#Drought news: Improved conditions in SE #Colorado, replenishment of soil moisture a wild card

Colorado Drought Monitor February 12, 2019.

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):


Abundant and beneficial snow across much of Colorado`s Mountains over the past few months has prompted the US Drought Monitor to improve the Exceptional Drought (D4) conditions that has plagued southwest Colorado over the past year. With that said, the latest Drought Monitor, issued Thursday February 14th 2019, is now indicting all of Mineral County in Extreme Drought (D3) conditions.

Moderate Drought (D1) conditions are depicted across Teller County and the rest of El Paso County, as well as across northeastern Fremont County, southern Pueblo County, Crowley County, western and northeastern Otero County, western Kiowa County, northwestern Bent County and central into eastern portions of Las Animas County.

Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions are indicated across central into eastern portions of Kiowa County, the rest Otero County, northern Bent County, northwestern Prowers County, and eastern portions of Las Animas County.

Drought free conditions are depicted across Baca County, extreme northeastern Las Animas County, southern Bent County, most of Prowers County and eastern portions of Kiowa County.


Fall precipitation helped to ease fire danger across much of South Central and Southeast Colorado. However, with cured fuels and more windy weather associated with the Winter Season, fire danger across non snow covered areas could be moderate to high at times into the early Spring.


Summer through early Winter precipitation helped to improve soil moisture, especially across southeastern portions of the state. However, longer term dryness continues to be indicated across South Central and Southwest Colorado.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

A number of different factors could hamper snowpack in the mountains from reaching reservoirs, especially water being soaked up by the parched forest floor.

Southwest Colorado has been feeling the effects of intense drought since fall 2017.

The region received about half the amount of snow it usually does during the 2017-18 winter season. Then, rains failed to show up in spring and summer, leading to the second lowest water year for the region in recorded history.

That has resulted in low levels in area reservoirs. As of Friday, for instance, Vallecito Reservoir was about 30 percent full, and Lemon Reservoir, farther to the west, sat at about 17 percent capacity…

But water managers are taking the season’s snow in stride.

It is positive that the parched earth will receive much-needed moisture, but the low soil moisture content means much of that water won’t make it to reservoirs. The soil acts like a sponge.

“Soil moisture is really the big kicker this year,” said Susan Behery, a hydraulic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation’s office in Durango…

Becky Bollinger, a research associate with the Colorado Climate Center, said in a conference call to reporters Thursday that despite strong snowpack in the Colorado River Basin, the center predicts lower-than-average levels in water supplies.

The reason: Again, it comes back to soil moisture.

“It will be a critical piece in the spring,” Bollinger said. “But there might be some uncertainty as to how critical.”

It’s difficult to predict how much moisture the soil will soak up. But, it is an issue that has water managers holding out hope for more snow.

Ken Beck with the Pine River Irrigation District, which manages Vallecito Reservoir, said it will likely take snowpack reaching 130 to 150 percent of average levels to get the 125,400-acre-foot reservoir full again.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Beck said. “I don’t mean to seem pessimistic because we’re excited, but we want to be cautious because we have a long ways to go to fill it.”

Beck said other factors also cause water losses to reservoirs, such as desert dust deposited on snowpack during wind storms causing water to evaporate and runoff to occur earlier than normal. Wind itself can also cause water loss, Beck said, pulling the moisture out of the soil and dehydrating it.

As of Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor delisted nearly all of Southwest Colorado from the “exceptional drought” category, the center’s highest level. The region remains in the “extreme drought” category.

From the Nation Drought Mitigation Center (Claire Shield):

Precipitation surpluses and deficits were scattered across the West in January. Precipitation amounts ranged from 150 to over 300 percent of normal in pockets of Montana, Utah, western Arizona, northern New Mexico, northwestern and southern Nevada, and California, but were only 5 to 70 percent of normal in western Washington and Oregon, central Nevada, southern and eastern Arizona, and southern New Mexico, and in more isolated pockets of eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and California. A pocket in northern Montana saw the warmest temperatures during the month (8 to 10 degrees above normal) while a small area in eastern Utah saw the coolest temperatures (4 to 8 degrees below normal). The remainder of the region saw temperatures between 4 degrees above average and 4 degrees below average, with warmer than normal conditions generally found in Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and southwestern Idaho and cooler than normal conditions found in southwestern Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. One- and two-category drought degradation was found in parts of Idaho and Montana during January, but one- and two-category drought improvement was found in large areas of the remainder of the region, leading to the reduction of coverage of all drought categories. Moderate drought was reduced 12.03 percent to 41.22 percent and severe drought was reduced 10.10 percent to 17.12 percent. The area of the region in extreme drought at the end of the month was only 3.49 percent—less than half the area at the beginning of the month (8.35 percent). Exceptional drought was almost completely eradicated, covering only 0.39 percent of the region by the end of the month.

West Drought Monitor February 12, 2019.

Pueblo: 2019 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 24-25, 2019

Click here to go to the website and to register:

As one of the most important natural resources in our state, the water future of the Arkansas River Basin depends on education, dialog, and a deeper understanding of all sides of water issues. The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum has been at the forefront of this conversation for 25 years.

​Please join us in Pueblo on April 24 – 25, 2019 to celebrate our 25th anniversary as we continue to work together to find common ground.

#Snowpack/#runoff news: Wet February Brings Hopeful Water Outlook For #Utah and #Colorado

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

At 115 percent of the long-term average, the Yampa Valley’s snowpack is currently above the norm, but those concerned about forecasts of water available for recreation, agriculture and other uses this spring and summer are still waiting for more snow to pile on.

“What fills the rivers and the reservoirs and the irrigation ditches is the amount for the year,” said Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District Manager Kevin McBride. His agency manages water in the Stagecoach and Yamcolo Reservoirs. “What we work off is the total snowmelt, so until the snowpack gets up to average for an average year, we’re always worried.”

The Valley will need 62 percent of its average snowfall to hit its typical peak. Snowpack usually peaks at about 21 inches of snow water equivalent, which is a measure of how much water is contained in the snow. Snow water equivalent is measured at several weather stations in the mountains, called Snow Telemetry or Snotel sites.

“When we reach 100 percent of average annual snowpack, then I’ll be comfortable,” said Peter Van De Carr, owner of Backdoor Sports and a board member of Friends of the Yampa. “It is encouraging. The whole town, the atmosphere around our snowpack — it’s so much brighter. Folks are in a good mood when it snows a lot. We’re all busy and working, and all eight cylinders are hitting.”

Snotel sites in South Routt are faring the best, with Lynx Pass and Crosho at 122 percent of average. Columbine is at 117 percent and Rabbit Ears is at 111 percent. On Buffalo Pass, Dry Lake is at 118 percent and Tower is at 116 percent. In North Routt, Zirkel is at 110 percent and Elk River is at 104 percent…

Still, though snowpack at high elevations is looking good, McBride said there is more to consider in planning for the water year. When the snow melts off plays a role in how irrigators have to manage their water. What’s more, if snow at lower elevations melts too early in the season, irrigators have to divert water running off from higher elevations earlier to boost soil moisture that would typically come from snow melt on fields.

“(Snowpack’s) a little above average,” he said. “Things are looking — if they continue this way— they’ll be great.”

From KUER.org (Judy Fahys):

“These storms have been bringing a lot of water — great for the snowpack, for water supply going into the runoff season and for ski conditions,” Glen Merrill, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Friday during a meeting of hydrologists, forecasters and other climate professionals who track precipitation levels…

Troy Brosten, a hydrologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Snow Survey, pointed out that the snow-water equivalent is higher than average statewide, between 114 and 172 percent.

Brosten also said soil moisture was up, from 42 percent last year to 49 percent this year. Generally speaking, when soil moisture is good, runoff is more efficient.

One area that remains worrisome is reservoirs, reported Gary Henrie of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Provo office.

He said last year at this time reservoirs were 80 percent full on average, but communities and agriculture relied heavily on them through the exceptionally dry summer. Now, he said, the average levels in reservoirs statewide are 64 percent of normal, but water managers hope a good runoff this spring will help restore them.

Statewide snowpack Utah February 17, 2019 via the NRCS.

The Public Utilities Commission claims authority to hear dispute between the La Plata Electric Association and Tri-State Electric #ActOnClimate

Micro-hydroelectric plant

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Public Utilities Commission says it has authority to hear dispute

La Plata Electric Association and other electrical co-ops may gain insight about buying out of a contract with their wholesale electrical supplier after the Colorado Public Utilities Commission ruled this week it can oversee a dispute about the buyout fee.

LPEA is exploring a buyout from its contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission, in part, because the wholesaler caps how much renewable power LPEA can purchase from outside sources at 5 percent as part of a contract that does not expire until 2050. Tri-State is a nonprofit of 43 member electric cooperatives, including LPEA and Delta-Montrose Electric Association.

DMEA is interested in buying out of its contract because Tri-State’s prices have been rising since 2005, and, at the same time, electricity costs in general have fallen, said Virginia Harman, DMEA’s chief operating officer.

DMEA is also interested in developing more local renewable energy than allowed under its contract with Tri-State, she said.

“We are not looking for a free exit; we are looking for fair exit,” she said.

DMEA brought a case to the Public Utilities Commission last year because it felt the fee Tri-State demanded to buy out of its contract is unreasonable.

DMEA is formally asking the PUC to establish an exit fee that is “just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory,” according to a news release.

Becky Mashburn, spokeswoman for DMEA, declined to name the amount Tri-State is asking for the co-op to leave its contract.

Colorado’s PUC ruled Thursday it has the authority to determine whether Tri-State is charging DMEA a just and reasonable price to buy out of its contract, said Terry Bote, spokesman for the Department of Regulatory Agencies. A hearing about the buyout charge will be held in June, he said.

Tri-State had filed a motion to dismiss the case brought by DMEA, arguing the dispute about the exit fee is a contractual dispute.

The PUC rejected Tri-State’s argument, ruling the commission has jurisdiction over the buyout charge dispute because it is a statutory issue, he said.

The Colorado Springs Gazette takes a look at the new @EPA #PFAS rule-making

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday unveiled its long-awaited plan for tackling the toxic chemicals contaminating the Widefield aquifer, immediately coming under fire from environmental groups and some El Paso County residents for not going far enough.

The agency said it would begin the yearslong process of setting a safe drinking water limit for two types of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds by year’s end, while studying the toxicity of other varieties and taking steps to strengthen groundwater cleanup measures across the nation.

Environmental groups across the nation and residents in southern El Paso County criticized the plan for not going far enough to protect them and millions of other Americans whose drinking water sources contain the man-made chemicals.

The plan does nothing to hasten the implementation of a drinking water standard, and it largely ignores all but a couple of types of the chemicals — including those found most commonly in bloodstreams of Security, Widefield and Fountain residents.

Doug Benevento, the EPA’s regional administrator, said the agency is doing all it can to address the toxic chemicals as quickly as legally possible.

“We get it’s frustrating, because people want something done now,” Benevento said.

“And what we are required to do though under the Safe Drinking Water Act is a scientific process — and there’s an economic portion of it too — that we’re required to go through before we make a final determination. And we’re in that process right now.”

The substances, also known as PFAS, are man-made chemicals used for decades in a military firefighting foam, including at Peterson Air Force Base. They also were used in myriad nonstick household products, such as carpet cleaners, Teflon products and fast-food wrappers.

Also called perfluorinated compounds, they have been linked to several health ailments, including cancer, liver disease and high cholesterol.

Specifically, the EPA’s new 72-page plan calls for proposing a “national drinking water regulatory determination” later this year for the two best-known types of perfluorinated compounds, PFOA and PFOS.

Such determinations are considered an opening step for regulating the chemicals and setting a maximum contaminant level — similar to what exists for such chemicals as lead, cyanide and mercury.

Still, it could take three to five years before the chemicals are regulated, said Bob Benson, an EPA toxicologist.

San Juan Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

Following an executive session, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors voted to take action on some water rights issues, as well as a potential contract offering.

The SJWCD board entered one executive session to discuss two separate items. One item dealt with legal advice pertaining to questions involving water rights, district contracts and strategic plan preparation…

Upon returning from extensive executive session and calling the meeting back into public session, Porco noted that no decisions were made in the executive session.

However, Porco then asked for a motion to file a statement of opposition in a water case involving Bootjack Ranch.

That motion was approved unanimously by the SJWCD board. According to Kane in an email to The SUN, in December of 2018, the SJWCD authorized its legal counsel to file a statement of opposition in a water rights case filed by Bootjack Ranch LLC.

According to Kane, Bootjack Ranch is now requesting several new water rights, as well as a plan for augmentation.

This plan involves what Kane referred to as “release water,” which is stored in a pond to replace depletions from its other water rights.

“To have adequate time to evaluate the potential for those water rights and the plan for augmentation and to have standing to protect its water rights from injury, the Board authorized its counsel to file a statement of opposition by the February 28 deadline so that it can be a party to the case,” Kane explained.

“I think it’s needed so that we can protect our water rights,” Pfister said at the meeting.

Also following the executive session, Porco called for a motion to offer a contract to Lewis “and authorize Mr. Pfister to begin ne- gotiations with her.”

That motion was also unanimously approved by the SJWCD board.

Regarding future negotiations with Lewis, Kane explained that SJWCD authorized Pfister to propose a contract that was similar to the original one that had her assisting the SJWCD with its strategic planning.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Another item that required a motion following the executive session pertained to SJWCD’s legal counsel to withdraw a statement of opposition for the Lovato case.

“I move that we authorize legal counsel to file our withdrawal of our statement of opposition in the Lovato case,” Pfister said.

That motion also carried unanimously.

The Lovato case is a case that was filed in the Rio Grande Basin in 2010, Kane explained in the follow- up email.

“The application originally involved use of a water right for a transbasin diversion from a stream tributary to the San Juan River, known as the Treasure Pass Ditch,” Kane wrote.

Initially, the SJWCD filed a statement of opposition in order to gain standing to protect its water rights from injury, Kane further explained.

“In September, the applicant decided to withdraw the claim involving the Treasure Pass Ditch. With that claim removed, the Board decided that it had no further interest in the case, so it authorized its counsel to file a notice of withdrawal so that SJWCD will no longer be a party to that case,” Kane added.

The notice of withdrawal will be filed sometime this week, Kane noted.

Local involvement and input needed for determining water use — Upper San JuanWatershed Enhancement Partnership #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From the Upper San JuanWatershed Enhancement Partnership (Mandy Eskelson and Al Pfister) via The Pagosa Sun:

Local stakeholders participated in the first public meeting for the new Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP) in Pagosa Springs on Jan. 10, contributing vital information on how to address concerns and identify opportunities to optimize the region’s water resources in accordance with Colorado water law.

With a focus on creating a community-driven process that incorporates all uses of water — including agricultural, municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental — a panel of steering committee members from diverse sectors explained the group’s goals and engaged discussions on what values and interests could drive these efforts.

WEP Steering Committee representatives include: local ranchers/managers, ditch company leaders, local outdoor recreation businesses, water districts, local and state government agencies, nonprofits, and private citizens. This partnership hopes to collaborate and build upon the accomplishments of existing cooperative groups within the area, such as Growing Water Smart, the San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership and Resilient Archuleta.

Funding for this voluntary initiative comes from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Southwestern Water Conservation District as part of the Colorado Water Plan to help communities enhance their water resources through cooperative projects. The meeting fulfilled the dual purpose of introducing the WEP and steering committee to the public and gathering critical input from local water users to provide direction and support for potential projects.

The meeting encouraged the group to discuss issues, opportunities, knowledge gaps, partners to involve, and geographic scope of this initiative to identify common interests and priorities for future steps.

Preliminary meeting results, breakout sessions and surveys revealed an interest to focus on the Upper San Juan, Navajo and Blanco watersheds initially, with the potential to expand efforts into other watersheds in the future. Discussions during the breakout sessions provided critical feedback on local issues of balancing all water uses, drought planning, education and communication needs, and watershed/forest health. Conversations on opportunities focused on creating collaborative, mutually beneficial projects for all water uses in hopes of efficiently using and conserving water resources in preparation for a drier and warmer climate.

Suggestions on what additional information to gather, priority issues and opportunities, and new partners to involve ensure this process aligns with the community’s needs and goals. The WEP will analyze this information over the coming months to further refine cooperative project progress and potential options, like improving irrigation infrastructure or river bank restoration, to discuss with interested stakeholders. Similar projects have been funded and implemented in the past throughout the San Juan River Basin. We are requesting your input and/or involvement in these future efforts.

The WEP Steering Committee strongly encourages all community members to continue submitting input via the online survey. More community input will greatly assist us in implementing projects that benefit all water users, regardless of how you use water resources — be it for rafting, fishing, drinking water, irrigating, or as a water right owner.
With only 31 responses as of Feb. 4, results are showing drought, water quantity, water quality, forest health and soil erosion as the top five concerns, while values aligned with water use rank environmental, agriculture and recreation above municipal/industrial and other uses.

The WEP is seeking an accurate and greater representation of community values and priorities, so please help this process by taking the short (less than five minutes) survey and learn how to be involved in the process at http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan.

If you have additional questions, please call Al at (970) 985-5764.