“This project is a great new example of how water sharing can work” — Amy Beatie

April 26, 2015
Little Cimarron River via the Western Rivers Conservancy

Little Cimarron River via the Western Rivers Conservancy

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

[The Colorado Water Trust] has collaborated with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to restore late summer flows to a 5-mile stretch of the Little Cimarron River in the Gunnison River Basin by sharing an agricultural water right.

Water Trust Executive Director Amy Beatie told Steamboat Today this week the agreement is the first of its kind, allowing agricultural water rights holders to use their water to raise a crop in early summer and then choose to be compensated for leaving it in the river in late summer and early fall. Compensation can be in the form of a lease or sale. It’s a model they hope to see replicated around the state.

“How to meet the ecological needs of streams while keeping water in agriculture is a discussion happening at every level of water policy in the state,” Beatie said Thursday in a prepared statement. “Agriculture is an essential part of Colorado’s economy. So are recreation and the environment. This project is a great new example of how water sharing can work on the ground within the state’s existing laws to bring together what are usually seen as incompatible uses.”

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Linda Bassi/Amy Beatie):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) and the Colorado Water Trust (“CWT”) today finalized an innovative agreement under which the same water rights will be used to both restore stream flows and preserve agriculture in the Gunnison Basin.

The CWCB is the only entity in the state that can hold instream flow water rights to preserve and improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. Under its Water Acquisition Program, the CWCB can acquire water from willing water rights owners by donation, purchase, lease or other arrangement to include in Colorado’s Instream Flow Program. The CWCB and CWT partnership has resulted in many significant water acquisitions for instream flow use.

Under the agreement, up to 5 cubic feet per second of water that was historically diverted by the McKinley Ditch out of the Little Cimarron River (a tributary to the Cimarron River and Gunnison River in Gunnison and Montrose counties) will continue to be diverted and applied to the historically irrigated ranch until mid-summer. At that time, the water will be left in the river for instream flow use by the CWCB on a reach of the Little Cimarron River that historically saw low to no flows due to water rights diversions, as well as on the Cimarron River.

“Our rivers and our farms are at the heart of what makes Colorado so special,” said CWCB director James Eklund. “This agreement is a model for future agriculture and conservation partnerships.”

The Little Cimarron River originates in the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area and is managed as a wild trout stream by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for several miles above the area where agricultural uses have occurred for more than 100 years. Restoring flows in the Little Cimarron will re-establish habitat connectivity, an important component of a healthy river.

“This permanent, split use of an instream flow is distinctive because it acknowledges and preserves the value of irrigated agriculture as well as the value of restoring flow to a local river,” said Linda Bassi, chief of the stream and lake protection section at CWCB.

Additional information on the CWCB’s Water Acquisition Program is available on the CWCB web site: http://cwcb.state.co.us/StreamAndLake/WaterAcquisitions/

More instream flow coverage here.

Snowpack news

April 25, 2015

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

From The Mountain Mail (Maisie Ramsay):

Snowpack in the Upper Arkansas River Basin is holding strong even as much of Colorado remains gripped by drought. Upstream snowpack is carefully watched by the rafting industry, as it has the most direct impact on summer flows. After last week’s storm, upstream SNOTEL sites at Brumley and Fremont Pass registered at 96 percent and 110 percent of average, respectively. The blizzard offset some, but not all, moisture lost during a mid-April warm spell.

Statewide snowpack was at 65 percent of average on April 8. After the recent storm, that number was at 61 percent of average, according to April 21 SNOTEL data. The Arkansas River, North Platte and South Platte basins look strong compared to other areas of the state, particularly basins in the southwest. SNOTEL indicates the Dolores and Rio Grande River Basin snowpack is at about 40 percent of average, while the Gunnison River Basin is at 52 percent. The northwest corner of the state is faring only slightly better, with the Colorado River Basin snowpack at 67 percent and the Yampa River basin snowpack at 63 percent. The Arkansas River Basin has the second-highest snowpack in the state at 78 percent of average, behind the South Platte’s 94 percent of average.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Although future months may bring above-average precipitation for the San Luis Valley, the current snowpack does not look promising. Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten reported to water leaders attending the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board meeting yesterday that the current basin snowpack sits at 38 percent of normal.

“It’s not looking real good,” he said.

He added the basin reached a high of about 70 percent of average at the beginning of March but has declined since then, reviving just a bit during the storm last week.

Irrigators are already being curtailed on the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems to make sure the basin meets its Rio Grande Compact deliveries to downstream states. Curtailments on the Conejos system are currently 15 percent and on the Rio Grande, 6 percent.

Cotten said one of the challenges for his office is preparing a good forecast, and he and staff are relying on more than one source to estimate how much water the Valley will actually see this year. They are using information from both the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) and the National Weather Service , with their own analyses thrown in.

For example, the NRCS is predicting 150,000 acre feet of stream flow in the Conejos River system, while the National Weather Service is predicting 250,000 acre feet for the April-September period. One of the main differences between the two, Cotten explained, is the NRCS focuses on snowpack while the Weather Service also looks at weather predictions .

Cotten’s office is currently predicting 203,800 acre feet stream flow on the Conejos system for April-September and 235,000 acre feet for the annual index, or about 70 percent of normal.

On the Rio Grande, NRCS is predicting about 300,000 acre feet stream flow for the April-September period while the National Weather Service is anticipating almost 500,000 acre feet.

“That’s just a really big range there,” Cotten said, “and it’s really difficult to get a handle how much we are supposed to send down to downstream states.”

Performing their own analyses , while taking the other predictions into account, Cotten’s office is estimating 390,000 acre feet on the Rio Grande during the April-September period with the annual projected index at 500,000 acre feet. Average is about 650,000 acre feet.

Cotten said the National Weather Service places the Valley in an area of above-average precipitation through November.

“They say we are going to be above average. We will see.”

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

On the close of a dry winter, mid-April showers have provided needed moisture for northern Colorado farmers and the hope of late-season improvements to the state’s low snowpack.

While peak snowpack dates have already passed, conditions had improved notably for the South Platte Basin in the last 24 hours, said Colorado snow survey program manager Brian Domonkos of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

As of Thursday morning, the South Platte Basin snowpack was reported at 79 percent of average. By Friday morning, the basin had increased to 85 percent of average…

As of April 1, Colorado SNOTEL indicated 88 percent snowpack for the South Platte Basin.

The Upper Rio Grande Basin dropped from to 36 percent 61 percent snowpack in the same time frame. Likewise, the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins dropped to 37 percent from 53 percent.

These particularly dry basins will likely remain dry at this point, Domonkos said…

Brian Werner, communications director of Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, however, said northern Colorado’s water community is celebrating the spring rain and snowfall.

“It’s the wet stuff we love this time of year,” he said, adding that the 10-day forecast as of Friday indicated much more rainfall to come for northern Colorado…

If the last two weeks of April continue to bring rainfall, as they typically do, the season could see a turnaround in terms of soil moisture profiles and supplies made available for irrigation, Werner said.

“That’s why we say these storms are so much more important than those in November, December,” Werner said.

Provided warm weather does not rapidly melt off mountain snowfall, water users along the South Platte should remain satisfied until the first of June, said Randy Ray, executive director of Central Colorado Water Conservancy District…

He recalled the insight of Jim Hall, former division engineer in Greeley, that the South Platte lives and dies by spring moisture.

Lake Mead expected to drop to a new low tomorrow — Circle of Blue #ColoradoRiver

April 25, 2015

Snowpack news: Not much dust on snow this season in Colorado will help slow melt-out

April 24, 2015
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 23, 2015

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 23, 2015

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

The absence of the melt-spurring layers of ruddy southwestern dust bodes well for Colorado water watchers eager for a slow thaw.

“When you don’t have dust on snow as an accelerant to already not-great conditions, that’s a good thing,” said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District, which spans 15 counties on the Western Slope, accounting for about 28 percent Colorado’s landmass…

There have been three relatively weak dust events in Colorado so far this season, most of them impacting the southern portion of the state. This time last year, there had been seven events, with a couple in March depositing thick layers on the snowpack. In late April 2013, Silverton-based researchers chronicling the impact of dust on snow tallied nine events including a major March windstorm that accounted for 90 percent of the total dust they measured for the season. Through March this year, there were no measurable dust events. Three so far in April have coated the snow with small layers of dust.

“This year is proving to be comparatively light,” said Chris Landry, the director of the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies in Silverton who has been charting dust-on-snow since 2003.

The recent snow storms in the last two weeks have helped to bury the dust layers and thwart an early melt-off after an unseasonably warm and dry March. Snowpack levels across the state are below median levels, with the southern river basins around 30 percent of median while the basins in the northern and central portion of the state are between 60 percent to 88 percent of median.

Lake Mead 2015: Photos Show Water Level Nearing Record Low — International Business Times #ColoradoRiver #drought

April 24, 2015

Click through for the photo essay and article from the International Business Times (Phillip Ross). Here’s an excerpt:

A white band hems the shoreline of Lake Mead like a bathtub ring, a stark reminder that the nation’s largest reservoir is steadily losing water at a time when the precious commodity is needed the most. The latest measurements released Wednesday show the lake is nearing its lowest height in its 80-year existence. At nearly 1,081 feet, Lake Mead’s water level is 148 feet below capacity and dropping — an elevation not seen since 1937, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation.

Lake Mead’s plight is a symbol of the crippling “mega drought” that has gripped California and other Southwest states for the past four years, with no sign of letting up. Scientists are calling the water shortage the worst in centuries. “Even at the middle-of-the-road scenario, we see enough warming and drying to push us past the worst droughts experienced in the region since the medieval era,” Benjamin Cook, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, told National Geographic in February.

West Drought Monitor April 21, 2015

West Drought Monitor April 21, 2015

The Plastic Age: A Documentary feat. Pharrell Williams (Full Film) — “The ocean connects us all”

April 24, 2015

“Life in the ocean has been evolving to hundreds of millions of years and then along came petroleum.”

“Every four years we make a billion tons of plastic.”

“In a span of 50 years of plastic we have plasticized our planet.”

From Wallace J. Nichols’ website:

We all talk about the Stone Age, the Iron Age and the Bronze Age, but what era are we living in right now? People are starting to refer to us as the – far less romantic – Plastic Age. We make 288 million tonnes of plastic a year, and unlike paper, metal, glass or wood, it does not oxidise or biodegrade, instead it ends up in our oceans, making the ratio of plastic to plankton 100:1. The way to make use of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Bionic yarn. Co-designed by Pharrell, G-Star’s RAW for the Oceans collection is the world’s first denim line created from plastic that has been fished out of the big blue and recycled. Find out how we can pick 700,000 tonnes of plastic up off the sea floor in our documentary, made possible by G-Star, The Plastic Age.

#Drought news (Part 2): Last week’s storminess helps the South Platte Basin drought picture (drought free)

April 23, 2015

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


During the past 7-days, moderate to heavy rain (generally 0.5-3.0 inches, locally greater) fell across portions of the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, the Great Plains, and the Ohio Valley. These areas of precipitation occurred in proximity to several slow-moving/stationary fronts and mid-level troughs. By far the heaviest precipitation totals were observed near the Gulf Coast, where numerous coastal counties from southeastern Texas to the extreme western Florida Panhandle received 5-10 inches during the past week. Precipitation amounts were generally light (0.5-inch or less) in the interior Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the northern Plains…

The Plains

In North Dakota, light rain fell during the past 7-days, offsetting further deterioration of conditions. Temperatures also fell significantly (below freezing in some areas), keeping evaporation rates low. In South Dakota, only slight adjustments were made to the drought depiction. In north-central South Dakota, moderate drought (D1) was extended slightly northward into Walworth and Edmunds Counties. In southeastern South Dakota, moderate drought (D1) was expanded slightly southward to include eastern Hutchinson, central Turner, and northern Lincoln Counties. Most other areas of the state received enough rain this past week (a quarter-inch to an inch) to offset additional deterioration of conditions, but not enough to justify improvements. In the southern portion of the Nebraska Panhandle and nearby southeastern Wyoming, abnormal dryness (D0) was eliminated due to a recent storm system that produced about 2 inches of precipitation (liquid equivalent), much of which fell as wet snow. The region is finally beginning to experience spring green-up. The improved conditions also warranted the removal of abnormal dryness (D0) in the northern Laramie Range in southeastern Wyoming. During the past week in the Sand hills region of north-central Nebraska, 2-4 inch rainfall surpluses and good soil moisture infiltration prompted a 1-category improvement to the depiction. In northeastern Nebraska, despite receiving decent moisture over the past 2 weeks, significant deficits still linger at the 30-, 60-, and 90-day time periods. Therefore, the depiction remains unchanged in this area, pending reassessment next week. In Kansas, respectable rains (mostly 0.5-2.0 inches, locally greater) helped to offset any additional degradation. Surface water supplies are still low, and runoff is minimal. No alteration was made to the Kansas drought depiction this week.

The southern Great Plains also experienced a mix of both improvements and degradations. In Oklahoma, 1-category degradations were made in the western Panhandle, as only 1.0-1.5 inches of rain fell during the past 30-days. There were reports of dust storms and dead dryland wheat across much of this area. In west-central Oklahoma, a swath of 4-8 inch rains prompted a 1-category improvement from about Roger Mills County northeastward to Major County. In extreme northeastern and northwestern Roger Mills County, and most of adjacent Ellis County, no good runoff rains were reported, suggesting status quo for those areas. In Texas, widespread 1-category improvements were made to the drought depiction after recent rain fell over many areas that needed it. Stream flows are improving in southern and south-central Texas, and there is continued reservoir improvement in the Dallas area. In the Panhandle region, some of the wheat crop is expected to be salvaged, but it is unlikely the crop will return to normal…

The West

Moderate precipitation (0.5-2.0 inches, liquid equivalent) fell in much of the Upper Colorado River Basin this past week, though not enough to greatly improve snowpack or stream flows. This region will be monitored for possible improvements next week. In parts of northeastern Colorado, where 1-3 inches of rain have fallen so far this April, 1-category upgrades were made. This includes Cheyenne County in extreme eastern Colorado, and near the northern border with Wyoming. In southern New Mexico, moderate drought (D1) was removed from southwestern Chavez and all of Otero Counties due to good moisture conditions. The Pecos River Valley is doing well on the eastern side of the state, with full reservoirs and commencement of irrigation. Conditions are not as promising though for the Rio Grande Valley.

In northeastern California, exceptional drought (D4) was expanded across the northern Sierras this week, while in northern Modoc County, a one-category improvement (from D4 to D3) was rendered to the depiction to more accurately reflect local conditions. In east-central California near Yosemite National Park, the average surface elevation of Mono Lake stood at 6378.9 feet, as of April 15th. This is the lowest surface elevation of the lake since early 1996. The target elevation is 6391 feet. For the past two weeks, extreme to exceptional drought (D3-D4) covered two-thirds of California. In northern Nevada, a one-category degradation was made to northwestern Elko County, while in southwestern Montana, small improvements were made to the drought depiction in Gallatin County.

In Washington state, record/near-record low snowpack supports the expansion of moderate drought (D1) across the northern Cascades, and the introduction of moderate drought in northeastern Washington…

Looking Ahead

For the ensuing 5-day period, April 23-27, northern New England, portions of Georgia and Alabama, and southern Florida are expected to receive 1.0-1.5 inches of precipitation, which would help in the mitigation of existing dryness/drought. Up to about 2 inches of rain is forecast for the easternmost portions of the drought region in both Oklahoma and Texas, during this period. Light precipitation (0.25-inch or less) is anticipated for most of the Dakotas and upper Mississippi Valley, though western South Dakota is expected to receive 1.0-1.5 inches of rain. Between 1.0-1.5 inches of precipitation (liquid equivalent) is predicted for parts of the West.

For the 6-10 day period, April 28-May 2, there are enhanced odds of near- to below-median precipitation across most of the contiguous U.S. Odds favor above-median rainfall from the central and eastern Gulf Coast region northeastward across the Southeast, mid-Atlantic, and southeastern New England.


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