are we seeing the increase accelerate with time?

    JB: Carbon dioxide concentrations have increased every year since Dave Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography started making measurements on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano in 1958. The rate of increase has accelerated from about 0.7 ppm per year in the late 1950s to 2.1 ppm per year during the last decade.

    Please explain the role of the natural cycle for carbon dioxide emissions?

    JB: Plant growth drives the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and is strongest in the early to mid-summer. Planetary respiration from decaying plant matter puts carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere all year long, but the fall and winter drop in photosynthesis allows respiration to dominate during those months, which brings carbon dioxide back up.

    Do you expect carbon dioxide levels to top 400 ppm even earlier next year?

    JB: Yes. Every year going forward for a long time.

    What are we seeing globally at other measuring sites?

    JB: Arctic sites all reached 400 ppm about a year before Mauna Loa last year. Southern hemispheric sites will follow with South Pole reaching 400 ppm in a few years.

    What would it take to reverse the upward trend of carbon dioxide concentration?

    JB: Elimination of about 80 percent of fossil fuel emissions would essentially stop the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but it would not start decreasing until even further reductions are made.and then it would only do so slowly.


    La Junta: Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 23-24 #COWaterPlan

    April 7, 2014

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A proposed state water plan, drought impacts, irrigation rules and weed control will be discussed at a regional forum in La Junta this month. The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum is planned April 23-24 at Otero Junior College. There also will be a community workshop from 6 to 9 p.m. April 22.

    This is the forum’s 20th year of bringing people from all parts of the Arkansas River basin together to discuss

    On the morning of April 23, James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will discuss the state’s water plan now being developed under an executive order by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

    That afternoon, participants in the forum will have the opportunity to give their input into the basin’s portion of the plan.

    The Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas award will be presented at the luncheon.

    On April 24, irrigation rules and the importance of agriculture to the Arkansas River basin will be in the spotlight.

    Conservation and heritage will be discussed at the luncheon, with invasive species the topic for the afternoon.

    For information, visit http://arbwf.org or call the CSU Extension Office, 545-2045, or Jean Van Pelt, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, 948-2400.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


    Rifle: Design changes help cut construction estimates for new water treatment plant

    April 7, 2014

    riflegap
    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Mike McKibbin):

    The cost of Rifle’s new water treatment plant has been cut by $3 million, after some recent design changes. The city expects to put the project — funded by a $25 million loan — out to bid in early April and award a contract in June…

    The new plant will be located on city property along U.S. Highway 6. Work is expected to last up to two years…

    In a follow up interview on [March 21], Miller explained that the cost savings come in part from changing the design from concrete-lined sludge drying beds and gravity thickeners to clay-lined drying beds. That will save $2 million, he noted.

    “Clay is cheaper than concrete and we can have city crews do that work instead of the contractor,” Miller said.

    More than $1 million will be saved by renegotiating a contract with General Electric to defer a second stage membrane filtering system, he added…

    More Rifle coverage here.


    Fort Collins: April Innovation After Hours Presented by the Colorado Water Innovation Cluster, April 10

    April 6, 2014

    waterfromtap
    Click here for the pitch and to register:

    You’re invited to join the Colorado Water Innovation Cluster for next week’s Innovation After Hours which is packed with exciting, quick and informative updates from Colorado’s water sector!

    This month, we focus on one of our region’s upcoming initiatives called the Net Zero Water Planning Template which is creating a path to net zero water, and provide a networking opportunity for creative people to meet and exchange ideas.

    More education coverage here.


    Monitoring the pulse of the #ColoradoRiver — National Geographic

    April 6, 2014
    Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

    Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

    From National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

    Now in its 14th day, the historic pulse flow coursing through the Colorado River Delta toward the sea is under the careful watch of dozens of scientists who fan out across the landscape to measure and track its vital signs – from flow rates and salinity levels to seed dispersal by native cottonwoods and willows.

    The goal is to learn as much as possible from this unique experiment in large-scale ecosystem restoration so that future pulse flows – designed to mimic the spring flood that naturally occurred before large dams and diversions were built – will deliver as many benefits to river health, habitat creation and local communities as possible.

    “This is a once in a career kind of thing,” said Karl Flessa, professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Co-Chief Scientist of the monitoring team for Minute 319, the binational agreement signed in late 2012 that established the terms of the pulse flow.

    “Scientists all around the world are watching.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Ditch companies are running out of time for repairs, the runoff is coming #COflood

    April 6, 2014
    St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

    St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

    From the Longmont Times-Call (Tony Kindelspire):

    Left Hand Creek has been diverted from its main channel by a temporary earthen dam with two 48-inch pipes running through the middle of it. That’s so the workmen can rebuild the diversion dam and headgate that last September’s flood obliterated.

    “We have like 13 spots that we’re working on, various levels of destruction, with this being the worst. This is the Allen’s Lake diversion,” said Plummer, vice president of maintenance and operations for the Left Hand Ditch Co. “Most everything was just buried in debris. … The Allen’s Lake diversion was just rolled up into a ball of concrete and steel.”[...]

    Ditch companies control the water rights to irrigation ditches and are charged with maintaining them. The Left Hand Ditch Co. is typical of most such entities: it’s privately held and owned by shareholders — in the case of Left Hand, 460 shareholders. Sixteen percent of its shares are owned by the Left Hand Water District and goes toward drinking water, and the rest goes to agriculture.

    Ditches operate using diversion dams and headgates. The dams slow the water and back it up so it can then flow through the headgate, which is opened to let water through.

    In the Allen’s Lake diversion both the dam and headgate were wiped out, and in the narrow riverbed of Left Hand Canyon, the only way to replace them is to divert the river, build half the structure, then move the river again and build the other half.

    “We’ll get that (side) done and then we’ll move the river back over,” Plummer said as he watched the construction crew pour concrete. “What we’re doing is racing, we’re racing the run-off.”[...]

    Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, attended an emergency meeting of the Highland Ditch Co. in the days following the flood.

    “Not repairing this is not an option,” Cronin recalls hearing the shareholders — many of whom are farmers — saying in the meeting. “This is how we make our living.”

    Cronin said there are 94 ditches and reservoirs within the St. Vrain & Left Hand district, and of those 43 suffered some amount of damage, totaling about $18 million. Some, such as the Highland, were completely destroyed.

    September’s flood all but wiped out the Highland’s diversion dam and headgate, which were built in 1870. What little remained after the water subsided was not repairable.

    The Highland Ditch, the biggest in the St. Vrain basin, goes all the way to Milliken, primarily serving ag land but also providing some of the city of Longmont’s drinking water.

    The diversion dam and headgate were rebuilt at a cost of $750,000, according to Wade Gonzales, superintendent of the Highland Ditch Co…

    The “Big Three” headgates, as far as Longmont is concerned — the Highland, the Oligarchy and the Rough & Ready/Palmerton — were all destroyed by the flood, according to Kevin Boden, environmental project specialist with the city of Longmont’s Public Works and Natural Resources Department.

    The Oligarchy, it should be noted, actually held up during the initial flood but then finally gave way the following Sunday during heavy rains.

    All three either have been or will be repaired by May 1, Boden said…

    [Dave Nettles] said that although the Poudre, Big Thompson and Boulder Creek watersheds all sustained some damage, none of them reached the “catastrophic” levels seen in the St. Vrain and Little Thompson watersheds.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Southwestern Water Conservation District 32nd Annual Water Seminar recap #ColoradoRiver

    April 6, 2014

    southwesternwaterconservationdistrictmap

    From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

    Speakers addressed the controversial practice of transmountain diversions, which takes water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. The water crosses the Continental Divide.

    “Frankly, on the Front Range, they’re really not interested in depleting that aquifer; they’re more interested in the transmountain diversions,” Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose said. “They haven’t addressed the situations of storage; their answer is there’s more water on the Western Slope than they need.”

    Steve Harris, president of Harris Water Engineering, talked about the recent controversy over his idea of limiting lawn size in new suburban developments after 2016. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, drew fierce opposition from home builders and utility companies.

    “About half the people I talked to thought that was a great idea and the other half thought I was a demon,” he said. “In this state, I know what it’s like to get between people and grass.”

    Roberts rewrote the bill to call for a study of water conservation.

    Another bill floating through the General Assembly would require Colorado residents to purchase “WaterSense” fixtures, such as toilets, shower heads and faucets, after 2016.

    Coram said he opposed the bill because the products don’t save much water, and it’s impossible to enforce. WaterSense is a Environmental Protection Agency program labeling products as water-efficient…

    Kehmeier, speaking on the water banks panel, said he’s participated in an informal marketplace among local farmers with personal reservoirs where people could lease excess water…

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board also gave an update about creating the state’s water plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the board last year to develop the plan. A draft plan is expected to go to Hickenlooper by the end of the year.

    More Southwestern Water Conservation District coverage <a href="


    Snowpack news (% of avg): San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan = 83%

    April 6, 2014

    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    The snowpack in the combined Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel river basins was 79 percent of the 30-year median April 1; however, this week’s storms brought the basins up to 82 percent.

    If it’s any consolation, the combined snowpack this April 1 is 111 percent of what it was last year on the same date.

    There’s a chance late storms could increase the snowpack for the southern San Juan basins, but it’s unlikely since the maximum level is generally reached in the first week of April.

    In other words, it’s as good as it’s going to get for the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel basins…

    Overall, the statewide snowpack is above normal – 115 percent of the median on April 1 and 156 percent of the April 2013 number.

    But storms carried less moisture in March than in previous months. As a result, the major basins showed a slight decrease in snowpack.

    Only two basins – the Colorado and the combined Yampa, White, North Platte – had snowpack percentages higher than last month.

    Storms have provided runoff that improved storage in reservoirs statewide.

    Reservoir storage in the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel basins was 82 percent of average, compared with 66 percent at this time last year.

    Statewide, reservoirs held 89 percent of their average, compared with 69 percent a year ago.

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Michael Bennet):

    A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to strap on some snowshoes for a short hike on Berthoud Pass with local water managers and staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). They were taking a manual reading of the state’s snowpack and checking the automatic SNOTEL measurement device. Undersecretary Robert Bonnie, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s top environmental and natural resource official, and the man who oversees NRCS, also came along.

    These snowpack measurement systems, some that date back to the 1900s, are a critical part of the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting program that Colorado water officials rely on to anticipate river flows in the spring when the snow melts and calculate how much water will run off into rivers and reservoirs. Our state’s farmers and ranchers depend on these forecasts to decide how much and what type of crops to plant, while metropolitan leaders use the data to decide how best to meet their needs in the coming years and to prepare for potential flooding.

    Beyond Colorado, these measurements are important for states downstream that depend on our watersheds. Colorado contains nine major watersheds, each with its own snowfall patterns and obligations to other states. While some of these water sources may be at 100 percent, in other regions the levels may be less than half of the normal supply. Many of the state’s water rights agreements are predicated on the level of snowpack making the accuracy of these measurements particularly important.

    Recently, however, funding for the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program was threatened by budget cuts and sequestration.

    Colorado communities from across the state shared their strong concerns that cutting funding to this program would damage the accuracy of the measurements and reduce the effectiveness of this vital planning tool. In response to these concerns, we joined forces with Colorado’s water community, Senator Mark Udall, and Congressman Scott Tipton to urge the NRCS to reconsider the cuts. After working with local

    communities, water managers, and the NRCS, we secured funding for the program for this winter. In addition, we secured funding in congress for the next fiscal year.


    “The dust storms we had here a week or so ago are just about as bad as I’ve ever seen” — Joe Rosengrants #COdrought

    April 6, 2014
    US Drought Monitor Colorado statewide map and stats April 1, 2014

    US Drought Monitor Colorado statewide map and stats April 1, 2014

    From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

    Topsoil blew into a dark cloud that swept across the flat landscape of southeast Colorado once again Monday afternoon. Footsteps leave dust in loose pockets and grit in the teeth of those who speak. The land pays a bigger price. After nearly four years of deep drought, wind-churned dust has become a slow-moving natural disaster. Comparisons to the Dust Bowl are no longer hyperbole — they’re accurate.

    “The dust storms we had here a week or so ago are just about as bad as I’ve ever seen,” Joe Rosengrants said. The 79-year-old farmer and rancher is part of a family that has worked the land in Baca County since 1910.

    His son Mike and others in the family here still tend thousands of acres of farm and ranchland and thousands of head of cattle. They also mind the skies for any glint of rain. “We can go a long way on just a little bit of rain down here,” Mike Rosengrants, 56, said as he delivered hay to cattle spread across 8 arid miles. “But we haven’t even been getting that.”

    The devastation of this drought comes in three forms: pastures that have dried up or are choked by drifts of sand; tumbleweeds that blow into tall hills against fences, homes and barns; and massive dust storms that steal topsoil and could make it harder to grow grain, wheat and sunflowers for years.

    The region hasn’t seen normal amounts of rain since the blizzards of 2007. Southeast Colorado averages 12 to 16 inches of rain annually, but many areas have gotten fewer than 8 inches each year since 2010, according to National Weather Service data.

    Since the latest drought officially set in late in the summer of 2010, the Arkansas Valley has been drier for a longer sustained period of time than during the Dust Bowl, said Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist at Colorado State University.

    “We have not seen consecutive years this dry,” he said.

    As goes the rain, so go the people. The county’s ties to cows and crops have inextricably linked its upswings and downturns to the weather.

    Between 1930 and 1940, the southwestern Great Plains, home to thousands of settlers, suffered a severe drought. Dry-land farming led to the systematic destruction of prairie grasses, and overgrazing destroyed large areas of grassland. Gradually, the land was laid bare, and environmental damage began to occur. Strong winds in the region were devastating. The overfarmed land began to blow away.

    From 1935 to 1938, Baca County accounted for some of the worst soil erosion of the Dust Bowl era. The railroad’s arrival here in 1926, along with homesteaders who spilled over from Oklahoma, swelled the county’s population to its peak of 10,570 residents in 1930. By 1940, after a decade of crop failures, the population had dwindled by almost 42 percent.

    Last year, the census showed 3,682 county residents, down 2.8 percent since 2010, while the rest of the state grew by 4.8 percent.

    Only a quarter of that population loss occurred between 2010 and 2012, and three-quarters of it took place just last year.

    Ward Williams, 65, is leasing out his 200 acres north of Springfield so cattle can chew off the stubble of his last grain-sorghum harvest in 2012. He had hoped to leave it to his children to farm, something he has done for more than 30 years.

    “It’s just too much of a cycle of booms and busts,” he said, his foot on the bumper of his old Ford pickup outside the Alco store in Springfield. “Kids that grow up here, if they have anywhere else to go, they aren’t staying here.

    “If it doesn’t get over soon, this (drought) might leave the land to the big corporate operations that can ride it out, and not for the people who grew up down here.”

    Drier than the Dust Bowl

    Most of Colorado has made it out of the deep drought. The regions hardest hit by September’s floods are now drought-free, although a swath of western Colorado is “abnormally dry,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

    Southeast Colorado, however, shows only variations of bad news — severe, extreme and exceptional stages of drought, according to the drought analysis.

    And the hardest-hit areas are along the agriculturally vital Arkansas River.

    The decade-long Dust Bowl had periodic wet years. This drought in many areas of southeast Colorado has had an unyielding presence since 2010, Doesken said.

    “It’s really been back to back to back — and, now, it appears — to back years of drought,” he said. “Normally, they get just enough precipitation to grow something down there, but they haven’t had that in a full 3½ years now.”

    Crop data indicate that about 15 percent of the farmland in Baca County is irrigated, fed by high-country reservoirs. That leaves 85 percent of the naturally sandy soil turning to dust — “more blowable ground,” Doesken called it.

    Years to recover

    Displaced topsoil means it could take years for the land to bounce back.

    “They’re so far in the hole right now that even if they do get a few (rain) storms, … it’s not going to immediately solve the problems,” Doesken said.

    PHOTOS: Southeast Colorado drought conditions akin to Dust Bowl

    The cattle herd in this corner of the state has dwindled, but not entirely because of drought. Cattle prices and hay prices have been up since 2011, coaxing some to sell off parts of their herds. Big ranchers, like the Rosengrants family, had the luxury of moving cattle to rented fields elsewhere in Colorado or other states to take advantage of rain and grazing there, said Ron Carleton, the state’s deputy commissioner of agriculture.

    Because the worst of the drought has been in the last year and a half, the depths of the crop losses haven’t yet been plumbed, at least not on paper, he said, so the data isn’t yet reflecting the worst effects.

    Eugene Backhaus, the state resource conservationist, said the end might not be in sight when the rain eventually starts to fall.

    “If you consider recovery getting things back to what they were before, with the amount of degradation and the depth of the drought, my best guess is three to five years,” he said. “The grasses down there are so damaged. When you’ve lost all the seeds and the root system is destroyed, then there’s nothing to grow back. The only way you’re going to get grass back in there is to put it in mechanically.

    “And that takes time and money.”

    Taxpayers already have posted a big financial stake in southeast Colorado’s productivity.

    Baca County farmers and ranchers received $413 million in government aid between 1995 and 2012, including $85.9 million in crop-insurance subsidies and $50 million in disaster grants, according to the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that monitors such federal programs.

    Farmers in Baca County received government checks to seed grass on 269,249 acres of cropland to try to hold down the soil, according to the county’s U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

    Kevin Larson — a researcher at the Plainsman Research Center in Walsh, Colorado State University’s agricultural experiment station for southeastern Colorado — said the current drought isn’t a measure of the investment in such programs.

    “Just can’t grow anything if there’s not any precipitation on it,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

    The research center’s work these days focuses on making the best use of sparse precipitation, urging farmers to plant varieties that mature faster and use less water, or weighing the trade-offs of no-till farming, which keeps the ground covered but also makes weeds harder to fight.

    The Western Kansas Weather Modification Program — the seeding of clouds with silver iodide crystals — began just across the border from Colorado’s struggling counties in 1975.

    When the effort spread into southeast Colorado about a decade ago, with the aim of suppressing crop-destroying hail storms in southwest Kansas, leaders in southeast Colorado protested, afraid it would cause more hail on their crops instead, Larson said. The program in Colorado soon fizzled out.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board offers grants to water providers and local governments to help pay for cloud-seeding programs. In the parched southeast corner of the state, however, there have been no takers.

    But the solutions and practices that researchers have worked out, that government officials have promoted and that landowners have adopted since the Dust Bowl have kept this bad drought from turning into a catastrophe, Larson said.

    Hope and fear in drought

    Doesken said there’s reason for hope for this year, even if it depends on temperature fluctuations over the tropical Pacific Ocean.

    The El Niño weather pattern, if it takes shape, tends to mean rain for the Eastern Plains, he said.

    “But there’s no guarantee they’ll get more precipitation this spring,” he said.

    Wildfires also are a big concern. Some fields are parched to a stark white. The high winds would make a grass fire explode across thousands of uninterrupted acres primed to burn, said a group of local residents outside the Alco store in Springfield.

    The abundance of tumbleweeds — the thin, dry aftermath of a Russian thistle bloom late last summer — makes Jeff Turner, 52, of the Campo area worry even more.

    “If fire hits one of those, it might as well be soaked in gas,” Turner said. “Imagine that spinning ball of fire coming across your property at 30 miles per hour.”

    Others here say land-related hardship is a tradition, and they will wait on the rain.

    “It will start raining again,” said Prowers County resident Flauran Beckwith. “It has to.”

    The Rosengrants family is faring well because of diversity, said father and son. In addition to tending to cattle and crops, family members work in real estate, teach school and do hair.

    “During the Dust Bowl, people didn’t have as many opportunities,” said Joe Rosengrants.

    But the family’s foundation is, as it has been for more than a century, the land, said the patriarch.

    “You’re just attached to the soil, and you love it,” he said.

    His son says it another way.

    “There’s a cost to living out here.”


    Tough going for cattlemen in the dry southwestern part of the state #COdrought

    April 6, 2014

    From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

    “The folks on the west side of the county have been hurt worse than anyone else,” said Wayne Semler, the recently elected president of the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association who runs cattle and farms south of Bayfield. He has shrunk his herd between 25 and 30 percent in the last couple of years. “With no irrigation, water tables dropping and springs drying up, they’re really struggling.”

    The heavy rains last fall and a predicted El Niño weather pattern, which generally brings us moisture, may make this year a little better, he said.

    “Last year’s snow melted into the ground because it was so dry, so there was no runoff” he said. “This year, at least, the soil moisture’s a little higher.”

    Morley said rain this year is more critical than ever as the drought continues.

    “We’re all praying for rain,” she said. “Tell people we all need to pray for rain.”[...]

    Most cattle ranchers run cow/calf operations, where the calves are fattened up during the summer for market in the fall.

    Some ranchers feed the heifers, or mama cattle, on their own land all year long, grazing in the pasture for the summer, feeding them hay grown in their fields during the colder months.

    “We fed our cattle longer than normal,” Semler said about 2013. “And our hay last year, some fields we cut once, some none at all. We had a grasshopper problem, too.”

    Other ranchers, like Brice Lee, whose ranch is south of Hesperus, move them from private pastures in New Mexico, where they’ve wintered the heifers, to private pastures in Colorado for the summer.

    “Last year, we only got four days of water, when we normally get 30 to 40,” Lee said. “Most everybody’s had to adjust. We haven’t harvested hay in two years, and we haven’t had a lawn for several years because we didn’t want to waste the water.”

    Still others winter the cattle on their own land, moving them during the summer to pastures in the mountains where they have grazing permits on Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land.

    More La Plata River coverage here.


    Flood control solutions for Fountain Creek are far from settled

    April 6, 2014
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    Fountain Creek Watershed

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The type of storm that would creating the worst flooding on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River east of Pueblo might just seem like another rainy day for much of the region. But the lessons of floods in 1965 and last September’s close call for Pueblo show that Fountain Creek can froth up in a hurry when rains hit El Paso County to the north. Putting a small dam here and there would not be the most effective way to stop the water.

    A recent U.S. Geological Survey study of dams on Fountain Creek shows that an 85-foot tall dam north of Pueblo would be the single-most effective way to mellow out flood waters and trap sediment. The drawbacks of the dam are that highways, railroad crossings and utilities might have to be relocated. There would also be the chore of removing sediment after large storms.

    Smaller detention ponds, with dams no higher than 10 feet, are touted by many as a better alternative. But as Colorado Springs and Pueblo already are discovering, smaller ponds also require high maintenance. Similar dams failed to hold stormwater in the South Platte during last September’s record rains. And the cost of flooding to utilities and roads was a major side effect of the 1965 flood.

    A different study of flooding was done by the USGS in 1974, nine years after the disastrous 1965 flood. Unlike the current study, it largely eluded the spotlight and has not been widely cited during the 40 years since it was written. It looked at floods in the Arkansas River basin in three states, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico and assessed the causes, effects and damage caused by heavy rains from June 13-20, 1965. The study chronicled $60 million of damage overall, with $40 million in Colorado. In today’s dollars, that would be about $300 million. Of that, 55 percent of the damage was to agriculture; 20 percent to roads and utilities; and 25 percent to cities and businesses, with about 85 percent of that amount in Pueblo.

    The study also looked at peak flows within the basin during the 1965 flood and compared them to other major floods, particularly the 1921 flood on the Arkansas River. The flows were considerably less in 1965 than in 1921, mainly because storms were centered over tributaries that fed into the Arkansas River below Pueblo, rather than in the watershed upstream from Pueblo.

    The study found a huge benefit to Lamar from John Martin Reservoir, which cut two-thirds of the peak flows raging from upstream. The Lamar area did not escape the wrath of the storm, however, because of large storm cells centered above Two Buttes and Holly. The Arkansas River stayed swollen for days after the rains.

    The heaviest rainfall in the 1965 storm came from Colorado Springs and the Holly-Two Buttes area, where 12-18 inches fell over a four-day period. Pueblo saw only a couple of inches during that time. The ground already was saturated from rains the previous two months throughout the region. Flows on Fountain Creek reached 47,000 cubic feet per second at their peak, while neighboring Chico Creek hit 52,000 cfs.

    The 2014 study by the USGS modeled a 100-year storm that would send about 37,000 cfs from Colorado Springs to Pueblo and then looked at hypothetical dams along the way.

    “A dam at any location could be modeled,” said David Mau, head of the Pueblo USGS office.

    The intensity of that storm would not be as great as the 1965 flood. In addition, Colorado Springs today has five times as many people and many more square miles of parking lots, roof tops and streets that shed water quickly and would make flooding that much worse for Pueblo.

    Levees were built on Fountain Creek to protect Pueblo, but sediment has reduced their effectiveness. Some structures meant to protect Pueblo were damaged by the relatively small flow last September.

    The attention in Colorado Springs is focused on the accelerated runoff from the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. Structures are being built. Town meetings are preparing neighborhoods for flooding. A vote to create a regional stormwater fee is heading for the ballot in November.

    Colorado Springs also made a commitment to Pueblo County in its permit process that new development from the Southern Delivery System won’t worsen the condition of Fountain Creek.

    While the rains may hit Colorado Springs first and make flooding more intense because of the fires, the 1974 USGS study shows the bigger wallop would come to Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley.

    More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.


    Managing Lake Powell’s power pool, will it benefit from the current snowpack? #ColoradoRiver

    April 5, 2014
    Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

    Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Federal officials fretted for a year that they might have to take action as the water level in Lake Powell fell perilously close to the point that Glen Canyon Dam couldn’t generate electricity. Those fears were staved off, but not eliminated, after a meeting on Friday that involved top officials from the Interior Department and Bureau of Reclamation, according to Colorado officials who attended the meeting.

    “They’ve been concerned since last year” when federal officials began modeling flows into Lake Powell and concluded that two dry years similar to 2012 and 2013 could threaten the intakes into the electricity-generating turbines, said Upper Colorado River Basin Commissioner John McClow on Wednesday.

    “They’re nervous now,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, “Six months ago, they were more nervous.”

    Snowpack of 110 percent of average or more so far this year in the Colorado mountains has alleviated much of the immediate concern, McClow said.

    “We’ve gotten a reprieve this year, but we’re still working” on plans that would forestall any need for federal involvement in river management beyond the bureau’s existing role, McClow said.

    What expanded federal involvement might mean is unclear, but Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who represents the county on the Colorado River Water Conservation District board, said it’s extensive.

    The issue isn’t whether the upper Colorado River is delivering enough water to meet the requirements of a 1922 compact among the seven basin states, but whether the water level in Powell is high enough to allow electricity generation.

    “They’re talking about taking over management of the river if the power intakes (in Lake Powell) start sucking air,” Acquafresca said. “They’re not going to let that happen. You can’t start to develop a vortex in the reservoir.”

    That vastly overstates the authority of the Bureau of Reclamation, said Larry Walkoviak, director for the bureau’s upper Colorado region.

    “Each state has its own set of laws and we have to comport with those states’ water laws,” Walkoviak said. As the federal manager of the bureau’s dams and other facilities upstream from Glen Canyon, “I don’t have the authority to do something like that.”

    The secretary of the Interior is the water master for the river below Glen Canyon, he noted, but not above.

    Even at 39 percent full, the level of Lake Powell remains about 85 feet above the penstocks that feed the turbines in Glen Canyon Dam, so it seems that for the coming summer and probably more, the issue of electricity generation is likely moot, Walkoviak said.

    Walkoviak was present at the meeting on Friday in Washington, D.C., that included Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior; Anne Castle, assistant secretary for water and science; McClow; Kuhn; and James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Eklund, Kuhn and McClow all stressed the significance of Colorado officials having contingency plans for low water levels in Powell at the ready when they met with the federal officials.

    A three-party, state-developed contingency plan allayed much of the federal fear, McClow said.

    “The bureau has given us every indication that it intends to work with us,” Eklund said

    That plan calls for releasing more water than would otherwise be the case from the Aspinall Unit of dams on the Gunnison River, as well as Navajo Lake and Flaming Gorge; voluntary, compensated release of water rights by some users; and continued work to augment existing supplies.

    The plan includes provisions for endangered species and for recreation and other uses, McClow said.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Say hello to The Water Values Podcast with David McGimpsey

    April 5, 2014

    PalisadePeachOrchardClick here to listen. From email from David McGimpsey:

    I thought I’d let you know about a project I’ve been working on. I launched a podcast about water this week. I posted the first three sessions of The Water Values Podcast to http://thewatervalues.com. The episodes are also available on the website and a number of podcast directories, including iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-water-values-podcast/id843026539) and Stitcher (http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=46602&refid=stpr).

    I’ve had some great guests from all over the country so far – Matt Klein, a former Indiana enviro regulator and former water utility exec; Jack Wittman, a hydrogeologist who’s worked all over the country; John Entsminger, the new GM of the Southern Nevada Water Authority; Jim Salzman, a Duke University professor; Jenn Vervier, the Director of Sustainability and Strategic Development for New Belgium Brewery; Mike McGuire, the California-based engineer, author, and water blogger; and Ellen Wohl, a Colorado State University professor. (As indicated above, only 3 of these episodes have been released to date). I have some great guests lined up, too.

    More education coverage here.


    Mountain system monitoring at Senator Beck Basin, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

    April 5, 2014

    Senator Beck Basin via the National Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies

    Senator Beck Basin via the National Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies


    Click here to read the abstract and access the report:

    A hydrologic modeling data set is presented for water years 2006 through 2012 from the Senator Beck Basin (SBB) study area. SBB is a high altitude, 291 ha catchment in southwest Colorado exhibiting a continental, radiation-driven, alpine snow climate. Elevations range from 3362 m at the SBB pour point to 4118 m. Two study plots provide hourly forcing data including precipitation, wind speed, air temperature and humidity, global solar radiation, downwelling thermal radiation, and pressure. Validation data include snow depth, reflected solar radiation, snow surface infrared temperature, soil moisture, temperatures and heat flux, and stream discharge. Snow water equivalence and other snowpack properties are captured in snowpack profiles. An example of snow cover model testing using SBB data is discussed. Serially complete data sets are published including both measured data as well as alternative, corrected data and, in conjunction with validation data, expand the physiographic scope of published mountain system hydrologic data sets in support of advancements in snow hydrology modeling and understanding.


    Cotter and the CPDHE are still trying to work out a de-commissioning agreement for the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

    April 5, 2014
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    A broken pipe at Cotter Corp.’s dismantled mill in central Colorado spewed 20,000 gallons of uranium-laced waste — just as Cotter is negotiating with state and federal authorities to end one of the nation’s longest-running Superfund cleanups.

    Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials said last weekend’s spill stayed on Cotter property.

    In addition, uranium and molybdenum contamination, apparently from other sources on the Cotter property, has spiked at a monitoring well in adjacent Cañon City. A Feb. 20 report by Cotter’s consultant said groundwater uranium levels at the well in the Lincoln Park neighborhood “were the highest recorded for this location,” slightly exceeding the health standard of 30 parts per billion. State health data show uranium levels are consistently above health limits at other wells throughout the neighborhood but haven’t recently spiked.

    “This isn’t acceptable,” Fremont County Commissioner Tim Payne said of the spill – the fourth since 2010. “(CDPHE officials) told us it is staying on Cotter’s property. But 20,000 gallons? You have to worry about that getting into groundwater.”

    Environmental Protection Agency and CDPHE officials are negotiating an agreement with Cotter to guide cleanup, data-gathering, remediation and what to do with 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings. Options range from removal — Cotter estimates that cost at more than $895 million — or burial in existing or new impoundment ponds.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper intervened last year to hear residents’ concerns and try to speed final cleanup.

    Cotter vice president John Hamrick said the agreement will lay out timetables for the company to propose options with cost estimates.

    The spill happened when a coupler sleeve split on a 6-inch plastic pipe, part of a 30-year-old system that was pumping back toxic groundwater from a 300-foot barrier at the low end of Cotter’s 2,538-acre property, Hamrick said.

    Lab analysis provided by Cotter showed the spilled waste contained uranium about 94 times higher than the health standard, and molybdenum at 3,740 ppb, well above the 100-ppb standard for that metal, said Jennifer Opila, leader of the state’s radioactive materials unit.

    She said Cotter’s system for pumping back toxic groundwater is designed so that groundwater does not leave the site, preventing any risk to the public.

    In November, Cotter reported a spill of 4,000 to 9,000 gallons. That was five times more than the amount spilled in November 2012. Another spill happened in 2010.

    At the neighborhood in Cañon City, the spike in uranium contamination probably reflects slow migration of toxic material from Cold War-era unlined waste ponds finally reaching the front of an underground plume, Hamrick said.

    “It is a blip. It does not appear to be an upward trend. If it was, we would be looking at it,” Hamrick said. “We will be working with state and EPA experts to look at the whole groundwater monitoring and remediation system.”

    An EPA spokeswoman agreed the spike does not appear to be part of an upward trend, based on monitoring at other wells, but she said the agency does take any elevated uranium levels seriously.

    The Cotter mill, now owned by defense contractor General Atomics, opened in 1958, processing uranium for nuclear weapons and fuel. Cotter discharged liquid waste, including radioactive material and heavy metals, into 11 unlined ponds until 1978. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with two lined waste ponds. Well tests in Cañon City found contamination, and in 1984, federal authorities declared a Superfund environmental disaster.

    Colorado officials let Cotter keep operating until 2011, and mill workers periodically processed ore until 2006.

    A community group, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, has been pressing for details and expressing concerns about the Cotter site. Energy Minerals Law Center attorney Travis Stills, representing residents, said the data show “the likely expansion of the uranium plume, following the path of a more mobile molybdenum plume” into Cañon City toward the Arkansas River.

    The residents deserve independent fact-gathering and a proper cleanup, Stills said.

    “There’s an official, decades-old indifference to groundwater protection and cleanup of groundwater contamination at the Cotter site — even though sustainable and clean groundwater for drinking, orchards, gardens and livestock remains important to present and future Lincoln Park residents,” he said. “This community is profoundly committed to reclaiming and protecting its groundwater.

    More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund coverage here.


    Water summit drew large crowd — Fort Morgan Times

    April 5, 2014

    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute


    From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

    The large crowd at Progressive 15′s Water Summit had their fill of water-related information March 28 at the Country Steak-Out in Fort Morgan, but it seemed they were still thirsty for more, asking nearly every speaker lots of questions and seeking more resources.

    The speakers addressed a number of different topics, including: potential and currently pending legislation and ballot issues that could affect water law, and weather forecasts and the plan the state is forming for dealing with water for the future.

    After Progressive 15 Chairman Barry Gore explained the nonprofit group’s mission as an advocacy agency for its members, Joe Frank from the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District spoke about the history of public trust doctrine and how it could affect Colorado if adopted here…

    After a break for lunch, the crowd heard from National Weather Service Senior Hydrologist Treste Huse about weather and flood forecasts for Colorado.

    She said that while Morgan County received 300 percent of normal precipitation in 2013, “it’s drying up this year.”

    Northeast Colorado could see higher risks of flooding this spring and summer due to higher water tables, reservoirs already at capacity and the melting of a high snow pack. Landslides also could be possible with that flooding.

    Huse also said that it was possible that 2014 would have El Nino weather patterns in Colorado, which could lead to wetter than average conditions in the south and far east parts of the state.

    Later, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp, who now is an advisor in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Water Office, spoke about the Colorado Water Plan.

    He said that while drought was growing in southeast Colorado, most of the state was not in a drought.

    Yet, he recognized that flooding could become an issue again.

    “We’re hopeful that the snowpack comes down in an orderly manner,” he said.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


    Water Hazards: From Risk to Recovery — AWRA Colorado Section Annual Symposium (May 2)

    April 5, 2014
    September 2013 flooding

    September 2013 flooding

    Click here to go to the symposium page for the pitch and to register.

    Managing water resources in Colorado requires managing risk. This year’s symposium will feature discussions on the various types of risks to our water resources, with special consideration given to the impacts and implications of the September 2013 floods.

    We are pleased to have an outstanding and diverse group of speakers, including our Keynote Speaker, James Eklund who will discuss the relationship between the State Water Plan and managing risk. Presenters in our morning session will help us better understand the types of risks to water resources. The afternoon break-out sessions will feature experts from a variety of disciplines who will discuss the on-the-ground impacts of the September 2013 floods. The day will conclude with insights from Jamestown Mayor Tara Schoedinger and CSU Sociology Professor Stephanie Malin, who will help us understand how risk impacts our communities.

    To raise money for the Scholarship Fund, we are holding our fourth annual silent auction at the symposium.


    Environmental groups are suing to prevent oil and gas exploration operations north of Del Norte #RioGrande

    April 5, 2014
    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

    Environmental groups in the San Luis Valley say they are suing to protect an aquifer they call “the lifeblood” of the valley. The lawsuit alleges that proposed drilling for oil and gas on federal land just south of Del Norte endangers 7,000 water wells in the valley. The lawsuit asks a judge to overturn the federal Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the drilling by a Texas oil company.

    The lawsuit against BLM was filed March 5 in U.S. District Court by the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and Conejos County Clean Water Inc.

    The Conejos Formation aquifer “holds the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley ecosystem, culture and economy, as well as the headwaters of the Rio Grande (River),” the 37-page lawsuit states. “Any underground and surface water contamination due to oil and gas exploration in the project area would likely enter the Conejos Formation aquifer.”

    “BLM violated the law by issuing (the oil) lease . . . without considering the unique and controversial effects” of the drilling, the lawsuit alleges. “A growing number of people . . . are concerned that the federal government has once again relied on a rushed, incomplete process,” approving the proposed drilling “without taking a hard look,” as law requires, at its impacts, the lawsuit asserts.

    BLM said that it is reviewing the lawsuit.

    The environmental groups contend that BLM’s environmental assessment of the drilling project incorrectly concluded there would be no significant impact.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


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