Yampa River waters a hot commodity — Steamboat Today #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From Steamboat Today (Lauren Blair):

Both legislators and members from the Colorado Water Conservation Board appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper visited Craig on Wednesday to present information on the plan and listen to public input.

Northwest Coloradans have a major stake in the plan, which could allow for the eventual diversion of water from the Yampa River to the Eastern Slope to quench the thirsty lawns of a rapidly growing urban and suburban population.

Several local leaders from the water, agriculture and conservation arenas voiced their opposition to a trans-mountain diversion of Yampa waters.

“The state water plan has probably caused as much angst and apprehension as anything that’s happened in my lifetime,” said Ken Brenner, member of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District board of directors and also part of a third-generation ranch family in Routt County. “I am opposed to any new trans-mountain diversion. I don’t believe the water supply exists, and we are certainly having enough trouble meeting our compact obligations.”[…]

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District board, which includes Brenner and eight other members, issued a letter Wednesday to the CWCB asking for “an equitable apportionment of the native flow within the Yampa,” relative to native flows used by other basins in the state that empty into the Colorado River.

The concern is that, because Colorado is only allowed to use a certain portion of its river flows, and because Northwest Coloradans have junior water rights relative to regions that developed earlier, the state may limit local use of water in the Yampa/White/Green Basin in order to meet its obligations downstream.

State water planners are seeking public comments on the plan through Sept. 17. The legislative Water Resource Review Committee is also currently juggling how to weigh in on the plan. Committee-sponsored bills are due in October, two months prior to the deadline for the final water plan’s completion.

“As legislators, myself included, we feel very strongly that the water plan will only be successful if we have widespread public input,” said Committee Chair, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, District 6.

Roberts, who is one of a four-person Western Slope majority on the committee, hopes the visit to Craig and other locations will help better inform legislative water policy in the future.

“Getting them over here, driving our roads, seeing our forests and seeing that agriculture really is strong and viable. … They’re not necessarily aware of that if they live in the urban corridor,” Roberts said. “I think part of the value of the water plan … is to make urban dwellers more conscious of the tradeoffs that have occurred and that we live in a high altitude, arid environment.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

CWCB/DNR: July 2015 #Drought Update


From the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Tracy Kosloff):

Following the wettest May since record keeping began in1895, June and July have continued to provide beneficial moisture to the state. For the first time since August 2009, 97% of the state is drought free. As of July 20, the state has received 200% of average in precipitation based on SNOTEL sites. The year-to-date precipitation totals for the state have risen from 80% on May 1 to 97% of average as of July 1.

  • Water year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites statewide, as of July 21, is at 97% of normal. Southwestern Colorado and the Rio Grande Basin, which did not receive as much moisture over the winter, have had a wet spring and early summer. All eight basins have experienced above average precipitation so far in July with the Gunnison basin experiencing 270% of average.
  • June was the 14th warmest June on record (1985-2014) but so far in July, the state has experienced near normal temperatures with a few pockets on the west slope and the Front Range that are two to five degrees below average.
  • All of the CoAgMet sites measuring evapotranspiration (ET) continue to report below average ET and the Olathe and Lucernce stations are reporting record low ET. These stations have been collecting & reporting ET data since the early 1990s.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 112% of average as of July 1st, up five percent from last month. Seven out of eight basins have over 100% of average. The Rio Grande has the lowest value at 89% of average, however, storage has improved since last month when they were at 66% of average. Storage in the Arkansas Basin is the highest since 2000. Between May 1 and July 1, John Martin reservoir, in the Lower Arkansas River basin gained over 250,000 acre feet of additional storage.
  • The NRCS Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) shows improvements in all but two SWSI values in the Upper Arkansas and South Platte. Several SWSI values in the Southwest basins increased nearly five index points. Only three SWSI values remain below normal, two in the North Platte basin and the other in the Rio Grande.
  • Agriculture officials in attendance reported 131,000 prevented planted acreage due to such wet conditions. The crops that have been planted are expected to do well as soil moisture has greatly improved.
  • The Division of Water Resources announced the completion of the SWSI Automation Project. They will discontinue the 1980’s era SWSI and will begin reporting the automated SWSI, which is similar to the NRCS SWSI, which has been produced since 2011. Additional information is available at: http://water.state.co.us/DWRDocs/Reports/Pages/SWSIReport.aspx
  •  According to water providers in attendance, their respective systems are in good shape as reservoirs are full and customer water demand is low.

    Water bosses: Colorado will have enough water if managed right — Colorado Public Radio #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From Colorado Public Radio (Rachel Estabrook):

    Even in the face of climate change and a growing population, Colorado can have enough water in the future. That’s according to three water managers from around the state. But abundance won’t happen by accident; the state will have to steward the water it has and plan its growth smartly.

    Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water; Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority; and Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. They talked about the second draft of the state’s first water plan, which is available now. It will be finalized in December…

    Jim Lochhead on the “action plan” included in the water plan’s second draft

    “At this point I would characterize it as a compendium of ideas. It doesn’t set out priorities, it doesn’t set out timelines, it doesn’t set who will do what by when… For example, right now the plan speaks to municipalities saving 400,000 acre feet of water. I think that we need a statewide water efficiency goal that applies across the state, across all sectors. Whether it’s agriculture, industry or municipalities, we all need to be sharing in achieving greater efficiency. Right now it’s simply targeted at municipalities.”

    Eric Kuhn on “the big issue” on the Colorado River

    “Every drop of water today is used. Except for manmade exports of water that was saved in Mexico due to the accident of an earthquake, no water has gotten to the gulf of Baja California since 1999. So, if a city is going to use new water supplies from the Colorado River, somebody else in the Colorado River system is going to use less…

    [But] look at some of the success stories in the Colorado River Basin. Las Vegas is serving 2.1 million today with two thirds of the water that they were using 10 years ago and serving 500,000 or 600,000 people less…

    We have enough water in the system, even if climate change reduces our supplies. But we have to use it in a much smarter way.”

    Eric Hecox on what South Metro communities have done to reduce water use

    “We have historically had an over-reliance on non-renewable groundwater, which is essentially groundwater in wells. Our access to that water supply has been diminishing… for all intents and purposes, they’re drying up.

    “[Out of necessity], our members have reduced collectively in the area water use by about 30 percent… We have two members, that are two of only a few in the state, that put individual customers on water budgets. We have a number of members that are paying current customers to transform their outdoor landscaping. We have members that are really pushing the boundaries of what they can do with new development, and giving significant incentives to new developers to put in place development that uses less water. In addition to that our members, for all intents and purposes, are reusing their supplies.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage <a href="

    How This El Niño Is And Isn’t Like 1997 — Climate Central

    El Niño November 1997 and July  2015
    El Niño November 1997 and July 2015

    From Climate Central (Andrea Thompson):

    It was the winter of 1997-1998 when the granddaddy of El Niños — the one by which all other El Niños are judged — vaulted the climate term to household name status. It had such a noticeable impact on U.S. weather that it appeared everywhere from news coverage of mudslides in Southern California to Chris Farley’s legendary sketch on “Saturday Night Live.” Basically, it was the “polar vortex” of the late ‘90s.

    So it’s no wonder that it is the touchstone event that people think of when they hear that name. And naturally, as the current El Niño event has gained steam, the comparisons to 1997 have been increasingly bandied about.

    The most recent came this week in the form of an image [above] from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that compares satellite shots of warm Pacific Ocean waters — a hallmark of El Niño — from this June to November 1997, when that El Niño hit its peak…

    In the, albeit very short, modern record of El Niños, “we cannot find a single El Niño event that tracked like another El Niño event,” Michelle L’Heureux, a forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said.

    Forecasters like L’Heureux cringe at comparisons because there’s no guarantee the impacts of one El Niño will be just like that of a previous one, even if they look broadly similar. And it’s those impacts — like potential rains in drought-stricken California — that most really care about…

    Stormy Weather

    El Niño is not, as Farley’s sketch had it, an individual storm, like a hurricane. Rather it is a shift in the background state of the climate brought about by the sloshing of warm ocean water from its normal home in the western tropical Pacific over to the east. That redistribution affects how and where ocean heat is emitted into the atmosphere, which can alter the normal patterns of winds and stormy weather in the region.

    Those more local shifts can telegraph through the atmosphere and, in the case of the U.S., can alter the position of the jet stream over the country during the winter months, typically leading to wetter-than-normal conditions over the southern tier of states and warmer temperatures over the north.

    Those are the effects of El Niño very broadly speaking, though. Such teleconnections, as they are called, tend to be more reliable when the El Niño is a strong one…

    ‘Not the Only Ball Game’

    There are other factors, from the inherent chaos of the atmosphere, to other large-scale climate signals, that can potentially override any push provided by El Niño.

    This is exactly what happened with the El Niño of 2009-2010, which while it wasn’t as strong as 1997, was still significant. But other climate signals helped blunt its effects in the U.S., particularly in terms of temperatures, L’Heureux said. Events like that make forecasters cautious about comparing the current El Niño to 1997. (NOAA acknowledged as much by changing out the original image it used and noting that it did so to avoid confusion).

    “We think that the strength of [El Niño] is important,” L’Heureux said, but the exact strength it achieves is no guarantee of impacts similar to 1997, “and that’s simply because there’s other stuff going on,” she said. “El Niño is not the only ball game in town.”

    So where does that leave us in terms of looking ahead to what El Niño might bring this winter? We have an event that is looking more and more robust (when comparing June 2015 to June 1997, the broad ocean temperature patterns are very similar) and forecasting models are in pretty good agreement that that event will strengthen as we head towards winter and El Niño’s typical peak. But exactly when it will peak and what its final strength will be is still uncertain. Even more uncertain is what those other influences on U.S. weather will be.

    So what forecasters can say for now is that the likelihood of those typical El Niño impacts, including rains in Southern California, are higher, but exactly where those rains might fall isn’t yet known.

    One factor that may influence that is the remarkable pool of very warm waters that has been parked off the West Coast for a couple years now, a feature that was not present back in 1997. That feature could impact the typical changes El Niño brings to the jet stream, Daniel Swain, a PhD student in climate science at Stanford University, said in an email. It is possible that if the El Niño builds up enough strength, it could overcome that influence, though, he added.

    “If El Niño really does make [it] into record territory during the coming winter, it’s hard to envision California not experiencing a wetter-than-average winter, at least to some degree,” he said.

    The only real guarantee that forecasters can make, though, is that this El Niño event “will evolve in its own way,” L’Heureux said. “It may be similar to certain past events,” but it won’t be exactly the same.

    Writers on the Range: Can leasing irrigation water keep Colorado farms alive?

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    From The Denver Post (Joshua Zaffos):

    Cities have siphoned more than 100,000 acre-feet of ag water — enough for about 200,000 Colorado homes — from the Arkansas River Basin alone since the 1970s. In neighboring Crowley County, farming has vanished, school-class sizes are half what they were 50 years ago, and tumbleweeds from dried-up fields pile up along fences and block roads.

    “That’s what they’re stuck with, because there’s no more water,” [John Schweizer] says. “It’s gone forever.”

    Schweizer is president of the 35-mile-long Catlin Canal, which irrigates about 18,000 acres of farms. He’s hoping that the trial run of something called the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch will save the basin’s remaining communities and farms.

    The initiative is not actually a big ditch, but rather a scheme that allows six of the valley’s irrigation canals to pool their water rights and temporarily lease them to cities. Starting in March, five Catlin irrigators “leased” a total of 500 acre-feet of water, which would normally supply their fields, to nearby Fowler and the cities of Fountain and Security, 80 miles away. Under the agreement, communities can use the farm water to supply homes and recharge wells for up to three years out of every decade.

    During those years, the irrigators will have to fallow, or rest, some fields, yet will still be able to earn money from the water itself and farm the rest of their land.

    Supporters believe the Super Ditch could eventually enable farms and cities to share up to 10,000 acre-feet of water. “We look at leasing water just like raising a crop,” says Schweizer, who is avoiding any potential conflict of interest by keeping his own farm out of the pilot. “It is a source of income, and anybody who’s doing that can have the water next year if they want to farm with it. And they are still in the valley, so the community stays viable.”

    More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here.

    Landowner challenges state’s interpretation of old decree — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Fountain Creek Watershed
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A Fountain Creek landowner has filed a complaint in Pueblo water court saying he has a right to the Fountain Creek underflow, as well as surface water.

    Ralph “Wil” Williams, trustee of the Greenview Trust, filed the complaint in June, saying the state has incorrectly administered the water right to the 313-acre farm as solely surface water.

    The property, located 8 miles north of Pueblo on Fountain Creek is emblematic of man’s interaction with Fountain Creek throughout recorded history. It was first settled by “Uncle Dick” Wooten in 1862 and has always been in farmland.

    In the 1990s, it began to experience severe erosion from growth upstream, particularly the development in Colorado Springs.

    Problems with the ditch came to a head after the 1999 flood, leading the owners to sue Colorado Springs for dumping more water in the creek, only to be locked out when the Legislature granted governmental immunity for flood damages.

    In the most recent floods of the past five years, the Greenview has continued to lose land, including about 10 acres of trees to the storms in May and June.

    “We’re trying to conserve the farm,” Williams said. Pueblo County, through a program in conjunction with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, is interested in purchasing the property as a restoration project.

    The water rights are crucial to determining land value, Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

    “We weren’t successful in a Great Outdoors Colorado grant this cycle, and one of the things we have to do is shore up the land and water value,” Hart said.

    Williams contends that past owners always intended to use the underflow of Fountain Creek as an alternate source to irrigate 315 acres of the property. Fountain Creek had intermittent flows, so the underflow would have been used during dry times when surface water could not be diverted, he claims.

    Other water users employed the strategy in the early 1900s, when well technology was more limited. Most famously, the Ball brothers — who found success in the canning jar and aerospace industries — used the underflow of Fountain Creek to fill reservoirs in hopes of selling the water to Puebloans. The quality was unsuitable for drinking, however.

    In preparing for the water court case, Williams collected old plats that show the location of underflow structures, basically horizontal wells that draw water by gravity.

    The Colorado Division of Water Resources does not recognize the dual water right, and says Greenview Trust needs a substitute water supply plan if it plans to irrigate with wells.

    “It’s based on an old statement that was not picked up in the decree itself,” said Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte. “It appears to us that there never was the intention to have a well.”

    Williams disagrees, saying he spent two years collecting information in state files that he was initially told did not exist. “For me to have to spend two years researching the archives is ridiculous,” Williams said. “We are decreed against the source and the underflow. It’s one natural stream.”

    More Fountain Creek coverage here.

    The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District meeting recap

    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    It may be time to pass the hat again for the district trying to fix Fountain Creek.

    The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday looked again at a dismal funding picture or a model for government austerity, depending on point of view.

    The discussion came up as Cole Emmons, El Paso County’s assistant attorney, reviewed the formation and operation of the district for new board members. One key point was the district’s reliance on member governments to get things done. For example, Emmons’ time are legal fees donated by El Paso County.

    But even in this administrative barter system, real cash is sometimes needed.

    In 2013, a plan to collect $50,000 by Executive Director Larry Small worked fairly well. The largest members of the district — El Paso and Pueblo counties, Colorado Springs and Pueblo — each contributed $10,000. Fountain, a mid-sized city, chipped in $5,000. Four smaller incorporated communities in El Paso County contributed $1,400 of the $5,000 expected from them.

    Prior to that, the district had been on life support under a master corridor agreement jointly funded by Colorado Springs and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    “These are anemic funds for the work we have to do,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

    The district is waiting for $50 million from Colorado Springs Utilities to begin arriving once the Southern Delivery System is turned on. But Hart pointed out that money is required to be spent on flood control projects that exclusively benefit Pueblo County.

    “The real focus is taking on projects that are larger than the $50 million can fund,” Hart said. “We are in the sixth year, and we are doing the best we can. Sometimes we discount the work we’ve done. It’s been spectacular.”

    The district has channeled $1.5 million in grants into Fountain Creek projects in the past two years, as well as cooperating with its members to line up other projects since being formed in 2009. But it has backed off its role in commenting on land-use decisions because it lacks qualified staff to review applications, Small said.

    In its first year, the district held hearings on projects that could impact the flood plain of Fountain Creek. Small now reviews applications filed in either county, although most come from El Paso County.
    The district could do more.

    It has the authority to levy up to 5 mills in property taxes on all residents in El Paso and Pueblo counties, if voters approve the tax. Discussions on a strategy to obtain approval were shelved in 2012 as El Paso County moved toward an unsuccessful attempt to form a regional stormwater authority last year.

    “At the last two meetings, we got an earful from landowners on Fountain Creek,” Hart said. “I’d like to take a realistic look at what we should be doing.”

    More Fountain Creek coverage here.