#Snowpack news: #ColoradoRiver Basin above Lake Powell = 95% of avg.

coloradoriverbasinabovelakepowellsnowpack02122016viajohnfleck

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

The Feb. 1 snow survey found that snow pack above Middle Park is 112 percent of the 30-year average, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Kremmling Field Office.

The average is based on readings taken between 1980 and 2010.

February’s reading shows snowpack is currently sitting above last year’s, which was at 100 percent of the average in February.

“This is the Feb. 1 reading, and we’ve got quite a bit of the winter still left, so stuff can still change,” said Mark Volt with NRCS Kremmling. “Either we can get lot more than normal or a lot less than normal.”

March is typically the snowiest month of the year.

The average snow density is 24 percent, meaning there are 2.9 inches of water per foot of snow, according to NRCS Kremmling…

So far, major river basins across Colorado are also reporting higher than average snowpack.

The upper Colorado River Basin is at 104 percent, the Gunnison River Basin is at 109 percent, the South Platte River Basin is at 101 percent, the Arkansas River Basin is at 109 percent, the Upper Rio Grande Basin is at 102 percent, and the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins are at 110 percent, according to NRCS Kremmling.

Statewide snowpack was at 111 percent of normal on Feb. 1, according to NRCS Denver…

The April 1 snow survey is typically the most important in terms of characterizing the state’s runoff, Volt said.

Westwide SNOTEL February 12, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL February 12, 2016 via the NRCS.

Pueblo Water is leasing stored water to help with reservoir drawdown for runoff

Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com
Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Anticipating a storage crunch later in the spring, Pueblo Water is inviting Arkansas River basin water users to bid on raw water leases.

“A lot of it is about trying to get our upper reservoir water levels down at Clear Creek, Turquoise and Twin Lakes,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager for Pueblo Water. “The leases now are driven by what’s in storage, not any prediction of what we’ll get in 2016.”

Pueblo Water is trying to make space for water it expects to gain this year, so will lease at least 20,000 acrefeet (6.5 billion gallons) of water through the spot market this year. That’s more than typical because 2015 was a wet year, with the trend likely to continue and make storage space tight again.

“If additional water is available, additional proposals may be approved in later months,” Ward said.

Two separate sets of contracts are being offered. One group would provide 15,000 acre-feet of water before May 31, while the other offers 5,000 acre-feet that must be taken by the end of the year.

The water is leased to the highest bidders, and can vary throughout the season. Last year, in February, more than 10,800 acre-feet were leased for prices over $100 per acre-foot. But after heavy rains in May and June, there were few takers for additional water. Pueblo Water was able to lease some to Fowler and the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association for about $50 per acre-foot in early summer and to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for $15 per acrefoot in late summer.

Bids for raw water must total a minimum of $500 and be returned to Pueblo Water by Feb. 11. Water leased through this program cannot be used to grow marijuana.

Study: Local water contaminated — The Colorado Springs Business Journal

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

Recent studies in Fountain, Security and Widefield show that the water there is contaminated with industrial chemicals that could cause a public health hazard.

Known as perfluoroalkyls, or PFAs, research suggests the chemicals are potent carcinogens and endocrine disrupters at levels far below the Environmental Protection Agency’s provisional exposure limits for drinking water.

And no one seems to know where the contaminants are coming from — or even that they were there in the first place. The city of Fountain’s 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report doesn’t mention PFAs or any other “unregulated reportable contaminant.”

Ron Woolsey, who heads Fountain’s Water Department, was unaware of any PFA contamination of the city’s water supply or of the EPA test results. It’s not clear if the EPA reported these results to the three affected systems.

“We get about 70 percent of our water from the Frying Pan/Arkansas project, via Pueblo Reservoir,” he said. “The remaining 30 percent comes from wells in Fountain and wells on the Venetucci Farm that we share with Security and Widefield. When [CSU’s] SDS [Southern Delivery System] comes on line, we’ll get 100 percent of our water from Pueblo Reservoir.”

[…]

It could be that water from Fountain Valley wells or surface water sources are contaminated by either landfills or residue from industrial processes, but no one is really sure.

WHAT ARE PFAS?

Perfluoroalkyls were first developed by 3M in 1951. DuPont used them for decades to manufacture common commercial products such as Teflon and Scotchgard.

Many are ubiquitous in world ecosystems. Once in a fish, a bird or a human body, they neither decay nor metabolize. The chemicals have been found in people’s bloodstreams, in polar bears in the Arctic and salmon caught in Alaska.

PFAs are highly toxic, but it has long been assumed by public health officials that minute quantities in drinking water pose no risk.

But that might not be the case.

TESTS CONFIRM

Although industrial use of these compounds has been curtailed recently, EPA testing has found that 6.5 million Americans in 27 states are exposed to PFA-tainted drinking water. The chemicals have been detected in 94 public water systems — including the three El Paso County systems.

According to information on the EPA’s website, PFAs are present in drinking water systems that serve 70,000 customers in El Paso County; the agency found more than 200 contaminants in 106 tested samples with a maximum contaminant level of 1.3 parts per billion — among the highest levels of all the water systems that showed evidence of PFA contamination.

“In January 2009,” according to the EPA’s website, “the EPA’s Office of Water established a provisional health advisory of 0.2 micrograms per liter for PFOS and 0.4 µg/L for PFOAs to assess the potential risk from short-term exposure of these chemicals through drinking water. PHAs [advisories] reflect reasonable, health-based hazard concentrations above which action should be taken to reduce exposure to unregulated contaminants in drinking water.”

[…]

CHANGING REGULATIONS

But the EPA might soon deliver new regulations based on recent studies. A paper by Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health and Richard Clapp of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell published in the journal “New Solutions” found that PFAs are hazardous at much lower levels. They can cause cancer, heart disease, birth defects and weaker immune systems.

“Grandjean and Clapp suggested that the EPA’s approach in 2009 led to a presumed safe level ‘at least two orders of magnitude’ higher than the newer studies indicate would protect human health with an adequate margin of safety,” the Environmental Working Group said in an analysis of the study. “… lower than the EPA advisory level by a factor of more than 1,300.”

About 200 prominent scientists worldwide signed the 2015 Madrid Statement, calling on the international community to limit the production and use of PFAs. The statement noted the “growing body of epidemiological evidence” linking PFAs to testicular and liver cancer, liver malfunction, hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, obesity, decreased immune response to vaccines, reduced hormone levels and delayed puberty.

If EWG’s calculations are correct, drinking water in Security, Widefield and Fountain could contain hundreds, even thousands of times the safe level of PFOA and PFOS contaminants. Other PFA contaminants detected in the three systems include perfluoroheptanoic acid, perfluorohexanesulfonic acid and perfluorobutanesulfonic acid.

A REGULATORY TANGLE

Thanks to legal constrictions, the EPA has little power to regulate industrial chemicals such as PFAs.

“Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act,” reporter Nathaniel Rich pointed out in a recent New York Times article, “the EPA can test chemicals only when it has been provided evidence of harm. This arrangement, which largely allows chemical companies to regulate themselves, is the reason that the EPA has restricted only five chemicals, out of tens of thousands on the market, in the last 40 years.”

Lawsuits related to a class action against DuPont for harmful use of PFAs have been making their way slowly through the courts. Filed on behalf of thousands of residents of Ohio and West Virginia, the suits allege that DuPont is responsible for adverse health effects from PFA pollution of multiple drinking water systems.

While there are no certain guidelines that specify PFA drinking water safety levels. The lawsuit against DuPont in West Virginia included anyone whose drinking water had PFOA or PFOS levels above 0.05 parts per billion.

Water provided to residents of Fountain, Security and Widefield showed maximum PFA contaminant level of 1.3 ppb, 26 times greater than the 0.05 cut-off for West Virginia plaintiffs.

NO STATE RECOURSE

Although a handful of states — Minnesota, New Jersey and North Carolina — have established guidelines for PFA contaminants, Colorado is not among them.

CDPHE administers the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, but its regulatory flexibility is limited by state legislative mandate to be neither more nor less restrictive than those set by the EPA. CDPHE is able to give assistance to local water providers.

“We provide assistance to water systems throughout the state,” said Nicole Graziano, CDPHE’s technical and regulatory implementation and coordination unit manager for the safe drinking water program.

“We have a lot of staff who work to assure that drinking water is at the highest level of safety to protect public health.”

Fountain’s Woolsey is determined to find the source of the PFA contaminants and eliminate them. It’s not his first rodeo.

“We went through this sort of thing with Schlage Lock and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) years ago,” he said. “Well pollution has always been a concern. The three systems are all interconnected in lots of ways, so it’s possible that we can identify the source, but it may not be simple.”

The EPA confirmed that the chemicals can be removed from water by implementing treatment at centralized facilities or in homes by installing activated carbon filters.

#Snowpack news: “The snow is our largest reservoir in the state” — Diane Johnson

Westwide SNOTEL February 11, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL February 11, 2016 via the NRCS.

From the Vail Daily (Ross Leonhart):

“The big thing for us, we want the snow to stick around,” said Diane Johnson, public affairs manager with the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “The snow is our largest reservoir in the state.”

[…]

As of Wednesday, the SNOTEL site on Vail Mountain (not the Vail Resorts measuring site, but located near Eagle’s Nest) recorded the snow-water equivalent as 104 percent of normal (11.9 inches compared to the 30-year recorded median of 11.4 inches on Feb. 10).

“It means we’re in good standing right now,” said Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “We still have a third of the season to go, and hopefully snowpack will be pretty close to normal.”

Snow-water equivalent at Vail Mountain was at 11.9 inches on Wednesday, and the median peak which comes in late April is 22.6 inches, so it’s about 52.6 percent of the way to normal with a third of the season to go.

DRY SPELL

With the recent high pressure systems in the valley bringing warmer temperatures and no snow, Domonkos said being slightly above normal snowpack acts as a buffer as the season goes along. With temperatures still dropping below freezing overnight, the snowpack is solid enough to stave off a dry spell, he said.

“There’s a bit of a forecast that states we’ll be relatively dry over the next few weeks,” Domonkos said. “And then usually we return to a wetter spell, especially these El Nino years, for the late winter, early spring months — March and April.”

In a small system such as Eagle County, one or two storms can really make a difference, Johnson said. January was at 70 percent of normal snowpack until the big storm that dropped over a foot of a snow at the end of the month and into February, bringing totals to above 100 percent of normal.

In 2013 when Vail Mountain reopened due to late-season snow, local water officials were on edge until the welcome dump of snow, which “totally changed the water picture,” Johnson said.

“One storm can make a difference,” Domonkos said, “but it’s pretty normal to see dry spells, decent storms and dry spells again and kind of get a more stair-step progression.”

RIVER INDICATORS

Regional SNOTEL data from Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass also help local water officials get an indication of what will be melting off the mountains and flowing into local waterways.

As of Wednesday, the SNOTEL site at Copper Mountain read 10.1 inches, 117 percent of the normal, and the data from Fremont Pass measured 10.9 inches, 110 percent of normal.

Copper Mountain stats are indicative of snow-water equivalent in the Vail Pass area, which flows into Black Gore Creek before joining Gore Creek in East Vail. Fremont Pass presents an idea of what will eventually come down to Camp Hale and the Eagle River headwaters, Johnson said.

“We want the snow up high, and we want it to hang around,” Johnson said.

“The Poudre Runs Through It” forum recap

Cache la Poudre River
Cache la Poudre River

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

This was the third annual forum, but a first for me. I was asked to participate in the event by its sponsor — the Poudre Runs Through It, a local study/action work group associated with the Colorado Water Institute, which is an affiliate of Colorado State University.

My role was to moderate a panel discussion on how to “get to yes” on major water projects and initiatives. Three of the four panel members participated in long and tough negotiations that eventually hammered out significant operating agreements on projects affecting the Colorado and Platte rivers.

The other panelist was Pete Taylor, a sociology professor from CSU whose research includes studying environmental and agricultural water issues.

I found the discussion interesting, and I hope the roughly 240 people who attended the forum did, too.

I’ve heard mixed reviews: Some folks told me the panel tied in well with past forum discussions.

Others told me they wanted to hear more about the controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, and Glade Reservoir. NISP would draw from the Poudre and store water in Glade, which would be built northwest of Fort Collins.

NISP has been tied up in a federal Environmental Impact Statement process for many years.

Supporters say the project is critical for meeting the needs of growing cities. Some opponents say they will do whatever it takes to kill the project. And so it goes.

Certain words came up frequently during the course of the panel conversation: Collaboration, consensus, commitment, understanding, trust.

The speakers noted that during the course of a negotiation, it is important for participants to understand the perspectives of others at the table.

For example, water supply interests wanting more storage have to understand environmentalists want to keep enough water in rivers to ensure healthy ecosystems.

At the same time, environmentalists have to understand that agricultural interests need to have water flow their way to keep in business. You get the picture.

Achieving understanding between people with deeply different points of view is not easy, the speakers said. Neither is building trust that the entities represented by those people will do what they say they will do as part of an agreement.

But it must be done. And all parties involved have to be committed to reaching some kind of consensus, even if they don’t agree on every element.

Would such an approach work on the Poudre? I don’t know. When it comes to NISP and other projects proposed for the river, the parties seem pretty far apart.

The first step toward finding solutions is talking about them, and that is what the Poudre Runs Through It is trying to do.

Change Trickling Through #ColoradoRiver Basin — UNLV

The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada
The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada

Here’s the release from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas:

As water leaders contend with unprecedented drought and demand, will the river people of the Colorado band together as regional citizens? Water policy expert Patricia Mulroy weighs in.

It’s 6 am. In Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Tijuana, someone is stumbling into the kitchen to grab that first cup of coffee. In the wide-open spaces of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Baja, and Sonora, a farmer is opening his head gate to water his field and tend his herd. In the depths of the Grand Canyon, a camper is emerging from his tent to marvel at the sight of an eagle winging across the chasm. Mechanics are adjusting enormous generators sending hydroelectric power to countless communities. And the birds of the Cienga de Santa Clara are heading out to find their morning meal. As distant and different as all this awakening life is, it shares one vital ingredient: water from the Colorado River.

It is a river steeped in legend and lore and often its mere mention induces competition and conflict. For most of the 20th century our competing interests have been in constant collision. Each has jockeyed to advance his needs over those of his neighbors. We quickly forgot the underlying premise of the Colorado River Compact of 1922: that the river was to be developed and managed by seven equal partner states outside the framework of traditional Western water law. Only in the last 25 years have we begun to realize that the framers of this river “constitution” were not as misguided as we thought and that cooperation and joint management of the system would be the only thing that would make a modern 21st century existence on this river possible.

Our supply is dwindling and the demand pressures are not subsiding. As science became more sophisticated and informed, we have come to realize that the amount of available water from this river is not as great as we once imagined it to be. Lawsuits and decrees over the decade further cut into what is reasonably available. And the beginnings of a fundamental shift in the climate conditions affecting the Colorado River Basin are reducing what we do have available even further. We have emerged from one of the wettest centuries in the region to the stark reality of a much drier future. At the same time global food demand is on the rise, urban populations are growing, and an ever-growing environmental ethic is demanding more resources be left in the system to protect the ecosystem.

This interconnected river community has, and continues to be, in an intense period of transformation. The fiercely defended individual water right is beginning to be moved aside by the notion of a shared responsibility and recognized interdependence. Attitudes are slowly changing as water leaders engage their communities in difficult conversations about doing more with less. These changes go right to the heart of how we see ourselves as communities and whether we can envision ourselves as part of a larger region. Yet to be born is the notion of living as the citizen of a river community, enjoying all the rights and responsibilities that accompany that privilege.

Editor’s Note:
Patricia Mulroy, a leader in the international water community, will present the University Forum lecture “Forging a Common Future: Becoming A Citizen of the Colorado River Basin,” at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 16, in the Barrick Museum Auditorium. As the general manager of both the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Mulroy helped guide Southern Nevada through an unprecedented period of growth and one of the worst droughts in the history of the Colorado River. She is now the Senior Fellow for Climate Adaptation and Environmental Policy as well as a Practitioner in Residence for the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law.

The latest ENSO discussion is hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center

Mid-February 2016 Plume of ENSO predictions via the Climate Prediction Center
Mid-February 2016 Plume of ENSO predictions via the Climate Prediction Center

Click here to read the discussion:

ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory

Synopsis: A transition to ENSO-neutral is likely during late Northern Hemisphere spring or earlysummer 2016, with a possible transition to La Niña conditions during the fall.

Indicative of a strong El Niño, sea surface temperature (SSTs) anomalies were in excess of 2°C across the east-central equatorial Pacific Ocean during January. The Niño indices in the eastern Pacific declined, while Niño-3.4 and Niño-4 were nearly unchanged. The subsurface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific increased due to a downwelling Kelvin wave, but toward the end of the month weakened again in association with the eastward shift of below-average temperatures at depth in the central Pacific. Also, low-level westerly wind anomalies and upper- level easterly wind anomalies continued over much of the tropical Pacific. The traditional and equatorial Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values remained negative but weakened relative to last month. Convection remained much enhanced over the central and east-central tropical Pacific and suppressed over Indonesia. Collectively, these anomalies reflect the continuation of a strong El Niño.

Most models indicate that El Niño will weaken, with a transition to ENSO-neutral during the late spring or early summer 2016. Thereafter, the chance of La Niña conditions increases into the fall. While there is both model and physical support for La Niña following strong El Niño, considerable uncertainty remains. A transition to ENSO-neutral is likely during late Northern Hemisphere spring or early summer 2016, with a possible transition to La Niña conditions during the fall.

El Niño has already produced significant global impacts and is expected to affect temperature and precipitation patterns across the United States during the upcoming months (the 3-month seasonal outlook will be updated on Thursday February 18th). The seasonal outlooks for February – April indicate an increased likelihood of above-median precipitation across the southern tier of the United States, and below-median precipitation over the northern tier. Above-average temperatures are favored in the North and West, and below-average temperatures are favored in the southern Plains and along the Gulf Coast.