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.


Dust on snow event this week may affect runoff

April 4, 2014
Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

High winds blowing the dry sands of the Southwest and the Colorado Plateau slammed into the Colorado mountains late Sunday afternoon and into the evening. There was so much dust in the air, blowing through in plumes, that the sky turned an odd orange-ish hue before sunset.

“It was a significant event,” Landry said. The nonprofit center runs the Colorado Dust-on-Snow Program, which monitors “dust events,” measures how much dust gets deposited in the snowpack and assesses how it will affect the spring runoff.

Landry was in the field Sunday visiting 11 sites in Colorado, including McClure Pass in the Crystal River Valley, where the program monitors snowpack and assesses dust. He and a colleague stayed in Steamboat Springs on Sunday night and weren’t sure initially how extensive the dust incident was because fresh snow fell overnight at the resort. It became more apparent, by the time they reached Interstate 70, that dust had coated the snowpack, and it was “dead obvious” by the time they reached the Roaring Fork Valley that it was significant, Landry said.

It affected the mountains as far east as Loveland and extended into the Grand Mesa to the west and Red Mountain Pass and the surrounding San Juans to the south. The Dust-on-Snow Program still is assessing how far north the dust spread.

“This was a huge event. It might have got most of the mountains,” Landry said.

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

The dust storm that blew through Summit County earlier this week could have serious consequences for skiers, water managers and farmers…

Depending on weather conditions in the coming weeks, the dust could cause the snow to warm and freeze in thicker layers, increasing the risk of avalanches, said Spencer Logan, avalanche forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

In 2006, dust storms in February contributed to a heavy-avalanche season, he said, with more than 100 slides in May that year. In 2012, though, the area experienced heavy dust but few avalanches…

Another smaller dust storm Tuesday, which probably didn’t reach Summit County, was the fifth recorded this year.

The dust arrives from the Greater Colorado Plateau in a pattern that happens in Colorado every spring, said Landry, who has studied the dust for about eight years with the nonprofit center in Silverton.

Summit can expect more dust, he said, because the storms usually happen in March, April and May.

The reddish splotches at the resorts and the particles on your car likely blew in from eastern Utah, northeastern Arizona or northwestern New Mexico.

The color comes from iron oxide, a compound that Landry said isn’t known to cause water-quality problems. The dust also brings calcium, he said, which could be good for acidic waters.

The sun’s rays can still reach the dust if it’s only a few inches under a layer of fresh snow, Landry said, and layers of dust combine during the season to dramatically increase the speed of the snowmelt.

If the weather turns dry and stops bringing more snow to dilute the effect of the dust, streams could surge to extreme peak flows.

The Colorado mountains have been receiving this dust since the last ice age, Landry said, but evidence shows the size and frequency of the storms have increased since the mid-1990s.


Recover Colorado Businesses Grant and Loan Programs available for businesses and non-profits affected by #COflood

April 4, 2014
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Callie Jones):

Businesses and non-profits affected by the South Platte River flood last year are getting more help, through the Recover Colorado Businesses Grant and Loan Programs, part of the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program.
Dick Pickett, executive director of the Northeast-East Central Small Business Development Center, and Jeff Kraft, of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International trade, gave a brief presentation about the program to a small crowd at the Gary DeSoto Building on Thursday.

Kraft explained the CDBG-DR program is one the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) main programs, in which they provide assistance to communities in various ways – housing, infrastructure and economic development.

States can apply for funds from the program by developing an action plan, based on what their needs are. Colorado applied and will be receiving $62.8 million, which will be split up between housing, infrastructure and economic revitalization. Of that $62 million, approximately $9 million will go toward small businesses.

In addition to those funds, the state will also be receiving another $199 million at some point.

Kraft noted the philosophy of this program is to be more flexible in what it can cover than many other types of funds, though there will still be some federal strings attached. He also said “it’s designed to cover a small slice of unmet needs after other funding sources have been used and exhausted.”

Through the Recover Colorado programs, businesses and non-profits that suffered substantial economic harm from the flood can apply for economic revitalization funding. Grants of up to $10,000, or $25,000 for entities with multiple flood impacted areas, and loans of up to $50,000 with favorable terms will be awarded. The grants do not have to be paid back.

Approximately 80 percent of funds will be allocated to the three most impacted counties: Boulder, Larimer and Weld.

“So, you’re saying ‘I’m here in Sterling, that’s not going to help me’. We know Sterling is one of the most impacted areas in the remaining 20 percent, so absolutely there will be substantial funds available for Sterling businesses,” Kraft said.


More snow same adventure – Denver Water crews measure snowpack

April 4, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Tracking snowpack is a vital part of managing Denver Water’s water supply. But, with sample sites in remote locations throughout our watersheds, this is no easy task.

Take a journey with Jay Adams, from Denver Water’s Communications and Marketing Department, as he joins Denver Water crews to take on this adventurous mission.

Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker; Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman on the Arrow snow course near Winter Park.

Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker; Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman on the Arrow snow course near Winter Park.

What a difference a year makes in snowpack levels

By Jay Adams

It’s a trek not many people take, but one that provides critical information to more than 1 million people. The journey begins just below the Continental Divide in a Trooper Snow Cat. The ride leads up the side of a mountain, past a group of snowmobilers and two wandering moose. Onboard the Snow Cat heading into the forest are Denver Water employees Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim…

View original 467 more words


Snowpack news: “We’re in a good mood” — Mike Preston

April 4, 2014

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Keep the snow shovels and skis handy. A spring snowstorm dumped 6 to 12 inches in the mountains, and from 3 to 6 inches at Cortez, Arriola, Dolores, Mancos and Mesa Verde National Park…

The recent storm stretched from Wyoming to Arizona and into California, and had a convection effect typical of spring precipitation.

“The convection element where the clouds bubble up produces the wet heavy snow,” Daniels said.

Telluride is reporting a fresh 8 inches from the storm, drifting to a foot in places. Durango Mountain Resort received 10 inches, and Rico is reporting 4 to 5 inches…

Southwest Colorado is still below normal snowpack, based on a 30-year average, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The Dolores, San Miguel, Animas, and San Juan basins collectively are reported at 83 percent of normal as of April 3. The Dolores Basin is at 87 percent of normal snowpack.

However, the Dolores Basin has dramatically improved from last year with snotels showing 12.6 inches of snow-water equivalent for April 3, compared with 9.6 inches of snow water equivalent this time last year.

Irrigators woke up with a smile across the region, as did reservoir managers.

“We’re in a good mood,” said Mike Preston, manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “We are in the process of evaluating the impact of recent storms and will be updating farmers next week on predicted water supplies.”

From Steamboat Today (Kent Peppler):

As of the first week of April, the statewide average snowpack in Colorado is 113 percent. Only the southwestern watersheds are lagging behind. The Colorado River snowpack is at 125 percent. The South Platte is at 135 percent of average…

It is worth noting that Denver snowfall in March was 5.3 inches, just half of the average of 11.5 inches. Total snowfall so far in Denver is 31 inches compared to the average of the normal 47 inches for this time of the year.

We have a ways to go to restore the subsoil moisture underneath Colorado’s farmland. We have a ways to go, as well, to rebuild irrigation ditches and roads after last year’s floods.


Colorado: A tale of two snowpacks

April 4, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

This is an unfiltered iPhone shot, showing that, if the light is good to begin with, you don't need a lot of technical tricks.

A deep snowpack in late March along Tenmile Creek, in Frisco, Colorado. bberwyn photo.

Snowpack bountiful north, a little sparse in the San Juans

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A persistent weather pattern across the U.S. in March once again benefited Colorado’s northern and central mountains, as a steady stream of storms brushed down the northern Rockies before roaring into the Midwest.

In the northwestern part of the state, the snowpack increased in the Colorado and Yampa river basins. The South Platte River Basin is at a near-record level. similar to 2011, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which released results of the all-important April 1 snowpack survey.

By contrast, southwestern Colorado is on the eastern edge of a large area that’s very dry, including near-record drought in California. The snow survey showed  snowpack conditions across the southern mountains tracking below normal for the third consecutive month.

View original 339 more words


NRCS Colorado Snow Survey and Water Supply News Release #COdrought

April 4, 2014
Snowpack and storage table from the NRCS

Snowpack and storage table from the NRCS

Click here to read the April release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service:

COLORADO’S SNOWPACK HOLDING STEADY

The latest snow measurements conducted by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), indicate that Colorado’s statewide snowpack continues to track above normal. Surveys conducted on April 1, show statewide snowpack at 115 percent of median, which is 156 percent of the snowpack measured one year ago. The current statewide report continues the trend of above normal totals that have been measured throughout this winter. This is great news for the state’s major water users who rely on the melting snowpack for the majority of their spring and summer surface water supplies.

March brought a continuation of previous weather patterns, with most storms favoring the northern mountains ranges while storm systems in the southern mountains were few and far between. Unfortunately, the storm systems passing through during March lacked the moisture that the previous month’s systems had. As a result, the majority of snowpack totals for the major basins across the state showed slight decreases in percentages. In fact only two of the major basins, the Colorado basin and the Yampa, White and North Platte basins, recorded snowpack percentages that improved compared to last month. At 142 percent of median, the South Platte River basin boasts the highest basin wide total in the state; the basin has not recorded snowpack levels this high since 2011.

With all the northern basins continuing to report above normal snowpack percentages, the outlook for spring and summer water supplies in these regions is excellent. Across the Colorado, South Platte, Yampa, White and North Platte basins and the headwater portions of the Gunnison and Arkansas basin’s, runoff volumes are currently anticipated to be well above normal this season. Meanwhile, the latest measurements show snowpack conditions across the southern mountains continuing to track below normal for the third consecutive month. April 1 measurements put the Upper Rio Grande basin at just 79 percent of median, and the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins at 80 percent of median. The effect of this is that spring and summer streamflow volumes are expected to be below normal across southwestern Colorado this year. While there is still a possibility for spring snowstorms to improve conditions in these basins, the chances are extremely low given that the normal maximum snowpack is typically reached in the first week of April.

At the end of March reservoir storage across the state was holding steady at 89 percent of average. The northern basins are all reporting storage above or near normal for this time of year while the Arkansas, Upper Rio Grande, and southwest basins all have below normal storage.


CFWE: “We want to have a larger presence in the Arkansas Valley” — Nicole Seltzer

April 4, 2014
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters Magazine

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters Magazine

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Foundation for Water Education wants to step up its efforts in the Arkansas River basin.

“No matter who you are, if you understand water better in the Arkansas basin, it will benefit everyone,” said Scott Lorenz, who joined the foundation’s board this year.

Lorenz lives near Rye and manages the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association, a wellaugmentation group. He and Nicole Seltzer, CFWE executive director, visited Thursday with The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board, along with other groups and individuals throughout the Arkansas Valley.

“We’ve been notably absent from the Arkansas basin,” Seltzer said, explaining that the foundation formed statewide in 2002 as a response to severe drought that caught the state off-guard. “We want to have a larger presence in the Arkansas Valley.”

The foundation can have mutual benefits.

“We provide a lens for the wider state and resources for local water educators,” Seltzer said.

Those resources include publications — Headwaters magazine and a series of Citizens Guides that look at water issues. CFWE also organizes workshops and tours, including one of the Arkansas River headwaters set for September.

The group also sponsors a program for emerging water leaders, which is how Lorenz became involved with CWFE.

Lorenz plans to use his time on the board to increase awareness of the importance of agriculture. There are young farmers who are optimistic about the future of farming, but to do that they also need to protect the availability of irrigation water.

“Sometimes we make ourselves the target,” Lorenz said. “I think CWFE will focus on the facts. One of those is that we have to have water on the land to be viable.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here and here.


NRCS: Lower #ColoradoRiver Water Supply Forecasts avaiable

April 3, 2014

NRCS: April Rio Grande Basin forecasts available

April 3, 2014

The Road Not Taken

April 3, 2014

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

By Julia Gallucci, water education coordinator, Colorado Springs Utilities

roadlesstakenWhen Robert Frost wrote his poem he probably wasn’t plagued by water issues, and neither are most Colorado citizens. While water is our bread and butter, how often do the rest of us think about, for example, the State Water Plan?

Two organizations, Colorado Competitive Council and Accelerate Colorado intend to brief the Colorado business community on Colorado’s Water Plan. These lobbying groups are interested in framing what Colorado Business wants around water, and they hope to use this framework to weigh in on the State’s Water Plan.

This is an excellent beginning to an independent State Water Plan public process, one from which, perhaps, the IBCC can draw ideas. Colorado Competitive Council and Accelerate Colorado have designed a “road show” which they successfully presented in Colorado Springs on April 2nd. In cities across Colorado, they leverage the…

View original 199 more words


CU-Boulder offers well users guide for testing water in areas of oil and gas development

April 3, 2014

chemistryglassware

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder:

A free, downloadable guide for individuals who want to collect baseline data on their well water quality and monitor their groundwater quantity over time was released this week by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Colorado Water and Energy Research Center (CWERC).

The “how to” guide, “Monitoring Water Quality in Areas of Oil and Natural Gas Development: A Guide for Water Well Users,” is available in PDF format at http://cwerc.colorado.edu. It seeks to provide well owners with helpful, independent, scientifically sound and politically neutral information about how energy extraction or other activities might affect their groundwater.

The guide spells out the process of establishing a baseline for groundwater conditions, including how best to monitor that baseline and develop a long-term record.

“Baseline data is important because, in its purest form, it documents groundwater quality and quantity before energy extraction begins,” said CWERC Co-founder and Director Mark Williams, who is also a fellow at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and a CU-Boulder professor of geography.

“Once a baseline has been established, groundwater chemistry can be monitored for changes over time,” Williams said. “The most accurate baselines are collected before energy extraction begins, but if drilling has already begun, well owners can still test their water to establish a belated baseline and monitor it for changes. That might not be scientifically ideal, but it’s a lot better than doing no monitoring at all.”

CWERC’s guidance builds on the state’s public health recommendations that well owners annually test water for nitrates and bacteria. The guide encourages well water users to collect more than one pre-drilling baseline sample, if possible.

CWERC recommends collecting both spring and fall samples within a single year because water chemistry can vary during wet and dry seasons. Well owners should measure the depth from the ground surface to the water in their wells in the fall, during the dry season, so that they can keep track of any changes.

“Colorado’s oil and gas regulators have established some of the most comprehensive groundwater monitoring regulations in the country, but those regulations do not require oil and gas operators to sample every water well in an oil or gas field,” Williams said. “So we wanted to develop a meaningful tool for people who want to test their water themselves or those who need information to help negotiate water testing arrangements as part of surface use agreements with drillers in their area.

“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the well owner to know their own well and understand their water. This guide will help Coloradans do just that.”

The guide specifically outlines what well water users may want to test for and provides a list of properly certified laboratories that offer water-testing services. In addition, the guide assists individuals in interpreting the scientific data, chemical references and compound levels that are outlined in the laboratory results they will receive and any industry tests or reports related to drilling in their area.

CWERC studies the connections between water and energy resources and the trade-offs that may be involved in their use. It seeks to engage the general public and policymakers, serving as a neutral broker of scientifically based information on even the most contentious “energy-water nexus” debates.

CWERC was co-founded in 2011 by Williams and Joseph Ryan, a CU-Boulder professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, with funding from the CU-Boulder Office for University Outreach.

To download a free copy of the guide, visit http://cwerc.colorado.edu. For questions about obtaining the guide or to order a printed version, visit the website or call 303-492-4561.


Having exhausted all toilet puns, House approves SB14-103, Unamended — Kristin Wyatt #COleg

April 3, 2014

Drought news

April 3, 2014
US Drought Monitor April 1, 2014

US Drought Monitor April 1, 2014

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

Summary

This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw an active weather pattern across much of the West coast and northern Rockies as a series of disturbances moved through the region delivering rain showers to the lower elevations and mountain snow showers to the higher elevations. Scattered snow showers were observed in higher elevations of the Intermountain West while the Southwest remained in a warm and dry pattern. Across portions of the South and Southeast, scattered rain showers were observed while locally heavy rain and snow showers fell across much of New England. In the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, the pattern of below-normal temperatures and snow showers persisted. Across the Southern Plains and western portions of Texas, dry and windy conditions continued to deplete soil moisture levels. On this week’s map, slight improvements were made in northern California and northeastern Oregon, while conditions deteriorated in southern Colorado. Moving eastward, conditions in the southern Plains, western Texas, and the lower Midwest deteriorated while New England saw improvements…

The Plains

As with most of the northern tier, the northern Plains experienced below-normal temperatures and areas of snowfall including blizzard-like conditions early this week in the Dakotas. According to the NWS in Bismarck, North Dakota, record daily maximum snowfall (8.1 inches) was observed in Bismarck on Monday. In the southern Plains, continued short-term precipitation deficits, declining range and pasture conditions, and areas of below-normal streamflow activity led to expansion of areas of Moderate Drought (D1) and Severe Drought (D2) in the eastern half of Kansas and central Oklahoma where areas of Severe Drought (D2) pushed eastward. Temperatures were generally near-normal to slightly above-normal in the southern portions of the Plains during the past week…

The West

During the past week, a series of disturbances pushed on-shore from the Pacific delivering much-needed rain and snow to northern California and Oregon. In northern California, liquid precipitation accumulations ranged from two-to-six inches in the northern coastal mountains while the northern Sierras received three-to-eleven inches. In the northern half of the Central Valley, precipitation accumulations were less than one and a half inch. Despite short-term gains, the long-term deficits across the region remained substantial. According to the California Department of Water Resources, California’s snowpack has increased since the first snow survey on January 3rd, but the latest survey results show California’s snow-water equivalent is only 32 percent of the average April 1st measurement when the snowpack is generally at its peak level prior to spring melt. In light of this week’s significant precipitation accumulations in the northern Sierra, a one-category improvement from Extreme Drought (D3) to Severe Drought (D2) was made to reflect short-term gains over the areas of greatest precipitation accumulations ranging from four-to-eleven inches. In northeastern Oregon, a one-category improvement from Moderate Drought (D1) to Abnormally Dry (D0) was made to reflect near-normal snowpack conditions in the Blue and Wallowa Mountains. In the Southwest, a warm and dry pattern continued across the region leading to slight deterioration of conditions in southwestern Colorado…

Looking Ahead

The NWS HPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for moderate-to-heavy precipitation accumulations (two-to-six inches) across the lower Midwest and moderate accumulations (two-to-three) in the South and Southeast. The Upper Midwest, New England, central Rockies, and Pacific Northwest are forecasted to receive accumulations of less than two inches. The 6-10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above-normal temperatures across the West while below-normal temperatures are forecasted across the South, Midwest, and Eastern tier. A high probability of above-normal precipitation is forecasted across portions of the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, New England, northern Plains, and Pacific Northwest while the remainder of the West, southern Plains, and western portions of the South are expected to have below-normal precipitation.


Republican River Water Conservation District quarterly board meeting, April 10 #COWaterPlan

April 3, 2014
Republican River Basin

Republican River Basin

From the Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

It is time for the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors to hold its regular quarterly meeting in Yuma. It will be held at Quintech on Thursday, April 10, beginning at 10 a.m. Public comment is scheduled for 1 p.m.

The board will receive a report from Assistant Attorney General Scott Steinbrecher on the negotiations with Kansas regarding compliance with the Republican River Compact, the Bonny Reservoir accounting issue, and the compact compliance pipeline. There also could be other matters addressed by Steinbrecher.

The pipeline has been put to use this past winter as Kansas agreed to a one-year test run in 2014. Tracy Travis, the pipeline manager, will provide a report on the pipeline.

Conservation has been a focus, particularly with a symposium sponsored by the RRWCD and local businesses held last month highlighting the need to conserve the Ogallala Aquifer, the region’s source of water. The board will discuss conservation survey results during the April 10 meeting.

Also on the agenda, HDR Engineering will give a report regarding the Colorado Water Plan. There also will be a presentation on the Great Divide.

The board will consider purchasing agency bonds, and receive reports on various recent meetings and programs.

Quintech is located at 529 N. Albany St. in Yuma. For further information, or having any questions, please call RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel at 970-332-3552, or email her at deb.daniel@rrwcd.net. The RRWCD website is http://www.republicanriver.com.


CWC Webcast: Adapting the Law of the Colorado River, April 16

April 3, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

Click here to register.

From email from the Colorado Water Congress:

John McClow, Colorado’s Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission, will provide a brief summary of the Law of the Colorado River: the Colorado River Compact, the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, and the Mexican Treaty of 1944. This will be followed by a description of collaborative efforts among the seven Colorado River Basin states, the Department of the Interior, and Mexico to adapt the law to changing conditions on the river.

From 1999 through 2013, the Colorado River Basin has experienced serious drought. Policy makers have responded to this drought with the development of new management strategies for the major storage reservoirs in the system (Lake Powell and Lake Mead) to prevent them from reaching critical storage levels. These strategies could affect all Colorado River stakeholders.

This is a “not-to-be-missed” presentation for all professionals interested in management of the Colorado River and the effects of long-term drought in the Colorado River Basin. Tune in for recent updates from the Upper Colorado River Commission.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Snowpack news: Colorado Springs Utilities is cautiously optimistic

April 3, 2014

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of snowpack data from April 1, 2014 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From KRDO.com (Bonnie Silkman):

“In 2013 at this time we were in a pretty dire situation. We were well below average for snow pack and snowfall,” said Patrice Lehermeier, spokesperson for Colorado Springs Utilities.

Fortunately, that’s not the case this year.

“The best way to describe it is cautiously optimistic,” said Lehermeier.

Optimism that this winter’s snow will mean years of water.

“If the snow that we’ve received in the mountains melt like we think it will, we can see our reservoirs and water storage at a two year supply. That’s a really good number for us,” said Lehermeier.

The majority of Colorado Springs water comes from the Upper Colorado Basin. Right now it’s 130% of average snowfall.

“Here’s the important part though- just because we’re not in mandatory restrictions doesn’t mean you should start over using water. Our goal is to sustain public safety. We know the drought is only one winter away, and who knows what could happen next summer. We also know that wildfire is a huge concern across our state and this area is a victim of some of that devastation,” said Lehermeier.

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The past two years have been challenging for whitewater-rafting companies. A meager snowpack created particularly tough times in summer 2012. There were very few Class IV rapids in the entire state, Ingram said, and most of the rafting that could be offered was a Class II float trip.

Business was better last summer, thanks to an improved snowpack and stronger economy, Ingram said.

Savvy tourists nowadays check streamflows before booking a rafting trip just like they check snow conditions before blowing a wad on skiing vacations. Ingram said reservations are rolling in already because of the prospects of impressive flows.

“I’m looking at a good Slaughter House season,” he said, referring to the Class IV Slaughter House Falls downstream from Aspen. Based on current conditions, experience tells him the streamflow will allow his company to run the falls at least halfway through July if not the entire month…

The Roaring Fork River Basin ecosystem also will be a winner this year. The riparian areas and wetlands located alongside rivers and creeks will be replenished from high flows and high groundwater, said Sharon Clarke, watershed action director for the Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit focused on education and activism on water issues…

Snowpack levels in the Roaring Fork Valley have been higher than average since the region was hit by storms in late October. The Roaring Fork River Basin as a whole is at 126 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the agency that tracks snowpack.

In the vast geographic area covered by the Roaring Fork Basin, the snowpack ranges from a low of 115 percent of average at McClure Pass to 135 percent of average at Schofield Pass in the Crystal River headwaters and 134 percent of average at Ivanhoe, near the Fryingpan River headwaters.

East of Aspen, near the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, the snowpack is 123 percent of average.

“It’s touching where it was in 2011, but in 2011 it kept cranking,” Clarke said. That’s the spring when the snow didn’t stop coming in April and May.

Conditions were perfect in late May and June 2011 for a long, sustained runoff that didn’t peak as abruptly as feared, given the high snowpack. The Roaring Fork River peaked at about 8,000 cubic feet per second at Glenwood Springs, according to the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, a division of the National Weather Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Roaring Fork River’s highest recorded level was 11,800 cfs at Glenwood Springs in 1995, according to the forecast center. The low was 1,870 cfs in 2012…

It’s too early in the runoff season for an accurate picture of the Roaring Fork River’s peak. That will depend on how warm it gets, for how long and when, said Eric Kuhn, director of the Colorado River District, an organization that protects western Colorado water interests. However, it appears the volume of water produced by the snowpack melting from May through July will range between 110 and 120 percent of average.

“We’re thinking it’s going to be a good year,” Kuhn said.

The big advantage of the higher volume is that water managers can build storage levels in reservoirs, he said. There should be enough water remaining after irrigation and municipal uses to store in the reservoirs. Even Lake Powell in Utah, which has been drawn down to sustained, low levels, will “bump up a little” this year, Kuhn said.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has boosted releases from Ruedi Dam to above 210 cfs to make room for anticipated runoff. It increased the discharge to a higher level than usual earlier than usual. Ruedi Reservoir is currently two-thirds full. With the higher-than-average snowpack in the upper Fryingpan River Valley, prospects are great for a long boating season at high water levels on Ruedi.

Diversions from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project from the upper Fryingpan River basin and from the Twin Lakes Canal Co. diversion system, from the upper Roaring Fork River basin, will likely benefit from the above-average snowpack. The diversion systems are limited by capacity, Kuhn said. If the snow melts at a slow and steady pace rather than during a more compact time period, they can divert water for more days.

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

A thin layer of dust that a windstorm deposited on the Aspen area Sunday evening may play a key role in how the snowpack melts this spring and early summer, according to Chris Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton.

High winds blowing the dry sands of the Southwest and the Colorado Plateau slammed into the Colorado mountains late Sunday afternoon and into the evening. There was so much dust in the air, blowing through in plumes, that the sky turned an odd orange-ish hue before sunset.

“It was a significant event,” Landry said. The nonprofit center runs the Colorado Dust-on-Snow Program, which monitors “dust events,” measures how much dust gets deposited in the snowpack and assesses how it will affect the spring runoff.

Landry was in the field Sunday visiting 11 sites in Colorado, including McClure Pass in the Crystal River Valley, where the program monitors snowpack and assesses dust. He and a colleague stayed in Steamboat Springs on Sunday night and weren’t sure initially how extensive the dust incident was because fresh snow fell overnight at the resort. It became more apparent, by the time they reached Interstate 70, that dust had coated the snowpack, and it was “dead obvious” by the time they reached the Roaring Fork Valley that it was significant, Landry said.

It affected the mountains as far east as Loveland and extended into the Grand Mesa to the west and Red Mountain Pass and the surrounding San Juans to the south. The Dust-on-Snow Program still is assessing how far north the dust spread.

“This was a huge event. It might have got most of the mountains,” Landry said.

Although it covered a widespread geographic area, it didn’t leave a layer of dust as thick as windstorms did at some locations in the Colorado mountains last spring, Landry said. His staff will collect snowpack samples in June, where all layers have merged, to assess the dust’s potential impact on runoff. The dust leaves a distinctive layer in the snow sample.

Most dust storms occur in March, April and May, so the prospects are high that more will roll through the mountains, according to Landry…

Sunday’s storm was the fourth incident to deposit dust in at least a portion of the mountains. Two earlier events left smaller amounts of dust in the Aspen-area snowpack, he said…

More information on the Colorado Dust-on-Snow Program is available at http://www.codos.org/#codos.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City is signaling that a warming trend next week could kick off low elevation runoff, causing the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs and downstream in Moffat County to begin to rise steeply.

The center is projecting that the Yampa will flow well above its historic norm at more than 350 cubic feet per second Thursday through Sunday. But the river’s flow could begin to stair-step more steeply to more than 700 cfs late next week. And if that comes to pass, it will because of a significant warming trend.

The Yampa at Maybell, west of Craig, also is expected to rise but with bigger peaks and valleys than further upstream in Steamboat. At Maybell, the river was flowing at more than 1,000 cfs Tuesday and could spike to nearly 1,700 cfs by Monday.

From The Greeley Tribune:

Greeley had far less precipitation than normal in March — typically a big snow month — but three months deep into the year, 2014 overall is still a wet one.

During March, Greeley received just .4 inches of snow — only 5 percent of its typical 8.3 inches for the month — and, with rain factored in, received just .75 inches of total precipitation, which is only 67 percent of its historic average of 1.12 inches, according to numbers provided by the Colorado Climate Center based in Fort Collins.

However, thanks to an abnormally wet January and February, Greeley’s total precipitation for 2014 is 3.23 inches — well above the typical 2 inches it receives through the end of March, and ranking as the fifth-wettest year on record — and it’s total of 18.9 inches of snow this year are right about normal for the city.


NSIDC: Arctic sea ice at fifth lowest annual maximum

April 3, 2014

arcticseaiceextent04012014viansidc

From the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

Arctic sea ice reached its annual maximum extent on March 21, after a brief surge in extent mid-month. Overall the 2014 Arctic maximum was the fifth lowest in the 1978 to 2014 record. Antarctic sea ice reached its annual minimum on February 23, and was the fourth highest Antarctic minimum in the satellite record. While this continues a strong pattern of greater-than-average sea ice extent in Antarctica for the past two years, Antarctic sea ice remains more variable year-to-year than the Arctic…

Arctic sea ice extent for March 2014 averaged 14.80 million square kilometers (5.70 million square miles). This is 730,000 square kilometers (282,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average extent, and 330,000 square kilometers (127,000 square miles) above the record March monthly low, which happened in 2006. Extent remains slightly below average in the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, but is at near-average levels elsewhere. Extent hovered around two standard deviations below the long-term average through February and early March. The middle of March by contrast saw a period of fairly rapid expansion, temporarily bringing extent to within about one standard deviation of the long-term average.


Denver Water: Water rules begin May 1

April 3, 2014

Colorado Springs: 100+ attend Camp Creek flood meeting #COflood

April 3, 2014
Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

A crowd of more than 100 people echoed a mantra in unison that multiple Colorado Springs officials stressed at a flood preparedness meeting on Tuesday night.

“Up, not out,” the said loudly after being prompted by police Lt. Dave Edmondson…

City officials, including Emergency Manager Brett Waters and others talked about the 2013 floods that struck the city and El Paso County in July, August and September. Waters said his colleagues and the residents need to “take flood risk very seriously,” noting that flash floods coming out of the Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar are going to be an issue “for at least the next 10 years.”

Tim Mitros, the city’s development review and stormwater manager, showed slide after slide of the dangers that lie in the Camp Creek drainage in the hills to the west of Colorado Springs. The pictures illustrated barren, burnout out slopes that have already, and could, send tons of dirt rocks and other debris into the channel along Garden of the Gods Park. and into the Pleasant Valley neighborhood.

“We’ve got to keep the sediment up in the burn area,” Mitros said.

Mitros said city crews will begin building a large sediment detention pond on the east end of Garden of the Gods Park in the next month. At that time, workers will also begin doing repairs to the channel in the middle of 31st Street near Pleasant Valley. They will be adding a “protective layer of concrete” to badly damaged parts of the creek between West Fontanero Street and Echo Lane.

The work is the beginning stages of a $37 million project to rebuild the channel from Garden of the Gods Park to Colorado Avenue, Mitros said. The city already allotted $8.8 million to do work in Camp and Douglas creeks. MIiros said the final designs for the entire project will be unveiled at another Camp Creek watershed public meeting from 5 to 7:30 p.m. April 29 at Coronado High School.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Stark also talked about the dangers of debris in the Camp Creek and Douglas Creek areas. She said storms in September that ravaged the Front Range from El Paso County north to the Wyoming border left tons and tons of debris sitting just above the city.

“The next big rain event could bring that stuff down,” she said.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.


Colorado Springs: The Waldo Canyon Fire restoration will cost $ millions and take at least 10 years

April 3, 2014
Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar

Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The images of a glowing sky that filled the air with choking smoke won’t soon fade, but the damage to forested hillsides charred by the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 will be more troublesome for years. Colorado Springs had a taste of things to come during last September’s torrential rains, but it will take millions of dollars and at least a decade to recover the damaged landscape.

“We built basins to collect sediment over a 10-year period, but they filled up during the flooding last September,” said Tim Mitros, Colorado Springs stormwater manager, during a media tour of projects Wednesday.

So now the city is building a series of ponds that will trap floodwater, along with making other drainage improvements on North Douglas Creek, South Douglas Creek, Queens Canyon, Cheyenne Creek and Camp Creek on the west side of Colorado Springs. Altogether the projects will cost $8.8 million in additional stormwater funding from federal, state and city sources.

The catch basins worked, but filled too quickly, Mitros explained during a tour of one on North Douglas Creek on the Flying W Ranch. The idea behind them was to allow new vegetation to sprout as they filled, but the storms left a bed of gravel that would just sheet off water in the next storm.

Jason Moore, director of land management for the Flying W, explained how downed trees are criss-crossed along the creek bed to slow down minor flows.

“They’re in a W shape, so we call them Flying W’s,” Moore joked.

The ponds are being constructed with the cooperation of landowners, but must be cleaned by city crews after each storm dumps its load of sediment. Mitros said the city is fortunate because it is working with only two large landowners, the Navigators and Flying W, and both have been cooperative.

“Without the ponds, the sediment will continue to fill the concrete channel below and put them in danger of being overtopped,” Mitros said.

That will continue to be a big job. Colorado Springs still is hauling 6,000 cubic yards of sediment — 600 truckloads — that washed into Garden of the Gods Park after last summer’s storms. There would be some benefit to Pueblo, because anything done high up in the watershed helps to slow down the water reaching Fountain Creek, Mitros said. Primarily, however, the projects are being undertaken to protect the homes and businesses in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood that was decimated when the Waldo Canyon Fire burned 347 homes. Those homes are being rebuilt, but now face a different threat. They lie below valleys that are normally dry, but which become running rivers when it rains. Because the fire burned off much of the vegetation, any flood becomes about 10 times as powerful, said Leon Kot, restoration coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Besides the new threat of runoff, Colorado Springs also is dealing with miles of concrete storm ditches, some more than 50 years old, that have fallen into disrepair. About 1,000 feet of 8-foot diameter pipeline buried near Eighth Street and Cheyenne Boulevard was overwhelmed by the September flooding and is being replaced in a $750,000 project.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.


Three years of early April snowpack maps

April 3, 2014

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a trip down the snowpack memory lane for the past three years. The 2012 map followed a warm and dry March when the below average snowpack melted out early. The 2013 map preceded the monster April and early May that helped end the drought over northern and central Colorado. The current snowpack bodes well for runoff this season.


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

April 3, 2014

wyutcoprecipitationmonthtodate0301to03302014

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

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Snowpack news

April 2, 2014

From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Kremmling Field Office snow surveyors Mark Volt, Noah Bates took the April 1 snow survey measurements during the last days of March. Snowpack for Middle Park and the upper Colorado River Basin stands at 144 percent of average, compared to 79 percent last April 1, 2013. The snowpack surpasses the 135 percent reading in the height of the year of 2011, and 62 percent in the drought year of 2002.

Snowpack in the mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 114 percent to 206 percent of the 30- year average.

The Granby snow course near C Lazy U Ranch, which has been read since 1949, set a new record high for the second month in a row. Snow density is averaging 31 percent, which means that for a foot of snow there are 3.72 inches of water. Irrigators, towns, river runners and other water users can expect higher than normal river levels this summer.

Reservoir storage remains higher than last year. From this point on, spring runoff will be highly dependent on melting conditions (i.e., temperature and wind), as well as spring snow accumulation and/or rainfall.

Most of the snow courses around Middle Park have been read since the 1940s. Snow course readings are taken at the end of each month, beginning in January and continuing through April. March is historically the snowiest month, and the April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most of our high country snowpack peaks around that time. Manual snow courses will be read for the final time this year at the end of April.

For further information, including real-time snow and precipitation data for SNOTEL (automated Snow Telemetry) sites, visit http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/index.html.


Colorado legislative committee OKs oil and gas health impact study — Denver Post #COleg

April 2, 2014

Gunnison Basin Rountable basin implementation plan focuses on agriculture #COWaterPlan

April 2, 2014

haymeadowsneargunnison

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

Current efforts to develop a Colorado Water Plan have been largely driven by a large projected gap between urban water needs and developed supplies. Gunnison Basin water planners, however, are more focused on a current gap between agricultural needs and developed supplies. The water managers and stakeholders that make up the Gunnison Basin Roundtable are concerned that efforts to address the urban gap will negatively impact agricultural uses, whose importance goes beyond food production to environmental and recreational values.

In the Gunnison Basin, which stretches from the headwaters near Crested Butte, Lake City, Ouray and Paonia downstream to Delta and Grand Junction, the anticipated gap between municipal needs and developed supplies is relatively small, while the gap between agricultural needs and supplies is already large.

According to the latest statewide water supply study, the present gap between water requirements to fully meet crop demands and water available is about 128,000 acre-feet per year in the Gunnison Basin. An acre-foot is about enough water to fill a football-field-sized tub one foot deep. This is generally considered sufficient to sustain two to three average households for a year.

Agricultural water shortages are experienced in every water district in the basin. The district that includes the North Fork of the Gunnison River and Delta has the largest gap at over 75,200 acre-feet per year. This district also has the largest number of irrigated acres in the basin, with 90,200. The Lake Fork and Lower Uncompahgre districts have the smallest gaps, at between 2,500 and 3,000 acre-feet per year. The farmers of the 79,800 irrigated acres in the Lower Uncompahgre District benefit from senior water rights and upstream reservoirs, while the Lake Fork District contains just 16,500 irrigated acres.

Analysis conducted so far points to a need for additional upstream reservoir storage to support late-summer and fall irrigation. The Wilson Water Group, the consulting group hired by the Gunnison Basin Roundtable to assist with the basin plan, is conducting targeted technical outreach meetings to more precisely identify the causes of the shortages and identify potential projects to address them. Causes for shortages can be categorized as physical (insufficient water available), legal (water is present, but the irrigator doesn’t have rights to it), storage-related (insufficient late-season water), or efficiency-related (sufficient water could be available if managed more efficiently).

The focus on agriculture in the Gunnison Basin makes sense, given that the Gunnison Basin Roundtable’s primary goal is to “protect existing water uses in the Gunnison Basin.” Agriculture (mostly grass and alfalfa hay, but also pasture, fruit trees, wine grapes and the famous Olathe Sweet Sweet Corn) accounts for approximately 90 percent of the basin’s water consumption. In addition to its intrinsic value, irrigated agriculture is also seen as supporting other valuable attributes of the basin’s landscape. It provides the aesthetic “open space” important to the basin’s growing recreational economy, and the flood irrigation for high hay meadows slows the flow of water downstream, supporting late-season streamflows. Flood irrigation also creates wetland areas that nurture birds and other wildlife.

Additional goals, supporting that primary goal of protecting existing water uses, include addressing municipal and industrial shortages, quantifying and protecting environmental and recreational water needs, and maintaining and modernizing critical water infrastructure, including hydropower.

The Gunnison Basin Roundtable has also put forward a number of “statewide principles” for consideration by other basin roundtables. These principles warn of the hazards of new water projects on the Western Slope and encourage conservation and the development of local projects to meet local needs. Those principles are a response to the perception that Basin Roundtables in basins east of the Continental Divide continue to look west for new water supplies, despite the fact that additional depletions from the West Slope could increase the risk that Colorado may not be able to meet its contractual obligations to the downstream states that share the Colorado River.

The basin roundtables are working to collect public input on water needs and priorities as well as to technically analyze supplies and demands. In order to learn more and take a survey to contribute your insights, go to http://www.ugrwcd.org and click on “Gunnison Basin Water Plan.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


IBCC meeting recap: Front Range may not seek “annual firm yield” from future projects #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 2, 2014
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From Aspen Journalism (Nelson Harvey):

Mark Waage, the manager of water resources planning for the utility Denver Water, told a meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) in Denver that Front Range interests are not necessarily seeking “firm yield,” or reliable annual supply, from a new trans-mountain diversion project, but instead could settle for diverting water only when a wet winter like this one gives the Western Slope and downstream consumers more than they need to satisfy existing water rights.

“We are looking for wet year water,” said Waage after the meeting. “There are going to be wet years when we can develop more water. In dry periods, this project wouldn’t divert from the Colorado [River], and we would rely on [buying water rights from] Front Range agriculture instead,” along with reservoir and groundwater aquifer storage and mechanisms like rotational fallowing that permit farmers to temporarily lease their water rights to cities.

The suggestion by Front Range interests that they’re willing to forego diversions during dry years stands in sharp contrast to their usual and long-standing insistence that “firm yield” for the Front Range from new trans-mountain diversion projects is inevitable.

Existing diversion projects — like the Twin Lakes tunnel underneath the Continental Divide between the Roaring Fork and Arkansas river basins — already have the capacity to pipe as much as 600,000 acre-feet (roughly six Ruedi Reservoirs) of water to the Front Range each year…

Just how much of the “new supply” sought by the Front Range will come from the Western Slope remains a looming question as officials work to draft a statewide water plan as ordered by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper last year…

In the meantime, members of the IBCC will now take the emerging framework for a new trans-mountain diversion project back to their respective roundtables for input, before drilling down further on the details in future meetings.

Any agreement on a new project that parties on opposite sides of the Continental Divide can hammer out will likely be reflected in the statewide water plan. Still, the plan itself won’t explicitly endorse any proposed new projects.

“We’re not going to pick winners and losers, or projects that are given a green light, so to speak, or a red light, so to speak,” said James Eklund, the executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which oversees the IBCC and the roundtables.

Eklund spoke at a meeting with state legislators on the statewide water plan that took place in February. “Instead what we’d like to do,” he said, “is focus on a regulatory path where we might be able to someday have the state endorsement of a project.”[...]

For the IBCC members charged with protecting water supplies on the Western Slope, who have long clashed with Front Range cities over the idea of new trans-mountain diversion projects, Waage’s modest statement last week on behalf of Denver Water— vague and general though it was — sounded like something of a breakthrough.

“They are now willing to talk about a project that’s not going to divert every year, and that’s new,” said Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director for the Colorado River District, which protects Western Slope water interests. “There seemed to be a coalescing around a project that would only work intermittently.”

Eric Kuhn, the Colorado River District’s general manager, said that although Front Range water interests have long hinted that they might accept a new trans-mountain diversion project that doesn’t pull water every year, “this is the first time that the idea has surfaced with some consensus.”[...]

Specifically where a new trans-mountain diversion project would be located also remains to be seen. Front Range interests have proposed several possibilities in recent years, including projects pulling anywhere between 100,000 and 250,000 acre feet from the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming, from the lower Yampa River, or from the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir west of Gunnison…

Since many of the water rights now used by the Front Range to divert Western Slope water under the Continental Divide were adjudicated after 1922, there’s a chance that a so-called “compact call” would force some Front Range water interests to stop diverting water temporarily.

Faced with the insatiable demand of their urban customer base, those Front Range interests could then begin leasing water from farmers on the Western Slope in order to continue their usual diversions, extending into western Colorado the practice of “buy and dry” water transfers from farms to cities that is now common on the Front Range.

To alleviate fears of such a scenario playing out, Waage of Denver Water told the IBCC meeting last week that the Front Range would be willing to assume the “hydrologic or legal risk” associated with a new diversion project, meaning that diversions from the project would cease in the event of a compact call before Western Slope water users with more senior rights had to curtail their own use.

“The risk of compact curtailment has been a stumbling block for years, and we are looking now at how to minimize and share that risk,” said Waage. “We need to look at water projects that won’t lead to the curtailment of the Western Slope’s Colorado Compact allocation.”[...]

“I think to decide whether there is enough water, the Front Range would have to do a very detailed risk analysis,” said Kuhn of the Colorado River District. “Because of climate change, we know that the [water supply] baseline is going to change. I think most of the science suggests that we will not have more water in the future than we do now.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


“They [Front Range] need to be making land use plans for themselves, instead of relying on us to save them” — Karn Stiegelmeier #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 1, 2014

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013


From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

Summit County’s struggle is meeting the water needs of growing communities while satisfying Front Range water rights established here in the 1930s and ’40s.

“They need to be making land use plans for themselves,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, “instead of relying on us to save them.”[...]

The Colorado Basin needs to rally around the idea of no additional water for other basins, said Peter Mueller, of the Nature Conservancy.

Both Stiegelmeier and Mueller are part of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, one of nine groups of stakeholders created in 2006 by the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act…

In Frisco, water experts, local leaders and residents concerned about the future of water convened Wednesday to discuss the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan.

The plan must show how the basin will produce the projected water needed by 2050, said Louis Meyer, the project manager for SGM, the civil engineering and surveying firm in Glenwood Springs creating the plan.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Snowpack news: Yampa River Basin above average

April 1, 2014

Click on a thumbnail to view the gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

David Baldinger Jr., the official observer for the National Weather Service, said his weather station not far from Steamboat Springs High School finished March with 16.1 inches of snow and14.7 on the ground, compared to 28.5 inches accumulation and 20.8 on the ground at the end of March 2013.

Baldinger Jr. confirmed that consistent snowfall has been the hallmark of the weather pattern the past two months — February began with snowfall in town on 14 of the first 17 days…

Monday’s measured snowfall of 6 inches at midmountain and 7 inches at the summit marked the biggest 24-hour snowfall of the month. Steamboat finished up with 13 inches of midmountain snow and 17 at the summit in the final five days of the month.

For the season, Steamboat now has seen 333 inches of snowfall and is within a couple of inches of the 20-year average with the ski season scheduled to end April 13…

The amount of moisture contained in the snowpack at several key measuring sites in the mountains above Steamboat Springs already is greater than the median peak for the season, according to records kept by the National Resources Conservation Service…

A snowpack measuring site at 9,400 feet on the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass that is maintained by the NRCS shows 35.3 inches of water is contained in the snow there. That’s 145 percent of the median for the date, but also 135 percent of the median peak, which isn’t statistically due for another four weeks April 28.

The median peak water stored at the end of the winter on Rabbit Ears is 26.1 inches compared to 35.3 inches there now…

The Tower site, at 10,500 feet elevation on Buffalo Pass, just northeast of the city of Steamboat, is storing significantly more water than Rabbit Ears right now — 51.3 inches — and the median date when it peaks isn’t until May 9. As of March 31, the snowpack at the Continental Divide is 147 inches deep and 118 percent of median for the date. Coincidentally, that is 100 percent of the median.

Steamboat typically sees two phases of spring runoff, the first when lower elevation boosts river flows, and the second much later when the snow above 9,000 feet finally gives in to the longer, warmer days of spring.


‘We have to have detention ponds there, so it doesn’t wash out what we are doing in Pueblo’ — Eva Montoya

April 1, 2014

Photo via The Pueblo Chieftain

Photo via The Pueblo Chieftain


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Three contracts totaling more than $600,000 were approved Friday by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board. The contracts are funded by state grants. They include two contracts for $502,000 for the Upper Fountain Creek and Cheyenne Creek restoration master plan, and another for $107,000 for the Frost Ranch restoration project. The three projects are among five projects the district is directly coordinating throughout the watershed. They also include a flood detention demonstration pond in Pueblo, located behind the North Side Walmart, and a project on Monument Creek.

In addition, the district has cooperated in obtaining other grants for communities along Fountain Creek.

Those efforts include a sediment collector in the city of Pueblo, which is being evaluated by the city, and a Great Outdoors Colorado grant that included funds for a wheel park, expanded park and beach area on the East Side just south of Eighth Street.

During discussion of flood control alternatives on Fountain Creek, Pueblo Councilwoman Eva Montoya said projects to the north are needed to control Pueblo flows.

“We have to have detention ponds there, so it doesn’t wash out what we are doing in Pueblo,” she said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Snowpack news

March 31, 2014

Click on a thumbnail to view the gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.


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