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.

    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.

    Pueblo Board of Water Works hopes to get a substitute water supply plan for the Riverwalk

    Historic Arkansas Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com
    Historic Arkansas Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works has filed a substitute water supply plan with the Colorado Division of Water Resources in order to supply water to the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo.

    The plan is to replace water to HARP that is now being diverted by Black Hills Energy, which supplied HARP through a tailwater right, according to Bill Paddock, attorney for Pueblo Water.

    Black Hills is planning on tearing down old Stations 5 & 6, the Downtown power plant, which would throw the diversion into question.

    Pueblo Water has a 1993 water right for 30 cubic feet per second which provides the base flow for HARP. It is planning to supply another up to 90 cfs next year in order to prevent weeds and algae from growing and to maintain water quality.

    Pueblo Water plans to use its fully consumable water rights, mainly those from transmountain diversions, but including some in-basin rights that have been converted, to supply HARP.

    Documents in the case were filed Wednesday and are subject to comments from other water users who might be injured.

    HARP water is diverted just upstream of the Downtown Whitewater Park near the East Fourth Street bridge. The intake became a matter of concern during discussions of the Pueblo Conservancy District in May regarding reconstruction of the levee through the area.

    More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.

    “Miracle May” revisited

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

    From The Produce News (Lora Abcarian):

    “We started in May with a rain cycle,” said Dick Wolfe, Colorado’s state engineer. “Things really turned around.”

    He said conditions during March were not as snowpacked as is typical for the Centennial State. “We were way behind,” Wolfe explained. “But May was a huge turnaround in what we saw.”

    According to Wolfe, the National Weather Service has deemed the month of May the wettest month, setting a national record “which is pretty impressive.” He added that this is the first turnaround of significance to have occurred during more than a decade of drought.

    “Reservoirs are full or nearly full,” he commented. “We’ve got good reservoir storage.”

    Coloradans saw an extended winter season in 2015 with cooler-than-normal temperatures moving into May. Monsoonal flows, typically seen during the summer months, took hold early and resulted in heavier-than-normal springtime rains. News accounts were rife with stories about flooding or potential for flooding.

    The flirtation with summer began in early June as temperatures climbed and rains diminished. But, as Wolfe noted, weather forecasters have been keeping their eyes to the skies and are predicting that rainy patterns will return in July and continue into September.

    “July through September is supposed to be above-average precipitation,” Wolfe commented. “Colorado is right in the bull’s-eye for rainfall predictions.”

    Although the majority of Colorado falls outside the drought profile at the current time, he said areas from the western part of Colorado’s San Luis Valley to Gunnison are still dry.

    According to Wolfe, the much-needed precipitation and favorable water storage condition mean that agricultural producers will have more water available for irrigation in 2015. “With good runoff and water supply, there aren’t the calls on the river that been restricted in years past,” he explained.

    Lower Ark nets 800 acre-feet this season from a recalculation of pond seepage

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum
    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A recalculation of the seepage rate of ponds used to feed irrigation sprinklers means farmers will have to repay less water than originally calculated this year under 2010 surface irrigation rules.

    The savings amounts to about 800 acre-feet (260 million gallons) for Rule 10 plans operated by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, a 40 percent savings.

    The Lower Ark’s 2-year study still is not complete because of technical glitches. The Colorado Division of Water Resources accepted results for only some of the more than 20 ponds studied, and the state has asked for additional study in some areas.

    But the results altered the basic formula for the Irrigation System Analysis Model. An interim seepage calculation method has been adopted as a result.

    “(The division) does believe that the limited amount of pond study data from ponds where inlet and outlet meters were verified to be accurate are more comprehensive than what was used to derive the original seepage method in ISAM,” the state’s report noted.

    Under the previous ISAM formula, the state estimated losses from the more than 145 farms covered by Lower Ark’s Rule 10 plans would create about 1,947 acre-feet of deficits. Under the interim method, the deficits total 1,137 acre-feet.

    The 2010 rules were written to cover farms that have installed sprinklers or drip irrigation systems fed by ponds as well as other improvements in order to prevent increased consumptive use and potential litigation with Kansas over the Arkansas River Compact. Similar rules, written in 1996, already cover wells in the Arkansas Valley.

    More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.

    San Luis Valley: Dick Wolfe okays groundwater Subdistrict No. 1 augmentation and pumping plan for this season

    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle
    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    State Engineer Dick Wolfe gave his approval Friday to a plan to mitigate the impacts of groundwater pumping this year in the north-central San Luis Valley.

    Wolfe’s approval, issued at the close of business Friday, confirms Subdistrict No. 1 has sufficient water to cover the depletions caused by the 3,412 wells inside its boundary.

    The subdistrict, which must get annual state approval for its plan, must replace an estimated 3,655 acre-feet in depletions that well pumping is expected to cause to the Rio Grande this year.

    Those wells are projected to pump 238,000 acre-feet of groundwater this year, which impacts surface water given that the two are hydraulically connected to varying degrees around the valley. The subdistrict has a pool of 20,115 acre-feet it can use to replace depletions, drawing off transbasin diversions coming into the basin, reservoir storage and a federal reclamation project that pumps groundwater on the east side of the valley.

    The subdistrict also has nine forbearance agreements with ditch companies that will allow it to pay for damages in lieu of putting water in the river.

    While mitigating the harm to surface water users is a court-ordered priority, the subdistrict’s other aim is to reduce groundwater pumping through the fallowing of farm ground.

    This year, through a federal conservation program, just under 4,000 acres will be taken out of production, a savings to the aquifer of roughly 7,800 acre feet.

    Unlike previous years, the subdistrict will no longer have a financial guarantee by its parent organization — the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which draws property tax revenue from five of the valley’s six counties.

    Instead, the subdistrict has placed $3.85 million in escrow to ensure well depletions are replaced in the event the subdistrict dissolved.

    More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

    Water forum targets pumping in Colorado — Salina Journal

    Republican River Basin by District
    Republican River Basin by District

    From the Salina Journal (Tim Unruth):

    Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and a few water-conscious underlings plan to discuss with locals Tuesday in St. Francis how water is being used in a three-state region.

    Water from the Ogallala Aquifer, the huge underground driver of farm economies in portions of several states, is being mined to satisfy federal streamflow requirements on the Republican River.

    Rep. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, wonders about the wisdom of taking a resource that developed over centuries to enhance a river, losing some of the resource to seepage and evaporation.

    “It makes no sense,” he said. “Here we are, trying to get a new vision out to preserve water for 50 years, and we have Colorado across the line, pumping from the Ogallala to replace surface water.”

    The meeting will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Cheyenne County 4-H Building in St. Francis.

    Billinger aims to gather input on the pumping project and “possible ways to preserve the Ogallala for future users.”

    Two similar augmentation projects just ceased in two areas of western Nebraska.

    The Republican River Water Conservation District in northeast Colorado is pumping from eight irrigation wells into a pipeline that dumps into the north fork of the Republican. The district delivers 7,000 acre feet of water to the river from November through December, and from January through mid-April will pump another 7,000 acre-feet, said Deb Daniel, manager of the district based in Wray, Colo…

    “The only way we can supply enough water to be in compact compliance is by delivering water to the stream,” she said.

    Another effort to comply consisted of draining Bonny Reservoir northeast of Burlington during 2011 and 2012. It was the only lake in the region.

    Evaporation and seepage from the lake were working against Colorado’s compliance, Daniel said…

    Rep. Billinger argues that the pumping project benefits the north fork of the Republican, which doesn’t enter Kansas until it reaches Jewell County, in the north-central part of the state. The south fork dips into Kansas through Cheyenne County and flows back into Nebraska.

    Among Billinger’s options is to influence Colorado to stop pumping water from the Ogallala to replace surface water.

    Hoping for long-term solutions

    The Kansas lawmaker also would advocate for Colorado putting water back in Bonny Reservoir, earmarking storage for Kansas, and enhancing the region’s fishing and other recreation opportunities.

    Given the demands for compliance, Colorado’s Daniel said the district “didn’t have any choice.”[…]

    Representatives from Daniel’s district are planning to attend the Tuesday meeting in St. Francis. NRD officials from Nebraska also are interested in what’s said at the meeting, Jenkins said, and some may attend.

    Accompanying Brownback will be Kansas Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey, Chief Water Engineer David Barfield and Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter.

    Meanwhile the Republican River Water Conservation District board meeting is next Thursday. From the Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

    Yuma will be the site for the Republican River Water Conservation Board of Directors regular quarterly meeting, Thursday, April 9.

    It will be held in the banquet room at Quintech, 529 N. Albany St. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Public comment will be heard at 1 p.m.

    A discussion regarding negotiations with the Jim Hutton Educational Foundation is on the agenda. The board will discuss possible financial support to the Water Preservation Partnership, as well as membership in the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, along with other matters.

    Pipeline operator Tracy Travis will give a report, and the board will hear reports on other recent meetings and programs. The board holds out the right to have an executive session if necessary.

    For further information, please contact RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel at 332-3552, or on her cell phone at 630-3525, or email her at deb.daniel@rrwcd.com.

    More Republican River Basin coverage here and here.