Want to learn more about water for agricultural uses in Boulder County? Water Tour 2013 is Saturday, June 8. Visit watertour2013.eventbrite.com
— BoulderCountyAG (@BoulderCountyAG) May 1, 2013
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:
The meeting will be held in Grand Junction at the Ute Water Conservancy District offices located at 2190 H 1/4 Road, Grand Junction, CO, 81505.
More CWCB coverage here.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):
On Tuesday, the soon-to-be-overhauled City Council approved a resolution to support a regional approach to stormwater management on a 6-2 vote. In the past, such a move may have been considered little more than ceremonial — most experts have long agreed that stormwater is best approached regionally. But Mayor Steve Bach has lately turned the issue into a political football…
Many believe the mayor is afraid that a regional approach will suggest a new tax to solve the area’s dangerous backlog of needed infrastructure projects, estimated to exceed $900 million. The mayor signed a pledge saying he would oppose any new tax, no matter how vital. But Bach’s long reach may not be able to control this process. With assistance from El Paso County, a Regional Stormwater Steering Committee, made up of dozens of citizen volunteers, is already studying how best to approach the problem.
From email from the Western Water Assessment:
Our latest Monthly Briefing was updated today on the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard. The briefing reviews April’s precipitation and temperature conditions; current drought, snowpack, and streamflow conditions; May 1 spring-summer streamflow forecasts; and the latest seasonal climate and ENSO forecasts.
New this month: Thumbnail images embedded in the text allow you to bring up the full-sized climate graphics while reading the briefing. [ed. very cool feature, click through, it's worth it for you graphics junkies]
Recent snows have improved the runoff picture, but most of the Intermountain West is still facing low or very low 2013 spring-summer runoff with reservoirs already at low levels. April precipitation was mixed for the region, with northern and central Colorado, portions of Wyoming, and eastern Utah being wetter than average, and northern Utah, southwestern Wyoming, and southern Colorado being mainly drier than average. Snowpacks in eastern Utah, much of Wyoming, and northern and central Colorado saw large gains in April, reaching near-normal peak levels. Southern Colorado and southern Utah did not see these gains and meltout began early, from well-below-normal peaks. May 1 forecasts for spring-summer streamflow for the region are still below average or well below average, but are generally improved from the April 1 forecasted flows across Wyoming, northern and eastern Utah, and northern and central Colorado. The NOAA CPC seasonal climate outlooks show a dry “tilt” for spring and summer precipitation for most of our region. In contrast, the “SWcast” for April-June shows a wet tilt over much of Colorado.
To view the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard, please click here.
The latest ENSO Discussion is hot off the press: ENSO neutral conditions forecast to continue #COdroughtMay 12, 2013
Click here to read the discussion and see all their graphics. Here’s an excerpt:
Synopsis: ENSO-neutral is favored into the late Northern Hemisphere summer 2013.
During April 2013, ENSO-neutral continued, with near-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) observed across most of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and below average SSTs confined to the far eastern equatorial Pacific. The Niño indices were near zero throughout the month, except for the Niño1+2 region which was between -1.2°C and -0.5°. The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) remained near average during April, reflecting near- average subsurface temperatures at depth across most of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. The tropical low-level easterly winds remained slightly enhanced over the western half of the Pacific basin, and anomalous upper-level westerly winds prevailed across much of the equatorial Pacific. Tropical convection was enhanced over Indonesia and the western Pacific and suppressed over the central Pacific. Collectively, these conditions indicate the continuation of ENSO-neutral.
Most models forecast Niño-3.4 SSTs to remain ENSO-neutral into the Northern Hemisphere winter, with dynamical models tending to predict warmer conditions (-0.3°C to 0.4°C) than the statistical models (-0.7°C to 0°C). There is still low confidence in the forecasts for the latter half of the year, partly because of the so-called “spring barrier,” which historically leads to lower model skill for forecasts made between March and May. Forecast confidence will increase over the next few months. The current forecast indicates that ENSO-neutral will likely continue into the second half of the Northern Hemisphere summer 2013 (see CPC/IRI consensus forecast).
This discussion is a consolidated effort of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA’s National Weather Service, and their funded institutions. Oceanic and atmospheric conditions are updated weekly on the Climate Prediction Center web site (El Niño/La Niña Current Conditions and Expert Discussions). Forecasts for the evolution of El Niño/La Niña are updated monthly in the Forecast Forum section of CPC’s Climate Diagnostics Bulletin. The next ENSO Diagnostics Discussion is scheduled for 6 June 2013. To receive an e-mail notification when the monthly ENSO Diagnostic Discussions are released, please send an e-mail message to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From email from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
The Bureau of Reclamation and collaborators developed new downscaled climate projections that allow water managers to incorporate the new Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project Phase 5 data from the World Climate Research Program into their water management planning. The data, representing 234 contemporary climate projections for the contiguous United States, was downscaled to a 12 kilometer resolution in order to be more useful to water managers.
“CMIP5 projections represent a new source of information about how a changing climate may impact water supplies in the United States,” Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor said. “Reclamation and its partners are taking leading roles to develop an understanding on how this new information complements previous climate projections made available through CMIP3, and on how CMIP5 projections should be considered in water planning and management.”
The World Climate Research Program develops global climate projections through its CMIP roughly every five to seven years. Results from CMIP3 were released in 2007 and later used in Reclamation research and assessments including the 2011 SECURE Water Act Report and WaterSMART Basin Studies completed in the Colorado, Yakima and St Mary River – Milk River Basins.
“CMIP5 includes more comprehensive global climate models, updated greenhouse gas emissions scenarios and a broader set of experiments to address a wider variety of science questions,” Acting Science Adviser Levi Brekke said. “Through the West-Wide Climate Risk Assessment Implementation Team, Reclamation will consider best approaches for using CMIP5 projections in the future.”
Reclamation, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Santa Clara University, Climate Central, Climate Analytics Group, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed the new downscaled data collaboratively supported by funding from a WaterSMART Climate Analysis Tools Grant and Reclamation’s Science and Technology Program.
The new downscaled climate projections are available at: http://gdo-dcp.ucllnl.org/downscaled_cmip_projections/.
More Bureau of Reclamation coverage here.
2013 Colorado legislation: ‘Each one of these things was epic’ — Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carrol #COlegMay 12, 2013
Joe Hanel sums up this year’s legislative session in his article running in The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:
During the last 120 days, Democrats used their majorities in the House and Senate to push through a progressive agenda that’s been pent up for a decade.
Election Day voter registration. Background checks for guns. Renewable-energy mandates. More health care for the poor. A $100 million tax break for low-wage workers. Civil unions for same-sex couples, and in-state tuition for students in the country illegally. Democrats in many other states can only daydream about the goals that Colorado Democrats achieved during the 2013 legislative session, which ended Wednesday.
For good or ill, Capitol veterans called it the most consequential session in memory.
“Each one of these things was epic,” said Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora. “We were (able) to do public-safety measures with commonsense background checks that Congress couldn’t get done. Any one of these things by themselves would have been historic and epic for a session, and we did one after another after another.”
More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.
Chaffee County is still hammering away at 1041 regulations for geothermal exploration and productionMay 12, 2013
From The Mountain Mail (James Redmond):
When developing Chaffee County’s draft geothermal 1041 regulations, the consultant aimed to support geothermal development while protecting property rights, as the county requested, officials said at a special work session Tuesday. The 1041 regulations, when passed by the commissioners, will govern the use of geothermal resources for commercial production of electricity.
The consultant who drafted the regulations, Barbra Green, partner at Sullivan Green Seavy LLC, said the draft contains flexible language that will give the county tools to handle all applications, from simple to controversial. “No one else in the state has geothermal regulations yet,” Green said. The process “is not easy and never perfect,” but she said she wants to talk through the draft with the county, hear feedback and get the regulations as close to the goals of the county as possible.
The county’s draft geothermal 1041 regulations create a “permit-driven” process, Mary Keyes, Sullivan Green Seavy LLC paralegal, said. Unless staff makes a “finding of no impact,” any use of geothermal for commercial electricity will require a 1041 permit, she said.
Chaffee County Commissioner Dave Potts asked when a project would get a finding of no impact. Green said she did not know how a geothermal project could actually get a finding of no impact. To do so, the project would have to cause no change on the site or surrounding properties in a number of areas. She said the draft has the no-impact language because in the future new technology or processes could possibly have no impact.
The draft regulations include a mandatory pre-application meeting, Green said. Such meetings help all parties involved, by getting everyone on the same page, clarifying and answering questions about the application process. The meeting lets applicants determine their responsibilities and how to ensure their applications have everything they need up front instead of dealing with it later, she said.
Once staff declares the application complete, the information goes to all reviewing agencies or consultants determined necessary, Keyes said. Then staff will compile all findings from the review agencies and consultants into a staff report prior to the public hearing for the application, she said.
After the walkthrough of the process, the commissioners, consultant, county staff and others attending the meeting addressed areas of the draft they thought had issues or conflicts, and discussed possible solutions.
The county will have to decide if it wants the drilling of exploration holes to fall into the definition of geothermal 1041 regulations, and therefore require a 1041 application, Green said. Hank Held and Fred Henderson, both of Mt. Princeton Geothermal LLC, spoke during public comments, saying the county should consider less regulation, not only on the drilling of exploration holes, but also on the entire geothermal 1041 regulations. Held said the county’s draft geothermal 1041 regulations duplicate both state and federal regulations. In cases such as drilling exploration holes, a company already must go through a regulatory process at the state level that could cover the need for regulation, he said.
Green said in some cases the county has different standards than the federal or state regulations, so it may appear the county has redundant regulations.
Paul Morgan, with the Colorado Geological Survey, warned commissioners that the west side of the Upper Arkansas River Valley has a large fault line running along it. He said, “I don’t think (county geothermal 1041 regulations) should have an option of a (finding of no impact). If an earthquake happens near geothermal development, “someone will sue the county,” he said.
The county will hold a public hearing to start the process of approving the draft geothermal 1041 regulations during the May 21 regular commissioners meeting in Buena Vista, Jenny Davis, Chaffee County attorney, said. While the public hearing will start the process, the commissioners do not have to make a decision then, she said. Green will take comments and recommendations from the commissioners after the public hearing to work any requested changes into the draft document, she said.
To develop geothermal 1041 regulations, Chaffee County partnered with Archuleta and Ouray counties and Pagosa Springs to hire the consultant for the process, Davis said previously. After the partners received a grant, Chaffee County’s portion of the contract for the consultant comes to $2,937.50, Don Reimer, Chaffee County development director, said previously.
The county will have the most current version of its geothermal 1041 draft regulations on its website, chaffeecounty.org
From The Mountail Mail (Joe Stone):
The 800-acre Mount Princeton geothermal lease was recently terminated for nonpayment of rent. The lease owner, 3E Geothermal LLC in Colorado Springs, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Young Life, which also owns the Frontier Ranch youth camp on the flanks of Mount Princeton. The Bureau of Land Management Colorado leased the parcel to 3E Geothermal during its November 2010 oil, gas and geothermal lease sale. The lease was issued Jan. 1, 2011. As reported at that time by The Mountain Mail, Young Life officials made clear their intention to use the lease to protect the camping experience at Frontier Ranch by preventing development that would affect the natural beauty of the area.
Denise Adamic, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Field Office in Cañon City, said, “Rent needs to be received every year by the Office of Natural Resources Revenue by the anniversary date … the date the lease went into effect.”
Adamic said, when the rental amount of $2,400 was not received by Jan. 1, officials with the Office of Natural Resources Revenue issued a notice to 3E Geothermal giving the company 15 days to pay. When the company did not respond to that notice, Adamic said officials issued a second notice giving the company 45 days from the anniversary date to pay the rental amount plus a 10-percent late fee. When 3E Geothermal failed to pay within the 45-day period, Adamic said, the lease was terminated.
Adamic said the company then had 30 days from the time they received the termination letter to appeal the termination to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. Terry Swanson, Young Life vice president of communications, said failure to pay the lease was “an administrative oversight” by Young Life that is “being corrected.”
Adamic said, if 3E Geothermal loses the appeal, the company would have to place the winning bid at another lease sale in order to retain the lease. BLM officials are “reviewing what, if anything, we will do with the area in question. We may or may not offer it for lease again,” Adamic said. She added that BLM officials are investigating whether or not a new lease-sale nomination would be required to offer the parcel for lease again.
Adamic said the BLM had not received a plan of development for the lease and that 3E Geothermal had not begun any ground-disturbing work on developing the lease.
This geothermal lease was the first sold in Colorado since the 1980s.
From The Mountain Mail (Casey Kelly):
Commercial rafting activities brought more than $52 million into the Arkansas River Valley economy in 2012, Rob White, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area park manager, told Salida City Council during a work session Tuesday. White said the $52 million figure came from the Colorado River Outfitters Association’s 2012 year-end report on the economic impact of commercial rafting. In 2011, the impact on valley economy was a little more than $60 million. “You can see the effect that a low-water season has,” White said.
To calculate economic impact, the report uses total cash spent in the local area for rafting, food, lodging and souvenirs by one rafting customer in one day, taken from a 1991 survey conducted by the Bureau of Land Management. That figure is multiplied by the number of commercial user days and an economic multiplier of 2.56 (the number of times a dollar is spent in the local area before being spent outside that area, according to the Colorado Tourism Board). “I don’t think people realize the economic impact whitewater boating provides to the communities in the Upper Arkansas River Valley,” White said. “People are bringing a lot of people into the area and spending a lot of money.”
Other data White highlighted from the report included the Arkansas River recording a total of 169,486 commercial user days, the most of any river in the state in 2012. White said the Arkansas River saw “more than half the use of all other rivers in the state of Colorado. That’s including the Colorado River. So you can see basically how important the Arkansas River is in terms of drawing people from both the Front Range and out of state for whitewater boating and for rafting.”
Commercial use on the Arkansas River in 2012 was down from 2011, which saw 208,329 commercial user days. “2011 was obviously a much better water year. In some respects, almost too good of a water year. We had big, big flows and we had high water advisories on the river a couple of different times,” White said.
Parachute Creek spill: Regulatory authority over the pipeline at fault is still a fuzzy question #ColoradoRiverMay 12, 2013
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A state regulator recently acknowledged the lack of clarity over what agency, if any, regulates pipelines like the one that’s the source of a natural gas liquids leak in the Parachute Creek watershed northwest of Parachute. The comments by Jim Milne, environmental manager for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, came in response to a question by Commissioner DeAnn Craig at the commission’s meeting last week. Milne was providing an update on the investigation into the leak from a pipeline leaving Williams’ gas processing plant. “I’m just curious who writes the rules for pipeline integrity of this type of system?” Craig asked.
“I don’t have an answer to that,” Milne responded. “I think the agencies have all been looking at that question.” He said he knows the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has some level of involvement with the plant, but added, “I think the question you ask is a good one.” He said he and commission Director Matt Lepore have discussed the need to contact any agencies that could be involved and get a better understanding of who has responsibility over the line.
Williams believes a faulty gauge on the pipeline leaked about 10,000 gallons into the soil and groundwater. Carcinogenic benzene has contaminated groundwater and the creek. Williams has pointed to OSHA regulatory oversight of the pipeline. But OSHA has said it doesn’t regulate things such as what pipeline materials and welding should be used, and that its regulations are geared toward safety considerations such as protecting laborers working in pipeline trenches. The natural gas liquids pipeline runs from the plant and beneath the creek to tanks on the other side.
Williams says the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulates the pipeline running from the tanks to another plant in Rio Blanco County, from which the liquids are then shipped out of state. That agency covers aspects such as pipeline construction, testing, inspection and maintenance.
The question of jurisdiction over the Williams line takes on additional significance because the company wants to install a second natural gas liquids line in the same corridor going beneath the creek to accommodate an expansion of its plant. It recently announced a delay in the expansion for reasons it says relate to the local drilling slowdown and not the leak. That expansion plan went through a Garfield County review process, but a county planning staff report to county commissioners made no apparent mention of the new pipeline.
The oil and gas commission’s ability to regulate the existing or planned pipeline appears to be limited. It recently handed off lead authority over the leak investigation to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment because it determined it didn’t have primary jurisdiction over the matter.
Oil and Gas Commissioner Rich Alward of Grand Junction told Milne that despite the jurisdictional issues, he’d be interested in any recommendations about what the commission can do “to minimize the risk of this happening again.” Alward mentioned reporting requirements as one possible area to be addressed.
Williams didn’t initially report the leak because it thought it involved less than 25 gallons, far below the minimum five barrels (210 gallons) that trigger a reporting requirement. It also didn’t consider the spill to be a threat to surface waters, something that triggers a commission requirement of immediate reporting of a spill of any size.
A bill awaiting action by Gov. John Hickenlooper would require reporting within 24 hours of all waste spills of a barrel or more if they take place outside berms or secondary containment systems. But a barrel, or 42 gallons, is still more than what Williams initially thought had leaked.
In addition, the commission determined the liquids that leaked, as a product leaving a gas plant, don’t involve exploration and production waste, which is why it gave up jurisdictional authority.
Meanwhile, Williams reports that the highest benzene reading in the creek as of Thursday was 4.4 parts per billion. The level last week remained below the state drinking water standard of 5 ppb in the creek, after barely exceeding that standard the week before, although the standard doesn’t apply to the creek because it’s not considered a drinking water source. There continue to be no signs of benzene in the creek at the point downstream where the town of Parachute diverts irrigation water.
On Tuesday, a new well was installed to recover contaminants from the soil.
Also completed this week was installation of vertical air sparge wells designed to enhance the removal, through aeration, of benzene in groundwater once they are hooked up to a blower motor.
Those wells are part of a plan, newly approved by the health department and Environmental Protection Agency, under which Williams is upgrading its treatment system at the point where contaminated groundwater is entering the creek.
All containment booms in the creek were replaced Tueday with fresh ones. Work also began last week on sampling contaminated groundwater. The work is necessary to characterize the contamination before the water can be properly treated and disposed of, the health department said.
Williams said Friday that it so far has recovered about 6,300 gallons of natural gas liquids. It also plans to construct by month’s end a water treatment system to remove hydrocarbons from the aquifer and from recovered water that then can be returned to the aquifer. The water will be subject to continuous testing to assure it meets state and EPA requirements before being discharged back to the surface.
Meanwhile, the Clifton Water District is keeping an eye on the spill. They pull off the Colorado River downstream of the confluence of Parachute Creek. Here’s a recent release:
The Clifton Water District has continued to monitor the developments related to the contamination of Parachute Creek with Benzene. Parachute Creek is a very small tributary to the Colorado River which is the water supply for the Clifton Water District. No reports have indicated that Benzene has reached the Colorado River and the District’s monitoring efforts have not detected the presence of Benzene.
Even though there is no indication that Benzene has reached the Colorado River, the Clifton Water District has been proactively monitoring the Colorado River in multiple locations for the presence of 25 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), including Benzene. The Clifton Water District’s Certified Laboratory has not detected the presence of Benzene or any other Volatile Organic Compound in any of the samples. Monitoring of the Colorado River for Volatile Organic Compounds has been a regular and routine event since 1986 and is a fundamental commitment in providing safe drinking water for our customers.
In addition to being mindful of source water quality, the District has been diligent to implement advanced water treatment technology which is very effective in treating the Colorado River. The District has worked to improve its water treatment system to a “state-of-the-art” facility utilizing Enhanced Coagulation/sedimentation, Rapid Sand Filtration, Reverse Osmosis and Nanofiltration. These processes are instrumental to the success of a multi-barrier treatment approach. Continuation of the District’s effort the next generation of “state-of-the-art” water treatment technology, Micro/Ultra Filtration Treatment Facility, is currently in design and projected to be constructed by 2015.
It is not anticipated that Benzene will be present in the Colorado River because of its volatility characteristics. The District will continue to maintain routine monitoring procedures for Benzene and other Volatile Organic Compounds even after this situation has been resolved demonstrating our commitment to provide high quality water to our customers.
Here’s a report from Dennis Webb writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
The Clifton Water District said Tuesday it has been monitoring the benzene contamination in Parachute Creek, but tests of the Colorado River continue to show no evidence of the carcinogen. A leak of natural gas liquids leaving the Williams gas processing plant has resulted in small amounts of benzene reaching the creek. However, samples farther down the creek show no sign of the substance, which readily dissipates in moving water.
Clifton Water said in a news release that it doesn’t anticipate benzene reaching the river because of its volatility.
The creek “is a very small tributary to the Colorado River, which is the water supply for the Clifton Water District,” the utility added.
It said it “has been proactively monitoring the Colorado River in multiple locations for 25 volatile organic compounds, including benzene. But its certified lab has found no VOCs in any of the samples.
The district has routinely tested the river for VOCs since 1986 and will continue doing so after the leak situation is resolved, it noted. It also has been installing advanced water treatment technology to better address sediment and other issues involving the river water.
Last week, benzene in Parachute Creek barely exceeded the state drinking water maximum of 5 parts per billion. However, the creek isn’t designated as a drinking water source by Colorado’s Water Quality Control Commission, and instead a 5,300-ppb standard applies to protect aquatic life. Williams reports that benzene readings at the highest point of contamination in the creek from Saturday through Monday were all above 4 but below 5 ppb, with Monday’s level at 4.7 ppb.
From the Associated Press (Alexandra Tilsley) via The Denver Post:
One of the main contaminants in the groundwater is benzene, according to Mark Salley, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which is currently overseeing the remediation efforts. Benzene, a known carcinogen, was also found earlier this month in Parachute Creek in concentrations above the state’s health standard, but levels have since dropped and officials insist there is no threat.
To remove the benzene from the creek, Williams injected air into the surface water to strip the hydrocarbons, a process known as air-sparging. The same technique is to remove surface hydrocarbons that are floating on top of the groundwater.
How to handle all the benzene-infected groundwater is the next question. The recovered water is currently being stored in tanks, and Williams said Friday it is planning to install a water treatment system that can separate the benzene from the water. “They’re working on the plans right now for a water treatment system,” said Tom Droege, a Williams spokesman. “It’s not in place yet, but once it’s up and running, then they’ll begin to treat the groundwater on a regular basis.”
The system will remove the benzene and any other hydrocarbons from the water through a multistep process. Contaminated water will first go through an oil and water separator. Then, it will move through an air stripper, which works like air-sparging. Finally, the water will be moved through activated carbon polishing tanks. The treated water will then return to a holding tank, where it will be tested to ensure it meets state health department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. Once officials have confirmed the water is safe, it will be returned to the aquifer. Any air emissions from the treatment system will be captured and treated according to the procedures approved by the Air Pollution Control Division of the state’s health department, Salley said.
The system is expected to be functional by the end of May.
Drought/snowpack news: ‘We definitely want to see that water stay in the system a little longer’ — Jon Monson #COdroughtMay 11, 2013
It looks like the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District wants to store some of the late season snowpack in Granby Reservoir. Here’s a report from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:
Additional water won’t be released from northern Colorado’s largest system of reservoirs, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s board of directors decided on Friday. The quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will stay at 60 percent, according to Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner.
The decision came as a disappointment to farmers, who are in the midst of spring planting and in search of more water for the growing season.
But it was applauded by city water officials, who want to keep as much water as possible in storage for the future.
The two river basins that collect snowmelt for the C-BT Project’s 12 reservoirs had seen huge improvements in snowpack since the Northern Water board set its water quota at a lower-than-average 60 percent last month. With the recent snowpack upswing, the Northern Water board considered increasing the water quota during its meeting Friday, but in the end, the board agreed the quota needed to stay where it is so less water is used this year and reservoirs can be refilled.
The C-BT Project’s reservoirs were depleted throughout 2012, as water users heavily relied on water in storage to get through an extreme drought.
Werner said the Northern Water board will continue evaluating the C-BT quota at its monthly meetings. If the board were to increase the C-BT water quota by 10 percent, for example, that would make available an additional 31,000 acre-feet of water — or about 10 billion gallons — to northern Colorado cities, industries, farmers and ranchers.
Since the C-BT project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota to balance how much water could be used through the growing seasons and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent, according to Werner.
Throughout the spring, water officials from cities — including Jon Monson, director of the city of Greeley’s water and sewer department — had generally pushed for a quota of about 50-60 percent, and were glad Friday to see that it was staying in that range. “We definitely want to see that water stay in the system a little longer,” Monson said of the C-BT Project, which supplies anywhere from 30-50 percent of Greeley’s water demand, and also provides water to users in eight northern Colorado counties.
Many farmers, on the other hand, have asked for a quota of about 70 percent. “We’d like to have more water, but we also understand the need to refill reservoirs,” said Frank Eckhardt, a LaSalle-area farmer and board member for various irrigation ditch companies and water districts.
Eckhardt said the recent snow and rain will help the spring planting of corn, sugar beets, onions and other crops get off to a good start, but he and others worry about running into water shortages down the road if precipitation is less frequent. “That’s when we really might need some extra water,” Eckhardt said, noting that he hopes the Northern Water board will look at increasing the C-BT quota this summer if the upcoming months are hot and dry.
From the Northern Colorado Business Report:
Despite plentiful spring snows and rain, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy Board has opted not to boost the amount of water it will provide to its members this year, deciding instead to maintain the quota at 60 percent. “It came down to the over-riding concern that we have to build reserves back up in a year like this,” said Brian Werner, the district’s spokesman.
Werner said Northern’s reservoir storage levels are 30 percent below average, due to last year’s drought. “That’s a big hole,” Werner said.
From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:
CENTRAL PORTIONS OF THE STATE HAVE RANGED FROM 125 TO 175 PERCENT OF NORMAL…DUE TO A COOL NORTHWEST FLOW WEATHER PATTERN. THISCOOL AND WET WEATHER PATTERN HAS ALLOWED FOR SOME IMPROVEMENTS IN THE DROUGHT ACROSS THE CENTRAL MOUNTAINS AND PORTIONS OF THE UPPER ARKANSAS RIVER VALLEY. HOWEVER…THIS WEATHER PATTERN DID NOT BRING MUCH PRECIPITATION TO WESTERN AND SOUTHEASTERN PORTIONS OF THE STATE…WITH PRECIPITATION TOTALS OVER THE PAST TWO MONTH RANGING FROM 25 TO 50 PERCENT OF NORMAL ACROSS MOST OF THE REST OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO.
WITH THIS IN MIND…THE CURRENT US DROUGHT MONITOR CONTINUES TO INDICATE MOST OF SOUTHEASTERN COLORADO IN EXCEPTIONAL (D4) DROUGHT CONDITIONS. THIS INCLUDES SOUTHEASTERN PORTIONS OF EL PASO COUNTY…CENTRAL AND EASTERN PORTIONS OF PUEBLO COUNTY…CENTRAL AND EASTERN PORTIONS OF LAS ANIMAS COUNTY…AS WELL AS ALL OF CROWLEY…OTERO…KIOWA…BENT…PROWERS AND BACA COUNTIES.
EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS CONTINUE TO BE INDICATED ACROSS NORTH CENTRAL THROUGH SOUTHEASTERN FREMONT COUNTY…SOUTHWESTERN THROUGH EAST CENTRAL TELLER COUNTY AND MOST OF THE REST OF PUEBLO AND EL PASO COUNTIES. EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS ALSO REMAIN INDICATED ACROSS EASTERN HUERFANO COUNTY AND WESTERN LAS ANIMAS COUNTY.
SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS CONTINUE TO BE DEPICTED ACROSS SOUTHWESTERN THROUGH EAST CENTRAL CHAFFEE COUNTY…NORTHWESTERN THROUGH SOUTHEASTERN FREMONT COUNTY…NORTHERN TELLER COUNTY…NORTHWESTERN EL PASO COUNTY…EXTREME WESTERN PUEBLO COUNTY…WESTERN HUERFANO COUNTY AND EXTREME NORTHWESTERN LAS ANIMAS COUNTY…AS WELL AS ALL OF CUSTER…SAGUACHE…RIO GRANDE…CONEJOS…ALAMOSA AND COSTILLA COUNTIES.
MODERATE DROUGHT (D1) CONDITIONS REMAIN ACROSS LAKE COUNTY AND NORTHERN AND WESTERN PORTIONS OF CHAFFEE COUNTY.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE US DROUGHT MONITOR CLASSIFICATION SCHEME CAN BE FOUND AT: WWW.DROUGHTMONITOR.UNL.EDU/CLASSIFY.HTM
SUMMARY OF IMPACTS…
DROUGHT CONDITIONS EXPERIENCED OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS HAS IMPACTED SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO IN MANY WAYS…INCLUDING INCREASED WILDFIRE ACTIVITY AND DANGER…FAILED AND POOR YIELD ON NON IRRIGATED CROPS…CATTLE LOSS AND ABANDONMENT…AS WELL AS QUESTIONS ON WATER AVAILABILITY AND WATER RIGHTS.
AS A RESULT OF THE PERSISTENT DRY CONDITIONS…GOVERNOR HICKENLOOPER HAS ACTIVATED THE STATES DROUGHT RESPONSE AND MITIGATION PLAN TO ENSURE THAT THE STATE IS DOING EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO ADDRESS THESE DROUGHT RELATED IMPACTS. MANY LOCAL COMMUNITIES HAVE ALSO IMPLEMENTED DROUGHT RESPONSE MEASURES…INCLUDING MANDATORY WATERING RESTRICTIONS.
THE FOLLOWING WEBSITE HAS BEEN DEVELOPED TO HELP INDIVIDUALS DETERMINE WHAT THE RESTRICTIONS IN THEIR SPECIFIC COMMUNITY ARE: WWW.COH2O.CO
FIRE DANGER IMPACTS…
SOME BENEFICIAL MOISTURE HAS BEEN RECEIVED ACROSS PORTIONS OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTH COLORADO OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS. HOWEVER…THIS HAS NOT BEEN ENOUGH TO ACCELERATE GREEN UP AND ALLEVIATE THE MODERATE TO HIGH FIRE DANGER ACROSS THE AREA…WITH SEVERAL SMALL WILD FIRE STARTS REPORTED ACROSS THE AREA OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS.
A CONTINUED LACK OF MOISTURE…ALONG WITH INCREASING TEMPERATURES AND THE START OF THE CONVECTIVE SEASON…WILL LIKELY KEEP HIGH FIRE DANGER ACROSS THE AREA AND COULD LEAD TO MORE LOCAL GOVERNMENTS INSTITUTING FIRE RESTRICTIONS OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS.
THE LATEST INFORMATION ON FIRE BANS AND RESTRICTIONS CAN BE FOUND AT:
THE LATEST CPC AND VIC SOIL MOISTURE CALCULATIONS INDICATE SOME IMPROVEMENTS IN CONDITIONS ACROSS NORTHERN AND CENTRAL PORTIONS OF THE STATE. HOWEVER…DRIER TO MUCH DRIER THAN NORMAL SOIL MOISTURE CONDITIONS REMAIN DEPICTED ACROSS MOST OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…WITH THE LARGEST DEFICITS INDICATED ACROSS CENTRAL PORTIONS OF THE SOUTHEAST PLAINS.
THE LATEST USDA COLORADO CROP REPORT ALSO SUPPORTS THE DRY CONDITIONS ACROSS THE STATE…WITH 46 PERCENT OF TOP SOIL MOISTURE RATED AT SHORT OR VERY SHORT ACROSS THE STATE. THIS COMPARES TO 44 PERCENT OF TOP SOIL MOISTURE RATED AT SHORT OF VERY SHORT LAST WEEK AND TO ONLY 36 PERCENT AT THIS SAME TIME LAST YEAR. AS FOR SUBSOIL MOISTURE ACROSS THE STATE…74 PERCENT WAS RATED AT SHORT OF VERY SHORT THIS WEEK…COMPARED TO 80 PERCENT LAST WEEK AND TO ONLY 47 PERCENT AT THIS SAME TIME LAST YEAR.
THE LATEST PASTURE AND RANGE LAND CONDITIONS WERE RATED 73 PERCENT POOR TO VERY POOR…COMPARED TO THE FIVE YEAR AVERAGE OF ONLY 32 PERCENT RATED AS POOR TO VERY POOR.
THE COLORADO CROP REPORT ALSO INDICATES ONLY 13 PERCENT OF THE WINTER WHEAT CROP REACHING THE JOINTING STATE AT THIS TIME. THIS IS WELL BEHIND THE 65 PERCENT RECORDED LAST YEAR AND THE OVERALL AVERAGE OF 50 PERCENT FOR THIS TIME OF THE YEAR.
THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE IN PUEBLO FOR THE PAST MONTH OF APRIL WAS 3.9 DEGREES BELOW NORMAL…MAKING APRIL OF 2013 TIED AS THE 11TH COLDEST ON RECORD. PUEBLO RECEIVED 0.30 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION ALONG WITH 3.4 INCHES OF SNOW THROUGH OUT THE MONTH…WHICH IS 1.10 INCHES AND 0.4 INCHES BELOW NORMAL…RESPECTIVELY.
THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE IN COLORADO SPRINGS FOR THE PAST MONTH OF APRIL WAS 3.8 DEGREES BELOW NORMAL…MAKING IT THE 23RD COLDEST APRIL ON RECORD. COLORADO SPRINGS RECEIVED 0.33 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION THROUGH OUT THE MONTH…WHICH IS 1.09 INCHES BELOW NORMAL AND MAKES APRIL OF 2013 THE 14TH DRIEST ON RECORD. COLORADO SPRINGS ALSO RECEIVED 3.6 INCHES OF SNOW THROUGH OUT THE MONTH OF APRIL…WHICH IS 1.3 INCHES BELOW NORMAL.
THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE IN ALAMOSA FOR THE PAST MONTH OF APRIL WAS 0.5 DEGREES BELOW NORMAL. ALAMOSA RECEIVED 0.32 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION AND 2.2 INCHES OF SNOW THROUGH OUT THE MONTH…WHICH IS 0.27 INCHES AND 1.3 INCHES BELOW NORMAL…RESPECTIVELY.
From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Bobby Magill):
Northern Colorado has been bone dry since the summer of 2011, and it takes more than a few weeks of wet weather to make up for that.
“We are still very much in deficit over the longer term,” said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. “We are now above average for the current year by about an inch. It’s so much better than a year ago (that) it feels excessive.”
But the area has seen only 93 percent of normal wet precipitation during the past 365 days — 1.05 inches below normal, he said.
From May 10, 2012, to May 9, 2013, Fort Collins received 15.05 inches at the Colorado State University campus weather station, according to data compiled by Colorado Climate Center researcher Wendy Ryan. The normal precipitation for that period is 16.1 inches.
Though it’s early in the month, Fort Collins still hasn’t seen the full amount of precipitation it would normally get in a typical May despite all the rain and snow. The city normally receives about 2.5 inches of wet precipitation in May. So far, Fort Collins has officially received 2 inches…
The U.S. Drought Monitor, compiled by regional weather and climate scientists, considers how much precipitation has fallen in an area over the span of an entire year when determining whether a region is abnormally dry or significantly drought-stricken.
“If it was only short-term, we would be out of drought,” Doesken said.
From NASA Earth Observatory:
A round of late-spring snowstorms in 2013 offered a rare bit of positive news for reservoir watchers. Two of the three key river basins that feed Lake Powell—the Green River and the Upper Colorado River—saw much higher levels of precipitation in April than normal. The extra rain and snow provided critical relief for farmers, but hydrologists say that the precipitation was still too little to have much impact on the reservoir.
Snowpack peaked at 81 percent of average total accumulation in the Upper Colorado and Green, noted U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist Katrina Grantz. But the resulting runoff is likely to be only 45 percent of average because the parched soil is expected to absorb much of it. Some of the smaller reservoirs north of Lake Powell will get a boost, but Grantz expects Lake Powell to increase by only a few feet this spring and summer. Normal inflow from spring runoff, in comparison, would cause lake levels to rise by about 40 feet (12 meters).Randall Julander, a U.S. Department of Agriculture hydrologist, summed the situation up best. “Slight improvement in the Colorado basin water supply is like expecting a road-killed jackrabbit to feed a whole pack of hungry coyotes. It’s not nearly enough to go around,” he said.
From email from the Eagle River Watershed Council:
Join us for a special Water Wise “Thursday” brought to you by the 6th Graders of Homestake Peak School of Expeditionary Learning. After an in-depth, multiple month study, these students are ready to teach you “the what, the so what, and the now what?” of the Eagle Mine Superfund Site.
The event will take place Thursday, May 16th at 5:30 at the Walking Mountains Science Center. The students will begin with a living history museum where you can chat with figures of the past and then, they take you in depth into the history, science and future of the Eagle River. Beverages and appetizers will be provided.
Drought/snowpack/runoff news: Northern Colorado drought improves thanks to April/May moisture #COdroughtMay 10, 2013
From The Denver Post:
The storms hit northern Colorado hard, boosting snowpack in the South Platte River basin to 99 percent from 71 percent, and in the Colorado and the combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins to 98 percent from 78 and 79 percent respectively. The news is more grim in southwestern Colorado, where the Rio Grande and the combined San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan basins logged major declines. As of May 1, the Rio Grande reported at 41 percent of median, the other southwest basins were at 43 percent of median. Peak snowpack in those basins was reached in early March and melt began in April.
Though the snowpack is still high in the major northern basins, the reservoirs in the region still have not recovered from two years of drought. Statewide, reservoir storage is about 74 percent of average and 68 percent of 2012. Because the melt has not yet begun, the conservation service said, those numbers could improve in the northern basins. However, in the south, storage levels are still low and the chance of improvement is slim.
Horsetooth’s water level has reached an elevation of 5410 feet. That’s only 20 feet from full and just 4 feet… fb.me/2fIRmesgU
— karalamb (@klamb) May 9, 2013
From The Durango Herald (Jordyn Dahl):
Despite the recent precipitation, the area still is in a severe drought with snowpack levels far below average. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basin is at 39 percent of average for snowpack, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. However, the basin is at 204 percent of last year’s snowpack.
Southwest Colorado never reached average snowpack levels during the winter, and what little snow the region did receive is melting quickly. The cooler temperatures will help slow the melting some, but it “will come off very quickly next week as we dry out,” Ramey said. “It will slow down the loss of snowpack, but we’re in a bad way,” he said. “It’s really the southwest corner of the state that is in the worst shape right now.”
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Five Southern Colorado counties received federal drought designation Wednesday. Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Huerfano and Las Animas counties received the designation from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, according to a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper. The counties will be added to other counties on the Eastern Plains that already have had drought declarations.
The designation allows farmers to apply for emergency loans and other assistance from the Farm Service Agency. Colorado’s U.S. senators hailed the decision. “Colorado and the West are experiencing one of the most severe droughts on record. This ongoing drought threatens farm jobs and our agricultural economy throughout the state,” said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. “We need to act — and soon — on a new Farm Bill that strengthens farmers’ and ranchers’ hands as they confront this ongoing drought.”
“While areas of Colorado received late-season snow that brought some much-needed moisture to our state, the drought over the past several years has tortured crops and pastures around the state — and dry conditions continue to persist in many counties,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. “These disaster designations will provide critical assistance to farmers and ranchers to help offset their losses due to the recent drought.”
Snowpack in the Rio Grande and Arkansas River basins remains well below peak levels and irrigated farms typically use 85 percent of the water.
— ColoClimateCenter (@ColoradoClimate) May 9, 2013
— ColoClimateCenter (@ColoradoClimate) May 9, 2013
From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):
Aspen received its second-highest amount of snowfall for April since 1935 and the second-highest amount of total precipitation since 1951, according to the weather watchers at the Aspen Water Treatment Plant. The plant recorded nearly 38.5 inches of snow, second only to the whopping 56 inches that fell just two years ago, during the winter that wouldn’t end in April and May 2011. The average is just 15.7 inches. Total precipitation, including the snow-water equivalent from the snow, was about 4 inches in April. That compares with an average of 2.17 inches. It rained or snowed on 15 of the 30 days of the month, resurrecting the feeling of “mud season” from years gone by.
The rainy and snowy month created an oddity with the snowpack east of Aspen near the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. The snowpack there peaked on April 18, nine days later than average. So when the snowpack is usually melting out, it was still building in the Roaring Fork basin.
The snowpack was 81 percent of the median east of Aspen on Wednesday and 100 percent of the median for the Roaring Fork basin overall, which includes the Fryingpan and Crystal river valleys, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service…
The weather reversal has eased drought conditions in Colorado’s central and northern mountains, but the moisture isn’t spilling into the Eastern Plains. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Drought Monitor shows that the southeast quarter of Colorado remains rated in the worst level of drought at “exceptional.” Pitkin County, Eagle County and most of Garfield County have been reclassified to “moderate” drought, the second-lowest in the five-point intensity scale…
In the Roaring Fork Valley, the late snowfall will make for a great boating season on Ruedi Reservoir. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation forecast about one month ago that the reservoir wouldn’t fill this year, based on snowpack totals. Now it appears that it will come close to filling, said Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the agency. The reservoir is 62 percent full, with the flow of water coming in at 195 cubic feet per second and the release at 109 cfs.
From The Mountain Mail (Paul Goetz):
Statewide snowpack climbed to 83 percent of median as of May 1, up from 74 percent of median measured April 1. U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service officials announced Monday that snowpack totals in the Arkansas River Basin increased to 82 percent of median, up from 74 percent April 1. The increase comes after an unseasonably cool and wet April, which allowed snowpack to increase to near normal accumulation totals. “Those wet storms really improved our water supplies, especially along the Front Range and Upper Colorado River Basin,” said Phyllis Ann Phillips, state conservationist with the NRCS.
Snowpack typically begins to melt, and the runoff season begins in April. Snowpack totals were not reached until April 24, 2 weeks later than the long-term average date of peak accumulation.
Statewide maximum accumulation totals for 2013 ended up being 80 percent of the normal seasonal maximum.
Storm systems that moved through the state in April focused on northern Colorado, completely missing the southwest portion of the state. In the north, snowpack totals in the South Platte River Basin increased from 71 percent of median on April 1 to 99 percent of median on May 1. Both the Colorado River Basin and the combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins were reported at 98 percent of median on May 1, up from 78 and 79 percent of median measured on April 1.
In contrast, further south the Rio Grande and combined San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan basins saw declines in their snowpack percentages over the past month. As of May 1 the Rio Grande reported snowpack totals at 41 percent of median and the southwest basins were at 43 percent of median; both basins reached their seasonal peak snowpack in early March and began melting out in April.
With the additional snowfall in April, the water supply outlook has improved for most of the state’s seven major river basins. All basins, except for those in the southwest portion of the state, saw improvements to their streamflow forecasts this month.
While most forecasts across the state still call for below-normal runoff volumes this season, some of the forecasts for the headwaters of the Colorado and South Platte basins are now near to slightly above average.
Statewide reservoir storage volumes are currently 74 percent of average and 68 percent of 2012’s volumes.
In the northern basins the recent snow accumulation has yet to run off and should help improve storage and extend water supplies further into the summer season.
In the southern basins, storage levels remain low, and the probability of vast improvement this season is slim.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
A measure that would allow for quicker construction of hydropower projects on canals, pipes and other U.S. Bureau of Reclamation conduits on Wednesday passed its first test in the Senate.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who plans to sign on as a cosponsor of the measure, S. 306, voted for it in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which approved the bill. The next step for the measure is a vote on the Senate floor.
The measure by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., already passed the House, 265-154, last month and Udall supported it Wednesday as S. 306 passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The measure would eliminate unnecessary and duplicative administrative and regulatory costs, Udall said in a statement, noting that “hydro-electric power has an important role to play in helping the United States achieve true energy self-reliance.”
The measure is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo.
Once the measure becomes law, the water flowing through small Bureau of Reclamation-operated conduits could generate enough electricity to power 1 million homes, Tipton said in a statement.
Udall is a cosponsor of a separate measure sponsored by U.S. Rep Diana DeGette, D-Colo., that would ease construction of small hydropower projects on conduits operated under the auspices of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
From email from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University:
State of the Rivers Meeting
The Water Center at CMU is pleased co-sponsor the annual “State of the Rivers – Mesa County” meeting with the Colorado River District on Monday, May 13 from 5:30 – 7:30pm in the Colorado Mesa University Ballroom.
This meeting will address our current & projected water supply situation, water banking to deal with shortages, and salinity control programs. Light refreshments will be provided.
Fountain Creek: Snow instead of rain helps with flash flooding potential at the Waldo Canyon burn scarMay 10, 2013
From the The Colorado Springs Gazette (Andrea Sinclair):
Heavy snowfall Thursday morning caused school delays, a power outage and a tough commute for Woodland Park residents, but weather analysts said it was a blessing in disguise. National Weather Service forecaster Patrick Cioffi said parts of Teller County county saw a foot of snow. If that had been rain, Cioffi said, flash flooding would have been a dangerous certainty. At 6 p.m., forecasters downgraded a flood watch in place for the Waldo Canyon burn scar to a flood advisory, a move that indicated the worst conditions had passed, for now.
The May 1 Colorado Basin Outlook Report is hot off the press, things are looking up north #COdroughtMay 9, 2013
Click on the thumbnail graphic for the May 1 statewide snowpack map by sub-basin along with the May 1 streamflow forecast by basin from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Click here to read the report. Here’s the introduction:
After three consecutive months of below average snow accumulation in Colorado, multiple storm systems in April finally brought the moisture we had been hoping for all season. The state received above average precipitation during April which primarily occurred as snow, and brought snowpack totals to near normal levels in the northern basins. Unfortunately the southern portion of the state did not benefit from these storm systems. Warm and dry conditions dominated the Upper Rio Grande basin, the combined San Juan, Dolores, Animas, & San Miguel basins and the southern tributaries of the Gunnison basins during April. Reservoir storage remains below average across most of the state but conditions should improve in the northern basins as the recent snow begins to runoff. The most recent streamflow forecasts mimic the snow and precipitation conditions across the state; big improvements in the northern basins and further decline in the southern basins. Overall though the water supply outlook this month is better than just a month ago, this just goes to show how big of a difference just a few snowy weeks can make.
The wet weather pattern that started in late March continued into May and brought impressive improvements to snowpack percentages. After four consecutive months of snowpack reports that hovered in the low 70 percent range, the state snowpack recorded a significant gain this past month. Snowpack measurements recorded by automated SNOTEL sites and manual snow surveys across the state showed an increase of 9 percentage points from last month’s report. As of May 1 the snowpack was at 83 percent of median. This was a very unusual April, in most years the snow accumulation season ends in early April, and the rest of the month is normally characterized as the beginning of runoff season. The watersheds in the northern part of the state saw the largest benefit from the snowy April, posting increases that ranged from 28 percentage points (in the South Platte basin) to 15 percentage points (in the Yampa and White basins). Unfortunately, basins to the south saw similar changes in their snowpack percentages, but in the opposite direction. The Upper Rio Grande and the combined San Juan, Dolores, Animas, and San Miguel basins saw decreases of 28 to 30 percentage points respectively.
Statewide precipitation, measured by the SNOTEL network, was 114 percent of average this April and 197 percent of last year’s April totals. April was only the second month to record above average statewide precipitation this water year, with the previous month being back in December. The relatively wet month increased the water year to date totals to 80 percent of average on May 1, and 103 percent of last year’s cumulative precipitation on the same date. Precipitation was quite variable throughout the state in April, it was really a story of the haves and the have not’s. The combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins recorded precipitation at146 percent of average for the month, the Colorado basin was at 140 percent of average and the South Platte was at 143 of average. The Gunnison basin ended up at 101 percent of average for the month as a result of half the basin receiving decent precipitation and the other half missing out on the storms. The lowest percent of average for the month was reported in the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins with 48 percent of average.
The cool, wet weather we experienced in April delayed the expected increase in reservoir storage volumes this month. Reservoir storage across the state is at 74 percent of average as of May 1, and 68 percent of last year’s May1 storage amounts. The late season snowfall provides an optimistic outlook for storage improvements in the northern basins this spring. The additional runoff in these basins should extend water supplies further into the summer season. In the southern basins, storage levels remain well below average and the probability of vast improvements this season are slim. All in all we are still feeling the effects of the previous bleak winter but some basins should be able to replenish their reservoirs this season.
Most major basins in Colorado saw improvements to their streamflow forecasts this month. The northern basins once again boasted the greatest changes compared to last month; on average April to July forecasts in the combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins, the Colorado basin and the South Platte basin increased by 20 percentage points from those issued last month. A few of the headwater streams in the Colorado and South Platte basins are now expected to see near average flows. Despite these improvements, the majority of the forecasts in these basins still call for below average runoff this spring and summer season. On the flip side, current forecasts for the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan basins and the Upper Rio Grande basin call for streamflow volumes in the 30 to 50 percent of average range.
Special Note on Interpreting Forecasts
According to the National Water and Climate Center (NWCC), “a water supply forecast is a prediction of streamflow volume that will flow past a point on a stream during a specified season, typically in the spring and summer. These forecasts are given not as a single number, but as a range of numbers to reflect risk and forecast uncertainty. Each month, five forecasts are issued for each forecast point and each forecast period. Unless otherwise specified, all forecasts are for streamflow volumes that would occur naturally without any upstream influences.”
The forecasts we typically emphasize in this report are the 50 percent exceedance probability forecasts because they are in the middle of the range of forecasts with 50 percent chance that actual volumes will be above or below the predicted volume. The 50 percent exceedance forecasts assume that typical weather patterns will prevail into the forecast season. In a water year such as this one, when conditions have been anything but typical, it is important to pay attention to the other forecasts provided. If cool, wet conditions prevail into the rest of this spring and summer it may be prudent to use the 50 or 30 percent exceedance forecasts for management purposes this season. If conditions get very hot and dry this spring, actual streamflow volumes may be more in line with the 50 or 70 percent exceedance forecasts.
Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map along with the basin high/low graphs for the Upper Colorado River Basin and the South Platte River Basin.
From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):
The two river basins that provide water to the northern Front Range saw the biggest snowpack upswings in the state during April, according to a report released this week by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s board of directors will take those improvements into account when it convenes for a meeting Friday, when board members will discuss increasing the water quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado.
According to the NRCS report, snowpack in the South Platte River basin stood at 99 percent of historic average on May 1, after sitting at just 69 percent of average on April 1. Snowpack in the Colorado River basin was 98 percent of average on May 1 — up from 74 percent of average on April 1.
Because snowpack numbers were low prior to April’s barrage of snow storms, Northern Water board members set a lower-than-average water quota of 60 percent at its meeting last month.
If the board were to increase the C-BT water quota by 10 percent, for example, that would make available an additional 31,000 acre-feet of water — or about 10 billion gallons — to northern Colorado cities, industries, farmers and ranchers. But Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said this week there’s no guarantee that will happen.
“It’s still probably about 50/50,” Werner said. “We’ve seen some big improvements in snowpack, but we still have some big holes to fill.” Those “big holes” are the C-BT Project’s reservoirs, which were depleted throughout 2012, as water users heavily relied on water in storage to get through an extreme drought.
The reservoir levels listed in the NRCS’s recent report were a mixed bag for water users in northern Colorado. The South Platte River basin’s collective reservoir levels were at 87 percent of average on May 1, but the Colorado River basin’s reservoir levels were at just 67 percent of average. While the Colorado River flows in the opposite direction of the northern Front Range, some the C-BT Project’s 12 reservoirs are located in that river basin, with that water tunneled from the West Slope to East Slope users.
Since the C-BT project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent, according to Werner.
Before setting its quota in April, the Northern Board listened to input from its water users. That meeting drew about 250 people — a record-high attendance for Northern Water’s April meeting, Werner said. At the meeting, officials from cities generally pushed for a quota of about 50-60 percent, wanting to keep it relatively low and save as much water as possible for the future. However, many farmers in attendance — those who are planting crops and need to know soon how much water they’ll have for the growing season — asked for a quota of about 70 percent.
Many area farmers are hopeful that April’s abundance of snow will convince the Northern Water board to increase the C-BT quota on Friday. Not only would releasing more water increase direct flows to the region’s rivers and irrigation ditches, it might convince cities to lease more water to agricultural users, some farmers and ranchers said. “It would make a substantial difference,” Randy Knutson, who farms in the Greeley area, said of an increase in the C-BT water quota. “Every little bit will help.”
Arkansas Basin Roundtable recap: State water plan development front and center at Wednesday’s meetingMay 9, 2013
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Colorado is moving quickly to develop a state water plan by late 2015, culminating more than a decade of work. “I think it’s exciting for Colorado, when you look at all the work that’s been done,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. He made his comments during a report to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.
The CWCB is going through changes, with executive director Jennifer Gimbel leaving in June and an ongoing search for a new chief.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has asked the CWCB and the Interbasin Compact Committee to speed up efforts to develop a plan for future water supply that meets the need for more urban growth while preserving water for the environment and agriculture.
“During my reign of terror as state engineer, at least one legislator every year would stand up and say, ‘We have to have a state water plan,’ ” said Jeris Danielson, who represents the basin on the IBCC. “We might actually get something done.”
Both Danielson and Hamel cautioned the roundtable that the state’s prior appropriation system, administered through water courts, needs to be preserved. But it can be tweaked to allow certain types of flexibility to share water for more than one purpose.
One example of that is House Bill 1248, which breezed through both legislative houses this year after it was altered to have a statewide focus. The bill allows rotational fallowing demonstration projects that would allow farmers to lease water to cities with the oversight of the CWCB. Originally, the bill just included the Arkansas River basin, which has received several CWCB grants designed to gauge the impact of water transfers related to the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.
“We are ahead of the other roundtables in terms of planning,” Hamel said.