@EPARegion8 calls for comments from water managers in West's arid climate on Water's of the U.S. Rulemaking. Comments are due Nov. 14
— CO Water Congress (@COWaterCongress) October 22, 2014
— New Belgium Brewing (@newbelgium) October 22, 2014
Golden cottonwood trees and shorter days signal not just the changing of the seasons, but also the transition from one water year to the next, as irrigation demands taper off and snow starts to accumulate in the high country. Oct. 1 is the official turning point, so 2015 has already arrived in water time.
The 2014 water year brought relief to most of Colorado and the Upper Colorado River Basin after two very dry years. Above-average precipitation eased drought conditions and allowed reservoir levels to creep upwards.
Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest, is now 71-percent full, in much better shape than at this time last year, when it was just 42-percent full. Near average inflows brought Lake Powell, the “savings account” for the Upper Colorado River Basin to meet downstream obligations, up to 51-percent full. It was just 45-percent full at this time last year. Inflows to Lake Powell in both 2012 and 2013 were less than half of average.
Soil moisture is also looking pretty good, with levels in most of the Upper Colorado Basin above average, although there are some dry spots in the four-corners area of New Mexico and Arizona and in southwestern Wyoming. Soil moisture in the fall is a factor in how much snowmelt reaches streams and reservoirs the following year, as opposed to being sucked into dry ground.
What will the  water year bring? That remains a largely open question, although it does appear that the Southwest will get some relief from persistent drought. The three-month outlook issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in September indicates that conditions are likely to be wetter than average in Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Utah and Southern Colorado. Farther north in Colorado and Utah and in Wyoming, the three-month forecast shows “equal chances” of drier and wetter conditions.
The Bureau of Reclamation forecasts that the “most probable” inflows into Lake Powell in the 2015 water year will be 98 percent of average, while acknowledging that water supply forecasts at this time of year are highly uncertain. Conditions do appear favorable for another high-flow experimental release in November to benefit the Grand Canyon ecosystem by flushing sediment downstream. Total releases from Powell in 2015 are expected to 8.23 million acre feet, up from 7.480 million acre feet in 2014, which was the lowest release since Lake Powell filled in the 1960s.
This is also the time of year when we can start to look at snowpack numbers to get clues about what the coming water year (and ski season!) will bring. However, it’s also impossible to draw any reasonable conclusions from snowpack numbers now, since the total amounts are so small and “percent of normal” can swing wildly overnight.
So, keeping in mind that this is largely a recreational exercise, we do have some early data: Most Colorado river basins have less than half of the average water content in their snowpack for this time of year, except that the Gunnison has 65 percent and the Arkansas Basin has 93 percent. In Utah, the snowpack in the river basins that drain the Wasatch Mountains into the Great Basin have between 400-900 percent of their average water content for this time of year, while levels in Utah’s portion of the Colorado Basin range from 41-83 percent of average. Snowpack numbers for Wyoming are also way below average, and no data is available yet for New Mexico.
Here are two websites that are very useful for keeping track of climate, water supply and streamflow information:
• The Colorado Climate Center and National Integrated Drought Information System page on Upper Colorado River Basin water conditions, at http://climate.colostate.edu/~drought.
• The University of Colorado-based Western Water Assessment’s “Intermountain West Climate Dashboard,” at http://wwa.colorado.edu/climate/dashboard.html.
You can also get information on current conditions and operations at Lake Powell from the US Bureau of Reclamation at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/gcd.html.
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.
Water year 2014 closed with a wetter-than-average September for most of the region, but October has been much drier than average so far, except in southeastern Colorado. At the end of September, nearly all of the region’s reservoirs were in better shape than at the same time last year, but most reservoirs in Utah and southern Colorado were still lagging the long-term average. The NOAA CPC monthly and seasonal outlooks show mostly equal chances for above-average or below-average precipitation for late fall and early winter, while the ‘SWcast’ shows more of a wet tilt for Utah and Colorado. ENSO indicators are more consistently pointing towards El Niño onset, which is likely to officially occur by spring, according to the latest forecasts.
September and early October Precipitation and Temperatures, and Current Drought
Water year 2014 concluded with a wet September Western US Seasonal Precipitation for most of the region, with nearly all of Utah and most of Wyoming and Colorado seeing above-average precipitation for the month. Through October 19, water year 2015 has gotten off to a dry start across the region Western US Seasonal Precipitation, with the exception of southeastern Colorado.
For the 12 months of water year 2014, most of the region saw above-average precipitation Western US Seasonal Precipitation, with nearly all of Wyoming, northern and central Colorado, and eastern, northern, and southeastern Utah ending up on the wet side of the ledger. Southeastern and southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah, and central Utah were on the dry side. Very few areas saw less than 70% of average water year precipitation. Because the best months for precipitation across Utah were July, August, and September—a time of year that produces less efficient runoff—water-year streamflows were generally lower than would be expected given the water-year precipitation.
Despite the generally above-average precipitation in September, the temperatures were 0-4°F warmer than average over nearly the entire region Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Thus far, October has also been running warmer than average.
With the ample precipitation in September, the latest US Drought Monitor US Drought Monitor, based on conditions as of October 14, shows overall less drought in the region compared to early September. Drought conditions improved in southeastern and southwestern Colorado, southern Wyoming, and multiple areas in Utah. For the first time since June 2012, there are no areas of D3 or D4 drought in the region. The proportion of the region in D2 or worse drought is likewise on the decline: Utah down to 13% from 19%, Colorado down to 12% from 16%, and Wyoming unchanged at zero.
From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):
In addition to the staggering estimate, the construction must be completed by December 2017 to meet state regulations for higher water quality.
Currently, the plant is releasing more nitrogen and phosphorous into the Animas River than the new regulations allow.
If the plant does not meet the new rules, it could be placed under a consent order by the state and will not be allowed to build any more sewer taps. This would halt any city growth. It could also equate to a $25,000 daily fine, said Utilities Director Steve Salka.
The regulations were approved in 2012 because high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous causes algae to bloom faster than ecosystems can handle. Too much algae deprives fish and other aquatic life of oxygen, said Meghan Trubee, community relations liaison for the Colorado Water Quality Control Division.
“We’re affecting the base of the food cycle in the wild,” said John Sandhaus, wastewater treatment plant superintendent for the city of Durango.
To remove what is effectively too much fertilizer, the sewer plant will need greater capacity and new technology, he said.
The upgrades should make the plant quieter and reduce the sickening smell that occasionally wafts across Santa Rita Park.
“If this plant is built the way we suggest it be built, you won’t even know it’s here,” Salka said.
Designs include 11 new structures, including a new administration building that may be built near the park to distance the public from the process, Salka said.
The capacity of the plant also will be increased from 3 millions gallons of water per day to 4 million, so it would be prepared for growth.
The new structures will add more equipment to almost every step of the treatment process.
When raw sewage enters the plant, it flows into a headworks building where the current flow-measurement device is too small to handle peak times. It also violates state standards because it cannot be cleaned or calibrated because it is underneath the concrete floor, Sandhaus said.
Once inorganic matter is removed, the waste flows into stilling basins, called primary clarifiers. Here, solid waste is separated from the liquid waste. These would not be replaced, but they would be covered with domes to filter the air.
The water then flows into an aeration basin where micro-organisms digest the waste in the water.
“We call ourselves bug farmers,” Sandhaus joked, while looking out across the dark-brown bubbling basins.
Four new aeration basins must be built with about five times the capacity of the existing basins, Sandhaus said.
Management also plans to replace the blowers that pump air into the basins from direct current to alternating current for efficiency, Salka said.
Solids are then removed from the water again in secondary basins, and the plant will need two more of these basins.
The water is then sterilized with ultraviolet light. A secondary sterilizer will be part of the upgrades because the plant is violating state regulations without one.
Sludge is processed separately from water in a digester. Much as the name suggests, here micro-organisms feed on the waste. The upgrades call for another digester that will prevent the stench currently caused by cleaning and maintenance.
Under the plan, processed waste will be dried in another new building. Here, human waste will be turned into dry pellets that can be sold as fertilizer.
Currently, the plant produces four to five tanker truck loads a day of mostly water mixed with 2.5 percent processed human waste. The plant pays $250,000 a year to truck this waste away.
The preliminary designs also call for a station where restaurants could send grease instead of pouring it down a drain. This can be used to increase the production of methane and produce more electricity.
All of these improvements would be scheduled, so that the plant can continue processing waste during construction. April 2016 is the earliest that construction may start.
More wastewater coverage here.
From the Englewood Herald:
High-end irrigation control plus cool, moist conditions helped the Broken Tee Golf Course at Englewood reduce annual water use by 28 percent this year.
Through Sept. 30, the computer-controlled irrigation system had applied about 62.5 million gallons of water to the course. That usage was down almost 20 million gallons from the 2013 total of about 86.2 million.
No treated water was used on the golf course. The irrigation water came from the South Platte River, the lakes on the course and wells on the course property.
More conservation coverage here.