Click here for the Blue River Group above Dillon. Today the SWE is sitting at 44% of average.
More education coverage here.
— NWS Pueblo (@NWSPueblo) January 25, 2013
From the NWS Pueblo office:
The thermometer topped out at 40 degrees in Alamosa today. This is the first time the temperature went above the freezing mark since December 18th, 2012. The 36 days (December 19th-January 23) of at or below freezing temperatures sets a new record of consecutive days of high temperatures at or below 32 degrees in Alamosa. The previous long streak of consecutive days with temperatures at or below 32 degrees was 32 days set in December of 1997 and January of 1968.
The average temperature in Alamosa for the month thus far (24 days) has been -0.4 degrees, which is an amazing 16.7 degrees below normal! Despite several more days of near normal temperatures expected through the weekend before colder air works into the state again by early next week, January of 2013 still remains on pace to be one of the coldest on record in Alamosa.”
From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krivonen):
Snowpack in the Roaring Fork Watershed is just 55 percent of average. It’s a number water utilities on the populated Front Range don’t like to see. They take much of their water from these Western Slope rivers and streams. And with this year’s lackluster snowfall, they’re already making plans for a dry summer.
Water for residents of Colorado Springs comes from 200 miles away. That’s because there’s no river to tap within the city itself. The water utility there depends heavily on spring runoff. And, they’re anticipating less this year…
Right now the 25 reservoirs the utility draws from are collectively less than half full. Typically they’re about twenty percentage points higher. Over the years, the utility has increasingly encouraged its customers to use less. But this summer, it may no longer be an option. The Utility will likely limit outdoor watering and raise rates for people who use lots of water.
North of Colorado Springs, in Denver, it’s a similar story.
“We’re heading into 2013 with much lower reservoir levels than usual,” says Travis Thompson with Denver Water.
He says the utility’s reservoir levels are 67 percent full. Normally they’re above 80 percent. Even in 2002, one of the driest years in recent memory, reservoir levels were higher than they are today.
Thompson says the utility is considering implementing drought restrictions this summer that would require its one million-plus customers to cut back on outdoor watering…
The outlook isn’t rosy. Below average snowfall is predicted through the end of January and long-term forecasts call for warmer than normal conditions. [Eric Kuhn] says there’s a chance the state could see water shortages, and a bad fire season.
Here’s the release from Living Rivers (John Weisheit):
Just two months after Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar opened the jet tubes at Glen Canyon Dam, launching a five-day (24-hour peak) controlled flood into Grand Canyon, the results are in and they are not positive.
During today’s Annual Reporting Review for the Grand Canyon Adaptive Management Program’s Technical Working Group, representatives from the Glen Canyon Monitoring and Research Center reported:
Just 55% of the target beaches showed improvements, while 36% remained the same and 9% were worse off. 25% of the sediment scientists had hoped to mobilize and distribute with the flood never moved. No evidence of improved nursery habitat for native fish. Nothing is stopping the long-term erosion of sediment from Grand Canyon’s river corridor.
“Ken Salazar claimed that this was going to be ‘A milestone in the history of the Colorado River’, but like the three previous experiments in 1996, 2004 and 2008, it too has shown that at best some beaches are temporarily improved, but the long-term prognosis for the Grand Canyon is a system without sediment,” says Living Rivers Conservation Director John Weisheit
Since 1963, 95% of sediment inflows to Grand Canyon National Park’s river corridor have been trapped behind Glen Canyon Dam. This has completely transformed habitat conditions for Grand Canyon native fish, leading to the extinction of the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail chub and roundtail chub, and the endangerment of the humpback chub.
The November 19th 2012 flood is the first to occur in a ten-year time window that scientist have been granted to experiment with Glen Canyon Dam operations. Additional controlled floods can be attempted if certain conditions are met, mainly the existence of large amounts of sediment entering the Colorado RIver from two tributary rivers that feed into the upper part of Grand Canyon, the Paria and Little Colorado.
“Far too much public time and money is wasted on preparing for, publicizing, executing and monitoring these useless floods that do nothing but perpetuate a science welfare program masquerading as an endangered species recovery effort,” adds Weisheit. “Scientist know, but won’t publicly state, that the only real solution to addressing Grand Canyon’s sediment deficit is to transport it around Glen Canyon Dam or decommission the dam altogether.”
A disturbance will move across the area today, with light snow across the mountains. 2 to 5 inches are possible in twitpic.com/bxtpwd
— NWS Grand Junction (@NWSGJT) January 24, 2013
From the NWS Grand Junction Office:
A disturbance will move across the area today, with light snow across the mountains. 2 to 5 inches are possible in the higher elevations with little to no accumulation in the valleys. At this time, it does not appear strong enough to break valley inversions. A more unsettled pattern will set up for the weekend heading into the coming work week, with a series of systems affecting the area. The first arrives on Saturday from the southwest with milder temperatures generating rain among some lower elevations mixed with snow, with snow above 9000 ft. The second stronger system arrives Sunday and affects the area through at least Tuesday, with widespread snowfall and colder temperatures. (Please visit http://weather.gov/gjt for more information.)
From Snow.com (Joel Gratz):
While January started dry, it’ll end snowy. I’ve been tracking this change in the weather pattern for over a week, and while the details are still not set in stone, it does look like the last week of January will offer powder across the I-70 corridor from Beaver Creek to Vail to Breckenridge to Keystone.
To set the stage, plentiful Pacific moisture is streaming eastward and will saturate the air over Colorado from Thursday (January 24th) through the middle of next week. While this moisture brought a few inches of snow to Tahoe and a few more inches could fall over the weekend, the main story will be snowfall in Colorado.
One weak storm will bring a few inches on Thursday night (January 24th), and another weak storm will move through southern Colorado and only bring a few inches to the Vail resorts from Saturday afternoon through Sunday morning.
The bigger story will be the strong storm that moves across the state on Monday night through Wednesday morning (January 30th).
From The Mancos Times:
For all interested people, there will be a meeting at the Mancos Community Center called “Water 101 in the Mancos Valley” on Saturday, Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Water will the subject and various people will talk about it. Gary Kennedy, superintendent of the Mancos Water Conservancy District will speak about the Jackson Reservoir; Marty Robbins of the Department of Water Resources will talk about the priority water systems, Brandon Bell of Mancos Rural Water will be there to address any concerns. Questions and comments will be encouraged from all who attend.
The workshop is hosted by the Mancos Conservation District and will be a good starting point for the discussion on water.
More Mancos River Watershed coverage here.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
As if it hadn’t been bad enough that one of Colorado’s worst droughts led to nearly 14,000 acres burning in the Pine Ridge Fire this summer outside De Beque, that same drought has hampered efforts to encourage important regrowth there. Seeding with a temporary cover crop intended to stabilize soil at the fire site, prior to distributing native vegetation seed, failed to result in nearly the kind of germination hoped for by the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction Field Office. There just wasn’t enough rain this summer for the temporary vegetation, marketed under the name QuickGuard, to take root, “which is amazing, because it generally doesn’t take much,” said Wayne Werkmeister, the office’s associate field manager.
“That goes to show how truly bad it is out there,” he said.
The drought has made matters even worse for the field office because there were so many other big fires in Colorado this year that competition for reclamation money through the BLM’s fire funding program has been fierce. That meant the local office asked for less originally than it would have otherwise for the Pine Ridge Fire work, and ended up getting even a smaller amount. Nevertheless, officials are buoyed by recent snow on the fire site, and hoping the snow cover will last into early next year, when they hope to carry out aerial ￼seeding of native plant mixes.
“The more snow you have when you put it on up there, the better,” Werkmeister said. Beyond contributing to moisture, snow helps drive seed into the soil as it melts, and the seed also penetrates into the snow quickly, reducing consumption by birds and rodents, he said.
The Pine Ridge Fire, the biggest in history within the field office’s jurisdiction, burned in late June and early July. The danger presented by acreage denuded of vegetation was made almost immediately evident when a storm shortly after the fire deposited ash and debris into the Colorado River. That forced the Clifton Water District to shut down its river intake for a day and a half because it couldn’t remove the smoky color and odor from the water.
A big flood coming off the burn area also could threaten the Union Pacific railroad tracks in De Beque Canyon. The BLM installed two gauges designed to help forewarn both Clifton Water and Union Pacific of further big storms, but the summer passed without further major incidents. “We dodged a bullet, so to speak,” said Dale Tooker, general manager of Clifton Water.
He said the utility supports the BLM’s revegetation efforts. Meanwhile, the fire helped revitalize the district’s planning for infrastructure upgrades that would include a membrane filtration system that would make problems such as ash runoff in the river a non-issue. Clifton Water is raising its rates starting next year as it prepares for such upgrades, which had been considered years ago but were put off by the recession.
Sagebrush and wildlife
Revegetation efforts at the fire site also are important to trying to minimize the spread of cheatgrass, an invasive, nonnative species that can dominate landscapes. It dries out early in the year, which can lead to even more fires and more cheatgrass.
In addition, revegetation is important to wildlife, providing food and cover. Fire can benefit wildlife habitat to some degree, leading to a more diverse landscape if it burns in mosaic patterns, as in the case of Pine Ridge Fire, which skipped over parts of the area within the burn perimeter. Still, there was loss of areas such as sagebrush parks that are important to deer and also have been eyed as potential habitat for the imperiled greater sage-grouse. Jim Dollerschell, a BLM rangeland management specialist, said sagebrush doesn’t resprout after a fire. This fall, crews tried to gather seeds from adjacent sagebrush parks and spread them in burned areas. “Unfortunately this year sagebrush seed was pretty sparse due to the drought,” he said.
The QuickGuard cover the agency spread consists of a sterile, annual plant, meaning it’s intended to immediately stabilize the soil but not reproduce and compete later with native plants. Its dead remnants also can provide cover from moisture-sucking wind and withering summer sun once native plants start to grow. It’s so receptive to a little moisture that some of it that spilled along the runway at the Garfield County Regional Airport, where it was raining lightly as crews took off to seed the fire site, germinated a few days later. But as of late in the year, many burn areas continued to look barren due to the meager growth of the plant. It could germinate this spring and still provide benefits. But Werkmeister said it also now will be growing along with the native perennials that will be planted by air this winter, and will likely outcompete them and hinder their growth if there’s not that much moisture. He’s hoping the spring will be wet enough for both the QuickGuard and native plants to thrive.
The seeds alone, consisting of species such as Indian ricegrass and bottlebrush squirreltail, cost the BLM almost $900,000. The BLM will apply three different mixes — one for areas of best growth potential, one for steeper, rockier slopes, and one for areas where there’s already a cheatgrass problem. That latter mix includes species that compete well with cheatgrass, including a nonnative species, tall wheatgrass.
The field office had asked for $1.9 million for the fire rehabilitation work, but will end up with about $1.5 million. It had hoped to use some funds to build retention ponds designed to keep silt from reaching waterways in flooding, but wasn’t able to get that work started before Oct. 1, the start of the next federal fiscal year. Dollerschell said because there was so much fire activity going on around the West, funding wasn’t carried into the new fiscal year and the ponds won’t be built. Existing ponds in the area did their job in catching sediment, though, without being breached or damaged, he said. “So it’ll be a focus for us in the next year or so to get those cleaned out so that their capacity is increased again,” he said. He said canyons in the area “have a lot of rock and armor in them, so if you do get some sediment runoff they’re going to capture a lot of that.”
Werkmeister said the field office didn’t get adequate funding to maintain the two storm warning gauges for the next two years, so it may be asking Clifton Water and Union Pacific for funding assistance.
Also, it was unable to get money to pay for seeding of forbs, plants particularly beneficial as browse for wildlife, because the BLM fire program had only enough funds to focus on seeds that primarily encourage watershed protection, Werkmeister said. However, Chevron and the National Wild Turkey Federation chipped in $10,000 apiece for forbs seeding.
The High Lonesome Ranch, which had property burn in the fire and also is a grazing permittee in part of the fire area, has agreed to contribute the use of heavy equipment for some of the revegetation work.
The area of the fire continues to be closed to all but specially approved uses, meaning activities such as hunting and recreational access aren’t allowed. “When you get a fire like that … in some areas it creates like a moonscape and it’s very enticing to individuals to do cross-country travel because there’s nothing there to stop them,” Dollerschell said. That can add to erosion and creation of new trails.
The closure will aid in the revegetation work and provide protection to sensitive resources, such as the federally threatened Colorado hookless cactus. Seventeen of the plants are known to have burned in the fire.
If the drought continues into next year and seeds don’t germinate, that would be bad in the short term as far as trying to stabilize erosive slopes. But the seeds still could grow in following years.
The 2011 Cosgrove Fire, which burned some 1,700 acres near the Pine Ridge Fire, was reseeded by air last March.
“Because it was so dry we had no seed germination or very little seed germination, which was probably a positive thing because if it would have germinated, the fact that April, May and June were so dry, even July, those seedlings would have fried, would have died,” Dollerschell said. That seed may germinate this spring, however. “We’ve found that that seed can sit in the soil, on top of the soil for three-plus years and we still get some response,” he said.
From NBC11News.com (Taylor Termby):
Water experts worry the inversion may also be giving some an inaccurate picture of the drought. “We do still have a ton of snow down here in the Valley, but that’s snow that fell a long time ago,” Colorado Mesa University Water Center coordinator Hannah Holm said.
Though temperatures are much colder than years past, many areas in Colorado (including the mountains) are warmer than they should be for this time of year. “[Snow] just hasn’t been piling up in the mountains like it should. Each week the picture gets just a little bit worse,” Holm said.