Drought news: Not much relief for SE Colorado, dryness creeping into Four Corners

April 17, 2014

Click an a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought map data.

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

The Plains

As with the Midwest and south, the temperatures this week were quite variable as very warm temperatures were followed by very cold temperatures at the end of the week. Most of the region was 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for the week outside of the northern High Plains. Portions of Nebraska and eastern Kansas saw a mix of thunderstorms, rain, and wet snow, but this was not enough to show improvements. The drought intensity increased to D3 over central Kansas while D2 was expanded into more of eastern Kansas…

The West

Another dry week over much of the western United States. Areas of the Pacific Northwest did record up to an inch of precipitation while the central Rocky Mountains continued receiving precipitation as rain and snow was recorded in Wyoming and Colorado. The warm temperatures continued over the west with almost all areas above normal for the week, and in California, temperatures were 9-12 degrees above normal. This was detrimental to the low snowpack as some areas of California lost half of the snow water equivalence (SWE) in a single week and there was little response to inflows into reservoirs. Drought conditions worsened as D2 was expanded in eastern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. In southwestern Colorado, D1 was also expanded. A reanalysis of conditions was done in southwest Wyoming and northeast Oregon this week, which allowed for the improvement to D0 conditions there…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5-7 days, there is a good chance of precipitation from the plains to the upper Midwest, with more than an inch anticipated from northern Wisconsin into eastern Nebraska and south into Oklahoma and Arkansas. A storm system will move into the Pacific Northwest, potentially bringing up to 4 inches of rain into portions of Washington. In the southeast from Florida up the Carolinas coast, there is a good opportunity for heavy rain as well. A warming pattern looks to bring above-normal temperatures over much of the United States from the Great Basin into the northeast, and high temperatures will be up to 10-12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in the central plains.

The 6-10 day outlook continues to show higher-than-normal chances for above-normal precipitation over most of the southern plains, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest. The best chances for above-normal temperatures are in the middle and eastern sections of the United States, from the Rocky Mountains and to the east. Chances for cooler-than-normal temperatures are greatest along the west coast.


Minute 319 enables water to flow in the #ColoradoRiver delta

April 17, 2014
Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

Right now, for the first time in many years, the Colorado River is flowing through its historic delta to the sea as a result of an intentional release by water managers. Scenes of jubilation have spread across the Internet as children play in a river they’ve never seen before, and scientists report that bird counts in the corridor are already up.

Meanwhile, combined water storage upstream from the delta in Lakes Mead and Powell have dropped to the lowest they’ve been since Powell filled in the 1960s, as water withdrawals from the river and its tributaries have exceeded new inflows for more than 10 years.

How can this be, that in an era of increasing competition for water, water was found to re-water the Colorado River Delta, and there aren’t riots in the streets? The answer provides a window into the complexities of water management on the river, and the determination of multiple parties to work together to solve its challenges.

The plan to release water to benefit the Colorado River Delta ecosystem was part of a complex “Minute 319” agreement between the United States, Mexico and the seven states that share the Colorado River, as well as several nongovernmental organizations on both sides of the international border. Some of the provisions include allowing Mexico to store water in Lake Mead and infrastructure improvements to Mexican irrigation systems. After a “pulse flow” of several weeks that simulates a moderate flood, minimum base flows will be maintained.

This agreement did not take shape overnight. It took years of study and negotiation by people who came to understand in detail the way the river is managed and the interests of all the parties that rely on this single source of water that brings life to so much otherwise dry land.

Many questions remain about how the natural environment will respond to this release of water, and whether the political environment will allow the experiment to be repeated. But the fact that it is happening at all is a major accomplishment.

If it is possible to find water for the Colorado Delta and simultaneously benefit other water users after a decade of extreme drought, then surely it must be possible to overcome other seemingly irreconcilable differences over water in the West.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Vail: ‘Restore the Gore’ campaign to kick off April 25

April 17, 2014

gorecreekwinter

From the Vail Daily:

An awareness campaign to help improve the health of Gore Creek is being introduced this spring with a focus on best practices for landscapers and gardeners. The “Restore the Gore” kick off takes place April 25 with a free Moe’s BBQ lunch and learn session from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at Donovan Pavilion. Landscape contractors, gardeners, commercial applicators and lodging managers, in particular, are encouraged to attend. Lunch service will begin at 11:45 a.m. with presentations taking place from noon to 12:45 p.m.

Sponsored by the Town of Vail and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the program will include short presentations on the causes of Gore Creek’s decline and the everyday actions that can be implemented to help make a difference when it comes to water use, special irrigation permits, invasive plants and pesticides.

In 2012 Gore Creek was added to the State of Colorado’s 303(d) List of Impaired Waters due to the decline in aquatic life. Scientists have determined the impact is due to degradation and loss of riparian buffer areas, impacts of urban runoff and pollutants associated with land use activities. A Water Quality Improvement Plan has since been adopted that includes an emphasis on community awareness as well as strategies for regulatory measures, site specific projects, best management practices and an ongoing monitoring program.

In addition to the lunch and learn kick off, the town is distributing a handout on recommended pesticide practices for commercial landscapers and property owners. Additional information is available on the town’s website at http://www.vailgov.com/gorecreek.

If you plan to attend the April 25 lunch and learn program, please RSVP to Kristen Bertuglia, town of Vail environmental sustainability coordinator, at 970-477-3455 or email kbertuglia@vailgov.com no later than 5 p.m. April 23.

More Gore Creek watershed coverage here.


Adams County water and sanitation districts elections preview

April 17, 2014
South Platte River Basin

South Platte River Basin

From The Denver Post (Megan Mitchell):

One of the largest combined water and sanitation districts in the state is having an election May 6 for three open board seats. The South Adams County Water and Sanitation District provides water and wastewater services to about 50,000 consumers over 65 square miles in Commerce City. The office is at 6595 E. 70th Ave.

There are five candidates running in the board election, and none of them are incumbents. Residents Vicki Ennis, John Kuchar, Mizraim Cordero, Brett Steinbar and Aaron Phillips have applied to serve four-year stints on the five-member board. All members serve at-large.

The board helps facilitate partnerships that expand the district’s water supply and resources. As north suburban communities like Reunion grow in Commerce City, one of the district’s top priorities is the development of a separate irrigation system in those new development sites for non-potable use.

Voters served by the water and sanitation district may drop off their ballots from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. May 6 at the Stevenson Administration Building at 6595 E. 70th Ave.

There is no election for the Strasberg Sanitation and Water District, at 56829 Colorado Ave., because there were only two open seats and two applicants. Teresa Roy will start her first four-year term after stepping in as an appointee in 2012, and Eric Hart will begin his second, full term with her in May.

At the Hiland Acres Water and Sanitation District at 9902 E. 157th Ave. in Brighton, only four people applied for the five available seats. The fifth seat will be appointed by the board after the May 6 election. Incumbents Jim Roos and Chris Fetter will continue to serve on the board, and Rob Heim and Fred Brinkerhoff will begin their first terms.

The Hyland Hills Parks and Recreation District at 8801 Pecos St. in Federal Heights also canceled its election after only two candidates applied for the two open seats. Newcomer Lori Mirelez and previous board member Bob Landgraf Jr. will be appointed.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


La Plata County: “[In the SW corner of the county] Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought” — Trent Taylor

April 17, 2014

organicdairycows

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

Agriculture is a difficult profession in the best of times, but it’s an even bigger challenge during a drought.

That’s one of the many takeaways from Wednesday evening’s panel discussing current and future issues for local agriculture sponsored by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County. About 85 people filled the Program Rooms at the Durango Public Library, including representatives from agricultural areas around the county and numerous local residents, as well.

“Everyone in this room is in agriculture because we’re all consumers,” said Patti Buck, president of American National Cattlewomen, who ranches with her husband, Wayne, in the Ignacio area. “We need to be heard. Cattle ranchers are a small number of people, but we feed the world.”

Other members of the panel included Trent Taylor of Blue Horizon Farms, who farms on the Dryside; Maria Baker, a member of a Southern Ute ranching family; Steve Harris of Harris Water Engineering; and Darrin Parmenter, the Colorado State University Extension agent for La Plata County. Marsha Porter-Norton, who grew up in a ranching family north of Cortez, served as moderator…

The idea for the panel came out of a national study the League did, said Marilyn Brown, the local chapter’s secretary and a member of the committee that’s been studying the local agricultural sector with an eye on public policy…

Harris gave a lesson about how water works in La Plata County, from the natural average runoff of about 950,000 acre-feet a year (an acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre in 1 foot of water, or 325,851 gallons). Almost two-thirds, 600,000 acre-feet, comes down the Animas River, with the Pine River drainage accounting for another 230,000 acre-feet…

All domestic use, including wells, is “insignificant,” he said, about 10,000 acre-feet.

Ranchers and farmers actually have been fighting drought conditions for more than a decade. Baker talked about how the tribe, which grants grazing units to the four or five full-time ranchers in the tribe, declared a complete moratorium on grazing units for five years starting in 2000 and still limits time or location on the ones it grants.

After taking everyone through a short history of farming and ranching in the southwest corner of the county, Taylor summed up the situation: “It’s a harsh area. Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought.

More Animas River watershed coverage here. More La Plata River watershed coverage here.


“If we commit too much water, we lose our flexibility for operating during times of drought” — Alan Ward

April 17, 2014

cripplecreekrvtravel.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A gold mining company will lease some of Pueblo’s raw water for the next decade at a record price. The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday approved a 10-year lease of 400 acre-feet of water to the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Co. in Teller County. The water will lease for $630.63 per acre-foot (an acre-foot is 325,851 gallons) initially, and will be adjusted annually by the same percentage as Pueblo water rates. That will mean more than $250,000 in revenue for the water board this year.

“The 400 acre-feet is a relatively small amount,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager. “If we commit too much water, we lose our flexibility for operating during times of drought.”

That amount also should not interfere with the water board’s other multiyear leases.

The price represents 1.5 times the price of the Comanche power plant lease, reflecting the water board’s policy of charging a 50 percent premium to customers outside city limits, Ward said.

Cripple Creek & Victor plans to use the water to augment its supplies and replace depletions to local waterways.

The water will be delivered to either the mouth of Fourmile Creek or Beaver Creek, or to the town of Victor’s account in Lake Pueblo. From there, it will be the gold mining company’s responsibility to exchange it upstream to operations located about 25 miles from the Arkansas River.

Revenue from the lease will be used to offset Pueblo water rates in the water board’s $34 million budget.

Metered water sales are expected to generate $23.3 million this year, while leases of water will contribute more than $8.2 million.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


The Lower Ark, Otero County, et.al., start the process to create a rural water authority for the county

April 17, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The groundwork for a rural water authority in Otero County was put in place Wednesday. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District agreed to partner with Otero County commissioners to sign on three water providers to participate in the authority. The authority will give the water providers, which are small private companies, the ability to apply for government grants in order to bring their water systems into compliance with public health standards. It also will allow them to share operating expenses, deal with issues relating to the upcoming Arkansas Valley Conduit and to speak with one voice. Eventually, it could allow participants to hire staff members to deal with water issues.

“We have a lot of issues with compliance, because 14 out of 28 private water providers in the valley are out of compliance,” said Bill Hancock, conservation manager for the Lower Ark district.

Right now, only three of the districts have signed on, the Fayette, Vroman and Valley districts, all in Otero County. Combined, they serve fewer than 500 people. Other water companies are expected to sign on as the authority develops.

“We have the ability to expand in Otero County, as well as other counties in the valley. This is a good place to start,” said Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin.

One of the first projects of the authority will be to apply for a state loan to fund adding membrane filters to the systems, Hancock said. The filters are made by Innovative Water Technologies, a Rocky Ford company.

Otero County commissioners voted Monday to approve the authority, but appointed no board members. The Lower Ark appointed Wayne Snider and Jolean Rose, both of Fowler, to the authority.

“We’re at the point now where we have the vehicle, but we still need to add the engine, steering and wheels,” Snider said.

The Lower Ark board praised the agreement.

“Anyone who has been involved with rural water knows how important this is,” said Lynden Gill, chairman of the board.

“Not only is compliance important, but some of these systems are 40-50 years old and this provides a way to maintain them.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


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

April 16, 2014
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through April 13, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through April 13, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center

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


Snowpack news

April 16, 2014


From The Produce News (Lora Abcarian):

Officials are guardedly optimistic that the 2014 runoff season in Colorado’s high country will be a good one. A potential for flooding does exist, however, if meltdown comes too quickly as a result of sustained hot temperatures during the prime runoff months of May and June.

Craig Cotten, division engineer for Div. 3 of the State Engineer’s office in Alamosa, CO, said conditions in the Rio Grande River Basin and Colorado’s San Luis Valley have improved somewhat this year. As of April 1, snowpack was 80 percent of normal. “We’re the lowest basin in the state,” he told The Produce News. “But that’s actually higher than the last two years.”

This is the sixth consecutive year for below-average stream flows in southern Colorado. “Runoff will be closer to normal,” he added. Agricultural producers have been complying with ever-tightening water regulations governing use. According to Cotten, the level of the region’s aquifer continues to drop owing to drought conditions.

Cotten said water quality will likely be affected as a result of ash content from last year’s devastating West Fork Fire. He said the potential for flooding also exists due to the fire.

Turning to northern Colorado, Dave Nettles, division engineer for Div. 1 of the State Engineer’s office in Greeley, CO, said, “We’re running well ahead of average snowpack [in the South Platte River Basin].” As of the beginning of April, snowpack was 133 percent of normal. “We have more snow water equivalent than our average peak,” he told The Produce News.

The good news about anticipated runoff could be dampened if the snowpack melts too quickly. Meltoff typically begins in May and peaks in June. Last September, northern Colorado experienced extreme flooding, and the impact of the devastation continues to be felt today. “It depends on temperatures and how the flow moves,” Nettles stated about the coming runoff. “A quick flush, if it happens, could contribute to potential for flooding. But many areas will be fine.”

Another complicating factor, which could contribute to the potential for flooding in the South Platte River Basin, stems from the fact that last year’s flooding was so severe that rivers jumped their banks, creating new flow channels. Debris, Nettles added, may also disrupt flow and create potential for flooding.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are getting ready to start importing water from the West Slope collection of the Fryingpan-Arkansas system to the East Slope. As long as minimum flows at both the Thomasville and Hunter Creek gages are met, we can begin diversions of additional water through the Boustead Tunnel.

Here are the minimum flows for the Fryingpan River at Thomasville:

Date Min Flow, (cfs)
Oct. 1 – Mar. 31 30
Apr. 1 – Apr. 30 100
May 1 – May 31 150
Jun. 1 – Jun. 30 200
Jul. 1 – Jul. 31 100
Aug. 1 – Aug 31 75
Sep 1 – Sep 30 65

Additionally, at Twin Lakes dam, we are curtailing releases to Lake Creek and the Arkansas River today and tomorrow. Today, we scaled back to about 100 cfs. Tomorrow, we will continue scaling back to 0 cfs while a regular review of the dam is conducted. Once the review is complete, we will bring releases back up.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


Colorado wetlands to regain federal protection

April 16, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

ji

High alpine wetlands that aren’t directly connected with larger rivers will regain more protection under a proposed new federal rule. bberwyn photo.

New rule aims to clear up regulatory limbo for seasonal streams and isolated wetlands

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A proposed federal rule would restore protection to hundreds of Colorado streams and big swaths of wetlands, including beloved alpine creeks and the sandy washes of the Front Range that only hold water seasonally.

The seasonal streams and disconnected wetlands long were covered under the Clean Water Act, but a pair of complex U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 opened some loopholes the regulations. At the least, the legal limbo caused headaches for scientists and regulators trying to assess impacts of housing developments and new roads. In some cases, they weren’t sure if they even had authority to regulate filling or draining of some wetlands.

View original 732 more words


The Town of Breckenridge to host public forums about new water treatment plant, April 26 and 28 #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

Breckenridge could start construction on a new water plant along the Blue River in as soon as three years. But first, the town wants your input.

The public is invited to attend four forums to learn about the construction of the town’s second water plant and give comments. The forums will be April 23 and 28, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. both days, at the Breckenridge Police Station.

“This is the master plan for the next 25 to 30 years,” said town manager Tim Gagen.

At the forums, town officials will explain the projected cost of the plant and upgrades to the water system.

The first phase of the project includes building the plant, pumps and plumbing to get the water integrated with the current system, he said, which should cost about $25 million to $30 million dollars. The plant itself should cost about $10 million, which Gagen called reasonable. The expensive part, he said, will be pumping water a couple miles into town, against gravity.

Phase two includes extending lines into areas outside the town limits not currently serviced, which Gagen said could cost more than $40 million but would only be built if and when people want that service.

Customers living outside the town limits use private wells that have a high likelihood of failure and need equipment replacements after 15 or 20 years. And before this project, he said, if those people wanted water service, the town had to annex their land.

People in those areas have called about extending service to their neighborhoods, Gagen said, not to feed their homes, but to feed water hydrants on the street. That would help with wildfire protection and lower their insurance rates.

“They would have to pay for it,” he said about the phase two extensions. “It wouldn’t be built by the current customers.”

Gagen said he expects questions at the forums about the plant’s locations and the impact on the Blue River.

As far as where the new plant will go, officials know the water will be drawn from the river just north of Swan Mountain Road.

The town hasn’t decided yet on the plant’s exact location, but it will be north of town for several reasons.

Putting it north of town, closer to Dillon Reservoir, means the plant would leave water in the Breckenridge part of the Blue River in town, which he said is better for the health of the river and doesn’t counteract the restoration work done there in the last few decades.

A site north of town also is better for water rights issues, as the Upper Blue Sanitation District has some rights in town.

And the water quantity and quality is better closer to the lake, Gagen said, with lower concentrations of heavy metals leftover from mining.

Gagen said the town looked at putting the plant closer to the original one, south of town, but that wouldn’t solve the problem of insecurity in the system in case of mechanical failure.

Unlike the water systems in Silverthorne and Dillon, which are interconnected in case one of the towns has an emergency, “We’re a standalone system,” Gagen said. “We don’t have a backup.”

“And” he added, “our biggest fear quite honestly is fire.”

Erosion from fire affects the cost to treat water. A second plant would give the utility time for repairs and cleanup.

So although the whole project will cost more because of the location farther north, he said, the town will “trade additional costs for other positives we think will be beneficial to the community in the long-run.”

The Water System Study

A task force established in 2011 to consider issues surrounding the town’s water system found that the supply to the existing Gary Roberts Water Treatment Plant would be very low in an extreme drought, leading to shortages. And though the town has made improvements in water conservation and management efficiency, the current water plant (which was constructed beginning in 1972) is nearing 80 percent capacity.

A study of the town’s water system by Sarah C. Clark, an engineer in Denver, was completed and presented to the town council in January.

The study strongly recommends the construction of a three-MGD (million gallons per day) plant to meet future population demands and provide more service to the homes and lots near the existing water system’s boundaries.

In the event of a wildfire or another environmental disaster or a mechanical malfunction of the current plant, a second water plant would provide a critical back-up system.

The study also noted that the current Breckenridge system supplies high-quality drinking water at a low cost to customers compared to other Colorado communities. The new plant will require increases in the user fees which will be shared by current and future customers.

Besides increasing water rates and fees, Gagen said the town is looking at a list of potential revenue streams, including about $8 million the utility has saved for improvements, grants and funding from partners like the county.

Debt will be the most important element of the financing, he said, helping to spread the cost over about 30 years “so no one generation of people is suffering the cost of paying for the whole thing.”

For now, the town is in the process of gathering public input and meeting with Summit County government and Upper Blue Sanitation District officials.

Then the town will start modifying water rates to fit the new plant, and after three or four years of the design and approval process, it will start construction.

The study is available online at http://www.townofbreckenridge.com, and the town council urges the public to review it before the public forums.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Drought Regions Show High Levels of “Water Stress” — US News and World Report

April 16, 2014

waterstressfromdroughtworldresourcesinstituteapril2014

From US News and World Report (Alan Neuhauser):

California’s drought has become the state’s worst on record, draining reservoirs and destroying crops. Yet it’s far from unique. Severely dry conditions are now afflicting about two-thirds of Texas, and droughts also are being felt in parts of Oklahoma, Minnesota and Colorado…

The World Resources Institute, an environmental advocacy group, compared those dry regions with their respective levels of water consumption. Certain drought areas, it found, are still using huge amounts of water, which is putting “high” and “extremely high” levels of stress on their water supplies…

“Drought and water stress overlap in many regions facing water shortages in the United States,” Andrew Maddocks, communications coordinator for the Aqueduct project, wrote on the group’s website.

It’s a trend that poses potentially great dangers to local populations. “Climate change will generally make precipitation more extreme, variable and unpredictable in the years ahead,” Maddocks wrote, citing climate scientists. “Hotter average temperatures mean drier soil, so farms may face greater risks to their crops and ranchers to their herds, even if it rains more regularly.”


Ditches are running along the Roaring Fork #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014

haymeadowsneargunnison

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

For Gavin Metcalf, April 15 isn’t just tax day. It’s the beginning of six months of full time work as Carbondale’s official “Ditch Rider.”

Metcalf’s steed is a John Deere utility vehicle, but otherwise his job description looks like something out of the previous century. He starts the morning by turning a wheel on a large metal gate along the bank of the Crystal River. When the water in the Carbondale Ditch reaches a certain point, he locks the gate in place.

“You can tell it’s the right depth because that root is just barely sticking out of the water,” he explains. Sure enough, when he walks down to the flume for a more scientific measurement, it’s dead on…

In addition to natural challenges, Metcalf struggles with human interference. People construct makeshift dams which can flood upstream and burn out downstream pumps. They dump all manner of things into ditches they wouldn’t dream of throwing in the river. Not that most of it makes it that far. Even grass clippings tend to stick around and clog the system, explains Metcalf. And when he has to turn off the water to fix the problem, few residents connect the dots.

“The water is there to be used,” Metcalf says, “but a lot of people don’t seem to understand what it takes to make that happen.”

Carbondale’s water rights on the Crystal are as old as the town itself. It’s one of the few municipalities in the region — along with Aspen and Silt — that has kept its system intact. The original 1880s rights were expanded considerably in the 1920s. Since then, usage has fluctuated as the community expands and the ranches begin to disappear.

So far, the runoff forecast for this year looks bright, but Carbondale’s utilities department is planning ahead. “If, at some point, we elect to go into water rationing, we want a really firm idea of what it’s going to take to maintain the system under drought conditions,” explains Utilities Director Mark O’Meara. “It’s going to take some time to really dial in, but I think we have enough foundation to make better judgment calls on how much we take out of the river.”

More Roaring Fork watershed coverage here.


“We want to plan for extreme hydrology the likes of which we have never seen” — Don Ostler #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

Still in the earliest stages of negotiation, two remedies have emerged, both of which seek to fortify Lake Powell, the nation’s second largest reservoir, and preserve its capacity to generate electricity and supply water to the 40 million people who live in the watershed.

One strategy is an operational revision: release more water from upper-basin reservoirs during drought emergencies. The other option would cut demand: ask – or perhaps pay – farmers to stop growing crops in order to save water. Both approaches are technically and legally feasible, according to those involved in the discussions and outside experts.

“We’ve never had to do this before because we never planned for this degree of low water storage,” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, an administrative body, told Circle of Blue. “We want to plan for extreme hydrology the likes of which we have never seen.”[...]

… in the iconic Colorado River, flows have been above average in only three of the last 14 years. If the rest of the decade follows a similar hydrological trajectory, “dramatic problems emerge rather quickly,” said John McClow, Colorado’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission. McClow told Circle of Blue that the basin states used computer simulations last June to replicate the 2001 to 2007 river flows, a rather dry period, from 2014 until the end of the decade…

The upper basin wants to prevent a call on the river, a circumstance in which the four states are unable to meet their legal obligations to send water downstream to Arizona, California, and Nevada. A call has never happened.

The upper basin also wants to keep Lake Powell’s surface elevation from dropping below 3,490 feet, the point at which hydropower generation from Glen Canyon Dam, which forms the reservoir, would probably stop. Lake Powell has never tested that limit, a theoretical threshold. Today, Powell’s surface elevation is 3,574 feet, having fallen 60 feet in two years.

Glen Canyon provides as many as 5.8 million people with a portion of their electricity. Revenue from electricity sales helps pay to operate the dams. It also underwrites measures to reduce salt in the Colorado River and revive fish habitat.

To keep Powell from draining, one option is to release more water from reservoirs located higher in the basin: Flaming Gorge, in Wyoming; Navajo, in New Mexico; and a Colorado cluster known as the Aspinall Unit. These Rocky Mountain reservoirs evaporate less water than Powell, located in Utah’s arid canyon country, said Malcolm Wilson, chief of the Bureau of Reclamation’s water resources group, which operates the reservoirs. But that does not preclude a shift in operations.

“There’s nothing to say we couldn’t release more water than we have to sustain Powell,” Wilson told Circle of Blue, stating that the interests of the upper basin and Reclamation align, both wanting to keep the dam’s cash register ringing…

McClow noted that recreation and environmental constraints would need to be respected. Each of the higher-elevation reservoirs has an endangered species in its watershed, he said.

Along with the reservoir shuffle, upper basin negotiators are debating what a farmland fallowing program would look like. More questions – Who pays for it? Which lands are targeted? – than answers exist now, McClow said.

Doug Kenney, a water policy expert at the University of Colorado’s Natural Resources Law Center, said he saw no obvious legal problems with the two options.

“As long as they don’t try to be too picky about who owns that water, then I think it’s entirely realistic,” Kenney told Circle of Blue. “If they want to be picky, then all sorts of legal issues and potential problems come forward.”

Kenney said that ascribing ownership to the water begins to resemble the selling or transfer of water rights across state lines, a bête noire for the basin. Better, he said, if the water is not earmarked and simply flows downstream.

Ostler, the river commission’s executive director, said that the upper basin would like to have a plan finalized by the end of the year…

…none of the [Lower Basin] representatives that Circle of Blue contacted offered many details about their drought planning.

“We’re certainly having discussions about existing drought and contingency planning for an ongoing sustained drought,” said Colby Pellegrino, who handles Colorado River issues for Southern Nevada Water Authority, the state’s largest water utility. “But we’re not to a point where we can say what those options will be.”

Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, also demurred and declined to comment.

Pellegrino did say that the lower basin states are using hydrology models used in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin study, a comprehensive supply and demand assessment published in December 2012.

That study assessed water use through 2060, but the current drought discussions take a narrower view. Pellegrino said the lower basin interests are looking at options through 2026, the year that the shortage sharing agreement expires.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


“…I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2014

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

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


Ken Neubecker posted the comment below in response to this post:

I can forgive Chris Treese for perhaps not knowing that I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while. I have been on the Basin Roundtable and very involved in the discussions for a very long time and Western Slope water issues for over 20 years. [Gary Harmon, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel], who has my contact info from the MER release, should have given any one of us a call and could have found that out.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Loveland crews are racing to complete repairs ahead of runoff #COflood

April 15, 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 Loveland Reporter-Herald Jessica Maher:

When floodwaters poured across South Lincoln Avenue last September, damaging businesses and closing the street for a week, the culprit was the Big Thompson River at the fire training grounds.

That’s where the flood caused an avulsion, or the creation of a new river channel by rapid erosion, that cut southeast across a private pond and spilled out onto Lincoln Avenue.

Now, emergency repairs are underway at the fire training grounds to make sure it doesn’t happen all over again.

“This was one of our top four priority projects to beat spring runoff,” said public works engineer Chris Carlson, who heads river restoration work for the city.

The $226,000 project started earlier this month, with crews from Wheat Ridge-based RMC Consultants removing debris, pumping water from the new channel and then backfilling it. When complete, there will be about 7 feet of fill — much of it hauled in from repair work under the Lincoln Avenue bridge — where the land had been washed out.

The entire area is in the floodway, so Carlson said there’s no doubt it will flood again. But the restoration was designed in attempt to reduce the cost of any future damages and the effort required to make future repairs.

“One of the themes of all the recovery work is resiliency,” Carlson said. “We want to try to do everything we can to prevent it from having as much damage as it did before.”[...]

Crews are expected to be complete with the spring runoff preparation river work by the end of this week, designed to withstand a 50-year flood event, or about 14,000 cubic feet per second.

While snowpack levels remain far above average with anyone’s guess as to peak river flows during spring runoff, Carlson is confident that the emergency work will hold up.

“Everything we’re doing now will easily handle spring runoff. The only thing that put this at risk is if we get a major rain event,” he said.

The city’s other top priority spring runoff preparation projects — the waterline replacement project at the Water Treatment Plant, repairs to the Lincoln Avenue bridge and work at Morey Wildlife Reserve — are all wrapping up or on schedule to be completed before peak river levels.

“We’re starting to see these things come together,” Carlson said. “There’s still years of work ahead, but I think we’ll get to catch our breath.”


Snowpack news: “It’s Mother Nature’s way of thinning” — Manny Colon

April 15, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A wet, heavy snow Sunday provided more relief from persistent drought in parts of the Arkansas River basin, but could cause some damage to blossoming fruit trees.

“It will take about four days to know for sure, but I’m sure there is some damage,” said Manny Colon, a Canon City fruit grower.

He explained that while some buds were open, the snow in the trees also could have an insulating effect, protecting the unopened buds. The length of time for freezing temperatures and humidity also are factors.

“It’s Mother Nature’s way of thinning,” he laughed. “All the moisture in the snow is wonderful and will help the trees, grass and hay.”

The heavy snow also could cause damage to young trees, but overall its impact should be positive for this parched portion of Colorado.

Pueblo, Fremont, Custer, Huerfano and Las Animas counties received the most moisture from a storm that started as rain, then quickly turned to snow as it hovered over the area all day Sunday. In places, it dropped about a foot of snow, although 6-8 inches was more common, according to readings from the Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow network.

Moisture content of 0.75 inches was recorded in Pueblo, while an inch was listed in the Rye area. One site in western Custer County listed 1.18 inches of moisture from the snow.

Moisture and snowfall was far less on the Eastern Plains and in the Rio Grande valley, where snow measured 1-3 inches, and moisture content was .02-0.25 inches.

Mountain areas fared better, with 5-7 inches of snow containing up to half an inch or more of water.

Snowpack in the mountains already has passed the median peak and continues to grow. The typical peak at higher elevations usually comes during the first week of May.

Basinwide, snowpack is at 108 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Upper Colorado River basin, which supplies supplemental water for the Arkansas River, is about 121 percent of average.

The Arkansas River this week is flowing 25 percent higher than last week, but still is below average for this time of year. About half of the water in the river above Lake Pueblo consists of releases by the Bureau of Reclamation to make room for transmountain imports. About one-third of the releases from Lake Pueblo consists of stored water being released for irrigation.

Pueblo’s year-to-date precipitation was 2.4 inches Monday, 17 percent above normal, according to the National Weather Service.


Piedra River: Say hello to Chimney Rock Farms #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2014
Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):

At Chimney Rock Farms on the Piedra River, Brewer has built two commercial-scale aquaponic greenhouses that house fish tanks and thousands of square feet of troughs where kale, lettuce and tot soy float on a foot of water in rafts from seed to harvest.

“We’re pioneering this, no doubt,” said Brewer. He said that the operation, located 6,600 feet above sea level, is the largest commercial aquaponics farm venture in Colorado.

Brewer plans to supply new Southwest Farm Fresh, A Farm and Ranch Cooperative, which was started in Montezuma County. He also plans to supply the Pagosa Springs farmers market, his Community Supported Agriculture membership, organic grocery stores and restaurants.

In March, the operation had already been supplying a grocery store for three weeks.

In the aquaponic environment, the greens mature in six weeks, which allows him to provide custom mixes of greens and meet demand quickly.

“It’s revolutionary for us,” he said.

In addition to greens, his tilapia – the “aquaponic” aspect of the hydroponic system – can also be sold. Brewer may sell the fish whole on ice at farmers markets, but they are not his main focus.

How it works

In the most basic terms, fish poop feeds plants. In technical terms, the tilapia excrete ammonia. Bacteria break the ammonia down into nitrites and then into nitrates, which feed the plants. The plant roots filter the water, and the water is pumped back to the fish.

The tilapia can’t be kept with the plants because they’d eat the roots. But very small mosquito fish clean the roots and fend off potential mosquitoes.

The seeds are germinated in soil, and the fish-fertilized water flows beneath. As the plants mature, they are transferred into rafts that allow for more space and push down the trough. This system reduces man hours and eliminates all weeds.

“We were spending 60 percent of the time to produce a leafy green, weeding our beds,” he said. To harvest, the roots just need to be trimmed off.

It is also very efficient in terms of water. Aquaponic systems use less than 5 percent of the water of traditional agriculture, Brewer said.

“This is a good fit for us in the desert Southwest,” Brewer said.

As green as possible

Brewer was looking for ways to grow year round, but the inefficiencies of a greenhouse held him back.

“Heating traditional greenhouses with fossil fuels – propane and natural gas – is a very, very tough way to make a living,” he said.

In his newly built greenhouses, the water is heated by solar panels, and a wood boiler. This allows him to grow when temperatures are below freezing outside. He also uses solar panels to power air and water pumps, and grow lights. The solar panels allow him to put electricity back into the grid, and his monthly electricity bill has dropped from more than $600 to just $16.

In the new greenhouses, he hopes to grow from mid-February through Thanksgiving.

He expects that he will make back his investment in his capital improvements in five to six years.

It was important to him to reduce his use of fossil fuels because they are limited resource and their ballooning costs can cut into thin farm profit margins.

“As a farmer, your margins are too thin to rely on fossil fuel costs as a line item,” Brewer said…

“Hopefully, we can prove the economic viability of this such that other people are willing to take the capital intensive risk to build a system like this to grow local food,” he said.

More San Juan Basin coverage here.


Snowpack news: The latest South Platte Basin Time Series graph keeping pace with 2011

April 14, 2014

Snowpack news (% of avg): North Platte = 143% (tops in state), Upper Rio Grande = 73%, Upper Colorado = 121% #COdrought

April 14, 2014


Click on a thumbnail graphic to view the gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Associated Press via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Up to 18 inches of snow are on the ground after snow returned to Colorado over the weekend.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said Monday the northern Front Range got as much as 18 inches of snow from this storm, and Loveland Pass area received almost 12 inches. The northern Colorado region also got up to 18 inches of new snow.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Andrea Sinclair):

The spring storm that passed over Colorado Springs didn’t leave behind as much snow as originally predicted, but enough to make 2013-2014 the snowiest season in 13 years, according to the National Weather Service.

The official report from the Colorado Springs Airport was 1.5 inches, putting the season’s total at 34.4 inches, said meteorologist John Kalina.

In 2000-2001, Colorado Springs received 56.8 inches of snow, Kalina explained…

The snowiest winter in Colorado Springs on record was in 1956-57, when 89.4 inches dumped on the city.

El Paso County seemed to get the worst of the storm Sunday afternoon and evening, when up to an inch of snow piled up in Monument and Black Forest…

Higher elevations, both north and south of Colorado Springs got double-digit snowfall totals, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the weather service in Pueblo.

The northern Front Range got up to 18 inches and the Loveland pass measured up to 12 inches overnight, prompting the avalanche center to warn of a moderate risk of snowslides.

In the Wet Mountains, west of Westcliffe reported up to 13 inches, Kalina said.


Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

April 14, 2014
Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District directors agreed to continue pursuing the district’s proposed Multi-use Project during the monthly board meeting Thursday in Salida. Director Greg Felt, Salida, provided an overview of the project, which has remained largely dormant for the past 2 years, and noted the widespread appeal of the project among diverse state agencies, local government entities and the conservation and recreation communities.

Benefits of the project would include:

• Preservation of agricultural irrigation.
• Two water storage reservoirs.
• Alluvial aquifer water storage.
• Conservation easements.
• Wildlife corridor protections.
• Protections for deer and elk populations.
• Drought water supply.
• New public access to the Arkansas River.
• New boating access to the river.
• Hydroelectric electricity generation.

Felt pointed out that these benefits align almost perfectly with Colorado water management objectives as identified by the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, or SWSI (swahzee), 2010 report.

Major components of the project would include Chaffee County’s most senior water right, the Trout Creek Ditch; the Helena Ditch; Moltz Reservoir; a proposed gravel pit reservoir; and 6,000-12,000 acre-feet of proposed aquifer storage.

Felt said significant challenges facing the project include financing and working with five different property owners.

District Manager Terry Scanga said he sent a proposal to the Colorado Water Conservation Board concerning the project and the potential for financing through the CWCB and said he would follow up to get a meeting set.

District Engineer Ivan Walter said, “The project is there” from an engineering standpoint and in terms of SWSI objectives. “It would be a missed opportunity if the Upper Ark (district) didn’t do it.”

Director Jeff Ollinger, Buena Vista, has a background in finance and suggested using the CWCB finance application to prepare for the CWCB meeting. He also noted the potential for the district to leverage other assets as collateral to obtain sufficient financing for the project.

Ollinger also stressed the need to accurately assess the risks associated with the project, citing the potential for wildfire in the Trout Creek drainage and the potential for a hazardous material spill along U.S. 24/285 between Johnson Village and Trout Creek Pass.
Either of these events could significantly affect water quality and, therefore, the ability of the Multi-use Project to generate revenue to make loan payments.

Prior to the regular board meeting, directors met as the Enterprise Committee. Agenda items for the committee meeting included a financial report, an augmentation report, a reservoir and water storage report, and a precipitation and streamflow report.

In other business, Upper Ark directors:

Learned that Upper Colorado Basin snowpack conditions are similar to those in 2011 when the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project delivered 98,900 acre-feet of water to the Arkansas River and that the district has requested 1,000 acre-feet of project water for 2014.

Heard a legislative report from consultant Ken Baker, who said the Flex Water Market bill had been changed to prevent leased water from being diverted outside the basin of historic use for the water right in question.

Voted to drop Water Court case 95CW234, involving district efforts to extend augmentation services into the Texas Creek drainage.

Heard a presentation by U.S. Geological Survey Southwest Colorado Office Chief David Mau about the detrimental effects of wildfire runoff on water quality and how to mitigate those effects.

Learned the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District approved a stipulation in Water Court case 04CW95 and signed a storage agreement with the Upper Ark district.
Were reminded that four directors’ seats are up for reappointment, and candidates have until May 1 to submit an application.

Learned district staff members are developing a memorandum of understanding with the town of Buena Vista for the Cottonwood Creek Integrated Management Plan.

Agreed to have legal counsel draft comments regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection

Agency’s proposed rules pertaining to water resources.

More Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.


“American Rivers needs to come to the joint talks, as well as issue press releases” — Chris Treese #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 14, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The upper reaches of the Colorado River make up one of the nation’s most endangered rivers, largely because of the possibility of a transmountain diversion, according to an annual listing. The upper Colorado came in second among the most endangered rivers, according to American Rivers, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization, which last year put the Colorado River on top of the list of endangered rivers, criticizing the “outdated water management throughout the region.”

The upper Colorado’s listing this year gives ammunition to the Western Slope in dealing with Front Range interests looking at a new diversion, said Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

The listing “serves to highlight the uncertainty about the Colorado water plan,” Treese said.

It also, however, reflects a lack of knowledge about the inner dynamics of Colorado water and how the state already is dealing with those matters, he said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper last year ordered the development of a statewide water plan to be on his desk this December and be complete by the end of 2015. State officials are aware that they’re under close observation, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We know that downstream states, the federal government, and numerous national organizations are watching what Colorado is doing with our water, and that’s an important reason why we’re engaged in Colorado’s water plan,” Eklund said, noting that the plan is being drafted with the state’s system of prior appropriation in mind.

The water plan is to take into account the work already done by various groups, or roundtables, representing the state’s river basins, the Colorado River Basin among them.

“American Rivers isn’t coming to the roundtables” or the Interbasin Compact Committee, Treese said. “American Rivers needs to come to the joint talks, as well as issue press releases.”

The statewide water plan won’t include a transmountain diversion, but it could outline the way that one could be pursued.

American Rivers worked with several conservation and environmental organizations in listing the upper Colorado as endangered, among them Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. The statewide water plan, said Bart Miller of Western Resource Advocates, offers “both a threat and an opportunity” to the Western Slope. To be sure, some Front Range water providers view it as an opportunity to send more water east from the Yampa, Gunnison or Colorado mainstem, Miller said.

Many of the river basins in Colorado already suffer water shortages, so the water plan discussion is an opportunity to find ways to protect rivers “that are so valuable for irrigation, recreation and other things,” Miller said. In any case, the plan should focus on preserving the 80,000 jobs and the $9 billion the river generates on the Western Slope, Miller said.

American Rivers called on Colorado to avoid a transmountain diversion, increase the efficient use of water in cities and towns, modernize agricultural practices and give priority to river restoration and protection. The organization listed the San Joaquin River in California as the most endangered in the nation and also placed the White River in northwest Colorado as the seventh-most endangered because it’s threatened by oil and gas development.

The listing, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, is “vague and hyperbolic and it disregards the fact that Colorado has the most robust regulations in the nation, and probably the world, when it comes to protecting water.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Pure Cycle Corporation Announces Second Fiscal Quarter 2014 Financial Results

April 14, 2014

waterfromtap

Here’s the release from Pure Cycle Water:

Pure Cycle Corporation (NASDAQ Capital Market: PCYO) today reported financial results for the six months ended February 28, 2014. Basic and diluted loss per share decreased 38% from a loss of $.08 per share in last year to $.05 per share this year.

“During the second quarter we continued to see our business grow and develop driving long- term shareholder value” commented Mark Harding, President of Pure Cycle Corporation. “We are very excited to have record water sales and deliveries and are continuing to add value to our Company through monetizing our valuable water assets.”[...]

Revenues increased approximately 51% during the our six months ended February 28, 2014 compared to our six months ended February 28, 2013 primarily as a result of increased water sales used for fracking.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Highline Lake dredging complete #ColoradoRiver

April 14, 2014

highlinelake

From Dredging Today:

The dredging operation removed years of silt buildup that will significantly enhance water recreation at the popular park, located northwest of Fruita.

“We thank the public for their patience while the work has been going on,” said Park Manager Alan Martinez. “The project was successful and we invite everyone to come out and enjoy one of the best boating opportunities in the Grand Valley.”

The East boat ramp had been closed for over three years due to a deep buildup of silt. The dredging restored a deep channel out to the lake from the East Bay making it accessible to boaters.

The West boat ramp remains open as well.

In addition, the work uncovered the dam outlet structure allowing divers to perform safety inspections and testing.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and Colorado Lottery provided $1,070,000 for the project; however, the project’s total costs to date are $870,000.

More infrastructure coverage here.


El Niño on the horizon?

April 14, 2014

midmarchplumeofensopredictionsviacpc

From Wired.com (Adam Mann):

Official NOAA Climate Prediction Center estimates peg the odds of El Niño’s return at 50 percent, but many climate scientists think that is a lowball estimate. And there are several indications that if it materializes, this year’s El Niño could be massive, a lot like the 1997-98 event that was the strongest on record.

“I think there’s no doubt that there’s an El Niño underway,” said climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “The question is whether it’ll be a small or big one.”

On top of some late-’90s nostalgia, a strong El Niño would bring pronounced changes to weather patterns around the globe, and possibly relief from some of the less-pleasant weather trends that have dominated headlines this year. After a Polar Vortex-fueled, unbearably cold winter in the U.S. Midwest and East Coast, a strong El Niño could bring warmer, drier weather in late 2014. And to parched California and its prolonged drought, El Niño might provide drenching rainstorms to fill up reservoirs. But the news won’t all be good. Rainstorms in California could mean floods and mudslides and, coupled with climate change, El Niño could bring harsher droughts to parts of Australia and Africa…

El Niño (which is Spanish for “the Niño”) is a recurring weather pattern affecting the world every two to seven years. In the tropical Pacific Ocean, the trade winds typically blow east to west, gathering warm water as they go and pooling it in the west. This creates a temperature gradient with cold water in the east, near the coast of South America, and warmer water southwest of Hawaii.

“But at some point the system says, ‘There’s too much warm water piling up here, I’m going to have an El Niño,’” said Trenberth.

The trade winds at this point usually weaken or even reverse entirely, moving warm water eastward. As it travels, this warm water starts emerging from deep in the ocean and heating up the atmosphere. These are the conditions that scientists are seeing right now. Moreover, the blob of warm water in the east is unusually large this year, leading many researchers to predict a monstrous El Niño is on its way.

“The main question right now is if this entire warm-pool region will accelerate to the eastern basin or stick in the middle of the Pacific,” said meteorologist Michael Ventrice of Weather Services International.

If the warm water decides to stick around at the International Date Line or so, we will get what is called an El Niño “Modoki” (which is Japanese for “similar, but different,” a word that every language should really have). Cold water would remain in the eastern Pacific during El Niño Modoki, leading to less rainfall in California than during a strong El Niño. But scientists have only noticed El Niño Modokis events in a few recent years and they are not yet exactly sure what brings it about.

Should the warm pool make it all the way to the South American coast, a much stronger “full-basin” El Niño will appear. And then we could be in for some big weather changes.

A strong El Niño could start affecting the world as early as the fall. The Pacific hurricane season, which gets active around September, is greatly enhanced during El Niño. This likely means more tropical thunderstorms that could affect eastern Pacific areas such as Mexico. In contrast, Atlantic hurricanes are suppressed, meaning fewer and less severe storms with a lower chance of making landfall and doing damage.

The winter is when El Niño really gets going, though. Moisture flows from Hawaii to southern California in an atmospheric river colloquially known as the “Pineapple Express.” This creates heavy rainfall that dumps on the region. Though this could bring some relief from California’s drought, it also comes with the risk of flash floods and mudslides because the ground has been so hard and dry.

El Niño has other effects further into North America. It tends to enhance the jet stream, creating a wall that prevents Arctic air (and the Polar Vortex) from dipping down to mid-latitudes. East Coast winters are generally drier and warmer during El Niño years, which is probably good news to those still smarting from this recent frigid season. The mild winter has interesting downstream effects, like a boost for the U.S. economy during the Christmas season.


Breck snowfall above average 4 months in a row

April 14, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Fourth-snowiest year on record in Summit County

Big snows coated the Gore Range in March 2014. bberwyn photo.

Big snows coated Colorado’s Gore Range in March 2014. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Another month of above-normal snowfall has put Breckenridge on track for its fourth-snowiest winter on record, according to National Weather Service observer Rick Bly, who measured 37.4 inches at his backyard gauge.

That makes it the 10th-snowiest March, a month that sees average snowfall of 25.5 inches. Bly said precipitation has been above average for four straight months. During the current water year, which started Oct. 1, only November saw slightly below normal snowfall. Precipitation (the combination of melted snow and rain) for the water year to date is already at 15.2 inches, nearly six inches more than average.

View original 300 more words


The latest GOCO News Update is hot off the presses #COflood

April 13, 2014

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280


Click here to read the news. Here’s an excerpt:

Governor, GOCO announce $13M in funds for flood recovery projects

GOCO this week approved $5 million divided into 14 grants to help communities restore damaged parks, trails and open spaces, and $8 million in GOCO funds will start work on a trail corridor between Lyons and Estes Park. The trail corridor would be in conjunction with Highway 36 flood reconstruction efforts now underway.


Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 710 cfs in the Blue River below the dam #ColoradoRiver

April 13, 2014

greenmountainreservoir

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Currently, we are releasing about 710 cfs from the dam to the Lower Blue River. The reservoir is at a water level elevation of about 7890 feet–that’s roughly 60 feet below full, or roughly 38% of its total content.

You will see the reservoir water elevation continue to drop for about another month. The current snowpack above the Blue River Basin is around 140% of average for this time of year. I’ve been asked how this compares to snowpack numbers for the 2011 season on the Blue River. In 2011 in April we were closer to 150%. We continue to keep an eye on the snowpack conditions, fluctuating inflows, and the water level elevation and adjusting releases as necessary. It is likely the 710 cfs release rate will remain in place well into next week.

More Green Mountain Reservoir coverage here.


Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Seasonal fill for Horestooth and Carter underway #ColoradoRiver

April 13, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are in the process of filling both Horsetooth and Carter Lake. Currently, Horsetooth is roughly 80% full at an elevation of 5414 feet above sea level. This is its average water elevation high mark for the beginning of the summer season in a typical year. But, this is not a typical water year and Horsetooth’s water elevation is projected to continue going up.

Similarly, Carter Lake is 90% full at a water level elevation of about 5749 feet. Like Horsetooth, it is projected to continue filling. At this time, we are anticipating Carter will fill, hitting its highest water level elevation for the season by mid-May. Horsetooth will likely hit its highest water level elevation for the season by late June.


SB14-103 contains “soft enforcement” provisions

April 13, 2014

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fort Collins rebate program

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

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

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

• $10 for the purchase of WaterSense-certified showerhead

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

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

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

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


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

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

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

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Big Thompson River Watershed coverage here.


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

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

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

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Make Water Provocative: Building a Foundation

April 13, 2014

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

Interpretation is not just the delivery of information.  It is revelation, a moment when an audience member makes new and meaningful connections.  So how can interpreters facilitate these interpretive moments?

If you’ve ever been an interpreter, you know that you never really leave this type of work behind, even if you no longer practice it daily.  A lasting remnant from this part of my career was my memorization of the so-called “interpretive equation.”  This equation details what is needed to achieve an “interpretive opportunity,” the moment when interpretation takes place.

The equation, written in non-mathematical formula, goes something like this:  Knowledge of the resource, and knowledge of the audience, combined with the appropriate techniques for both, are necessary to produce an interpretive opportunity.

In other words, any successful interpreter needs:  knowledge of the resource, knowledge of the audience, and appropriate interpretive techniques for a given situation.

View original 1,179 more words


Make Water Provocative: A Series on Interpretation

April 13, 2014

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

CFWE's Program Assistant Jennie Geurts

CFWE’s Program Assistant Jennie Geurts

Have you ever walked away from a program – perhaps a campfire talk, or a tour of a water diversion, or even a PowerPoint presentation – feeling inspired, identifying new connections that you had not previously realized, eager to learn more, determined to try new things?

If you have, you have fulfilled every interpreter’s dream. Those reactions are what interpreters hope to inspire in audiences. But how do we achieve this? Although a magic formula remains frustratingly elusive, interpreters have honed some best practices and principles over the years, which may be helpful in your program development. This interpretive series will outline a few of these practices.

Before I came to CFWE, I worked as an interpretive ranger for the National Park Service. I learned interpretive principles recommended by the Interpretive Development Program, and I was certified for guided interpretive programs. I later applied…

View original 391 more words


Gov. Hickenlooper signs SB14-017

April 13, 2014

Sprawl

Sprawl


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


American Water Resources Association and One World One Water Center at Metro State University are hosting a Networking Event on Thursday, April 17

April 12, 2014

sanjuan

From email from the AWRA – Colorado Section:

The American Water Resources Association and One World One Water Center at Metro State University is hosting a Networking Event on Thursday, April 17 in Denver. This is a great networking opportunity for…students to learn about the water resources profession in Colorado. We have extended the RSVP deadline to April 16​.

Click here for the pitch and to register.

More education coverage here.


Lake County: Water rates up starting with April invoice

April 12, 2014
Leadville

Leadville

From the Leadville Herald-Democrat (Marcia Martinek):

Parkville Water District customers were notified in their most-recent bills that water rates are increasing in April. The base rate will be $36 for 4,000 gallons, and then users who exceed that amount will be charged an additional amount per thousand gallons ranging from $4.50 up to $5.75. Previously customers were charged $33 for the first 3,000 gallons and then $4.60 for each additional 1,000 gallons. Greg Teter, Parkville general manager, said that the new rate structure is more in line with the way other water districts charge.

“We structured this (the rate structure) with bits and pieces from around the state,” Teter said. The rates that Parkville charges are “middle of the road” when compared with other rates throughout the state, he added.

The rate increase is necessary to keep up with expenses, he said. The district would like to put away something in a capital-reserve fund, but it’s hard to project what the expenses will be each year.

Parkville is looking at $500,000 in capital expenses this year as it deals with 130-year-old water lines and 120-year-old dams, Teter said.

The new rate structure was approved at the Dec. 13 meeting of the Parkville Board of Directors.

The notice that was included in recent water bills said that a similar rate structure for commercial service is also taking effect this month, and a table with the commercial rates is available at the business office, 2015 Poplar St., or at http://parkvillewater.org.

More infrastructure coverage here.


The funding request for Mountain Home Reservoir sails through the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable

April 12, 2014
Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Money still following the water in the Rio Grande Basin.

With funds to spare, the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday unanimously approved a $25,000 allocation from the local basin account for a feasibility study to determine the best way to improve the efficiency of Mountain Home Reservoir both for the benefit of Trinchera Irrigation Company irrigators and those who enjoy recreational activities at the reservoir.

Currently the local water supply reserve account totals more than $107,000, and another disbursal of $120,000 to the basin is expected soon, Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) staffer Craig Godbout told the roundtable members during their April 8 meeting. CWCB administers the funds approved by the legislature from a portion of severance tax proceeds for water projects throughout the state’s river basins including the Rio Grande. A portion of the money is allocated to each river basin to be apportioned by each roundtable group whose members locally include representatives of various water groups and interests throughout the San Luis Valley.

Another portion of the money is set aside for statewide disbursement through the CWCB board. That board also has to approve the local projects, many of which seek funding from both the local and statewide accounts. The Trinchera Irrigation Company’s request for $25,000, however, was solely from the local basin account.

Godbout explained that the total of the most recent request of $25,000 added to requests last month for basin funds of $44,500 equaled $69,500, which the current balance of $107,000 can accommodate .

Unlike the Trinchera request, the grant requests from March sought funding from both the local and statewide water reserve accounts, Godbout said. Those March requests are currently on hold until the CWCB receives its next allocation of severance tax proceeds, he added, because the total requests from the statewide account last month exceeded the amount the statewide account contained.

Funding requests for projects from around the state, including $830,500 in requests from the Valley, totaled more than $1.7 million, and the statewide account only had about $980,000 in it at the time, Godbout explained.

“We delayed all the statewide requests until May,” he said.

By that time the CWCB expects to receive an additional $1.9 million in its statewide account, which will more than cover the current requests for funding. The additional funding was supposed to come in on April 1 but has not yet been received.

Godbout anticipated approval for the pending project requests during the May 21-22 meeting of the CWCB board in Pueblo.

Trinchera Irrigation Company Superintendent Wayne Schwab presented the request on Tuesday to the roundtable group to fund a feasibility study on Mountain Home Reservoir improvements. He had presented an overview of the project to the roundtable during its March meeting.

The irrigation company encompasses 47 shareholders irrigating about 12,000 acres in the northern part of Costilla County. Trinchera Irrigation Company manages both Mountain Home Reservoir, with a decreed capacity of about 18,000 acre feet, and Smith Reservoir, decreed for about 2,000 acre feet, Schwab explained.

The project for which the irrigation company was seeking funding was improvement to Mountain Home, which not only provides irrigation water but water for wildlife and recreation such as fishing and boating. Schwab said Mountain Home Reservoir is a popular fishing spot even in wintertime when anglers go ice fishing.

Mountain Home Reservoir was built in 1908, and only one of the three canal gates is operational right now, Schwab said. The state engineer would like to see all three operational, he added.

Schwab said he believed the two gates not currently being used probably would open, but he was nervous they might not close. One of the current problems at the reservoir is gate leakage down the canal to Smith Reservoir, if it makes it that far, Schwab added. He estimated more than 1,000 acre-foot loss annually that is going into the ground or being evaporated.

The feasibility study, for which roundtable funds were requested and approved , would determine the best way to improve dam safety, improve water storage , reduce storage loss and protect and improve water availability for wildlife and recreational purposes.

The study would involve an underwater inspection of the outlet works, cost analyses of alternatives and recommendations .

Schwab said although no funding match was required, the Trinchera Irrigation Company with assistance from Colorado Parks & Wildlife and Trout Unlimited were kicking in $12,650, with more than $10,000 alone from CPW in technical assistance . Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson reminded the group one of the goals of the roundtable was to support the reservoirs, and this project ties in with that goal. The roundtable has also previously assisted other reservoir projects for the Santa Maria, Continental , Rio Grande, Platoro and Sanchez Reservoirs.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


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

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

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

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

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

But already it’s hitting roadblocks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Wild and Scenic status for Deep Creek? BLM defers to coalition to keep feds out of management.

April 12, 2014
Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management

Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Federal agencies have found Deep Creek east of Glenwood Canyon to be suitable for wild and scenic protective status.

But the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service have decided to defer such a determination for parts of the Colorado River in and east of the canyon and instead give a coalition the chance to provide similar protections while keeping the federal government out of it.

The decisions were announced as part of final resource management plans released by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley and Kremmling field offices, and a related action by the White River National Forest. They are subject to protest periods before they can be finalized.

The agency determinations regarding Deep Creek wouldn’t confer the protective status on Deep Creek. That would require an act of Congress, or by the Interior secretary under certain conditions when a state governor petitions for it. Only one waterway in Colorado, the Cache la Poudre River in Larimer County, is now a wild and scenic river.

The Deep Creek suitability finding applies to Forest Service and BLM segments covering about 15 miles of the Colorado River tributary, which as its name suggests is rugged and largely inaccessible. According to a suitability report from both agencies, they determined the segments can be managed under the wild and scenic designation “with very little conflict with other uses because most of the land is federal, and the likelihood of development is small.”

Circumstances are different on the Colorado River, leading the agencies to hold off, at least for now, on determining wild and scenic suitability for nearly 100 miles of water on several stretches from Gore Canyon outside Kremmling through No Name just east of Glenwood Springs. Instead, they’ve decided to see if a stakeholder group’s alternative management plan will suffice. That group is made up of counties, conservation groups, western Colorado and Front Range water utilities, and other entities worried about the implications should wild and scenic status be conferred on the river.

“It will have all the protections of that but doesn’t come with the federal designation, which is going to be key for the local management of the river in Colorado,” said Mike Eytel, a water resource specialist with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which is part of the group.

The concern of a wild and scenic designation is its potential to limit water development within river stretches receiving that protection.

“It could have a significant impact on our ability to develop Colorado River water, in my opinion,” Eytel said.

The Forest Service’s draft decision states that the decision to give the stakeholders’ proposal a chance will provide certainty for their “water yield and flexibility for future management on such a complex river system as the Colorado River.”

Eytel said assuming the decisions go forward, the real work begins for the group as it seeks to monitor and manage the river as outlined in its plan. Under the Forest Service and BLM decisions, they reserve the right to revisit the suitability question later if protections aren’t adequate.

The BLM also has found dozens of other river and creek stretches to not be suitable for wild and scenic status, including stretches farther upstream on the Colorado River.

More Wild and Scenic coverage here.


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

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

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

April 12, 2014

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Aspinall Unit operations update

April 11, 2014

aspinallunitdescription

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) will be diverting an additional 100 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel Monday morning, April 14th. At the same time, releases from Crystal Dam will also be increased by 100 cfs, from 850 cfs to 950 cfs. After this change, the total flow through the Gunnison Tunnel should be about 500 cfs, which should leave about 450 to 500 cfs in the Gunnison River downstream of the tunnel.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


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

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

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (George Sibley):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

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

Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Northern Water board sets C-BT quota to 60% #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014
Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Northern Water, which manages water stored throughout a massive system of linked reservoirs in Northern Colorado, set its annual water quota at 60 percent, despite customer requests to receive 70 percent of their full potential water allotment.

Since 1957, Northern Water has issued the water quotas, which dictate the amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects that will flow to cities, industrial complexes and farmers in Northern Colorado. The city of Fort Collins typically gets half of its water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and has been particularly dependent on the system after High Park Fire debris polluted the Poudre River.

Fort Collins was among customers who lobbied Northern Water for a 70 percent quota on Wednesday, during a stakeholders meeting held to discuss this year’s quota. Despite those requests, Water Resources Manager Andy Pineda recommended that Northern Water’s board opt for a 60 percent quota.

A few factors went into Pineda’s recommendation, including Colorado’s above-average snowpack, high reservoir levels, and the general absence of drought in Northern Colorado. Spring runoff this year is expected to release an extra 100,000 acre feet of water down area streams and rivers, which should limit the region’s need for supplemental water from the Colorado-Big Thompson.

Pineda’s opinion was not shared by all. A few farmers asked the board for a 70-100 percent quota to help them plan for the growing season. Fort Collins wanted 70 percent to help offset troubles with Poudre River water quality. There is also a chance that Lake Granby reservoir will spill over this June, and a few stakeholders were concerned that water would be wasted with a reduced quota.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


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

April 11, 2014

sanmiguelriver2006aerialmontrosedailypres

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

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

An agenda will be posted at the CWCB website.

More CWCB coverage here.


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

April 11, 2014

sanjuan

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

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

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

From the Craig Daily Press (Bob Rankin):

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

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

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

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

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

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 887 other followers

%d bloggers like this: