Snowpack news: Wolf Creek gets a dumping — 47 inches over the past week #CODrought #COwx

December 18, 2012

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From the Pagosa Daily Post:

Here’s the latest from Wolf Creek Ski Area:

Summit Base Depth: 48″
Midway Base Depth: 46″
New Snow (24 Hours): 21″
New Snow (48 Hours): 39″
New Snow (72 Hours): 42″
New Snow (7 Days): 47″
Year-to-Date: 70″


Drought news: Cattlemen are feeling the effects of the multi-year drought #CODrought

December 18, 2012

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for a trip down memory lane — US Drought Monitor maps from December 2010, December 2011 and December 2012.

From the Bent County Democrate (Candace Krebs):

Areas receiving a U.S. Department of Agriculture drought disaster declaration (which includes most of the Central U.S.) can sell cows and buy them back within four years without incurring a tax penalty. Or at least that’s true through Dec. 31. “If you are worried about grass production for next year, consider cutting back on those cows to take advantage of these provisions by the end of the year,” Deering said. “I don’t know whether they will be available after that.”

In addition to the micro-economic considerations so important to individual producers, economists are also watching the macro-economic impacts of drought on the U.S. cowherd overall. Even with cull cow prices at record levels, data indicates most of the cows being sold are going to new homes instead of being slaughtered, at least for now, Deering said. U.S. cow slaughter is expected be down about 4.5 percent in 2012 compared to last year. Beef cow slaughter is expected to be down almost 13 percent, while dairy cow slaughter is expected to be up about 6 percent. Declines in beef cow slaughter is significant, because the nation’s beef herd is already at its lowest level since the 1950s.

From the La Junta Tribune Democrat (Candace Krebs):

At a recent cow-calf meeting hosted by extension specialists from Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado, experts talked about a range of management decisions impacted by current conditions that have increasingly come to resemble the historic multiyear droughts of the 1930s and 1950s. Eastern Colorado received only 25 to 50 percent of normal precipitation in the last year and is in worse shape as you travel south. Nebraska is running a similar deficit. Pasture and range conditions over a wide area are in dismal shape, with at least 80 percent of the range rated poor or very poor across Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado, states that all experienced a string of record-warm temperatures during the past year.

The implications are widespread, starting with a lack of forage and corresponding feed shortages, which have boosted hay prices to at least one-third above last year. “I’ve seen lots of people buying year-old hay for $150 a ton,” said Casey Matney, a Colorado State University range specialist in the Akron office…

Native grass species like buffalo can be grazed down to the ground and still re-grow fairly quickly, Matney said, while others like bluestem require more residue. Regardless, consequences of grazing the range bare include a lack of groundcover to provide shading that keeps soil temps cooler and helps catch snow in the winter. The looming dry winter is likely to take a toll on trees that provide shelter from wind erosion as well. “Junipers and shelterbelts will really be affected by this winter drought,” he noted…

Providing cattle with adequate amounts of fresh, clean water is already a challenge as the drought intensifies.


Silverthorne: Next meeting of the Flaming Gorge Task Force December 18 #CORiver

December 18, 2012

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Here’s the agenda.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.


EPA Releases National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change

December 18, 2012

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Here’s the link to the agency’s 2012 Water Program Strategy webpage. Click here to view a copy of the report. From the executive summary:

Climate Change poses significant challenges to water resources and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Water Program (NWP). The NWP 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change addresses climate change in the context of our water programs. It emphasizes assessing and managing risk and incorporating adaptation into core programs. Many of the programs and activities already underway throughout the NWP—such as protecting healthy watersheds and wetlands; managing stormwater with green infrastructure; and improving the efficiency and sustainability of water infrastructure, including promoting energy and water efficiency, reducing pollutants, and protecting drinking water and public health—are even more important to do in light of climate change. However, climate change poses such significant challenges to the nation’s water resources that more transformative approaches will be necessary. These include critical reflection on programmatic assumptions and development and implementation of plans to address climate change’s challenges.

This 2012 Strategy articulates such an approach. The reader is advised not to interpret the framing of individual strategic actions that use terms such as “encourage” or “consider” to mean that the NWP doesn’t recognize the urgency of action. Rather, we recognize that adaptation is itself transformative and requires a collaborative, problem-solving approach, especially in a resource-constrained environment. Further, “adaptive management” doesn’t imply a go-slow or a wait-and-see approach; rather, it is an active approach to understand vulnerability, reduce risk, and prepare for consequences while incorporating new science and lessons learned along the way.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at global temperatures from The New York Times. Here’s an excerpt:

For those who might be keeping score, we just passed the 333rd consecutive month of global temperatures above the 20th-century average. November 2012 was the fifth-warmest November since records began in 1880, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its monthly climate report. The agency calculated that the 10 warmest Novembers on record have all occurred within the past 12 years. The last time global temperatures came in below the 20th-century average for the month of November was in 1976, and the last time any month came in below the average was February 1985…

La Niña years are usually cooler than average globally, so scientists say that to have such years coming in among the top 10 warmest in the historical record is a testament to how much the climate is changing.

Finally, the USFS has released a new report, Understanding the effects of a changing climate on native trout in the Rockies. Here’s the release:

Record setting drought and temperatures like those experienced in 2012 may become the “new normal” that managers of aquatic resources in the Rocky Mountains have to contend with as the century progresses. Exploring the historical patterns and potential consequences of a changing climate on native trout habitats and populations to feed into better risk management assessments is the focus of a new study published in the science journal, Fisheries, “The Past as Prelude to the Future for Understanding 21st-Century Climate Effects on Rocky Mountain Trout.” The study was led by U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station Research Fisheries Biologist Daniel Isaak, with collaborators from the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado State University’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology.

Many bioclimate models predict that large reductions in native trout populations will occur across the Rocky Mountains during the 21st century but the models lack details about how changes will occur. Long-term monitoring records from case history areas that include river basins in northwest Montana, central Idaho, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, western Wyoming and southern Colorado, show trends in temperature and stream flow that suggest trout habitats have already been altered by climate change during the last 50 years. “Unfortunately, similar long-term records for trout populations are lacking so scientists are unable to confirm simultaneous changes in trout populations,” said Isaak.

The study goes on to state that local monitoring networks of biological, temperature, and stream flow data could be developed in a few years and used with new spatial stream analyses to provide high-resolution climate vulnerability assessments that would provide decision makers with “actionable intelligence” regarding where to most efficiently allocate conservation resources. These monitoring networks and vulnerability assessments could form a cornerstone for interagency collaborations and partnerships between research and management as all parties work to develop and enact the conservation strategies needed to preserve native trout in the Rocky Mountains this century.

A copy of this study is featured in the latest issue of the American Fisheries Society’s Fisheries Magazine at www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/42330.


Snowpack news: Good snow across the high country recently has some basins closing in on 2002 #CODrought

December 17, 2012

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the statewide basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Statewide snowpack = 53% of average for this date.

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Arkansas basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Arkansas Basin snowpack = 48% of average for this date.

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Upper Colorado basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Colorado Basin snowpack = 54% of average for this date.

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Gunnison basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Gunnison Basin snowpack = 52% of average for this date.

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the North Platte basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. North Platte Basin snowpack = 63% of average for this date.

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Rio Grande basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Rio Grande Basin snowpack = 50% of average for this date.

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the San Juan/Dolores/San Miguel/Animas basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. San Juan/Dolores/San Miguel/Animas Basin snowpack = 49% of average for this date.

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the South Platte basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. South Platte Basin snowpack = 48% of average for this date.

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Yampa/White basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Yampa/White basins snowpack = 58% of average for this date.


Colorado River Basin: ‘Officials say climate change also is a factor behind the projected water gap’ — Dennis Webb

December 17, 2012

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A landmark study released Wednesday attached a big number to the estimated future gap between supply and demand in the Colorado River basin. Federal officials suggested big water shipment projects aren’t the best approach to dealing with it.

The study, undertaken by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin states, identified an average annual shortfall of more than 3.2 million acre feet by 2060. An acre-foot is nearly 326,000 gallons, and depending on estimates is about what’s used by one or two households in a year.

The study also notes that apportioned water in the basin already exceeds the roughly 100-year record of river flows, even though Upper Basin states including Colorado haven’t fully developed their apportionment. Despite the recent drought, the river system has been able to meet Lower Basin state obligations through water stored in reservoirs.

In announcing the study’s findings n a media teleconference, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar discounted the idea of pursuing proposals such as diversions from the Mississippi, Missouri or Columbia rivers or shipping of icebergs to California. “In my view those solutions are impractical and technically not feasible,” he said.

Instead, he said, the focus needs to be on common-sense solutions such as reuse, conservation, transfers of agricultural water to municipal use, and watershed management measures including elimination of invasive, water- consumptive tamarisk plants.

The study includes more than 150 proposals from various entities. But Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor told reporters some were simply cost-prohibitive and would require extensive planning.

Double the customers

Bart Miller, water program director for Western Resource Advocates, said in a prepared statement, “We agree with the Bureau of Reclamation’s message to focus on ‘practical’ solutions. Conservation and reuse gets to the heart of the problem in a manner that building pipelines cannot, and it saves taxpayers billions of dollars.”

The Colorado River Basin now provides water to about 40 million people. However, the study projects that under a rapid-growth scenario, that number could nearly double to 76.5 million people by 2060. Even before its release, the study drew criticism for making such an assumption, saying it didn’t account for the effect of the recession on population numbers in the Southwest. “States cooked the books to show higher demand for water consumption to set up a federal bailout on expensive water projects,” Molly Mugglestone, director of the business coalition Protect the Flows, said in a news release earlier this week.

However, federal officials indicated Wednesday that the study considers a range of population estimates, including one anticipating only a slight increase.

Officials say climate change also is a factor behind the projected water gap. The report says climate change could reduce river flows by 9 percent by 2060 at Lees Ferry, Ariz., at the same time resulting about 50 percent of the time in droughts lasting at least five years.

Digestion, skepticism

In a news release, Ted Kowalski, a section chief for the Colorado Water Conservation Board who served on the Basin Study Project team, said agencies such as the CWCB already have been addressing issues raised in the report. “Now, with this basinwide, cooperative effort, we can get a glimpse of the bigger picture, and begin to work towards planning for the future, with a well-informed idea of where we’re headed,” he said.

Jim Lochhead, manager and chief executive officer of Denver Water and chair of the Front Range Water Council, said in a council release, “Although the report projects potentially significant shortages for the Colorado River Basin as a whole, it is important to understand more specifically when, where and to what extent those shortages may occur. This will require detailed analysis of the study results and the implementation of a variety of responses. While this is a critical issue for Colorado, we have time to approach solutions thoughtfully.”
Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which represents western Colorado interests, agreed that there’s no need to go into crisis mode, and said the first course of action is for parties to simply digest the thousand or so pages in the report.

The report was issued as Kuhn and others are attending a meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association in Las Vegas. He said the fact that it identified a shortage isn’t a surprise to water experts such as those at the meeting. “The general conclusion that the river is fully used and things are going to get worse, that’s the reason they did the study to begin with,” he said.

However, he said the size of the projected shortage is a surprise to him, and probably a lot of people.
Like some conservation groups, Kuhn suspects states used the opportunity to be aggressive in their estimates of their future water needs. “I think that’s as old as water projects,” he said.

“If you think you have this demand, then this is your opportunity to participate in a 20- to 30-year project that might put in place water banks and other things. You’re likely to estimate on the high side,” he said.

Water loans

Water banking, a concept Kuhn endorses, involve letting owners of agricultural water rights contract to loan the water in times of need, without permanently giving up those rights.

Kuhn thinks the actual shortage some 50 years from now might be 1.5 million to 2 million acre feet a year, but says that’s still a “very large” deficit that needs to be addressed.

Even setting aside the idea of climate change, it has become clear that the kind of droughts the region has seen in the last 25 years have occurred over the last 400 to 500 years, he said. “Climate change may aggravate it but it doesn’t change the outcome, it doesn’t change the result. It doesn’t change the message. It simply puts an exclamation point on it,” he said.

He notes the question being faced is how to meet even bigger demand from a river that already runs dry before it reaches the sea. Said Salazar, “We’re already dealing with a Colorado River system and a legal framework which is looking at significant shortages. “… We are making headway on a number of fronts but this study should serve as a call to action.”

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From The Rifle Citizen Telegram (Bill McKibbin):

The white stuff that fell on us earlier this week was certainly welcomed, once you get past the slipping and sliding on our roads and highways and look at the big picture.

It seems like each winter gets warmer and drier than the one before it, especially compared to when I was younger.

I remember the winter of 1983, my first one in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. I couldn’t believe Glenwood Springs would actually plow all their snow into the middle of Grand Avenue. It was so high, you couldn’t see the oncoming traffic, except at traffic lights.

This fall, I drove to the Front Range and back for Thanksgiving and could not believe how low the water was in Lake Dillon. Wow! And that seems to be the case for too many years here lately.

Whether or not you believe in climate change, global warming or whatever you want to call it, the earth is changing. All you have to do is look around. And you don’t have to look very far. Check out the Colorado River as it flows through Rifle. That’s pretty darn low for the start of winter, I think.

Check out how dry the ground is, recent snow notwithstanding. The entire state is in a serious, serious drought.

Then think back a few months. Remember how hot and dry it got? And how fast? We didn’t really have a spring. (It seems to me we never do, but that may be because I like spring so much and it never lasts very long.)

Recall all those wildfires on the Front Range, where all the homes, and even some lives, were lost. I don’t recall a summer like that, except for maybe 2002, a decade ago.

Then you hear about floods, earthquakes and all sorts of natural disasters. Our pine trees and aspen trees are disease infested and dying by the day. Makes me wonder.

We are the only species on earth that uses its resources in such finite ways. We burn its fossil fuels, which in turn pollutes its air, trapping the sun’s heat and causing changes in our weather, helping to lead back to hotter summers and drier winters.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we’re totally to blame. The earth has gone through ice ages and climate change before we started messing around. But it seems like common sense to me that we’re aggravating things. I’m guilty, too, but I try my best to lessen my impact. The problem is we need several billion more people across the globe to try their best.

I’m usually not a believer in doomsday theories and such, like the end of the world on Dec. 22, according to some hotly disputed interpretations of the Mayan calendar. But I like to think I’m also an open minded, common sense type of guy. And when I look around and see things like I’ve mentioned, it gives me pause.

I hope for all us on this green globe that, someday soon, enough people will pause and realize we have to work together to help our earth, our only real home, instead of use and abuse it. Or, someday — maybe a long time after you and I are gone from the earth — we’ll lose it.

But we will all have still lost in the end.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Jeff Chostner has, ‘been at the center of water fights for the last decade’ — Chris Woodka

December 17, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

When Jeff Chostner becomes Pueblo district attorney in January, he will jump from one pool of water issues to another. It’s not the first time. Chostner’s been at the center of water fights for the last decade. “It’s bittersweet,” Chostner said, of leaving his current posts. “I’ve come full circle.”

Chostner was on Pueblo City Council when it voted on intergovernmental agreements in 2004 — he voted against them — that removed the city’s opposition to the controversial Southern Delivery System proposed by Colorado Springs and its partners to divert up to 78 million gallons of water daily from the Arkansas River to El Paso County.
In 2006, he was elected to the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners, and was part of the board when it staged public hearings on SDS and issued a 1041 land­use permit for the project in 2009. During that time, he became active on the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force, and helped to form and now chairs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

In those roles, he has been a watchdog for the 1041 provisions of SDS, making sure they are followed and overseeing several changes that improved Pueblo County’s
end of the deal.

Now, moving into the district attorney’s role, Chostner will inherit a piece of the contentious dealings outgoing District Attorney Bill Thiebaut set in motion. A decision earlier this year by District Court Judge Victor Reyes ordered the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to rework the SDS waterquality permit.
The state and Colorado Springs have appealed the decision.

If the appeals court rules in favor of Reyes’ decision, it’s likely to be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. If it overturns it, Chostner would review whether to appeal. “If it goes against Colorado Springs, I would certainly defend a successful case,” Chostner said. “If it goes against us, I would have to read the language of the opinion before making a decision.”

Even though there will be three new county commissioners and a new county attorney after the first of the year, Chostner thinks Pueblo County staff is well aware of the conditions of the 1041 agreement. Three conditions, in particular, require Colorado Springs Utilities to fund projects affecting Fountain Creek. Colorado Springs also is required to make other improvements at property it owns south of Fountain under the 1041 conditions. The city also indicated it would fully fund stormwater projects.

Sewer lines

Colorado Springs Utilities is required to spend $75 million by 2024 to fortify sewer collection lines that cross tributaries of Fountain Creek. The county has to assure that the money is being spent on identified projects, and that the projects do not duplicate other regulatory efforts. So far, annual reports from Utilities indicate those payments are in line. In November, at a meeting to tackle regional stormwater issues in Colorado Springs, Chostner questioned Springs officials on whether any amount of the $28 million in stormwater projects would be applied toward the $75 million commitment. He was assured they would not.

Flood control

When SDS is complete, probably in 2016, Colorado Springs will make annual payments totalling $50 million over five years to the Fountain Creek district. “That money is to be spent in Pueblo County,” Chostner said. “At the time (2009), I talked to Sen. Ken Salazar, who agreed that $50 million was a good settlement and we would be able to parlay that into $100 million or $150 million for a dam or other water restraint systems on Fountain Creek. That money is there for a dam, if that’s what the district chooses to do.”

While The Pueblo Chieftain editorially has championed building a dam — the idea originally was proposed by Pueblo County water attorney Ray Petros — much of the discussion has focused on smaller detention ponds. Colorado Springs, at the insistence of Pueblo County, is helping to fund a federal study of hydrologic impacts of flood control structures, using part of the $50 million. Regardless of the final decision, Chostner is confident the money will be spent in Pueblo County.

Dredging

Chostner also has zealously guarded funding projects from the $2.2 million Colorado Springs paid the county in 2010 to satisfy a requirement for onetime dredging of Fountain Creek through Pueblo. Of the money, $350,000 already has been spent on a city of Pueblo demonstration project that includes a sediment collector, which removes sediment from the water as it flows. It was also suggested that some of the money could be used to remove a problematic railroad bridge from the creek bed. Part of the bridge has been dismantled by the Union Pacific Railroad. “I would stress that the use of that money is not a Fountain Creek decision, or a city of Pueblo decision, but solely a Pueblo County commission decision,” Chostner said. “My personal recommendation is to remove the bridge.”
Fountain Creek board

Chostner has spent the last year pushing the Fountain Creek district toward its ultimate task of asking voters in El Paso and Pueblo counties for a mill levy. He has met with the city councils of Pueblo and Colorado Springs, and other groups. He’ll step off the board in January. “I’ve tried to be active in the last six months, reminding people we’re still here and that we’re considering a mill levy,” Chostner said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


‘The goal is to help young farmers while tying water to the land’ — Jay Winner

December 17, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A conservation easement that will keep water on the land while preserving the ability to lease water was approved last week by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board. The board voted unanimously to accept a conservation easement donated by Wes and Brenda Herman in exchange for paying about half of the purchase price for a neighboring farm. The Hermans, who already farm in the area, are buying the farm now owned by Ray and Susan Pieper at the end of the High Line Canal. About one­ third of the 320­acre farm is irrigated. The Colorado Water Conservation board is funding up to $270,000 toward the purchase under a program proposed by the Lower Ark District that would allow a municipality to reimburse the state for the cost at a future date. In return, the city would be able to have certainty that the water rights of the farm Jay Winner General manager, Lower Ark District — 12 shares of the High Line Canal — would be available for future leases. A High Line share irrigates 10 acres.

“The goal is to help young farmers while tying water to the land,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.

Winner said the Lower Ark’s idea is gaining traction in the South Platte basin, and has been used on at least one farm in the Rio Grande. “What people like about it is that it ties the water to the land in perpetuity, while giving municipalities some certainty of a stable water supply in the future,” Winner said.

Meanwhile, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District has approved their 2013 budget. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District approved a $2.5 million budget for 2013 at its meeting last week. The district, formed in 2002 to protect water in the Arkansas River basin, gets most of its money from a 1.5 mill levy on property in Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties. Roughly 75 percent comes from Pueblo County.

About $638,000 of the budget goes to administration of the district, half of that for salaries for the five employees of the district. Most of the district’s expenses are for the enterprise fund, with about $962,000 going toward support services for programs such as Super Ditch and group plan that helps farmers comply with state surface irrigation rules. Another $1 million goes toward water rights acquisition, including the purchase of conservation easements, water storage and water assessment fees.

More conservation easements coverage here and here.


The Telluride Town Council approves Bridal Veil settlement between the town and Idarado

December 16, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch (Samantha Wright):

The agreement shores up Telluride’s ability to develop a new municipal water supply high above town in Bridal Veil Basin, and streamlines its path toward constructing the new Pandora Water Treatment Plant at the foot of Black Bear Pass.

Idarado, meanwhile, gets assurances that enough water from Bridal Veil Basin will continue to flow into the San Miguel River during low-flow winter months to dilute the zinc discharged by the historic Treasury Tunnel, thus enabling the mining company to adhere to strict state-imposed environmental obligations.

Council also unanimously passed on second reading a related ordinance authorizing the conveyance of certain remedial and residual water rights back to Idarado.

Witnessing the occasion were Larry Fisk, the vice president of Idarado Mining Company, and Jay Montgomery, a Boulder-based water rights attorney who for two decades has captained the town’s complicated legal skirmishes with Idarado.

Telluride obtained extensive water rights in Bridal Veil Basin from the Idarado Mining Co. in the 1992 settlement of a lawsuit arising out of the contamination of wells in Town Park. Over the course of years of legal wrangling, the town won the approval to convert those historic industrial water rights to municipal use.

More San Miguel Watershed coverage here and here.


CSU Agricultural Economists Surveying Farmers and Ranchers to Determine Drought Impact #CODrought

December 16, 2012

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Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

Agricultural economists at Colorado State University are surveying farmers and ranchers to better understand the impact of the 2012 drought on Colorado agriculture – and to design effective management tools for dry times ahead.

“The question we ultimately want to address is, ‘How do we improve the resiliency of agriculture and rural communities in Colorado?’ because we expect more drought,” said James Pritchett, associate professor in the CSU Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, who is leading the survey project. “It’s time to make these systems more resilient, so they can adapt to changes ahead.”

Colorado producers may complete the online questionnaire by visiting http://tinyurl.com/CSU-drought.

The CSU survey project, called “Telling the Story – Drought in Colorado,” is funded with $35,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Pritchett urges farmers and ranchers to complete the questionnaire by Jan. 1 so economists may begin compiling data shortly after the first of the year.

Economists are particularly interested in responses from an estimated 6,000 Colorado farms and ranches with annual income surpassing $100,000. These producers are at the core of the state’s agricultural industry – a leading industry that contributes some $40 billion each year to the Colorado economy, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

“We really want to take the temperature of what this drought has meant to farmers, ranchers and rural communities,” said Pritchett, who is a CSU Extension specialist in farm and ranch management. “That helps us design assistance going into the future.”

Among other issues, the survey asks producers about the likelihood that drought could force them out of farming and ranching. It also asks about tools and strategies producers need to improve management effectiveness in the face of drought.

The survey project is under way against the backdrop of drought that has intensely affected many regional farmers and ranchers. The U.S. Drought Monitor, which provides weekly updates, reports that all of Colorado is suffering from drought conditions, ranging from moderate to exceptional.

This was the case during much of the 2012 growing season, with the most severe known impacts on agricultural sectors that produce dryland crops, such as wheat, or that rely on forage, Pritchett said. The latter group includes cow-calf operations and sheep operations.

Data show the look ahead could be equally grim: Very little snow has accumulated in much of western Colorado, the state’s chief water source; meantime, temperatures have been above average, leading to melting of even low amounts of snowfall.

“There are large deficits in precipitation and snowpack,” the Colorado Climate Center, based at CSU, reported in its Colorado Drought Status Briefing this week. The briefing noted, however, that it is still early in the snow season.

A secondary effect of drought is on the economic vibrancy of rural communities, where farmers and ranchers live and conduct business, and this makes effective management strategies even more important, Pritchett noted. “The ripple effects can last for years,” he said.


Palmer Lake: The town council approves a water rate increase

December 16, 2012

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From the Tri-Lakes Tribune (Lisa Collacott):

Town residents will see a water rate increase of three percent. Residents currently pay a base of $35.92, $3.59 for capital improvements and $11.51 for a loan. With the new rate increase they will pay $37.00 for the base an additional $0.11 for capital improvement bringing that total up to $3.70. However there is no increase to the amount residents pay on the loan.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Fort Morgan water, wastewater and sewer update

December 16, 2012

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Here’s a roundup of water news from The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs). Click through for the detail. Here’s an excerpt:

It takes a lot of work every month for the city to provide Fort Morgan residents and businesses with the water resources they need. November was no exception to that statement. Brent Nation started in early November as the city’s new water resources and utility director, and he dove into the job. Nation’s end-of-month report to the Fort Morgan City Council detailed the many things he accomplished, as well as what happened in the water-related facilities under his purview…

Nation also represented the city at meetings for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which is a water storage project the city has already heavily invested in, even though it has yet to be approved.

More Morgan County coverage here.


‘The main feature of the Trinidad Project is Trinidad Dam’ — Jeris Danielson

December 16, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jeris Danielson):

Trinidad Lake, west of Trinidad, is the result of state legislation more than 50 years ago. The Purgatoire River Water Conservancy District was created by the state Legislature on Dec. 2, 1960. The district is capable of contracting with the United States for repayment of the irrigation, municipal and industrial uses of the Trinidad Project and to provide a management entity to oversee the project.

Other responsibilities include: Surveying existing water resources and basin rivers; taking actions necessary to secure an adequate supply of water — present and future; constructing water reservoirs; entering into contracts with other water agencies, (such as the Bureau of Reclamation), organizing special assessment districts, providing for instream flows for fisheries; and other legal responsibilities needed by the district to fulfill its purposes.

On Feb. 10, 1967, the district executed a repayment contract with the United States whereby it assumed a debt of $6.46 million to be repaid over a 70-year period.

The main feature of the Trinidad Project is Trinidad Dam, located several miles west of Trinidad on the Purgatoire River in Las Animas County. The dam, which was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, is of earth-fill construction — having a height of 208 feet above the stream bed and crest elevation of 6,298 feet.
Trinidad Lake, the reservoir created by the dam, has a total capacity of 125,967 acre-feet, which is allocated to the following uses:

  • Flood control: 51,000 acre-feet
  • Irrigation, municipal and industrial: 20,000 acre-feet
  • Permanent recreation and fishery: 15,967 acre-feet
  • Joint use and sediment pool: 39,000 acre-feet
  • The irrigation and joint use pools are utilized to provide storage for irrigation by 10 project ditches that irrigate up to 19,499 acres in the project area, for municipal use by the city of Trinidad and for recreational use by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Each of the participating ditches have repayment contracts with the district and make annual payments based upon available water during the year.

    The district retains operational control of all water rights owned by the ditches and allocates water available on an equitable basis to all project acres. Once the reservoir is declared empty by the district board, exercise of the water rights reverts to the respective ditches under normal priority administration.

    Jeris Danielson is general manager of the Purgatoire River Water Conservancy District.

    More Purgatoire River coverage here.


    Gunnison River: New dam will replace the Relief Ditch diversion structure

    December 16, 2012

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    Click here (scroll down) for photos and a description of the ongoing work from the Gunnison Gorge Anglers.

    From the Montrose Daily Press (Will Hearst):

    Anyone who has ever rafted down a river likely has encountered a strainer — a potentially dangerous feature, most often a log jam, that lets water through but traps larger, solid items being carried downstream, including boats and bodies.

    For many years, the Relief Ditch Diversion on the Gunnison River just upstream from Austin has consisted of rocks, concrete slabs and vertical steel bars. The purpose of the structure is to divert water to the farming fields east of Delta. But the side effects include a danger to river users, a virtual wall for migrating fish and a lot of work for the Relief Ditch Irrigation Company.

    On Thursday, ground was broken on a new $750,000 dam designed to solve those problems for all involved, including three species of rare fish that call the river home. The catalyst for the project was Trout Unlimited, a coldwater conservation organization, but it also was made possible by the collaboration of the Bureau of Land Management and the Relief Ditch Irrigation Company.

    Follow this link to the removal and replacement of a push-up dam up in Oregon if you want to learn a bit about the dam type.

    More Gunnison River Basin coverage here and here.


    Water commissioners primer

    December 15, 2012

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    Here’s a great primer of sorts about the role of water commissioners in the administration of diversions on Colorado streams, from the University of Northern Colorado (Joshua Zaffos). Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    As the District 4 water commissioner for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, [Jason Smith] is doing his monthly check of reservoir levels within the Big Thompson River Basin to help him prepare for the upcoming spring snowmelt and runoff. The task is as old as the post of water commissioner, which dates back to 1879, when Colorado officially began recognizing water rights and managing the flows that pulse through streams and irrigation ditches.

    Smith is among 114 commissioners across the state, each patrolling a district covering part, or all, of a river basin. Their job of administering water rights based on legal priority and the decrees of the state’s water courts is both straightforward and nebulous. Depending on climate and weather, runoff rates and stream volumes, commissioners say when cities can fill their reservoirs, or irrigation companies can open their diversion ditches. Sometimes known as water cops, they are also faced with telling people when they must limit their diversions to protect senior, or older, water rights.

    Smith finds Green Ridge Glade and other reservoirs sitting at relatively high and steady levels through early February. But the dry and windy Colorado winter serves as a forewarning. Smith has heard from plenty of colleagues and ditch riders that the seasonal conditions so far are reminiscent of the brutal drought of 2002 — supported by media reports in May that statewide snowpack totals were tracking at 19 percent of the 30-year average.

    Working long hours and often tramping through the field, or buried under paperwork, water commissioners are unsung heroes in keeping water flowing to farm fields and household faucets. In many ways, the job hasn’t changed much in 130 years — except for the pickup trucks and stream-gauge technology that greatly reduce uncertainty and delays.

    More Colorado Division of Water Resources coverage here.


    Snowpack news: Areas in the San Juans get 15 inches of snowfall

    December 15, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    A winter snowstorm Friday gave a small boost to a lagging snowpack Friday, dropping as much as 15 inches on the San Juan Mountains and blanketing lesser amounts across the San Luis Valley floor…Weather service spotters also reported 6 inches near South Fork, 3 inches in Alamosa and 2.8 inches outside of Crestone…The snowfall was a welcome sign to irrigators who were greeted with news earlier in the week that the Rio Grande basin’s snowpack stood at 31 percent of average.


    ‘However the report [Colorado River Supply and Demand Study] does not reach a specific conclusion’ — Theo Spencer

    December 15, 2012

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    From the Switchboard (Theo Spencer):

    The Interior Department earlier this week released a long-awaited study on future water supplies from the Colorado River Basin. The news was not good…

    The report identifies drought/climate change and population growth as the main causes of the water shortage (good Los Angeles Times story here). Droughts obviously lead to less water and droughts are connected to/made worse by climate change…

    However the report does not reach a specific conclusion, instead it kicks the can down the road. But the good news is cities and states are already taking action to address water shortages. Cities like Las Vegas and states like California offer good example of how to deal with shrinking water supply through cost-effective and expeditions practices like efficiency and regional planning. California has the single largest allocation of water from the Basin.

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    The landmark study — the most comprehensive water study in the department’s history — revealed a “troubling trajectory,” Salazar said. The arid basin, which provides water to an area in which 40 million people live, will become drier, more densely populated and — even with new supply projects — more vulnerable in terms of water reliability, hydroelectric power generation, recreation, and river flows.

    The median gap between supply and demand is 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060, or nearly 25 percent more than the forecasted annual flow when accounting for climate change, and most of the growth in demand will come from cities and industries.

    “There is no one solution,” Salazar said. “We need to reduce demand and we need to consider increasing water supply through practical measures.”

    The mix of solutions — and what makes one “practical” — is the most disputed section of the study. The Bureau of Reclamation, the lead agency, evaluated 30 options and slotted them into four “portfolios” based on water supply reliability, technical feasibility, and energy- and carbon-intensity.

    Excluding the projects with low reliability or tremendous technical challenges, the basin could increase its water supply by 7 million acre-feet by 2060 at an annual cost, in 2012 dollars, that ranges from $US 2 billion to $US 7 billion. Those cost estimates are quite uncertain and are best used as a relative figure to compare options, not as an absolute number for what the actual cost might be, said Carly Jerla, a study co-manager and an engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado office.

    From The Washington Post (Brad Plumer):

    There’s a fair bit of uncertainty here — climate models still disagree on how sharply annual flows will drop in the future. And population growth is hard to predict. Some environmental groups have even suggested that states might be exaggerating their projected growth to qualify for more federal money for big infrastructure projects.

    That said, the best estimates suggest that demand will continue to outstrip supply, much as it has in the past decade. By 2060, the report says, the median shortfall could reach 3.2 million acre-feet (or about five times as much water as Los Angeles uses each year). The amount of irrigated farmland is also expected to shrink.

    When scientists talk about the need for “climate adaptation,” this is what they mean. So how are these states going to deal with the water problem? The report has an in-depth analysis of different adaptation options, grouped into a few broad categories:

    –Importing water from elsewhere. The report examined a bunch of zany proposals for bringing more water to the basin. One idea is to build a massive 600-mile pipeline from the Missouri River down to Denver. Sure, it would cost many billions of dollars and require large new power plants to pump the water, but why not? Or maybe ships could tow freshwater icebergs from the Arctic down to Southern California! Sadly, the report concluded that many of these schemes are unfeasible for now.

    –Desalination. Another idea: If the fresh water’s running out, why not set up some desalination plants to treat brackish water or seawater? There’s already a $150 million desalination plant operating in Yuma, Ariz., to recycle salty irrigation water. The report doesn’t rule this out, though these plants are pricey and would likely only be built in severe shortages. (What’s more, desalination plants use a lot of energy, which means more carbon emissions, which worsens the problem… )

    –Conservation and reuse. This is the option environmental groups tend to prefer, and there are dozens of different strategies here. Cities can recycle their “grey water,” (say, using old bathwater to flush toilets or water golf courses). Land managers could kill off thirsty plant species like the tamarisk. Water managers could slow the pace of evaporation by placing covers over reservoirs and irrigation canals. Governments could even set up a system in which users trade water permits.

    From The Kansas City Star (Dave Helling) via McClatchy:

    Among the study’s conclusions: Importing billions of gallons of water from the Missouri River, as an anonymous Westerner suggested nearly a year ago, would be massively expensive and take decades to pull off. The report didn’t rule out the option, giving it high marks for the amount of the water it would provide and its “technical feasiblity.” But high electricity costs and a 30-year permitting and building schedule prompted the Bureau to give the idea a low rating compared with other water-generating and water-saving possibilities.

    Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the trans-Kansas pipeline hurdles were likely too high to overcome. Instead, in a conference call Wednesday, he urged thirsty westerners to focus on “solutions that are out there that will help us.”

    The Bureau’s report, and Salazar’s comments, are likely to bring a sigh of relief from officials along the Missouri River basin, and as well as several “I told you sos.”

    Almost to a person this week, interests along the Missouri River said the political, legal and practical problems associated with the pipeline made its construction highly problematic. “The political hurdles to overcome are gigantic,” said former Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden, now director of the Missouri River Association of States and Tribes. “The likelihood is very, very slim.”

    The trans-Kansas water pipeline was one of dozens of suggestions submitted last winter after federal officials asked westerners for advice on their region’s chronic water problems.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Western Resource Advocates releases a new report — ‘A Better Future for the Poudre River’

    December 15, 2012

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    Here’s the link to the webpage where you can download the report. From the executive summary:

    A Better Future for the Poudre River Alternative is a solution for meeting future water demands in northeastern Colorado. This report outlines a better approach than the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), a proposal by Northern Water that would cause significant harm to the Poudre River. A Better Future provides a strategy for meeting the water needs of 15 towns and water districts while also preserving the Poudre River and the communities and businesses that depend on a healthy river.

    Planning for and meeting the water needs of NISP participant communities is critical, as is ensuring the health of the Poudre River and the numerous benefits it provides. Through the recommendations outlined in the Better Future report, Northern Water and NISP participants can chart an innovative path forward that differs from the traditional approach of building large reservoirs. The Better Future for the Poudre River Alternative (“Better Future Alternative” or “Better Future”) relies on a combination of supplies from conservation, reuse, water transferred as a result of growth onto irrigated agricultural lands, and voluntary agreements with agriculture. We encourage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to incorporate elements of the Better Future Alternative into its No Action Alternative when completing the NISP Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which is anticipated sometime in 2013. Western Resource Advocates (WRA) offers the following key recommendations that Northern Water, NISP participants, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should consider carefully in planning for the region’s future water needs:

  • Meet projected demands with balanced strategies that are the least environmentally damaging, in contrast to large traditional reservoir and pipeline projects.
  • Use reliable and up-to-date population data and projections
    from the State Demography Office.
  • Implement more aggressive water conservation strategies. Conservation is often the cheapest, fastest, and smartest way to meet new demands; NISP participants have significant opportunities to boost their existing water conservation efforts.
  • Integrate conservation savings—passive and active—into water supply planning.
  • When calculating future water supply projections, include all existing supplies, supplies from growth onto irrigated lands, as well as NISP participants’ water dedication requirements.
  • Maximize the role of water reuse in meeting future needs. Include NISP participants’ existing and planned reuse—as well as additional Better Future reuse supplies—in any analysis.
  • Include increased cooperation between agriculture and local communities in the form of voluntary water sharing agreements that benefit both NISP participants and the agricultural community—without permanently drying up irrigated acres. Alternatives to “buy and dry” transfers present excellent opportunities for meeting future municipal demands.
  • More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.


    U.S. Representative Gardner plans to introduce legislation to speed up the permitting process for NISP

    December 15, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    n light of a federal study showing shortages in the Colorado River system, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., plans to introduce legislation that would promote increased water storage. Gardner hopes to work with the Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers to gain approval of water projects already on the drawing board.

    This week, he released a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo Ellen Darcy, which explains the critical need for storage during times of drought, such as Colorado is experiencing.

    “The Colorado River Basin Study highlights that demand will outpace supply in the near future, making it imperative we start construction on new water storage infrastructure immediately,” Gardner said. “There are many projects far along in planning and permitting stages, including projects like the Northern Integrated Supply Project in Colorado, that are simply waiting for approval.”

    State water planners have embraced storage as a way of equalizing river flows between high and low years. The Colorado River basin historically has seen wide variability in rainfall, and climate projections show this will continue. The issue is important to the Front Range of Colorado, including Pueblo, because much of the water that supports the state’s cities is brought over from the Western Slope.

    A study released this week by the Bureau of Reclamation predicts a shortfall of 3.4 million acre-feet annually by 2060 in the Colorado River basin, which covers parts of seven Western states.

    More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.


    Southern Delivery System update: Outlet works and pipeline work mostly complete in Pueblo County

    December 15, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Southern Delivery System work at Pueblo Dam and pipeline through Pueblo County is substantially complete, and work will begin next year on the pump station below Pueblo Dam. “There are a lot of moving parts, but actually we are ahead of schedule in getting pipeline in the ground,” Allison Mosser, an engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities, told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday.

    About 14 miles of 51∕ 2foot diameter pipeline through Pueblo West and Walker Ranches is in the ground, as well as some connections that will be needed for the North Outlet Works and Juniper Pump Station. Work is beginning on the pipeline in El Paso County, as well. Some distribution lines already are in the ground. In all, 28 of 50 miles of pipeline are complete, Mosser said.

    Ground will be broken for a water treatment plant in northern Colorado Springs next year and SDS should be in operation in early 2016, Mosser said.

    The district will be asked next month to decide on pipelines and power lines that will cross Fountain Creek on the east side of Interstate 25 near the Pikes Peak International Speedway.

    Mosser also updated the board on progress of Fountain Creek wetlands and realignment work at Clear Springs Ranch, south of Fountain, that is required under Pueblo County 1041 regulations for SDS. That sparked a sharp reaction from board member Jane Rhodes, who lives and farms on Fountain Creek in Pueblo County. “This organization was formed four years ago,” Rhodes said. “A little more ought to be be done to help us. We need projects further down south.”

    Carol Baker of Colorado Springs Utilities stepped in and explained that $50 million has been earmarked for use on Fountain Creek when the project is completed in 2016. “The design (for the Clear Springs Ranch project) is part of the master plan, and will help lots when we’re designing projects further downstream.”

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


    Colorado River Supply and Demand Study projects 3.2 maf shortage by 2060 #CORiver

    December 14, 2012

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    From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

    The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, released by the Bureau Wednesday, Dec. 12, projects that these demands will continue to grow, even as climate change models indicate that average annual inflows to the basin from rain and snow are likely to diminish. The fact that water use has already exceeded inflows into the basin for nearly a decade, while the region has been in drought, shows just how close to the margin we are already. The giant reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead can only enable overuse of the river for a limited amount of time.

    The Bureau’s study, conducted with input from numerous water managers and interest groups and drawing on historical observations, studies of ancient tree rings and global climate change models, began by defining four plausible future water supply scenarios and six demand scenarios. Interim reports on these scenarios have been out for months, and they don’t paint a pretty picture.

    Comparing the median of water supply projections against the median of demand projections (without any action to change how water is managed) yields a projected imbalance of 3.2 million acre feet/year by 2060. That’s 3.2 million football fields covered with water one foot deep. An acre foot is about enough to supply two average families of four for a year, under current use patterns. 3.2 million acre feet is a lot of water to want but not get.

    The new parts of the Bureau’s study focus on what can be done to avoid that bleak future. For this, the Bureau asked for input from all interested parties. They got about 150 suggestions, ranging from towing icebergs to California to conservation and reuse strategies.

    The study evaluated a representative range of all the suggestions it received based on their feasibility, viability, how much water they could generate or save, environmental impacts and other factors. These were then grouped into portfolios reflecting different strategies (try everything, maximize reliability, minimize environmental impacts, etc.), and the portfolios were evaluated to see how well they would work to resolve future supply and demand imbalances.

    The results of these evaluations show that all of the portfolios significantly reduce the number of years in which the basin would be vulnerable to hitting key indicators of supply and demand imbalances, such as critically low water levels in Lake Mead, low flows below Lake Powell, and failure to maintain target flows for healthy rivers and recreational boating. However, the study points out that even if every measure studied is taken, “plausible futures still exist in which the system is vulnerable.” Put more directly, “complete elimination of Basin vulnerability is not likely attainable.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Restoration: The EPA relaxes Clean Water Act permitting liability for some ‘Good Samaritan’ mine cleanups

    December 14, 2012

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    Here’s the guidance document to EPA Regional Administrators from the Environmental Protection Agency:

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    The memo from EPA national headquarters to the agency’s regional offices extends the legal liability protections in cleanup agreements and specifies that Good Samaritans are generally not responsible for obtaining a Clean Water Act permit during or after a successful cleanup conducted according to a Good Samaritan agreement with EPA. Read the memo here.

    The complex structure of the Clean Water Act has, in some cases, prevented community groups from proceeding with cleanups because of concerns over future liability for pollution.

    Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, has been leading efforts to facilitate more protection for voluntary remediation efforts. He announced the new EPA guidance this week, saying that it required persistent communication with the agency, as well as direct appeals to the White House.

    “This is a powerful statement coming from the EPA and I’m glad they decided to stand with me on this issue … True Good Samaritans can feel comfortable pursuing cleanups and partnerships with EPA knowing they won’t be responsible for pollution when they get done,” Udall said.

    There are more than 7,000 abandoned mine sites in Colorado, many of them leaching toxic heavy metals into streams to the detriment of aquatic life. Udall said the new EPA guidance could ease cleanup projects at the Pennsylvania Mine site along Peru Creek, in Summit County, as well as at the Tiger Mine, along the Arkansas near Leadville, in the Animas River Basin near Silverton and along Willow Creek, near Creede.

    “This new policy, which follows a multiyear effort I led, is welcome news for my constituents and Good Samaritans everywhere. Abandoned mines in Colorado and across the West threaten our waterways and the environment,” Udall said in a prepared statement.

    “I am glad the EPA has partnered with me to develop this policy, which will free up Good Samaritans – like Trout Unlimited, the Animas River Stakeholders Group and the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee – to help protect our streams, waterways and drinking supplies. We still have work to do to address these abandoned mines, but this is a welcome step in the right direction that will unleash the power of local groups and volunteers.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday eased policy restrictions that had limited efforts by third parties to clean up abandoned hard rock mines. The move, which would enable third parties to partner with the agency for extended time periods and eliminate the need for a permit under the Clean Water Act during or after cleanup, may spur further reclamation here and at the nearly 7,000 abandoned mines in Colorado.

    Good Samaritan groups, as many of the nonprofit and community­based cleanup organizations have been called, had feared tackling projects that directly involved a pollution source out of fear of being held liable for the site by the agency.

    “The great thing here is that we’ve really superempowered these groups to go to work,” U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D­ Colo., said in a conference call with reporters.

    The senator visited Creede in 2011 and met with the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee, which has been working for 13 years to clean up the historic mining district north of town. At the time, the group pointed to the Solomon Mine on East Willow Creek as a site where more work could be done if the threat of liability was erased. The group’s director could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

    The cleanup of the Tiger Mine near Leadville also was hampered by liability concerns. Elizabeth Russell, who heads mine cleanup efforts for Trout Unlimited in Colorado, said financial considerations might limit any immediate work on the project, but she said it was tailor­made for the new policy.

    “The Tiger Mine is probably the best situation where this could probably work,” she said. Udall said he would monitor efforts under the new policy to see if a legislative fix was needed. But one effort he intends to push for is a bill that would allow federal funds for coal mine cleanup also to be directed toward hard­rock sites.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    Drought news: Aurora is shopping for short-term water leases, storage at 53% of capacity #CODrought

    December 14, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Aurora wants to lease additional water from the Arkansas River basin in 2013 and is prepared to spend $5 million. The city’s storage has been drawn down to 53 percent of capacity, triggering a situation where it can lease water under the terms of a 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    Aurora Water sent a letter to the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch last month offering to lease 10,000 acre­-feet of water for $500 per acre-­foot, or $5 million total. The terms are part of an agreement Aurora made with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District in 2010. That may not be enough, said Super Ditch President John Schweizer. If commodity prices stay high, farmers would be able to get about $1,200 per acre for corn and $1,500 per acre for alfalfa, minus costs for cultivating, planting, irrigation and harvesting. “We’ve got to see if there are farmers interested in doing it,” Schweizer said. “If the price per acre is right, I think you could see some interest.”

    Schweizer expects opposition to the transfer. This year, a Super Ditch pilot program met unprecedented resistance from other water users after it was submitted to the state engineer. “A lot depends on the severity of the drought and how people in cities might be affected,” he said.

    While the Super Ditch conceptually includes seven large irrigation ditch systems east of Pueblo, farms on the High Line and Catlin canals could fill the Aurora order, Schweizer said. Both canal companies already have had annual meetings, so the leases would be filled through negotiations with the boards of each canal and interested shareholders. Bylaws on both canals have been changed to allow for temporary water transfers, and the High Line Canal leased water to Aurora and Colorado Springs in 2004-­05.

    Aurora is waiting to hear if the Super Ditch can fill the order and does not have a backup plan, said Greg Baker, Aurora Water spokesman.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Agreements with three conservancy districts determine whether Aurora can lease additional water from the Arkansas River basin.

    Aurora purchased nearly all of the Rocky Ford Ditch in Otero County, part of the Colorado Canal in Crowley County and several ranches in Lake County in the 1980s and 1990s to meet water needs of the city of 300,000 east of Denver. In 2004-­05, it leased water from the High Line Canal, which irrigates farms in the Rocky Ford area, as the city recovered from the 2002 drought.

    Next year, Aurora is bracing for another drought recovery to bolster its storage levels.

    Under 2003 agreements with the Southeastern district and the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Aurora may lease additional water when its storage levels drop below 60 percent of total capacity on March 15. It can lease water for up to three out of 10 years under those circumstances.

    Aurora has drawn down Homestake Reservoir, which it shares with Colorado Springs, for dam repairs. Aurora stores water in 10 other reservoirs. Including Homestake, Aurora is at 53 percent capacity, but even without Homestake factored in, capacity already is at just 61 percent. Last month, the Aurora City Council authorized its water utility to begin looking for leases. “We’re looking at the agreement to determine if we have any issues with the leases,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district.

    Under its 2010 agreement with the Lower Ark District, Aurora is obligated to work with the Super Ditch before looking elsewhere for water in the Arkansas Valley. “It’s a step in the right direction,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “The Super Ditch will build collaboration and cooperation among the ditch companies.”

    Aurora also has an agreement with the High Line Canal board for future leases. Arkansas Valley water is exchanged upstream to Twin Lakes, where it moves to Aurora through the Otero Pumping Station and Homestake pipeline.

    More Aurora coverage here and here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson update: Reclamation is moving water through the Adams Tunnel

    December 13, 2012

    Check out the photo of a low Carter Lake.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Just a quick note to let you know that we are finishing up our annual maintenance on the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. That means, we have begun to once again divert water through the Adams Tunnel from Granby and Shadow Mountain reservoirs on the West Slope.

    We began the trans-basin diversions last week. With water starting to come back through the tunnel, the water level at Lake Estes began to rise. Tonight, the reservoir is at an elevation of about 7470 feet. That’s roughly five feet down; pretty average for this time of year.

    Yesterday, 12-12-12, we began sending water through Olympus Tunnel to Pinewood Reservoir. Today, the reservoir started at an elevation of about 6563 feet and is on the rise.

    This morning, we turned the pump on to Carter Lake. With the hot and dry summer and fall, the water level elevation at Carter dropped to 36% of its full content; an elevation of 5686 feet, or about 73 feet down from full. With the pump back on, water levels should start slowly ticking up again.

    Likewise, we are once again sending water to Horsetooth; although with the pump on to Carter, inflows to the reservoir will likely fluctuate between 100-200 cfs. Horsetooth got down to a water level elevation of roughly 5377 feet, or 44% full. It’s water level will now slowly start rising, too.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention January 30 — February 1

    December 13, 2012

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    Here’s the link to the registration page. Here’s the pitch:

    Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention News
    For more than half a century, the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention has been widely recognized throughout Colorado and beyond as the definitive venue for learning about the state’s water. The 2013 Annual Convention is now just over 7 weeks away. We will send numerous informational updates about the convention – look for Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention News.

    Convention Dates
    Wednesday, January 30 through Friday, February 1, 2013
    Follows CWCB meeting on January 28 and 29

    Convention Theme
    Setting the Water Community Table
    What’s On Our Plate for 2013


    Stakeholders, Public Invited to Community Meetings about South Platte Wells

    December 13, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

    Conflict between groundwater and surface water users on the South Platte River has been a concern in Colorado. At issue currently is whether the strict augmentation of water supplies now required of those who use wells is actually over-augmenting the alluvial aquifer, causing damage from high water tables.

    The Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University is studying the issue under the direction of the state legislature. Members of the CWI study team will meet with stakeholders and the public in Longmont, Sterling and Gilcrest, Colo., in January to inform people about the study and to facilitate dialogue about the issues.

    The meetings are free and open to the public. The format for all three meetings will be the same. They will be held from 1 – 3:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Southwest Weld County Building, 4209 Weld County Rd 24 in Longmont; 6 – 8:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Hays Student Center Ballroom, Northeast Junior College, 100 College Avenue in Sterling; and 6 – 8:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at Valley High School, 1001 Birch Street in Gilcrest.

    Earlier this year, Colorado House Bill 12-1278 was passed, authorizing the first comprehensive study since the landmark study of 1968 that preceded the “Water Right Determination and Administration Act of 1969.” That act was Colorado’s attempt to bring groundwater under the same prior appropriation system as surface water rights.

    “It’s time for the state to evaluate the relative success of augmentation plans authorized by the 1969 Act to meet the dual goals of protecting senior surface water diverters and maximizing the use of both groundwater and surface waters of the state,” said Rep. Randy Fischer, one of the bill’s sponsors.

    CSU’s work collecting and analyzing available data is intended to bring objectivity to this polarizing issue. Results are due to the state legislature in December 2013. Reagan Waskom, CWI director and head of the study, said that his study team hopes to raise the level of conversation from contentious debate to respectful dialogue—an important role of a land-grant university.

    “Gov. Hickenlooper recently touted Colorado as a state where the high altitude gives us the ability to tackle our problems through creative collaboration. We are going to take him up on the challenge,” said Waskom.

    Joe Frank and Robert Sakata, two state water leaders often seen to be on opposite sides of the issue, have agreed to engage in a facilitated-dialogue about the topic as part of the January community meetings.

    For more information about the community meetings and about the study, visit http://www.cwi.colostate.edu/southplatte/index.html.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


    Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper Colorado River Basin #CODrought

    December 13, 2012

    wyutcoprecipitationdecembermonthtodate2012nidis.jpg

    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary. Here’s the link to all the summaries from the Colorado Climate Center.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    The Bureau of Reclamation Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study projects 3.2 maf deficit by 2060 #CORiver

    December 12, 2012

    shantiodonovancwcb2012droughtconference.jpg

    Click here to download the report from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Here’s the release from the Department of Interior: (Blake Androff/Kip White):

    Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced the release of a study – authorized by Congress and jointly funded and prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin states – that projects water supply and demand imbalances throughout the Colorado River Basin and adjacent areas over the next 50 years. The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, the first of its kind, also includes a wide array of adaptation and mitigation strategies proposed by stakeholders and the public to address the projected imbalances.

    The average imbalance in future supply and demand is projected to be greater than 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060, according to the study. One acre-foot of water is approximately the amount of water used by a single household in a year. The study projects that the largest increase in demand will come from municipal and industrial users, owing to population growth. The Colorado River Basin currently provides water to some 40 million people, and the study estimates that this number could nearly double to approximately 76.5 million people by 2060, under a rapid growth scenario.

    “There’s no silver bullet to solve the imbalance between the demand for water and the supply in the Colorado River Basin over the next 50 years – rather, it’s going to take diligent planning and collaboration from all stakeholders to identify and move forward with practical solutions,” said Secretary Salazar. “Water is the lifeblood of our communities, and this study provides a solid platform to explore actions we can take toward a sustainable water future. Although not all of the proposals included in the study are feasible, they underscore the broad interest in finding a comprehensive set of solutions.”

    Authorized by the 2009 SECURE Water Act, the study analyzes future water supply and demand scenarios based on factors such as projected changes in climate and varying levels of growth in communities, agriculture and business in the seven Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.

    The study includes more than 150 proposals from study participants, stakeholders and the public that represent a wide range of potential options to resolve supply and demand imbalances. Proposals include increasing water supply through reuse or desalinization methods, and reducing demand through increased conservation and efficiency efforts. The scope of the study does not include a decision as to how future imbalances should or will be addressed. Reclamation intends to work with stakeholders to explore in-basin strategies, rather than proposals – such as major trans-basin conveyance systems – that are not considered cost effective or practical.

    “This study is one of a number of ongoing basin studies that Reclamation is undertaking through Interior’s WaterSMART Program,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. “These analyses pave the way for stakeholders in each basin to come together and determine their own water destiny. This study is a call to action, and we look forward to continuing this collaborative approach as we discuss next steps.”

    WaterSMART is Interior’s sustainable water initiative and focuses on using the best available science to improve water conservation and help water-resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. The WaterSMART program includes Reclamation’s Water and Energy Efficiency grants, Title XVI Reclamation and Recycling projects, and USGS’s Water Availability and Use Initiative.“This study brings important facts and new information to the table so that we can better focus on solutions that are cost effective, practical and viable” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor. “We know that no single option will be enough to overcome the supply and demand gap, and this study provides a strong technical foundation to inform our discussions as we look to the future.”

    Spanning parts of the seven states, the Colorado River Basin is one of the most critical sources of water in the western United States. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to about 40 million people for municipal use; supply water used to irrigate nearly 4 million acres of land, and is also the lifeblood for at least 22 Native American tribes, 7 National Wildlife Refuges, 4 National Recreation Areas, and 11 National Parks. Hydropower facilities along the Colorado River provide more than 4,200 megawatts of generating capacity, helping meet the power needs of the West.

    Throughout the course of the three-year study, eight interim reports were published to reflect technical developments and public input. Public comments are encouraged on the final study over the next 90 days; comments will be summarized and posted to the website for consideration in future basin planning activities.

    The full study – including a discussion of the methodologies and levels of uncertainty – is available at www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy.html. Hard copies of the Executive Summary and a CD of the entire study are available at the Study booth in the exhibitors’ area during the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) conference in Las Vegas Dec. 12 – 14, 2012.

    Here’s a release from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):

    Colorado River District praises the Colorado River Water Supply and Demand Study as a call to action

    GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – The Colorado River District commends the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study released today to the public as a thorough and detailed call to action for Colorado River stakeholders to address a gap between human and environmental demands on the river system and the amount of water it produces annually.

    “The study confirms what we already understand: The Colorado River is already fully used,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “In the very near future, the demand for the river’s resources will far exceed the available supply. In order to meet the needs of people and aquatic-dependent species and habitats, new ways of thinking and doing business will be essential.”

    The study demonstrates that demands in the seven basin states and the Republic of Mexico frequently exceed the system’s estimated annual supply, a gap that is projected to widen to 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060 when the population that depends on the river system is estimated to double. (An acre-foot is a measurement standard for water volume. It is equal to 325,851 gallons, enough water to submerge an acre of land with one foot of water and supply the needs of two average families of four for a year.)

    This prospect targets agricultural communities because large metropolitan areas often view irrigated agriculture as a source of water to meet future municipal demands. The study also demonstrates the need to find new sources of water from outside of the Colorado River Basin – a difficult, expensive and potentially contentious task.

    The study analyzes various combinations of possible future river supply and demand scenarios.
    Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and the 1944 Water Treaty with Mexico, 17.5 million acre-feet of water was allocated for annual consumption. The Lower Basin (California, Arizona and Nevada) is apportioned 8.5 million acre-feet, the Upper Basin (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico) 7.5 million acre-feet and Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet.

    When the 1922 Compact was negotiated, it was assumed that the natural flow (unused by man) of the river at the mouth of the Colorado River near Yuma, AZ, exceeded 20 million acre feet a year. Unfortunately, as the study shows, the natural flow of the Colorado River averages about 16.4 million acre-feet per year at this location.

    “We are surviving the imbalance by drawing down storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The situation is complicated by the reality that the Lower Basin is using more than its share of the river, relying on surpluses and water that flows from the Upper Basin’s undeveloped share of the river,” Kuhn said.

    The problems are exacerbated when one considers the impacts of climate-change. Under the study’s robust analysis of climate-change, the average natural flow of the Colorado River at Lee Ferry, AZ, (about 85-90 percent of the river’s flow originates above Lee Ferry) is projected to decrease to an average of 13.7 million acre-feet per year. This is a decrease of approximately 9 percent from the long-term average flow at Lee Ferry of nearly 15 million acre-feet.

    Kuhn said that based on almost three decades of observations and measurement, 13.7 million acre-feet may be optimistic.

    “In the last 25 years, the average natural flow at Lee Ferry has only been 13.4 million acre-feet a year,” Kuhn said. “In other words, the last 25 years have actually been worse than the average flow projected under the study’s climate-change scenario.”

    The study points to the fact the Upper Basin is not fully using its compact entitlement and predicts that more water development will occur in the Upper Basin. However, Kuhn cautioned that the study also points to serious problems for the Upper Basin. Under the climate-change scenario depicted in the study, without additional action the Upper Basin may experience a future deficit of its compact obligation as often as one in five years by 2040.

    “The Upper Basin is currently unprepared for this possibility,” Kuhn said. “To address an uncertain future, Upper Basin users will need to develop new risk-management strategies including improved aggressive conservation, optimal use of storage and water-banking options.”

    Although the study is based on a solid technical platform, it is subject to significant limitations. It incorporates substantial assumptions and reflects a compromise of many legal and policy interpretations. Depending on how numerous issues might be decided in the future, the risks to the Upper Basin presented by overdevelopment and a reduced supply could be significantly increased.

    “Planners should be cautious in using the study as a risk-analysis tool without further examination,” Kuhn said. “While many in the Upper Basin may believe that water remains to be developed, the reality may be that new development simply threatens existing supplies or that new development may only be available during increasingly rare wet cycles.”

    Here’s a release from the Front Range Water Council via Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

    Colorado utilities respond to Colorado River Basin study
    Dec. 12, 2012 – In response to the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study final report released today by the seven Colorado River Basin States and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager and chair of the Front Range Water Council issued the following statement:

    “The water utilities of the Colorado Front Range serve 80 percent of the state’s population. Although we use only about 6 percent of the state’s water supply for municipal and industrial uses, a large portion of our supply comes from the Colorado River. As a result, we have a big stake in the future of the River and how we will meet the challenges of increasing population, long-term drought and climate change. We have been involved in Colorado River negotiations over the past few decades, and have closely followed Reclamation’s study process.

    “We appreciate the resources invested by the Bureau of Reclamation and the basin states to study the Colorado River Basin. Overall, the study shows we have time to be thoughtful about the approaches we take to address future water shortages. Although the report projects potentially significant shortages for the Colorado River Basin as a whole, it is important to understand more specifically when, where and to what extent those shortages may occur. This will require detailed analysis of the study results and the implementation of a variety of responses. While this is a critical issue for Colorado, we have time to approach solutions thoughtfully.

    “We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short term. Instead, we believe the best approach is to work together as a community of seven states that share the vital resource of the Colorado River to discuss the right mix of measures to meet the challenges as they arise. We also believe Reclamation and the basin states can work within the framework of existing law and institutions to achieve solutions to secure the future of our water supply and future development of water for Colorado.”

    The Front Range Water Council was created in 2008. Its members include: Aurora Water, Denver Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Northern Water, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company.

    Together, FRWC members operate in more than 20 counties, manage 70 reservoirs, operate 15 treatment plants and maintain more than 7,800 miles of pipe. They employ more than 2,200 Coloradans, and the members’ combined annual operating expenses are more than $500 million.

    The members’ water supplies are composed primarily of surface water from the Colorado, Arkansas and South Platte River basins, with the Colorado River Basin accounting for 72 percent of the total.

    From email from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):

    Time is Money Water
    Conservation and Reuse Programs Outlined in Colorado River Basin Study Should Begin Immediately, Says Western Resource Advocates

    BOULDER (Dec. 12, 2012) — Western Resource Advocates today called on the seven Colorado Basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation to get to work immediately on implementing conservation, reuse and efficiency measures outlined in The Colorado River Basin Water Demand and Supply Study (CRBS). The CRBS, released to the public today, includes several water conservation and efficiency measures that were agreed upon by all parties involved in the process.

    The seven basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation agree that conservation, efficiency and reuse programs must be a significant piece of any strategy for meeting future water demand. The population in the West is expected to rise by 50% in the next 50 years; at the same time, Colorado River flows are projected to decline by nearly 10%.

    “Some water conservation programs can be put in motion within a matter of weeks at virtually no cost,” said Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates. “Of course there are some programs that will require further discussion, but the states owe it to the public to press the ‘go’ button.”

    Funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and seven Western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming), the CRBS is the culmination of a two-year-long effort to consider future demand and supply scenarios in the Colorado River Basin. Western Resource Advocates and several other conservation organizations agreed with the basin states on many efficiency and reuse strategies that should be implemented immediately.

    For example, local or state governments in the Colorado Basin could mandate that all new residential developments must be built with high efficiency (HE) showerheads, faucets and toilets. Many HE fixtures are priced in the same range as standard fixtures, so there would be no additional costs for homebuilders who need to buy new fixtures anyway. High efficiency fixtures can cut indoor water use by 50% compared to standard fixtures, and the conservation savings add up quickly. If 300,000 new homes were built with HE fixtures, the water savings would be enough to meet the needs of 60,000 people – all at no additional cost to governments, developers, taxpayers or ratepayers.

    “The point of the Basin Study is to figure out how we can provide enough water for current and future residents,” said Beckwith. “The sooner we get moving on conservation policies, the sooner we can start chipping away at that number. Time is water.”

    Western Resource Advocates has long advocated that water conservation and reuse should be the backbone of any plan for meeting future water demands in the Colorado River Basin, particularly in the face of Climate Change. The CRBS specifically notes that Climate Change is impacting future supply and demand scenarios, and agrees that water conservation is cheaper, faster, and easier to implement than building new pipelines from other states.

    “Any plan for supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin needs to address the reality of water as a finite resource,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director for Western Resource Advocates. “We agree with the Bureau of Reclamation’s message to focus on ‘practical’ solutions. Conservation and reuse gets to the heart of the problem in a manner that building pipelines cannot, and it saves taxpayers billions of dollars.”

    Here’s a release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):

    Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study Released Cooperative study assesses potential water supply and demand imbalances for the future of the Colorado River basin

    The federal government and the seven Colorado River basin states today released the final results of the cooperative Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. The report evaluates the future reliability of the Colorado River system to meet increasing demands and outlines potential strategies for dealing with projected imbalances. The nearly three-year project began in January 2010 as a joint effort of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and representatives of the basin states.

    Future demands on the river system are analyzed under six hypothetical situations, which include varying factors that will affect the system over the next few decades: population growth in the basin states, potential savings from conservation, and economic conditions in the watershed. Under these projected situations, the demand for consumptive uses in the Colorado River system is projected to range between 18.1 and 20.4 million acre-feet by 2060.

    The projected supply of the river system is analyzed under four different supply scenarios, taking into account historical hydrological records and the potential effects of climate change. Under the demand and supply analyses presented by the study, an average supply imbalance of 3.2 million acre-feet per year is expected by 2060.

    The study team reviewed approximately 160 options for dealing with the potential imbalances on a basin-wide level, submitted by participants, stakeholders in the system, and the general public during a general request for options between November 2011 and February 2012. These submissions were organized by the project team, and assembled into portfolios, representing a varied range of ideas and effectiveness for dealing with imbalances.

    The basin states have committed to remaining within the bounds of the “Law of the River,” the evolution of management and cooperation for governance of this resource, and the path forward in consideration of this study will remain a cooperative effort. Director Jennifer Gimbel of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) said: “This study reaffirms the concept under which Colorado water agencies such as the CWCB and Interbasin Compact Committee have been operating: There is no silver bullet, or easy answer to the supply and demand imbalances on the Colorado River. The way forward is through cooperation with our neighbors, holistic management of the river, and a varied portfolio of strategies.”

    Added Ted Kowalski, CWCB section chief, who served on the Basin Study Project team: “We’ve already been addressing these issues on a Colorado-wide scale, with projects such as the Colorado River Water Availability Study, and through the work of the basin roundtables. Now, with this basin-wide, cooperative effort, we can get a glimpse of the bigger picture, and begin to work towards planning for the future, with a well-informed idea of where we’re headed.”

    From email from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

    Trout Unlimited: Study on dwindling CO River shows need for cooperation to protect angling, recreation: Trout Unlimited calls for creative partnerships to keep rivers flowing and healthy

    (Denver) The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation today released its long-awaited Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, a multi-year effort to assess water availability and use in one of the West’s most important river basins. Trout Unlimited called the study a “wake-up call” on the need for greater collaboration on water management and river protection.

    “In some respects, the study confirms what many of us are seeing on the ground—drought and changing climate are pressuring our Western rivers as never before,” said Scott Yates, director of TU’s Western Water Project. “We partner with ranchers and farmers along key Colorado tributaries, and it’s a common observation that we’re seeing shorter winters, earlier runoff, hotter temperatures, and lower stream flows during late summer, when crops and fish often need it most. We have to work together to find new, creative ways of managing our water if we want to meet diverse needs and keep our communities, economies, and rivers healthy.”

    The BOR study specifically assessed water supply and demand, the ability to potentially balance such supply and demand, and system reliability. The effort included unprecedented river flow and use forecasting and modeling efforts for the Colorado River Storage System (CRSS) – one of the most complex and important federal water storage, delivery, and use systems in the country.

    Millions of municipal residents in the West—both in cities and rural areas—depend on the river for daily water use needs, and ranches and farms throughout the seven Colorado River Basin States (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) depend on Colorado basin water for their operations. The Colorado River is also a sportsmen’s paradise, with world-renowned trout fishing on popular stretches such as the Upper Colorado near Kremmling, as well as iconic fishing destinations like the Gunnison, Green (including the White and Yampa), Dolores, and San Juan.

    According to Yates, “If we’re going to have less water because of changing climate—whatever the cause—we need to roll-up our sleeves, develop creative partnerships, and find long-term solutions that help ranchers and farmers upgrade aging infrastructure and improve efficiency while protecting and restoring stream flows and fisheries.”

    Trout Unlimited, he noted, already partners with the Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help bring innovative irrigation system upgrades to private lands, ranches, and farms—projects that also restore fragmented and depleted streams, benefiting trout habitat and fishing.

    In a region known for its contentious water battles, the Bureau study emphasizes the importance of this emerging collaborative model—diverse stakeholders working together to manage finite water resources to meet the needs of agriculture, industry, towns and cities, and outdoor recreation.

    “This is a model that works,” said Yates. “We’ve seen it work across the West in scores of successful win-win partnership projects.”

    Trout Unlimited’s Dave Glenn grew up near the Green River in Utah, fishing and hunting in and along one of the West’s great rivers. He said that sportsmen are committed to helping find creative, pragmatic solutions, but they won’t back projects that needlessly destroy high-value fisheries and wildlife habitat.

    “Outdoor recreation is a $250 billion a year business in the West,” noted Glenn. “The Bureau study should not be seen as a green light for unrealistic, expensive, and environmentally destructive projects that move water out of their basins of origin,” said Glenn. “TU and other groups have highlighted a range of cheap, pragmatic options—including conservation, reuse, and water sharing—that will meet water needs without sacrificing our rivers and outdoor heritage.”

    He added, “Cities can’t meet their water needs on the backs of rural areas, drying up special places like the Green River, and potentially destroying fishing and hunting opportunities.”

    “We’re entering an era of water scarcity and fiscal austerity—cooperation and partnerships have to lead the way,” said Yates. “The health of our communities, rural areas and economies flows from healthy rivers. We can’t take them for granted.”

    From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

    Speaking at a Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar says the current water use trends are troubling.

    “As a result of the projected population growth in the Southwestern states, and all of the states on the Colorado River Basis, and the reality of a changing climate, we’re going to be putting ever increasing demands on the Colorado River Basin.”[...]

    Citing the many entities who rely on the river basin, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) urged all groups to respect the ‘Law of the River’ while addressing possible solutions.

    “We must find creative and innovative ways to meet growing residential, agricultural and industrial demands for water. The report lays out a variety of options to address projected water shortfalls in the basin – shortfalls driven, in part, by climate change – and I commend the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven basin states for their work.”[...]

    Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Jennifer Gimbel says all basin states remain committed to working within the law, but adds there is no ‘silver bullet’ to solving future demand shortages.

    “The way forward is through cooperation with our neighbors, holistic management of the river, and a varied portfolio of strategies.”

    While only six percent of the state’s water supply goes to Colorado’s Front Range utilities, a large portion of it comes from the Colorado River.

    Jim Lochead, Denver Water CEO and chair of the Front Range Water Council says Front Range utilities will continue to have a large stake in the river’s future, as well as finding solutions that will address increasing population and climate change.

    “We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short term. Instead, we believe the best approach is to work together as a community of seven states that share the vital resource of the Colorado River to discuss the right mix of measures to meet the challenges as they arise. We also believe Reclamation and the basin states can work within the framework of existing law and institutions to achieve solutions to secure the future of our water supply and future development of water for Colorado.”[...]

    Colorado. District General Manager Eric Kuhn says the study does include ‘substantial assumptions’ and possible conflicting legal and policy interpretations.

    “Planners should be cautious in using the study as a risk-analysis tool without further examination,” Kuhn said. “While many in the Upper Basin may believe that water remains to be developed, the reality may be that new development simply threatens existing supplies or that new development may only be available during increasingly rare wet cycles.”

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

    Demand for water will increase from an average 15.3 million acre-feet annually to between 18.1 million to 20.4 million acre-feet, according to the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to supply 2½ households for one year.

    “It’s fair to say that the demand has already outstripped supplies within the lower basin,” said Ted Kowalski, section chief for the Colorado Water Conservation Board who worked on the study.

    Kowalski explained that demand in states in the lower river basin exceeds their entitlement to the river’s water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and Law of the River.

    The nearly three-year study began in January 2010 as a joint effort of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and representatives of the Colorado River basin states.

    A population in the basin states that could double to 35 million by 2060 will contribute to the increased water use and supply imbalance, Kowalski said. Additionally, climate change could lead to greater agricultural water consumption. Growing energy use also could stress water supplies.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    A hotter, drier climate is worsening the imbalance between water supply and rising demand in seven Western states where 40 million people depend on the Colorado River, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Wednesday after completion of a three-year study. The study projects a future of falling river flows, shrinking snowpack, wilting crops and an intensifying struggle for wildlife. Millions of people would be affected by shortages, Salazar said.

    “We are in a very troubling trajectory,” Salazar said in a phone conference with journalists and senior officials. “We need to reduce our demand. We also need to look at increasing our water supply through practical, doable, common sense measures such as reuse…

    The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study concluded that climate change will reduce the long-term average of 15 million acre-feet in the river by 9 percent to 13.7 million acre-feet. It found that, within 50 years, the Western states’ annual water deficit will reach 3.2 million acre-feet — but could be as high as 8 million acre feet, depending on population growth…

    Denver residents rely heavily on the Colorado River Basin for water, which is diverted under the Continental Divide through a system of tunnels to the city. Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead, who also chairs the Front Range Water Council, swiftly responded to the federal findings on behalf of metro utilities.

    “While this is a critical issue for Colorado, we have time to approach solutions thoughtfully,” Lochhead said. “We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short-term.”

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    The Upper Colorado River Basin — including Summit County — could see deficits in its compact obligation to deliver water downstream as often as once every five years by 2040, according to a massive new Bureau of Reclamation study released this week.

    The study details a 50-year Colorado River water supply and demand outlook. Based on a combination of population growth and climate models that show a general drying trend in the region, the river could be short by at least 3.2 million acre feet by 2060, and perhaps by as much as 8 million acre feet, according to the Colorado River Water Users Association.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Like the Colorado River itself, reactions to a federal study on the future of the river released Wednesday range from placid to turbid.

    Colorado’s water establishment says the state already is studying potential shortages, while environmental groups want to implement conservation programs now. The study projects imbalances between supply and demand on the
    Colorado River basin over the next 50 years. Colorado officials hailed ongoing planning efforts. “This study reaffirms the concept under which Colorado water agencies . . . have been operating,” said Jennifer Gimbel, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Water interests within Colorado viewed the report differently. “We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short term. Instead, we believe the best approach is to work together,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO, speaking for the Front Range Water Council, which includes the Pueblo Board of Water Works and serves 80 percent of the state’s population.

    “The study confirms what we already understand: The Colorado River is already fully used,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “In the very near future, the demand for the river’s resources will far exceed the available supply. . . . New ways of thinking and doing business will be essential.”

    Environmental groups say solutions should be addressed with more urgency and conservation measures should be introduced as soon as possible. “Some water conservation programs can be put in motion within a matter of weeks at virtually no cost,” said Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates. “Of course there are some programs that will require further discussion, but the states owe it to the public to press the ‘go’ button.”

    From the Los Angeles Times (Bettina Boxall):

    The analysis lists a range of proposed solutions, including some that Interior officials immediately dismissed as politically or technically infeasible. Among them: building a pipeline to import water from the Missouri or Mississippi rivers and towing icebergs to Southern California.

    But Salazar said a host of practical steps could be pursued, including desalination of seawater and brackish water, recycling and conservation by both the agricultural and urban sectors.

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study, authorized by Congress, acknowledges the uncertainties in trying to project supply and demand over the next 50 years. Environmental groups, while praising parts of the report, said it overestimated population growth and thus inflated future water demand.

    Water managers have known for years that long-term average flows in the Colorado are not as great as they were early in the last century, when the river’s supplies were divvied up among the states. Compounding that is a warming climate, which is expected to increase evaporation, decrease the snowpack and accentuate drought.

    The report cites projections in previous studies that climate change could reduce flows from the upper Colorado basin by about 9%.

    In conducting the analysis, the reclamation bureau worked with the basin states — Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — as well as agricultural, environmental and tribal groups and water agencies…

    But environmental groups said those estimates were based on state projections before the Great Recession, noting that the real estate collapse popped the growth balloons in such cities as Las Vegas and Phoenix. “Some of these demand projections are absurd,” said Michael Cohen, who is based in Colorado and is a senior associate with the Pacific Institute, an Oakland think tank. He was nonetheless encouraged by the report’s discussion of the potential for conservation by cities and farms. “Those kinds of options are already in practice in the basin and they are cheaper and faster” than building major infrastructure projects such as desalination plants, he said…

    The single biggest allocation on the river goes to California’s Imperial Irrigation District, which is fallowing some fields and selling water to San Diego as part of a pact orchestrated a decade ago by Interior. The transfers have been controversial in the district, and Kevin Kelley, the agency’s general manager, warned that carrying out such agreements can be tougher than planning them. He also worried that his district would come under pressure to make more transfers. “We don’t want to get into a zero-sum game in which one category of user wins and another, chiefly agriculture, has to lose,” he said…

    Barry Nelson, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that with the report, the reclamation bureau — the traditional builder of the West’s biggest water supply projects — was entering “a new era in management of the Colorado River.” “They have painted a picture that is undeniable,” he said. “The history of developing new water in the Colorado River Basin is over.” [ed. emphasis mine]

    From KSL.com (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

    Salazar, when pressed, did say options like huge diversions to the Colorado Front Range from the Missouri or Mississippi rivers or diverting water from the Snake, Bear or Yellowstone Rivers to boost supplies in the Green River generally won’t work…

    “There are water import solutions that are impractical from a political and technically feasible point of view,” he said. Other options rejected include towing icebergs or big containers of water from Alaska. Desalinzation, however, is an option that has proven successful in reality at places like Yuma desalting plant in Arizona and should be pursued, he added.

    From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

    Salazar noted that other proposed diversions from the Snake, Bear and Yellowstone rivers to boost the Green River’s flows are flawed as well, dousing any momentum that may have been building for the controversial “Million” pipeline touted to convey water across the Continental Divide to the Front Range of Colorado…

    The report, which is open for comment for the next 90 days, was funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the seven basin states, including Utah. It was released on the kick-off day of an annual conference of Colorado River water users who are meeting in Las Vegas to discuss the report and challenges to the river…

    “Shortages in the Upper Basin are a reality today,” the report said. “Unlike the Lower Basin, which draws its supply from storage in Lake Mead, the Upper Basin is more dependent on stream flow to meet its needs.” The report concedes the need for the Upper Basin to fully develop its share of the Colorado River, but development of that water further exacerbates the uncertainty surrounding supplies in the future. Farm land has already been rendered fallow so water can be transferred for urban use, the report said, but that practice has decreased food and fiber production in the Colorado River basin, which adds another layer to the problem…

    “We support modern river management options that allow us to live within our means rather than taking water from another part of the country,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director with The Nature Conservancy.

    “We recognize that we must meet growing water demand needs, but we need to do so in a way that works for cities, agriculture, industry and nature.”[...]

    Some organizations, including Protect The Flows and Save The Colorado, criticized the study, saying the federal government relied on inflated state and utility-provided numbers on population growth to pursue the feasibility of importing water from other regions.

    Utah’s director of water sources, Dennis Strong, said the study amplifies the need to embrace regional solutions to a growing crisis that demands attention. The next step for the bureau is to host an extensive workshop in January, culling reaction from water managers, conservation organizations and policy makers who have reviewed the report. “The basin study is a well-thought out summary of water supply and water need in the Colorado River Basin. It is a call to action,” he said. “It tells us there are opportunities to enhance and stretch the river’s supply, but that ultimately the solution to our growing water need is bigger than the Colorado River.”

    uppercoloradoriverbasinstatesultimatum09011925denverpost.jpg

    From The Salt Lake Tribune (Christopher Smart):

    Utah’s fortunes, however, look brighter than those of the lower Colorado Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada that already are facing shortages, said Dennis Strong, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. The Beehive State has not used all the water allocated to it from the Colorado River, he said. And the 1922 Colorado River Compact protects that allocation. “The solution [for the lower basin states] is not to take water from the upper basin,” Strong said…

    The findings were based on mathematical models that include drought and climate change, according to federal officials.

    From the Switchboard (Barry Nelson):

    Status quo water management of the Colorado River is no longer sustainable. The study confirms that today, we are using more water from the Colorado River than the river provides. Without new strategies, over the long-term, if demand continues to outstrip supply, water stored in the basin’s major reservoirs will continue to decline and – inevitably – lead to major water shortages. The study suggests that there is no additional water to be developed in the Basin. This is not a new conclusion. However, coming from the Bureau of Reclamation, with its role as a watermaster on the Colorado, this conclusion carries special weight in the world of water policy. This new, more realistic estimate of the river’s long-term flow should play a central role in developing short and long-term strategies.

    The Basin Study suggests that proposals to pump more from the river could, in reality, simply reduce someone else’s water supply. This stark conclusion highlights concerns regarding the reliability of the water supplies that would be produced by expensive proposed pipelines to pump more from the river, as well as potential impacts on existing water users from proposed oil shale development in the Upper Basin.

    The Study suggests that, without a new approach, water users who rely on the Colorado River could face an aquatic version of the fiscal cliff. Far-sighted elected officials and business leaders should join water managers and environmentalists in calling for ambitious, economically-credible action in response to the study…

    The study’s conclusions highlight the prescience of the California legislature in passing legislation in 2009 requiring water users to reduce reliance on water imported from the Bay-Delta (where climate change will also reduce future supplies) by investing in local water supply solutions. Those local solutions, which many cities are already pursuing, can help Southern California prepare for the emerging challenges on the Colorado and establish California as a Basin-wide leader…

    Because the study effort was not designed to meet the needs of a truly healthy river, it highlights that the limits on water availability in the Basin have nothing to do with environmental protections. Those limits have to do with our current demand for water and the amount of water provided by Mother Nature. Ironically, by excluding the environment, the Basin Study highlights that water users should share the environmental community’s call for a new water ethic across the Southwest. Here again, this study can provide more common ground for finding solutions.

    It’s worth taking a moment to put this report in the context of the long history of the Colorado River. In 1893, Major John Wesley Powell famously appeared before the Los Angeles International Irrigation Congress. Powell presented a counterpoint to those who promised limitless water supplies, calling for a different approach, grounded in science and decades of observation: I wish to make it clear to you, there is not sufficient water to irrigate all the lands which could be irrigated, and only a small portion can be irrigated….I tell you, gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict…

    Finally – and most importantly – the Basin Study doesn’t lay out a process to reach agreement on that new approach to river management. The question facing all working on water issues across the Basin is simple. Now that the Basin Study is done, what comes next?

    From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

    Without dramatic and wide-ranging action, population growth and climate change will overwhelm the Colorado River within 50 years. That was the warning from federal officials and water managers Wednesday as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released a first-of-its-kind forecast for the West’s most heavily regulated and relied upon river system…

    Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy said she is most troubled by the study’s projections for climate change, which could bring more frequent and protracted droughts to the Colorado. Those who share the river can plan for the demands of a growing population, but mood swings of Mother Nature are another matter, she said. “It underscores the need to start having the more difficult discussions … right now,” she said of the study. “We can’t wait.”[...]

    Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor said his agency has no plan to pursue a pipeline to the Colorado from the upper Missouri River though the idea did warrant additional consideration in the basin study…

    What the study does is quantify the crisis the basin now faces, former Southern Nevada Water Authority Deputy General Manager Kay Brothers said. She said this marks the first time the Bureau of Reclamation has made long-range projections for the river using global climate change models.

    Here’s a release from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Jeffrey Kightlinger):

    Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, issued the following statement on the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study released today:

    “The Colorado River Basin study provides the most definitive assessment of vulnerabilities and options to address the projected supply and demand gap that could develop on the river system over the next 50 years. Today’s release culminates three years of collaboration between the seven Basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation to examine options to meet the Colorado River’s long-term water demands.

    “California has made significant investments to reduce its reliance on the Colorado River water, lowering the state’s river diversions by more than 500,000 acre-feet per year since 2003. Existing programs and agreements, for example, enhance conservation, increase agricultural efficiency and allow districts like Metropolitan to store conserved water supplies in Lake Mead. Eventually, additional projects and programs will be needed for all the Basin states to adapt to an uncertain future that includes climate change impacts. This study lays out a roadmap showing how Basin states can work with Reclamation to meet future water supply needs throughout this vital watershed that provides water to 30 million people and 4 million acres of some of the nation’s most valuable farmland. It also is a crucial step that will hopefully lead to additional partnerships with other Colorado River users to develop mutually beneficial projects.”

    The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving nearly 19 million people in six counties. The district imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies, and helps its members to develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage and other resource-management programs.

    From the Family Farm Alliance (Dan Keppen):

    The Family Farm Alliance today issued a public statement regarding the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) release of its Colorado River Basin Study.

    “We applaud Reclamation and the Basin states for their collaborative effort that led to the completion of this important study,” said Alliance President Patrick O’Toole, who operates a cattle and sheep ranch located along a headwater tributary to the Colorado River. “A key overall benefit of this study is that, from now on, all Colorado Basin parties can work from the same technical foundation.”

    The objective of the Basin Study is to assess future water supply and demand imbalances over the next 50 years and develop and evaluate opportunities for resolving imbalances. The study has been under development for nearly three years by Reclamation and the Basin States, in collaboration with stakeholders throughout the Basin.

    Reclamation officials have emphasized that this is a planning study; it will not result in any decisions, but will provide the technical foundation for future activities.

    However, Mr. O’Toole and other Family Farm Alliance representatives are concerned that virtually every scenario assessed by Reclamation shows a loss of Colorado River Basin irrigated acreage by the year 2060. The Basin Study assumes that irrigated acreage in the Colorado River Basin will decrease by 300,000 to 900,000 acres during the time period 2015 to 2060.

    “Policy makers and Colorado River stakeholders must understand the critical implications of taking 6-15% of existing irrigated agriculture out of production,” said Mr. O’Toole. “We are already behind the curve when it comes to meeting the future food needs of the world. Every single acre of land that is taken out of production puts us further behind that curve.”

    Last year, the Global Harvest Initiative released its Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report, which quantified the difference between the current rate of agricultural productivity growth and the pace required to meet future world food needs. The report predicts that doubling agricultural output by 2050 requires increasing the rate of productivity growth by 25 percent – every year.

    Irrigated agriculture is one of the largest economic engines in the Western U.S., according to the 2012 Family Farm Alliance report, “The Economic Importance of Western Irrigated Agriculture.” For a region that spans the 17 Western states, the total household income impacts derived from the “Irrigated Agriculture Industry”, made up of direct irrigated crop production, agricultural services, and the food processing and packaging sectors, is estimated to be about $128 billion annually.

    And, perhaps the most striking economic fact centers on just how important domestic food production, especially food produced under irrigation, has been during the past 70 years for the average American’s disposable income. During the Great Depression, roughly 25% of an American’s disposable in and the Basin States are committed to the continued refinement of scenario planning as part of a robust long-term planning framework for the Basin. The Alliance believes that policy makers and elected officials must clearly understand the importance of Western irrigated agriculture and the impliccome was spent on food. In 2011, that percentage had dropped to 6.7%, the lowest of any country in the world.

    “At some point, we’d like to see Reclamation or other water policy officials run another scenario in the Study: one that assumes that Basin irrigated acreage will not be diminished, and may, in fact, need to be expanded,” said Dan Keppen, Alliance executive director. “How would policy makers react if the projected impact was population loss, or a number of power plants or homes going without water in the future?”

    The Family Farm Alliance is pleased that Reclamation and the Basin States are committed to the continued refinement of scenario planning as part of a robust long-term planning framework for the Basin. The Alliance believes that policy makers and elected officials must clearly understand the importance of Western irrigated agriculture and the implications associated with drying up land currently producing food, in the Colorado River Basin and elsewhere.

    “What is the true cost to American security and the economy if we continue to take irrigated agricultural land out of production, especially in a region like the American Southwest, which is one of the few areas that provides a significant portion of our Nation’s supply of fresh fruits and vegetables during winter months?” Mr. O’Toole asks. “We cannot continue to downplay or ignore the negative implications of reallocating more agricultural water supplies from the Colorado River or other Western watersheds to meet new urban and environmental water demands.”

    Reclamation will send representatives of the Study to participate on the Family Farm Alliance panel to discuss this topic at the February 21-22, 2013 Annual Conference in Las Vegas.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    The COGCC is debating new rules for water quality and setbacks

    December 12, 2012

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    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    “This is our attempt to get more buy-in, more acceptability for these activities where they haven’t happened yet,” said Mike King, state director of natural resources, also serving on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

    No agreement had been reached as principals conferred behind closed doors Monday evening. Experts testifying on groundwater acknowledged most contamination is caused by surface spills around storage tanks and during initial drilling — not from deep well bores during fracking…

    Industry leaders anticipated tweaks. “Folks realize there’s going to be a testing program,” Colorado Petroleum Association president Stan Dempsey said. “It has to be done the right way. If the regulatory situation isn’t as certain in Colorado as in another state, (company) investment dollars could flow to another part of the country or another part of the world.”
    COGCC proposes requiring companies to provide no more than four water samples before drilling and two after drilling as a way to measure impact. There would be an exemption for companies operating in a broad area north of Denver.
    A proposal by the Environmental Defense Fund and Shell would require tests within a half-mile radius of production wells. It would require baseline sampling from one well up-slope from production wells and two down-slope locations. It also would let COGCC’s director waive some tests if it made scientific sense.

    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    The Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission in January will formally consider proposals to expand the state’s rules on groundwater testing before and after a well is drilled, the commissioners decided late Monday. The decision came after hours of public testimony on various proposals under consideration…

    [Aurora Democratic Sen. Morgan Carroll] on Dec. 7 started work on her proposed Fracking Safety Act of 2013 by filing the bill title with legislative staff, required steps before a bill is introduced during the legislative session. Carroll, in a statement, said her proposal would:

    • Establish a 2,000-foot setback between drilling rigs and homes, schools, hospitals, radioactive sources, explosives and Superfund sites unless the relevant local government approved a narrower distance.
    • Require water-quality testing before and after drilling.
    • Offer a prioritized permit processing for companies that use “green completion standards.”

    “I am hopeful the current rulemaking that has commenced (at the COGCC) on setbacks and groundwater monitoring will result in similar strong public health and safety protections,” Carroll said in her announcement. “If they do not, I remain committed to working to ensure these critical issues are resolved in a way that best protects the health of our children, families and our environment.”[...]

    … in what’s known as the Greater Wattenberg area, an active oil and natural gas basin north of Denver — where local officials and residents have raised concerns about the safety of oil and gas operations — the state would require up to four samples be taken in every square mile.

    From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Colorado gas-and-oil regulators are debating new rules for water quality and drilling near homes, which could determine whether state lawmakers propose stepping in to set their own rules.

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is mulling a new rule to require water-quality testing before and after a well is drilled and hydraulically fractured.

    The Durango Herald reported Tuesday that it will not make a final decision on water quality testing until January at the earliest. Commissioner DeAnn Craig, a petroleum engineer, said the state’s existing rules on well construction are the best defense against groundwater contamination. Craig said she was concerned the state was asking the gas industry to pay for water sampling that should be the responsibility of landowners or county governments. The water tests would cost $4 million to $6 million “for basically public service because we’ve established with the new rules the possibility of contamination is almost zero,” Craig said.

    The commission was debating a separate rule change Tuesday about buffer zones between wells and houses. That rule would require consultation with building owners within 1,000 feet of a proposed well.

    State Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, told the newspaper that she has filed a bill to ban new wells within 2,000 feet of homes and schools, unless the local government approves. Carroll’s bill also would require water-quality tests before and after a well is drilled. Carroll said she hoped the COGCC would pass a good set of rules this week. “If they do not, I remain committed to working to ensure these critical issues are resolved in a way that best protects the health of our children, families and our environment,” she said in a prepared statement.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission proposed a rule change to require buffers of 350 feet between wells and occupied buildings statewide — same as the existing rule for high-density areas.
    Environment advocates and residents urged at least 1,000 feet.

    “Even a 1,000-foot setback would fail to protect public health,” said Jim Ramey, director of Citizens for a Healthy Community in the Western Slope town of Hotchkiss. “People of Colorado need the COGCC to hold industry to a higher standard and to favor protecting citizens over protecting profits.”

    Western Resource Advocates attorney Mike Chiropolos told commissioners “people are talking about migraine headaches, bloody ears” and gastrointestinal ailments that they link to oil and gas drilling. “We need to update the rules.”

    But Colorado Association of Homebuilders attorney Randall Feuerstein argued that any mandatory buffers could lead to unconstitutional “takings” of property. Cattlemen, likewise, contend required buffers could infringe on their use of land.

    Some industry leaders, too, oppose any buffers. “There’s no basis or need for these rules,” Colorado Petroleum Association attorney Jep Seman said.

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, however, supports the 350-foot proposal — while challenging an accompanying tweak to require that companies give advance notice of drilling to residents living within 1,000 feet.

    State regulators also face gaps not fully explored between what various factions would accept as rules for better communication by companies when drilling, consent of neighbors before homeowners could allow drilling, and mitigation of harm that ranges from trucks churning up dust to bright lights, odor and noise.

    The overall result after two all-day hearings was that a consensus on tougher state rules — to ease intensifying public concern — remained elusive…

    Conservation Colorado issued a statement warning Gov. John Hickenlooper that “the time for action is now,” saying that “with increased drilling activity, our quality of life, clean air and water and public health all hang in the balance with this rulemaking.”

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    State regulators have revised their earlier proposal for groundwater testing near oil and gas drilling by recommending that more sites be tested around a well pad.

    However, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff have dropped a proposal that the testing also be required for other facilities separate from well pads, such as treatment and processing facilities and tanks not on pads. They also are proposing separate testing rules for the Wattenberg oil and gas field, centered in Weld County.

    The commission spent a full day Monday taking testimony as it prepares to deliberate on the testing proposal, something it now hopes to do Jan. 7.

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has been encouraging voluntary testing before and after drilling by its member companies, and it now occurs in the case of most wells being drilled. The commission is considering making Colorado the first state to mandate such testing, and much of the debate has centered on how many test sites should be required for each well drilled.

    Commission staff initially recommended requiring sampling of two groundwater or spring sites within a mile of a well pad, preferably with one being upgradient and the other downgradient of the pad. It’s now proposing requiring testing of up to four available water sources within a half mile.

    Its revised proposal comes after the Environmental Defense Fund conservation group and Shell Oil Co. jointly proposed requiring testing of all such sites within that distance. Its proposed four-site cap, however, comes in response to concerns from others in the industry about the costs involved in such testing.

    From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is adopting the rule changes at a time when the gas-and-oil wars have moved beyond their traditional rural battleground and into the Front Range suburbs, where many residents have rebelled against industrial operations near their homes.

    The COGCC is considering a rule pushed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to require water-quality testing before and after a well is drilled and hydraulically fractured. Hickenlooper contends fracking does not contaminate groundwater, and he wants to pass the new rule to prove to Coloradans that the process is safe…

    [Commissioner DeAnn Craig] said she was concerned the state was asking the gas industry to pay for water sampling that should be the responsibility of landowners or county governments. The water tests would cost $4 million to $6 million “for basically public service because we’ve established with the new rules the possibility of contamination is almost zero,” Craig said.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    The point of testing is to establish how pure the groundwater is before drilling and fracking occurs so regulators can determine how much pollution new oil and gas wells cause.

    Since they were first proposed, rules have been loosened to apply only to oil and gas wells, not crude oil tank batteries and other installations as originally envisioned.

    Different rules would apply to new oil and gas wells in the “Greater Wattenberg Area,” a wide swath of heavily-drilled land sweeping northeast from Northglenn to Eaton, including Greeley but not Windsor, Fort Collins or any of Larimer County.

    In the Wattenberg area, drillers wouldn’t have to take new samples of groundwater before drilling if the water had been tested within five years.

    The industry is asking for less-stringent rules in much of Weld County because the Wattenberg Field has been drilled and fracked for decades in areas of dense housing and agriculture, making it difficult to know if new drilling could be faulted for groundwater pollution.

    “Obtaining the true ‘baseline’ groundwater samples in the GWA is generally not possible,” said a Colorado Oil and Gas Association statement submitted to the COGCC prior to the hearing.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Snowpack news: Most of the Colorado mountains have seen a pretty good dumping lately #COwx #CODrought

    December 11, 2012

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    From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

    THE FOLLOWING ARE ESTIMATED 24 HOUR SNOWFALL AMOUNTS FROM MOUNTAIN SNOTEL OBSERVATION SITES IN WESTERN COLORADO AS OF 11 AM TUESDAY.

    NORTHWEST COLORADO MOUNTAINS: 5 TO 18 INCHES.

    CENTRAL COLORADO MOUNTAINS: 2 TO 8 INCHES.

    SOUTHWEST COLORADO MOUNTAINS: TRACE TO 5 INCHES.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    Thanks to a hefty 15.5 inch weekend snow, Monarch Mountain ski resort will open for business Friday.

    The resort on Monday reported snow depth of 23 inches midway up the slopes.

    And more snow is expected by opening day.

    “We won’t know how many trails will be open until probably Thursday,” Monarch marketing manager Greg Ralph said.

    “The crews are packing the snow right now. It’s snowing lightly and more snow is expected.”

    The resort near Salida is anxious to show off $2.3 million in upgrades that include an expanded and remodeled day lodge plus a new line of rental and demo skis and snowboards.

    Monarch’s opening will come 24 days later than hoped. Dry weather patterns meant little moisture for the all-naturalsnow resort where snowmaking equipment is not used.


    Drought news: November weather continues 2012′s dryness and warm temperatures #CODrought #COwx

    December 11, 2012

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    From the National Weather Service Pueblo Office:

    DROUGHT INFORMATION STATEMENT
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE PUEBLO CO
    1245 PM MDT MON DEC 10 2012

    …DROUGHT CONDITIONS PERSIST AND EXPAND ACROSS SOUTH CENTRAL AND
    SOUTHEAST COLORADO…

    SYNOPSIS…

    AFTER A RELATIVELY COOL MONTH OF OCTOBER…THE PAST MONTH OF NOVEMBER RETURNED TO THE FAMILIAR THEME PLAYED OUT THROUGH THE YEAR AS A WHOLE…WITH MUCH WARMER AND DRIER THAN NORMAL CONDITIONS EXPERIENCED ACROSS MOST OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO. ACCORDING TO THE LATEST COLORADO WATER AVAILABILITY TASK FORCE REPORT…THE 2012 WATER YEAR…WHICH ENDED ON SEPTEMBER 30TH…SAW JUST 75 PERCENT OF NORMAL PRECIPITATION STATEWIDE…AND INCLUDED TEN CONSECUTIVE MONTHS OF BELOW AVERAGE PRECIPITATION. THE REPORT ALSO STATED THIS CALENDER YEAR CURRENTLY RANKS AS THE 2ND WARMEST ON RECORD (1895-2012) WITH A STATEWIDE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE OF 51.7 DEGREES.

    WITH THIS IN MIND…THE CURRENT US DROUGHT MONITOR HAS EXPANDED EXCEPTIONAL DROUGHT (D4) CONDITIONS TO INCLUDE SOUTHEASTERN PORTIONS OF EL PASO COUNTY. EXCEPTIONAL DROUGHT (D4) CONDITIONS ALSO REMAIN DEPICTED ACROSS EASTERN PUEBLO COUNTY…CROWLEY COUNTY…OTERO COUNTY…KIOWA COUNTY…MOST OF BENT AND PROWERS COUNTIES…AS WELL AS CENTRAL AND NORTHEASTERN PORTIONS OF LAS ANIMAS COUNTY.

    EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS HAVE ALSO EXPANDED TO INCLUDE ALL OF CUSTER AND HUERFANO COUNTIES…MOST OF THE REST OF LAS ANIMAS COUNTY AND EXTREME NORTHEASTERN COSTILLA COUNTY. EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS REMAIN DEPICTED ACROSS EXTREME SOUTHEAST CHAFFEE COUNTY AND EXTREME NORTHWEST SAGUACHE COUNTY…FREMONT COUNTY…SOUTHWESTERN THROUGH EAST CENTRAL TELLER COUNTY…MOST OF EL PASO COUNTY AND THE REST OF PUEBLO COUNTY. SEVERE DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS ARE ALSO INDICATED ACROSS EXTREME SOUTHEASTERN BENT COUNTY…EXTREME SOUTHERN PROWERS COUNTY…AND NORTHERN AND EASTERN PORTIONS OF BACA COUNTY.

    SEVERE DROUGHT (2) CONDITIONS HAVE ALSO EXPANDED TO INCLUDE ALL OF LAKE COUNTY. SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS REMAIN DEPICTED ACROSS THE REST OF CHAFFEE AND SAGUACHE COUNTIES…MINERAL COUNTY…RIO GRANDE COUNTY…CONEJOS COUNTY…ALAMOSA COUNTY…THE REST OF COSTILLA COUNTY…EXTREME SOUTHEASTERN LAS ANIMAS COUNTY…THE REST OF BACA COUNTY…AS WELL AS NORTHERN TELLER COUNTY AND EXTREME NORTHWESTERN EL PASO COUNTY…

    SUMMARY OF IMPACTS…

    THE PERSISTENT SEVERE TO EXCEPTIONAL DROUGHT CONDITIONS BROUGHT ON BY VERY WARM…DRY AND WINDY WEATHER EXPERIENCED ACROSS THE REGION OVER THE PAST YEAR…HAS IMPACTED SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO IN MANY WAYS. THESE IMPACTS INCLUDE 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.

    FIRE DANGER IMPACTS…

    PERSISTENT DROUGHT CONDITIONS AND CURING FUELS OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS HAVE CONTINUED TO INCREASE THE FIRE DANGER ACROSS THE REGION. MORE WINDY WEATHER ASSOCIATED WITH THE UPCOMING WINTER SEASON WILL LIKELY KEEP FIRE DANGER MODERATE TO HIGH ACROSS THE AREA…AND COULD LEAD TO MORE LOCAL GOVERNMENTS INSTITUTING FIRE RESTRICTIONS OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS…

    AGRICULTURAL IMPACTS…

    CPC AND VIC SOIL MOISTURE CALCULATIONS CONTINUE TO INDICATE DRIER TO MUCH DRIER THAN NORMAL CONDITIONS ACROSS MOST OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…WITH THE WORST CONDITIONS PERSISTING ACROSS SOUTHEAST COLORADO.

    THE LAST USDA COLORADO CROP REPORT FOR 2012 ALSO INDICATES THE DRY SOIL CONDITIONS WITH 85 PERCENT OF TOP SOIL MOISTURE ACROSS THE STATE BEING RATED AS SHORT OR VERY SHORT. THIS COMPARES TO 85 PERCENT OF TOP SOIL MOISTURE BEING REPORTED AS SHORT OR VERY SHORT LAST WEEK AND TO ONLY 48 PERCENT AT THIS SAME TIME LAST YEAR.

    AS FOR SUBSOIL MOISTURE…93 PERCENT WAS BEING REPORTED AS SHORT OR VERY SHORT ACROSS THE STATE…COMPARED TO 97 PERCENT RATED AS SHORT OR VERY SHORT LAST WEEK…AND TO ONLY 48 PERCENT AT THIS SAME TIME LAST YEAR.

    CLIMATE SUMMARY…

    AFTER A COOL MONTH OF OCTOBER ACROSS MOST OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER RETURNED TO THE COMMON THEME PLAYED OUT THROUGH 2012 THUS FAR…NAMELY MUCH WARMER AND DRIER THAN NORMAL CONDITIONS.

    THE AVERAGE MONTHLY TEMPERATURE FOR NOVEMBER IN COLORADO SPRINGS WAS 5.4 DEGREES ABOVE NORMAL…MAKING NOVEMBER OF 2012 THE 5TH WARMEST ON RECORD IN COLORADO SPRINGS. COLORADO SPRINGS RECEIVED ONLY 0.02 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION THROUGH THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER. THIS IS 0.38 INCHES BELOW NORMAL AND MAKES NOVEMBER 2012 TIED AS THE 9TH DRIEST ON RECORD.

    THE AVERAGE MONTHLY TEMPERATURE FOR NOVEMBER IN PUEBLO WAS 3.9 DEGREES ABOVE NORMAL…MAKING NOVEMBER OF 2012 TIED AS THE 21ST WARMEST ON RECORD IN PUEBLO. PUEBLO RECEIVED ONLY A TRACE OF PRECIPITATION THROUGH THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER. THIS IS 0.47 INCHES BELOW NORMAL AND MAKES NOVEMBER OF 2012 TIED WITH SEVEN OTHER YEARS AS THE DRIEST ON RECORD IN PUEBLO. THIS ALSO MARKS THE NINTH CONSECUTIVE MONTH OF BELOW NORMAL PRECIPITATION RECEIVED IN PUEBLO.

    THE AVERAGE MONTHLY TEMPERATURE IN ALAMOSA WAS 0.9 DEGREES ABOVE NORMAL FOR THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER. ALAMOSA RECEIVED 0.08 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION THROUGH THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER. THIS IS 0.34 INCHES BELOW AVERAGE AND MAKE NOVEMBER OF 2012 TIED AS THE 20TH DRIEST ON RECORD IN ALAMOSA…

    HYDROLOGIC SUMMARY…

    AT THE END OF NOVEMBER…STREAMFLOW REMAINED BELOW AVERAGE OVERALL ACROSS THE ARKANSAS AND UPPER RIO GRANDE BASINS. OVERALL RESERVOIR STORAGE LEVELS WERE ALSO RUNNING BELOW AVERAGE. AT THE END OF NOVEMBER…COMBINED RESERVOIR STORAGE LEVELS IN THE ARKANSAS BASIN WERE AROUND 75 PERCENT OF AVERAGE…WHILE COMBINED LEVELS IN THE UPPER RIO GRANDE BASIN WERE AROUND 49 PERCENT OF AVERAGE.

    THE COLORADO WATER AVAILABILITY TASK FORCE REPORTS THAT MANY OF THE MUNICIPALITIES WHICH HAD IMPLEMENTED BOTH VOLUNTARY AND MANDATORY WATERING RESTRICTIONS EARLIER IN THE YEAR WILL KEEP THEM IN PLACE THROUGHOUT THE WINTER. THE REPORT ALSO STATED COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES (CSU) SAW CONSUMPTION INCREASE TO THE HIGHEST LEVELS SINCE 2002 AND CONSEQUENTLY…RESERVOIR LEVELS ARE AT THEIR LOWEST SINCE 2002. OTHER COMMUNITIES ARE CLOSELY WATCHING THE SITUATION AND HAVE SOME CONCERN SHOULD THE DROUGHT CONDITIONS PERSIST FOR ANOTHER YEAR.

    PRECIPITATION/TEMPERATURE OUTLOOK…

    THE CPC OUTLOOK ACROSS SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO FOR THE NEXT TWO WEEKS INCLUDES SLIGHT TILTS TO ABOVE NORMAL TEMPERATURES AND BELOW NORMAL PRECIPITATION. THE OUTLOOK FOR THE REST OF DECEMBER…JANUARY AND FEBRUARY INDICATE BETTER CHANCES FOR ABOVE NORMAL TEMPERATURES WITH AN EQUAL CHANCE OF ABOVE…BELOW AND NEAR NORMAL PRECIPITATION.


    Grand County Approves Windy Gap Firming Project Permit, Agreements #CORiver

    December 11, 2012

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    From Westword (Alan Prendergast):

    Last week, Trout Unlimited and the Upper Colorado River Alliance, plus county and water conservancy district officials, announced an agreement that commits cash and conservation measures to the project. The permit approved by the Grand County commissioners includes a host of conditions that should help improve river health (and water quality in Grand Lake), including a $2 million bypass channel to reconnect the river and periodic “flushing flows” to cleanse the river and remove sediment.

    “For years, those of us living in Grand County have seen the once-mighty Colorado in a state of serious decline,” said Kirk Klancke, president of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado River Headwaters Chapter, in a prepared statement. “This agreement will provide protections and new investments in river health that can put the Colorado River on the road to recovery.”

    While the deal doesn’t give the activists everything they wanted, it does avoid the worst-case scenario some had feared. The headwaters defenders can now turn their energy to another looming threat: Denver Water’s plans to expand its Moffat Tunnel diversion system, sucking the life out of the much-besieged Frasier River, as well as the Colorado.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Clean Water Act: ‘Why rivers no longer burn’ — James Salzman

    December 10, 2012

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    Here’s an essay from James Salzman (writing for Slate) celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Here’s an excerpt:

    A river catches fire, so polluted that its waters have “no visible life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms.” This could describe the mythological River Styx from Hades. Residents of Cleveland, though, may recognize the government’s assessment of their own Cuyahoga River in 1969. While hard to imagine today, discharging raw sewage and pollution into our harbors and rivers has been common practice for most of the nation’s history, with devastating results. By the late 1960s, Lake Erie had become so polluted that Time magazine described it as dead. Bacteria levels in the Hudson River were 170 times above the safe limit.

    I can attest to the state of the Charles River in Boston. While sailing in the 1970s, I capsized and had to be treated by a dermatologist for rashes caused by contact with the germ-laden waters. You can see the poor state of our waters for yourself in the iconic 1971 “Crying Indian” commercial.

    In 1972, a landmark law reversed the course of this filthy tide. Today, four decades later, the Clean Water Act stands as one of the great success stories of environmental law. Supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, the act took a completely new approach to environmental protection. The law flatly stated there would be no discharge of pollutants from a point source (a pipe or ditch) into navigable waters without a permit. No more open sewers dumping crud into the local stream or bay. Permits would be issued by environmental officials and require the installation of the best available pollution-control technologies.

    Click through and read the whole article. If you are an enemy of the EPA stop for a moment to reconsider. The agency has its place. If you are a polluter remember that the law you circumvent is there to prevent the continued loss of clean drinking water sources. If you are a conservationist take solace in the fact that the U.S. was once aligned politically behind protecting the environment. It may happen again.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    ‘Oil and gas have contaminated groundwater in 17 percent of the 2,078 spills…over the past five years’ — The Denver Post

    December 10, 2012

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    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Most of the spills are happening less than 30 feet underground — not in the deep well bores that carry drilling fluids into rock. State regulators say oil and gas crews typically are working on storage tanks or pipelines when they discover that petroleum material, which can contain cancer-causing benzene, has seeped into soil and reached groundwater. Companies respond with vacuum trucks or by excavating tainted soil. Contamination of groundwater — along with air emissions, truck traffic and changed landscapes — has spurred public concerns about drilling along Colorado’s Front Range. There are 49,236 active wells statewide, up 31 percent since 2008, with 17,844 in Weld County.

    Starting Monday, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulators struggling to maintain a consistent set of state rules governing the industry will begin grappling with the groundwater issue. The COGCC is weighing proposed changes to state rules that would require companies to conduct before-and-after testing of groundwater around wells to provide baseline data that could be used to hold companies accountable for pollution…

    The state government’s efforts to toughen rules around groundwater — such as establishing bigger setbacks around occupied buildings, including churches and schools — are aimed partly at defusing regulatory conflicts between the state and local governments. The COGCC is charged with both promoting and regulating the oil- and-gas industry.

    But Boulder County and other local governments have begun to pass health and safety regulations of their own. Longmont adopted tougher city rules that prompted Gov. John Hickenlooper to file a lawsuit challenging local authority. Hickenlooper has warned that a mishmash of varied local rules could drive companies to other states. Longmont residents then voted to ban all drilling inside the city — igniting ban campaigns elsewhere. Hickenlooper on Thursday said the state will not sue over the ban but will support private companies that choose to do so.

    Current proposals for baseline testing of groundwater give companies too much freedom to cherry-pick wells they would use to draw samples, said Gary Wockner, director of Clean Water Action, which is pushing for new local rules in several locations. “The groundwater sampling would need to be scientifically designed to confirm whether there’s been damage to groundwater — whether deep in the aquifers or at the surface,” Wockner said. “The state needs to clamp down … and protect the public from cancer-causing fracking chemicals.”

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Drought news: U.S. Representative Tipton hopes to snag help for farmers #CODrought

    December 10, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., asked federal agricultural officials Monday to ease restrictive insurance guidelines on farmers in the San Luis Valley given the lingering drought. Tipton expressed his concern in a letter to USDA’s Risk Management Agency, stating that agency guidelines would limit farmers in the Multiple Peril Crop Insurance Program from filing claims because of less water being available. The guidelines for the insurance program would preclude farmers who made a claim in 2012 from filing for the same amount of acreage in 2013.

    “Relaxing the Risk Management Agency policy for a single crop year would allow the farmers of the San Luis Valley to weather the ongoing drought, and will make an enormous economic difference in the region,” Tipton wrote. The loss of acreage claimed under the program could also be a blow to efforts to preserve the valley’s shallow aquifer, which has already plummeted to historic lows.

    Last year Subdistrict No. 1, which takes in farms in the north-central part of the valley, paid farmers to fallow roughly 9,000 acres that would have otherwise been irrigated with groundwater. Farmers in the subdistrict also lessened or altogether eliminated the use of groundwater on nearly twice as much acreage because they had successfully filed planting claims.


    Missouri River Reuse Project: ‘I pooh-poohed this kind of stuff back in the 1960s’ — Chuck Howe

    December 10, 2012

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    From The New York Times (Felicity Barringer):

    The federal government has come up with dozens of ways to enhance the diminishing flow of the Colorado River, which has long struggled to keep seven states and roughly 25 million people hydrated…

    …also in the mix, and expected to remain in the final draft of the report [ed. Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study], is a more extreme and contentious approach. It calls for building a pipeline from the Missouri River to Denver, nearly 600 miles to the west. Water would be doled out as needed along the route in Kansas, with the rest ultimately stored in reservoirs in the Denver area…

    The fact that the Missouri River pipeline idea made the final draft, water experts say, shows how serious the problem has become for the states of the Colorado River basin. “I pooh-poohed this kind of stuff back in the 1960s,” said Chuck Howe, a water policy expert and emeritus professor of economics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “But it’s no longer totally unrealistic. Currently, one can say ‘It’s worth a careful look.’ ”

    The pipeline would provide the Colorado River basin [ed. Denver, Kansas, etc., are not in the Colorado River Basin] with 600,000 acre-feet of water annually, which could serve roughly a million single-family homes. But the loss of so much water from the Missouri and Mississippi River systems, which require flows high enough to sustain large vessel navigation, would most likely face strong political opposition…

    Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, said that during the course of the study, the analysis done on climate change and historical data led the agency “to an acknowledged gap” between future demand and future supply as early as the middle of this century.

    That is when they put out a call for broader thinking to solve the water problem. “When we did have that wake-up call, we threw open the doors and said, ‘Bring it on,’ ” she said. “Nothing is too silly.”[...]

    It is unclear how much such a pipeline project would cost, though estimates run into the billions of dollars. That does not include the cost of the new electric power that would be needed (along with the construction of new generating capacity) to pump the water uphill from Leavenworth, Kan., to the front range reservoirs serving Denver, about a mile above sea level, according to Sharlene Leurig, an expert on water-project financing at Ceres, a nonprofit group based in Boston that works with investors to promote sustainability.

    If the Denver area had this new source of water to draw on, it could reduce the supplies that come from the Colorado River basin on the other side of the Continental Divide.

    But [Burke W. Griggs] and some federal officials said that the approval of such a huge water project remained highly unlikely.

    Ms. Leurig noted that local taxpayers and utility customers would be shouldering most of the expense of such a venture through their tax and water bills, which would make conservation a more palatable alternative.

    More Missouri River Reuse Project coverage here.


    National Climatic Data Center: November State of the Climate report #CODrought #COwx

    December 9, 2012

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    Here’s the November State of the Climate from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center:

    Drought persists, causing water resource issues for central U.S.; 2012 virtually certain to become warmest year on record for the nation

    The average temperature for the contiguous U.S. during November was 44.1°F, 2.1°F above the 20th century average, tying 2004 as the 20th warmest November on record. The autumn contiguous U.S. temperature of 54.7°F was the 21st warmest autumn, 1.1°F above average.

    The November nationally-averaged precipitation total of 1.19 inches was 0.93 inch below the long-term average and the 8th driest November on record. The autumn precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 5.71 inches, 1.0 inch below average.

    The January-November period was the warmest first 11 months of any year on record for the contiguous United States, and for the entire year, 2012 will most likely surpass the current record (1998, 54.3°F) as the warmest year for the nation.

    U.S. climate highlights: November

  • November brought warmer-than-average conditions to the western half of the country. The largest temperature departures from average were centered near the Rockies where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming had November temperatures among their ten warmest.
  • The Eastern Seaboard, Ohio Valley, and Southeast were cooler than average during November. North Carolina tied its 10th coolest November on record, with a statewide-averaged temperature 3.5°F below average.
  • A large area of the country experienced below-average precipitation in November. Drier-than-average conditions stretched from the Intermountain West, through the Plains, into the Midwest, and along the entire East Coast.
  • Twenty-two states had monthly precipitation totals ranking among their ten driest.
  • According to the November 27 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 62.7 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate-to-exceptional drought, larger than the 60.2 percent observed at the end of October. Drought conditions improved for parts of the Northern Rockies, which were wetter-than-average during November, while conditions worsened for parts of the Southwest and Mid-Atlantic.
  • U.S. climate highlights: Autumn (September-November)

  • Autumn temperatures were above average across much of the western United States. Nevada had its warmest autumn on record, with a seasonal temperature 3.7°F above average. Arizona, California, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming each had a top ten warm autumn.
  • The Ohio Valley and Southeast experienced below-average autumn temperatures. Kentucky autumn temperatures were the sixth coolest while Mississippi had its 10th coolest autumn.
  • Autumn precipitation totals were drier than average for the central U.S. and parts of the Southeast. Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota each had a top ten dry autumn. Wetter-than-average conditions were present for the Pacific Northwest, the Ohio Valley, and parts of the Northeast.
  • U.S. climate highlights: Year-to-Date (January-November)

  • The January-November period was the warmest first 11 months of any year on record for the contiguous United States. The national temperature of 57.1°F was 3.3°F above the 20th century average, and 1.0°F above the previous record warm January-November of 1934. During the 11-month period, 18 states were record warm and an additional 24 states were top ten warm.
  • It appears virtually certain that 2012 will surpass the current record (1998, 54.3°F) as the warmest year for the nation. December 2012 temperatures would need to be more than 1.0°F colder than the coldest December (1983) for 2012 to not break the record.
  • January-November 2012 was the 12th driest such period on record for the contiguous U.S., with a precipitation total 3.08 inches below the long-term average of 26.91 inches.
  • Drier-than-average conditions stretched across the central part of the country, from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast. Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming each had their driest year-to-date on record and eight additional states had 11-month precipitation totals among their ten driest.
  • Wetter-than-average conditions were present for the Pacific Northwest, the central Gulf Coast, and New England. Washington State experienced its 9th wettest year-to-date.
  • The U.S. Climate Extremes Index (USCEI), an index that tracks the highest and lowest 10 percent of extremes in temperature, precipitation, drought and tropical cyclones across the contiguous U.S., was more than twice the average value during the January-November period, and marked the highest USCEI value for the period. Extremes in warm daytime temperatures, warm nighttime temperatures, and the spatial extent of drought conditions contributed to the record high USCEI value.

  • Colorado State University Scientists Studying Climate Change Impact on Front Range Drinking Water through USDA Grant

    December 9, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

    The Colorado Rocky Mountains are undergoing rapid changes as the result of climate change. Through a new United States Department of Agriculture grant, Colorado State University scientists and the U.S. Forest Service are investigating how those changes will impact drinking water for the millions living along Colorado’s Front Range.

    Through the $125,000 USDA grant, postdoctoral researcher Gina McKee and associate professor Thomas Borch from CSU’s Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, along with Chuck Rhoades from the U.S. Forest Service, will study the potential impact of climate change on water quality affecting more than 25 million who rely on the forest’s headwaters as their drinking water source.

    “This research will provide critical information about the future quality of drinking water consumed by millions along the Front Range of Colorado and beyond,” said McKee. “I am thrilled to receive this prestigious award from the USDA NIFA postdoctoral grant program. The opportunity to conduct this cutting-edge research at CSU investigating the impact of climate change on water quality is a real honor.”

    Due to increased temperatures from climate change, Colorado’s mountain pine beetle infestation has killed approximately 10 million lodgepole pine trees since 2006. The collaborative project between CSU and the U.S. Forest Service will apply advanced analytical techniques for the first time to determine what the vegetation change in the Rocky Mountains means for the water produced along the Front Range. The change in vegetation could have a dramatic impact on the chemistry and quantity of natural organic matter (NOM) in forest headwaters which in turn affects water quality.

    One unique aspect of the project is the advanced analytical techniques the team will use: primarily ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry. Using this advanced technique, researchers will investigate the impact vegetation change has had on the recovering subalpine forests using a list of biological markers (biomarkers) from the major vegetation types for comparison.

    The biomarkers will be used as a tracing tool for each vegetation type in surrounding soils and waters to assess the significance of the vegetation change. Additionally, the scientists will look at the released NOM from subalpine forests as they enter the headwaters and then on as the source of drinking water for millions. This NOM reacts with disinfectants – such as chlorine – added during drinking water treatment to produce carcinogenic compounds called disinfection byproducts that can be carried to peoples’ homes. The formation of the toxic disinfection byproducts is a global issue potentially affecting millions of people worldwide, and therefore is of great concern.

    The molecular makeup of the NOM precursor compounds is poorly understood which limits the ability of drinking water facilities to effectively remove them and will be further compounded if this NOM is altered due to the changes in vegetation.

    “This project will provide new information that can be used to optimize current drinking water treatment approaches in order to minimize the formation of carcinogenic drinking water pollutants,” said Borch.
    During the study, headwaters will be subjected to model drinking water treatment to identify whether vegetation type impacts the formation and quantity of disinfection byproducts and what the likely NOM precursor compounds are. The results could have wide-ranging impacts on millions of people’s ability to obtain high-quality drinking water in light of the changing headwater chemistry.

    McKee, Borch and Rhoades will spend the next two years studying the effect of NOM derived from major headwaters and specific vegetation types on the formation of drinking water pollutants.

    More education coverage here.


    CoCoRaHS webinar: Historic Winter Season Weather Events — What’s the best of the worst

    December 9, 2012

    Western Governors Association report: Water Transfers in the West

    December 9, 2012

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    You can download a copy here. Here’s the release (Tom Iseman/Tony Willardson):

    The Western Governors today released a report, Water Transfers in the West, which provides an overview on how the region can help meet growing demands for water with voluntary market-based sales and leases of water rights.

    “Voluntary water transfers have occurred for decades,” said Governor Gary R. Herbert (Utah), Chairman of the Western Governors’ Association. “But with so many new citizens and industries settling in the water-scarce West, now is the time to evaluate how we use transfers in our approach to providing water.”

    A water transfer, as defined in this report, is a voluntary agreement that results in a change in the type, time or place of use of a water right. Water transfers can take the form of a sale, lease or donation and they can move water among agricultural, municipal, industrial energy and environmental uses.

    Water transfers are one component of a suite of tools Western water managers can use to meet new demands from changes in farming practices, energy development, and urbanization. States can also develop new infrastructure and storage (such as dams), conservation and efficiency, and water reuse projects.

    “There is no magic wand or silver bullet when it comes to meeting water supply, only well-informed decision making,” said Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This report will help states learn from each other’s experiences with water transfers in order to make the best decisions for each state’s water future.”

    Water transfers offer a means to “re-purpose” existing water resources for new uses. Since farmers hold many of the West’s senior water rights, the Governors passed a policy in 2011 advocating that states “identify and promote innovative ways to allow water transfers from other uses … while avoiding or mitigating damages to agricultural economies and communities.” The report also addresses ways to mitigate impacts to the environment.

    The report is a product of a year-long project in partnership with the Western States Water Council (WSWC), a group of top water administrators in the Western states. The Western Governors’ Association and WSWC convened three stakeholder workshops with more than 100 participants from July to December of 2011. The meetings drew state administrators, environmental organizations, farmers, academics, and water resource professionals from across the West, providing diverse perspectives on water transfers.

    “The balanced approach to water transfers advocated for in the WSWC report is the same philosophy that must be advanced on an even larger scale here in the West,” said Patrick O’Toole, President of the Family Farm Alliance and a workshop participant. “Transfers are a way of meeting short-term water challenges, but they are only one instrument in a much broader suite of tools that also must include water conservation and modern infrastructure to store and move water.”

    Rather than providing a “one-size-fits-all” blueprint for states to follow, Water Transfers in the West highlights successful transfers and innovative practices to allow Western states to learn from their collective experiences and take advantage of the “lessons learned.” The report also recognizes that each state’s individual circumstances will determine how it should address transfers. It addresses only transfers within states, and not interstate transfers.

    “Transfers are already occurring in all of the Western states, and many state water administrators say that transfers will continue to play a vital role in the way they meet demands,” said Tony Willardson, Executive Director of the Western States Water Council (WSWC). “WSWC and WGA will continue to provide states with information on how to take advantage of the decentralized and flexible nature of transfers while avoiding or mitigating any negative effects of transfers.”

    WGA and WSWC will continue their work on water transfers following the release of the report.

    The report, titled Water Transfers in the West: Projects, Trends, and Leading Practices in Voluntary Water Trading is available for download online at westgov.org/water. Information from past stakeholder workshops, an executive summary, and perspectives from stakeholders are also available online.

    More water law coverage here.


    Grand Junction: Sanitary sewer rates are going up in 2013

    December 9, 2012

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    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Duffy Hayes):

    It’s been a few years since customers of the Persigo Wastewater Treatment Plant have seen their monthly bills rise, but plans for each of the next three years call for a boost in customer fees.

    A budget adopted this week for 2013 includes a $2.02 rise for basic, minimal-use sewer and wastewater treatment service for Persigo customers, increasing the total monthly service to $17. According to the plan, rates are set to jump $2 in 2014 and $1.75 in 2015.

    Mesa County commissioners, who have joint oversight over the wastewater plant with the Grand Junction City Council, heard a number of reasons for the planned rate increases.

    Grand Junction City Services Manager Dan Tonello presented a budget for next year that includes a roughly 3 percent increase in operations expenses and a capital plan that is jumping from $2.29 million in 2012 to $4.22 million in 2013.

    A big part of the additional expense is to replace aging infrastructure in the system’s collection network. Tonello said 217 miles of the roughly 500 miles of pipe in the system are at “life expectancy” and “beyond their design life.”

    “We need to increase the frequency with which we are replacing that — or essentially, 10 or 20 years down the road, we could have a very old system in need of drastic repairs,” Tonello told county commissioners.

    Persigo plans to hire two new full-time employees next year. One is expected to help maintain and repair the current system. Another is expected to help serve the Central Grand Valley Sanitation District, which Persigo now manages after a November vote that dissolved the special district.

    Also, because there have been no rate increases during the recent economic downturn, Persigo fund balances have decreased, and Tonello said the rate increases will keep those balances above minimally acceptable levels.

    Finally, regulations that will require new measurement of nutrients are looming. About $500,000 is being set aside next year to prepare for those regulations, and Persigo hopes to have $11 million collected by 2023 to comply with the new, as-of-yet unspecified standards.

    “I’m not real happy about the increase in fees, but I do understand the challenges with capital and maintaining the infrastructure, and I do know that we have one of the smallest monthly fees compared to any other sewer funds,” Commissioner Janet Rowland said.

    Despite the fee increases, Persigo customers still enjoy the lowest rates on the Western Slope for sewer service. Staff attribute the low fees to federal participation in Persigo’s construction in the 1980s and the lack of a debt payment for the plant.

    Looking beyond 2015, the long-range budget projections show no increase in fees in 2016 and 2017, and 50-cent increases planned for 2018, 2019 and 2020. Tonello cautioned that these are very preliminary projections for these years and “when we actually get there, things could be very different.”

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Animas River: ‘The amount was 9,209 acre-feet, the lowest total in 102 years’ — The Durango Herald #CODrought

    December 9, 2012

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the discharge graph for November for the Animas River at Durango gage.

    From The Durango Herald:

    The flow, given in acre-feet, was the total amount of water that flowed past the Durango gauging station in 30 days. The amount was 9,209 acre-feet, the lowest total in 102 years. The rate of flow, which is measured in cubic feet per second and reflects the amount of water passing by a fixed point every second, wasn’t great, either. It varied from a minimum of 133 cfs to a maximum of 176 cfs…

    The second-lowest total flow in the Animas River at Durango during November was in 1934 when 9,374 acre-feet was recorded.

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

    At the end of a year that saw a dry spring and early summer, Telluride has fallen way behind average for annual precipitation. According to records kept by resident Thom Carnevale, Telluride saw 15.42 inches of precipitation for the year through Nov. 30 — about six and a half inches below the average to-date number of 21.73 inches. November saw just .39 inches of precipitation, down from the monthly average of 1.53 inches.

    Though the year might be a wildcard in terms of snowfall, over the past 62 years, warm weather in the region — which meteorologists are predicting — has traditionally not been good for snowfall.

    “Based on research done by Joe Ramey, here in Western Colorado, even though the Climate Prediction Center is predicting equal chances for either above or below average precipitation — chances are it will be dry,” said Jim Pringle, a meteorologist at the NOAA’s Grand Junction office. “Since 1950 when we’ve had significantly dry periods, a good number of them were during neutral sea patterns — there are only a couple of years where there are exceptions.”[...]

    According to data from NOAA, most of San Miguel County has only received around 25 to 50 percent of average precipitation for the year, and the entire county is considered to be in severe drought, which it has been since early summer. Over the last month, most of the county has received 0 percent of the precipitation it got a month earlier.


    Powder Day! Breckenridge = 8″, Beaver Creek = 11″, Vail = 9″, Keystone = 6″ #COwx #CODrought

    December 9, 2012

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Copper, Keystone, A-Basin and Breckenridge all reported about half a foot of snow in the 24 hours ending Sunday morning, with 9 inches at Eldora, 15 inches at Aspen Mountain and 14 inches at Snowmass. Get the full snow report at the CSCUSA website

    Outside the resorts, readings at SNOTEL sites also reflect the welcome boost in moisture, with 10 inches on the ground at the Copper site, 19 inches at Loveland Basin and 14 inches at the Grizzly Peak site and 13 inches at Fremont Pass, between Copper and Leadville.


    ‘Holding back water would happen regardless of the amount of snowpack’ — Donnie Dustin #CODrought

    December 9, 2012

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    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    The problem: soot, sediment and debris washing from burned forests have made the Cache la Poudre River less reliable as Fort Collins’ main water supply for urban households. Particles clog treatment facilities. So, city officials say, they must heavily tap their secondary supply — water piped under mountains from the Western Slope. That water typically has been leased to farmers…

    In the big picture, this intensifying water crunch reflects a shifting balance of power between cities and the agriculture that traditionally has anchored life along Colorado’s northern Front Range. Drought and the oil-and-gas industry’s appetite for drilling water already have weakened farmers’ position. Cities in recent years have purchased interests in irrigation-ditch companies. Farmers have sold their water rights, taking advantage of high prices. Financial stress and low commodity prices forced some to sell. Others simply sought profit. The result is that city interests increasingly dominate decision-making…

    “We’ve got this twofold issue of drought complicated by fire, and the issue of more fires. What that will do to our water yields is very unknown,” said John Stulp, a Colorado agriculture leader serving as a special water adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper…

    For farmers, the trouble is hitting five months after the High Park fire, just as they prepare to make business decisions for the coming year. Given the uncertainties of sediment polluting the Poudre, Fort Collins “is extremely unlikely to make any water rentals” next year, city water-resources manager Donnie Dustin told farmers in a Nov. 14 e-mail. Holding back water would happen “regardless of the amount of snowpack,” Dustin wrote. “The ability to consistently treat Poudre River water is likely to be an ongoing concern for the next few years.”

    Cities cannot be blamed for holding back water they now control, said Rocky Mountain Farmers Union president Kent Peppler. “Their first priority has to be domestic use, and if they think runoff from the fire is going to pollute their supplies, they have to do this,” he said. But agriculture “isn’t going to get any easier if these fires continue…

    “We’ve been under stress this whole decade,” said Grant Family Farms owner Lewis Grant, 89, who serves on advisory boards for Larimer County and Fort Collins and is involved in efforts to preserve farms amid spreading subdivisions. “It’s almost hopeless for younger farmers. Land is so expensive. Water is so expensive.”

    On the sprawling farm northwest of Wellington, Grant produces eggs that end up in Whole Foods Markets. The farm’s produce — including squash, lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, kale and cabbage — is sold by King Soopers and other markets. Water rented from Fort Collins irrigates about 25 percent of his crops, he said. One solution may be for Fort Collins to install extra sediment-control tanks to enable consistent use of the Poudre. “That would seem reasonable to me,” Grant said.

    City officials say they’re considering costs. Such facilities likely would force higher water bills for city dwellers and higher prices for farmers and energy companies that vie for city water.

    More Cache La Poudre watershed coverage here.


    Cloud-seeding rules may help to determine the efficacy of the various delivery methods #CORiver

    December 8, 2012

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    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    As part of the state-authorized weather modification plan, operators of cloud-seeding operations are required to complete annual “target versus control” analyses, comparing snowfall in target areas against similar non-targeted control areas. Over time, the data from those evaluations may help determine if cloud seeding really does boost snowfall by up to 15 percent, as claimed by the operators.

    “This method is credible and develops relationships between snow data and tracks precipitation totals over time in both seeded areas and non-seeded areas to help track the efficacy of the program,” said Maria Pastore, of Glenwood Springs-based Grand River Consulting, who manages the central mountains cloud-seeding rogram.

    “In addition, the State has new data types and evaluation methods suggested for cloud seeding programs,” Pastore said. “They are not required but are suggested as good periodic evaluations that can help the long-term sustainability of these programs.”

    Cloud seeding in Colorado involves burning silver iodide in ground-based generators to inject tiny particles of the material into approaching weather systems. The silver iodide is said to provide nucleii for crystal formation and growth, helping to wring a bit of additional moisture from the clouds.

    For the 2012-2013 season, the central mountains program will cost $293,600 and target an area of about 1,668 square miles of the Upper Colorado River Basin, generally above elevation 8,500 feet, in parts of Pitkin, Eagle, Summit, and Grand counties. If it works, the program could benefit A-Basin, Breckenridge, Keystone and Winter Park, all included in the target area.

    More cloud-seeding coverage here and here.


    Drought news: Many eyes are on the water in the Missouri River reservoirs #CODrought

    December 8, 2012

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    From The Winona Daily News (David A. Lieb):

    From Montana to West Virginia, officials on both sides have written President Barack Obama urging him to intervene _ or not _ in a long-running dispute over whether water from the Missouri’s upstream reservoirs should be released into the Mississippi River to ease low water levels that have imperiled commercial traffic.

    The quarrel pits boaters, fishermen and tourism interests against communities downstream and companies that rely on the Mississippi to do business.

    “We are back to the age-old old battle of recreation and irrigation verses navigation,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri.

    If the water is held back, downstream states warn that shipping on the Mississippi could come to a near standstill sometime after Christmas along a 180-mile stretch between St. Louis and the southern Illinois town of Cairo. But if the water is released, upstream communities worry that the toll of the drought could be even worse next year for farms and towns that depend on the Missouri.

    Obama has not decided whether to enter the dispute, nor has the White House set a timetable to respond. But tensions are rising in this decades-old battle.

    From his perch as executive director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority, Dan Overbey watched this week as workers scrambled to ship out as much grain as possible before the Mississippi gets so low that it is not economically feasible or physically possible to move loaded-down barges…

    More than 800 miles to the northwest, Michael Dwyer was also stewing. He’s the executive vice president of the North Dakota Water Users Association.

    To Dwyer, the downriver interests are “taking selfishness” to “a level you can’t even comprehend.”

    “We suffered the impact of these reservoirs” when they were created decades ago by dams that flooded 500,000 acres of bottomland, Dwyer said. “To have some use of the resource only seems appropriate.”

    At the Mississippi River port near Cape Girardeau, Mo., about a million tons of cargo are loaded or unloaded annually, providing about 200 jobs, Overbey said.

    The water is also vital in parts of the Dakotas, where the dammed-up Missouri River has spawned a tourism industry centered on boating and fishing…

    Over the past three decades, more than a dozen lawsuits have been filed challenging the management of the river, many of which set Missouri and other downstream states against the Dakotas and other upstream states.

    The battles started in 1982, when Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska challenged a government contract allowing water to be drawn from the Missouri River in South Dakota to flush coal through a pipeline to power plants in the southeast. The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the project, but other lawsuits followed, including an effort by upstream states to reduce the water released from dams in an attempt to boost sport fishing in the reservoirs.

    Missouri, meanwhile, sued the Army Corps of Engineers when it held back water because of droughts and shortened the navigation season. Environmental groups also joined the court battles, advocating for spring surges and summer declines in downstream river levels to help threatened species of birds and fish.

    So far, no lawsuits have been filed in the current competition for water. But battle lines have been drawn…

    The Corps of Engineers, which manages both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, says its guidelines prohibit it from releasing water from the Missouri River reservoirs for the primary purpose of improving navigation on the Mississippi. That position was backed up by a 1990 report from the federal government’s General Accounting Office, though officials from downstream states believe Obama could trump that by declaring an emergency to avoid an “economic calamity.”


    Water Under Pressure: What Oil Shale Could Mean for Western Water, Fish and Wildlife

    December 8, 2012

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    Click here to read a new report on oil shale exploration and production [well, maybe someday] from Melinda Kassen:

    For more than a century, efforts to wring oil out of rock formations in the Rocky Mountain West have waxed and waned. The deposits underlying northwestern Colorado, southwestern Wyoming and northeastern Utah have been portrayed as “the Saudi Arabia’’ of oil shale, a vast source of domestic energy that would cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil, create many jobs and produce millions of dollars of revenue for state and local governments.

    That same area, the 16,000-square-mile Green River Formation, is home to some of the nation’s most valuable fish and wildlife habitat. Colorado’s Piceance Basin boasts North America’s largest migratory mule deer herd and some of the country’s largest elk herds. The huge tracts of public land also support greater sage-grouse, Colorado River cutthroat trout, black bear, bald eagles and mountain lions. Hunting, fishing, other wildlife-based activities and outdoor recreation are cornerstones of the regional economy and integral to the area’s lifestyle, heritage and identity. Coursing through the wildlife habitat, ranches, fruit orchards and communities is the water that allows the people, the wildlife and the commerce all to thrive in the semi-arid climate. The rivers, fed by mountain snow and beloved by anglers, include the Green, the White, Uintah, Lake Fork, Strawberry and Duchesne. They include Utah’s top two fishing destinations, the renowned Green River gorge and Strawberry Reservoir, as well as hundreds of miles of headwaters trout and larger reaches with fat rainbows and browns.

    This report explores how large-scale commercial oil shale development in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado could affect the region’s water supply and quality and what that might mean for fish, wildlife and communities. After more than 100 years of trying, we are still several years away from an economically viable oil shale industry. The technology is unproven and the potential environmental impacts are unknown. Even conservative estimates indicate the volume of water needed to transform kerogen – a precursor to oil – into a usable fuel could be huge. For a resource that lies in the midst of the semi-arid West, with sparse precipitation and few large rivers, it is not
    clear where the water would come from, or how it would affect the fish that live in the local streams. With the region already straining its water supply and facing continued population growth, finding another increment of water for oil shale, while protecting native and sport fisheries, may be an insurmountable challenge.

    The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently proposing a cautious approach to oil shale development. The BLM has proposed keeping development off sensitive wildlife habitat, limiting new public leases to research and demonstration projects and moving ahead with commercial leases only after the pilot projects produce results. This approach is a prudent way to test oil shale potential and limit the risk to the regions water supplies

    From American Rivers’ The River Blog (David Moryc):

    If you were to draw up a list of rivers where you wouldn’t want to extract oil shale in the United States, the Green, the White and the Upper Colorado would be in the list. (Similar to developing a massive copper and gold mine in the most productive salmon watershed on the planet, but I digress.)

    Yet, due to a curse of geology that is unfortunately exactly where industrial-scale oil shale production of oil shale is proposed that could require as much as 123 billion gallons of water, according to a new report [PDF] authored by Melinda Kassen.

    More coverage of oil shale — the next big thing for over a hundred years now — here and here.


    ‘If we’re in the same situation at the end of January, we can start worrying’ — Rege Leach #CODrought

    December 8, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    The total flow in the Animas through Durango during November was 9,209 acre-feet, the lowest in 102 years of records, Rege Leach, the state Division of Water Resources engineer in Durango, said Thursday. The second-lowest flow in the Animas was in 1934, when 9,374 acre-feet flowed through Durango, Leach said.

    Other area rivers didn’t fare much better, Leach said. The November flow in the La Plata River was the fourth lowest in 103 years of record keeping, and the Dolores River carried its third-lowest flow in 96 years of records…

    “It’s too early to tell because SNOTEL sites in the San Juan and Dolores basins don’t tell that much right now,” Leach said. “If we get a couple of good storms in the next weeks, we can be back to an average snowpack.

    “You can’t say it’s going to be a dry winter now,” Leach said. “But if we’re in the same situation at the end of January, we can start worrying.”

    From the Christian Science Monitor (Pete Spotts):

    Less than 18 months after the US Army Corps of Engineers blasted gaps in a levee on the Mississippi River to cope with a record flood, it’s getting ready to detonate explosives for the opposite reason – to clear rock outcroppings on the bottom of the drought-depleted waterway so cargo can keep moving…

    Even in a year that saw hurricane Sandy, the drought could be the headline severe-weather event of 2012.

    Initial estimates range from $60 billion to $100 billion, with a first official estimate from the US Department of Agriculture expected in February, says Steven Cain, a specialist with Purdue University’s Agriculture Communications Service in West Lafayette, Ind.

    By some estimates, Sandy inflicted at least $75 billion in damage…

    Graineries in St. Louis reportedly loaded their last barges until further notice Friday, according to Lynn Mench, a senior vice president with the American Waterway Operators (AWO), based in Arlington, Va. Grain shippers are opting to halt their work rather than send barges down partially loaded, which gets them down river but at a higher cost to the grain’s buyers. Sending them fully loaded could result in the barges running aground and remaining stuck until water levels rise.

    Restrictions on barge capacity also affect winter-friendly commodities coming up river – from road salt to coal that power plants need to keep generators humming. Other forms of transportation will try to pick up the slack, but at higher cost.

    One inch in a barge’s hold represents about the same capacity as one semi truck, Ms. Mench notes. Where normally barges will be loaded to a 12-foot draft, conditions now are limiting them to about 7-1/2 feet – a loss of about 54 trailers’ worth of capacity per barge.

    To help keep the St. Louis-to-Cairo run navigable for as long as possible, the US Army Corps of Engineers is getting set to blast away rocks on the river bottom near Thebes, Ill. But that may not happen until early January.


    Storage news: Southeastern’s winter water storage program diversions are about half of normal #CODrought

    December 8, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    No surprise: Winter water storage is at about half of last year’s levels, and less than 40 percent of average. The program, administered under a water court decree by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, allows 11 Arkansas Valley ditches to store water from Nov. 15 to March 15. The water can be used either to start crops in a dry spring or finish them in a dry summer.

    But in the midst of a drought, there is just not much to store.

    The first accounting of storage this year, on Nov. 30, showed just 9,764 acrefeet had been stored. The 20­year average is 24,600 acre­feet. By the same time last year, 19,500 acre­feet had been stored.

    That doesn’t bode well for the next few months if dry conditions don’t let up.

    Last year, winter water netted 121,000 acre­feet, about 85 percent of average.

    River flows on the Arkansas River continue to lag far behind normal levels. Snowpack in the Arkansas River basin, as well as the Upper Colorado River basin, which provides supplemental water to the valley, is at just 25 percent of average.

    Rainfall in the Pueblo area is just 4.7 inches, about 40 percent of normal and the driest year since 2002.

    Meanwhile, the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Board is planning to pony up $18.8 million in 2013 for various costs including $1.8 million for to enhance streamflow in the Colorado River. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka Writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday approved the 2013 budget with $18.8 million in expenditures, most of which will go to the federal government to repay the Fryingpan­Arkansas Project.

    The district also approved the expenditure of about $1.8 million toward a ranch to provide water for Colorado River flows. Southeastern is joining other water providers to buy the Red Top Ranch near Granby for water rights that will be used to protect endangered fish in the Colorado River. That includes some money budgeted this year, but not spent because of delays in contract negotiations.

    Revenues to the district are expected to be about $16.2 million through a 0.935 mill levy in parts of nine counties, water sales, payments from enterprise members and investments.

    Most of the money will go toward repaying federal contracts for the Fryingpan­Arkansas Project to the Bureau of Reclamation — $6.5 million to repay the agricultural share of the project and $5.3 million for the Fountain Valley Conduit (paid only in El Paso County).

    The budget also includes about $500,000 for continued work on the master lease contract, Arkansas Valley Conduit and outlet interconnection at Pueblo Dam.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage <a href="http://coyotegulch.wordpress.com/category/colorado-water/arkansas-basin/


    Forecast news: Colder stormtrack out of the Pacific Northwest by the middle of December #CODrought #COwx

    December 7, 2012

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    From Snow.com (Joel Gratz):

    The good news is that a new storm will take shape and it’ll bring colder air to much of the country, including Colorado. Storms in this new weather pattern will originate further north, which means colder and fluffier snow. And while this next week will generally favor snow only for Colorado, the longer-range forecasts are hinting that a flatter storm track could evolve into the third week of December which would mean storms for both California and Colorado.

    But first thing’s first – let’s talk about this weekend’s storm. While a few light snow showers could fall over the Colorado resorts on Thursday, Thursday night, Friday, and Friday night, the main event won’t arrive until late Saturday afternoon. A cold front will move in from the northwest and usher in heavy snow and colder temperatures on Saturday night. If things come together just right, about 4-8 inches should fall at most of the Colorado resorts Saturday night and it’ll feel a lot more like a (chilly) winter day on Sunday.

    From The Denver Post:

    The Arctic blast is expected to spin out of the Gulf of Alaska on Friday, travel down the northern Rockies and spill into Colorado on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. After that, details are still sketchy, however.

    “Forecast confidence is beginning to increase in the bigger picture, yet uncertainty continues with many important details such as the storm’s eventual strength and track,” the National Weather Service stated Thursday afternoon…

    Unusually warm weather, like that Denver has enjoyed for two weeks, is out of the forecast.


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