Snowpack/drought news: South Platte Basin snowpack = 74% of median value, Upper Colorado = 72% #COdrought

December 28, 2012


Click on the thumbnail graphic for the current U.S. Drought Monitor map.

Here’s the Colorado SNOTEL Snow/Precipitation Update Report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Snowpack by basin as a percentage of the daily median: Gunnison River Basin = 75%; Upper Colorado River Basin = 72%; South Platte River Basin = 74%; Laramie and North Platte River Basins = 82%; Yampa and White River Basins = 87%; Arkansas River Basin = 64%; Upper Rio Grande Basin = 66%; San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins = 72%.

From Radio Colorado College (Andrea Chalfin):

Rob White, park manager at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area in Salida, says a good snow year is critical for the river, and those who depend on water. While the current flow of the river is about average, during the summer, White says portions of the popular rafting destination were barely boatable.

“In an extremely dry year like we had in 2012, there wasn’t enough water to go around. Obviously, there wasn’t enough water for the farmers, there wasn’t enough water for the irrigators, so we also had to make do with a smaller amount of water.”

Typically the snow to water equivalency in the Arkansas River basin approaches around 5 inches by mid-December. Right now it’s only 57% of average. With so much riding on this year’s snow pack – the numbers are disturbing for farmers downstream who depend on the river for irrigation.

Mike Bartolo, Colorado State University Research Manager in Rocky Ford, says farmers make plans based on snowpack and water.

“So you try to know how much fertilizer you need to order, or how much seed you need to order, but you really don’t know because it’s so tentative.”

2012 got off to a promising start along the Arkansas River – but things gradually got worse. A lack of rainfall didn’t help the alfalfa and corn crops that are predominant here—one gauge in Rocky Ford shows less than 5 inches of total precipitation…

“A lot can happen between now and May 15th when we start to experience runoff. I think what’s really important is that we get those snowstorms that we typically get in the spring months.“

Despite the optimism, a recent seasonal outlook from the Climate Prediction Center at the National Weather Service says drought conditions are likely to persist or even intensify through next March.

From the Summit Daily News (Caddie Nath):

“We’re still early in the snowpack season,” National Weather Service hydrologist Treste Huse said. “A lot can change before the end of the year. It’s still not where we want to see it, but it has definitely improved.”[...]

Snowpack, while improving, is still only 71 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River Basin, levels in the once-brimming Dillon Reservoir are below normal for this time of year and a bout of dry weather may be on the horizon for northern Colorado and much of the country, according to the National Weather Service…

Dillon Reservoir was approximately 70 percent full last week, but has historically been 93 percent full on average at this time of year. Denver Water’s total system is running at approximately 63 percent full, compared to a past median of 83 percent…

Wave after wave of winter weather through the better part of December has certainly helped, Huse said. The snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin has nearly doubled from just 38 percent of average on Dec. 6 and is ahead of last year, when snow pack had only reached 67 percent of average with a meager 4 inches of snow dusting Breckenridge over the course of the last month of 2011.

Recent storms have delivered more than a dozen inches to Summit County during the month of December, but the consistent snowfall may be winding down at least for the next few weeks, according to NWS projections.

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

The snow couldn’t have come at a better time for area ski resorts, which need to capitalize on holiday travelers to help make their financial year. DMR reported 28 inches of snow midway Wednesday morning, with 6 inches of new snow in the previous 48 hours. Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 40 inches midway Wednesday, with 4 new inches in the previous 48 hours, and Telluride Ski Resort said it had received 7 inches of snow in the previous 48 hours, with the snow depth at the base at 24 inches…

Three storms in two weeks by no means signifies the drought is over. The snowpack for the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel river basins is currently at 57 percent of average for the year according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Rio Grande Basin Roundtable: ‘We are the basin that has received the most funding to date’ — Mike Gibson

December 28, 2012


From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson said in the years since the state has funded water projects through basin-specific roundtables and a statewide account, this basin has garnered more than $8 million from the statewide Water Supply Reserve Account. “We are the basin that has received the most funding to date,” he said…

During its December meeting the roundtable unanimously approved a $23,500 request from Judy Lopez to implement “The Value of Water,” an educational campaign to continue the informational work begun this year during the “Water 2012” initiative. “We have had a great year,” Lopez said.

Water 2012 included a variety of activities including weekly articles in the Valley Courier, radio spots, tours, contests and other water informational events. Lopez said the Rio Grande Basin is a model for others and has been termed the “kumbaya” basin because of how well folks got along and worked together to promote water education.

“The Value of Water” is the next step, Lopez explained. One of the goals of this next campaign will be “getting people to understand we have a gap between what we have and the amount of water we need.”[...]

The Valley Courier will continue to publish water educational articles, with about 24 scheduled for 2013, and radio interviews will continue, as well as classes and tours on different topics such as wetlands. Lopez requested $23,500 for salaries and supplies that will be matched for a total of $66,450 for “The Value of Water” campaign. The funding request will go on to the state for consideration for funding from the statewide account.

Roundtable member Travis Smith said he supported this funding application, and he commended Lopez and Water 2012 Coordinator Leah Opitz for getting the water conversation out past the “same 10 guys and gals” to the general public. He said the educational components are often overlooked in water circles and hard to measure, but they are important. One of the measures of success from these initiatives will be raising up new water leaders for the future, he added.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Snowpack news: Good snow Christmas Eve at the Arkansas headwaters #COdrought #COwx

December 27, 2012


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A Christmas Eve snowstorm blanketed the Arkansas River headwaters in white, but did not alleviate drought conditions that have clung to the basin for more than two years. “We went to an early Mass at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and before we got out it had snowed so much that we almost didn’t make it home,” said Rego Omerigic, a Leadville resident…

But more precise measurements by Leadville weather watcher Charles Kuster show that snowfall for the season — July 1-June 30 in the high country — is only about 60 percent of average so far. It’s also been one of the warmest years on record. “On Christmas Eve, we got 4.8 inches of snow, with 0.34 of an inch moisture content. That’s the largest amount this season,” Kuster said.

So far in December — more snow is in the forecast through Friday — Leadville has gotten about 16 inches of snow, compared with the average of about 21 inches. Statewide, snowpack levels as measured at Snotel sites maintained by the Natural Resources Conservation Service were at 68 percent of average just prior to the storm. The Arkansas River basin was in the worst shape at 57 percent.

Pueblo’s precipitation for the year, not likely to increase by the end of the year Monday, is 4.94 inches, the second-driest year on record. The driest year was 2002, with 3.94 inches, and average is 12.54 inches. If the drought continues, it could influence how water is used in the Arkansas River basin. Winter water storage is at about 83 percent of average. The Pueblo Board of Water Works is planning to recoup water in storage and eliminating spot-market leases next year. Aurora Water is planning to lease water from the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to refill some of its depleted storage.

Norwood and the Lone Cone Ditch Company settle with Telluride over San Miguel water rights application

December 27, 2012


From The Norwood Post (Patrick Alan Coleman/Katie Klingsporn):

The Town of Norwood along with the Lone Cone Ditch and Reservoir Company reached a settlement with the Town of Telluride over Telluride’s opposition to applications for water rights on the San Miguel river. Norwood’s application, which came as a response to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) filing for increased in-stream flow to protect fish habitat, was meant to ensure water for 50 years of future growth along the 85 miles of line in the Norwood Water Commission (NWC) district.

The settlement reduces the proposed 16,300 acre-feet of water in five reservoirs proposed in the original cases filed. That amount was based in part on water commission studies suggesting how much water would be adequate for two percent growth in the NWC district up to the year 2060.

Under the proposed settlement, the Norwood Water Commission will withdraw claims for two of the five reservoirs — the Upper Gurley and Huff Gulch reservoirs — as well as the J&M Hughes Ditch enlargement. The NWC will also accept an overall storage capacity limitation of 2,250 acre-feet and a use limitation of 1,000 acre-feet annually. NWC must also select, within 12 years, one of the alternate reservoirs or a combination of them to develop, with a cumulative storage capacity of no more than 2,240 acre-feet, and abandon storage rights for the reservoirs not selected. In addition, the NWC will have to abandon reservoirs for which construction has not begun within 24 years, and forfeit water for which actual uses do not develop by 2060.

The Lone Cone Ditch and Reservoir Company, meanwhile, will limit its use of water stored in the Lone Cone Reservoir enlargement to 1,750 acre-feet, and not sell its stored water allocation to NWC…

According to Norwood Town Administrator Patti Grafmyer, much of the reason for settling with Telluride was due to the expenses that would have likely been incurred by fighting the municipality in water court…

The water fight began shortly after the CWCB announced that it would be filing for increased in-stream flows in 2010. The announcement had counties and towns along the San Miguel river scrambling to file additional rites on streams, tributaries, and storage along the river in order to ensure that their rights would not be junior to those of the CWCB.

Initially affected parties joined together with the Southwestern Water Conservation District who had completed a study detailing how much water would be needed by the communities in the watershed as they grew into the future.

At that time the Town of Norwood was meeting and working in tandem with a coalition that included Nucla, Naturita, their Montrose county representatives and representatives from San Miguel county. The initial plan was for the parties to file for water in conjunction.

In September of 2010, both Montrose county and San Miguel county pulled out of the endeavor due to legal questions and vagaries of the proposed group filing. While Montrose county continued to support its municipalities by pursuing rights for future water, the dissolution of the initial partnership left the town of Norwood on its own with just one month to file before the CWCB.

More San Miguel River coverage here and here.

Grand Junction: DARCA Annual Conference ‘Water for food, Food for life’ — March 6-8

December 27, 2012


Here’s the announcement from the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance:

‘Platte River Recovery Implementation Program is creating a place for whooping cranes to stay during their migration’ — Kearney Hub

December 27, 2012


From the Kearney Hub (Lori Porter):

Large, yellow earth movers circled 180 acres of land southeast of Kearney between the north and main channels of the Platte River, sculpting shallow depressions that will be seeded with wetland plants and, it’s hoped, be filled by spring rains. The goal in this initial “pothole” project is to create habitat attractive to endangered whooping cranes that migrate through the Central Platte Valley. The hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes that make an annual late winter-early spring mid-migration stop also should like the wetland conditions, said Bruce Sackett, land specialist for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. Ducks, geese and small shorebirds also may visit the site, he added. To the south, along the river’s main channel, 300 acres have been seeded to grass that Sackett said needs moisture now to thrive next year.

Both habitat restoration projects are part of an effort to manage 10,000 acres of habitat for threatened and endangered birds — least terms and piping plovers are the other two target species — for the first 13-year increment of a plan to put the entire Platte Basin into Endangered Species Act compliance.

The other major component of the program involving the U.S. Department of Interior, Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska is to reduce Platte River streamflow depletions. A successful program will allow all federally licensed or permitted entities within the three states, including Nebraska Public Power District and Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, to comply with the ESA. Otherwise, each project would have to have comply on its own.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Colorado Water 2012: ‘Will now be transitioning in into a statewide Value of Water movement’ — Judy Lopez

December 27, 2012


Here’s the latest installment in the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Judy Lopez. Here’s an excerpt:

The “Water 2012” awareness campaign for the Rio Grande Basin is winding down. What started as a celebration of Colorado’s historic water moments will now be transitioning in into a statewide “Value of Water” movement. This proactive crusade will continue on several fronts across all of the river basins in the state with a single goal of getting water on every body’s mind.

Water it is such a simple topic. It is wet stuff that we drink, bathe in, wash our clothes in, grow and prepare food in. It’s used for making stuff; animals use it and plants use it. The point is – it really gets used. That tends to be a problem, especially since there are getting to be so many people that have so many uses for a once plentiful resource. Water education was once a topic left to children as part of their school studies, but since there are now seven billion of us here on the planet, five million in Colorado, our water footprint (demand) or our “splash” is exceeding the supply that we have readily available.

The value of water means different things to everyone. On the most personal level, it is getting a drink of safe water whenever need to quench thirst. It is coveted in household use for food, hygiene and the basic needs. There are also the agricultural needs to grow and process food. Without these needs met then there is loss of jobs, higher food costs and less food security. Most modern manufacturing requires some form of water use, real economic drivers in times like that are the loss of jobs. Finally, there is the environmental need – streams, rivers and lakes require a given amount of water for the survival of aquatic species. That water in turn is key for the economies that survive on those streams, rivers and lakes.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Forecast news: More snow on the way for the Continental Divide #COdrought #COwx

December 26, 2012


From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:



  • Here’s the forecast map from the National Weather Service Grand Junction office from earlier this morning:


    Snowpack news: Widespread snow across Colorado helps snowpack #COdrought #COwx

    December 26, 2012


    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    Much of Colorado enjoyed a white Christmas after a storm dumped up to 8 inches of snow in the northwest part of the state and up to 7 inches along the Front Range. The National Weather Service reported more than 8.2 inches west of Steamboat Springs and almost 7 inches near Eldorado Springs outside Boulder. Up to 6 inches was reported in the Grand Valley in west-central Colorado. The Denver area reported 2 to 2½ inches.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Monday’s storm left about 3.2 inches of the white stuff on the Grand Valley by the time it cleared out of the area early Tuesday. That’s an inch below the record set back in 1962, according to weather service data.

    Powderhorn Mountain Restore atop the Grand Mesa reported Tuesday that the Christmas Eve storm dumped 14 inches of snow on its slopes, leaving it a base of about 38 inches.

    The drought is expected to persist across thew the western U.S. through March #COdrought

    December 26, 2012


    Here’s the release from the Western Governors Association:

    The drought that made 2012 one of the driest in the years in the past century will likely persist across much of the West into March of 2013, according to the new Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook from the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    The Outlook combines maps, projections and other products that provide information to decision makers about current and likely future weather conditions. Among the features of this release is a chart depicting reservoir storage in each of the Western states, which is below average for all states but Washington and Montana.

    The Western Governors are focused on preparedness and resilience in the event of continued drought in 2013. Given the extent and severity of the current drought, WGA co-sponsored the National Drought Forum on December 12-13, 2012 in Washington, DC.

    “Drought impacts next year could be far more severe, especially given that the reservoir storage in many basins has been depleted,” said Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who spoke at the event.

    The Outlook is a quarterly publication that was developed by the WGA and NOAA after the two organizations signed a Memorandum of Understanding in June 2011. WGA and NOAA have also co-sponsored two regional meetings, one in the Pacific Northwest and one in the Upper Missouri basin.

    All of the maps and information presented in the Outlook are also available from the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), which provides a number of online drought information tools at Western Governors were instrumental to the passage of NIDIS in 2006. NIDIS is currently up for reauthorization by Congress.

    NOAA also releases region-specific Outlooks, including documents that focus on the Central Region, the Southern Great Plains, and the Western Region.

    More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. Here’s an excerpt:

    Without a surplus moisture this winter, drought conditions are likely to linger, and potentially even worsen, across parts of the West in 2013…

    The cold season is typically the driest part of the year in most mid‐continental locations, so even with average seasonal precipitation, there will likely be little relief from the drought, according to the National Drought Monitor. The exceptions are Montana and California, where some relief is expected, based on early season precipitation.

    New Mexico has been hardest hit, with reservoir storage at just 18 percent of capacity, but storage is below average in all western state except Montana and Washington.

    Drought news: Fort Collins hints at watering restrictions in the spring #COdrought

    December 24, 2012


    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    When you factor in climate change, the only certainty about Colorado’s future water supply and drought conditions is uncertainty.

    There is little indication that Colorado’s drought is nearing an end. The federal government, in a report released last week by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, is expecting dry conditions are going to be the norm about half the time over the next 50 years in the Colorado River Basin, a primary source of Larimer County’s drinking water supplies.

    There are two other sure bets about drought in the Rockies right now: The 2012 drought was a natural disaster, and the precipitation outlook for the next few months is full of question marks…

    “From a natural ecology point of view, the 2012 drought was horrendous,” said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. The region had an extremely warm March, kicking off a four-month spell of hot and dry weather, which dried vegetation and forest soils earlier than usual, he said…

    On Friday, Horsetooth Reservoir was about 44 percent full, and storage throughout the Colorado-Big Thompson Project was sitting at 76 percent, said Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner.

    Water supplies are expected to be adequate through the next year, but “you are going to start seeing more water providers looking at how they want to cut back,” he said. “You’ll see a lot more serious watering restrictions out of communities. Fort Collins is going to be looking at it if we stay where we’re at.”

    The city of Fort Collins is likely to implement water restrictions in the spring as a precaution in case the city isn’t allowed obtain its full quota of water from Horsetooth Reservoir, city Water Resources Manager Donnie Dustin told the City Council in November.

    He said the city will explore ways to get more water from the reservoir, including halting water rentals to the North Poudre Irrigation Company.

    Baca National Wildlife Refuge: The elk herd is degrading riparian habitat

    December 24, 2012


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing some hunting and hazing to scatter elk herds at the three national wildlife refuges it manages in the San Luis Valley.

    The agency said elk have become a problem because of the damage they cause to wetlands and riparian habitat, a conflict that is especially pronounced on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, which has a herd of roughly 3,500.

    A draft environmental assessment released Tuesday called for licensed hunts on roughly 27,000 acres on the Baca with the majority coming on the western edge of the refuge.

    Other steps in the proposal also call for selective culling and hazing, with the possible use of cracker shells, horseback riders and agency staff on foot.

    “We’d like to keep as many tools in the toolbox as we can,” said Mike Blenden, who oversees the valley’s three refuges.

    The overuse by elk on the Baca caused the near total elimination of habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, which is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

    The environmental assessment also said elk had damaged some habitat on the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge.

    Opening all three refuges to public hunting was not considered as part of this plan, which will last for three years. The agency said that option will be considered in the management plan for the three refuges, which is due out in 2015.

    The other options in the draft include the possibility of continuing with the existing policy of not managing the herds and another that uses hazing without the incorporation of the Baca hunts.

    The agency will accept comments on the draft for 30 days. They can be sent to or in writing to: San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 9383 El Rancho Lane, Alamosa, CO., 81101.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

    Douglas County appeals Sterling Ranch ruling that has stalled development

    December 24, 2012


    From the Douglas County News-Press (Rhonda Moore):

    The county aims to place the issue of water availability before the appeals court, which has not previously tested the applicable statute, said Lance Ingalls, county attorney.

    The statute in question requires developers to prove the water supply for a rezoning before the start of new construction. Sterling Ranch in May 2011 gained the county’s approval to rezone and develop 3,500 acres in the Chatfield Valley, with a plan for 12,000 homes.

    With passage of the rezoning, the county granted the request from developer Harold Smethhills to prove his water adequacy at each plat or phase of development. District Judge Paul King reversed the county’s approval in August, following a challenge by the Chatfield Community Association.

    “While land use and development is a matter of local concern, the adequacy of water for new developments is a matter of statewide concern,” King ruled. “(L)ocal government shall not approve an application for a development unless it determines that the applicant has established that the proposed water supply for the development is adequate.”

    From The Denver Post:

    Those in the home-building industry said the outcome could affect projects on semi-arid land where there isn’t a lot of water. For years, suburban building has gotten the go-ahead without requiring that developers have sufficient water in place in advance.

    More water law coverage here.

    ‘Farming on the high, arid desert plains of Eastern Colorado forced people to be imaginative’ — Rick Kienitz

    December 23, 2012


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Rick Kienitz):

    Before beginning a job for a municipal water provider, I, like most people, thought no further about where my water came from than from the kitchen faucet.

    I knew water came from streams and aquifers and that the beginning of the water cycle was rain and snow, but I would rarely think of how that water finally made it to my house. The idea that somehow water had to make the long trek from a snowy mountain top to my home did not concern or worry me.

    Increasingly, water scarcity and a growing population’s demand causes people like me to think more about where that all-important resource comes from. Seeing the process and the complexity of providing water to a large city made me not only appreciate the value and importance of water in Southern Colorado, but also had me wonder where that water supply originally came from.

    Farming on the high, arid desert plains of Eastern Colorado forced people to be imaginative. Men like T.C. Henry and David K. Wall built canals and laterals to carry water from the rivers further inland to irrigate crops. Although these canals were massive undertakings and could move large amounts of water, the farmlands were also enormous and water was not always available, especially during times of drought.

    Farmers using these canals began to develop supplemental water supplies in order to grow crops during dry years. These great engineering feats used expansive tunnels and pipelines, as well as natural contours, draws and saddles in the Continental Divide to transport water and irrigate farmlands hundreds of miles away.
    Since many of these supplemental systems became too expensive for farmers to maintain and operate, many are now part of municipal water systems and supplies.

    Still, it took the vision, ingenuity, resourcefulness, skill, and hard work of these farmers to devise and build these systems. The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. — which was originally developed to bring water through a series of tunnels to irrigate farms in Crowley County — now provides water to a number of cities including Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Pueblo West and Aurora.

    The Busk Ivanhoe system used the old Carlton railway tunnel to bring water across the Continental Divide to farm land in Otero County under the Highline Canal. This system now provides water to Pueblo and Aurora.

    These are just a couple of examples of the many amazing engineering and infrastructure projects developed by early farmers and entrepreneurs that continue to provide water for farming and also help supply water to thousands of people in cities and towns.

    We, as citizens, owe much to the resourcefulness, hard work and forethought of those before us.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

    Forecast news: Snow is on the way — 2 to 6 inches for the Front Range mountains and South Park #COdrought #COwx

    December 23, 2012


    From the National Weather Service Pueblo Office:





    From The Denver Post (John Mossman):

    Mike Baker, forecast meteorologist for the Weather Service, said Saturday night that snow could begin falling as early as Monday afternoon, with the bulk of the accumulation occurring Monday night, Christmas Eve. “It looks pretty good right now for a White Christmas,” said Baker. An inch or more of snow on the ground on Christmas morning is generally considered a White Christmas.

    Because the storm will include upslope conditions Monday night, the north and east portions of the metro area might see only a trace of snow, with the south and west likely getting from 3 to 4 inches, Baker said.

    “It will look pretty Christmas morning,” Baker said, “but the snow won’t be widespread and some places may not get much of anything.”

    NSAA wins their USFS permit requirements lawsuit — no ruling on water rights transfer requirements

    December 22, 2012


    From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

    Judge William Martinez ruled that the Forest Service’s revision of 2011 and 2012 permit regulations governing water rights violated federal procedural rules, failed to evaluate economic impact and violated ski area rights.

    Martinez sided with the National Ski Areas Association, which was suing the Forest Service over the new water rights permit rules, ordering the agency to not enforce the terms of the new rules. Martinez remanded the issue back to the Forest Service…

    The agency said it changed the permit requirements to assure that ski areas never sold water rights connected to federal land.

    “It’s a monetary calculation,” Department of Justice attorney Clay Samford argued in the Nov. 15 hearing. “As the value of these rights increases, it may make economic sense for ski areas to sell some rights off.”

    The NSAA argued that the agency violated the Federal Administrative Procedural Act by not soliciting public input on the new rule…

    Martinez’s decision only addresses the Forest Service’s procedural deficiencies when it crafted the new water directives. He did not rule on the NSAA’s substantive claims, specifically that the agency should not condition ski permits on the transfer of water rights obtained through a state process.

    More Nation Ski Areas Association lawsuit coverage here.

    Fort Morgan bumps water rates 5% to cover costs associated with NISP

    December 22, 2012


    From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

    The increase, which will be effective Jan. 1, 2013, means that someone whose water bill had been $67.52 per month in 2012 would start seeing water bills around $70.65 in 2013. Yearly, the increase means about $37 more for the average residential customer…

    The increase is part of a multi-staged plan to increase water rates gradually to keep up with coming large costs of infrastructure replacement and investment in water storage through the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP).

    “We want to be ready for NISP,” City Manager Jeff Wells said.

    Because of the city’s commitment to NISP, a number of large payments will come due for it in coming years, especially if the project gets the go-ahead from state and federal regulators.

    “NISP will have significant impacts on the revenue requirements for the city’s water utility,” Water Resources and Utilities Director Brent Nation stated in a memo to the council. “Currently, the city pays for minor NISP expenses mostly involved in permitting the project, but construction is anticipated to begin within the next five years. Once construction begins, so does the city’s larger financial obligation to the project.”

    More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

    Snow on the way for Christmas for south central and southeastern Colorado #COdrought #COwx

    December 22, 2012


    From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:






    New EPA Good Samaritan guideline, ‘does not provide as much liability protection as we would like’ — Peter Butler

    December 21, 2012


    From The Telluride Watch (Samantha Wright):

    “I think it is helpful. I know the EPA put a lot of effort into it and I’m glad that they did,” said Animas River Stakeholders Group co-director Peter Butler of Durango. “It helps define what the EPA can do, but it does not provide as much liability protection as we would like.”

    The new initiative seeks to give Good Samaritans assurances they will be free from Clean Water Act liability if they undertake a project to improve water quality at an abandoned draining mine adit.

    Specifically, the policy clarifies that Good Samaritan agreements with the EPA can include extended time periods that give Good Sams legal liability protection and that they are generally not responsible for obtaining a clean water permit during or after a successful clean-up…

    Butler, however, spelled out three specific concerns he has with the new policy.

    First, he said, the regulations merely provide guidance, and do not come down in the form of rules or statutes.

    Second, there is not much in that guidance to help protect Good Samaritans from third party lawsuits stemming from the ‘citizen’s suit’ provision of the federal Clean Water Act. This provision says that if someone suspects a violation of the Clean Water Act, a citizen may begin a legal action and if successful, the defending party will have to pay all of the legal expenses of the citizen’s group. If they are unsuccessful, the defendant does not have recourse to counter-sue.

    It’s the bugaboo that has always spooked potential Good Samaritans from taking action to directly treat point-source discharge at abandoned mines. Good Sams have walked away from many mine cleanup projects for fear that if they don’t bring the discharge water all the way up to CWA standards, they may be sued by a third-party citizen or even another environmental group.

    Third, Butler said, under the new EPA guidelines, the main protection offered defines Good Samaritans as non-operators. “Not everyone will fit that criteria very well,” he said. “It may rule out all state agencies” from engaging in Good Samaritan clean-up projects.

    In short, Butler said, the policy “is somewhat helpful but doesn’t solve the issue. It probably won’t make a difference.”

    However, he allowed, ARSG works closely with Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety on mine clean-up matters and is still waiting for state officials from that agency to weigh in the EPA memo.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    Snowpack news: The Upper Colorado = 67% of avg, South Platte = 62% of avg #COdrought #COwx

    December 21, 2012


    We’ve been seeing a favorable storm track over Colorado for a while now and snowpack is heading in the right direction, for a change. Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Upper Colorado basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Upper Colorado snowpack = 67% of average for this date.


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the South Platte basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. South Platte snowpack = 62% of average for this date.


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Arkansas basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Arkansas snowpack = 57% of average for this date.


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Gunnison basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Gunnison snowpack = 62% of average for this date.


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


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Laramie and North Platte basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Laramie and North Platte snowpack = 75% of average for this date.


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan snowpack = 58% of average for this date.


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the statewide basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Statewide snowpack = 65% of average for this date.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    The heavy slushy snow that weighed down shovels Wednesday morning might be a sign of recovery from the drought, but the Colorado high country will need much more of the same.
    Though the Tuesday night storm was the “first encouraging sign” from the skies, it “will just get us started on the way back to average,” Erik Knight, a hydrologist with the Grand Junction office of the Bureau of Reclamation, said Wednesday after a snowstorm covered the Grand Valley with as much as 6 inches of snow.

    Officials won’t know until later just how much moisture the storm actually dropped over western Colorado and the high country that feeds into the Gunnison River and then the Colorado River.

    The snow, however, marks a turnaround from October and November, the first two months of the water year, as it’s referred to by hydrologists and water managers.

    The October-November totals were “on par with some of the worst records” going back to the early 1980s, Knight said.

    Given the poor beginning of the water year, the mountains will likely need two solid winter months of snow “and maybe something big in the spring” to boost the snowpack—and its moisture content—back to average, Knight said.

    Snowpack for the Gunnison Basin was at 39 percent of normal on Nov. 30,

    Knight said. That means that the remainder of winter will require 120 percent of average to pile up enough snow for an average year, he said.

    Not all storms are equal, however. Dry, fluffy snows eagerly awaited by skiers don’t pack the moisture wallop that a heavy, wet snow does, he said.

    How much water was dropped over western Colorado will be determined by a system of snowpack and other climate sensors operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the high country.

    The heavier and wetter the early season snow, the better, Knight said.

    A frozen, compacted “snowpack tends to hang around a little longer,” prolonging the spring runoff, Knight said.

    Forecast news: More snow for Colorado Christmas eve #COdrought #COwx

    December 21, 2012


    From (Joel Gratz):

    For Colorado, there will be a break in the weather for the next few days after about five days of consistent snow. By late in the weekend, the big parent storm off the west coast will move east and head into Colorado on Monday night.

    Your Colorado Water Blog looks back at the Dust Bowl

    December 21, 2012


    From Your Colorado Water Blog (Dr. Perry Cabot):

    The airing of Ken Burns’ documentary The Dust Bowl last month brought greater attention to the Great Plains drought that began last year and extended into 2012. This documentary is another in a long lineage of inspired works on the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s that ruined millions of cropland acres and rippled hardship across the central United States for decades. Nevertheless, the Dust Bowl has generally faded into distant memory as farming practices improved and irrigation methods advanced and the country as a whole generally experienced stability in its food supply since that time. In other words, despite the harshness of the recent drought, we simply don’t feel the pain of farming’s travails as we once did…

    Click through and read the whole blog post.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

    Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention — January 30 thru February 1, 2013

    December 21, 2012


    The Colorado Water Congress has published their annual convention program and workshop descriptions.

    This year’s convention should be a hoot. I plan to live-Tweet from the event @CoyoteGulch.

    CWQCC seeks comments on reorganization of Colorado’s primary drinking water regulations

    December 21, 2012


    Here’s the announcement from the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission:

    Since the authority for amending the Colorado Primary Drinking Water Regulations (CPDWR) has been moved to the Water Quality Control Commission, the Colorado Department of Public Health’s executive management is interested in evaluating splitting up the current CPDWR into multiple regulations similar to the manner in which the Clean Water Regulations are organized.

    This web form gives drinking water stakeholders an opportunity to comment on the reorganization of the current Colorado Primary Drinking Water Regulations

    The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission has scheduled a rulemaking hearing for November 2013 to consider adopting revisions of the Colorado Primary Drinking Water Regulations (CPDWR). The objective of the proposed revisions is to reorganize, simplify, and clarify the existing CPDWR…

    Whether the regulations are split or not, the Department intends to reorganize the regulations at all levels. We will reorganize the order of the articles so they are grouped together more logically – for example, treatment oriented articles would be placed together.

    The Department is exploring several options for dividing the current one regulation into multiple regulations. We are seeking stakeholder input on these various options and this survey is a major component of that stakeholder input. The options are as follows:

  • Break the regulation into multi-article regulations that are grouped (examples below)
  • Keep the articles of the CPDWR together as one regulation (with articles organized as noted above)
  • Make each article of the regulation its own separate regulation
  • More Colorado Water Quality Control Commission coverage here.

    The latest newsletter from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is hot off the press #COriver

    December 20, 2012


    Click here to read the newsletter.

    More education coverage here.

    ‘Now, with this basin-wide, cooperative effort, we can get a glimpse of the bigger picture’ — Ted Kowalski

    December 20, 2012


    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

    The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study” underscores the need for basin states and the federal government to explore ways to conserve, manage and create water to meet shortages estimated to affect as many as 76.5 million people by 2060.

    Representatives from seven Colorado River basin states and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation took part in the joint project, which “did not result in a decision as to how future imbalances should or will be addressed,” the executive summary of the study states, “but provides a common technical foundation that frames the range of potential imbalances that may be faced in the future and the range of solutions.”

    “We’ve already been addressing these issues on a Colorado-wide scale,” said Ted Kowalski of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, in statements responding to the study’s release. “Now, with this basin-wide, cooperative effort, we can get a glimpse of the bigger picture and begin to work toward planning for the future, with a well-informed idea of where we’re headed.”[...]

    Apportioned water in the Colorado River system exceeds the long-term historical natural flow of about 16.4 million acre feet, and demand for consumptive use is projected to range between 18.1 and 20.4 million acre-feet in 50 years. Projected increases in demand coupled with projections of reduced supply due to climate change created the backdrop of the study. Droughts lasting five or more years may occur 50 percent of the time over the next 50 years. Meanwhile, population in the study area is expected to increase…

    But, according to [Eric Kuhn], the study also points to serious problems for the upper basin. Under the climate change scenario depicted, 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 in statements. “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.”

    Kuhn further cautions upper basin planners: “The reality may be that new development simply threatens existing water supplies, or that new development may only be available during increasingly rare wet cycles.”

    “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 Trout Unlimited’s Dave Glenn, who grew up near the Green River in Utah. “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.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Snowpack news: Monarch Mountain nets five and a half inches of new snow #CODrought #COwx

    December 20, 2012



    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Nick Bonham):

    According to the NWS, the storm dropped 1 to 3 inches of snow [on Pueblo County] and even more in drifts…

    In other areas of Southern Colorado: Penrose was the hardest hit in Fremont County receiving between 5 to 7 inches of snow Wednesday. In Canon City, snow fell throughout the day adding up to about 2 inches. In Custer County, snow depths ranged from 8 inches in Westcliffe and Silver Cliff to up to 18 inches in the San Isabel and other high country areas of the county. Monarch Mountain reported 5 1⁄2 inches of new snow Wednesday…

    The snowstorm buried the eastern San Juan Mountains as Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 19 inches of new snow. Lesser amounts — 2 inches in Alamosa and 4 inches in Crestone — fell on the San Luis Valley floor.

    From The Denver Post (Ryan Parker):

    State climatologist Nolan Doesken said there will most likely be snow on the ground when Santa takes to the air. “There is continued favorable storm-tracking through the country until the end of December,” Doesken said.

    “There’s another storm n sight (for Colorado) before Christmas.”

    While snowpack in the state’s major watersheds is still below average, Doesken said this storm has been a major boost. As of Wednesday, the South Platte River basin was at 69 percent of average, Nolan said.

    “That doesn’t sound great, but it’s up considerably from 10 days ago, when it was at 55 percent of average,” he said.

    The Yampa and White river basins are at 80 percent of average, up from 50 percent 10 days ago, Doesken said.

    From The Fort Morgan Times (John la Porte):

    …about 2 inches of snow were recorded in Fort Morgan at the weather station at Riverview Cemetery.

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

    December 20, 2012


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary from this week’s webinar via the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s the link to all of the presentations and summaries.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Green Mountain Dam update: 190 cfs in the Blue River below the dam

    December 20, 2012


    Update: From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Today, we adjusted releases from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue River again.

    The reason for the change was three-fold: increases in downstream contractor demand, increase in inflow, and increases in the amount required to compensate for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project diversions upstream on the Colorado River out of Granby Reservoir.

    As a result, this afternoon we bumped releases up by 40 cfs. Flows in the Lower Blue are now around 190 cfs.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Just a quick message to let you know that the Shoshone Power Plant came back on-line today [December 19]. As a result, we bumped up our releases to about 150 cfs today around noon.

    More Green Mountain Reservoir coverage here.

    Brighton water and storm drainage rates are going up

    December 20, 2012


    From the Brighton City Blade (Crystal Nelson):

    According to the ordinance, the monthly fixed-rate fee for water would increase $2.50 a month to $12.36, and the user fee would increase 16 cents per 1,000 gallons. The monthly fixed-rate fee for sewer would increase $1.10 a month to $8.15, and the user fee would also increase 16 cents per 1,000 gallons.

    Utilities Director Jim Landeck said, this would mean an estimated increase of approximately $6.92 per month for a family of four who uses an average of 12,000 gallons of water and sewer a month, and an estimated increase of $7.74 for a family with three teens that uses about 15,000 gallons of water and sewer a month. Seniors who use around 3,000 gallons of water and sewer per month could expect an increase of approximately $4.32.

    “Much like every other commodity that’s sold, whether its groceries or gasoline or anything else, the cost of service — the cost of delivery of that product — is going up,” Landeck said. “Water uses a lot of energy, water uses a lot of equipment to treat and pump, water uses a lot of engineering and legal fees for acquiring water rights; converting that water for municipal use, all that adds to the cost of service.”

    The city’s storm drainage fee will also increase five cents per month per household to $1.84, which Landeck said is still the lowest rate in the metropolitan area.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    The CWCB is seeking seeking proposals for its Alternative Agricultural Water Transfers Method Grant Program

    December 20, 2012


    From The Greeley Tribune:

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is seeking proposals for its Alternative Agricultural Water Transfers Method Grant Program.

    The program is focused on advancing alternatives to the permanent transfer of agricultural irrigation water rights to municipal and industrial purposes. According to CWCB officials, it’s expected that this grant cycle will fund projects that build upon work performed in past funding cycles and encourage more “on-the-ground” projects ­— pilot/demonstration projects, facilitating agreements between municipal water providers and irrigators, etc.

    Grant applications must be received by April 15.

    More CWCB coverage here.

    Centennial pumping costs are driving a rate increase

    December 20, 2012


    From the Highlands Ranch Herald (Ryan Boldrey):

    Following a 2 percent spike in 2012, rates will go up another 3.8 percent in 2013, climbing from $2.65 to $2.75 per 1,000 gallons for up to 100 percent of the allotted budget per user in Highlands Ranch.
    Wastewater per 1,000 gallons over 3,000 will also go up 10 cents beginning Jan. 1, from $2.55 to $2.65, and there will be a 30-cent increase on the bimonthly minimum wastewater fee from $20.65 to $20.95. Bimonthly water service availability fees will remain at $25 for the coming year.

    According to Bruce Lesback, director of finance and administration with the district, the electrical costs associated with an increased use of groundwater, increase in wages and rising costs of benefits are all behind the rate increases. “The rates are based on our costs to operate,” he said. “As long as we are not growing significantly with the number of customers and volume of water, you are going to have rate increases every year, there is just no way around it. … It’s always been our philosophy to minimize any increases. We look at every type of alternative we can to reduce expenditures, but expenditures are what they are in the utility business.”

    To offset some of the electrical costs caused by the increase in groundwater usage, the district is using $500,000 from its financial assurance fund to keep customers from having to foot the entire bill. The financial assurance fund is largely generated by overage fees from those who have gone over their water budget.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    Windsor’s new tiered water rate system goes into effect on January 15

    December 20, 2012


    From the Windsor Beacon:

    Water rates are changing for Windsor residential customers effective Jan. 15. The rate restructuring was approved Oct. 8 by the town board and is a result of higher costs being imposed by suppliers on the town of Windsor. The town is moving to a three-tiered system, with a 3.5 percent increase in fees for residential users without a dual water system.

    The town’s current water system for single-system residential users features a base fee of $14.81 a month, with a $3.30 charge per 1,000 gallons a month until the users reach the first-tier threshold of 15,700 gallons a month. The second tier’s charge is $4.93 a month per 1,000 gallons.

    The new tier rate structure would increase the first-tier usage, raising it to 16,000 gallons a month before the second tier would begin. The new tier, at 2011 prices, would begin at 22,501 gallons a month at a cost of $7.35 per 1,000 gallons.

    The new rates will be shown on the bill received by residents in February.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    Ute Water District to raise water rates to firm up raw water supplies

    December 20, 2012


    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    The largest water provider in the Grand Valley will join the other large providers in bumping rates in 2013, but Ute Water Conservancy District is devoting the revenue to buying water. Ute, which serves a population of 80,000 people with water stored on Grand Mesa, will raise its base rate from $15 to $17 for 3,000 gallons. Customers who use more water will see a 10-cent increase in each of the usage tiers. The additional revenue will be devoted to preparing the district for a forecast in which the population more than doubles to 197,000 people by 2045.

    Ute will use the new revenue to buy water from Ruedi Reservoir, which feeds the Fryingpan River. The purchase of 12,000 acre feet of water annually from Ruedi, which is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, will do double duty, both to help Ute prepare for population growth and to shore up supplies in the event of another drought next year, Ute spokesman Joe Burtard said. The purchase, which is the largest single water purchase ever by the 56-year-old district, will cost roughly $15.5 million and go a little more than halfway toward preparing the district to supply 197,000 people, Burtard said.

    Ute expects to need 21,400 acre feet of additional supply by 2045. The Ruedi purchase leaves 9,400 acre feet remaining to be acquired and Ute hopes to close that gap by enlarging reservoirs on Grand Mesa, Burtard said.
    Ute Water is working to enlarge existing Monument Reservoir No. 1 by 4,700 acre feet and Hunter Reservoir by 1,300 acre feet, Burtard said.

    The district has yet to decide what other measures it will take to obtain the remaining 3,000 acre feet of water, Burtard said. An acre-foot of water is the volume needed to cover one acre one foot deep and is frequently considered to be equal to the water usage of one suburban household per year, though conservation measures can reduce residential use to a quarter of an acre foot per year.

    Recreation and endangered fish also will benefit from the purchase, as additional water will flow out of Ruedi above Basalt, down the Fryingpan River and into the Roaring Fork and then into the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs, Burtard said.

    Ute Water has a Colorado River pump station which can be used in an emergency and will have to be enlarged for regular use, Burtard said.

    Ute will pay $850,000 to the Bureau of Reclamation for each of the next two years and will pay the remainder of the purchase with cash and financing, Burtard said.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District also is purchasing Ruedi water from the Bureau of Reclamation. The River District is buying 4,500 acre feet of water.

    Purchases by Ute and the River District, as well as others, ensure that water from Ruedi, which was built with federal money, won’t revert to federal ownership, River District spokesman Chris Treese said. 2019 is the end of the 40-year repayment for Ruedi, which was built with federal funding as compensatory Western Slope storage for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. If arrangements weren’t made in time, the federal government could choose what would happen to the water stored behind Ruedi for which there was no purchase contract, Treese said.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    ‘What started out as a small water awareness campaign…grew into a statewide water celebration’ — Leah Opitz

    December 19, 2012


    Here’s the latest installment (Number 51) of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Leah Opitz. Here’s an excerpt:

    What started out as a small water awareness campaign by the Foundation for Water Education grew into a statewide water celebration. Whether residents were in Durango or Fort Collins, there was some kind of “Water 2012” event happening in their town at some point this year. From book tours to displays in public libraries, from water project tours, to contests, Water 2012 offered something for everyone in the hope of getting Coloradans connected and active in water, both locally and at the statewide level.

    Here in the San Luis Valley, Water 2012 marked a significant milestone in water history the 100th anniversary of the Rio Grande Reservoir, an engineering feat that represents the hard work, vision, and determination of the people of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District…

    To celebrate, Water 2012 the Rio Grande Basin hosted tours of water projects going on around the San Luis Valley. From the Rio Grande Reservoir at the top of the watershed down to the Sanchez Reservoir, they drove many miles to get folks out to see what was going on with water. Folks had an opportunity to learn about new dam construction projects, new ditch construction projects, the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project, and attendees even had a chance to venture underneath the dam at Platoro Reservoir to see the pump room.

    The summer tour series started out with a caravan tour through Costilla County, stopping off at Sanchez Reservoir, the historic People’s Ditch, and then to see the Sangre de Cristo Trinchera Diversion Canal.

    The next tour took folks down to Conejos County to see the North Fork of the Conejos River Diversion Project and the Platoro Dam Rehabilitation Project.

    In August, the San Luis Valley Irrigation District hosted a group up in Mineral County at the Rio Grande Reservoir in celebration of its 100th anniversary.

    Lastly, in October, Heather Dutton with the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project brought folks out to see how the RGHRP is working to improve the quality of water, condition of streamside trees and shrubs, and stability of riverbanks along the Rio Grande. The majority of these projects were funded through the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, both from the basin and statewide funding accounts.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

    Snowpack news: The South Platte Basin snowpack (55% of avg) now even with 2002 #CODrought

    December 19, 2012




    The snow has started at Gulch Manor (6:15 AM) and the South Platte Basin should move past 2002 (the worst year on record) from the current storm.

    From The Cortez Journal (Shannon Livick):

    The Dolores River is flowing at around 20 cubic feet per second. But it has been lower, said Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. Preston estimated that it’s at the third lowest level ever. This is a bit nerve-wracking for water officials, including Preston, as McPhee Reservoir continues to drop.

    The reservoir currently sits at 43,155 acre feet of water, about 98,000 acre feet lower than last year. But it has been lower too. On Nov. 1, 2002, the reservoir stored a mere 4,567 acre feet and on Nov. 1, 2003, that number was 21,943 acre feet. “(On Nov. 1, 2011) McPhee had 140,896 acre feet in active storage compliments of Mother Nature and careful water management. Good thing that we started this high or things would be much worse than they are,” Preston said.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    Two weeks remain in December and already the snowfall in the city of Steamboat Springs inched past the monthly average of 38.5 inches. Weather observer Art Judson confirmed that December 2012 snowfall at his measuring station between downtown and the mountain unofficially stood at 38.8 inches at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday with heavy snow continuing to fall.

    The Front Range Water Council will pony up $275,000 to protect their interests in transbasin diversions in 2013

    December 19, 2012


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Front Range water providers will continue paying a consultant to look out for their interests on the Colorado River next year. The Pueblo Board of Water Works voted Tuesday to chip in $33,000 toward a $275,000 contract between the Front Range Water Council and Grand River Consulting Corp. of Glenwood Springs.

    The water council includes the Pueblo water board, Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., Northern Water Conservancy District and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Those organizations all import water from the Colorado River basin and collectively serve about 80 percent of the state’s population. Imports among all the groups average nearly 500,000 acre-feet (160 billion gallons) of water annually.

    Among topics included in the contract are the continued study of a water bank that would protect Colorado River diversions from downstream calls, follow-up on the recently completed federal Colorado River water availability study, a recreation study and cloud seeding.

    Last year, the water board contributed about $30,000 toward the consultant.

    More Front Range Water Council coverage here.

    Restoration: The Fountain Creek watershed district plans to spend $25,000 for stream bank stabilization in 2013

    December 19, 2012


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A district formed to fix Fountain Creek plans to line up more projects next year as it prepares to ask voters for a mill levy at some point in the future. The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board agreed Friday to use up to $25,000 of its $240,000 budget for 2013 to leverage other grants for projects to improve stream banks, reduce sediment or make other improvements along the creek.

    Projects are being developed in cooperation with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Colorado Springs Utilities. “It’s a great opportunity to do some things to make the district more visible,” said El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey.

    Executive Director Larry Small said up to nine locations along Fountain Creek have been identified for potential work. Many grants require just a 5 percent match, and communities along Fountain Creek have shouldered the bulk of matching funds in the past. Grants could come from either federal or state sources, explained Carol Baker of Colorado Springs Utilities.

    Board member Jane Rhodes of Pueblo County, who represents landowners along Fountain Creek, said projects are needed. The district played a role in getting Great Outdoors Colorado grants for trails in Pueblo and parts of El Paso County this year. It also helped the city of Pueblo in a demonstration project aimed at flood control and sediment removal. But landowners have seen further damage from relatively minor flooding.

    “I just feel it’s time to look up and down Fountain Creek and get something done for us,” Rhodes said.

    The district, formed in 2009 and encompassing all of El Paso and Pueblo counties, has not set a timetable for when it would ask voters to approve a mill levy or decided how much the mill levy would be. State legislation forming the district authorizes it to ask for up to 5 mills.

    More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

    Aurora hopes to lease 10,000 acre-feet of water in 2013 via the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company #CODrought

    December 19, 2012


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Two Rocky Ford­ area ditch company boards agreed Tuesday to work with the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to lease water to Aurora next year. The boards of the High Line and Catlin canals cleared the way for the leases, which will be made through the Super Ditch.

    “It’s a voluntary program, and shareholders can either agree to participate or not to participate,” said John Schweizer, president of both the Catlin Canal and Super Ditch boards. “How many choose to participate determines how much each person will get.”

    Aurora has offered to buy up to 10,000 acre-­feet of water from the Super Ditch next year because its reservoir storage is below 60 percent of available capacity. That is a trigger for leasing in drought­ recovery years under the 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado and Upper Arkansas water conservancy districts. Aurora initially offered $500 per acre­-foot, but that figure is under negotiation, Schweizer said. “The boards agreed that wouldn’t work at all,” Schweizer said.

    Super Ditch attorney Peter Nichols will negotiate the rate with Aurora.

    The $500 per acre-­foot figure was part of an agreement reached in 2010 with the Super Ditch and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. Since then, the price of corn and hay — the major crops grown here — in the Arkansas Valley has nearly tripled during the drought.

    “That was a different time,” Schweizer said.

    Either an interruptible supply plan or substitute water supply plan would have to be filed with the Division of Water Resources for the lease to occur. That would require engineering and legal resources to meet a possible challenge from other water users in the valley. Schweizer said those costs also will be negotiated with Aurora.

    More Aurora coverage here and here.

    ‘Climate change is forcing plants and animals to shift where they live and grow more quickly’ — Bobby Magill

    December 18, 2012


    One measure of Climate Change — constantly shifting vegetation — is the subject of a new report from the United States Geological Service, the National Wildlife Service and Arizona State University. Here’s the release.

    Plant and animal species are shifting their geographic ranges and the timing of their life events – such as flowering, laying eggs or migrating – at faster rates than researchers documented just a few years ago, according to a technical report on biodiversity and ecosystems used as scientific input for the 2013 Third National Climate Assessment.

    The report, Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services, synthesizes the
    scientific understanding of the way climate change is affecting ecosystems, ecosystem services and the diversity of species, as well as what strategies might be used by natural resource practitioners to decrease current and future risks. More than 60 federal, academic and other scientists, including the lead authors from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Wildlife Federation and Arizona State University in Tempe, authored the assessment.

    “These geographic range and timing changes are causing cascading effects that extend through ecosystems, bringing together species that haven’t previously interacted and creating mismatches between animals and their food sources,” said Nancy Grimm, a scientist at ASU and a lead author of the report.

    Grimm explained that such mismatches in the availability and timing of natural resources can influence species’ survival; for example, if insects emerge well before the arrival of migrating birds that rely on them for food, it can adversely affect bird populations. Earlier thaw and shorter winters can extend growing seasons for insect pests such as bark beetles, having devastating consequences for the way ecosystems are structured and function. This can substantially alter the benefits people derive from ecosystems, such as clean water, wood products and food.

    “The impact of climate change on ecosystems has important implications for people and communities,” said Amanda Staudt, a NWF climate scientist and a lead author on the report. “Shifting climate conditions are affecting valuable ecosystem services, such as the role that coastal habitats play in dampening storm surge or the ability of our forests to provide timber and help filter our drinking water.”

    Another key finding is the mounting evidence that population declines and increased extinction risks for some plant and animal species can be directly attributed to climate change. The most vulnerable species are those already degraded by other human-caused stressors such as pollution or exploitation, unable to shift their geographic range or timing of key life events, or that have narrow environmental or ecological tolerance. For example, species that must live at high altitudes or live in cold water with a narrow temperature range, such as salmon, face an even greater risk due to climate change.

    “The report clearly indicates that as climate change continues to impact ecological systems, a net loss of global species’ diversity, as well as major shifts in the provision of ecosystem services, are quite likely,” said Michelle Staudinger, a lead author of the report and a USGS and University of Missouri scientist.

    For example, she added, climate change is already causing shifts in the abundance and geographic range of economically important marine fish. “These changes will almost certainly continue, resulting in some local fisheries declining or disappearing while others may grow and become more valuable if fishing communities can find socially and economically viable ways to adapt to these changes.”

    Natural resource managers are already contending with what climate change means for the way they approach conservation. For example, the report stated, land managers are now more focused on the connectivity of protected habitats, which can improve a species’ ability to shift its geographic range to follow optimal conditions for survival.

    “The conservation community is grappling with how we manage our natural resources in the face of climate change, so that we can help our ecosystems to continue meeting the needs of both people and wildlife,” said Bruce Stein, a lead author of the report and director of climate adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation.

    Other key findings of the report include:

    Changes in precipitation and extreme weather events can overwhelm the ability of natural systems to reduce or prevent harm to people from these events. For example, more frequent heavy rainfall events increase the movement of nutrients and pollutants to downstream ecosystems, likely resulting not only in ecosystem change, but also in adverse changes in the quality of drinking water and a greater risk of waterborne-disease outbreaks.

    Changes in winter have big and surprising effects on ecosystems and their services. Changes in soil freezing, snow cover and air temperature affect the ability of ecosystems to store carbon, which, in turn, influences agricultural and forest production. Seasonally snow-covered regions are especially susceptible to climate change because small precipitation or temperature shifts can cause large ecosystem changes. Longer growing seasons and warmer winters are already increasing the likelihood of pest outbreaks, leading to tree mortality and more intense, extensive fires. Decreased or unreliable snowfall for winter sports and recreation will likely cause high future economic losses.

    The ecosystem services provided by coastal habitats are especially vulnerable to sea-level rise and more severe storms. The Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are most vulnerable to the loss of coastal protection services provided by wetlands and coral reefs. Along the Pacific coast, long-term dune erosion caused by increasing wave heights is projected to cause problems for communities and for recreational beach activities. However, other kinds of recreation will probably improve due to better weather, with the net effect being that visitors and tourism dollars will shift away from some communities in favor of others.

    Climate change adaptation strategies are vital for the conservation of diverse species and effective natural resource policy and management. As more adaptive management approaches are developed, resource managers can enhance the country’s ability to respond to the impacts of climate change through forward-looking and climate science-informed goals and actions.

    Ecological monitoring needs to be improved and better coordinated among federal and state agencies to ensure the impacts of climate change are adequately monitored and to support ecological research, management, assessment and policy. Existing tracking networks in the United States will need to improve coverage through time and in geographic area to detect and track climate-induced shifts in ecosystems and species.


    Federal law requires that the U.S. Global Change Research Program submit an assessment of climate change and its impacts to the President and the Congress once every four years. Technical reports, articles and books – such as this report — underpin the corresponding chapters of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, due out in 2013. This technical report is available at the USGCRP website, as are other completed technical reports. Additional lead authors of this report include Shawn Carter, USGS: F. Stuart Chapin III, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy; and Mary Ruckelshaus, Natural Capital Project.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    A changing climate is stressing out plants, animals and the ecosystems they inhabit to a greater degree than at any other period in human history, according to a U.S. Geological Survey, National Wildlife Federation and University of Arizona report released Tuesday. The report will be part of the federal government’s 2013 National Climate Assessment.

    Climate change is forcing plants and animals to shift where they live and grow more quickly than expected, the report concludes. Mountain species are moving upward in elevation at rates up to three times greater than scientists estimated because of a warming climate.

    Biological diversity across the planet is expected to decline while extreme weather could mean heavy rains in places that aren’t accustomed to them.

    More USGS coverage here.

    Forecast news: Major winter storm for Colorado today and tomorrow

    December 18, 2012

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

    December 18, 2012


    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




    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


    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


    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

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

    December 17, 2012


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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


    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.”


    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


    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.


    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


    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


    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.


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