$5 million in the US budget for the Arkansas Valley Conduit

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit has started flowing from the federal government.

An additional $2 million in discretionary funds will be shifted to this year’s conduit budget by the Bureau of Reclamation. Another $3 million is included in President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., announced today.

Bennet worked with local officials, Reclamation and the administration to increase funding. The conduit already received $500,000 this year.

“We’ve been pushing the Administration and Congress to live up to the commitment it made more than five decades ago to communities in southeast Colorado,” Bennet said. “This funding will help move this project forward, and we will continue to fight to keep these additional resources in next year’s budget to ensure Coloradans in these communities finally have a reliable source of clean drinking water.”

Bennet will work with congressional leaders and the appropriations committee to try to ensure the money remains in the budget. Congressional gridlock in the past few years has kept funding at minimal levels.

“This was truly a bipartisan effort,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the local agency guiding the effort to build the conduit. “It’s certainly better to have $2.5 million than to work with than $500,000.”

The money will go toward engineering, legal work and land acquisition over the next three to five years that will allow construction of the pipeline to begin.

The goal is to raise about $5 million annually during that period. The Southeastern district is working with Reclamation to attempt to apply other revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas to move conduit work forward.

Once construction begins, it will take larger amounts of money to build the conduit, which is potentially a $400 million project. The conduit will bring clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 water districts from St. Charles Mesa to Lamar.

The plan is to filter the water at Pueblo Water’s treatment plant, then move the water to other systems via the conduit. Most of those systems rely on wells and are struggling to meet water quality standards.

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

#ColoradoRiver: “If the temperatures keep going up, we have problems” — Eric Kuhn

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Peering through a window on a flight from Denver to Los Angeles, you first see the Rocky Mountains, rich with forests and snow, here and there a ski area. Then, for the majority of the trip you see aridity, the soft greens of sagebrush steppes at higher elevations dissolving to harsh pigments of the Mojave Desert until you get to the exurbs of LA.

The Colorado River wends its way through southern Utah and, at Glen Canyon, is impounded into Lake Powell. Photo/Allen Best
The Colorado River wends its way through southern Utah and, at Glen Canyon, is impounded into Lake Powell. Photo/Allen Best

This is the American Southwest. Apart from its few rivers, it’s inherently dry, even parched—and, according to a new study conducted by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, getting drier as a result of less frequent storms.

“A normal year in the Southwest is now drier than it once was,” said Andreas Prein, an NCAR postdoctoral researcher who led a study published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “If you have a drought nowadays, it will be more severe because our base state is drier.”

With less rain and higher temperatures, droughts will lengthen, they say. “As temperatures increase, the ground becomes drier and the transition into drought happens more rapidly,” said NCAR scientist Greg Holland, a study co-author.

Water policy officials in both California and Colorado said the study provides further evidence of the challenges they had already understood. Unlike other areas of North America, emerald green from plentiful rain, the American Southwest walks on a narrowing razor’s edge between supply and demand. This study finds evidence of less supply, even as climate models predict rapidly increasing temperatures—heat that will likely further reduce available water supplies.

Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which is based in Glenwood Springs, Colo., echoed Holland’s emphasis on the twin drivers of drought: precipitation and heat. “Even if your precipitation goes up in winter months, like some of the studies have suggested, the overall net impacts of the increased warming in places like Lake Powell or (in the Colorado River) at Lee’s Ferry will be less water,” he told Mountain Town News.

dryingthesouthwestncarviallenbest

According to a press release, the NCAR researchers analyzed 35 years of data to identify common weather patterns. “The weather types that are becoming more rare are the ones that bring a lot of rain to the southwestern United States,” Prein said. “Because only a few weather patterns bring precipitation to the Southwest, those changes have a dramatic impact.”

Most wet weather to the Southwest involves low pressure centered in the North Pacific just off the coast of Washington, typically during the winter. Between 1979 and 2014, such low-pressure systems formed less and less often. Instead, in recent years, there has been a persistent high pressure in that area. That has been the main driver of the devastating California drought.

These high-pressure belts can be found on both sides of the equator. They are created as the hot air that rises over the equator moves poleward and then descends back toward the surface. The sinking air causes generally drier conditions over the region and inhibits the development of rain-producing systems. Many of the world’s deserts, including the Sahara, are found in such regions of sinking air, which typically lie around 30 degrees latitude on either side of the equator.

Climate models have predicted that these zones will move further poleward, or farther away from the equator. Still, the scientists pointedly declined to link the changed weather of recent decades to longer-term human-caused changes in climate. Climate change is a plausible explanation, they said, but linking modeled predictions to changes on the ground is challenging.

The study also found an opposite, though smaller, effect in the Northeast, where some of the weather patterns that typically bring moisture to the region are increasing.

Jeanine Jones, deputy drought manager for the California Department of Water Resources, sees the study confirming what has been observed on the ground. “We’ve been seeing more dry years in the recent past,” she told Mountain Town News in an e-mail.

On website ClimateProgress, Joe Romm found the study’s refusal to link recent trends with climate change “overly cautious.” Romm underlined the potential for megadroughts, similar to but perhaps worse than the decades-long periods of below-average precipitation in the 12th and 13th centuries documented by tree rings in the Colorado River Basin.

Romm also emphasized higher temperatures along with less precipitation. “If a region gets hit by both of those, it will suffer an unusually extreme drought, such as we’ve seen in California in the last few years, or Australia in the previous decade,” he wrote. He also pointed out that the data examined by the scientists only went through 2010, excluding the severe drought in California of recent years.

From his office along the Colorado River in western Colorado, Kuhn said the study of the Southwest he awaits is the one that paints the big picture: higher temperatures, reduced rain, the increased need of irrigation water for crops, plus the effect of reduced precipitation and higher temperatures on natural landscapes, whether mountain forests, sagebrush valleys, or the already sparse, prickly vegetation of the deserts.

“Nobody has put it all together,” he said.

In the Colorado River, about 75 percent of the water comes from snowmelt. But rainfall matters greatly to streamflows. It also matters to how much agricultural crops must be irrigated, said Kuhn. “If the temperatures keep going up, we have problems.”

A field of produce destined for grocery stores is irrigated near Yuma, Ariz., a few days before Christmas 2015. Photo/Allen Best - See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2016/02/09/drying-out-of-the-american-southwest/#sthash.7xXVYcLv.dpuf
A field of produce destined for grocery stores is irrigated near Yuma, Ariz., a few days before Christmas 2015. Photo/Allen Best – See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2016/02/09/drying-out-of-the-american-southwest/#sthash.7xXVYcLv.dpuf

If it rains less in Los Angeles and San Diego, then the 18 million residents of southern California will rely more heavily on the Colorado River reservoirs, especially the largest ones, Mead and Powell. The flight path between Los Angeles and Denver slices between these two giant impoundments.

Much of the water stored in those reservoirs now gets used by farmers in Arizona and California. In the future, said Kuhn, those states will expand their transfer of water used for economically marginal crops to cities. This has been done through programs in which famers are paid to let their fields lie fallow for a period of time.

It probably doesn’t mean a barren selection at your local Safeway, though.

“My gut feeling is that you are going to see a change in the more consumptive crops like alfalfa and sudangrass before you see changes in carrots, lettuce and the (high-value) cash crops,” said Kuhn.

#Snowpack news: #Colorado, where all basins are average or above

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Meanwhile, here’s what things look like westwide.

Westwide SNOTEL February 9, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL February 9, 2016 via the NRCS.

#ColoradoRiver: Many eyes are on the Shoshone Hydroelectric water right

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The Colorado River District is asking Western Slope governments and water entities for more funding for continued study into ways to ensure the permanent preservation of a large, priority water right on the Colorado River.

The district and other contributors already have spent more than $200,000 looking into options to preserve the rights associated with the Shoshone Generating Station hydroelectric plant in Glenwood Canyon east of Glenwood Springs.

The district is now seeking to spend another $200,000 for the effort. It is shouldering half of the cost of the study.

The Shoshone plant has water rights dating to shortly after 1900. Its right to 1,250 cubic feet per second is senior to rights including those of Front Range municipal transmountain diverters.

As a result, the right ensures at least that level of flow both above and below the dam that serves the plant.

“The importance of that in the recreation and rafting industry frankly can’t be overstated. It’s huge,” Lee Leavenworth, an attorney advising Garfield County commissioners, told them Monday.

The small, 15-megawatt plant is owned by Xcel Energy. Western Slope interests long have feared that Xcel might sell the plant to a Front Range entity interested in buying and retiring the water right to allow more diversions under junior rights.

Xcel has said the plant’s not for sale and is important to Xcel’s power system reliability and stability.

But the Western Slope organizations aren’t taking chances, with the study exploring options including Western Slope acquisition of the plant and its water right should the plant go up for sale.

A 2013 agreement between Denver Water and 17 Western Slope water providers and governments included formalization of a protocol for generally continuing flows required by the plant even when there are plant outages. Denver Water also agreed to support possible Western Slope purchase of the plant.

Garfield commissioners on Monday agreed to commit up to $4,300 to the continuation of the study as part of a cost-sharing arrangement that would include entities from the Colorado River headwaters to the Utah state line.

“If that power plant is for sale we need to be first in line, the Western Slope,” Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Monday.

He also voiced confidence in the ability of Western Slope entities to come up with what would be needed to buy the plant if that possibility arises.

“I think you would find that the money is there if we need to buy that,” he said.

Water rules costly for [Alamosa] — the Valley Courier

Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912
Alamosa railroad depot circa 1912

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Complying with the state groundwater rules will not be painless or cheap for the City of Alamosa.

The city, like hundreds of well owners throughout the San Luis Valley, will have to comply with the recently filed state groundwater rules for the Rio Grande Basin.

City staff and legal counsel Erich Schwiesow have already been preparing for the inevitable compliance.

Well owners who must comply with the groundwater rules must join a water management sub-district or submit their own augmentation plans to the water court. The city of Alamosa is submitting an augmentation plan that will detail how the city plans to comply with the rules so it can continue pumping water from its wells for municipal use.

Schwiesow updated the Alamosa city council during a recent work session on the compliance process, and City Manager Heather Brooks updated the council on the compliance cost.

Brooks estimated the city’s cost to comply with the rules would be about $2.1 million. The rules require those who are pumping water from wells which constitutes the city’s water supply to replace the injuries their well pumping causes to surface water rights and to help restore the basin’s underground aquifer system. In Alamosa’s case, Schwiesow said the city must repair injuries to three rivers in the Valley, the Rio Grande, Conejos and Alamosa Rivers.

The city does not yet possess enough water rights to make up for its calculated injuries and sustainability obligations, so city staff members are currently negotiating for one water purchase that would help take care of that problem but may need to make more than one water purchase.

“We are looking for surface water and we are looking for groundwater,” Schwiesow said.

Brooks said the purchase the city is currently negotiating would be for surface water rights, but finding groundwater to help the city meet its sustainability obligations might be more difficult.

“We’ve been looking. There’s just not a lot out there,” she said.

The cost of the water rights is part of the $2.1 million compliance cost, with other portions including legal fees and possible water storage costs. Brooks said initial estimates were much higher than that, at about 3 million.

Bringing that cost down, Schwiesow and Brooks told the council, is the fact the city will receive credit for its accretions, the water it puts back into the system from the wastewater treatment plant. In fact the city has surplus accretion credits of 800 acre feet annually it is offering for bid starting at $250 an acre foot for a five-year lease. See the city’s web site at http://cityofalamosa.org/ultimate-auction/augmentation-credit/

Schwiesow explained that the city has made an application in the water court to exchange the accretion credits it has below Alamosa farther upstream on the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers to cover depletions the city is obligated to replace on those two rivers.

How much the city will have to replace is determined by a groundwater model that predicts how the pumping of certain groups of wells, designated in “response areas ,” affects surface streams, Schwiesow explained. Alamosa is in the Alamosa/La Jara Response Area, he said.

He also gave a hydrology lesson to the city council about how water melting from snow in the mountains recharges the San Luis Valley’s aquifer system and how the water under the Valley floor is divided by clay into unconfined (more shallow) and confined (deeper) aquifers , but there is connectivity between the aquifers. The city’s potable water wells are located in the deeper confined aquifer ranging in depth from 1,400-1,700 feet, according to Alamosa Public Works Director Pat Steenburg. The city has a total of seven wells.

Schwiesow also gave the council a water history lesson about priority being given to water rights on the basis of when they were first granted, with older rights having more seniority. Groundwater rights are very junior, he explained, because the wells were drilled long after water rights were granted to those using the surface streams. However, the state has not administered the wells in the past under the priority system, and a prior attempt to do so failed. The state was successful , however, in issuing moratoriums on drilling new wells both in the confined and unconfined aquifers, Schwiesow explained to the council.

Last fall the state promulgated rules requiring the junior groundwater rights to replace depletions they are causing to surface streams, and although filed, those rules are not yet in effect, pending challenges being resolved in court, Schwiesow added.

Councliman Charles Griego asked about how soon the city had to come into compliance with the state water rules. Schwiesow said the city has to be in a sub-district or have an augmentation plan or substitute supply plan within a year after the rules are finally approved by the court.

Griego asked why the city was in such a hurry to put the augmentation plan together now if the legal process could take years before the rules are finally approved.

“Because it takes time,” Schwiesow said, “and we want to be ahead of the curve. If we wait until the rules are approved, we can’t get it done in a year. It’s a long process.”

He added, “We can’t just sit here and wait until the court cases are over.”

The council talked about the role of the weather and climate in the basin’s diminished aquifer levels and how important it is to emphasize conservation measures with city water customers. Brooks said city staff is looking at ways the city itself can conserve water, perhaps implementing more xeriscaping for example.

“We could do a better job in the conservation piece,” said Councilor Jan Vigil.

The January 2016 ‘State of the Climate’ is hot off the presses from NOAA

significanteventsclimateus012016

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

U.S. climate highlights: January

Temperature

meantemperaturedepartures012016noaa

  • Above-average temperatures were observed across the West, Northern and Central Plains, Upper Midwest, and the Northeast. Maine observed its 11th warmest January on record. Below-average temperatures occurred in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
  • Alaska had its fifth warmest January on record. The statewide average temperature of 17.1°F was 15.0°F above the long-term average. Much-above-average temperatures were observed throughout the state, with slightly above-average temperatures across the Aleutians.
  • Precipitation

    precipitationdeparturefromaverage012016noaa

  • Below-average precipitation was observed across much of the eastern United States. Ohio had its ninth driest January with a precipitation total of 1.28 inches of precipitation, 1.53 inches below average.
  • Above-average precipitation fell across parts of the West and in Florida. Parts of Florida were record wet and the statewide precipitation total of 5.96 inches was 3.00 inches above average and ranked as the fourth wettest January for the state.
  • According to an analysis of NOAA data by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the January contiguous U.S. snow cover extent was 1.65 million square miles, 286,000 square miles above the 1981-2010 average, and the seventh largest in the 50-year period of record. Above-average snow cover was observed across the West, Northern Plains, and Northeast, with below-average snow cover in parts of the Southern Plains.
  • According to the February 2nd U.S. Drought Monitor report, 15.5 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down from 18.7 percent at the end of December. Drought conditions improved for parts of the West and Northeast, with drought worsening in parts of the Northern Rockies and Plains. January was drier than average for much of Hawaii, with many locations receiving less than 25 percent of normal monthly precipitation. Abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions expanded to the entire state.
  • Significant Events

  • A powerful winter storm hit the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast from January 22-24, with snow falling from Arkansas to Massachusetts, impacting more than 100 million people. Several cities, including Baltimore, Maryland and New York City, set new all-time snowfall records. Impacts were widespread with power outages, more than 13,000 flight cancellations and severe coastal flooding. On the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS), the storm rated as a Category 4 (Crippling) winter storm and ranked as the fourth most impactful winter storm since 1950. Only winter storms in 1993, 1996, and 1960 ranked higher.
  • Drought continued to shrink across much of the U.S. during January, resulting in the smallest drought footprint since October 2010. Several Pacific storms slammed into the West Coast, bringing beneficial precipitation but causing coastal erosion. At higher elevations, above-average mountain snowpack was observed across the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which have been snow starved for several winters. Despite the slightly improved drought conditions in the West, longer-term precipitation deficits persist with exceptional drought continuing for 39 percent of California. Drought conditions were nearly non-existent east of the Rockies.
  • #COleg: HB 16-1005, Another attempt at approving rain barrels

    Photo via the Colorado Independent
    Photo via the Colorado Independent

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Another attempt to legalize rain barrels in Colorado is being made in the state Legislature.

    Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, and Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, are trying to get a measure passed that would allow homeowners to collect up to 110 gallons of rainwater in two barrels on their own property. The bill is HB 16-1005.

    A nearly identical measure passed the state House last year, but was allowed to die before it reached the Senate floor. It faced opposition from water users who claimed the water would be intercepted before it reached streams and rivers.

    “Colorado is the only state where it is illegal to collect and use rainwater,” Esgar said. “We think it will be good for all of Colorado.”

    This year’s bill is substantially the same as the 2015 version, and allows water collected to be used for nonpotable purposes such as lawn irrigation, landscaping and gardening. It would require the state engineer’s office to post information on its website.

    Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is offering an amendment to the bill which would require the state engineer to develop rules and which would make water providers accountable for replacing the amount of water collected. Sonnenberg led opposition to last year’s bill.

    Sponsors are not likely to amend the bill as Sonnenberg is suggesting, however, and instead will look at adding their own amendment that would categorize rainwater collection as part of the doctrine of prior appropriation, Esgar said.

    “This is not the camel’s nose under the tent that some have tried to portray,” she said. “We’re just talking about collecting water to put on flowers and gardens.”

    A study conducted by the Urban Water Center at Colorado State University-Fort Collins concluded collecting 100 gallons of water from the lot of a typical Denver household had little impact on runoff. In fact, new construction of previously undeveloped land — on which state water law is mute — had a much larger impact on runoff by increasing the amount of water that reaches streams.

    Colorado has rarely enforced its prohibition on rain barrels, and has two laws on the books that allow for limited rainwater collection.

    A 2009 state law (SB80) authorized the use of rain barrels in connection with other water rights. Another 2009 bill (HB1129) authorized pilot projects for rainwater harvesting. So far, the proposed Sterling Ranch development in Douglas County has been the only applicant.

    From Western Resource Advocates (Drew Beckwith):

    Bing-bing! Like any good fighter worth their weight, our legislative effort to legalize rain barrels is back for another round. Round 1 was all about gauging the opponent’s weaknesses and testing out combination punches – of social media with editorials, and big-name supporters with grassroots action. In Round 2, we’ll hone our path to victory and are aiming for a K.O.

    Boxing analogies aside, making it legal for Colorado residents to have a rain barrel is up again at the Colorado legislature, this time as House Bill 16-1005. Last year’s attempt was wildly popular with the general public and was editorialized in support by five of the state’s largest newspapers. The people want this bill to pass.

    In Colorado, current law assumes that the rain falling on your roof already belongs to someone else further downstream. Yes, you are a scofflaw for putting a bucket under your downspout. It seems totally ridiculous, and it is.

    Just like last year’s bill, HB 16-1005, seeks to change our antiquated status quo by allowing residents to use up to two rain barrels for watering their plants, garden, and flowers. Lots of research that I will not get into, demonstrates that this limited amount of rain water capture has no impact on downstream water users. In fact, the whole point of this bill is to get our public more engaged in water issues. Someone with a rain barrel begins to pay attention to how much water it takes to water the lawn; they begin to question where their water really comes from beyond the tap; and this can lead them to develop a conservation ethic towards water resources.

    This increased awareness is a good thing, and frankly a must-have if we are going to tackle the difficult water challenges facing our region.

    Unfortunately, our collective efforts were thwarted last year via political game playing. Knowing that the bill would pass out of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee and would have received bi-partisan support in the full Senate, Senator Sonnenberg who chairs the Ag Committee “laid the bill over” for multiple weeks, stalling a committee vote on it until the second to last day of the legislative session. This effectively killed the bill because Senate rules dictate that bills cannot be debated by the full senate and voted upon in the same day.

    In this next round, we’re prepared for another stall tactic and are building even greater support for legalizing rain barrels with influential groups across the state. HB 16-1005 is still awaiting its first committee meeting in the House, so stay tuned for updates from WRA. You can follow #rainbarrel and #HB1005 for the latest news.