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

Snowpack news: “Snowpack still low in Colorado; Lake Powell inflows below average” — Hannah Holm #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2015

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Last week’s storms, which snarled Interstate 70 and (briefly) turned Grand Valley trails to sticky mud, calmed fears of an early start to wildfire season; but it didn’t significantly improve the regional water supply picture.

April 20 snowpack levels in western Colorado ranged from 40 percent of average in the Southwestern basins to 71 percent in the Colorado Basin. The statewide snowpack was at 61 percent of average. The South Platte Basin snowpack, upstream from Colorado’s most populated areas, got the biggest bump out of the storms and reached 94 percent of average. Statewide, the total amount of water in the snow that has fallen since the 2015 water year began on October 1, 2014 (as opposed to snowpack at this moment in time) was a little less than 80 percent of normal.

As mediocre as Colorado’s snowpack is, it’s in better shape than the snowpack in most of the rest of the West. Eastern Utah is down to just four percent of normal, with no basin in the state above 50 percent.

Unsurprisingly, forecast inflows into Lake Powell are significantly below average. The Bureau of Reclamation forecast released April 20 predicted inflows of just 6.832 million acre feet, or 63 percent of normal, for the full 2015 water year.

At the same time, the total forecast releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead, under operating criteria agreed to several years ago by the states that share the river, are expected to be between 8.23 and 9.0 million acre feet.

So Lake Powell, which is currently 45-percent full, will certainly not be getting any fuller this year. Lake Mead is 39-percent full, and total Colorado River Basin storage is 48-percent full, up one percentage point from last year. [ed. emphasis mine]

The U.S. Drought Monitor predicts that the next three months are likely to be wetter than average for the four-corners states, and that the relatively mild drought (compared to California) over most of Western Colorado is likely to improve. Farther to the South and West, however, drought conditions are expected to persist or intensify.

This year, due to good storage levels, we probably won’t see severe water shortages in Colorado; and downstream, Lake Mead is likely to get just enough water to prevent a formal shortage declaration, which would lead to reduced water deliveries to some Arizona farmers.

But the troubling long-term picture in the Colorado River Basin as a whole is not improving, and another year like this one will lead to those formal shortage declarations in the Lower Basin, as well as drop Lake Powell closer to the minimum level at which it can generate power.

This regional context is important to keep in mind as Colorado’s water leaders continue their work to complete a statewide water plan. The East Slope as well as the West Slope relies heavily on water from the Colorado River Basin, and both current and future uses of this water could be impacted if water storage levels drop much lower.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at or Twitter at

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

April 22, 2015
Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation April 1 thru April 19, 2015 via the Colorado Climate Center

Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation April 1 thru April 19, 2015 via the Colorado Climate Center

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Southern Delivery System: Closing arguments expected to conclude today in Walker Ranch lawsuit

April 22, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Closing arguments are expected to wrap up sometime today in a jury trial to determine the value of the Southern Delivery System easement across Walker Ranches in Pueblo County.

Expert witnesses for Colorado Springs testified Tuesday, the seventh day of the trial.

Attorneys for both sides indicated the testimony would wrap up soon and they were preparing to present closing arguments today. After that, the jury will begin its deliberations.

Court records indicate Gary Walker was offered $100,000 for easements on a 150-foot wide strip 5.5 miles long through Walker Ranches in northern Pueblo County. Colorado Springs, which is building SDS, also paid Walker $720,000 to relocate cattle during three years of construction.

Construction on SDS began in 2011, and includes 50 miles of underground pipeline 66 inches in diameter in Pueblo and El Paso counties. The final phase of construction in Pueblo County is the Juniper Pump Station being built near Pueblo Dam.

Walker claims the choice of pipeline route has contributed to erosion and diminished the value of his land. His court records claim SDS has caused $25 million worth of impact on his ranches, which total 65,000 acres. He’s also claiming damages under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, which protects landowners from out-of-pocket expenses and requires Colorado Springs to use eminent domain only as a last resort.

District Judge Jill Mattoon is presiding over the trial.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.

Aspinall Unit operations meeting Thursday #ColoradoRiver

April 21, 2015
Aspinall Unit dams

Aspinall Unit dams

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The next Aspinall Unit Operations meeting will be held this Thursday, April 23rd, at the Western Colorado Area Office in Grand Junction, starting at 1 PM.

The address of the WCAO is 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite #221

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Cortez plans to install 3,000 smart water meters this summer

April 21, 2015
Wireless meter reading explained

Wireless meter reading explained

From The Cortez Journal (Jessica Gonzalez):

Funding is in place for the City of Cortez to embark on a $1.2 million replacement of more than 3,000 manually read water meters with automated meters.

Mayor Karen Sheek and City Council approved loan and grant funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board at the April 14 council meeting.

Through this project, the city intends to replace its current meters with automated meter readers, which use radios to collect data via a drive-by or a fixed-base receiver on every metered account in the city’s system.

The project is being funded through $250,000 in grants from the CWCB and the Department of Local Affairs, $350,000 from the city’s fund balance and $850,000 loan from the CWCB. Once bids are opened in mid-May, there will be a more precise picture of exactly how much the city will need to borrow via loan funding, said Phil Johnson, director of Public Works. It’s likely to be less than the $850,000 total…

The Public Works Department contends that the replacement project will bring the water meter system into the future with more streamlined billing and data management. It also says that it encourages conservation by providing users with more accurate water-consumption information…

After the bid period in mid-May, work is expected to begin early summer. The entire system is expected to be on automatic meters by October…

The Public Works Department will be providing regular updates on the project on the City of Cortez website, he noted, but stressed that it’s a necessary change in a time where water conservation is crucial.

“It’s a step into the future going to help us run our operation more effectively and it’s an efficient tool to help Cortez save water,” he said.

More infrastructure coverage here.

No watering restrictions for Broomfield

April 21, 2015


From the Broomfield Enterprise (Megan Quinn):

Despite a dry March, Broomfield will not impose summer water restrictions this year after learning it will receive its typical allocation from its main water supplier.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District last week announced it would provide users their typical amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, because the storage reservoir is more full than normal. The district typically allocates about 70 percent of its supply for water users unless resources are limited. Last year, the allocation was 60 percent.

That means Broomfield residents won’t have to scrimp on water this summer, but officials are still asking residents to use only what they need…

Broomfield gets more than half of its water supply from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and the rest from Denver Water and the Windy Gap project. All three rely on mountain snowpack.

Water runoff from snowpack is a major indicator of how much water there will be for cities in the coming year.

Even though precipitation was just 21 percent of average in March, Northern Water’s overall water supplies are much higher than normal, said spokesman Brian Werner.

C-BT, which provides water for Broomfield and 32 other cities and towns, was “at an all-time high” for April 1, and other local storage reservoirs were above normal, Werner said.

On top of that, a large snowstorm on Thursday dumped more moisture in the high country, which “will help slow down the melt and keep us in good shape,” he said…

In Broomfield, single-family residential users account for 56 percent of total water use, according to the city’s 2013 water rate study.

Park Services Superintendent Gary Schnoor said Broomfield also is monitoring its water use. Conserving water is just as important for Broomfield as it is for its residents, especially because the parks department uses the most water of any department in Broomfield.

To conserve and reuse that water, about half of Broomfield’s parks, about 553 acres, are watered with reclaimed water.

“We pay per 1,000 gallons, just like you do at home. It’s one of our big budget items,” he said.

Caleb Davis, an irrigation systems coordinator for the city, said the dry March weather meant employees had to start watering parks a little earlier than usual.

Rain and snow can help save the city’s water supply. Last year, Broomfield used 380 million gallons of water on the parks and landscape.

Worst case, the parks department could use up to 500 million gallons during the driest years, Davis said.


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