Water Lines: Colorado water leaders set ambitious conservation goals #COWaterPlan

June 26, 2015

Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Discussions and disputes over how to meet the water needs of Colorado’s growing population typically revolve around the proper balance between taking additional water from agriculture, taking additional water from the West Slope to the Front Range, and conservation.

Conservation would seem to be the low-hanging fruit, but the nuts and bolts of how to conserve enough to avoid more transfers from agriculture or the West Slope is not as easy as it may at first appear. That scale of conservation is more than can easily be achieved simply through newer, more efficient appliances and tactics like Denver Water’s highly effective “use only what you need” campaign.

Cutting deeper into household water demands would likely require some kind of mandate, on either personal behavior or land development patterns (smaller lots equal less outdoor watering), and that flies in the face of deeply held values on private property rights and local control. From a planning perspective, it’s also harder to calculate how much water you can save from possible future changes in people’s behavior than how much water you can get from a new pipeline or water rights purchase.

These reasons played into the modest approach to conservation in the part of the first draft of Colorado’s water plan that set out “no and low regrets actions,” which are those actions that should be helpful no matter what the future brings in terms of population growth, climate change and public attitudes. This portion of the plan calls for establishing a “medium” level of conservation that would achieve 340,000 acre feet per year of water savings. An acre foot is enough water to cover an acre of land one foot deep, and it is enough to serve two to three households for a year at current use rates. Following a number of public comments and statements calling for higher conservation goals from the West Slope “basin roundtables” of stakeholders and water managers tasked with planning for their own river basins, state leaders are moving towards setting the bar higher.

On June 22, Taylor Hawes of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), which includes representatives from basin roundtables across the state, told the Colorado Basin Roundtable that the IBCC’s subcommittee on conservation was developing a “stretch goal” to achieve an additional 60,000 acre feet per year of savings for a total of 400,000 acre feet per year. Hawes reported that the committee is proposing that this goal be pursued in a way that respects local control and involves additional monitoring to determine what really works and whether the goal needs to be adjusted up or down.

Depending on how this work is received by the full IBCC and the basin roundtables, this is one of the changes that may make its way into the next draft of the Colorado Water Plan, which is due to be released in the middle of July, with a public comment period lasting until Sept. 17.

To learn more about the Colorado Water Plan and find out how to submit your own comments, go to http://coloradowaterplan.com. You can also plan to attend one of the public hearings the legislatures Water Resource Review Committee is holding on the plan. West Slope hearings will be held July 20 in Durango, July 21 in Montrose, July 22 in Craig, and Aug. 12 in Grandby.

For details, visit http://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cga-legislativecouncil/2015-water-resources-review-committee.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center at http://www.Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or http://www.Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More conservation coverage here.

CWCB: The June 2015 #Drought Update is hot off the presses

June 25, 2015

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of US Drought Monitor maps for late-June for the past 5 years.

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Taryn Finnessey/Tracy Kosloff):

A cool and wet May has eliminated drought conditions across much of Colorado. With 31 weather stations recording the wettest month ever, statewide May 2015 was the wettest May since record keeping began in 1895. In total much of the state experienced 300% of normal May precipitation. June temperatures to-date have been slightly warmer than average and the short term forecast shows decreased likelihood of precipitation. Water providers are reporting full systems and below average demand compared to this time last year.

  • Water year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites, as of June 16, is at 97% of normal, an 11% improvement compared to the last drought update, due to record breaking May precipitation.
  • In the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins June precipitation to-date is 350% of normal, and has already exceeded average total June precipitation. Coupled with abundant May accumulation this region has received roughly 10 inches of precipitation since the beginning of May, leading to drought elimination in this area of the state.
  • Below tree-line, most basins have very little snow remaining at this time of year, although the cool and wet conditions over the last month have helped to slow melt off.
  • Cooler than average temperatures in May also contributed to greatly improved drought conditions, with most sites reporting below average evapotranspiration and some reporting record low evapotranspiration.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 107% of average as of May 1st. Storage in the northern half of the state is above average with multiple basins near 110% of average. The Colorado River basin is experiencing its highest storage levels since the turn of the century. The Upper Rio Grande and the basins of Southwestern Colorado currently have the lowest storage at 66% and 89% of average, respectively. Both have seen below average storage levels for multiple years.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) is abundant in all of the South Platte, and near normal is the Colorado River, Gunnison, and Arkansas, but showing spots of moderate to severe drought in the Upper Yampa, Conejos and the Piedra. The vast majority of the state has seen improvements in the SWSI since last month.
  • El Niño has continued to gain strength over the last few months and is poised to become a strong event, if not a “Super El Niño.” The last “Super El Niño” was in 1997 when Colorado experienced above average precipitation.
  • All long term forecasting tools indicate normal to above normal precipitation in the coming months, with some indication that the monsoon season may come early.

  • #Drought news: Colorado remains #drought-free, D0 (abnormally dry) west of the Great Divide

    June 25, 2015

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought monitor maps for June 23, 2015.

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Great Plains

    Light to moderate rainfall, on the order of 0.5 to 1.5 inches, fell on most of the dry areas in the Plains, though little or no rain fell on dry areas from northern Kansas into southeastern New Mexico. A second week of significant rainfall led to reductions in the extent of D0 and D1 conditions in southeastern South Dakota and adjacent Nebraska, and there was further reduction in the D0 area still lingering in central Texas. Otherwise, conditions remained essentially as they were last week…

    The Rockies To The West Coast

    Little precipitation fell from the Rockies westward to the Pacific Coast last week. Overall, there was little change in conditions except along the northern tier of states from Montana westward through Washington and Oregon. Continued dryness and exceptionally hot weather kept dryness and drought increasing most significantly across eastern Washington, central and northern Idaho, and western Montana. The entire state of Washington is now covered by D0 conditions or worse, and D2 was pulled northward along the Oregon coastline, and expanded across a large part of central Idaho and adjacent Montana. These areas recorded generally 6 to 12 inches less precipitation than normal in the last 6 months, and less than half of normal amounts in the last 60 days. In contrast, recent heavy precipitation in west New Mexico and adjacent northeast Arizona led to additional improvements in these areas despite the dry week…

    Looking Ahead

    For the upcoming 5-day period (June 25-29), hot and dry weather should prevail west of the Rockies’ front range, except in parts of the desert Southwest. Little if any precipitation is expected, and daily high temperatures from Utah and Nevada northward through the northern Rockies and Intermountain West will average 9 to 18 degrees F above normal, with even higher departures possible along the east side of the Cascades. Near normal temperatures and light to moderate precipitation are forecast for the Plains and southeastern Rockies, with over an inch of possible in the higher elevations of south-central Colorado and adjacent New Mexico. Light to moderate rain is also expected across the Great Lakes and northern New England, along with cooler than normal temperatures (daily highs should average 3 to 6 degrees F below normal). Moderate to heavy rainfall, generally exceeding an inch, is expected from the Midwest, Ohio Valley, and lower Northeast southward through the Gulf Coast and Florida. Over an inch of rain is anticipated everywhere except parts of Florida, with 2 to 5 inches potentially falling on the Ohio Valley, central to northern Appalachians, and mid-Atlantic region.

    For the ensuing 5-day period (June 30 – July 4), continued above normal temperatures are favored in most of the West and across the Gulf Coast and southern Atlantic regions, including Florida. Meanwhile, the odds favor anomalously cool weather from the Plains eastward through the upper Southeast, Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, and interior portions of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Drier than normal conditions are favored across Florida and in a swath from the northern Plains to the Pacific Northwest. Enhanced chances for above-normal precipitation cover a large part of the rest of the contiguous 48 states, excepting California, the central Gulf Coast, and in a stripe from the northern Intermountain West eastward through the Dakotas and Minnesota, south of the area where subnormal precipitation is favored. Warm weather is anticipated over most of Alaska, with enhanced chances for above normal precipitation identified outside the Panhandle and east-central parts of the state.

    NIDIS: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

    June 24, 2015
    Federal Water Year precipitation as a percent of normal thru May 31, 2015

    Federal Water Year precipitation as a percent of normal thru May 31, 2015

    Click here to view the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

    #Drought news: Four Corners gets drenched, water supply outlook still remains sketchy

    June 18, 2015

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Great Plains

    Only a few areas of dryness and drought remain in the Great Plains following the deluges of the last 1 to 2 months. It was wet again this past week, with most sites from the western Dakotas and northern Nebraska southward through central and southeast Texas recording at least an inch of rain. The heaviest amounts (2 to over 6 inches) fell on portions of upper southeast Texas, and in a broad swath from northwestern Texas and most of Oklahoma northeastward through southern and east-central Kansas and eastern Nebraska.

    D1 and D0 coverage again declined as a result, with improvements in southwest Kansas and parts of the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles. Despite the heavy rains in what is now the driest part of the Plains (southeastern South Dakota and northeastern Nebraska), satellite-derived estimates still showed low levels of groundwater and root zone moisture, and vegetative health remained stressed by dryness. As a result, no changes were made this week.

    There were also no changes in the other regions of dryness in the Plains, where the week’s weather was relatively nondescript…

    The Rockies To The West Coast

    Unseasonably heavy rains fell again this week across a swath from west-central Nevada through portions of Utah, southernmost Idaho, western Wyoming, southwestern Colorado, and adjacent Arizona and New Mexico, partially from tropical cyclone remnants. The rains of the current and past few weeks led to some broad areas of improvement, most notably interior west-central Nevada (to D3), northeastern Nevada and adjacent Idaho and Utah (to D0 in one area), and a broad portion of the Four Corners region. Farther north and west, however, dryness and warmth led to degradations in part of western Oregon, northern Idaho and adjacent Montana, and a few other small patches.

    Although this week finally brought an end to the protracted period of D4 conditions entrenched in west-central Nevada, it should be noted that water supplies were practically unaffected by the recent precipitation, remaining alarmingly low. Cutbacks in water availability were not changed, and thus agriculture (which is irrigated) continued to suffer without respite. However, amounts were so unusual that precipitation totals for the last 2 years have moved near to above normal in part of the region. As a result the landscape is looking greener than it has in a long time, and across the state, only 25% of pastureland was short or very short of moisture, the lowest total since October 2011…

    Looking Ahead

    For the upcoming 5-day period (June 17-21), generally dry and significantly warmer than normal conditions are expected in the central Plains and from the Rockies westward to near the coast. roughly the western half of the country. Only isolated light rain at best is anticipated in areas south and west of Montana and the central sections of Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Forecast totals in eastern and northern parts of the Rockies are less than 0.5 inch. At the same time, daily high temperatures are expected to average 9 to 12 degrees F above normal in the Great Basin and central Rockies. The dryness and heat may quickly dry out the recent surface growth in that region, bringing ideal conditions for wildfires to develop and rapidly spread.

    In contrast, remnants of Tropical Storm Bill should bring a swath of heavy rain across east sections of Texas and Oklahoma, southern Missouri, the Ohio Valley, the central Appalachians, and (to a lesser extent) part of the lower Northeast. At least a couple inches of rain is expected, with peak amounts approaching 7 inches in southern Oklahoma, and 4.5 to 5.5 inches in southern sections of both Illinois and Ohio.

    In the broad area north of this swatch, moderate rains of several tenths to almost not quite 2 inches are expected. Drier conditions are forecast to prevail south and east of the band of heaviest rainfall, with only a few tenths of an inch anticipated in Florida, the central Gulf Coast States, and southwestern South Carolina.

    For the ensuing 5-day period (June 22-26), continued above normal temperatures are favored in most of the West, the Rockies, and the Southeast. The odds favor anomalous warmth in the mid-Atlantic, central Appalachians, middle and lower Mississippi Valley, and south-central Plains as well. Enhanced chances for cooler than normal weather are limited to a swath from the northeasternmost Plains eastward through the northern Great Lakes and much of the Northeast. In Alaska, the odds favor above normal temperatures everywhere except the northern fringe of the state, with odds for warmth progressively increasing southward.

    Enhanced chances for heavier than normal rain cover the Great Lakes and Northeast, and a small area around the southern reaches of the Arizona/New Mexico border. However, dryness is favored to prevail from the south-central Plains eastward through the lower Mississippi Valley and the Southeast. The northwestern quarter of the contiguous states also has increased odds of abnormally light precipitation, as does all of Alaska outside the Aleutians and adjacent southwestern areas.

    NIDIS: Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment for Colorado and the Upper #ColoradoRiver Region

    June 15, 2015
    Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal May 2015

    Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal May 2015

    Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    #Drought news: Wettest May on record for #Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma, one-category improvement for SW Colorado

    June 15, 2015

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


    The NCEI (formerly NCDC) May 2015 precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was the wettest May and month of any month in the 121-years of record keeping. State-wise, it was the wettest May in Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado, and one of the top 5 wettest Mays in Utah, Kansas, Wyoming, Arkansas, and South Dakota. With those statistics, it is not surprising that nearly all drought from late March has been eliminated in the Plains, Midwest, and central Gulf Coast. In addition, wet spring weather in the Great Basin and Four Corners Region has continued into June, necessitating improvements to parts of these areas. During this week, stalled or slow-moving cold fronts in the north-central Plains and along the southern Atlantic and eastern Gulf Coasts triggered scattered showers and thunderstorms, some locally heavy, in parts of the northern and central Plains, upper Midwest, central Corn Belt, and from the Delmarva Peninsula southward into Florida. During the weekend, moisture from the remnants of eastern Pacific Hurricane Andres was pulled into the Southwest, producing light to moderate showers in central Arizona, southeast Utah, southwest Colorado, and New Mexico. Late in the period, additional moisture from former Pacific Hurricane Blanca streamed northward, poised to generate additional showers in the Southwest, including California. As the slow-moving cold front finally tracked far enough eastward, light to moderate rains fell on the eastern Tennessee Valley, mid-Atlantic, and western New England. Dry weather finally allowed the southern Plains to recover from weeks of copious rains and severe flooding, with mostly dry weather also occurring in the lower Mississippi and western Tennessee Valleys. Mostly dry weather continued in drought areas of Puerto Rico and Hawaii, but decent rains (2 to 8 inches) finally returned to the southeastern Panhandle of Alaska…

    Great Plains

    Moderate to heavy rains were reported across portions of the northern and central Plains, including a band of 4-8 inches in southeastern Nebraska, northeastern Kansas, and northwestern Missouri. Additional improvements were made where the rains (generally more than 2 inches) erased or greatly diminished 60-, 90-, or 180-day deficits, and this encompassed eastern Montana and western North Dakota, southeastern South Dakota and northeastern Nebraska, southwestern and southern Nebraska, small sections of D0 and D1 in western Kansas and the Panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, and in north-central Oklahoma. In Texas, mostly dry weather aided flood recovery efforts to continue, allowing for a re-assessment of conditions with more stable reservoir levels that required some changes to the D0 areas in west-central Texas. As of June 10, Texas monitored water supply reservoirs stood at 83.6% full, with some reservoirs still less than 40% full in Coke, Tom Green, and Mitchell counties – hence the lingering D0(L) near the San Angelo area. Additional decent rains should be enough for continued improvements in the Dakotas and Nebraska, but longer-term hydrologic drought conditions (e.g. low reservoirs) will require a longer span of surplus rains (inflow) to alleviate…

    The West

    Moisture from the remnants of Pacific Hurricane Andres triggered showers and thunderstorms in the Four Corners region, including 0.5-3 inches in central and northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, southwestern Colorado, and most of New Mexico. Light showers (less than 0.5 inches) also fell on parts of the Great Basin. With much of this region experiencing an unseasonably cool May and wet spring (out to 90-days) after a warm and dry winter, some impacts from this cool and wet weather have been recently observed. SPI values have become “wetter” out to 12- and 24-months in normally semi-arid locales (e.g. Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico) as have other tools and products. This makes sense as long-term drought is less severe as one moves east from California (and precipitation normally decreases). To represent this, some 1-category improvements were made in areas where the largest totals and 90-day surpluses were located, along with visible impacts. This included central (D1 to D0) and northeastern (D3 to D2) Arizona, southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado (D1 to D0), northwestern Utah (D3 to D2), northeastern Nevada and south-central Idaho (D2 to D1), and a small area of west-central Nevada (D4 to D3, Pershing County). In the latter area, however, agriculture still depends on irrigation from upstream reservoirs or ground water pumping, and this water source has not improved with the recent rains as Rye Patch reservoir was at 9% of its average storage on May 31. This has resulted in little or no water deliveries and many fallow fields – but based strictly on the area’s current soil moisture, nearly all indicators pointed toward D3. Impacts farther east near Elko were more numerous and included 3-7 inches of May rain and continuing rains into June, widespread thick grass growth, recharge on formerly dry springs, and dirt tanks collecting runoff. Unfortunately, this build-up of vegetation will lead to extra fuel for late summer and fall wildfires if hot and dry weather returns and cures the vegetation. But for now, the recent rains and cool weather have improved pastures and range ratings into good to excellent categories on June 7. This included: California (35%), Nevada (50%), Utah (65%), Colorado (57%), New Mexico (49%), and Arizona (43%), according to USDA/NASS.

    In contrast, another week of unseasonably warm and dry weather, in addition to a dry spring (and dry and warm winter), has lowered USGS monitored 28-day averaged coastal streams to near- and record lows in California’s Humboldt and Mendocino Counties – that count on spring rains for flow – from D2 to D3. Similarly, along coastal Oregon and Washington, 28-day average USGS streams have also fallen below the tenth percentile, and D1 was expanded to account for the low values. In the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, precipitation deficits have increased out to 60-days, and record low stream flows have surpassed the previous low flows in 2001, including trenching on the Siebert Creek to aid salmon migration. Accordingly, D1 was expanded to include the Olympic Peninsula…

    Looking Ahead

    For the upcoming 5-day period (June 11-15), moderate to heavy precipitation (1.5 to 4 inches) is expected from the central Rockies and south-central Plains northeastward into western New England. Light to moderate rains are also predicted along the central and eastern Gulf Coast, while unseasonable rains (up to 1.5 inches) are forecast for the Sierra Nevada and Great Basin. Moisture from the remnants of Pacific Hurricane Blanca triggered showers across most of the Southwest (including California) on June 9 and 10. Elsewhere, little or no rain is expected in the Northwest and desert Southwest, with only light totals in the southern Great Plains, Tennessee Valley, and along most of the Atlantic Seaboard (except Florida). 5-day temperatures should average above normal in the Far West, northern Rockies and Plains, Ohio Valley, and mid-Atlantic. Subnormal readings are expected from the Southwest northeastward into the Great Lakes region, with seasonable temperatures elsewhere.

    For the ensuing 5-day period (June 16-20), the CPC 6-10 day precipitation outlook favors above-median chances in the Nation’s midsection (Plains and Midwest) and Northeast, with sub-median precipitation likely in the Northwest, Southeast, and across southern Alaska. Above normal temperatures are favored in most of the lower 48 States and Alaska, with subnormal readings likely in the Pacific Northwest.


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