The Colorado River District board news summary for April is hot off the press #ColoradoRiver

May 15, 2013

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

April’s snowstorms improved the water supply prospects in the Colorado River Basin, but the effects were uneven across the 15 counties of the Colorado River District.

Receiving the biggest boosts were the Colorado, White and Yampa Basins. The Gunnison Basin was not as fortunate and will likely experience water supply problems this summer, according to General Manager Eric Kuhn, reporting to the Colorado River District Board at its April 16 meeting.

For most of the winter, Western Colorado was track- ing even with the abysmal snow year of 2012, the fourth worst on record. But where it had stopped snowing in March of 2012, this past March experienced a wave of storms, a pattern that accelerated in April.

In fact, the April 14-15 storm forced the Colorado River District to abbreviate its agenda and defer a number of discussions until its July meeting.

“This time last year, 90 percent had run off and we about 10 to 20 percent of normal snowpack,” Kuhn said. “This April, the curve was still going up. Still, district wide it is not an above average year. We will have some problems down the road but they will not be as severe as it seemed earlier in the year.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Runoff news: May 1 streamflow forecast for the Cache la Poudre River is 89% of avg #COdrought

May 15, 2013

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the hydrograph for Gore Creek above Red Sandstone Creek from earlier today. You’ll be able to see how streamflow has increased with the onset of warmer weather.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Robert Allen):

At the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, flows are at 577 cubic feet per second. They remain below the 130-year average of about 675 cfs, but the increase the past three days has narrowed the gap. Brian Werner with the Northern Water Conservancy District said the Poudre River is forecast to flow about 89 percent of normal this year. That’s up from the forecast April 1, which said it would be 65 percent of normal.

Whitewater boaters were already riding the river down Poudre Canyon on Tuesday, and fishers were reeling in trout. The vegetation is more lush, and the river looks bigger.

From email from the USGS this morning:

Streamflow of 444 cfs exceeds subscriber threshold of 250 at 2013-05-15 04:15:00 MDT 06752260 00060 CACHE LA POUDRE RIVER AT FORT COLLINS, CO

From email from the USGS this morning:

Streamflow of 302 cfs exceeds subscriber threshold of 200 at 2013-05-15 02:45:00 MDT 06719505 00060 CLEAR CREEK AT GOLDEN, CO

Meanwhile the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District has bookmarked the gages that they watch this time of year:

The District monitors streamflow levels using data from United States Geological Survey (USGS) gauges in specific locations below, which are pertinent to District operations. Streamflow data is used for a variety of reasons including operational strategies, water quality purposes, historical comparison, and water rights administration, among others.


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

May 15, 2013

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the May 1 through 12 precipitation summary. Click here for all the summaries from the Colorado Climate Center.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Drought news: Governor Hickenlooper activates the CWCB Municipal Impact Task Force #COdrought

May 14, 2013

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Here’s the Governor’s Memorandum of Potential Drought Emergency from Governor Hickenlooper’s office


Drought news: ‘A couple of good rains would green up the grass and we’d forget all about this’ — John Davidson #COdrought

May 14, 2013

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Here’s Part I of Chris Woodka’s drought special report running in The Pueblo Chieftain:

In the catalog of what can go wrong in farming, drought occupies a spot near the top. Farmers can borrow money, shoulder more expensive production costs and weather low prices. They can diversify their crops to prevent disease or hail from wiping them out. They can find cattle to rebuild herds after a disastrous sudden blizzard. Even in a down economy, they can usually find jobs in town to supplement their income. Through everything, the tools they use the most are resiliency and optimism.

But without water, nothing grows. And the current drought is among the worst on record for the Lower Arkansas Valley. “This country is remarkable,” said John Davidson, who ranches on the Purgatoire River south of Las Animas. “A couple of good rains would green up the grass and we’d forget all about this.”

For the last three years, it’s been hard to forget the drought, and this summer is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for the valley. “I think we’re headed for problems,” said Chad Hart, Bent County executive for the Farm Service Agency. “This will be a tell-tale year. Even the good farmers who did everything right . . . if they don’t have a crop, how are they going to pay?”

Las Animas, already reeling from the closure of the prison at Fort Lyon last year and decades of tough economic hits, is the heart of the coming storm. People in the area are selling all or part of their cattle herds, cutting back on farm-related purchases and leaving most of their farm ground fallow. Hart estimated that more than half of Bent County’s cattle have been sold.

Dryland farmers are bracing for the third year of drought, and likely no crops. Ranchers are running out of grass. Irrigated farms benefitted from a big snowfall in 2011 and held on last year, but this year nearly all of the agricultural wells in the Arkansas Valley are curtailed. Ditch companies have nearly exhausted stored water and can’t find any more to lease — they expect the runs to be the same or worse than last year.

Problems also are felt in town. Las Animas, already rocked by years of economic downturn, has lost two restaurants as well as a feed and fuel distributor. “Several businesses have closed, and part of that is Fort Lyon and part the drought. We don’t see the farmworkers like we have in the past,” said Bill Long, a Bent County commissioner who owns the Dairy Queen in Las Animas. “There’s just not any work for them to do.”

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

This year’s first hay cutting can’t come soon enough for buyers who are dealing with the tightest supplies on record and still paying all-time high prices. Unfortunately, those dairymen, cattle feeders and horse owners will be waiting longer than normal to get their hands on hay this year, local farmers and agronomists said, and prices aren’t expected to drop anytime soon.

The abundance of moisture in northeast Colorado during April was much needed after months of drought, but the freezing temperatures that came with those snowstorms weren’t ideal for most crops. Alfalfa and hay cutting in most years kicks off around Memorial Day weekend — often following an April and May that feature temperatures in the 70s, which are ideal for growth. However, farmers said it could be well into June before they can finally cut this year.

This spring has so far included an April that saw low-temperature records broken on nine different days in Greeley, and a May that’s expected see temperatures this week near 90 degrees. As a result of the extreme conditions, hay and alfalfa in some area fields is only about one-third the height it should be at this time of the year, said Bruce Bosley, a cropping systems specialist for Colorado State University Extension. Alfalfa and hay growers like to do four cuttings per year, but Bosley said not getting a first cutting done until well into June could put a “crimp” in having time for a fourth cutting before the end of this year’s growing season. “We take what we can get, and we’ll take the recent moisture,” Bosley said, referring to the barrage of snow in April that’s left the Greeley area more than 40 percent ahead of normal this year for precipitation. “But these temperatures haven’t helped anything. It seems like we in agriculture can always find something to complain about,” he added with a slight laugh.

The local issues, limited supplies nationally and continued drought in other parts of the U.S. — including southern Colorado — leave experts questioning how much the hay situation in northeast Colorado and elsewhere will improve this year.

In February 2011, prior to the historic Texas drought and the widespread U.S. drought of 2012, prices for high-quality alfalfa in northeast Colorado sat at about $140-$150 per ton, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. For the past two years, though, prices have been nearly double that and remained at $250-$300 per ton last week, according to USDA numbers. With hay prices high and supplies limited, there were 15 reports of hay theft in 2012 in Weld County — more than double what it had been the year before.

A recent USDA report showed that hay stocks on May 1 were at a record low — 14.2 million tons. The USDA began its May 1 report in 1960, and the prior low for U.S. hay stocks on that date was 15 million tons in 2007. On Dec. 1, 2012, U.S. hay stocks were 76.5 million tons — also the smallest since USDA began its annual Dec. 1 report.

According to a report from the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Denver, record-high costs rationed hay use this winter as producers searched-out alternative feedstuffs and reduced their livestock numbers. Between Dec. 1, 2012, and May 1, hay usage totaled 62.4 million tons, the smallest since 1976-77 — another major drought period.

Mike Veeman, whose family has dairies and farms in Weld, Morgan and Logan counties, said hay prices forced him to change his feed rations for his cows, depending less on high-quality alfalfa. He expressed optimism on Monday, though, that the abundance of precipitation will continue throughout the growing season, improving production and helping lower all prices for livestock feed — corn included. Others weren’t as optimistic.

“I’m just not sure the situation is going to improve greatly any time soon,” said Floss Blackburn with Denkai Animal Sanctuary, whose organization has had to limit the number of horses it has rescued for the past several months because of feed shortages. Earlier this year, Denkai had to go as far as Vancouver, Canada, to find an affordable source of hay.

“There’s still a long way to go,” said Blackburn.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

April snowshowers brought some relief to the parched Colorado high country, but they look more like an aberration than a trend, speakers said at the State of the Rivers meeting on Monday. “I guess we can be really thankful for April of this year because if it hadn’t been for April, we would have been in a real bad spot,” Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service said to about 60 people at the meeting in the Colorado Mesa University Center.

The immediate and longer-term outlook, however, is less like April and more like a continuation of the drought. Forecasts for the May-June-July period are for greater probabilities for higher-than-normal temperatures and less precipitation, Strautins said. The probabilities run as well toward higher-than-normal temperatures for the June-July-August period.

Even with the April snowfall, the likelihood of major reservoirs filling is remote, said Erik Knight, hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Runoff this spring also will be muted, Knight said. Green Mountain Reservoir, which is frequently used to supplement summer flows through the Grand Valley, is likely to reach the 89 percent full mark based on current estimates, Knight said.

On the Gunnison River side of the Grand Valley, Paonia Reservoir is likely to fill, but Taylor and Blue Mesa reservoirs are not. The Aspinall Unit, a series of reservoirs on the Gunnison, including Blue Mesa, is a major storehouse of water for the state and is managed in part to ensure that Colorado releases enough water to meet its obligations under the 1922 Compact under which the Colorado River is managed. It was 41 percent full on Monday.

Low snowfalls overall will contribute to about 3 million acre feet of water flowing down the Colorado River system into Lake Powell. That’s about 42 percent of the long-term average, Knight said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

For smaller farms, the cuts come harder. Anita Pointon and her husband Chuck grew up on farms under the Fort Lyon Canal, and have had their own farming operation near Las Animas since 1990. They weathered the 2002 drought. But the current drought has been much harder. “In 2002, we had seven runs of water, and were able to grow a partial crop. It wasn’t pretty, but it was something,” Mrs. Pointon said.

This year, only one-fifth of their ground, about 50 acres of established alfalfa, will be irrigated. “We probably won’t have a cash income this year,” she said. While the Pointons receive crop insurance, the payments go down every year there is no crop, or if there is a reduced yield. “It’s on a five-year average, and we did not have a good yield in 2011 or 2012,” Mrs. Pointon said.

In a normal year, they would grow corn, wheat and sorghum as well as hay. The yield for alfalfa will be down this year. “Four cuttings of alfalfa is normal, and this year we’ll be lucky to get one and a half,” she said.

So far, they have not made deep cuts in their herd of about 50 cow-calf pairs. “We’ll have to cull those down if we don’t get rain,” she said. “If we get water, we would plant cane.”

The long-term downturn in the farm economy already has hit the Las Animas area hard. “If you need tractor parts, you have to drive to Rocky Ford or Lamar. Either way, it’s an 80-mile trip for a $10 part.”

Last year was a difficult one for most farmers, but this year is shaping up to be worse. “Last year, the people with wells were able to get a crop, but it wasn’t a big crop. Our last run was June 20,” Mrs. Pointon said. “Our neighbors are in the same situation and won’t be planting this year. But we’re all optimists, or we wouldn’t be in this business.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The farmers who started the Fort Lyon Canal Co. knew they were pushing water onto land in an arid climate. Irrigation made farming possible despite spells of drought that could last for months or even years. But the drought of 2011-12 already is exceptional among those recorded since the Fort Lyon began keeping records at Las Animas in 1868.

The rainfall is measured for the water year, which runs Nov. 1-Oct. 31. Both years recorded only half of the average 12.4 inches of precipitation, something that has not happened since 1893-94.

If 2013 is as dry, it would mark the driest period since that time. It would be worse for farmers because irrigation water is more scarce even as natural conditions deteriorate.

The drought of the 1890s was arguably worse than the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when blowing dirt pelted the buildings in and around Las Animas. There was substandard rainfall from 1888-94, with the average for that entire span less than 8 inches, compared with 10 inches average annual rainfall in the 1930s. The driest years of the 1930s were 1937, with 6.35 inches, and 1934, with 6.35 inches. In 2002, 4.10 inches of rain fell at Las Animas, the second-lowest total on record — there were only 2.14 inches in 1894. But 2002 was surrounded by mostly average or above average years, making it more tolerable.

In fact, up until 2010, Las Animas enjoyed a run of seven above-average rainfall years. Since November 2010, the yearly rainfall has only been 6.5 inches and has been clustered so that only a couple of months — June 2011 and April 2012 — were at average.

So far in 2013, rainfall is again far below average, with some snowfall in April. But the storms that moved through the state last week largely missed Bent County.

From The Trinidad Times Independent (Steve Block):

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced a drought designation for Las Animas, Huerfano, Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla counties that enables producers to qualify for financial assistance to compensate for some of the impacts of the drought.

Bernie Barela, executive director of the county Farm Services Agency (FSA) office, said producers who want to apply for assistance should call the Pueblo FSA office at (719) 543-8386, ext. 2, for more information. Barela said her local office doesn’t handle the assistance applications. She said she certainly understands why some producers might need some help, given the drought conditions in the county…

The May 8 announcement from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said that Costilla County had been named as a primary natural disaster area because of the recent exceptional drought. Las Animas and Huerfano Counties each share a contiguous border with Costilla County, qualifying them for federal assistance through the Consolidated Farm and Redevelopment Act as contiguous disaster counties under the act’s provisions.


NWS Science Briefing: Lifting Mechanisms for Precipitation

May 13, 2013

Waldo Canyon burn scar: Colorado Springs Utilities repurposes two drinking water reservoirs to flood mitigation

May 12, 2013

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From KRDO.com (Rachael Plath)

The burnt ground left in the wake of the Waldo Canyon Fire has increased the likelihood of flash flooding and mudslides. This threat directly impacted two Colorado Springs reservoirs: the Nichols and the Northfield reservoirs.

“When we have rainstorms, it really churns everything up; brings out that vegetation and debris down into the streams and tributaries. It just makes it a little more challenging to treat,” said Andy Funchess, field operations manager for water systems with Colorado Springs Utilities.

According to Funchess, the area surrounding the two reservoirs was badly burned. The runoff and erosion around the reservoirs was affecting the water’s quality.

Funchess said CSU has the ability to treat the water, but the cost would outweigh the benefit. For this reason, CSU drained the two reservoirs. The empty basins will now help with flood mitigation, as in their empty state, the reservoirs will catch debris and water before it rushes down the mountainside.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):

For months now, local leaders have breathlessly awaited [Dave] Rosgen’s Watershed Assessment of River Stability and Sediment Supply (WARSSS) study, a detailed explanation of how water will move off the Waldo Canyon burn scar and, more importantly, what we can do to stop it.

But as the study’s finally presented, it becomes clear that Rosgen can’t save us from the powers of nature.

His plan — thousands of pages long — represents a to-do list that likely will cost tens of millions. It’s currently largely unfunded, and will take years to complete regardless. And then there’s the biggest dose of reality: Even if the region does everything recommended, a five- or 10-year storm will still cause mass destruction and may claim many lives. “The increase in flow is going to be with us,” Rosgen tells the crowd. “It’s not going to change a lot. Flood peaks are a reality for the future.”

What the WARSSS can do is ease our suffering. The restoration work it recommends can hold back well over a million tons of mud in a normal monsoon season, ensuring that a two-year rain event doesn’t take out a neighborhood. Plus, it will help the burn scar heal more quickly.

More Colorado Spring Utilities coverage here.


Restoration: CSU Researchers Identify Environmental Risks and Opportunities for Conservation of Native Colorado Trout Populations

May 12, 2013

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

With only 14 percent of their original habitat remaining, native Colorado River cutthroat trout have been forced into isolation by habitat loss and invading non-native trout in relatively short reaches of high-altitude headwater streams. A new research paper by scientists at Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources has found that 63 percent of the remaining populations will be at some risk of decline or extinction by 2080.

There are 309 individual fragments of rivers and streams where pure Colorado River cutthroat trout still persist in the Colorado River Basin. The CSU researchers developed models to assess the probabilities for a variety of risks to trout in these populations, including those from a warming climate as well as increases in drought that causes stream drying and wildfire that can produce erosion of sediment into streams.

Researcher and lead author on the paper James Roberts first developed a sophisticated model to predict future stream temperatures from the latest predictions of future air temperatures and stream flow under climate change, as well as a range of other important variables such as latitude, slope, and elevation. The researcher team then analyzed the impacts of potential environmental disturbance events, such as fire, erosion and drought. What they found was a surprising paradox, and an opportunity for conservation.

The scientists report that none of the populations of cutthroat trout are expected to be at risk of acute mortality from increasing temperatures as the climate warms, even 70 years in the future. This is because these native fish have already been forced into refuges in short high-altitude streams, above barriers that prevent invasion by non-native brook, rainbow, and brown trout. As a result, the surviving populations are less susceptible to extreme temperature changes such as those that will occur at lower elevations. However, these isolated havens of cool-water habitat are also at the crux of what is jeopardizing the Colorado River cutthroat trout population.

The study reported that the fish living in these short stream reaches are highly vulnerable to potential effects of drought, fire, sediment deposition and freezing because they lack the habitat that would shelter them from these events that longer stream segments would afford. In addition, the isolated populations are also compromised by genetic risks that occur in small populations.
Because Roberts’ models looked at each risk factor for each stream where the native trout still occur, the researchers are able to identify in which of the 309 fragments restoration to expand the native trout’s habitat can be most effective. Furthermore, they are able to determine approximately how many kilometers long a stream fragment needs to be in order to provide adequate habitat for enhanced persistence rates.

“The complexity and depth of this study has allowed us to sharpen our focus and help managers create sustainable solutions for this iconic native fish species,” said Roberts. “Our hope is that this research will empower land managers with the tools and information needed to make a significant impact on the conservation of native Colorado River cutthroat trout for generations to come.”

The paper, Fragmentation and thermal risks from climate change interact to affect persistence of native trout in the Colorado River basin, is published in the May 2013 issue of Global Change Biology. The study was conducted using data from the upper Colorado River Basin, which includes all tributaries above Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell.

Roberts, now working with the U.S. Geological Survey, conducted the research over three years while he was a post-doctoral researcher with CSU’s Warner College. CSU scientist Kurt Fausch served as Roberts’ research advisor and co-author, and is a professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology and a world-renowned expert in the ecology and management of trout and other stream fishes. Other co-authors of the study are Mevin Hooten with the USGS Colorado Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and CSU alumnus Doug Peterson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The exciting outcome of this research is that we now have a targeted tool to help land managers plan efficient and strategic habitat restoration to reduce these risks,” said Fausch. “In many other cases, managers may be able to do little for native trout as the climate changes and makes streams too warm for their survival.”

From the Summit Daily News (Breeana Laughlin):

Rising water temperatures, the Colorado State University study concludes, aren’t impacting the indigenous fish like some of its non-native brothers.

Results of the study, which included six streams in Summit County, indicate that the hardy fish may be less susceptible to increases in water temperature than other trout.

Researchers James Roberts and Kurt Fausch are suggesting this may be because cutthroat trout have already sought refuge in short, high-altitude streams, above the barriers that keep out non-native brook, rainbow and brown trout.

Although isolated havens of cool-water habitat could help native trout survive future temperature increases, they still face peril in the event of a drought, fire or hard freeze because they don’t have the expansive habitat larger fish populations rely on to survive.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here and here.


Bennet, Tipton Reintroduce Companion Bills to Preserve Hermosa Creek Watershed

May 12, 2013

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Here’s the release from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Scott Tipton are introducing a bill to protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed, an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango. The bill would establish management for the Hermosa Creek Watershed based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, which included local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, property owners, grazing permit holders and other interested citizens. Bennet’s bill was introduced today, while Tipton will introduce his bill in the House as early as tomorrow.

“We are lucky in Colorado to be able to enjoy many of the country’s most beautiful landscapes in our backyards. The Hermosa Creek Watershed represents some of the best Colorado has to offer,” Bennet said. “This bill will protect this land for our outdoor recreation economy and for future generations of Coloradans and Americans to enjoy. It is the result of a local effort that took into account the varied interests of the community, and that cooperation helped us put together a strong bill with the community’s input.”

“As one of Colorado’s most scenic areas, Hermosa Creek has long been treasured by the local community and by countless visitors who have explored all that the region has to offer,” Tipton said. “Local stakeholders including snowmobilers, anglers, hunters, other outdoor enthusiasts, elected officials, miners and Southwest Colorado residents have voiced their support to preserve the Hermosa Creek watershed and the multiple use recreation opportunities it provides. In response to this locally driven effort, Senator Bennet and I have joined together to put forward legislation to, without any additional cost to taxpayers, protect and preserve this special place, and ensure that Coloradans as well as visitors to our great state have the opportunity to experience Hermosa Creek’s abundant natural beauty for generations to come.”

“On behalf of the La Plata County Commissioners, I thank Senator Bennet and Congressman Tipton for their great work for the interests of La Plata County citizens,” said Julie Westendorff, La Plata County Commissioner. “This bill protects the clean waters of our Hermosa Creek and promotes the responsible use of federal lands for the recreation that supports our economy and sustains our quality of life.”

“We are very excited about this bill. We are hopeful that all the hard work and cooperative partnership that went into the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act will lead to the swift passage of this bill for the benefit of Southwest Colorado and all the visitors to our area.” said Pete McKay, San Juan County Commissioner.

“The Hermosa Creek Wilderness bill rests on a foundation of broadly-based stakeholder input,” said Dick White, mayor of Durango. “It will protect the watershed while preserving historical and recreational values. In addition, it provides protection for iconic scenic and recreational areas near the City of Durango. The bill will contribute both to the natural amenities that attract residents and tourists to Southwest Colorado and to the economic benefits that they bring.”

“It was my privilege to represent the interests of the Southwestern Water Conservation District and San Juan County, Colorado during this process. Interests of the Southwestern Water Conservation District included protecting existing water rights and uses; and, the potential for future water development. The interests of San Juan County included protecting existing water quality, county road access, mineral development potential, forest product harvesting, and recreational uses,” wrote Stephen Fearn, President, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc. “Both the District and San Juan County have voted to support the proposed legislation.”

The bill, which is cosponsored by Senator Mark Udall, would designate roughly 108,000 acres of San Juan National Forest land as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area. Much of the land would remain open to all historic uses of the forest under the bill, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, and selective timber harvesting. Grazing will continue to be allowed in the entire watershed.

In accordance with the consensus recommendations of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, roughly 38,000 acres of the watershed would be set aside as wilderness, to be managed in accordance with The Wilderness Act of 1964. No roads or mineral development are permitted in wilderness areas; while hunting, fishing, horseback riding and non-mechanized recreation are allowed.

Per the community recommendations the following trails all remain open to mountain biking: Hermosa Creek, Dutch Creek, Elbert Creek, Corral Draw, the Colorado Trail, Little Elk Creek, Jones Creek, Pinkerton-Flagstaff and Goulding Creek. Also, in keeping with the community recommendations, the following trails will remain open to motorized use: Hermosa Creek, Jones Creek, Pinkerton Flagstaff, Dutch Creek and Corral Draw. In addition the bill will allow areas in the Hermosa Creek watershed currently used by snowmobiling to remain open to that use. Also, at the request of Silverton and San Juan County, the bill ensures areas currently open to snowmobiling on Molas Pass will remain open for that use.

The bill contains several provisions to provide for active land management in areas designated by the bill as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks. Finally, per the request of the Durango City Council and La Plata County Commission, the bill would prohibit future federal mineral leasing on Animas Mountain, Perins Peak, Ridges Basin and Horse Gulch.

Supporters of the bill include the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the San Juan County Commission, the Wilderness Society, Trails 2000, Four Corners Back County Horsemen, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others.

More Hermosa Creek Watershed coverage here and here.


Restoration: Mary Murphy Mine project set to start mid-summer

May 12, 2013

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From The Mountain Mail (Maisie Ramsay):

High on Chrysolite Mountain south of St. Elmo sits the Mary Murphy Mine, one of many nearly abandoned mining sites dotting the landscape of Chaffee County. The mine, a once-rich source of gold and silver, is now a pollutant. “It’s discharging metals into Chalk Creek. It makes it difficult for fish to survive,” said Jeff Graves, senior project manager for the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

Work is now under way to permanently stop the mine’s discharge of zinc-laden water toxic to fish – runoff linked to a 1986 fish kill. “The goal is to reduce the amount of discharge significantly and by that hopefully improve water quality within Chalk Creek,” Graves said.

The reclamation agency is seeking bids on the first phase of a two-stage project to end contaminated seepage from the site, described in a 2009 state report as the “single greatest contributor of heavy metals” in Chalk Creek. The first phase of the estimated $500,000 project is set to begin mid-summer, Graves said.

The project will reinforce the mine’s Golf Tunnel to prevent it from collapsing on workers during the second phase of the project, when a long-term barrier will be put in place. The tunnel will be stabilized, the floor cleaned of muck, ventilation put into place and basic utilities installed such as electricity and telephone. The Golf Tunnel is 2,200 feet below the surface, the lowest level of the Mary Murphy Mine.

Companies interested in the project must attend a mandatory pre-bid meeting at 10 a.m. May 7 in the U.S. Forest Service parking lot near St. Elmo. Bids must be submitted by May 23.

Following the stabilization of the Golf Tunnel, workers will install concrete plugs designed to stop mining discharge during the second phase of the project. “It’ll be like putting a cork in it,” Graves said. The “cork” phase has not yet been scheduled. Graves could not provide a specific cost estimate, but said the installation of the concrete plugs is expected to cost more than reinforcing the tunnel.

There are still claims on the Mary Murphy Mine, though the site is largely abandoned. The latest remediation work follows prior efforts to reduce pollution at the site through consolidation, capping and revegetation of mine tailings.

The work is being funded by the state and federal government after it was determined that “existing landowners are nonviable … for insufficient funds,” Graves said.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


Boulder County ‘Water Tour 2013′ is Saturday, June 8

May 12, 2013

Grand Junction: Next CWCB board meeting May 14-15

May 12, 2013

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From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

The meeting will be held in Grand Junction at the Ute Water Conservancy District offices located at 2190 H 1/4 Road, Grand Junction, CO, 81505.

More CWCB coverage here.


El Paso County Commissioners approve a regional stormwater approach for mitigation and management

May 12, 2013

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From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):

On Tuesday, the soon-to-be-overhauled City Council approved a resolution to support a regional approach to stormwater management on a 6-2 vote. In the past, such a move may have been considered little more than ceremonial — most experts have long agreed that stormwater is best approached regionally. But Mayor Steve Bach has lately turned the issue into a political football…

Many believe the mayor is afraid that a regional approach will suggest a new tax to solve the area’s dangerous backlog of needed infrastructure projects, estimated to exceed $900 million. The mayor signed a pledge saying he would oppose any new tax, no matter how vital. But Bach’s long reach may not be able to control this process. With assistance from El Paso County, a Regional Stormwater Steering Committee, made up of dozens of citizen volunteers, is already studying how best to approach the problem.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


POWELL to POWELL Episode 3 in the Colorado River series #ColoradoRiver

May 12, 2013

Las Vegas: ABA 31st Annual Water Law Conference June 5-7

May 12, 2013

CFWE watershed tours are coming up later this month, June and July

May 12, 2013

Click here for the 2013 tours page from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Watch their showcase video above to learn about the mission.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here and here.


WWA Intermountain West Climate Dashboard: New Briefing Available #COdrought

May 12, 2013

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From email from the Western Water Assessment:

Our latest Monthly Briefing was updated today on the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard. The briefing reviews April’s precipitation and temperature conditions; current drought, snowpack, and streamflow conditions; May 1 spring-summer streamflow forecasts; and the latest seasonal climate and ENSO forecasts.

New this month: Thumbnail images embedded in the text allow you to bring up the full-sized climate graphics while reading the briefing. [ed. very cool feature, click through, it's worth it for you graphics junkies]

Highlights:

  • Recent snows have improved the runoff picture, but most of the Intermountain West is still facing low or very low 2013 spring-summer runoff with reservoirs already at low levels.
  • April precipitation was mixed for the region, with northern and central Colorado, portions of Wyoming, and eastern Utah being wetter than average, and northern Utah, southwestern Wyoming, and southern Colorado being mainly drier than average.
  • Snowpacks in eastern Utah, much of Wyoming, and northern and central Colorado saw large gains in April, reaching near-normal peak levels.
  • Southern Colorado and southern Utah did not see these gains and meltout began early, from well-below-normal peaks.
  • May 1 forecasts for spring-summer streamflow for the region are still below average or well below average, but are generally improved from the April 1 forecasted flows across Wyoming, northern and eastern Utah, and northern and central Colorado.
  • The NOAA CPC seasonal climate outlooks show a dry “tilt” for spring and summer precipitation for most of our region. In contrast, the “SWcast” for April-June shows a wet tilt over much of Colorado.
  • To view the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard, please click here.


    The latest ENSO Discussion is hot off the press: ENSO neutral conditions forecast to continue #COdrought

    May 12, 2013

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    Click here to read the discussion and see all their graphics. Here’s an excerpt:

    Synopsis: ENSO-neutral is favored into the late Northern Hemisphere summer 2013.

    During April 2013, ENSO-neutral continued, with near-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) observed across most of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and below average SSTs confined to the far eastern equatorial Pacific. The Niño indices were near zero throughout the month, except for the Niño1+2 region which was between -1.2°C and -0.5°. The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) remained near average during April, reflecting near- average subsurface temperatures at depth across most of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. The tropical low-level easterly winds remained slightly enhanced over the western half of the Pacific basin, and anomalous upper-level westerly winds prevailed across much of the equatorial Pacific. Tropical convection was enhanced over Indonesia and the western Pacific and suppressed over the central Pacific. Collectively, these conditions indicate the continuation of ENSO-neutral.

    Most models forecast Niño-3.4 SSTs to remain ENSO-neutral into the Northern Hemisphere winter, with dynamical models tending to predict warmer conditions (-0.3°C to 0.4°C) than the statistical models (-0.7°C to 0°C). There is still low confidence in the forecasts for the latter half of the year, partly because of the so-called “spring barrier,” which historically leads to lower model skill for forecasts made between March and May. Forecast confidence will increase over the next few months. The current forecast indicates that ENSO-neutral will likely continue into the second half of the Northern Hemisphere summer 2013 (see CPC/IRI consensus forecast).

    This discussion is a consolidated effort of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA’s National Weather Service, and their funded institutions. Oceanic and atmospheric conditions are updated weekly on the Climate Prediction Center web site (El Niño/La Niña Current Conditions and Expert Discussions). Forecasts for the evolution of El Niño/La Niña are updated monthly in the Forecast Forum section of CPC’s Climate Diagnostics Bulletin. The next ENSO Diagnostics Discussion is scheduled for 6 June 2013. To receive an e-mail notification when the monthly ENSO Diagnostic Discussions are released, please send an e-mail message to: ncep.list.enso-update@noaa.gov.


    Bureau of Reclamation Releases Updated Climate Data for Water Managers

    May 12, 2013

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    From email from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

    The Bureau of Reclamation and collaborators developed new downscaled climate projections that allow water managers to incorporate the new Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project Phase 5 data from the World Climate Research Program into their water management planning. The data, representing 234 contemporary climate projections for the contiguous United States, was downscaled to a 12 kilometer resolution in order to be more useful to water managers.

    “CMIP5 projections represent a new source of information about how a changing climate may impact water supplies in the United States,” Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor said. “Reclamation and its partners are taking leading roles to develop an understanding on how this new information complements previous climate projections made available through CMIP3, and on how CMIP5 projections should be considered in water planning and management.”

    The World Climate Research Program develops global climate projections through its CMIP roughly every five to seven years. Results from CMIP3 were released in 2007 and later used in Reclamation research and assessments including the 2011 SECURE Water Act Report and WaterSMART Basin Studies completed in the Colorado, Yakima and St Mary River – Milk River Basins.

    “CMIP5 includes more comprehensive global climate models, updated greenhouse gas emissions scenarios and a broader set of experiments to address a wider variety of science questions,” Acting Science Adviser Levi Brekke said. “Through the West-Wide Climate Risk Assessment Implementation Team, Reclamation will consider best approaches for using CMIP5 projections in the future.”

    Reclamation, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Santa Clara University, Climate Central, Climate Analytics Group, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed the new downscaled data collaboratively supported by funding from a WaterSMART Climate Analysis Tools Grant and Reclamation’s Science and Technology Program.

    The new downscaled climate projections are available at: http://gdo-dcp.ucllnl.org/downscaled_cmip_projections/.

    More Bureau of Reclamation coverage here.


    EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing Drinking Water Study: What’s the latest?

    May 12, 2013

    2013 Colorado legislation: ‘Each one of these things was epic’ — Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carrol #COleg

    May 12, 2013

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    Joe Hanel sums up this year’s legislative session in his article running in The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    During the last 120 days, Democrats used their majorities in the House and Senate to push through a progressive agenda that’s been pent up for a decade.

    Election Day voter registration. Background checks for guns. Renewable-energy mandates. More health care for the poor. A $100 million tax break for low-wage workers. Civil unions for same-sex couples, and in-state tuition for students in the country illegally. Democrats in many other states can only daydream about the goals that Colorado Democrats achieved during the 2013 legislative session, which ended Wednesday.

    For good or ill, Capitol veterans called it the most consequential session in memory.

    “Each one of these things was epic,” said Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora. “We were (able) to do public-safety measures with commonsense background checks that Congress couldn’t get done. Any one of these things by themselves would have been historic and epic for a session, and we did one after another after another.”

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    Chaffee County is still hammering away at 1041 regulations for geothermal exploration and production

    May 12, 2013

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    From The Mountain Mail (James Redmond):

    When developing Chaffee County’s draft geothermal 1041 regulations, the consultant aimed to support geothermal development while protecting property rights, as the county requested, officials said at a special work session Tuesday. The 1041 regulations, when passed by the commissioners, will govern the use of geothermal resources for commercial production of electricity.

    The consultant who drafted the regulations, Barbra Green, partner at Sullivan Green Seavy LLC, said the draft contains flexible language that will give the county tools to handle all applications, from simple to controversial. “No one else in the state has geothermal regulations yet,” Green said. The process “is not easy and never perfect,” but she said she wants to talk through the draft with the county, hear feedback and get the regulations as close to the goals of the county as possible.

    The county’s draft geothermal 1041 regulations create a “permit-driven” process, Mary Keyes, Sullivan Green Seavy LLC paralegal, said. Unless staff makes a “finding of no impact,” any use of geothermal for commercial electricity will require a 1041 permit, she said.

    Chaffee County Commissioner Dave Potts asked when a project would get a finding of no impact. Green said she did not know how a geothermal project could actually get a finding of no impact. To do so, the project would have to cause no change on the site or surrounding properties in a number of areas. She said the draft has the no-impact language because in the future new technology or processes could possibly have no impact.

    The draft regulations include a mandatory pre-application meeting, Green said. Such meetings help all parties involved, by getting everyone on the same page, clarifying and answering questions about the application process. The meeting lets applicants determine their responsibilities and how to ensure their applications have everything they need up front instead of dealing with it later, she said.

    Once staff declares the application complete, the information goes to all reviewing agencies or consultants determined necessary, Keyes said. Then staff will compile all findings from the review agencies and consultants into a staff report prior to the public hearing for the application, she said.

    After the walkthrough of the process, the commissioners, consultant, county staff and others attending the meeting addressed areas of the draft they thought had issues or conflicts, and discussed possible solutions.

    The county will have to decide if it wants the drilling of exploration holes to fall into the definition of geothermal 1041 regulations, and therefore require a 1041 application, Green said. Hank Held and Fred Henderson, both of Mt. Princeton Geothermal LLC, spoke during public comments, saying the county should consider less regulation, not only on the drilling of exploration holes, but also on the entire geothermal 1041 regulations. Held said the county’s draft geothermal 1041 regulations duplicate both state and federal regulations. In cases such as drilling exploration holes, a company already must go through a regulatory process at the state level that could cover the need for regulation, he said.

    Green said in some cases the county has different standards than the federal or state regulations, so it may appear the county has redundant regulations.

    Paul Morgan, with the Colorado Geological Survey, warned commissioners that the west side of the Upper Arkansas River Valley has a large fault line running along it. He said, “I don’t think (county geothermal 1041 regulations) should have an option of a (finding of no impact). If an earthquake happens near geothermal development, “someone will sue the county,” he said.

    The county will hold a public hearing to start the process of approving the draft geothermal 1041 regulations during the May 21 regular commissioners meeting in Buena Vista, Jenny Davis, Chaffee County attorney, said. While the public hearing will start the process, the commissioners do not have to make a decision then, she said. Green will take comments and recommendations from the commissioners after the public hearing to work any requested changes into the draft document, she said.

    To develop geothermal 1041 regulations, Chaffee County partnered with Archuleta and Ouray counties and Pagosa Springs to hire the consultant for the process, Davis said previously. After the partners received a grant, Chaffee County’s portion of the contract for the consultant comes to $2,937.50, Don Reimer, Chaffee County development director, said previously.

    The county will have the most current version of its geothermal 1041 draft regulations on its website, chaffeecounty.org

    From The Mountail Mail (Joe Stone):

    The 800-acre Mount Princeton geothermal lease was recently terminated for nonpayment of rent. The lease owner, 3E Geothermal LLC in Colorado Springs, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Young Life, which also owns the Frontier Ranch youth camp on the flanks of Mount Princeton. The Bureau of Land Management Colorado leased the parcel to 3E Geothermal during its November 2010 oil, gas and geothermal lease sale. The lease was issued Jan. 1, 2011. As reported at that time by The Mountain Mail, Young Life officials made clear their intention to use the lease to protect the camping experience at Frontier Ranch by preventing development that would affect the natural beauty of the area.

    Denise Adamic, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Field Office in Cañon City, said, “Rent needs to be received every year by the Office of Natural Resources Revenue by the anniversary date … the date the lease went into effect.”
    Adamic said, when the rental amount of $2,400 was not received by Jan. 1, officials with the Office of Natural Resources Revenue issued a notice to 3E Geothermal giving the company 15 days to pay. When the company did not respond to that notice, Adamic said officials issued a second notice giving the company 45 days from the anniversary date to pay the rental amount plus a 10-percent late fee. When 3E Geothermal failed to pay within the 45-day period, Adamic said, the lease was terminated.

    Adamic said the company then had 30 days from the time they received the termination letter to appeal the termination to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. Terry Swanson, Young Life vice president of communications, said failure to pay the lease was “an administrative oversight” by Young Life that is “being corrected.”

    Adamic said, if 3E Geothermal loses the appeal, the company would have to place the winning bid at another lease sale in order to retain the lease. BLM officials are “reviewing what, if anything, we will do with the area in question. We may or may not offer it for lease again,” Adamic said. She added that BLM officials are investigating whether or not a new lease-sale nomination would be required to offer the parcel for lease again.

    Adamic said the BLM had not received a plan of development for the lease and that 3E Geothermal had not begun any ground-disturbing work on developing the lease.

    This geothermal lease was the first sold in Colorado since the 1980s.

    More geothermal coverage here and here.


    Whitewater sports brought in $52 million in business along the Arkansas River mainstem in 2012

    May 12, 2013

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    From The Mountain Mail (Casey Kelly):

    Commercial rafting activities brought more than $52 million into the Arkansas River Valley economy in 2012, Rob White, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area park manager, told Salida City Council during a work session Tuesday. White said the $52 million figure came from the Colorado River Outfitters Association’s 2012 year-end report on the economic impact of commercial rafting. In 2011, the impact on valley economy was a little more than $60 million. “You can see the effect that a low-water season has,” White said.

    To calculate economic impact, the report uses total cash spent in the local area for rafting, food, lodging and souvenirs by one rafting customer in one day, taken from a 1991 survey conducted by the Bureau of Land Management. That figure is multiplied by the number of commercial user days and an economic multiplier of 2.56 (the number of times a dollar is spent in the local area before being spent outside that area, according to the Colorado Tourism Board). “I don’t think people realize the economic impact whitewater boating provides to the communities in the Upper Arkansas River Valley,” White said. “People are bringing a lot of people into the area and spending a lot of money.”

    Other data White highlighted from the report included the Arkansas River recording a total of 169,486 commercial user days, the most of any river in the state in 2012. White said the Arkansas River saw “more than half the use of all other rivers in the state of Colorado. That’s including the Colorado River. So you can see basically how important the Arkansas River is in terms of drawing people from both the Front Range and out of state for whitewater boating and for rafting.”

    Commercial use on the Arkansas River in 2012 was down from 2011, which saw 208,329 commercial user days. “2011 was obviously a much better water year. In some respects, almost too good of a water year. We had big, big flows and we had high water advisories on the river a couple of different times,” White said.

    More whitewater coverage here and here.


    Upper Ark District board meeting recap: All district reservoirs are full, except DeWeese (89%) — Jord Gertson #COdrought

    May 12, 2013

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    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    Recent weather patterns in the Upper Arkansas River Valley precipitated discussion of snowpack and water supplies during the Thursday meeting of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. District hydrologist Jord Gertson reported that all district reservoirs are full, except for DeWeese Reservoir in Custer County, which is at 89 percent of capacity.

    Gertson presented Natural Resources Conservation Service data compiled May 1 that show Upper Arkansas River Basin snowpack at 93 percent of average and 287 percent of 2012 snowpack levels. Gertson said Snowpack Telemetry sites at Fremont Pass and Brumley show the snow water equivalent at 101 percent and 109 percent of median, respectively. The Fremont Pass SNOTEL site also reports precipitation at 106 percent of average for the current water year, which began Oct. 1. Gertson also showed snowpack charts indicating measurements at upper basin SNOTEL sites are “way better than last year,” including sites at Porphyry Creek, Independence Pass and St. Elmo.

    District directors also reported good news about the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project, which is expected to import 47,000 acre-feet of water from the Western Slope this year, compared to 14,000 acre-feet in 2012. Diversions of Fry-Ark Project water into the Arkansas Basin average approximately 52,000 acre-feet of water per year. In 2011, the project imported 98,000 acre-feet of Western Slope water, the second highest amount in the project’s 50-year history of operations.

    In other business, directors heard a legislative report from consultant Ken Baker. Baker’s report mainly focused on House Bill 1130, which, he said, targets Arkansas Basin water and is expected to be signed by the governor.

    Baker said HB 1130 would create a “selective application” of a 130-year-old Colorado water law. The bill would create the potential for 30 years of interruptible-supply agreements that are currently limited to a maximum of 10 years. The state engineer would have authority to approve these agreements, changing the use of the water and bypassing Water Court proceedings that are currently required to change the use of a water right. Baker said the bill mainly benefits Aurora, allowing the city to take Arkansas Basin water without having to pursue a change-of-use case in Water Court.

    To gain the votes needed to pass the bill, Baker said a special exclusion was added that exempts Western Slope water.

    In other business, Upper Ark directors:

  • Approved a modification to a Nestlé Waters North America augmentation agreement for 200 acre-feet of Fry-Ark Project water per year for 35 years.
  • Agreed to stipulate out of Poncha Springs case 09CW138, subject to favorable review of the stipulations by district engineer Ivan Walter.
  • Approved an agreement with law firm Wilderson, Lock and Hill to provide legal counsel for a flat fee of $2,000 per month.
  • Received an update on an integrated water agreement with Buena Vista.
  • Approved a cooperative water agreement with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
  • Learned that the gate wheel at O’Haver Lake has been replaced after the old one was damaged by a vehicle.
  • Received an update on the Trout Creek Ditch exchange case, 08CW106, which is scheduled to go to trial June 11 if the Department of Corrections, division engineer and Colorado Water Conservation Board do not agree to proposed stipulations.
  • From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District directors heard a report about the potential for underground water storage in Chaffee County during their Thursday meeting. Tammy Ivahnenko and Ken Watts with the U.S. Geological Survey said areas identified for further study include aquifers near Salida, Nathrop, Johnson Village, Buena Vista and north of Buena Vista.

    Watts said the locations were identified based on slope (less than 3 percent), soil texture at a depth of 5 feet (loam, sandy loam or gravel preferred) and surface geology (alluvial or gravel deposits).

    Another important factor, Watts said, is the “stream-accretion response time factor,” which provides an indication of how long water will stay in an aquifer before draining into a stream.

    Ivahnenko described “water budgets” she developed for Cottonwood, Chalk and Browns creeks and the South Arkansas River.
    The water budgets include irrigated acres, consumptive use by crops and amount of water diverted for irrigation, and help determine how much water may be available for storage at a given time.

    Watts said he conducted “slug tests” at 29 wells to determine hydraulic properties in the aquifers, including conductivity and permeability. He also reported on findings from Colorado State University monitoring wells. Hourly readings from the monitoring wells documented seasonal changes in water level and temperature, showing seasonal changes in groundwater levels and surface-water infiltration.

    Some wells showed significant influence from surface irrigation while others indicated a more stable, natural water level.
    Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District officials are developing plans to increase water storage capacity in the Upper Arkansas River basin. An important component of those plans is underground storage in alluvial aquifers, which would eliminate evaporative water losses and provide augmentation water through natural recharge to surface waters.

    Conservancy district officials said they will rely on USGS findings to help determine possible locations for underground water storage projects.

    More Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Parachute Creek spill: Regulatory authority over the pipeline at fault is still a fuzzy question #ColoradoRiver

    May 12, 2013

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    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A state regulator recently acknowledged the lack of clarity over what agency, if any, regulates pipelines like the one that’s the source of a natural gas liquids leak in the Parachute Creek watershed northwest of Parachute. The comments by Jim Milne, environmental manager for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, came in response to a question by Commissioner DeAnn Craig at the commission’s meeting last week. Milne was providing an update on the investigation into the leak from a pipeline leaving Williams’ gas processing plant. “I’m just curious who writes the rules for pipeline integrity of this type of system?” Craig asked.

    “I don’t have an answer to that,” Milne responded. “I think the agencies have all been looking at that question.” He said he knows the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has some level of involvement with the plant, but added, “I think the question you ask is a good one.” He said he and commission Director Matt Lepore have discussed the need to contact any agencies that could be involved and get a better understanding of who has responsibility over the line.

    Williams believes a faulty gauge on the pipeline leaked about 10,000 gallons into the soil and groundwater. Carcinogenic benzene has contaminated groundwater and the creek. Williams has pointed to OSHA regulatory oversight of the pipeline. But OSHA has said it doesn’t regulate things such as what pipeline materials and welding should be used, and that its regulations are geared toward safety considerations such as protecting laborers working in pipeline trenches. The natural gas liquids pipeline runs from the plant and beneath the creek to tanks on the other side.

    Williams says the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulates the pipeline running from the tanks to another plant in Rio Blanco County, from which the liquids are then shipped out of state. That agency covers aspects such as pipeline construction, testing, inspection and maintenance.

    The question of jurisdiction over the Williams line takes on additional significance because the company wants to install a second natural gas liquids line in the same corridor going beneath the creek to accommodate an expansion of its plant. It recently announced a delay in the expansion for reasons it says relate to the local drilling slowdown and not the leak. That expansion plan went through a Garfield County review process, but a county planning staff report to county commissioners made no apparent mention of the new pipeline.

    The oil and gas commission’s ability to regulate the existing or planned pipeline appears to be limited. It recently handed off lead authority over the leak investigation to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment because it determined it didn’t have primary jurisdiction over the matter.

    Oil and Gas Commissioner Rich Alward of Grand Junction told Milne that despite the jurisdictional issues, he’d be interested in any recommendations about what the commission can do “to minimize the risk of this happening again.” Alward mentioned reporting requirements as one possible area to be addressed.

    Williams didn’t initially report the leak because it thought it involved less than 25 gallons, far below the minimum five barrels (210 gallons) that trigger a reporting requirement. It also didn’t consider the spill to be a threat to surface waters, something that triggers a commission requirement of immediate reporting of a spill of any size.

    A bill awaiting action by Gov. John Hickenlooper would require reporting within 24 hours of all waste spills of a barrel or more if they take place outside berms or secondary containment systems. But a barrel, or 42 gallons, is still more than what Williams initially thought had leaked.

    In addition, the commission determined the liquids that leaked, as a product leaving a gas plant, don’t involve exploration and production waste, which is why it gave up jurisdictional authority.

    Meanwhile, Williams reports that the highest benzene reading in the creek as of Thursday was 4.4 parts per billion. The level last week remained below the state drinking water standard of 5 ppb in the creek, after barely exceeding that standard the week before, although the standard doesn’t apply to the creek because it’s not considered a drinking water source. There continue to be no signs of benzene in the creek at the point downstream where the town of Parachute diverts irrigation water.

    On Tuesday, a new well was installed to recover contaminants from the soil.

    Also completed this week was installation of vertical air sparge wells designed to enhance the removal, through aeration, of benzene in groundwater once they are hooked up to a blower motor.

    Those wells are part of a plan, newly approved by the health department and Environmental Protection Agency, under which Williams is upgrading its treatment system at the point where contaminated groundwater is entering the creek.

    All containment booms in the creek were replaced Tueday with fresh ones. Work also began last week on sampling contaminated groundwater. The work is necessary to characterize the contamination before the water can be properly treated and disposed of, the health department said.

    Williams said Friday that it so far has recovered about 6,300 gallons of natural gas liquids. It also plans to construct by month’s end a water treatment system to remove hydrocarbons from the aquifer and from recovered water that then can be returned to the aquifer. The water will be subject to continuous testing to assure it meets state and EPA requirements before being discharged back to the surface.

    Meanwhile, the Clifton Water District is keeping an eye on the spill. They pull off the Colorado River downstream of the confluence of Parachute Creek. Here’s a recent release:

    The Clifton Water District has continued to monitor the developments related to the contamination of Parachute Creek with Benzene. Parachute Creek is a very small tributary to the Colorado River which is the water supply for the Clifton Water District. No reports have indicated that Benzene has reached the Colorado River and the District’s monitoring efforts have not detected the presence of Benzene.

    Even though there is no indication that Benzene has reached the Colorado River, the Clifton Water District has been proactively monitoring the Colorado River in multiple locations for the presence of 25 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), including Benzene. The Clifton Water District’s Certified Laboratory has not detected the presence of Benzene or any other Volatile Organic Compound in any of the samples. Monitoring of the Colorado River for Volatile Organic Compounds has been a regular and routine event since 1986 and is a fundamental commitment in providing safe drinking water for our customers.

    In addition to being mindful of source water quality, the District has been diligent to implement advanced water treatment technology which is very effective in treating the Colorado River. The District has worked to improve its water treatment system to a “state-of-the-art” facility utilizing Enhanced Coagulation/sedimentation, Rapid Sand Filtration, Reverse Osmosis and Nanofiltration. These processes are instrumental to the success of a multi-barrier treatment approach. Continuation of the District’s effort the next generation of “state-of-the-art” water treatment technology, Micro/Ultra Filtration Treatment Facility, is currently in design and projected to be constructed by 2015.

    It is not anticipated that Benzene will be present in the Colorado River because of its volatility characteristics. The District will continue to maintain routine monitoring procedures for Benzene and other Volatile Organic Compounds even after this situation has been resolved demonstrating our commitment to provide high quality water to our customers.

    Here’s a report from Dennis Webb writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    The Clifton Water District said Tuesday it has been monitoring the benzene contamination in Parachute Creek, but tests of the Colorado River continue to show no evidence of the carcinogen. A leak of natural gas liquids leaving the Williams gas processing plant has resulted in small amounts of benzene reaching the creek. However, samples farther down the creek show no sign of the substance, which readily dissipates in moving water.

    Clifton Water said in a news release that it doesn’t anticipate benzene reaching the river because of its volatility.

    The creek “is a very small tributary to the Colorado River, which is the water supply for the Clifton Water District,” the utility added.

    It said it “has been proactively monitoring the Colorado River in multiple locations for 25 volatile organic compounds, including benzene. But its certified lab has found no VOCs in any of the samples.

    The district has routinely tested the river for VOCs since 1986 and will continue doing so after the leak situation is resolved, it noted. It also has been installing advanced water treatment technology to better address sediment and other issues involving the river water.

    Last week, benzene in Parachute Creek barely exceeded the state drinking water maximum of 5 parts per billion. However, the creek isn’t designated as a drinking water source by Colorado’s Water Quality Control Commission, and instead a 5,300-ppb standard applies to protect aquatic life. Williams reports that benzene readings at the highest point of contamination in the creek from Saturday through Monday were all above 4 but below 5 ppb, with Monday’s level at 4.7 ppb.

    From the Associated Press (Alexandra Tilsley) via The Denver Post:

    One of the main contaminants in the groundwater is benzene, according to Mark Salley, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which is currently overseeing the remediation efforts. Benzene, a known carcinogen, was also found earlier this month in Parachute Creek in concentrations above the state’s health standard, but levels have since dropped and officials insist there is no threat.

    To remove the benzene from the creek, Williams injected air into the surface water to strip the hydrocarbons, a process known as air-sparging. The same technique is to remove surface hydrocarbons that are floating on top of the groundwater.

    How to handle all the benzene-infected groundwater is the next question. The recovered water is currently being stored in tanks, and Williams said Friday it is planning to install a water treatment system that can separate the benzene from the water. “They’re working on the plans right now for a water treatment system,” said Tom Droege, a Williams spokesman. “It’s not in place yet, but once it’s up and running, then they’ll begin to treat the groundwater on a regular basis.”

    The system will remove the benzene and any other hydrocarbons from the water through a multistep process. Contaminated water will first go through an oil and water separator. Then, it will move through an air stripper, which works like air-sparging. Finally, the water will be moved through activated carbon polishing tanks. The treated water will then return to a holding tank, where it will be tested to ensure it meets state health department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. Once officials have confirmed the water is safe, it will be returned to the aquifer. Any air emissions from the treatment system will be captured and treated according to the procedures approved by the Air Pollution Control Division of the state’s health department, Salley said.

    The system is expected to be functional by the end of May.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Drought/snowpack news: ‘We definitely want to see that water stay in the system a little longer’ — Jon Monson #COdrought

    May 11, 2013

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    It looks like the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District wants to store some of the late season snowpack in Granby Reservoir. Here’s a report from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:

    Additional water won’t be released from northern Colorado’s largest system of reservoirs, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s board of directors decided on Friday. The quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will stay at 60 percent, according to Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner.

    The decision came as a disappointment to farmers, who are in the midst of spring planting and in search of more water for the growing season.

    But it was applauded by city water officials, who want to keep as much water as possible in storage for the future.

    The two river basins that collect snowmelt for the C-BT Project’s 12 reservoirs had seen huge improvements in snowpack since the Northern Water board set its water quota at a lower-than-average 60 percent last month. With the recent snowpack upswing, the Northern Water board considered increasing the water quota during its meeting Friday, but in the end, the board agreed the quota needed to stay where it is so less water is used this year and reservoirs can be refilled.

    The C-BT Project’s reservoirs were depleted throughout 2012, as water users heavily relied on water in storage to get through an extreme drought.

    Werner said the Northern Water board will continue evaluating the C-BT quota at its monthly meetings. If the board were to increase the C-BT water quota by 10 percent, for example, that would make available an additional 31,000 acre-feet of water — or about 10 billion gallons — to northern Colorado cities, industries, farmers and ranchers.

    Since the C-BT project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota to balance how much water could be used through the growing seasons and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent, according to Werner.

    Throughout the spring, water officials from cities — including Jon Monson, director of the city of Greeley’s water and sewer department — had generally pushed for a quota of about 50-60 percent, and were glad Friday to see that it was staying in that range. “We definitely want to see that water stay in the system a little longer,” Monson said of the C-BT Project, which supplies anywhere from 30-50 percent of Greeley’s water demand, and also provides water to users in eight northern Colorado counties.

    Many farmers, on the other hand, have asked for a quota of about 70 percent. “We’d like to have more water, but we also understand the need to refill reservoirs,” said Frank Eckhardt, a LaSalle-area farmer and board member for various irrigation ditch companies and water districts.

    Eckhardt said the recent snow and rain will help the spring planting of corn, sugar beets, onions and other crops get off to a good start, but he and others worry about running into water shortages down the road if precipitation is less frequent. “That’s when we really might need some extra water,” Eckhardt said, noting that he hopes the Northern Water board will look at increasing the C-BT quota this summer if the upcoming months are hot and dry.

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report:

    Despite plentiful spring snows and rain, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy Board has opted not to boost the amount of water it will provide to its members this year, deciding instead to maintain the quota at 60 percent. “It came down to the over-riding concern that we have to build reserves back up in a year like this,” said Brian Werner, the district’s spokesman.

    Werner said Northern’s reservoir storage levels are 30 percent below average, due to last year’s drought. “That’s a big hole,” Werner said.

    usdroughtmonitorcolorado05072013

    From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

    CENTRAL PORTIONS OF THE STATE HAVE RANGED FROM 125 TO 175 PERCENT OF NORMAL…DUE TO A COOL NORTHWEST FLOW WEATHER PATTERN. THISCOOL AND WET WEATHER PATTERN HAS ALLOWED FOR SOME IMPROVEMENTS IN THE DROUGHT ACROSS THE CENTRAL MOUNTAINS AND PORTIONS OF THE UPPER ARKANSAS RIVER VALLEY. HOWEVER…THIS WEATHER PATTERN DID NOT BRING MUCH PRECIPITATION TO WESTERN AND SOUTHEASTERN PORTIONS OF THE STATE…WITH PRECIPITATION TOTALS OVER THE PAST TWO MONTH RANGING FROM 25 TO 50 PERCENT OF NORMAL ACROSS MOST OF THE REST OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO.

    WITH THIS IN MIND…THE CURRENT US DROUGHT MONITOR CONTINUES TO INDICATE MOST OF SOUTHEASTERN COLORADO IN EXCEPTIONAL (D4) DROUGHT CONDITIONS. THIS INCLUDES SOUTHEASTERN PORTIONS OF EL PASO COUNTY…CENTRAL AND EASTERN PORTIONS OF PUEBLO COUNTY…CENTRAL AND EASTERN PORTIONS OF LAS ANIMAS COUNTY…AS WELL AS ALL OF CROWLEY…OTERO…KIOWA…BENT…PROWERS AND BACA COUNTIES.

    EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS CONTINUE TO BE INDICATED ACROSS NORTH CENTRAL THROUGH SOUTHEASTERN FREMONT COUNTY…SOUTHWESTERN THROUGH EAST CENTRAL TELLER COUNTY AND MOST OF THE REST OF PUEBLO AND EL PASO COUNTIES. EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS ALSO REMAIN INDICATED ACROSS EASTERN HUERFANO COUNTY AND WESTERN LAS ANIMAS COUNTY.

    SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS CONTINUE TO BE DEPICTED ACROSS SOUTHWESTERN THROUGH EAST CENTRAL CHAFFEE COUNTY…NORTHWESTERN THROUGH SOUTHEASTERN FREMONT COUNTY…NORTHERN TELLER COUNTY…NORTHWESTERN EL PASO COUNTY…EXTREME WESTERN PUEBLO COUNTY…WESTERN HUERFANO COUNTY AND EXTREME NORTHWESTERN LAS ANIMAS COUNTY…AS WELL AS ALL OF CUSTER…SAGUACHE…RIO GRANDE…CONEJOS…ALAMOSA AND COSTILLA COUNTIES.

    MODERATE DROUGHT (D1) CONDITIONS REMAIN ACROSS LAKE COUNTY AND NORTHERN AND WESTERN PORTIONS OF CHAFFEE COUNTY.

    MORE INFORMATION ON THE US DROUGHT MONITOR CLASSIFICATION SCHEME CAN BE FOUND AT: WWW.DROUGHTMONITOR.UNL.EDU/CLASSIFY.HTM

    SUMMARY OF IMPACTS…

    DROUGHT CONDITIONS EXPERIENCED OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS HAS IMPACTED SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO IN MANY WAYS…INCLUDING INCREASED WILDFIRE ACTIVITY AND DANGER…FAILED AND POOR YIELD ON NON IRRIGATED CROPS…CATTLE LOSS AND ABANDONMENT…AS WELL AS QUESTIONS ON WATER AVAILABILITY AND WATER RIGHTS.

    AS A RESULT OF THE PERSISTENT DRY CONDITIONS…GOVERNOR HICKENLOOPER HAS ACTIVATED THE STATES DROUGHT RESPONSE AND MITIGATION PLAN TO ENSURE THAT THE STATE IS DOING EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO ADDRESS THESE DROUGHT RELATED IMPACTS. MANY LOCAL COMMUNITIES HAVE ALSO IMPLEMENTED DROUGHT RESPONSE MEASURES…INCLUDING MANDATORY WATERING RESTRICTIONS.

    THE FOLLOWING WEBSITE HAS BEEN DEVELOPED TO HELP INDIVIDUALS DETERMINE WHAT THE RESTRICTIONS IN THEIR SPECIFIC COMMUNITY ARE: WWW.COH2O.CO

    FIRE DANGER IMPACTS…

    SOME BENEFICIAL MOISTURE HAS BEEN RECEIVED ACROSS PORTIONS OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTH COLORADO OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS. HOWEVER…THIS HAS NOT BEEN ENOUGH TO ACCELERATE GREEN UP AND ALLEVIATE THE MODERATE TO HIGH FIRE DANGER ACROSS THE AREA…WITH SEVERAL SMALL WILD FIRE STARTS REPORTED ACROSS THE AREA OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS.

    A CONTINUED LACK OF MOISTURE…ALONG WITH INCREASING TEMPERATURES AND THE START OF THE CONVECTIVE SEASON…WILL LIKELY KEEP HIGH FIRE DANGER ACROSS THE AREA AND COULD LEAD TO MORE LOCAL GOVERNMENTS INSTITUTING FIRE RESTRICTIONS OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS.

    THE LATEST INFORMATION ON FIRE BANS AND RESTRICTIONS CAN BE FOUND AT:

    WWW.COEMERGENCY.COM/P/FIRE-BANS-DANGER.HTML

    AGRICULTURAL IMPACTS…

    THE LATEST CPC AND VIC SOIL MOISTURE CALCULATIONS INDICATE SOME IMPROVEMENTS IN CONDITIONS ACROSS NORTHERN AND CENTRAL PORTIONS OF THE STATE. HOWEVER…DRIER TO MUCH DRIER THAN NORMAL SOIL MOISTURE CONDITIONS REMAIN DEPICTED ACROSS MOST OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…WITH THE LARGEST DEFICITS INDICATED ACROSS CENTRAL PORTIONS OF THE SOUTHEAST PLAINS.

    THE LATEST USDA COLORADO CROP REPORT ALSO SUPPORTS THE DRY CONDITIONS ACROSS THE STATE…WITH 46 PERCENT OF TOP SOIL MOISTURE RATED AT SHORT OR VERY SHORT ACROSS THE STATE. THIS COMPARES TO 44 PERCENT OF TOP SOIL MOISTURE RATED AT SHORT OF VERY SHORT LAST WEEK AND TO ONLY 36 PERCENT AT THIS SAME TIME LAST YEAR. AS FOR SUBSOIL MOISTURE ACROSS THE STATE…74 PERCENT WAS RATED AT SHORT OF VERY SHORT THIS WEEK…COMPARED TO 80 PERCENT LAST WEEK AND TO ONLY 47 PERCENT AT THIS SAME TIME LAST YEAR.

    THE LATEST PASTURE AND RANGE LAND CONDITIONS WERE RATED 73 PERCENT POOR TO VERY POOR…COMPARED TO THE FIVE YEAR AVERAGE OF ONLY 32 PERCENT RATED AS POOR TO VERY POOR.

    THE COLORADO CROP REPORT ALSO INDICATES ONLY 13 PERCENT OF THE WINTER WHEAT CROP REACHING THE JOINTING STATE AT THIS TIME. THIS IS WELL BEHIND THE 65 PERCENT RECORDED LAST YEAR AND THE OVERALL AVERAGE OF 50 PERCENT FOR THIS TIME OF THE YEAR.

    CLIMATE SUMMARY…

    THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE IN PUEBLO FOR THE PAST MONTH OF APRIL WAS 3.9 DEGREES BELOW NORMAL…MAKING APRIL OF 2013 TIED AS THE 11TH COLDEST ON RECORD. PUEBLO RECEIVED 0.30 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION ALONG WITH 3.4 INCHES OF SNOW THROUGH OUT THE MONTH…WHICH IS 1.10 INCHES AND 0.4 INCHES BELOW NORMAL…RESPECTIVELY.

    THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE IN COLORADO SPRINGS FOR THE PAST MONTH OF APRIL WAS 3.8 DEGREES BELOW NORMAL…MAKING IT THE 23RD COLDEST APRIL ON RECORD. COLORADO SPRINGS RECEIVED 0.33 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION THROUGH OUT THE MONTH…WHICH IS 1.09 INCHES BELOW NORMAL AND MAKES APRIL OF 2013 THE 14TH DRIEST ON RECORD. COLORADO SPRINGS ALSO RECEIVED 3.6 INCHES OF SNOW THROUGH OUT THE MONTH OF APRIL…WHICH IS 1.3 INCHES BELOW NORMAL.

    THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE IN ALAMOSA FOR THE PAST MONTH OF APRIL WAS 0.5 DEGREES BELOW NORMAL. ALAMOSA RECEIVED 0.32 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION AND 2.2 INCHES OF SNOW THROUGH OUT THE MONTH…WHICH IS 0.27 INCHES AND 1.3 INCHES BELOW NORMAL…RESPECTIVELY.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Bobby Magill):

    Northern Colorado has been bone dry since the summer of 2011, and it takes more than a few weeks of wet weather to make up for that.

    “We are still very much in deficit over the longer term,” said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. “We are now above average for the current year by about an inch. It’s so much better than a year ago (that) it feels excessive.”

    But the area has seen only 93 percent of normal wet precipitation during the past 365 days — 1.05 inches below normal, he said.

    From May 10, 2012, to May 9, 2013, Fort Collins received 15.05 inches at the Colorado State University campus weather station, according to data compiled by Colorado Climate Center researcher Wendy Ryan. The normal precipitation for that period is 16.1 inches.

    Though it’s early in the month, Fort Collins still hasn’t seen the full amount of precipitation it would normally get in a typical May despite all the rain and snow. The city normally receives about 2.5 inches of wet precipitation in May. So far, Fort Collins has officially received 2 inches…

    The U.S. Drought Monitor, compiled by regional weather and climate scientists, considers how much precipitation has fallen in an area over the span of an entire year when determining whether a region is abnormally dry or significantly drought-stricken.

    “If it was only short-term, we would be out of drought,” Doesken said.

    lakepowellinflowsandstorage1980to2012

    From NASA Earth Observatory:

    A round of late-spring snowstorms in 2013 offered a rare bit of positive news for reservoir watchers. Two of the three key river basins that feed Lake Powell—the Green River and the Upper Colorado River—saw much higher levels of precipitation in April than normal. The extra rain and snow provided critical relief for farmers, but hydrologists say that the precipitation was still too little to have much impact on the reservoir.

    Snowpack peaked at 81 percent of average total accumulation in the Upper Colorado and Green, noted U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist Katrina Grantz. But the resulting runoff is likely to be only 45 percent of average because the parched soil is expected to absorb much of it. Some of the smaller reservoirs north of Lake Powell will get a boost, but Grantz expects Lake Powell to increase by only a few feet this spring and summer. Normal inflow from spring runoff, in comparison, would cause lake levels to rise by about 40 feet (12 meters).Randall Julander, a U.S. Department of Agriculture hydrologist, summed the situation up best. “Slight improvement in the Colorado basin water supply is like expecting a road-killed jackrabbit to feed a whole pack of hungry coyotes. It’s not nearly enough to go around,” he said.


    Eagle River Watershed Council Waterwise Thursday May 16: Are you wiser than a sixth grader?

    May 10, 2013

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    From email from the Eagle River Watershed Council:

    Join us for a special Water Wise “Thursday” brought to you by the 6th Graders of Homestake Peak School of Expeditionary Learning. After an in-depth, multiple month study, these students are ready to teach you “the what, the so what, and the now what?” of the Eagle Mine Superfund Site.

    The event will take place Thursday, May 16th at 5:30 at the Walking Mountains Science Center. The students will begin with a living history museum where you can chat with figures of the past and then, they take you in depth into the history, science and future of the Eagle River. Beverages and appetizers will be provided.

    More Eagle River Watershed coverage here and here.


    Denver Water: The May 2013 ‘WaterNews’ is hot off the press

    May 10, 2013

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    Click here to read the news from Denver Water.

    More Denver Water coverage here.


    Drought/snowpack/runoff news: Northern Colorado drought improves thanks to April/May moisture #COdrought

    May 10, 2013

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    From The Denver Post:

    The storms hit northern Colorado hard, boosting snowpack in the South Platte River basin to 99 percent from 71 percent, and in the Colorado and the combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins to 98 percent from 78 and 79 percent respectively. The news is more grim in southwestern Colorado, where the Rio Grande and the combined San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan basins logged major declines. As of May 1, the Rio Grande reported at 41 percent of median, the other southwest basins were at 43 percent of median. Peak snowpack in those basins was reached in early March and melt began in April.

    Though the snowpack is still high in the major northern basins, the reservoirs in the region still have not recovered from two years of drought. Statewide, reservoir storage is about 74 percent of average and 68 percent of 2012. Because the melt has not yet begun, the conservation service said, those numbers could improve in the northern basins. However, in the south, storage levels are still low and the chance of improvement is slim.

    From The Durango Herald (Jordyn Dahl):

    Despite the recent precipitation, the area still is in a severe drought with snowpack levels far below average. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basin is at 39 percent of average for snowpack, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. However, the basin is at 204 percent of last year’s snowpack.

    Southwest Colorado never reached average snowpack levels during the winter, and what little snow the region did receive is melting quickly. The cooler temperatures will help slow the melting some, but it “will come off very quickly next week as we dry out,” Ramey said. “It will slow down the loss of snowpack, but we’re in a bad way,” he said. “It’s really the southwest corner of the state that is in the worst shape right now.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Five Southern Colorado counties received federal drought designation Wednesday. Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Huerfano and Las Animas counties received the designation from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, according to a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper. The counties will be added to other counties on the Eastern Plains that already have had drought declarations.

    The designation allows farmers to apply for emergency loans and other assistance from the Farm Service Agency. Colorado’s U.S. senators hailed the decision. “Colorado and the West are experiencing one of the most severe droughts on record. This ongoing drought threatens farm jobs and our agricultural economy throughout the state,” said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. “We need to act — and soon — on a new Farm Bill that strengthens farmers’ and ranchers’ hands as they confront this ongoing drought.”

    “While areas of Colorado received late-season snow that brought some much-needed moisture to our state, the drought over the past several years has tortured crops and pastures around the state — and dry conditions continue to persist in many counties,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. “These disaster designations will provide critical assistance to farmers and ranchers to help offset their losses due to the recent drought.”

    Snowpack in the Rio Grande and Arkansas River basins remains well below peak levels and irrigated farms typically use 85 percent of the water.

    From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

    Aspen received its second-highest amount of snowfall for April since 1935 and the second-highest amount of total precipitation since 1951, according to the weather watchers at the Aspen Water Treatment Plant. The plant recorded nearly 38.5 inches of snow, second only to the whopping 56 inches that fell just two years ago, during the winter that wouldn’t end in April and May 2011. The average is just 15.7 inches. Total precipitation, including the snow-water equivalent from the snow, was about 4 inches in April. That compares with an average of 2.17 inches. It rained or snowed on 15 of the 30 days of the month, resurrecting the feeling of “mud season” from years gone by.

    The rainy and snowy month created an oddity with the snowpack east of Aspen near the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. The snowpack there peaked on April 18, nine days later than average. So when the snowpack is usually melting out, it was still building in the Roaring Fork basin.

    The snowpack was 81 percent of the median east of Aspen on Wednesday and 100 percent of the median for the Roaring Fork basin overall, which includes the Fryingpan and Crystal river valleys, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service…

    The weather reversal has eased drought conditions in Colorado’s central and northern mountains, but the moisture isn’t spilling into the Eastern Plains. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Drought Monitor shows that the southeast quarter of Colorado remains rated in the worst level of drought at “exceptional.” Pitkin County, Eagle County and most of Garfield County have been reclassified to “moderate” drought, the second-lowest in the five-point intensity scale…

    In the Roaring Fork Valley, the late snowfall will make for a great boating season on Ruedi Reservoir. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation forecast about one month ago that the reservoir wouldn’t fill this year, based on snowpack totals. Now it appears that it will come close to filling, said Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the agency. The reservoir is 62 percent full, with the flow of water coming in at 195 cubic feet per second and the release at 109 cfs.

    From The Mountain Mail (Paul Goetz):

    Statewide snowpack climbed to 83 percent of median as of May 1, up from 74 percent of median measured April 1. U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service officials announced Monday that snowpack totals in the Arkansas River Basin increased to 82 percent of median, up from 74 percent April 1. The increase comes after an unseasonably cool and wet April, which allowed snowpack to increase to near normal accumulation totals. “Those wet storms really improved our water supplies, especially along the Front Range and Upper Colorado River Basin,” said Phyllis Ann Phillips, state conservationist with the NRCS.

    Snowpack typically begins to melt, and the runoff season begins in April. Snowpack totals were not reached until April 24, 2 weeks later than the long-term average date of peak accumulation.

    Statewide maximum accumulation totals for 2013 ended up being 80 percent of the normal seasonal maximum.

    Storm systems that moved through the state in April focused on northern Colorado, completely missing the southwest portion of the state. In the north, snowpack totals in the South Platte River Basin increased from 71 percent of median on April 1 to 99 percent of median on May 1. Both the Colorado River Basin and the combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins were reported at 98 percent of median on May 1, up from 78 and 79 percent of median measured on April 1.

    In contrast, further south the Rio Grande and combined San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan basins saw declines in their snowpack percentages over the past month. As of May 1 the Rio Grande reported snowpack totals at 41 percent of median and the southwest basins were at 43 percent of median; both basins reached their seasonal peak snowpack in early March and began melting out in April.

    With the additional snowfall in April, the water supply outlook has improved for most of the state’s seven major river basins. All basins, except for those in the southwest portion of the state, saw improvements to their streamflow forecasts this month.

    While most forecasts across the state still call for below-normal runoff volumes this season, some of the forecasts for the headwaters of the Colorado and South Platte basins are now near to slightly above average.

    Statewide reservoir storage volumes are currently 74 percent of average and 68 percent of 2012’s volumes.

    In the northern basins the recent snow accumulation has yet to run off and should help improve storage and extend water supplies further into the summer season.

    In the southern basins, storage levels remain low, and the probability of vast improvement this season is slim.


    S. 306 (small hydro) passes out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

    May 10, 2013

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    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    A measure that would allow for quicker construction of hydropower projects on canals, pipes and other U.S. Bureau of Reclamation conduits on Wednesday passed its first test in the Senate.

    U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who plans to sign on as a cosponsor of the measure, S. 306, voted for it in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which approved the bill. The next step for the measure is a vote on the Senate floor.

    The measure by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., already passed the House, 265-154, last month and Udall supported it Wednesday as S. 306 passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

    The measure would eliminate unnecessary and duplicative administrative and regulatory costs, Udall said in a statement, noting that “hydro-electric power has an important role to play in helping the United States achieve true energy self-reliance.”

    The measure is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo.

    Once the measure becomes law, the water flowing through small Bureau of Reclamation-operated conduits could generate enough electricity to power 1 million homes, Tipton said in a statement.

    Udall is a cosponsor of a separate measure sponsored by U.S. Rep Diana DeGette, D-Colo., that would ease construction of small hydropower projects on conduits operated under the auspices of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

    More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


    Colorado River Basin: Annual ‘State of the Rivers — Mesa County’ meeting May 13 #ColoradoRiver

    May 10, 2013

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    From email from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University:

    State of the Rivers Meeting

    The Water Center at CMU is pleased co-sponsor the annual “State of the Rivers – Mesa County” meeting with the Colorado River District on Monday, May 13 from 5:30 – 7:30pm in the Colorado Mesa University Ballroom.

    This meeting will address our current & projected water supply situation, water banking to deal with shortages, and salinity control programs. Light refreshments will be provided.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here


    Fountain Creek: Snow instead of rain helps with flash flooding potential at the Waldo Canyon burn scar

    May 10, 2013

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    From the The Colorado Springs Gazette (Andrea Sinclair):

    Heavy snowfall Thursday morning caused school delays, a power outage and a tough commute for Woodland Park residents, but weather analysts said it was a blessing in disguise. National Weather Service forecaster Patrick Cioffi said parts of Teller County county saw a foot of snow. If that had been rain, Cioffi said, flash flooding would have been a dangerous certainty. At 6 p.m., forecasters downgraded a flood watch in place for the Waldo Canyon burn scar to a flood advisory, a move that indicated the worst conditions had passed, for now.


    The May 1 Colorado Basin Outlook Report is hot off the press, things are looking up north #COdrought

    May 9, 2013

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the May 1 statewide snowpack map by sub-basin along with the May 1 streamflow forecast by basin from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Click here to read the report. Here’s the introduction:

    Summary

    After three consecutive months of below average snow accumulation in Colorado, multiple storm systems in April finally brought the moisture we had been hoping for all season. The state received above average precipitation during April which primarily occurred as snow, and brought snowpack totals to near normal levels in the northern basins. Unfortunately the southern portion of the state did not benefit from these storm systems. Warm and dry conditions dominated the Upper Rio Grande basin, the combined San Juan, Dolores, Animas, & San Miguel basins and the southern tributaries of the Gunnison basins during April. Reservoir storage remains below average across most of the state but conditions should improve in the northern basins as the recent snow begins to runoff. The most recent streamflow forecasts mimic the snow and precipitation conditions across the state; big improvements in the northern basins and further decline in the southern basins. Overall though the water supply outlook this month is better than just a month ago, this just goes to show how big of a difference just a few snowy weeks can make.

    Snowpack

    The wet weather pattern that started in late March continued into May and brought impressive improvements to snowpack percentages. After four consecutive months of snowpack reports that hovered in the low 70 percent range, the state snowpack recorded a significant gain this past month. Snowpack measurements recorded by automated SNOTEL sites and manual snow surveys across the state showed an increase of 9 percentage points from last month’s report. As of May 1 the snowpack was at 83 percent of median. This was a very unusual April, in most years the snow accumulation season ends in early April, and the rest of the month is normally characterized as the beginning of runoff season. The watersheds in the northern part of the state saw the largest benefit from the snowy April, posting increases that ranged from 28 percentage points (in the South Platte basin) to 15 percentage points (in the Yampa and White basins). Unfortunately, basins to the south saw similar changes in their snowpack percentages, but in the opposite direction. The Upper Rio Grande and the combined San Juan, Dolores, Animas, and San Miguel basins saw decreases of 28 to 30 percentage points respectively.

    Precipitation

    Statewide precipitation, measured by the SNOTEL network, was 114 percent of average this April and 197 percent of last year’s April totals. April was only the second month to record above average statewide precipitation this water year, with the previous month being back in December. The relatively wet month increased the water year to date totals to 80 percent of average on May 1, and 103 percent of last year’s cumulative precipitation on the same date. Precipitation was quite variable throughout the state in April, it was really a story of the haves and the have not’s. The combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins recorded precipitation at146 percent of average for the month, the Colorado basin was at 140 percent of average and the South Platte was at 143 of average. The Gunnison basin ended up at 101 percent of average for the month as a result of half the basin receiving decent precipitation and the other half missing out on the storms. The lowest percent of average for the month was reported in the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins with 48 percent of average.

    Reservoir Storage

    The cool, wet weather we experienced in April delayed the expected increase in reservoir storage volumes this month. Reservoir storage across the state is at 74 percent of average as of May 1, and 68 percent of last year’s May1 storage amounts. The late season snowfall provides an optimistic outlook for storage improvements in the northern basins this spring. The additional runoff in these basins should extend water supplies further into the summer season. In the southern basins, storage levels remain well below average and the probability of vast improvements this season are slim. All in all we are still feeling the effects of the previous bleak winter but some basins should be able to replenish their reservoirs this season.

    Streamflow

    Most major basins in Colorado saw improvements to their streamflow forecasts this month. The northern basins once again boasted the greatest changes compared to last month; on average April to July forecasts in the combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins, the Colorado basin and the South Platte basin increased by 20 percentage points from those issued last month. A few of the headwater streams in the Colorado and South Platte basins are now expected to see near average flows. Despite these improvements, the majority of the forecasts in these basins still call for below average runoff this spring and summer season. On the flip side, current forecasts for the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan basins and the Upper Rio Grande basin call for streamflow volumes in the 30 to 50 percent of average range.

    Special Note on Interpreting Forecasts

    According to the National Water and Climate Center (NWCC), “a water supply forecast is a prediction of streamflow volume that will flow past a point on a stream during a specified season, typically in the spring and summer. These forecasts are given not as a single number, but as a range of numbers to reflect risk and forecast uncertainty. Each month, five forecasts are issued for each forecast point and each forecast period. Unless otherwise specified, all forecasts are for streamflow volumes that would occur naturally without any upstream influences.”

    The forecasts we typically emphasize in this report are the 50 percent exceedance probability forecasts because they are in the middle of the range of forecasts with 50 percent chance that actual volumes will be above or below the predicted volume. The 50 percent exceedance forecasts assume that typical weather patterns will prevail into the forecast season. In a water year such as this one, when conditions have been anything but typical, it is important to pay attention to the other forecasts provided. If cool, wet conditions prevail into the rest of this spring and summer it may be prudent to use the 50 or 30 percent exceedance forecasts for management purposes this season. If conditions get very hot and dry this spring, actual streamflow volumes may be more in line with the 50 or 70 percent exceedance forecasts.


    Snowpack/drought news: Northern Water may kick up the C-BT quota Friday #COdrought

    May 9, 2013

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    Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map along with the basin high/low graphs for the Upper Colorado River Basin and the South Platte River Basin.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    The two river basins that provide water to the northern Front Range saw the biggest snowpack upswings in the state during April, according to a report released this week by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s board of directors will take those improvements into account when it convenes for a meeting Friday, when board members will discuss increasing the water quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado.

    According to the NRCS report, snowpack in the South Platte River basin stood at 99 percent of historic average on May 1, after sitting at just 69 percent of average on April 1. Snowpack in the Colorado River basin was 98 percent of average on May 1 — up from 74 percent of average on April 1.

    Because snowpack numbers were low prior to April’s barrage of snow storms, Northern Water board members set a lower-than-average water quota of 60 percent at its meeting last month.

    If the board were to increase the C-BT water quota by 10 percent, for example, that would make available an additional 31,000 acre-feet of water — or about 10 billion gallons — to northern Colorado cities, industries, farmers and ranchers. But Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said this week there’s no guarantee that will happen.

    “It’s still probably about 50/50,” Werner said. “We’ve seen some big improvements in snowpack, but we still have some big holes to fill.” Those “big holes” are the C-BT Project’s reservoirs, which were depleted throughout 2012, as water users heavily relied on water in storage to get through an extreme drought.

    The reservoir levels listed in the NRCS’s recent report were a mixed bag for water users in northern Colorado. The South Platte River basin’s collective reservoir levels were at 87 percent of average on May 1, but the Colorado River basin’s reservoir levels were at just 67 percent of average. While the Colorado River flows in the opposite direction of the northern Front Range, some the C-BT Project’s 12 reservoirs are located in that river basin, with that water tunneled from the West Slope to East Slope users.

    Since the C-BT project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent, according to Werner.

    Before setting its quota in April, the Northern Board listened to input from its water users. That meeting drew about 250 people — a record-high attendance for Northern Water’s April meeting, Werner said. At the meeting, officials from cities generally pushed for a quota of about 50-60 percent, wanting to keep it relatively low and save as much water as possible for the future. However, many farmers in attendance — those who are planting crops and need to know soon how much water they’ll have for the growing season — asked for a quota of about 70 percent.

    Many area farmers are hopeful that April’s abundance of snow will convince the Northern Water board to increase the C-BT quota on Friday. Not only would releasing more water increase direct flows to the region’s rivers and irrigation ditches, it might convince cities to lease more water to agricultural users, some farmers and ranchers said. “It would make a substantial difference,” Randy Knutson, who farms in the Greeley area, said of an increase in the C-BT water quota. “Every little bit will help.”


    Arkansas Basin Roundtable recap: State water plan development front and center at Wednesday’s meeting

    May 9, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado is moving quickly to develop a state water plan by late 2015, culminating more than a decade of work. “I think it’s exciting for Colorado, when you look at all the work that’s been done,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. He made his comments during a report to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

    The CWCB is going through changes, with executive director Jennifer Gimbel leaving in June and an ongoing search for a new chief.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper has asked the CWCB and the Interbasin Compact Committee to speed up efforts to develop a plan for future water supply that meets the need for more urban growth while preserving water for the environment and agriculture.

    “During my reign of terror as state engineer, at least one legislator every year would stand up and say, ‘We have to have a state water plan,’ ” said Jeris Danielson, who represents the basin on the IBCC. “We might actually get something done.”

    Both Danielson and Hamel cautioned the roundtable that the state’s prior appropriation system, administered through water courts, needs to be preserved. But it can be tweaked to allow certain types of flexibility to share water for more than one purpose.

    One example of that is House Bill 1248, which breezed through both legislative houses this year after it was altered to have a statewide focus. The bill allows rotational fallowing demonstration projects that would allow farmers to lease water to cities with the oversight of the CWCB. Originally, the bill just included the Arkansas River basin, which has received several CWCB grants designed to gauge the impact of water transfers related to the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

    “We are ahead of the other roundtables in terms of planning,” Hamel said.

    More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here and here.


    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1130 (Reapprove Interruptible Water Supply Agreements) is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper #COleg

    May 9, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Aurora prevailed in the final days of the state Legislature after a conference committee largely unraveled a Senate committee’s changes to a water transfer bill. A bill that would give the state engineer up to 30 years authority over water transfers was approved by the House Wednesday on the last day of the Colorado legislative session. The Senate approved the bill Tuesday. It now goes to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature.

    “In general, it’s not too far from where we started,” said Gerry Knapp, who oversees Arkansas Valley and Colorado River operations for Aurora. House Bill 1130, backed by Aurora, was heavily amended in the Senate agriculture committee in April, but most of those changes were undone in conference committee Monday.

    The bill makes changes in the interruptible water supply law, which allows cities to lease water from farms for three years in any 10-year period. The amended version of the bill allows two renewals by the state engineer, with certain conditions, although it expands the water court appeal period for renewals to four months.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    CWCB: Next Water Availability Task Force Meeting May 16

    May 8, 2013

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

    The next Water Availability Task Force meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 16 from 9:30-11:30am & will be held at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

    The agenda has been posted at the CWCB website.

    More CWCB coverage here.


    Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper Colorado River Region #ColoradoRiver

    May 8, 2013

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the April 29 through May 5 precipitation summary map for the Upper Colorado River Regions. Click here for all the summaries.


    Greeley’s Water Conservation Newsletter for May is hot off the press #COdrought

    May 8, 2013

    Drought/snowpack news: April snowfall softens drought in northern Colorado #COdrought

    May 8, 2013

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    Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current US Drought Monitor and the current 3-month drought outlook from the Climate Prediction Center.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    Northern Colorado’s drought appears to be headed into remission following dousing after dousing of heavy snow and rain since the middle of April.

    At least that’s the case for a doughnut hole in the region’s drought — an area roughly surrounding Fort Collins, Greeley and Longmont.

    Drought conditions in most of Larimer, Boulder and western Weld counties and southern Laramie County, Wyo., are being downgraded from “moderate” drought conditions to merely abnormally dry.

    Wednesday’s Colorado Climate Center drought report shows that above-average precipitation in April and an additional 1 to 2 inches of moisture during the first week of May in Northern Colorado has turned the region soggy enough to pause drought for now…

    Colorado outside of Larimer, Boulder and Weld counties remains under moderate to extreme drought conditions, particularly southern Colorado were conditions are worsening…

    Snowpack in Northern Colorado’s mountains is above-normal for this time of year, with the snow in the South Platte River Basin, which includes the Poudre River, at 105 percent of normal. The Colorado River Basin is 104 percent of normal.

    Southern Colorado’s quickly-melting snowpack is hurting badly, however. The Rio Grande Basin’s snow is only 31 percent of normal, and the San Juan River Basin is 40 percent of normal.


    A look at the management of water in the San Luis Valley

    May 8, 2013

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    From the Valley Courier (Virginia Simmons):

    In the 1860s the legislative branch of the Territory of Colorado had already made provisions about water use in the relatively small ditches by appropriation. The first ones created in the early 1850s were soon followed in the 1860s and 1870s by ditches that diverted water from the main stem of the Rio Grande River itself. In 1876 the constitution of the State of Colorado established appropriation of water rights in the order of priority, the doctrine of prior appropriation, and by the 1880s Colorado was making considerable headway in organizing the state government. The filing of ditch rights began in 1881.

    In 1881, the Judicial Branch of the State of Colorado was granted final authority over priority, amount, location, and use of water rights. The judicial branch of Colorado’s government still has the authority over water matters relating to water, from district courts up to the Colorado Supreme Court.

    Much later, in 1969, seven judicial districts would be established, overlapping with the seven major river basins of Colorado. The Colorado Twelfth Judicial District is in the Third Water District, the same geographical area as the San Luis Valley. Besides being a water court, the district court deals with many other types of cases, of course, so district judges get assistance of water referees, attorneys who examine cases related to water and make recommendation to the district judge. In Colorado Judicial District 3, District Judge Pattie M. Swift is the water judge.

    Since 1881 also, the state has had an Office of the Water Engineer, our Colorado water pooh bah. Beginning as a one-man office, it was responsible for such activities as records of surface and ground water rights, decrees, stream flow and water use, and dam safety. The state engineer also serves as Colorado’s commissioner on the Rio Grande Compact Commission. The Division of Water Resources (DWR) is currently headed by Director Dick Wolfe.

    Division 3 of the Division of Water Resources (DWR) was established in 1969, whereby the state designated seven divisions, one for each of Colorado’s major water basins. Division 3 occupies the San Luis Valley, the drainage of the Rio Grande River in Colorado and the same geographical area that is served by the judicial District Court, District 3.

    In the DWR’s Division 3, Rio Grande Basin Division, the division engineer is Craig Cotten, with his office at 301 Mullins, Alamosa. He oversees monitoring stream flow, water use, well permits, ditch repair, and dam repair, and files reports with the Denver office. Local water commissioners’ offices are located at present at Monte Vista (District 20), Antonito (22), and Saguache (25, 26, 27). Water commissioners measure stream flows at gaging stations, coordinate calls for users with senior and junior rights, and send reports to the division engineer. Ditch riders are hired by ditch companies to maintain ditches and headgates, open headgates, and other on-the-ground jobs, some of which may get touchy.

    Municipalities must comply with DWR regulations, water quality policies of the Colorado Water Quality Commission, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, the Colorado Water and Wastewater Facility Operators Board Certification, and the local code of ordinances, and federal laws. In a large town such as the City of Alamosa, the contact is the Director of Public Works, whereas smaller towns may have a water and sewer department. Residents of rural areas and small villages use domestic wells.

    Not until 1957 and 1965 was legislation passed regarding wells, ground water, and augmentation. Permits for ground water wells were then required and are administered by DWR. Statutes also were passed that included tributary water in wells that were affecting surface water rights. Since 1972, DWR has administered domestic well permits on property of less than 35 acres. Restrictions on permits may differ from one county to another, but they still must comply with DWR’s state regulations.

    Over all, then, administration of the Colorado Division of Water Resources (DWR) for the entire, diverse state is a large responsibility. And this is just one division within the present Colorado Department of Natural Resources (CDNR), where some other divisions are also related to water. Mike King is director of CDNR.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


    Snowpack news: ‘Mother Nature has been nothing but miserly to the Rio Grande basin’ — Matt Hildner #COdrought

    May 8, 2013

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    Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map along with the basin high/low graphs for the Upper Rio Grande and the San Miguel,Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    While the northern part of the state and parts of the Arkansas River basin were given reprieves by a string of April snowstorms, Mother Nature has been nothing but miserly to the Rio Grande basin. The snowpack report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service lists the basin’s snowpack at 40 percent of its normal peak at the end of April. “It’s not a good year at all,” Division Engineer Craig Cotten said Tuesday.

    The federal agency also is forecasting a flow of only 225,000 acre-feet on the Rio Grande River from April to September. Should those forecasts hold, Cotten said this year would mark the fourth lowest flows on record for the Rio Grande since the state began recording them in 1889.

    Forecasts are just as bad on the Conejos River in the southwestern corner of the San Luis Valley, where only 113,000 acre-feet are predicted through September.

    The dreary numbers are mitigated slightly by the fact that this year’s runoff did not come as early as last year, giving irrigators a better chance to take advantage of them, Cotten said.

    The dry forecast also means the state will not have to send much water downstream to satisfy the Rio Grande Compact, which governs how Colorado, New Mexico and Texas share the river. Cotten’s office projects that only 4 percent of the flows on the Rio Grande will need to be sent downstream, and the Conejos, which also has obligations under the compact, will have no delivery requirement.

    Craig Cotten division engineer Dry weather is likely to remain, according to the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, which predicts a likelihood of below-normal precipitation from May through July in South-Central Colorado. The rest of May may hold a brief respite as the center is predicting a likelihood of above-normal precipitation.


    2013 Colorado legislation: House Joint Resolution 1026 (Protect Agricultural Water Supplies) passes the state House #COleg

    May 8, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The state House Tuesday passed a bipartisan resolution to protect Colorado’s water supply and recognize the benefits irrigated agriculture provides to Colorado. “We want to make sure we protect water, it’s a precious resource,” said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono. “Water is the lifeblood of our state. I’m glad to see bipartisan support for this resolution.”

    House Joint Resolution 1026 calls on the Legislature to work with Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado’s water community to continue addressing Colorado’s predicted water supply-demand imbalance. HJR1026 recognizes the importance of Colorado’s irrigated agriculture and encourages investment in outreach and education to increase Coloradans’ awareness of how beneficial irrigated agriculture is to Colorado.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board and Interbasin Compact Committee have been working on meeting future demand for more than a decade. Hickenlooper wants to have a state water plan in place by 2016. “Agriculture contributes about $40 billion to our state’s economy,” Saine said. “We have to make sure that water rights are protected.”

    More than 85 percent of Colorado’s water use is for agriculture, but a growing amount is required for city and industrial uses.
    “Our water demands will only increase going forward,” Saine added.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    Snowpack/drought news: Statewide snowpack declines to 71% of avg, South Platte = 102% (best in state) #COdrought

    May 7, 2013

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    Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map and the statewide basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    Here’s a look at expected runoff in the North Platte Basin from the Bureau of Reclamation:

    The Bureau of Reclamation’s Wyoming Area Office has prepared snowmelt runoff forecasts for the North Platte River Basin. According to Wyoming Area Manager Coleman Smith, the May 1 forecast indicates below average spring snowmelt runoff for the North Platte Basin.

    April through July runoff in the North Platte Basin above Glendo Dam is expected to be 518,000 acre feet (AF) or 55 percent of the 30-year average of 944,600 AF. Approximately 450,000 AF (60 percent of average) of runoff is expected to enter Seminoe Reservoir (of which 50,000 AF was received in April) with an additional 18,000 AF (30 percent of average) being provided to Pathfinder Reservoir from the Sweetwater River (of which 6,500 AF was received April), and the balance of 50,000 AF (37 percent of average) coming from the basin between Pathfinder Reservoir and Glendo Reservoir (of which 14,900 AF was received in April).

    The water in storage for delivery to North Platte Contractors as of April 30, 2013 is 349,400 AF or 45 percent of average.

    Smith said, “Reclamation is advising North Platte Project water users that an allocation is expected. With reservoir storage well below average and below average inflow forecasted for April through July, water users will need to take measures to conserve the available water supply.”

    With the current forecast, river flows throughout the system are expected to be much less than average.

    From the Leadville Herald Democrat (Carol Werckman):

    A record accumulation of snowfall in one hour was measured by the Herald’s weather guru. Charles Kuster, during the storm early Sunday morning – 3.6 inches between 12:07 and 1:07 a.m. Before that storm, the greatest accumulation of snowfall he had measured during his 30 years or so in Lake County was recorded during a very late storm on June 8, 1984, when he measured 3.1 inches in one hour during a storm that dropped 11.6 heavy, wet inches.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Whitney Phillips):

    Wednesday’s barrage of heavy, wet snow — an unwelcome sight to some residents who spent the weekend basking in temperatures upward of 70 degrees — was not as uncommon as some might think.

    Kari Bowen a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, said data dating back to the 1800s shows that systems like the one that dumped about 3 to 5 inches in the Greeley area isn’t an anomaly. “Every few years we do tend to get these late, spring snowstorms,” she said.

    Todd Dankers, another meteorologist with the weather service, said there’s about a 38 percent chance of snowfall in May, and most storms produce several inches. “This is kind of on the heavy side for May storms but not uncommon,” Dankers said.

    Dankers said snowfall readings were higher in the Fort Collins and Boulder areas, with the more western parts of the Front Range receiving anywhere from 6 inches to a foot of snow.

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Spring storms that repeatedly targeted the north-central mountains of Colorado in April help bring the snowpack to near normal in a few river basins. The May 1 snow survey showed the statewide snowpack climbing up to 83 percent of average for the date, the highest level of the year…

    The storm systems that moved through in April were mainly focused on northern Colorado while completely missing the southwest portion of the state. Snowpack totals in the South Platte River basin increased from 71 percent of median on April 1 to 99 percent of median on May 1. Both the Colorado River basin and the combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins were reported to be at 98 percent of median on May 1 up from 78 and 79 percent of median measured on April 1. The Colorado and South Platte basins are crucial for Denver Water supplies and reservoir storage.

    From KUNC (Erin O’Toole):

    Last year at this time, Northern Colorado’s snowpack was only at 23 percent of average. Poudre River commissioner Mark Simpson says this year is a different story.

    “We measured snow right at the end of April,” Simpson says. “We came up with a 94 percent average for the basin of the Poudre – and that was right before this last storm hit. So I think we’re pretty close to average, which is phenomenal compared to last year.”

    With water levels so bad in 2012 rafting outfitters had a bad season. One Poudre Canyon operator, Mountain Whitewater Descents, cited a 60 percent drop in business.


    Atmospheric carbon dioxide to pass 400 PPM sometime this month for the first time in 400 million years

    May 7, 2013

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    From Ecology.com (Bob Petz):

    Chances are that in the next few days, the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere will exceed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in about 4 million years.

    Recently, Mauna Loa Observatory on the big island of Hawaii has been regularly recording daily CO2 levels above 399 ppm, with several hours already exceeding 400.

    Considering that carbon levels tend to peak in mid-May, one or more daily averages above 400 in the next few weeks is a near certainty. Yesterday’s reading, May 5, was 399.54 ppm.

    While crossing the 400 ppm threshold is largely symbolic, the rate at which atmospheric carbon is increasing is anything but. When Mauna Loa began measuring CO2 in 1958, CO2 was running @ 317 ppm. Unless we begin to seriously slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions now, we’re on track to surpass 450 ppm within 30 years.

    Mauna Loa Observatory, operated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, not only has the longest continuous history of monitoring CO2 concentrations, but thanks in part to its location, its measurements are regarded as the baseline standard for atmospheric carbon.

    At 11, 335 feet (3,397 m) above sea level, Mauna Loa’s sits above low-level, local pollution and temperature inversion layers. Its location in the mid-Pacific also isolates it from major sources of pollution.

    More climate change coverage here and here.


    The COGCC fines Antero $150,000 for produced-water pipeline leak near Rifle

    May 7, 2013

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    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved a $150,000 fine Monday against Antero Resources in connection with a leak from a produced-water pipeline that resulted in oily contamination of groundwater and soil near Rifle. The fine was part of a consent agreement reached with Antero. The commission says Antero violated rules on pollution and management of waste in the incident, discovered in July 2010.

    The leak from a faulty weld in a plastic pipe resulted in seeps of a paraffin-like substance in a nearby gravel pit owned by Grant Brothers Construction, and caused high levels of benzene, a carcinogen, in the groundwater. The oil-laden water came from 36 wells on five well pads in the Colorado River floodplain, the commission said.

    Before the commission acted Monday, Commissioner Richard Alward of Grand Junction expressed concern about how much time has lapsed since the leak’s discovery. “It’s now 2013, and we’re now finally resolving things,” he said.

    Commission staff said the delay was because Antero tried several approaches to cleaning it up, finally settling on full excavation, which was completed last September. The state then allowed for another half-year of environmental monitoring.

    Denver-based Antero no longer operates in Colorado, having sold its assets in the Piceance Basin to Ursa Resources in order to focus on drilling in the eastern U.S.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Arkansas Valley Conduit update: Federal budget slashes funding to $1 million

    May 7, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is asking the Senate energy appropriations subcommittee to provide additional funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The conduit’s funding stream hit a snag in the 2014 budget request by President Barack Obama, which allocates $1 million. The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District had asked the Bureau of Reclamation for $15 million to keep the project moving forward.

    At April’s meeting, the Southeastern board learned that Reclamation projects across the board had been slashed, including some already under construction. “I don’t know what will happen,” said Southeastern Executive Director Jim Broderick. “We are going to Washington in a couple of weeks to try to learn more.”

    In a letter to committee chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Bennet pointed out other long-term projects in California and Idaho that had received additional funding. “As the subcommittee prepares for the coming fiscal year, we must ensure that states and local communities have the resources to continue work on large-scale, multiyear projects,” Bennet said.

    The conduit’s environmental impact statement is being prepared by Reclamation, and the conduit already has a built-in repayment mechanism through 2009 legislation that devotes Fryingpan-Arkansas contract revenue to conduit costs.

    The cost of the project is estimated at $500 million. It would deliver fresh drinking water from Pueblo Dam to 40 communities as far east as Lamar. Many of those communities could face even higher treatment costs if the conduit is not completed.

    More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


    Restoration: The Eagle River Watershed Council is planting willows along Red Dirt Creek May 17-18

    May 7, 2013

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    From email from the Eagle River Watershed Council:

    We are beginning a second project along the East Fork of Red Dirt Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River. The Watershed Council, along with a team of volunteers and help from the US Forest Service and Trout Unlimited, will plant willows and remove a dirt road that is adding sediment to the creek and harming the local cutthroat trout population.

    Friday, May 17th and Saturday, May 18th we will be planting willows along the East Fork of Red Dirt Creek and we are looking for 10-15 volunteers. Call us at 970-827-5406 or email outreach@erwc.org to sign up for one or both days!

    More Eagle River Watershed coverage here and here.


    Colorado’s water supply benefits from late season storms

    May 7, 2013

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic to view the snowpack and storage table from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Here’s the release from the NRCS (Mage Skordahl):

    Unseasonably cool and wet weather throughout April allowed Colorado’s snowpack to increase to near normal accumulation totals. After an entire month of favorable storm tracks, May 1 snow surveys showed that the statewide snowpack percentage climbed to 83 percent of median from 74 percent of median measured on April 1, according to the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “Those wet storms really improved our water supplies, especially along the Front Range and Upper Colorado River basin”, said Phyllis Ann Phillips, State Conservationist with the NRCS. April is typically the month in which the snowpack in Colorado begins to melt and the runoff season begins. This season, peak snowpack totals for the state were not reached until April 24th, over two weeks later than the long term average date of peak accumulation. Statewide maximum accumulation totals for 2013 ended up being 80 percent of the normal seasonal maximum.

    The moisture laden storm systems that moved through in April were mainly focused on northern Colorado while completely missing the southwest portion of the state. Snowpack totals in the South Platte River basin increased from 71 percent of median on April 1 to 99 percent of median on May 1. Both the Colorado River basin and the combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins were reported to be at 98 percent of median on May 1 up from 78 and 79 percent of median measured on April 1. In contrast to these success stories, the Rio Grande and combined San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan basins saw major declines in their snowpack percentages this past month. As of May 1 the Rio Grande reported snowpack totals at 41 percent of median and the southwest basins were at 43 percent of median; both basins reached their seasonal peak snowpack in early March and began melting out in April.

    With the additional snowfall in April, the water supply outlook has improved for most of the state’s seven major river basins. All basins, except for those in the southwest portion of the state, saw improvements to their streamflow forecasts this month. While most forecasts across the state still call for below normal runoff volumes this season, some of the forecasts for the headwaters of the Colorado and South Platte basins are now near to slightly above average.

    Statewide reservoir storage volumes are currently 74 percent of average, and 68 percent of 2012’s volumes. The good news is that in the northern basins the recent snow accumulation has yet to run off and should help improve storage and extend water supplies further into the summer season. In the southern basins, storage levels remain low and the probability of vast improvements this season are slim.


    Forecast news: Stormy week ahead #COdrought #COwx

    May 6, 2013

    From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

    The National Weather Service said Sunday, “The weakly organized and slow-moving upper level storm system will take most of the upcoming week to move across Colorado.” Denver has a 30 percent chance of afternoon showers Monday, with midweek offering the best opportunity for rain in the metro region, when chances are 50 percent both Wednesday and Wednesday night. The region should see cooler-than-average highs near 60 each day, forecasters said. Rain is expected to begin in the mountains Monday afternoon and spread across the plains by the end of the week. Areas above 8,500 could get snow at times, according to the forecast.

    From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

    Moisture will continue to increase across the area in the southwest flow ahead of an area of low pressure situated off the northern California coast. A disturbance ejecting out in front of the low pressure system will generate more widespread showers and thunderstorms among both mountains and valleys today. The area of low pressure will slowly move eastward across the Great Basin tomorrow and near the Four Corners region on Wednesday. More instability and forcing coupled with some surface heating from the sun will allow storms to be greater in coverage and intensity Wednesday into Thursday. This unsettled weather will linger through Saturday, before the low finally moves out of the area. Expect showers and storms each day this week with cooler temperatures near to a few degrees below normal.


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