#Snowpack news: Nice bump up North, South Platte up to 103%, #ColoradoRiver = 101%

Click on the thumbnail graphic below for your favorite basin to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

Billy barr, business manager at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, confirmed that as of last weekend, total snowfall in Gothic was 28 percent below normal: 221 inches compared to an average snowfall 305 inches year-to-date.

Snowpack was 36 percent below normal. barr, who has been collecting data since the winter of 1974-75, said that placed this winter at the bottom of the barrel—40th out of 42 winters for total snowpack as of Saturday, March 12.

By Tuesday, a small snowfall had bumped it up the list, placing it slightly better than four other winters.

“It’s definitely one of the lower winters. This is very similar to last year the way the whole winter has gone, except that early in winter we had a lot of cold weather. Lately it’s been a lot of hot weather, which is why today seems so completely unenjoyable,” barr said of Tuesday’s return to winter conditions.

According to Kugel, regional SNOTEL sites show that snow water content is below average as well. The Butte site on Crested Butte Mountain is at 92 percent of average and Schofield Pass is at 84 percent of average. Water year-to-date precipitation is even lower for both locations.

“To get a complete picture of a site you need snow water content and water year-to-date precipitation. Normally they’re pretty close,” Kugel explained.

At Schofield, however, water year-to-date precipitation is 74 percent of average. Kugel said that lower percentage could reflect a dry period last October and early November, which could have left soil dry heading into winter.

“If soil is drier than normal, it adversely affects runoff. More of the melt goes in the ground rather than running into the streams,” he said.

He sees that same discrepancy at a few other locations around the basin. And while official projections suggest that Taylor Reservoir will fill by the end of June, Kugel doesn’t believe that reflects current conditions.

“That was with a higher forecast so at this point it looks like operations may need to be curtailed if we want to have Taylor Park Reservoir fill. It’s starting to have an impact on the reservoirs. Currently the storage amount is in good shape but there may need to be adjustments to have a fill on both reservoirs,” he said, referring to Blue Mesa Reservoir as well.

While this week’s snowfall does help, both barr and Kugel suggested that spring storms are going to be required to boost water supplies. Last winter, when the valley was in a similar situation, snow in April and May did make up the difference. According to barr, May was the heaviest snow month—something that never happens.

Westwide SNOTEL map March 20, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL map March 20, 2016 via the NRCS.

2016 #coleg: HB16-1005 (Rain barrels) just might get to Gov. Hickenlooper’s desk this session

Photo from the Colorado Independent.
Photo from the Colorado Independent.

From The Denver Post (Samantha Fox):

The sponsors of this bill hope to encourage water-wise practices. Water-rights holders are acutely aware of the value of water and understand the importance of conservation, but they are looking for assurance that their water availability and their long-fought-for rights won’t be harmed.

After amendments added recently to address data collection on impacts, provide for a review and objection period, and expressly stipulate that rain water-harvesting does not constitute a water right, it looks like the bill may pass this time.

Take a closer look at the issue and you’ll realize it isn’t as simple as conservationists versus farming. Water rights are an important component in our state’s laws, and affect flows that underpin a broad spectrum of critical water uses, stream conservation, farming, and municipal supply, among others. They are inherently tied to our economy and ability to grow sustainably.

Denver: Montclair and Park Hill basins stormwater design fueling conflict

Here’s a deep-dive into stormwater planning in the Montclair and Park Hill basins from Alan Predergast writing in Westword. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The modest proposal, known initially as the Two Basin Drainage Project (TBDP) but now being touted as the Platte to Park Hill Stormwater Systems, is intended to help control storm runoff in the northeast part of the city — water that flows north and west from Fairmount Cemetery through the Montclair, Park Hill, Cole and Whittier neighborhoods to Elyria, Swansea, Globeville and ultimately the South Platte River. The $134 million undertaking is being overseen by Denver’s Department of Public Works, with some financial and technical assistance from the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District.

Although many details of the project are still officially “under study” and have not been finalized, certain basic features have been presented in public meetings in recent months — and have raised hackles among neighborhood groups. One essential component is an open channel, fifteen blocks long and up to a hundred feet wide, to be dug along East 39th Avenue between Franklin and Steele streets, that would slow down heavy storm runoff headed to the river. Another key piece of infrastructure is a detention “pond,” around thirty acres in size, to be situated either in the Cole neighborhood or on the golf course. The pond would remain dry except in the most extreme storm conditions, yet building it could require demolishing several houses in Cole — an early configuration, since rejected, would have taken out more than forty homes — or removing up to 280 of the 872 trees on the golf course. And that’s just for the first phase of the project, addressing drainage needs in the Montclair Basin; another detention pond is planned for the Park Hill Golf Course as part of drainage improvements for the Park Hill Basin, the second basin in the TBDP.

City officials say the project is urgently needed to fix long-festering drainage problems in some of Denver’s poorest neighborhoods — and curtail hazardous street flooding, such as one event last June 24 after heavy rains in the area. “It is my fervent belief that in this project the city is acting as an advocate for neighborhoods, to deliver the project as fast as we can to provide stormwater relief,” Gretchen Hollrah, the city’s deputy chief financial officer, told one gathering of neighborhood organizations last month.

From The Denver Post (Jon Murray):

A growing chorus of residents and activists across several neighborhoods portray I-70 as the motivating force: the largest factor driving what they see as a set of invasive projects that could scar the City Park and Park Hill golf courses, disturb potentially toxic soils, and sacrifice neighborhoods and parkland to make the highway project viable.

City officials dispute those characterizations. For months, at dozens of public and neighborhood meetings, they have underlined city experts’ assessment of the threat posed by giant storms that, even if very rare, would wreak havoc across a wide swath of the area.

Plenty agree with the plans. But even as officials honed their message, critics who sometimes discount the level of flooding threat have been emboldened.

That’s in part because some areas that would host projects wouldn’t benefit as much as the highway and other neighborhoods to the north — or, initially, at all. Those that would gain protection include parts of the city that are about to see an influx of redevelopment, including some of River North, industrial areas near I-70 and the National Western Center site, only feeding skepticism.

Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin) Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin). Via Denver Public Works.
Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin)
Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin). Via Denver Public Works.

Monte Vista Crane Festival recap

From The Denver Post (Jenn Fields):

Thousands of cranes come to Colorado’s San Luis Valley every spring…

Every year at this time, 20,000 sandhill cranes leave New Mexico and arrive in Colorado’s San Luis Valley to feast before taking off again for their summer breeding grounds in the greater Yellowstone area…

Seeing the sandhill cranes by the thousands is a spectacle humans can’t resist. We turn out in the thousands, too, to see them graze on fields in the San Luis Valley, perform courtship dances, flock into their roosting grounds in the evening. We’re far outnumbered, though. Jenny Nehring, one of the organizers of the Monte Vista Crane Festival, said about 6,000 people come to town to see the cranes during the festival and the weekends surrounding it.

Buena Vista: The Arkansas River as economic driver

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org
Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

From The Mountain Mail (Elise LeSage):

Two Colorado nonprofit organizations are developing projects that will bolster Buena Vista’s local economy thanks to grants from the Colorado Tourism Office.

The Arkansas River Outfitters Association and the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative were awarded donations of $25,000 and $85,000 respectively late last year, which will be used to attract more visitors to both the Arkansas and Colorado peaks.

The Arkansas River is one of Buena Vista’s most lucrative recreational attractions.

The tourism the river produces creates an influx of revenue for local businesses, stimulating the economy of the town.
In 2014 alone, the area saw an economic impact of $60,734,207 from the Arkansas River (2014 Commercial Rafting Use Report). With the acquisition of the grant, AROA hopes to further the number of clientele visiting the river, thereby increasing the income of the town.

This goal will be executed through the production of promotional media. Mike Kissack, executive director of AROA, revealed plans to increase advertising in broader regions.

“Our (public relations) department is working to endorse the Arkansas as a tourism destination across states,” Kissack said. “Part of the budget is going to be spent on producing a new video and a social media campaign.”

Although Buena Vista currently enjoys a fair amount of tourists from areas in Kansas and Texas, Kissack, who runs American Adventure Expeditions, said a main goal of the project is to attract customers from neighboring states like Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

AROA will use the grant awarded by the Colorado Tourism Office to publicly promote the Arkansas River as the destination for rafting, fly fishing, kayaking and other activities its members offer.

The matching funds grant was received in part as a collaborative effort of the Chaffee County Visitors Bureau and Colorado Parks and Wildlife and is the second issue of $25,000 the Colorado Tourism Office has provided AROA.
The revenue produced by American Adventure Expeditions and other AROA members alone “directly affects all the businesses in the area in a very positive manner,” Kissack said. A recreationist enjoying the Arkansas also contributes income to local hotels, restaurants and gear supply stores.

Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, meanwhile, is using its grants to install sustainable foot trails on Mount Columbia, Colorado’s 35th tallest peak.

It is one of a dozen fourteeners in Chaffee County. Whether they be for recreation or inspiration, the fourteeners are integral to the lives of Chaffee County residents.

Mount Columbia is already a popular location for climbers. The current most popular unsanctioned trail, however, is a steep 9 miles and cuts through existing wildlife habitats. CFI’s new path is intended to preserve fragile alpine trails and minimize erosion.

CFI Executive Director Lloyd Ackner said the organization will work with the U.S. Forest Service to “design paths that are beneficial to plant life and animal ecosystems while giving people better and more enjoyable trails to climb on.”
The CTO grant was matched by outdoor equipment giant REI through a project called Every Trail Connects.

“REI has been a long-term corporate partner with us,” Ackner said. “We usually receive $10-15,000, but their contribution this year was exceptionally big.”

He said CFI hopes this project will attract hikers and campers from all over to the otherwise undeveloped mountain.

Though it is difficult to calculate the precise economic impact, CFI is working to install “trail counters” on Colorado fourteeners, which track the foot traffic along each mountain. Each individual climbing the trail – assuming they are arriving within a 25-mile radius of the location – will signify an estimated dollar value that CFI can use to calculate resident profit.

CFI began accepting volunteers for the Mount Columbia project Tuesday.

Si Se Puede: How One Town in Colorado Organized to Fight for the Environment — Conservation Colorado

Conejos River
Conejos River

From Conservation Colorado (Sophia Guerrero-Murphy):

I grew up in rural Southern Colorado, which is very different than the Front Range. I lived in Alamosa, which is a good-sized town of 10,000 people, but the most populous city for 120 miles in any direction. The area is high desert, and among its giant peaks and vast stretches of chico bushes, there are fields of potatoes, ranch lands filled with grazing cattle, and almost no water.

Little towns in the San Luis Valley are at risk of being forgotten. For example, for many years, nuclear waste was transferred from truck to train within throwing distance of Conejos River, which flows through the town of Antonito. If the waste had ever spilled, it would have polluted a river that irrigated acres of ranch and farm land, and would have ruined the livelihood of many generational farmers.

I guess the proverbial “they” thought no one would notice or mind the risk of a toxic spill. Fortunately, the mayor of Antonito, Aaron Abeyta, whose family has lived in the area for many generations, noticed the large containers of waste sitting on the tracks and decided to investigate.

After Mayor Abeyta took his concerns of this suspicion to representatives in the Colorado General Assembly and to a national level, no action was taken. So, he re-approached the issue with the support of people in his community. He knew what communities can do and the power they have when they come together, so he decided to approach local grassroots. Eight-five percent of the population in the San Luis Valley is Latino, which shows that the majority taking action for this were Hispanic. Mayor Abeyta informed community members about the nuclear waste that could contaminate their water, so they decided stand up and do something about it. Community members began writing letters, making phone calls, and petitioning the government.

These grassroots efforts led to a victory! The waste no longer gets moved and jostled near the river anymore — the waste doesn’t even get transferred in Antonito.

As a community organizer at Protégete: Nuestro Aire, Nuestra Salud with Conservation Colorado, I interact with and hear the concerns of the Latino community and know that movements like the one in Antonito can happen anywhere. We can come together and fight for clean air, affordable clean energy, better jobs for better causes, and combat climate change to improve the lives of all Coloradans.

It’s important for community members to be aware of the power that Latinos have when we come together and stand up for the protection of our families.

To make your voice heard, join us at the Capitol on Wednesday, April 20, 2016 at 8:30 AM for Women and Family Wednesdays, as the Protégete team presents to community leaders regarding environmental justice and to lobby on environmental issues that are important to Coloradans. Si se suede!

#Snowpack news: “We’re snow farmers” — Jim Pokrandt

Westwide SNOTEL map March 18, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL map March 18, 2016 via the NRCS.

From the Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

A relatively dry February and March in Summit County following a strong start to the 2015-16 ski season resulted in slightly below-average snowpacks. Area percentages of customary levels have varied from between the mid-80s to mid-90s ahead of this week’s storms, which delivered more than two feet of fresh snow over 72 hours in some areas. That’s led to an immediate impact and quickly bumped snowpack to greater than average levels at this point of the winter.

It’s important to the entire state that this precipitation arrives before too long or it won’t have the desired effect of satisfying its late-spring and early-summer water demands.

“In a normal year, past the beginning of May, that’s when you’re not really seeing as much influence from snowpack accumulation,” said Karl Wetlaufer, assistant snow survey supervisor at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “You typically see that big peak in streamflow in late-May or early-June, about a month after the highest snowpack, more or less.”


“Lake Powell is the ultimate barometer,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and director of community affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “It’s the savings account by which we meet Lower Basin obligations and the big measure of how our water supply is.”


“We’re snow farmers,” added Pokrandt. “We follow snowpack figures because the snowpack crop is what feeds the Colorado River, which feeds the West. It’s vitally important we raise a good crop each year.”

Traditionally, the annual snowpack is built through mid-to-late-April, so there’s still time to reach routine levels. Even so, while most of Summit County’s measuring sites at Loveland Ski Area, Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain, Hoosier Pass and Summit Ranch are now each above 100-percent levels, many other portions of the state remain a shade under average totals.

According to the NRCS, the statewide Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) as of Thursday, March 17, was 95 percent of median levels. That missing 5 percent is not of major concern, so long as future weather conditions stay consistent.

“At this point, we are more and more confident as the days go by that we’re in pretty good shape as far as snowpack from a streamflow standpoint,” said Wetlaufer. “If the proverbial faucets turned off right now and there was no more snowpack, then we’d see lower levels. But it’s pretty likely that we’ll continue to get more precipitation in next month or so, and it’s looking encouraging.”


Heavy snowpack years — which the state could still be heading toward depending entirely on how the rest of the winter and spring weather materializes — actually result in oversupplies of water and is ideal. Those circumstances help establish higher water levels in many of these major headwaters that all leave the state, the Platte, Rio Grande and Arkansas, aside from the Colorado, and are a benefit to all states that utilize these sources.

“In general, a surplus leads to a lot less disagreements in the long run,” said Wetlaufer, “as opposed to a year where we are below normal, which is when those issues get a lot more contentious and people want to make sure they get their fair share. This year seems to be a pretty near-normal snowpack, especially around Summit County, and we should be in good shape for an ample water supply … and in a good place overall.”

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

In the past 72 hours, 20 inches of snow has fallen at Loveland Ski Area and Arapahoe Basin. Eldora Mountain Ski Resort tops the charts, reporting 32 inches of new snow during that period…

Winter Park Resort says it has gotten some 45 inches of new snow in the past seven days.

Vail is reporting 27 inches of new snow in the last week while Aspen Snowmass said it has gotten 18 inches over than span.