Homestake Reservoir release proves tricky to track — @AspenJournalism

Two men fish the Eagle River just above its confluence with the Colorado River in Dotsero. Homestake Partners released 1,667 acre-feet of water down Homestake Creek and into the Eagle River in September to test how a release would work in a compact call.
CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sacket):

Getting water to state line would be key in compact call

In September, Front Range water providers released some water downstream — which they were storing in Homestake Reservoir — to test how they could get it to the state line in the event of a Colorado River Compact call.

But accurately tracking and measuring that water — from the high mountain reservoir in the Eagle River watershed all the way through the Colorado River at the end of the Grand Valley — turned out to be tricky, according to a recently released report from the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

From Sept. 23 through Sept. 29, Colorado Springs Utilities, Aurora Water and Pueblo Board of Water Works released a total of 1,667 acre-feet of water, which would have otherwise been diverted to the Front Range, from the reservoir into Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River. The release gradually ramped up from about 25 cubic feet per second to 175 cfs and then gradually back down over the seven days.

But officials were unable to put a number on how much of that water made it to the state line.

In their attempt to quantify the actual amount of reservoir release delivered to the state line, state engineers ran into challenges that caused uncertainty, they said in an email.

Although they couldn’t measure how many acre-feet officially made it, State Engineer Kevin Rein said that the exercise was still a success and that all the water, minus transit losses, crossed into Utah.

“We have heard this is a failure because not everything worked perfectly, but in my mind, this was an opportunity under non-stress conditions to find out what we need to do to ensure that things will work,” Rein said.

A goal of this project, known as the State Line Delivery Pilot Reservoir Release, was to see if the water could be “shepherded” downstream without senior water-rights holders diverting the extra water. This required Division 5 water commissioners to actively administer some headgates, especially on Homestake Creek and the Eagle River.

According to the report, the water took about 2½ days to make the journey from the reservoir to the gage on the Colorado River near Cameo — about 16 hours longer than predicted by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. Along the way, about 10% of the water either evaporated or was soaked up by thirsty streamside soils and vegetation — processes known collectively as transit loss.

Making sure water could get to the state line would be essential in the case of a compact call.

This scenario, the chances of which increase as climate change continues to reduce river flows, could occur if the upper-basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) can’t deliver the 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower-basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada), as required by a nearly century-old binding agreement.

A compact call could be especially problematic for Front Range water providers since most of their rights that let them divert water over the Continental Divide from the Western Slope date to after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. That means mandatory cutbacks in water use could fall more heavily on the post-compact water rights of Front Range water providers.

Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water, operating together as Homestake Partners, said the problem was that the rate of release was too low. It was more a matter of flow volume than administration. Even in a dry year, a release of 175 cfs was not high enough to reliably track the water, especially when it reaches the Colorado River, which has a much higher volume of water than Homestake Creek or the Eagle River, and the reservoir release is a smaller fraction of its overall flow.

In an email to Aspen Journalism, Homestake Partners said: “A bigger pulse of water would overcome some of the issues that DWR had in tracking the release. This sort of result is exactly what we wanted to explore — it tells us that if we, or anyone else in the state, chooses to make a state line release in the future, a higher volume of water will probably need to be released to be reliably tracked.”

State engineers also had to deal with a river that was constantly in flux. Upstream reservoir releases and changes to irrigation diversions made for additional challenges.

State officials said it was hard to separate the reservoir release from the rest of the Colorado River’s flow at the state line because of numerous ungaged streams and return flows from irrigation that enter the river between Palisade and the state line.

“The ungaged inflows could not be subtracted from the total flow in the river, therefore the separated flows were too large and did not allow for the initial waves of the reservoir release to be identified,” officials said in an email.

The total flows at the state line at the time of the reservoir release’s arrival were around 2,500 cfs, according to DWR.

The total flows at the state line at the time of the reservoir release’s arrival were around 2,500 cfs, according to DWR.

River District concerns

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, which protects Western Slope water interests, had several concerns about the reservoir release.

“I think it’s important that the public and the state recognize that they released 1,600 acre-feet of water during an incredibly dry period and they couldn’t actually track it to the state line,” said River District general manager Andy Mueller.

But Mueller’s concerns go beyond the trouble with tracking. He said the state engineer did not reach out to Western Slope water users who had the potential to be injured by the release. He also doesn’t trust that the cities won’t just refill the hole created by the release with more Western Slope water.

The River District’s main concern is that in a water-collection system as complex as Homestake Partners — with several different transmountain diversions bringing water from the Western Slope to the Front Range — it’s hard for the state to make sure they won’t take more water to replace the pool they released.

“From our perspective, it’s very difficult for the state to verify that they haven’t just brought the water over from a different part of their diversion system,” Mueller said. “So it leaves us with a lot of skepticism, and we voiced that in several discussions.”

To address some of these concerns, the cities are required to submit a verification plan to the state to prove three things: that they had enough space available in reservoirs on the east side of the divide to store the water, and they weren’t just releasing water downstream they couldn’t use anyway; that they actually decreased water taken through the Homestake Tunnel by the same amount as the pilot release; and that they didn’t create additional space in Homestake Reservoir to allow for greater storage this year.

“In essence, we brought the ‘hole’ we created in our storage in Homestake Reservoir through to the East Slope when we operated the tunnel in February and March,” the Homestake Partners’ email reads. “This was accomplished by not drawing down Homestake Reservoir quite as much as we otherwise could have this winter in preparation for spring runoff.”

Homestake Creek flows from Homestake Reservoir near Red Cliff. A pilot reservoir release to test how to get water to the state line in the event of a Colorado River Compact Call proved hard to track for state engineers.
CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Demand management

The reservoir release also could have implications for a potential demand-management program, the feasibility of which the state is currently investigating. At the heart of a demand- management program is a reduction in water use on a temporary, voluntary and compensated basis in an effort to send as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water downstream to Lake Powell to bolster water levels in the giant reservoir — which spans Utah and Arizona — and, indirectly, to meet Colorado River Compact obligations.

Under such a program, agricultural water users could get paid to temporarily fallow fields and leave more water in the river. Front Range water providers could participate by releasing water stored in Western Slope reservoirs.

Rein was careful to say that the Homestake pilot release was in no way connected to demand management. Still, the experiment may have revealed potential problem areas should a demand-management program become reality.

“The ability to track water that is conserved consumptive use all the way to the state line is really critical for the success of that program,” Mueller said. “And if you can’t track a slug of 1,600 acre-feet of water to the state line, how are you going to track the voluntary reduction in use of a small ditch on the West Slope that maybe they are saving 15 acre-feet?”

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with the Vail Daily and The Aspen Times. This story ran in the April 16 edition of the Vail Daily and The Aspen Times.

#SteamboatSprings City Council begins exploring #stormwater utility fee — Steamboat Pilot & Today

City of Steamboat Springs. Photo credit: American Rivers

From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Alison Berg):

As the city’s infrastructure grows older and federal and state governments increase their standards for environment and watershed health, the city’s general fund has faced a significant strain in trying to keep up, Steamboat Water Resourced Manager Kelly Romero-Heaney and Steamboat Public Works Director Jon Snyder told council members Tuesday…

The idea is still under consideration, but if council chose to move forward, Steamboat residents would pay a small fee that would go toward protecting water quality. While an exact amount has not been decided yet, Romero-Heaney said the fee would be less than what residents currently pay for water and sewer bills. Aspen and Silverthorne recently enacted a storm water utility fee, and Romero-Heaney said the city would likely look to those communities for guidance.

Tuesday was the first time council members discussed such a move, and their first step would be to hire a consultant to study whether or not the idea is feasible in Steamboat…

City staff estimated the consultant would cost between $50,000 and $100,000, which could either be included in the 2022 budget proposal, or if the council would like to move sooner, could be added as a supplemental ordinance to the 2021 budget…

Council members tabled the discussion until their July work session.

#ColoradoRiver Basin’s #snowpack season earns low grades: Bad news for water in the West #COriver #aridification

From The Washington Post (Becky Bollinger):

The lack of water worsens drought conditions, fire potential and could impact agriculture

The snowpack season is ending in the Colorado River Basin as the spring melt is underway. If we take stock of the water supply over this vast basin, a critical resource for millions of people in the West, the news is not good.

The snowpack season, so important for the storage of water that can be tapped during the dry summer months, fell well short of expectations. The consequences of the shortfall for the basin, encompassing Arizona and parts of six other states, from Wyoming to California, are major.

1. There is an increased risk for large wildfires that can devastate state and national forests, reduce summer recreation activities, compromise air quality for large areas of the country and put populations near the urban-forest intersections in danger.

2. The reduced water supply affects municipal and agricultural water users not only within the basin’s 246,000 square miles, but also outside it, including Denver, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.

3. Prolonged drought could ultimately affect food supply, causing reductions in crop yields and livestock herds.

To put this season in perspective, I’ve made a report card of the various indicators of snowpack to illustrate why the low grades are so serious.

The snowpack itself: C

The snowpack picture seemed promising at times in recent months, especially in February when several storms unloaded hefty snows. Even now, some late season snow in the northern part of the basin is working in some extra credit. But it’s not enough.

At the headwaters of the Colorado River, the snowpack peaked on April 2, about 10 days ahead of average. Since then, more than two inches of water have melted. In fact, since the beginning of April, the majority of stations in the upper Colorado River basin have seen melt rates between 2 and 6 inches. When the snowpack peaks and melts early it often portends a lower water supply during the dry season.

The progression of snow water equivalent, an indicator of snowpack, in 2021 in the Colorado River Basin compared to other years. (Natural Resources Conservation Service)

Indeed, throughout the entire Colorado River Basin, snowpack values peaked at levels well below average. From the Upper Green Basin in Wyoming and south through Utah and Colorado, many locations peaked in the bottom 25th percentile.

Snow water equivalent percentiles, an indicator of snowpack, as of early April (Natural Resources Conservation Service)

Soils: F

Soils have been the problem child since the very beginning of the water season, when the summer-fall monsoon was essentially a no-show.

If the monsoon had provided the needed moisture in June-September to the lower part of the basin and the southern portion of the upper basin, healthy soils would have been locked in during the cold season. But without the monsoon moisture, the basin went into the snowy part of the season with dry soil, essentially saddling the water supply with a debt that is far from being repaid.

Map credit: USGS

Streams: D

Stream flow data doesn’t look too bad at the moment. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the percent of the upper part of the basin observing near normal flow conditions has actually increased from 21 percent to 42 percent. But don’t let that deceive you.

Late in the water season, streams often appear to be doing better than they actually are. So, what’s happening?

(U. S. Geological Survey)

Check out the hydrograph (above) from the Colorado River at the Colorado-Utah state line. The black line shows the average flow in recent months, compared with historical values (indicated by the colored shading).

Back at the beginning of March, flows were in the brown shading, ranking in the bottom 10th percentile. More recently, you can see that flows have bumped up to the yellow category, slightly improved from the brown. But this bump is mainly due to an early rise toward the peak. That early rise has been kicked off by early melting of the snow. The “improvement” is only an artifact of the early snow melt and will not be sustained.

Reservoirs: D

The water stored in reservoirs is akin to the output of a group project, contingent on the performance of its contributors. Since snow quantities, soil moisture and streams underachieved, reservoirs also end up with a low grade.

Water Supply Outlook April 1, 2021 via the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center

According to the April 1 water supply forecast, published by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, all of the Colorado River Basin will experience below-average water supply.

Across the Lower Colorado River, water supply accumulations began in January and most of the snow has completely melted. For the Lower Basin and southern half of the Upper Basin, water supplies are expected to be below 50 percent of average. Lake Powell inflows are forecast at 38 percent of average, a deficit of almost 4 million acre-feet! For perspective, current levels are already 6 million acre-feet below what they should be right now.

Further north, the forecast is marginally better, with water supply expected to be between 50 and 70 percent.

These low forecasts are largely based on less than stellar snowpack conditions, but dry soil moisture conditions at the beginning of the season are also considered. According to Cody Moser of the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, antecedent soil moisture conditions can make a 5 to 10 percent difference in predicted runoff.

Lake Powell water supply 1999 to 2019.

Lake Powell, which represents the majority of the Upper Colorado River Basin’s water supply, has still not recovered from the drought in the early 2000s. It takes more hits from each new drought. The system had a nice recovery from the 2018 drought, but still hasn’t made up lost ground from another drought in 2012-2013. Unfortunately, we’ll put 2021 down as another year to further deplete this system.

Becky Bolinger is the assistant state climatologist for Colorado and a research scientist at Colorado State University.

With First-Ever #ColoradoRiver Shortage Almost Certain, States Stare Down Mandatory Cutbacks — KUNC #COriver #aridification

In a photo from 2020, a distinct line around the rocky shore shows how much the water level has decreased in Nevada’s Lake Mead. Mead is expected to drop 15 feet in 2021 Photo credit: Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The latest Bureau of Reclamation reservoir projections, which take into account river flows in a given year, show a likelihood that Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada stateline will dip below the critical threshold of 1,075 feet in elevation in May and remain below that level for the foreseeable future.

A first-ever official shortage declaration from the Department of the Interior is almost certain later this year. According to the terms of a 2007 agreement, a shortage is declared by the Interior Secretary after consulting with water users in the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada. An August report is used to forecast when Lake Mead will be below 1,075 feet at the start of a calendar year.

Extreme to exceptional drought conditions have blanketed more than 75% of the river’s upper watershed for more than eight months. The majority of the river’s water comes from high mountain snowpack in Colorado and Wyoming. Both states are dealing with drought of varying degrees of severity.

“Current conditions resemble 2002, 2012, 2013 and the beginning of 2018, four out of the five driest years on record,” the Bureau of Reclamation report notes.

The Colorado River’s two biggest reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, have been unable to recover from sustained hot and dry conditions for the last 21 years, a phenomenon scientists link to human-induced climate change. Warmer temperatures have increased the amount of evaporation from streams and reservoirs, raised demand for water in forests and on crop fields, and changed precipitation from snow to rain. Snow acts as a large, frozen reservoir that melts slowly over months, while rain is harder to capture and dole out to farmers, cities and other users.

Top water officials in Arizona and southern California say they are prepared for the coming cutbacks to their water supplies. If the dry conditions hold, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico could take increasingly steep cuts to what they’re allowed to divert from the river. California could also see its river allocation restricted if the declines continue.

The basin has flirted with a shortage declaration for the last decade but has been aided by short-term boosts in snowpack, coordinated releases of water between Lakes Powell and Mead, and voluntary conservation by Lower Basin water users. Arizona, Nevada and Mexico have already been curtailed due to restrictions laid out in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. A shortage declaration will make those cutbacks even steeper.

In response to the latest projections, the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources issued a joint statement. In it, the agencies assure users the state’s top water officials had been anticipating the news.

“The study, while significant, is not a surprise,” the statement reads. “It reflects the impacts of the dry and warm conditions across the Colorado River Basin this year, as well as the effects of a prolonged drought that has impacted the Colorado River water supply.”

Jeff Kightlinger, general manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said in a statement the watershed so far has been able to avoid a shortage declaration because of voluntary conservation efforts. But climate change is deepening the Colorado River’s supply and demand imbalance to the point where mandatory cutbacks are coming.

Water Supply Outlook April 1, 2021 via the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center

@USBR and partners manage through consecutive years of #drought #RioGrande

Rio Grande upstream near Montano, NM. Photo credit: USBR

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Mary Carlson):

The Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their Annual Operating Plan for the Rio Grande [April 15, 2021] showing below average runoff for the second year in a row.

The amount of water in the snowpack (snow water equivalent) measured in the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado feeding the river basin is below average and a below average spring runoff is expected for the Rio Grande in New Mexico. Most reservoirs on the Rio Chama, Rio Grande, and Pecos River are holding between 10% and 50% of their capacity heading into the irrigation season. In addition, the amount of moisture in the soil right now is extremely low, compounded by high temperatures, so much of the melting snow may be absorbed or evaporate before it reaches rivers.

“We continue to learn more about the Rio Grande and Pecos and the species that rely on them as we manage through extended drought in the region,” said Albuquerque Area Manager Jennifer Faler. “We are in close coordination with water and species management partners to ensure we make the best decisions for all water users and for the health of the rivers in a tough year like this.”

At the end of March, snow water equivalent was 88% of average for the Rio Chama Basin, 111% of average for the Upper Rio Grande Basin, 72% for the Sangre de Cristos, and 65% for the Jemez. Based on these values, the Natural Resources Conservation Service streamflow forecast issued for the month of April predicts that the Rio Chama flow into the El Vado Reservoir will be at 52% of its average, with an inflow of about 116,000 acre-feet of water.

Information from Annual Operating Plan:

  • Under current Rio Grande Compact storage restrictions triggered by low storage at downstream reservoirs, water can only be stored in El Vado for the Prior and Paramount lands of the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District began irrigation on April 1, a month later than usual, with the natural flow of the Rio Grande.
  • Due to the expected low runoff, lack of water in storage, as well as a minimal supply of water for Reclamation to lease to supplement river flows, there—s a possibility that the Albuquerque reach of the Rio Grande could experience some drying this summer along with sections of the river in the Isleta and San Acacia reaches.
    • Reclamation is coordinating with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rescue fish from drying portions of the river and coordinating with partners to use the limited supply of water most effectively.
  • Rio Grande Project usable storage is currently about 245,000 acre-feet and is expected to peak at about 350,000 acre-feet before declining as irrigation releases start.
    • The irrigation season is scheduled to begin with releases from Elephant Butte Reservoir in early May and Caballo Reservoir in late May.
    • The dry riverbed between Elephant Butte and Caballo and below Caballo will take on water quickly. As such, it will be both unpredictable and dangerous and the public is asked to exercise caution around the river channel. Water levels will fluctuate through the rest of the short irrigation season.
  • On the Pecos River, basin-wide snow water equivalent was 57% of average on March 31, and the NRCS predicted 16,200 acre-feet of inflow to Santa Rosa Reservoir from March to July.
    • Reclamation is using a more conservative estimate for inflow, and the Carlsbad Irrigation District has only allocated 0.38 feet per acre, one of its lowest allocations ever.

The Annual Operating Plan public meetings were held virtually this year in accordance with federal and state health guidelines. Those who were not able to attend the meetings can still view the presentation on Reclamation—s website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/DocLibrary/Plans/MiddleRioGrande/20210415-MiddleRioGrandeAnnualOperatingPlan_508.pdf or contact Mary Carlson at mcarlson@usbr.gov.

2021 Annual Operating Plan? April 1 Runoff Forecast

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

Water can be wrung out too much — Writers on the Range

From Writers on the Range (Denise Fort):

Santa Fe, New Mexico, once was sustained by the waters of the Santa Fe River, which begins in the high country of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, flows through the city and then onward to the Rio Grande.

But when Western cities grow, they look everywhere for more water, with little regard for the rivers they drain. As the city’s population grew, Santa Fe turned to its groundwater. Later, New Mexico reached across the desert to take water from the Colorado River and deliver it to Santa Fe, Albuquerque and other beneficiaries on the Rio Grande.

And yet the Santa Fe River downstream was not reduced to a dry and dusty arroyo. In fact, the riverbed is relatively verdant, supporting cottonwoods, willows and sustaining some irrigation in communities downstream. That moisture helps make Santa Fe a beautiful place in the desert.

That’s because the water that Santa Fe residents use to flush their toilets or pour down the drain ultimately makes its way to the wastewater treatment plant, which returns the treated water to the Santa Fe River. That could soon change.

The city’s water bureaucrats have fastened on the idea of capturing some of that treated effluent, either to get additional “return flow” credits by returning it to the Rio Grande, or by moving to direct potable reuse, a process derided in California as “toilet to tap.”

But both of these proposals will also take water out of the Santa Fe River, affecting downstream irrigators, wildlife and even the cultural identity of the region.

As climate change tightens its grip on the arid West, water managers are focusing on wastewater as a source of “new” water for cities. It’s hard to blame them: Municipalities don’t need new water rights in order to reuse treated effluent.

Communities dump their treated sewage into rivers, and downstream users draw that water, treat it, and send it to residents’ homes. Orange County and Irvine Ranch in California are pioneers in recycling wastewater. The Bureau of Reclamation now administers a fund for water-reuse projects, and the Environmental Protection Agency has made it a national priority.

There’s another strategy that Western cities like Santa Fe are exploiting to make use of their wastewater. Instead of sending all of the treated wastewater back into the potable water supply, Santa Fe plans to send some of its wastewater to the Rio Grande via a $20 million pipeline. This would give the city the right to pump additional water from the Rio Grande. Regardless of how the city proceeds, the Santa Fe River will end up losing some of the water that provides for its existence.

Never forget that Western water law was set up to serve users, not rivers. And under Western states’ laws, cities own their treated sewage, meaning they can use it or sell it downstream as they wish. In fact, wastewater is such a reliable supply that it gets top value at Western water auctions.

Santa Fe’s webpages overflow with the community’s commitment to sustainability. But these values were disregarded in the city’s focus on squeezing more water out of the system for a growing populace.

Wastewater has other values and uses, though. How do we draw attention to them? A report by the National Wildlife Federation, the Pacific Institute and the Meadows Institute warns that reusing water can inadvertently “starve natural systems of needed flows and potentially reduce water available to communities downstream.”

Instead, the groups urge planners to “incorporate actions to protect (and where possible, enhance) river flows downstream for the benefit of people and the environment” https://pacinst.org/publication/healthy-waterways/.

By now, years of battles over Western water should have taught water managers that while people value reliable water supplies, they also value living rivers, small farms, historic communities and recreation. The report urges water managers to consult with the public before making decisions. It also lays out a blueprint for incorporating the value of living rivers, as well as addressing water supply.

Wringing more use from water, even wastewater, is a powerful tool in addressing water scarcity. But just like the dams, pipelines and other tools of the Cadillac Desert era, wastewater ought to be approached with respect for all of its values. The proponents of water reuse need to acknowledge this.

Denise Fort is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to lively conversation about the West. She is professor emerita at the University of New Mexico School of Law and has co-authored three reports for the National Academies on water reuse.

Vail melt is upon us after snow-water peak occurs in March this season — The #Vail Daily #ColoradoRiver #COrver #aridification

From The Vail Daily (John LoConte):

Readings top out 3.5 weeks earlier than average

Vail Mountain has seen quite a melt over the last two weeks, and snow telemetry data shows the area snow water equivalent to have peaked on March 31.

While there’s more moisture on the way, it’s unlikely to push the readings on the Vail Mountain snow telemetry site back over the March 31 recordings at Vail, said Eagle River Water and Sanitation District spokesperson Diane Johnson.

The Vail Mountain site is located at an elevation of 10,300 feet, and peaked March 31 at 14.6 inches of water within the snowpack, known as snow water equivalent.

The March 31 peak at 14.6 inches is 65% of normal peak SWE and 3.5 weeks ahead of the normal April 25 peak, Johnson said.

Johnson said while the rain and snow in the forecast is very welcome given the conditions, “it’s unlikely to affect the peak since Vail has already dropped so much.”

The April 12 reading on Vail Mountain is 11.5 inches, down 3.1 inches in two weeks…

Copper Mountain’s SWE peaked April 2, nearly four weeks ahead of its normal April 28 peak. The site recorded 12.4 inches of water within the snowpack, which is 80% of its normal peak. The Copper Mountain snow telemetry site is at 10,550 feet and is the closest official measurement site to the headwaters of Gore Creek, which runs through Vail Village.

At Fremont Pass, which is the site closest to the headwaters of the Eagle River, an April 5 reading shows 13.4 inches of water within the snowpack, which could be the peak, although it’s still too early to tell, Johnson said. The April 12 reading at Fremont Pass shows 13.2 inches…

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District says the extreme drought which started in August 2020 is likely to continue into this summer.

Low flows on #DoloresRiver will hurt fish — The #Cortez Journal #snowpack #runoff

Dolores River snowpack
April 16, 2021 via the NRCS.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Below-average snowpack and ongoing drought will hurt flows and fish habitat below McPhee Dam going into spring and summer, reports Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Water releases from the dam are expected to be under 15 cubic feet per second and could possibly drop as low as 3 cfs, said Jim White, a CPW aquatic biologist, in a April 14 news release.

During normal snowpack years, McPhee Reservoir fills, and the allocated fish pool allows for a sustained dam release of 60 cfs in summer.

Fish flows increase if snowpack runoff exceeds reservoir capacity, which prompts a recreational boating release. But a recreational water release will not happen this year because of below average snowpack and low reservoir carryover from last water season.

As of April 13, Snotels in the Dolores Basin reported 39% of average snowpack for snow water equivalent.

Trout and native fish will be adversely impacted by the water shortage below the dam, White said.

The 12-mile section of river that flows through the Lone Dome State Wildlife Area from below the dam to Bradfield Bridge is a popular tail-water fishery. Most trout fishing is done within the first 6 miles.

White said the lower flows will shrink the river habitat, and many brown and rainbow trout likely will die. The water coming out of the dam is about 42 degrees Fahrenheit, which is an ideal temperature for trout. But with such a low flow the water will warm quickly as it moves downstream…

Roundtail chub

The low flows will also affect native fish that live in the lower reaches of the Dolores River ─ the flannelmouth sucker, the bluehead sucker and the roundtail chub. The fish, listed by CPW as species of concern, have adapted to warm water, but they still need pools and flowing water to survive.

White is concerned about lower sections of the river drying up or being connected by only tiny rivulets of water.

Making the problem worse is the smallmouth bass, an invasive non-native fish that thrives in the lower Dolores River but preys on young native fish. Anglers are encouraged to fish for smallmouth bass; they are abundant, fairly easy to catch, tasty and have no bag or possession limit.

As drought continues to grip the West, more and more rivers will face the same scenario — this year and beyond.

“All of this is a result of three things: low snowpack, dry soil that will absorb runoff and no carryover water in the reservoir from last year,” White said.

Dolores River watershed

Why do #water managers pay such close attention to the 24-Month #ColoradoRiver Study? — Central #Arizona Project #COriver

Here’s the release from the Central Arizona Project (DeEtte Person):

A linked lifeline

Colorado River water managers, like CAP, rely upon operating guidelines related to the amount of water stored in the two major Colorado River Basin Reservoirs – Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The operating guidelines determine how much water will be released from those reservoirs to meet water-user needs. The two reservoirs are operated under a system called conjunctive management, meaning the storage conditions in one reservoir affect the releases in the other. Since 2007, the 24-Month Study has been used to implement the operational decisions directed by the guidelines.

How Lake Powell and Lake Mead are designed to rise and fall together

The two largest water supply reservoirs in the United States are part of the Colorado River system—Lake Mead at the Arizona/Nevada border and Lake Powell at the Arizona/Utah border. These two reservoirs are linked by the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and provide about 90 percent of the system’s storage capacity, supplying seven states and Mexico with water.

The enormous storage capacity in these two reservoirs has provided the resiliency to continue Colorado River water supply deliveries during more than two decades of drought. The two lakes also provide vital, clean, renewable hydroelectricity used across the western United States, as well as environmental and recreational benefits.

Conjunctive Management

In order to operate the Colorado River system efficiently and make optimal use of the available storage in these vital reservoirs, the operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead are coordinated, known as conjunctive management. In fact, conjunctive management is required by the Colorado River Basin Project Act, which was signed more than 50 years ago to provide a program for the comprehensive development and augmentation of the Colorado River supplies throughout the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basins.

One important goal of coordinated long-term management of these reservoirs is to maintain “as nearly as practicable” equal contents of active storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Lake Mead has about 28 million acre feet (MAF) of storage and Lake Powell can store about 26 MAF. One acre foot can serve three families for a year – so you can see that’s a lot of water!

Shortage Sharing

In 2005, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior directed the Bureau of Reclamation to develop additional strategies for improving the coordinated management of these two reservoirs. The goal was to honor the intent of the Colorado River Basin Project Act, while sharing the water between the Upper (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and Lower (Arizona, California and Nevada) Basins during times of lower reservoir levels. The result was the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead, known as the 2007 Guidelines. These guidelines remain in effect through Dec. 31, 2025.

How It Works – 4 Scenarios

The essence of this coordinated approach is that releases and reductions will be coordinated to share risks to water users in each basin. Detailed descriptions and definitions can be found in the 2007 Guidelines, but here is the cheat sheet explaining four basic scenarios:

Normal Supply – If storage and risks are relatively equal in both reservoirs, then Lake Powell will release a “normal” supply to Lake Mead. “Normal Supply” is a release of 8.23 MAF.

Equalization – When runoff is high and inflows into Lake Powell raise the lake’s elevation, increasing the storage level, more water is released to flow down the river to Lake Mead in an attempt to “equalize” Lake Powell’s storage with Lake Mead’s, through what is termed “Equalization.”

Balancing Release – If Lake Powell gains storage while Lake Mead is at risk of shortage triggers, additional water will be released from Lake Powell to “balance” risks between the two reservoirs in what is termed a “Balancing Release.”

Mid-elevation release – If Lake Powell is at risk of approaching critically low elevations while Lake Mead is at a more moderate risk, less water is released from Lake Powell to Lake Mead in what is termed a “Mid-elevation release.”
These operating criteria serve to meet the goals of coordinated operations between Lake Powell and Lake Mead, so the storage in both reservoirs generally rise and fall together. Through the coordinated operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, we become one basin – sharing risks and opportunities – linked by two great reservoirs.

Directors Reappointed to Southeastern District Board

John F. Kennedy at Commemoration of Fryingpan Arkansas Project in Pueblo, circa 1962.

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

Five Directors were reappointed to the Board of Directors of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and were sworn in on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

Reappointed are: Seth Clayton, Executive Director of Pueblo Water, representing Pueblo County, and Secretary of the Board; Andrew Colosimo, Government Affairs Manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, representing El Paso County; Greg Felt, Chaffee County Commissioner and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Carl McClure, a Crowley County farmer; and Howard “Bub” Miller, an Otero County farmer and rancher.

The Southeastern District is the state agency responsible for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Fry-Ark Project includes Pueblo Reservoir, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Reservoir, Mount Elbert Forebay and Power Plant at Twin Lakes, Ruedi Reservoir, a West Slope Collection System, and the Boustead Tunnel.

The Fry-Ark Project is designed to import 69,200 acre-feet annually for use by cities and farms in the Arkansas River basin from the Fryingpan River watershed near Basalt. Fry-Ark Operating Principles list environmental conditions that must be met when water is diverted.

The District also operates the James W. Broderick Hydropower Plant at Pueblo Dam, which was completed in 2019 under a Lease of Power Privilege with Reclamation.

The District is working with Reclamation to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a pipeline that will deliver a clean source of drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

The District includes parts of nine counties, and has 15 directors who are appointed to 4-year terms by a panel of District Court judges.

Other directors of the Board are: President Bill Long, Bent County; Vice-President Curtis Mitchell, El Paso County; Treasurer Ann Nichols, El Paso County; Pat Edelmann and Mark Pifher, El Paso County; Patrick Garcia and Alan Hamel, Pueblo County; Tom Goodwin, Fremont County; Kevin Karney, at-large; and Dallas May, Prowers and Kiowa Counties.

#Drought continues to plague #Colorado raising concerns about ag water supplies — The Kiowa County Press #snowpack #runoff

From The Kiowa County Press (Chis Sorensen):

While much of Colorado has seen drought improvement since the start of the water year on October 1, 2020, extreme and exception conditions still cover much of western Colorado. Large portions of the rest of the state are experiencing severe and moderate drought conditions.

According to the latest report from the National Drought Mitigation Center, drought in Colorado was unchanged from the previous two weeks. Only minimal changes were noted three weeks ago when some improvements were recorded in the San Luis Valley, and a narrow strip in the southwest corner of the state that moved from exceptional to extreme drought.

Colorado Drought Monitor April 13, 2021.

In mid-March, a series of storms brought drought improvements for parts of Colorado, though little additional moisture has been received since that time.

Current snow water equivalent is well below normal for most Colorado river drainage basins. The South Platte basin in northeast Colorado, at 92 percent of normal, is the best in the state, while the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin in the state’s southwest corner has fallen to 61 percent. The adjacent Gunnison basin fairs little better at 64 percent. Remaining basins range from 70 to 84 percent.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 15, 2021 via the NRCS.

Statewide, the snow water equivalent – the measure of available water in the snow as it melts – stood at 73 percent of the median as of April 14, down from 79 percent April 9.

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service noted concerns about reduced irrigation water supplies this season in northeast Colorado, while some producers in the San Luis Valley began irrigating last week. One report in the Valley expressed a possibility that fewer barley acres are being planted due to water supply concerns.

Overall, eight percent of Colorado is abnormally dry. Moderate drought covers 31 percent of the state, while severe conditions account for an additional 30 percent. Extreme drought is present in 17 percent of Colorado, with 15 percent in exceptional conditions. Total does not equal 100 due to rounding.

#RoaringForkRiver on its way to 100 more acre-feet of flows – @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The Roaring Fork River near Mill Street in Aspen in June 2020. An intergovernmental agreement between Pitkin County and the City of Aurora aims to leave 100 acre-feet more in the river that would otherwise be diverted to the Front Range.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Pitkin County on Wednesday inched a bit closer to having an additional 100 acre-feet of water flow down the Roaring Fork River with the approval of an intergovernmental agreement and memorandum of understanding.

Pitkin County commissioners unanimously approved on first reading the IGA with the city of Aurora and the MOU between the county, Aurora and the Bureau of Reclamation. The agreements are the final step in a yearslong effort by the county to get more water into the often water-short upper Roaring Fork by means of a complicated exchange.

As part of a 2018 settlement of a water court case, Aurora is allowed, in exchange for leaving more water in the Roaring Fork, to continue diverting water out of the headwaters of the Fryingpan River basin to the Front Range through the Busk-Ivanhoe system.

This can be done because Aurora owns about 5% of the diversions of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company, the entity that owns and operates the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System.

The IGA and MOU bring the total amount of water to be left by Aurora in the Roaring Fork to 1,000 acre-feet. That amount is about half of the water that Aurora owns in the Twin Lakes company.

Pitkin County’s goal was to get more water into the habitually stressed reach of the Roaring Fork that flows through Aspen during the summer and fall. Aurora has released water into the Roaring Fork for the past two summers under this settlement agreement.

“It was definitely noticeable by users of the river, and they were excited,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper. “It worked exactly like we wanted it to work, and the fact that we were able to draw this water when we needed it most was really a key point in this whole deal.”

But the extra water in the Roaring Fork could be diverted and used by any downstream senior water-rights holder. The new agreements would allow Aurora — which still maintains ownership of the water, even though it’s being released to the benefit of Pitkin County — to “call” the water down to the confluence of the Roaring Fork with the Fryingpan in Basalt. This water could then be used to satisfy downstream water users, who usually meet demands by releasing water they store in Ruedi Reservoir.

Leaving this water, up to 900 acre-feet, stored in Ruedi would allow Aurora to take half that amount (up to 450 acre-feet) from Ivanhoe Reservoir and send it to the Front Range for municipal use. Pitkin County would be entitled to about a quarter of the water (up to 100 acre-feet), which Aurora would release back into the Roaring Fork, bringing the complicated exchange full circle.

Ivanhoe Reservoir in the upper Fryingpan River headwaters serves as a collection point for water about to be sent through the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel. Through a complicated exchange the City of Aurora will continue to divert water from this point, but leave more water in the Roaring Fork River.
CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH / ASPEN JOURNALISM

Benefits to using Fork water

There are secondary benefits to using Aurora’s water released into the Roaring Fork to satisfy downstream needs and leaving stored water in Ruedi, said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely. Fewer releases from Ruedi means reservoir levels can stabilize, and it would be better for anglers in the Fryingpan’s gold-medal trout fishery.

“You won’t see as many surges of water being released from Ruedi down the lower Fryingpan, making it more difficult for fishermen to access the river,” Ely said. “Those three benefits alone are pretty good scores for us.”

Ely said with the additional 100 acre-feet on top of the earlier agreement already in effect, there could be an extra 20 to 30 cubic feet per second of water flowing down the Roaring Fork, making it possible to run the Slaughterhouse rapid later in the season, among other benefits.

“I think if we are going to get 20 cfs on top of that, that saves the life of the upper Roaring Fork,” said Commissioner Greg Poschman. “I am really, really grateful and excited to see this happen.”

The IGA will have a second reading and final approval by commissioners on April 28. The agreement will allow the governments to move ahead with a storage contract and water-court filing to execute the exchange.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the April 15 edition of The Aspen Times.

#Drought news (April 15, 2021): “Crop condition reports that counties in the D3 and D4 regions are ‘heading into their worst water year ever for irrigators with the potential for large amounts of acres left fallowed'”

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

Last week’s storm system brought heavy rain and thunderstorms to much of the central and eastern U.S., bringing drought condition improvements to parts of the Midwest and eastern Plains. Meanwhile, warm, dry conditions persisted in the West and New England, resulting in deteriorating conditions. Parts of the Southwest are now experiencing record levels of dryness for the last 12 months. In New England, year-to-date precipitation ranks in the top 10 driest on record…

High Plains

The High Plains generally saw cooler than normal temperatures and widespread precipitation over the last week. Locally heavy amounts of rainfall (more than 2 inches) helped erase long moisture deficits in eastern South Dakota and southeastern North Dakota, resulting in improvements to moderate drought. In the remainder of the region, precipitation wasn’t enough to prevent worsening conditions. Moderate drought (D1) expanded in South Dakota and extreme drought (D3) expanded in both North and South Dakota to reflect the growing moisture deficits and its effect on soil moisture. Agricultural field reports indicate planters are being idled, except in the southeastern corner of the state, and cattle are being culled…

West

Once again this week, much of the West remained dry. Where precipitation did fall, in the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies, it either missed the drought-inflicted areas or wasn’t enough to overcome shortages. The only exception was in north-central Wyoming and southern Montana, where last week’s snowfall lessened precipitation deficits and improved streamflow and soil moisture resulting in a one-category improvement to drought. In eastern Washington, D0 (abnormally dryness), D1 (moderate) and D2 (severe) drought expanded as precipitation deficits continued to increase, drying out soils and lowering streamflow. Conditions once again deteriorated in Oregon this week with expansions in D2, D3 (extreme) and D4 (exceptional drought). The warm, dry winter added to deficits that had been in place for more than a year, leaving soils extremely dry and limiting runoff. Crop condition reports that counties in the D3 and D4 regions are “heading into their worst water year ever for irrigators with the potential for large amounts of acres left fallowed.” Little to no water for irrigation is expected for Upper Klamath Lake this year. Similarly, drought also expanded in Idaho where a lack of precipitation for almost two months has limited runoff, resulted in earlier than normal snowmelt and put short-term precipitation below the 10th percentile at many locations. Drought conditions also expanded in northern and central California. Another week without rainfall has continued to build upon longer deficits. Cooperative Extension notes that the majority of the season’s creeks aren’t flowing and that stock ponds are still dry. Decreases in water allocation and reduced or negligible forage are causing producers to respond by culling and selling herds. Drought conditions are also prompting Cal Fire to bring in fire crews earlier in the season. Other changes to this week’s map include an expansion of D1 in western Wyoming, and D1, D2 and D3 in eastern Montana reflect the lack of precipitation over the last two to three months and its effect on soil moisture and streamflow. In the Southwest, D4 was expanded over southeast Arizona as another week of hot, dry weather showed its impact on streamflow, soil moisture, and vegetation. It’s worth noting that high temperatures ranged from 10 to 20 degrees above normal last week and that many areas are now at record dry levels for the past 12 months…

South

Showers and thunderstorms across the South last week led to slight improvements to D0 (abnormally dry) and/or D1 (moderate drought) in Louisiana and East Texas. While the rain helped some, shortages still exist at 60 to 90 days. Having missed out on the rainfall, conditions continued to deteriorate in south-central Oklahoma and in North, South and West Texas, where another week of warm, dry weather continued to build long-term deficits and further dried out soils…

Looking Ahead

The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center forecast for the next five days (April 15-19) shows slow moving storm systems affecting large parts of the Lower 48. This storm is expected to bring cold temperatures and late season snows across the Northern Plains, Central Rockies and Northern Great Basin. In the Southwest, dry weather combined with gusty winds is expected to persist, leading to an elevated fire risk. In contrast, the Lower Mississippi Valley and eastern Gulf Coast states are expected to see heavy rainfall. Moving into next week, the Climate Prediction Center six to 10 day outlook (valid April 19-23) favors above normal temperatures across the West, Northeast and Southeast. Below normal temperatures are most likely across the Great Plains, Midwest and Mississippi Valley. Below normal precipitation is expected across much of the country with the exception of the Southern High Plains, Florida and New England.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending April 13, 2021.

Special Report: Colorado launches major new series of stream protections — @WaterEdCO

A fisherman casts his line on the Upper South Platte River. April 4, 2021. Credit: Zach Johnson

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

In 1973, Colorado broke new legal ground by establishing water rights solely for the protection of streams, fish and wildlife. Prior to that, water could be diverted only for things like farming, manufacturing and residential water use.

When the state moved to establish these environmental water rights, it was one of the first states in the American West to do so.

This year it will dramatically expand that ground-breaking effort as three new laws, passed in 2020, take effect. One involves the use of temporary water loans, a second adds protection for ranchers who divert water for cattle in stream segments where special environmental flows have been designated, removing an important obstacle to establishing new environmental flows, and a third creates a new tool for environmental flows once only available to cities and farmers.

Zane Kessler, director of public affairs for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, said the changes represent an important evolution in protecting environmental flows while balancing the needs of Colorado’s ranchers and cities with those of the environment.

“Good policy helps us evolve to meet changing needs and priorities over time,” Kessler said.

How the new laws work

The expanded temporary loan program authorizes emergency loans and allows loans of water for five years in three separate 10-year periods. Previously those same loans could be used only for three years in a single 10-year period.

This provides relief for several regions, including the Yampa River Basin, where an instream flow loan had been used to its fullest extent under the old law, even though drought has continued to harm the Yampa River. The new longer-running loan program will provide critical flows to the river.

The stock water law, though it doesn’t directly add water to streams, writes specific rancher protections into law, paving the way for more stream segments to be considered for the program.

And the third law, which advocates believe may have the most significant impact of the three, allows something known as an augmentation plan to incorporate environmental flows to help protect streams.

Advocates, such as the Colorado Water Trust, a nonprofit that spearheaded the new approach, say the tools can be used as templates across other river basins, where older water rights are already spoken for.

“In the long run, this could be more impactful,” said Kate Ryan, an attorney for the Colorado Water Trust.

Across Colorado nearly 40,000 miles of streams flow year-round and, as a result, have the potential to receive protection under the state’s Instream Flow Program. To date, the state has been able to establish environmental flows on nearly one-quarter of these, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which manages the program. The CWCB is the only entity legally allowed to hold these environmental water rights in Colorado.

Who gets to choose

Anyone can go to the CWCB and ask that it protect a certain stream segment, but whether it’s a member of the public, the U.S. Forest Service, or The Nature Conservancy, the entity must be able to show that there is enough water in the stream to support a new water right. They must also show that, by decreeing an instream flow on that segment, the stream’s existing conditions will be preserved or, where possible, improved.

To accomplish this, extensive engineering and measurements must be conducted. Once an instream flow case has been researched and documented, the state must go to a special water court to have the right legally established. The court must also hear any challenges that other water rights holders on the stream segment may raise if they fear their own water rights could be harmed. The process often takes several years to complete.

Linda Bassi oversees the Instream Flow Program for the CWCB.

“It’s difficult because there are a lot of competing interests for water,” Bassi said. “On some streams, if the state wants to obtain a water right to protect flows there are a lot of other entities with water rights that may feel threatened. Or there are other entities that might have plans to develop a water right on that same segment who are made uneasy by the fact that we are coming in to establish one [an instream flow water right].”

In Colorado, water rights follow what’s known as the Prior Appropriation Doctrine, or “first in time, first in right.”

That means that a water right claimed in, say, 1894 will get its water before one claimed in 1905 during periods of drought, when there isn’t enough water for everyone who has a right to water in a given stream.

A late start

Because the state environmental program was established 100 years after water users had claimed much of the water in the states’ rivers, the water rights the state has managed to claim are very young, or junior to other more senior rights. That means that in drought years, when they are needed the most, these rights frequently go unfulfilled.

As a result, the state has changed its laws to allow older, senior water rights to be loaned or donated to the state. When it has enough money, the state can actually purchase older water rights that are more likely to receive water during dry years.

When proponents of the 2020 expansion went to lawmakers in 2019 to seek support for the new laws, they faced significant opposition from agricultural interests and cities. It took months of negotiations to craft the bills that finally won near unanimous bipartisan support at the Colorado State Capitol in 2020.

An aerial view of the Colorado State Capitol. April 4, 2021. Credit: Zach Johnson

Getting to “yes”

The Colorado River District represents 15 Western Slope counties, many of which are heavily dependent on ranching. Historically any efforts to add new water rights for protecting streams have been viewed with deep skepticism.

This time was no different, Kessler said, but rural lawmakers were able to add enough protections into the new laws that the district’s board ultimately came out in support of the expansions.

One important measure gives the state engineer, Colorado’s top water regulator, the authority to oversee ranchers’ rights to their so-called stock water.

“During the winter months, ranchers with an irrigation water right [tied to] the summer season will often pull small amounts of water from the stream to keep their animals alive,” Kessler said. “With that [protection] in hand, we became a lot more malleable about how we approached the Instream Flow Program.”

A third part of the expansion, allowing the use of augmentation plans to restore environmental flows, could be among the most important part of the expansion effort, according to Ryan.

Farmers and cities have long used augmentation plans to repay the river when they divert out of turn. Now under the new law, this same tool can be used to help streams.

On the Front Range, for instance, the first environmental augmentation plan is getting ready to launch, with the cities of Fort Collins, Thornton and Greeley offering up water they own and already store under an existing augmentation plan. These “seed” flows will be added above various stretches on the Poudre River that dry up every year. As the new water flows downstream, it will restore habitat for fish and wildlife, and eventually travel down to a segment of the river that these cities are presently legally required to restore.

And though most environmental water deals require individual trips to water court, an expensive, time-consuming process, the new law allows existing augmentation plans to be used, which means proper quantities, times of diversion, and water right dates are already in place.

“There are those who believe that prior appropriation as it is practiced in Colorado is too rigid,” said Sean Chambers, Greeley’s water resources manager. “But I think this is an example of how we can use existing statues, tools and programs to meet the needs of municipalities, irrigators, agricultural interests, and the ecological and recreational needs of the river. And it’s a template that can be used in other [river] basins.”

Looking ahead

How many more miles of streams could still be protected under the Instream Flow Program isn’t clear, according to Bassi, because the state’s priorities and its ability to buy water rights change.

But every year there are victories.

For decades, fish experts believed that a certain line of endangered cutthroat trout known as the San Juan lineage cutthroat had been extinct. But then they discovered them in a remote part of the San Juan River Basin and, last year, the CWCB was able to establish an instream flow on a critical stream segment there, helping ensure the endangered fish will survive.

“Priorities change, whether it’s [water for] a gold medal fishery, which helps the recreation industry, or to protect a declining species. We don’t have a set quota. We’re just trying to help these organizations achieve their goals through our program,” Bassi said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

#Snowpack news (April 15, 2021): Hoping for another peak this week

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

Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin filled map for April 14, 2021.

Westwide SNOTEL basin filled map April 14, 2021 via the NRCS.

@Northern_Water Increases Colorado-Big Thompson Quota to 70% #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Moraine Park and the headwaters of the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park. Moraine Park is on the east side of the park and of the continental divide, near the town of Estes Park. This region has a number of areas call “parks”, which refer to open, level areas in the mountains, usage which comes from the French word parque. The names of these areas predate the establishment of the national park and are unrelated to the use of the word “park” in that context. By The original uploader was Kbh3rd at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1009783

From Northern Water:

Adequate native water supplies coupled with improved Front Range soil moisture from March snowstorms prompted the Northern Water Board of Directors to increase its 2021 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 70 percent.

The Board unanimously approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday, April 8, 2021, with several board members participating remotely because of the ongoing pandemic. The Board also directed Northern Water staff to update them in May and June to determine whether an additional allocation would be advisable during the peak demand season.

Emily Carbone, an engineer in the Water Resources Department at Northern Water, outlined snowpack and forecasted streamflows, and the Board also heard about the available native water supplies in regional reservoirs. In addition, the Board heard a presentation about the potential water resources impacts caused by the 2020 East Troublesome Fire. Public input was also considered.

The Board has been setting C-BT quota since 1957 and 70 percent is the most common quota declared. It was also the quota set for the 2019 water delivery season, while the 2020 quota was set at 80 percent. The quota reflects the amount of water to be delivered through the C-BT Project.

The quota increases available C-BT Project water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November. Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent census figures, more than 1 million residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries. To learn more about Northern Water and the C-BT quota, visit http://www.northernwater.org.

#ClimateChange and the #aridification of North America — PNAS

Click here to read the paper (Jonathan Overpeck and Bradley Udall). Here’s an excerpt:

Discussions of droughts and their impacts often center on the lack of precipitation, just as assessments of hydrologic impacts under a changing climate most often focus on how average precipitation in a given locale is likely to change in the future. Within climate science, however, focus has begun to include the growing role warming temperatures are playing as a potent driver of greater aridity: hotter climate extremes; drier soil conditions; more severe drought; and the impacts of hydrologic stress on rivers, forests, agriculture, and other systems. This shift in the hydrologic paradigm is most clear in the American Southwest, where declining flows in the region’s two most important rivers, the Colorado (Fig. 1) and Rio Grande, have been attributed in part to increasing temperatures caused by human activities, most notably the burning of fossil fuels. Warmer summers are also likely to reduce flows in the Columbia River, as well as in rivers along the Sierra Nevada in California. Now, an important study documents how warming is also causing flow declines in the northern Rocky Mountains and in the largest river basin in the United States, the Missouri. This work further highlights the mechanisms behind the temperature-driven river flow declines and places more focus on how anthropogenic climate warming is progressively increasing the risk of hot drought and more arid conditions across an expanding swath of the United States.

Climate change is causing the Southwest to aridify. (Left) Since the 1930s, increasing temperatures have caused the percentage of precipitation going to evapotranspiration (ET) to increase at the expense of precipitation going to Colorado River flow, resulting in an unprecedented and still ongoing megadrought (shading) starting in 1999 (8). (Right) Higher temperatures have already reduced Colorado River flow by 13%, and projected additional warming, assuming continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, will increase ET while reducing river flow even more through the 21st century. Data on Left are 20-y running means from ref. 5, and data on Right are calculated from Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 8.5 multimodel Coupled Model Intercomparison Project–Phase 5 (CMIP5) ensemble temperature increases projected for the Upper Colorado River Basin combined with temperature sensitivity of −9.3%/°C estimated by ref. 5, assuming no change in precipitation.

Auburn University researcher, team present new methods of drought forecasting to advance early-warning efforts for agriculture, natural ecosystems

Credit: Auburn University

Here’s the release from Auburn University (Terri Greene):

With his research team, Sanjiv Kumar, assistant professor in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, co-authored a breakthrough study on drought forecasting published March 12 in Climate and Atmospheric Science, a partner publication to the journal, Nature.

In the paper, “Seasonal to multi-year soil moisture drought forecasting,” researchers sought to find out whether they could accurately forecast soil moisture conditions at long lead times—from the next season to a few years out—and identify the mechanisms underlying that possibility.

Kumar said advanced long lead time in predicting soil moisture will greatly improve drought early-warning efforts for agriculture and natural ecosystems. The research is based on the latest advances in earth system modelling, as well as an improved understanding among researchers of land surface processes that influence soil moisture behavior on long timescales.

He said these new findings will benefit agricultural and water resources as well as wildfire planning to mitigate the impacts of drought on society, including economic losses in the billions of dollars and intense stress to the productivity of ecosystems.

Kumar has done seminal work in past few years to discover and develop a scientific basis for the potential for skillful soil moisture predictability, said Imtiaz Rangwala, one of the study’s co-authors.

Kumar’s previous work includes leading the group of researchers that in 2019 discovered soil-moisture re-emergence, a phenomenon that will likely have a profound impact on climate predictability science.

“That body of work, in culmination with this paper, provides a strong foundation for future research in soil moisture forecasting,” said Rangwala, a research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)/Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the climate science lead at the North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center.

Janaki Alavalapati, dean of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said Kumar’s ongoing work with fellow researchers has led to an ever-growing list of potential benefits.

“Dr. Kumar’s compelling new research builds on his previous work,” Alavalapati said. “These findings could have an enormous positive impact on drought predictability, leading to improved early-warning systems. This, in turn, will have a profound impact on people who experience drought in different parts of the world every year.”

In addition to Kumar and Rangwala, the research team included Musa Esit, a visiting scientist who worked with Kumar on the research; Ashutosh Pandey, a former graduate student; David M. Lawrence from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NACR, in Boulder, Colorado; and Stephen Yeager from NCAR.

While advancing the capacity for drought early warning was a major motivation for this study, the work also has implications to address other water and land management issues, Rangwala said.

“Better information on soil moisture conditions is highly sought-after among communities who manage our land and water resources, but it has historically been among the most challenging variables to get accurate information on. Forecasting soil moisture accurately has been even a greater challenge,” Rangwala said.

“Currently, we cannot forecast precipitation with any skill beyond two weeks. That’s a pretty hard physical limit on our drought predicting skills. But our research shows the potential to skillfully forecast soil moisture several months out, particularly for regions in the central and western U.S., where there is even some skill to predict soil moisture conditions over multiple years.”

The next step for this research, Kumar and his collaborators said, is to apply the principles of this discovery to develop tools to forecast soil moisture at local scales, where it can directly benefit users in agricultural planning, including the planting of drought-tolerant varieties and irrigation management.

#Nevada farmers and conservationists balk at ‘water banking’ — The Colombian

Water banking fundamentals. Graphic credit: Aspect Consulting

From The Associated Press (Sam Metz) via The Colombian:

Rural water users are panicking over a proposal to create a market for the sale and purchase of water rights in Nevada, unconvinced by arguments that the concept would encourage conservation.

Lawmakers on [April 6, 2021] weighed whether so-called “water banking” would be preferable to prevailing water law doctrines that govern surface and groundwater rights disputes in the driest state in the U.S.

A legislative hearing about two proposals to allow water rights holders to sell their entitlements pitted state water bureaucrats against a coalition of farmers, conservationists and rural officials.

One proposal would allow for basins to create “banks” where surface and groundwater rights holders can sell or lease water they conserve. The other would create programs to manage the conserved water, allowing the state to purchase “conservation credits” or pay water rights holders to “retire” their claims.

“What we’ve heard all the time for years is that this is incentivizing people to use more water that they need; or they are being punished for not using their entire water right; or they’re forced to sell off what they don’t use. There’s no really satisfying response to that except that it’s how (the law) was written,” acting Nevada State Engineer Adam Sullivan said.

As the U.S. West contends with a hotter and drier future, water banking is becoming an increasingly prevalent management strategy in states including Colorado and Utah. Proponents argue crediting people for conservation will help prevent future shortages and offer water rights holders an option beyond use, abandonment or selling.

A working group in the Colorado Legislature is evaluating the concept and the proposals under consideration in Nevada are based off policies in place in Utah and Oregon. The state’s proposals were among the most anticipated bills in the Nevada Legislature this year. In his presentation to lawmakers, even Sullivan said he was skeptical about creating an account to allow the state to purchase conservation credits and told lawmakers “it should only move forward with great caution.”

[…]

In rural Nevada, where limited groundwater has long sustained industries like ranching and mining, local officials worry that creating a market for water rights will encourage their constituents to lease their water for use elsewhere. They also worry water banking facilitates speculation from investors betting that water will become more valuable as perennial drought makes it more scarce…

Throughout the West, rural water users have been pursued by New York-based hedge fund Water Asset Management, which has reportedly purchased water rights from farmers in central Nevada’s Humboldt River basin, in Colorado’s Grand Valley and in central Arizona.

Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources spokesperson Samantha Thompson said the proposal, which was submitted by the Governor’s Finance Office on behalf of the state division of water resources, wasn’t geared toward a particular basin or seeker of water rights.

Deputy Administrator for the Nevada Division of Water Resources Micheline Fairbank said she wasn’t aware of any hedge funds seeking to use water banking frameworks for speculation.

#ColoradoRiver Indian Tribes will get $209K to stop #water loss from irrigation canals — ParkerPioneer.net #COriver #afidification

From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

From The ParkerPioneer.net:

The Colorado River Indian Tribes will receive $209,000 for irrigation canal projects, Congressman Paul Gosar announced Tuesday. The federal funds were awarded by the U.S. Department of the Interior to help CRIT pay for canal lining. The project is intended to help stop water seepage from the canal.

CRIT relies on the Colorado River as its primary source of water, and water conserved with help the Tribes meet existing demand during times of drought, Gosar said. The project will line nearly 4,000 feet of the earthen canal with a membrane covered in sprayed concrete. The stretch of canal has been identified as having the most significant seepage rate of all 232 miles of canals in the Colorado River Irrigation Project, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

“We must do all we can do to preserve the life of the Colorado River,” said CRIT Chairwoman Amelia Flores in a news release. “Improvements to the Colorado River Irrigation Project, like this canal lining, are desperately needed. No one can afford to waste water in these times of drought.”

She said CRIT would commit an equal share of the money needed to improve the efficiency of the irrigation project. The total cost of the project is $443,229.

Study: Trees have unexpected impacts on water use in northern #Colorado — @ColoradoStateU

“Very rarely do we have real data that help us specifically create management decisions and policies that support the world we live in, and the balance we need to achieve,” said CSU Associate Professor Melissa McHale.
Photo: Herb Saperstone/ City of Fort Collins via Colorado State University

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):

Colorado’s water supply is under threat from climate change and population growth. Limiting outdoor use is an increasingly popular approach to conserving water, yet to implement effective conservation policies, utilities managers need a better understanding of local outdoor water consumption.

That’s what led Colorado State University’s Melissa McHale, an associate professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, to explore what drives outdoor water consumption in an area projected to undergo significant population growth in the years to come.

McHale teamed up with scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and Denver Urban Field Station – a research and practice unit of the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station – and a water conservation specialist from Fort Collins Utilities.

The team’s study, “When Small Is Not Beautiful: The Unexpected Impacts of Trees and Parcel Size on Metered Water-Use in a Semi-Arid City,” was recently published in Remote Sensing.

More trees can help conservation efforts

Among the findings, McHale said trees can provide long-term benefits even if they need to be watered directly when they are first planted.

“Other modeling analyses have highlighted the benefits of tree shade,” she said. “But very rarely do we have real data that help us specifically create management decisions and policies that support the world we live in, and the balance we need to achieve.”

McHale teamed up on the research with scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and Denver Urban Field Station, and a water conservation specialist from Fort Collins Utilities via Colorado State University

The research team found that residential properties with a higher ratio of vegetation cover to lot size tended toward less water consumption. McHale said that discovery was surprising.

“In semi-arid cities, tree cover is directly linked to land surface temperature,” she explained. “It’s a real positive result for us along the Front Range, because mature tree canopy may mean that people use less water outdoors.”

McHale said it would be ideal if people could use less water while also cooling the landscape with tree cover.

“But I’m not sure so far, the way we’re developing the land, if we’re providing opportunities in the best way we can,” she said.

Wealthier households and properties with small lots use more water outside, according to the study. These conditions are prevalent in current development patterns along the Front Range in Colorado.

“We need to make sure we provide enough space, in the right locations, for mature tree canopy to grow in these new developments,” McHale said.

Additional research from other semi-arid cities, like Salt Lake City, has shown that planting non-native trees may be better for reducing water consumption in such areas.

Local policies may hinder conservation efforts

McHale also said that subdivision homeowner associations may be setting and enforcing guidelines that encourage more outdoor water use. Most newer neighborhoods with houses built in close proximity to each other are governed by HOAs, and the research team wants to delve deeper into this question in future research.

Shaunie Rasmussen, research associate in the CSU Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and a co-author on the study, said with urbanization taking place so quickly, it’s imperative to get trees planted, to make sure they’re mature as people move into new houses along the Front Range.

“It’s important to establish this tree cover and to take advantage of the benefits of trees,” she said. “Based on our research, trees can be a water-saving resource.”

Rasmussen graduated from CSU in July 2020 with a master’s degree in ecosystem sustainability, a recently established program through the Warner College of Natural Resources, and is now based at the Denver Urban Field Station.

McHale said this research project aims to strengthen and expand upon the university’s land-grant mission.

“We’ve been really trying, as a university, to reinvent the way we engage with our communities,” she explained.

Teaming up with the U.S. Forest Service, which has played a central role in pushing the field of urban ecology nationally, was a natural fit. The City of Fort Collins has already made use of the research findings from other collaborative research projects with McHale’s lab, and included those results in planning documents and budget requests for city managers.

“That’s the essence of engaged research,” said McHale. “You learn something different by working together and the outcomes are more impactful. We’re all in this together.”

McHale was recently selected to be a member of Denver’s Sustainability Advisory Council, which was originally created in 2010 by Mayor John Hickenlooper, and continues today under Mayor Michael Hancock.

The latest #climate briefing is hot off the presses from the Western Water Assessment

Click here to read the briefing:

Latest Briefing – April 8, 2021 (UT, WY, CO)

  • A large upslope storm led to above average March precipitation in eastern Colorado, eastern Utah and southeastern Wyoming. Drought conditions east of the Continental Divide generally improved by one category and many river basins in these areas have near normal seasonal runoff forecasts. March was dry for much of the Upper Colorado River and Great Basins, drought conditions persisted and seasonal runoff forecasts are below to much-below normal.
  • Precipitation was a mix of much-above normal and below normal during March. Western US Seasonal Precipitation Much-above normal precipitation in eastern Colorado, southeastern and central Wyoming and eastern Utah was driven largely driven by a large upslope storm in Colorado in mid-March. Below normal precipitation fell in many areas of Utah, including the Wasatch and western Uinta Mountains, western and northern Wyoming and the Colorado Rocky Mountains west of the Continental Divide.
  • Regional temperatures during March were mostly near average. Western US Seasonal Precipitation There was a slight southwest to northeast gradient in regional temperatures with March temperature slightly below normal in southwestern Utah and slightly above normal in northeastern Wyoming. This pattern in monthly temperatures is the opposite from what was observed in November 2020 and February 2021.
  • April 1st snowpack conditions were a mix of above and below normal in Colorado and Wyoming and generally below normal in Utah. Western US Seasonal Precipitation There was below normal snowpack in southwestern Colorado, near normal in northern Colorado and above normal conditions in the Rio Grande and Arkansas River basins. Western US Seasonal Precipitation Except for the northeastern Uinta Mountains, where conditions were near normal, Utah snowpack was below normal. Snowpack in eastern Wyoming benefitted from a large upslope storm in mid-March and was above average on April 1st. Snowpack conditions in other areas of Wyoming were generally near normal.
  • Seasonal streamflow volume forecasts for April 1st by NOAA CBRFC were below normal to much-below normal for the entire Upper Colorado (25 – 80% normal) and Great Basins (10 – 75%). Western US Seasonal Precipitation Low seasonal streamflow forecasts are due to below average snowpack for most basins and extremely low soil moisture. Because of very low soil moisture across the region, the 2021 runoff will be an inefficient runoff. Regionally, the lowest seasonal runoff forecasts are for Utah river basins (Duchesne, Provo, Virgin and Weber) and the highest are for river basins in Colorado and Wyoming east of the Continental Divide. (Forecast by basin_040121) Western US Seasonal Precipitation Major reservoirs of the Upper Colorado River Basin are forecasted to have below normal inflow for Fontanelle (59%), Flaming Gorge (54%), Blue Mesa (65%), McPhee (44%), Navajo (54%) and Lake Powell (45%). Streamflow during March was much below normal for much of the region and record low monthly streamflow was observed for the siteas along the American Fork, Bear, Dolores, Sevier, Virgin and Weber Rivers in Utah Western US Seasonal Precipitation and the Animas, Dolores, Mancos, Roaring Fork, and San Miguel Rivers in Colorado. Western US Seasonal Precipitation
  • Drought conditions continue to cover nearly the entire Intermountain West Western US Seasonal Precipitation with 44% of the region in extreme (D3) or exceptional (D4) drought, but there was a one category improvement of drought conditions in eastern Colorado and Wyoming. Drought conditions did not change in Utah during March; 90% of the state is still in D3 or D4 drought. A strong upslope storm on March 13-14th dropped several inches of SWE across a wide swath of Colorado east of the Continental Divide and eastern Wyoming. At the beginning of March, D3 or D4 drought covered 60% of Colorado, but by the end of March, only 30% of the state was in D3-D4 drought.
  • Weak La Niña conditions still exist in the eastern Pacific Ocean, but neutral conditions are expected to return during spring. Western US Seasonal Precipitation Seasonal predictions of climate from NOAA suggest there will be an increased probability for above average temperatures Western US Seasonal Precipitation and below average precipitation Western US Seasonal Precipitation at one and three month timescales for the entire region. The increased probability of above average temperatures and below average precipitation will likely cause drought conditions in the Intermountain West to persist and perhaps worsen.
  • Significant March weather event. A significant upslope snowstorm hit the Front Range of Colorado and southern Wyoming on March 13-14th. Snowfall totals from Colorado Springs to Cheyenne Wyoming and west to the Continental Divide ranged from 18 – 40”. Denver International Airport reported 27.1”, making this storm the 4th largest snowfall in Denver since 1881. Cheyenne recorded a 36” storm total; 22.7” fell on 3/14 which broke the daily snowfall record for Cheyenne. The highest storm totals occurred in southeast Wyoming’s Snowy Range at 7,900 feet where 52.5” fell and in the foothills north and west of Fort Collins at Buckhorn Mountain where 48.5” was recorded. The storm closed Denver International Airport and 2,800 flights were canceled on March 13-15. Parts of Interstates 25 and 70 in Colorado and I-80 in Wyoming were also closed on 3/13-14. Approximately 25,000 customers lost power in northern Colorado as a result of the storm. Nearly all of Colorado and Wyoming were in drought prior to the storm, with large areas of both states in extreme drought. The storm did not bring an end to drought, but significantly improved drought conditions east of the Continental Divide in Colorado and in southern Wyoming.
  • #Drought-plagued #California and western U.S. may see another devastating fire season — The Washington Post

    US Drought Monitor April 6, 2021.

    From The Washington Post (Diana Leonard and Becky Bolinger):

    California and the West are falling deeper into drought and, with summer approaching, that portends another severe fire season.

    As a disappointing wet season comes to a close and hope for spring rain fades, conditions are worse now than they were at this time last year, with exceptional and extreme drought now found throughout the region.

    In California, that doesn’t bode well, given that last year’s more moderate rainfall deficits, combined with extreme heat waves, ushered in a record-setting fire year. It brought 5 of the 6 largest fires in modern state history, 10,488 destroyed structures and 33 fatalities. Some 4.2 million acres were torched.

    More frequent drought, hotter summers and warmer and drier autumns, tied to climate change, are stacking the deck for large and destructive fires during the heart of the fire season. And this year, a lack of rain in spring could mean fires arrive early in some areas…

    …despite a significant late-January storm [in California], the 2021 winter and spring months have failed to deliver even normal precipitation, and much of April is forecast to be very dry. In fact, the current water year is now tied for the third driest on record…

    For the last two wet seasons, a persistent ridge of high pressure in the central and eastern Pacific has diverted most storms out of the state. In Northern California, many of the wettest, forested regions have missed over 20 inches of precipitation in that time period…

    Precipitation deficits since April 9. 2020 via the High Plains Regional Climate Center.

    Statewide mountain snowpack, currently at less than 50 percent of normal, is expected to melt off early, leaving Sierra forests prone to burn earlier and hotter…

    Drought deepens across the West, and fire risk follows

    Large wildfires in the West are driven by a complex relationship between shorter-term weather and longer-term climate variability. The West’s descent into the current severe and widespread drought began in the fall of 2019, when a dry pattern emerged over Oregon, northern California, central Nevada and into parts of Idaho, Utah and Colorado. The hot and dry summer of 2020 quickly followed, which brought devastating fires to California and the Pacific Northwest, and set the stage for Colorado’s biggest wildfire season on record beginning in August and continuing through October…

    This concerning situation continues: Not only is drought persisting over the same areas, it’s expanding to areas that weren’t as dry in the winter. Extremely warm and dry conditions from October to March extended across California and Oregon, and eastward across Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and entering Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico…

    Changes in drought categories over the course of the last year, from March 2020 to March 2021. US Drought Monitor one year change map ending April 6, 2021.

    Combining this longer-term climate signal with expected weather as we move into summer dictates the location of greatest fire risk. Based on low snowpack and early snowmelt already occurring in Arizona and New Mexico, and expected early snowmelt around the Four Corners, the risk for significant wildfires is high in Arizona and New Mexico, and is extending into southern Utah and southern Colorado. That risk moves northward as the summer continues into central Nevada, Utah and western Colorado, but should be reduced to the south if monsoon rains arrive as expected.

    @Northern_Water increases Colorado-Big Thompson quota to 70%

    Cache la Poudre River drop structure. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Here’s the release from Northern Water:

    Adequate native water supplies coupled with improved Front Range soil moisture from March snowstorms prompted the Northern Water Board of Directors to increase its 2021 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 70 percent.

    The Board unanimously approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday, April 8, 2021, with several board members participating remotely because of the ongoing pandemic. The Board also directed Northern Water staff to update them in May and June to determine whether an additional allocation would be advisable during the peak demand season.

    Emily Carbone, Water Resources Specialist at Northern Water, outlined snowpack and forecasted streamflows, and the Board also heard about the available native water supplies in regional reservoirs. In addition, the Board heard a presentation about the potential water resources impacts caused by the 2020 East Troublesome Fire. Public input was also considered.

    The Board has been setting C-BT quota since 1957 and 70 percent is the most common quota declared. It was also the quota set for the 2019 water delivery season, while the 2020 quota was set at 80 percent. The quota reflects the amount of water to be delivered through the C-BT Project.

    The quota increases available C-BT Project water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November. Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent census figures, more than 1 million residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries. Learn more about the C-BT quota.

    Big Meat and Dairy Companies Have Spent Millions Lobbying Against #Climate Action, a New Study Finds — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate

    Photo credit: BakeryAndSnacks.com

    From Inside Climate News (Georgina Gustin):

    The companies have been slow to make emissions reductions pledges, and have worked to undercut climate and environmental legislation.

    Top U.S. meat and dairy companies, along with livestock and agricultural lobbying groups, have spent millions campaigning against climate action and sowing doubt about the links between animal agriculture and climate change, according to new research from New York University.

    The study, published this week in the journal Climatic Change, also said the world’s biggest meat and dairy companies aren’t doing enough to curb their greenhouse gas emissions, with only a handful making pledges to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

    “These companies are some of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change,” said Oliver Lazarus, one of the study’s three authors, now a doctoral student at Harvard University. “They’ve spent a considerable amount of time and money downplaying the link between animal agriculture and climate change.”

    Aspinall Unit Forecast for Operations Spring 2021 — @USBR #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Click here to view the forecast graphics.

    The San Juan Water Conservancy District approves report outlining options for West Fork water rights — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    A report given to the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) on March 29 was approved by the board, leading to future considerations to be considered for the district’s West Fork reservoir and canal water rights.

    The report, crafted by Wilson Water Group (WWG), reviewed the district’s water rights portfolio and other storage studies to “understand opportunities and limitations” based on original decrees, previous diligence efforts and other storage locations.

    WWG was hired by the SJWCD via a board decision at a Sept. 21, 2020, meeting for a cost of $19,050.

    According to the report, not only were studies done for alternative uses for the West Fork reservoir and canal water rights of the district, but analyses were done to estimate water available to the San Juan River Headwaters Project reservoir water rights and to a junior storage right.

    Currently, the district has a West Fork canal water right that is specifically 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) of conditional water that includes decreed uses of irrigation, industrial and municipal.

    The report notes that this right will be abandoned by the water court if not used or perfected at the time the San Juan River Headwaters Project facilities are constructed.

    The SJWCD also has a water right associated with the second enlargement of the Dutton Ditch, the report describes.

    This water right is 20 cfs that in- cludes decreed uses of irrigation, municipal and domestic.

    This right will also be abandoned by the water court if not used or perfected at the time the San Juan River Headwaters Project facilities are constructed, the report notes.

    “A significant physical limitation to development of the Dutton Ditch Second Enlargement water right is the location; there is not reliable wa- ter supply available on these smaller tributaries except during the runoff period primarily in May and June,” the report reads.
    Additionally, the district has a 50 cfs conditional water right at the San Juan River Headwaters Project pumping station, the report indicates.

    “This right cannot be diverted if the San Juan River at Pagosa Springs streamflow gage shows flow less than 100 cfs from March 1 to August 31 or less than 60 cfs from September 1 to February 29,” the report states. “Besides the potential cost versus benefit imbalance of pumping water for potential storage at this location, the water available in many years can be significantly limited by the stipulated flow requirements at the San Juan River at Pagosa Springs streamflow gage.”

    The SJWCD also has 1.1 cfs of absolute water rights associated with shares in the Park Ditch Company at the Park Ditch, the report notes.

    This water right notes that the Park Ditch must be the location to divert water to store in the San Juan River Headwaters project, among other stipulations.

    According to the report, the district has storage water rights at the West Fork reservoir, which is about 24,000 acre feet in conditional water rights.

    “The stipulation subordinating the West Fork Reservoir storage rights to upstream water rights senior to a December 31, 2013 is significant; as it essentially changes the water right appropriation date to January 1, 2014 as to any water rights located upstream,” the report reads. “The requirement to move the water right downstream of Boot- jack Ranch to a likely off-channel reservoir site is not as limiting, because permitting an on-channel reservoir at any location on the San Juan River would be a significant challenge. The uses under the storage right may be limiting, as it does not include the authorization to release water to the San Juan River to meeting environmental or recre- ational needs.”

    The SJWCD also has 6,300 acre- feet of conditional storage rights at the San Juan River Headwaters proj- ect site and another 4,700 acre-feet on first fill and 11,000 acre-feet on refill of conditional storage rights.

    Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Archuleta County designated as #wolf reintroduction sanctuary — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    Image from Grand County on June 6, 2020 provided courtesy of Jessica Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    “Artificially introduced” wolves are not welcome in Archuleta County, according to the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC).

    At a work session held by the BoCC on April 6, the board discussed a trio of statewide concerns, including its opposition to the reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves within the county.

    Commissioner Alvin Schaaf expressed his concerns and dissatisfaction with the recent approval of Colorado Proposition 114, Gray Wolf Reintroduction Initiative, that was passed in November 2020.

    “It’s a hard pill to swallow when our citizens, the majority voted no on this topic and it’s still getting shoved down our throats just because there’s more population in the greater Denver area,” Schaaf said.

    Later that day, the BoCC approved Resolution 2021-26, reaffirming the county’s opposition to the reintroduction of the wolves and specifically designating Archuleta County as a wolf reintroduction sanctuary…

    “They’re already here. I don’t know why we’re reintroducing something that already exists,” Schaaf added.

    Resolution 2021-26 highlights how the proposition was approved by voters “in only five western slope counties, including Pitkin, Summit, San Miguel, San Juan and La Plata Counties.”
    At the work session, Schaaf stated, “It seems like a constant attack on the rural way of life and the ability of the American people to make a living and provide food.”

    Beef cattle on a feedlot in the Texas Panhandle. Photo credit: Wikimedia

    “A lot of people that live in the highly populated areas don’t understand the rural lifestyle,” Maez added. “I think in the populated areas, they need to teach them where their food comes from.”

    […]

    The resolution declares Archuleta County “to be a Wolf Reintroduction Sanctuary County, allowing only for the natural migration and repopulation of Gray Wolves without the competi- tion from artificially introduced wolves.”

    Colorado County Map via Geology.com

    #Drought and dry soils again will diminish #Colorado’s spring #runoff — @AspenJournalism #snowpac

    Ruedi Reservoir, near the headwaters of the Fryingpan River, was still frozen in early April. Water forecasters are predicting low spring runoff this year, which could affect whether Ruedi fills.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Water forecasting agencies in Colorado have released their April streamflow predictions, confirming what many already knew: Drought and dry soils will diminish rivers this spring.

    “The main story of this water supply outlook season is the effect of last year’s drought going into winter,” said Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist and assistant supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service Colorado Snow Survey. “We are anticipating significantly lower runoff compared with the snowpack because we entered winter with such dry conditions that the soils are going to have to soak up a ton of moisture before it actually makes it through the system into the river.”

    The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center and NRCS both released streamflow forecasts this week for the months of April through July. This is the second year in a row parched soils will rob rivers of their water.

    If soils were not so dry, streamflow predictions would track closely with snowpack. But this year, in many areas streamflows are predicted to be down by 15% to 20% compared with the snowpack, and streamflow for all river basins in the state are predicted to be below average.

    NRCS relies heavily on data from SNOTEL (short for snow telemetry) sites for its water supply forecasts. These automated sensors collect snow and weather data from remote, mountainous areas around the state. At the beginning of the month, the snow-water equivalent, which is a measure of how much water is contained in the snowpack, was 90% of average for the Colorado River headwaters, which includes the Roaring Fork River basin. Warm weather the first few days of the month had dropped that number to 78% by Wednesday.

    According to NRCS models, streamflow for the Roaring Fork River, measured at its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs will be 70% of average. The CBRFC model predicts just 68% of average. Throughout the Colorado headwaters, streamflow predictions range from 57% to 77% of average.

    According to CBRFC hydrologist Cody Moser, most river basins in Colorado were in the bottom five driest years for soil moisture going into the winter and some places, like the San Juan River basin in the southwest corner of the state, had record low soil moisture.

    “We had poor soil moisture entering the season,” Moser said. “We also have below normal snow, so a lot of things are working against a good runoff season.”

    The Lake Powell inflow forecast, at 3.2 million acre-feet, is just 45% of normal and a 2% decrease from the CBRFC March forecast.

    The Roaring Fork River (left) joins with the Colorado River in downtown Glenwood Springs. Despite a snowpack that was 90% of average at the beginning of April, streamflow forecasts at this location are only 68-70% of normal.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Another tricky year for Ruedi

    Tim Miller, a hydrologist at the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Ruedi Reservoir, said predicting inflow into the reservoir from the Fryingpan River and surrounding tributaries is like “looking out into the crystal ball.”

    It’s Miller’s job to release enough water from the reservoir to make room for the inflow. Filling it to capacity — roughly 102,000 acre-feet — requires precision and can be tricky. Last year Miller missed the mark by about 5,000 acre-feet, leaving reservoir levels a bit low. It was because streamflow forecasts didn’t fully account for the spring’s lack of precipitation, warmer-than-normal temperatures and dry soils, he said.

    “We were over-forecasting until right at the very end,” Miller said. “It wasn’t until the end of May and early June that we realized we just weren’t going to get that volume. Last year, because of those forecasts, I was releasing quite a bit more water at this time because I was expecting a bigger inflow.”

    This year, Miller said he plans on releasing just the minimum needed to meet the instream flow needs of the lower Fryingpan until he knows there will be enough runoff to fill the reservoir. Much of the water stored in Ruedi is either “fish water,” released for the benefit of endangered fish downstream or contract water, which has been sold by the bureau to cover the costs of building and operating the reservoir. Many different entities and water providers, including Ute Water Conservancy District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, own some of this contract water.

    The reservoir has a decent chance of filling this year, Miller said, but there is another factor that could negatively impact those chances. Ruedi is currently 57% full, down from where it was at this time last year, about 66% full, according to Miller.

    “Ruedi is lower starting out than what it would have been starting out last year, so that’s going to be an issue,” Miller said. “There are just a lot of things to juggle.”

    The bureau is predicting about 112,000 acre-feet of runoff for the upper Fryingpan River basin this year, but about half that will be taken through the Boustead Tunnel system to the Front Range, Miller said.

    The dam at Ruedi Reservoir, seen here in early April. The reservoir is currently 57% full and Bureau of Reclamation officials predict it will be possible to fill this year if they keep releasing just the minimum downstream for now.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Local effects

    So how might low runoff affect local water providers and users? For starters, the city of Aspen is still in Stage 2 drought restrictions, a carry-over from last August. That means restrictions on washing sidewalks and vehicles, and outdoor watering. One of the biggest water uses in Aspen is outdoor watering of lawns and landscaping.

    “We are going to do our damnedest to make sure people are responsible,” said Steve Hunter, utilities resource manager with the city of Aspen.

    Hunter said he has been talking with other local water managers about creating a valley-wide unified message about the drought, to target residents and visitors alike. The next city drought response committee meeting is April 23.

    Despite the bleak streamflow outlook, weather is still a big unknown. Late spring storms and summer monsoon season — which mostly failed to materialize in 2020 — could begin to turn things around.

    “We are just going to be prepared,” Hunter said. “We need to be adaptable. It may get worse, it may get better, it may stay the same.”

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the April 9 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Ancestral Hopi Presence in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — From The Earth Studio

    An earlier version of this writing appeared in Archaeology Southwest Magazine, Volume 33, Nos. 1 & 2. Like many landscapes throughout the American Southwest, Hopi people maintain a cultural connection with the region now designated as part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). From a Hopi perspective, we believe that it is our ancestors who, […]

    Ancestral Hopi Presence in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — From The Earth Studio

    #Snowpack news (April 9, 2021): #Colorado Snowpack Monitoring Experts See Some Warning Signs, Anticipate Lower Stream Flow #Runoff — CBS Denver

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

    From CBS Denver (Jamie Leary):

    Spring runoff in Colorado is usually marked by swelling muddy waterways, but this season things may look a little different.

    “We know the soils under the snowpack are so dry that it basically has to absorb so much of that, like a sponge, before it transmits it through to a river channel,” said Karl Wetlaufer, Assistant Supervisor for the USDA-NRCS Colorado Snow Survey.

    Karl Wetlaufer (NRCS), explaining the use of a Federal Snow Sampler, SnowEx, February 17, 2017.

    On [April 7, 2021], Wetlaufer and fellow hydrologist Mike Ardisan made the trek up to Berthoud Pass, one of Colorado’s 115 SNOTEL sites, to look at snowpack data.

    “When you look at our data, our annual precipitation will commonly be different than our snowpack, that’s because we start officially measuring this on Oct. 1. In this year, it was a really dry October so there’s an even bigger difference between the snowpack and precipitation value.”

    […]

    At Berthoud Pass, one of the highest SNOTEL sites and where Grand County and Clear Creek County meet, the snow depth measured just over 50 inches in most spots. The calculations determined that was equal to about 16 inches of water.

    “We’re definitely anticipating significantly lower stream flow runoff, especially compared to our observed snowpack and were actually seeing a net decrease in snowpack even over the last week since April 1.”

    […]

    The data plays an important role when it comes to our water resources. Coming off a dry summer followed by a dry winter, the melting snow that normally floods our waterways will head straight for the dry soil, impacting reservoirs and recreation.

    “With those dry soils, streamflow runoff could be … 20% less compared to percent of normal,” said Wetlaufer.

    The latest streamflow forecast ranges from 40-50% below normal (average) in southwest Colorado, to just 10-15% below normal in the South Platte and Arkansas Basins.

    Experts predict many areas will face water restrictions this summer.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 9, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From 9News.com (Cory Reppenhagen):

    When we talk about snowpack, we’re talking about the snow that’s been gradually accumulating in the mountains near the headwaters of our major river systems.

    The water in that snow would ideally melt off slowly during the spring months so we have water in our reservoirs for the summer. It also alleviates wildfire danger.

    But at this point, there are three concerning issues with our current snowpack.

    Early Peak
    For one, it appears that the snowpack peaked almost a week early. April 7 is the average date for the snowpack to reach its peak and start the runoff season. The data shows that it reached its highest point around April 1st. Usually, the earlier it peaks, the earlier it melts.

    Low Snowpack
    The second concern is the amount of snowpack. At its peak on April 1, statewide snowpack was 6% below average. Last year it was 7% above average. That’s 13% less snow this season.

    Fast Melting
    And the third concern is how fast its already melting. The snowpack is now down to 20% below average just 7 days after peaking. It didn’t get down that low last year until the final week of April.

    The Yampa River near the entrance to Dinosaur National Monument in the summer of 2018, the first year a call was administered on the Yampa River downstream from Steamboat Springs. Photo/Erin Light

    From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Dylan Anderson):

    The amount of water in the snow throughout the Yampa River watershed has started declining, indicating that snowmelt is well underway and potentially foreshadowing a summer of low flows in the river.

    This measurement, called snow water equivalent inches, generally starts increasing in October and continues to grow until April when the snow starts melting. This point is often referred to as a peak, but it is too early to tell if the snowpack has peaked yet this season.

    Last Saturday, this measurement reached 16.5 inches, the highest it has been all season, but has since declined to 14.5 inches on Wednesday, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. If 16.5 inches ends up being the peak for this season, it will have peaked seven days earlier and with about 3.4 inches less water than the 30-year median peak…

    It’s too early to consider this the peak because it could still snow more, which has happened in previous years. In 2018, snow water equivalency appeared to peak on April 1 at 17 inches, but a snowstorm days later resulted in that year’s peak being 19.7 inches, just shy of the 20.1-inch 30-year median…

    Brian Domonkos, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said he wouldn’t say it is a concern at this point but is definitely something to keep an eye on.

    It is relatively normal to see things starting to melt at this time of year, he said. What remains to be seen for Domonkos is how much precipitation will come this spring and early summer…

    There have been worse years. In 2012, snow equivalency peaked in early March at just 14.3 inches. Still, Romero-Heaney said these low snow years seem to be happening with more frequency…

    The river is warmer simply because there is less water to be heated up. When heat from the sun is more concentrated in less water, it can have severe affects on the river’s aquatic life. The city is already working with partners to be able to release more water into the river this summer, something they have started to do nearly every year…

    Getting moisture in mid-May to mid-June would be particularly fruitful for producers and set them up for a productive season, especially because most of the grasses that grow in this region are cool-season grasses, Hagenbuch said. These grasses will keep growing if they have water, but when that dries up, so will the grass.

    In the West, Signs in the Snow Warn That a 20-Year #Drought Will Persist and Intensify — Inside #Climate News #snowpack #runoff #aridification

    PHOTO CREDIT: McKenzie Skiles
    McKenzie Skiles (right) measures snow density, which is used to estimate the amount of water in the snowpack.

    From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn and Judy Fahys):

    Critical April 1 snowpack readings once again spell trouble, and new studies show the warming climate is lengthening dry spells and shrinking the snowpack, even in winter.

    Lack of monsoon rainfall last summer and spotty snowfall this winter combined to worsen the Western drought dramatically in the past year, and spring snowmelt won’t bring much relief. Critical April 1 measurements of snow accumulations from mountain ranges across the region show that most streams and rivers will once again flow well below average levels this year, stressing ecosystems and farms and depleting key reservoirs that are already at dangerously low levels.

    As the climate warms, it’s likely that drought conditions will worsen and persist across much of the West. Dry spells between downpours and blizzards are getting longer, and snowpack in the mountains is starting to melt during winter, new research shows. The warming atmosphere may also be suppressing critical summer rains from the western monsoon.

    West Drought Monitor April 6, 2021.

    A year ago, when California and Colorado experienced their worst fire seasons on record, drought conditions spanned about half the West, and no areas experienced “extreme” or “exceptional” conditions. But going into this year’s dry season, about 90 percent of the region is now in drought, with 40 percent in those two most severe categories.

    At the end of last month, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed exceptional drought spreading across roughly half of Nevada, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, and extending up to northern Colorado. Utah was persistently dry from January 2020 through January of this year, with some welcome snow piling up in just the last few weeks, but too little and too late to stop the state’s steady drying. California’s snowpack is about half of average, according to that state’s April 1 snow survey…

    April 1, 2021 streamflow forecast Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

    Forecasters expect this year’s annual flow into Lake Powell, a key Colorado River reservoir that helps distribute water to 40 million people and vast croplands, will only be around 45 percent of normal.

    Other forecasters see little chance for drought-busting storms in April, the last full month of the western wet season. Off the West Coast, a bulge of warm and dry air known as the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” that shifts storms northward is forming in the same general area where it contributed to the extreme drought California experienced from 2012 to 2016. As a result, the outlook for the rest of the month in the state is trending toward “extremely dry.”

    This year’s parched conditions aren’t surprising to climate scientists who study the region. Nearly all recent research suggests that the West is experiencing what climatologists call aridification—decades of drying with rare relief from occasional wet years.

    Research published this week by the American Geophysical Union analyzed daily temperature and precipitation readings collected between 1976 and 2019 from 337 weather stations spread from North Dakota and Texas to the West Coast.

    The analysis showed that, across the West, the longest dry spells between measurable precipitation are increasing by 2.4 days per decade, while precipitation is declining about 0.09 inches and temperatures are increasing at 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit every 10 years.

    Hardest hit is the Desert Southwest, where average dry spells increased by 50 percent—from 31 to 48 days—during the 45-year study period, and total annual precipitation declined by 0.75 inches per decade.

    Bill K. Smith, an author of the study from the University of Arizona who studies how drought in the Southwest affects plants, said those trends have accelerated since 2000. The new study and other research shows that changes in the timing and intensity of rainfall are likely to disrupt plant communities, he said. Species that grow quickly after an intense downpour and can survive dry spells in dormancy are likely to replace those needing a steadier supply of moisture…

    More Winter Snowmelt Could Disrupt Ecosystems and Water Management

    One reason that less moisture is trickling down from mountains to arid landscapes below is that more snow is melting during winter, when it should be piling up, as shown in another recent study published in Nature Climate Change. That research, led by Keith Musselman, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, is the first to compile a long-term data record from 1,065 automated weather stations in the Western United States and Canada.

    One-third of those stations showed that snowmelt is increasing throughout the winter, but especially in November and March. This year, the winter snowpack in Colorado was already in steep decline on April 6, when it’s typically at its peak.

    The findings show that the Western snowpack is more sensitive to warming than suggested by the commonly used measurement of the snow’s water content, Musselman said, and more winter snowmelt will complicate water resource planning. Water managers around the West have historically relied on the April 1 snowpack measurements to decide how much water to store or release from reservoirs, and how much will be available for seasonal irrigation.

    The findings bolster projections that global warming will disrupt the water cycle that’s been relatively stable for at least the past few hundred years, said snow scientist Jeff Deems, part of the research team at the Western Water Assessment.

    “At a basic level, this study helps quantify something you suspected, anecdotally,” he said. “We’ve grown up in a world in which snowpack has been a reliable reservoir, but it’s not that way anymore.”

    The research shows that the widely used measurements from snow-sensing stations and manual surveys don’t tell the whole story of how global warming is changing the snowpack, he added.

    Combined photos of the Senator Beck basin in the Colorado San Juan mountains during increasingly warmer months. (Credit: Jeffrey Deems/CIRES and Matthew Kennedy/CU Boulder Extreme Ice Survey)

    “We can’t rely on history anymore to tell us what is up there,” said Deems, cofounder of a company that does aerial snow measurements. Keeping up with the rapid changes warming is making to the water cycle requires more emphasis on broad-scale measurements of snow from planes and satellites, he said.

    The April 1 snowpack readings worked well in the past, Musselman said, but when you add in new and rapidly changing factors like winter snowmelt, “you’re eroding your predictive capacity.”

    Big Impacts Trickle Down From Winter Melting

    Early snowmelt can raise winter soil moisture, which could “prime the pump for an extreme response, something like a rain-on-snow flood event,” Musselman said. Wetter cold season soils may also emit more carbon dioxide, and increasing winter runoff can wash more pollution into rivers, worsening water quality, he added.

    In Yosemite National Park’s Tuolumne Meadows, Jessica Lundquist, with the Mountain Hydrology Research Group at the University of Washington, found that 2017 storms that delivered record-setting snowfall to California’s Sierra Nevada mountains also brought rain and extreme cold temperatures, which formed ice layers within the snowpack that left a “bathtub ring of damage” to trees encased by the ice. Similar frozen layers in the snowpack can also make it harder for animals like bighorn sheep to find food.

    @EPA Releases Updated #PFBS Toxicity Assessment After Rigorous Scientific Review #PFAS

    Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

    [On April 8, 2021] the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [release] an updated toxicity assessment for perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), a member of a larger group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Today’s PFBS assessment is part of EPA’s commitment to restore scientific integrity to all of the agency’s actions and increase the amount of research and information available to the public on PFAS chemicals.

    “This PFBS assessment reflects the best available science, involved extensive federal, state, and public engagement, and is critical to EPA efforts to help communities impacted by PFAS,” said senior career scientist Dr. Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development and the agency’s Science Advisor. “The assessment posted today fixes the errors in the version issued earlier this year, was developed by EPA career scientists, and upholds the values of scientific integrity. I’m proud to release such an important assessment that will help EPA and communities take action to address PFAS and protect public health.”

    EPA, federal agencies, states, tribes, and local communities can use the PFBS toxicity assessment, along with specific exposure and other relevant information, to determine if and when it is necessary to take action to address potential health risks associated with human exposures to PFBS under appropriate regulations and statutes.

    The assessment released today has gone through all appropriate reviews, includes input EPA received from external peer review, upholds the tenants of scientific integrity, was authored by expert career scientists in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and has not been compromised by political staff – these were all issues with a version of the assessment that was posted during the previous administration. The release of today’s PFBS assessment upholds the integrity of EPA’s science, which EPA, states, tribes, and more rely on to make decisions that protect the health of their communities.

    For more information on PFAS: http://www.epa.gov/pfas.

    For more information on the updated PFBS toxicity assessment: https://www.epa.gov/pfas/learn-about-human-health-toxicity-assessment-pfbs.

    Joint Statement from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the Western #Water Crisis

    Klamath River Basin. Map credit: American Rivers

    From The Department of Interior (Deb Haaland and Tom Vilsack):

    In response to worsening drought conditions in the West, including in areas like the Klamath River Basin, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack released the following statement:

    “Water is a sacred resource essential to feeding families, growing crops, sustaining wildlife and the environment, and powering agricultural businesses. Unfortunately, drought conditions in the West continue to worsen, including in areas like the Klamath River Basin, leading to the potential for historically low water allocations. The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture recognize the urgency of this crisis and its impacts on farmers, Tribes, and communities, and are committed to an all-hands-on-deck approach that both minimizes the impacts of the drought and develops a long-term plan to facilitate conservation and economic growth. Our agencies are actively working with Oregon, California and other western states to coordinate resources and identify immediate financial and technical assistance for impacted irrigators and Tribes. We are also committed to robust and continued engagement with state, local, and Tribal governments to develop longer term measures to respond to climate change and improve water security.”

    Your Weather Forecast Update: Warmer Climate Will Be The New ‘Normal’ — National Public Radio

    Statewide temperature 1895 through 2018 via the Colorado Climate Center.

    From National Public Radio (Jennifer Ludden):

    It’s become so common, perhaps you’ve stopped noticing how often your local weather forecast is “above normal.” It’s noted during extreme heat in the summer, when mild temperatures persist through the winter, or when nights don’t cool down like they used to.

    But on May 4, the hotter Earth will officially become the new normal.

    That’s when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) releases its once-a-decade update to “climate normals.” They are the 30-year averages for temperature and precipitation that local meteorologists rely on as the baseline for their forecasts. To be sure, some updates will be minuscule. But the fastest-warming places will see a real bump in their averages that could make some forecasts seem confusing and pose a challenge to meteorologists…

    The current “normals” are from 1981-2010, based on data collected by thousands of monitoring stations around the country operated by the National Weather Service. The NOAA update will shift the time frame for those averages later, to the period from 1991 to 2020. The decade from 2011-2020 is one of the hottest on record in the U.S.

    “It was a very substantial upward trend in temperature, especially along the West Coast, in the South and along the East Coast,” says Mike Palecki, with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

    There were exceptions; some places in the North Central part of the U.S. actually cooled a bit. But globally, the decade ending in 2020 was the hottest decade recorded since 1880…

    Since the mid-20th century, Earth has warmed about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pace of that warming has picked up in recent decades. Scientists warn that humans must keep global temperatures from rising more than about 3 degrees Fahrenheit in order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change…

    This year, to help businesses better prepare, NOAA for the first time will also put out 15-year averages using more recent temperature and precipitation data. It’s one of many ways the agency is helping people keep pace with a climate “normal” that just keeps changing.

    February Cold Wave identified as the first billion-dollar disaster of 2021; contiguous U.S. experienced above-average temperatures during March — NOAA

    Montana barn. Photo credit: Pixabay via NASA

    From NOAA:

    The Cold Wave that occurred across the central United States in mid-February has preliminary damage losses in excess of $10 billion. Texas experienced the majority of these losses, with costly impacts occurring in more than a dozen additional states. This event is the most costly winter storm event on record for the U.S., surpassing losses associated with the Superstorm of 1993.

    During March, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 45.5°F, 4.0°F above the 20th-century average. This ranked in the warmest third of the 127-year period of record. The year-to-date (January-March) average contiguous U.S. temperature was 36.9°F, 1.8°F above average, also ranking in the warmest third of the record. The March precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 2.45 inches, 0.06 inch below average, and ranked in the middle third of the 127-year period of record. The year-to-date precipitation total was 6.55 inches, 0.41 inch above average, ranking in the middle third of the January-March record.

    This monthly summary from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.

    March
    Temperature

  • Above-average temperatures were observed from the Northwest to the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and into the Northeast. Temperatures across North Dakota were fourth warmest on record. Below-average temperatures were present across parts of the West Coast during March.
  • The Alaska March temperature was 7.2°F, 3.6°F below the long-term average. This ranked in the coldest third of the 97-year period of record for the state and was the coldest March since 2017. On average, the coldest departures from average occurred across south-central Alaska while much of the North Slope was near average. Bering Sea ice extent was 81 percent of average for March, which contributed to above-average temperatures across the Aleutians.
  • Precipitation

  • Above-average precipitation was observed from the central U.S. to the Tennessee Valley and Gulf Coast in March. Nebraska precipitation ranked second wettest for the month. Below-average precipitation occurred across the Northwest, northern Plains, Northeast, as well as portions of the Southeast, Deep South and West. Montana and North Dakota ranked second driest on record for the month.
  • Precipitation across Alaska during March was much above average across western and northwestern Alaska as well as south of the Brooks Range. Juneau reported its snowiest March since 2007.
  • According to the March 30 U.S. Drought Monitor report, nearly 44 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down from 46.6 percent at the beginning of March. Drought conditions intensified and expanded across portions of the Northeast, Texas, northern Plains and California. Drought intensity and/or coverage lessened across parts of the central Rockies and central Plains as well as across Puerto Rico and was eliminated in Hawaii.
  • Year-to-date (January-March)
    Temperature

  • Above-average temperatures were present across the Northern Tier and Northeast as well as portions of the West and Southeast. Despite the broad extent of warmth seen during March across the Lower 48, temperatures over the first three months of the year were near average across a wide portion of the U.S. This was in large part due to the cold weather experienced during February. Below-average temperatures occurred across portions of the South.
  • The Alaska January-March temperature was 6.3°F, 0.4°F above the long-term average, ranking in the middle third of the record for the state. Above-average temperatures occurred across Bristol Bay and the Aleutians during the first three months of 2021 with the remainder of the state experiencing near-average conditions.
  • Precipitation

  • Above-average precipitation stretched from the central Plains to the East Coast during January-March. Nebraska ranked second wettest on record. Dry conditions were present across much of the West, northern Plains, Great Lakes, Northeast and parts of the South and Southeast. North Dakota ranked driest on record for this three-month period.
  • For more detailed climate information, check out our comprehensive March 2021 U.S. Climate report scheduled for release on April 13, 2021.

    March Upslope Storms Improve Water Supply in the Eastern Basins of #Colorado — @NRCS_CO

    Here’s the release from the NRCS Colorado (Brian Domonkos):

    Several low-pressure systems moved across the state bringing heavy snow accumulations to the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rockies during March. Precipitation in March ranged from a high of 126 percent of average in the South Platte River Basin to as low of 86 percent of average in the combined Yampa-White-North Platte River Basins. NRCS Hydrologist Joel Atwood notes, “Generally storms in March improved snowpack across the state with the greatest gains in eastern river basins. Despite these storms, warmer temperature in the mountains have already begun melting the snowpack.” Snowpack as of April 8th ranges from a low of 71 percent of median in the combined San Miguel-Dolores-Animas-San Juan river basin to a high of 92 percent of median in the South Platte River Basin.

    Statewide reservoir storage only increased by a percentage point over last month. Currently, the only river basin in the state holding above average reservoir storage is the combined Yampa-White river basins. On the low end, the combined San Miguel-Dolores-Animas-San Juan and the Arkansas river basins have 59 and 69 percent of average reservoir storage, respectively.
    A drought that was well in place as the snowpack began to accumulate has had little relief with recent precipitation as all basins in the state continue to maintain below average water year-to-date precipitation. Before the water year, an exceptionally warm and dry summer and fall has resulted in extremely dry soils. NRCS Hydrologist Atwood continued to comment that “A combination of dry soils and below normal water year-to-date precipitation will likely moderate the runoff produced from snowmelt, producing lower volumes than would commonly be observed with a similar snowpack.”

    The lowest streamflow forecasts in the state are rivers draining the Southern San Juan Mountains and the Gunnison River Basin. The average streamflow volume forecasts in these basins range from 36 to 77 percent of average. With recent storms, the Arkansas River Basin now has the best water supply outlook in the state, where streamflow volume forecasts range from 83 to 109 percent of average.

    * For more detailed information about April 1 mountain snowpack refer to the April 1, 2021 Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report. For the most up to date information about Colorado snowpack and water supply related information, refer to the Colorado Snow Survey website.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases bumped to 500 CFS April 9, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The outflow at the bottom of Navajo Dam in New Mexico. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Friday, April 9th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    The April 1, 2021 Colorado #Water Supply Outlook Report is hot off the presses from @NRCS_CO

    Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

    #Drought news (April 8, 2021): No change in depiction for #Colorado

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    A cold front moving across the eastern half of the country last week brought showers and thunderstorms and left record-breaking cold temperatures in its wake. Meanwhile, dry conditions and warmer than normal temperatures continued in the West with many locations setting daily record high temperatures. The overall effect was a general deterioration of conditions across the Lower 48 as moisture deficits continued to build in the West and in locations in the eastern half of the country that missed out on the heaviest rainfall. Improvements were minimal and limited to parts of the Midwest and Southern Plains…

    High Plains

    High temperatures in Nebraska and the Dakotas reached the upper 70s to mid-80s last week. With values of about 20 to 30 degrees above normal, many locations set daily records. These warm temperatures combined with low relative humidity and gusty winds to increase fire danger across the region. North and South Dakota declared fire emergencies due to ongoing drought conditions and increased wildfire activity. Severe (D2) and extreme (D3) drought expanded in both states as precipitation deficits continued to grow and increased evaporative demand dried out soils and stressed vegetation. USDA reports that, as of April 4, 92% of North Dakota’s topsoil and 68% of South Dakota’s topsoil was rated short to very short, indicating that soil moisture supplies are significantly less than what is required for normal crop growth development. In North Dakota, county Extension agents report that producers are starting to de-stock livestock herds by culling cows and grain farmers are very concerned about the lack of moisture. Photos show soil drift due to the dry conditions and high winds…

    West

    As the wet season begins to wind down in the West, widespread extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought continues across much of the Southwest. Another week of warm, dry weather didn’t help. High temperatures ranged from 4 degrees above normal in the Northwest to 15 degrees above normal in the Southwest while little to no precipitation fell across much of the region. Where exceptions occurred, in the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies, totals generally weren’t enough to overcome shortages. In eastern Washington, abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) expanded as precipitation deficits continued to increase, drying out soils. Conditions also deteriorated in Oregon. Most notably, D3 expanded and D4 was introduced in south central Oregon in response to record low water-year-to-date total precipitation, streamflow and soil moisture. It’s worth noting that since the U.S. Drought Monitor began in 2000, this is only the second time that D4 has occurred in the state (last occurrence in summer and fall of 2003). In California, the April 1 snow survey showed that snow water content in the Sierra Nevada Mountains was at 59% of average and the state, as a whole, received about 50% of its average precipitation for the water year. Two consecutive dry years have left reservoirs about half full. These precipitation deficits, combined with high temperatures, have reduced streamflow, dried out soils, and stressed vegetation. Changes to this week’s map include an expansion of D3 in northern California and western Nevada and an expansion of D2 (severe drought) and D3 in southern California. D1 expanded in northwest Wyoming and southeast Montana to reflect below normal precipitation over the water year and its effect on soil moisture and streamflow. Eastern Montana also saw deteriorating conditions with an expansion of D2 and D3. Here, the lack of precipitation over the last 2 to 3 months has dried out soils and stressed vegetation. USDA reports that, as of April 4, 76% of the state’s topsoil was rated short to very short indicating that soil moisture supplies are significantly less than what is required for normal crop growth development…

    South

    Showers and thunderstorms impacted the Lower Mississippi and Tennessee valleys last week, resulting in improvements to abnormally dry (D0) areas in Mississippi. Having missed out on the heaviest rainfall, drought and abnormal dryness generally expanded in the western part of the region. In Texas, degradations occurred throughout the state in response to rainfall deficits, increased evaporative demand and vegetation health. Most notable is an expansion of D3 (extreme) and D4 (exceptional) drought in the long-term drought area in the western part of the state. In Oklahoma, this week’s map shows broad expansions of D0 and D1 (moderate drought). Warm, dry weather combined with gusty winds increased evaporative demand, drying out soils and vegetation. The only improvements this week occurred in the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma. Despite the lack of rain last week, a reassessment of indicators shows that conditions have started to recover…

    Looking Ahead

    The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center forecast for the next 5 days (April 8 through the 12) forecasts heavy rain and the potential for thunderstorms for the central U.S. As the storm system pushes eastward, chances increase for heavy rain and thunderstorms across the Upper Midwest, south-central, and southeastern U.S. In the Northwest, a storm moving in from the Pacific will bring colder than normal temperatures with snow likely falling in the Cascades and Northern Rockies and rain at lower elevations. In the Southwest and southern High Plains, warm, dry weather combined with gusty winds is expected to persist, leading to the potential continuation of dangerous fire weather conditions. Moving into next week, the Climate Prediction Center six- to 10-day outlook (valid April 12 through April 16) favors above normal temperatures across the West, Northeast and Southeast, with the largest probabilities centered over the Great Basin and New England. Below normal temperatures are most likely across the Great Plains, Mississippi Valley and Alaska. The greatest probabilities of above normal precipitation are across the Southern Plains, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending April 6, 2021.

    #ColoradoRiver basin due for more frequent, intense hydroclimate events — #LosAlamos National Laboratory

    Adjacent areas that receive Colorado River water. Map credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

    Here’s the release from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (Charles Poling):

    Climate change will drive more drought, heat waves, floods, and low river flows in seven western states

    In the vast Colorado River basin, climate change is driving extreme, interconnected events among earth-system elements such as weather and water. These events are becoming both more frequent and more intense and are best studied together, rather than in isolation, according to new research.

    “We found that concurrent extreme hydroclimate events, such as high temperatures and unseasonable rain that quickly melt mountain snowpack to cause downstream floods, are projected to increase and intensify within several critical regions of the Colorado River basin,” said Katrina Bennett, a hydrologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author of the paper in the journal Water. “Concurrent extreme events of more than one kind, rather than isolated events of a single type, will be the ones that actually harm people, society, and the economy.”

    Another example of concurrent hydroclimate events might be low precipitation accompanied by high temperatures, which cause drought as an impact. Other factors such as low soil moisture or wildfire burn scars on steep slopes contribute to impacts.

    “You never have just a big precipitation event that causes a big flood,” Bennett said. “It results from a combination of impacts, such as fire, topography, and whether it was a wet or dry summer. That’s the way we need to start thinking about these events.”

    The Los Alamos study looked heat waves, drought, flooding, and low flows in climate scenarios taken from six earth-system models for the entire Colorado River basin. The basin spans portions of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California.

    Using indicators such as maximum temperature, maximum precipitation, dry days, maximum and minimum streamflow, maximum and minimum soil moisture, and maximum evapotranspiration, the team ran the models for a historical period (1970-1999) and a projected future period (2070-2099). They studied the difference between the two periods (future minus historical) for events at four time scales: daily, monthly, seasonal, and annual.

    Overall, precipitation across the Colorado increased by 2.1 millimeters between the future and historical periods, with some models showing increases in precipitation and some showing decreases. Nonetheless, the team found that in all cases, precipitation changes still drove an increase in concurrent extreme events.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    Unsurprisingly, temperature increased across all six models and was an even stronger catalyst of events. Consistently across the entire basin, the study found an average temperature rise of 5.5 degrees Celsius between the future and historical periods.

    In every scenario, the number and magnitude of each type of extreme event increased on average across the Colorado River Basin for the future period compared to the historical period. These numbers were given as a statistical expression of the change in frequency between the historical and future period, not as a count of discrete events.

    Those increases have significant social, economic, and environmental implications for the entire region, which is a major economic engine for the United States. The study identified four critical watersheds in the Colorado basin — the Blue River basin, Uncompahgre, East Taylor, Salt/Verde watersheds — that are home to important water infrastructures, water resources, and hydrological research that would be particularly vulnerable to extreme events in the future.

    More than 40 million people depend on the Colorado River basin for water, and it directly supports $1.4 trillion in agricultural and commercial activity — roughly 1/13 of the U.S. economy, according to 2014 figures.

    In Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, flooding, drought, freezing events, wildfire, severe storms, and winter storms have cost approximately $40 billion between 1980–2020.

    The Paper: “Concurrent Changes in Extreme Hydroclimate Events in the Colorado River Basin,” Katrina E. Bennett (corresponding author), Carl Talsma, and Riccardo Boero, in Water 2021, 13, 978, April 1, 2021. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13070978

    The Funding: This work was funded by the Early Career Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

    After Clean Water Act setback, state to ask lawmakers for new authority — @WaterEdCO #dirtywaterrule #WOTUS

    Ephemeral streams are streams that do not always flow. They are above the groundwater reservoir and appear after precipitation in the area. Via Socratic.org

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    For the second time in less than a year, state health officials plan to ask lawmakers to fast-track permitting authority over hundreds of miles of streams left unprotected after a 2020 Trump Administration rollback of federal Clean Water Act rules.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s move comes just weeks after a federal court denied Colorado’s effort to prevent the new federal rules from taking effect.

    The CDPHE is holding work group sessions and seeking public comment on a proposed bill that is likely to be introduced in the next two weeks, officials said. The CDPHE declined to comment for this article.

    Last May Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and won a temporary injunction against the new rules, which would have taken effect in June 2020. But a federal appeals court overturned that decision last month.

    As a result, the rules are set to take effect in Colorado April 23. Though many expect the Biden Administration to alter the new rules, once again, state health officials say an interim rule is needed to ensure the state has the permitting authority and the funds needed to protect streams.

    The CDPHE launched a similar effort last year, but a lack of support for that proposal caused the agency to withdraw it. Now agency officials say they will try again.

    Major water interests, such as the nonpartisan Colorado Water Congress, are closely watching the latest legislative effort.

    Colorado Water Congress Executive Director Doug Kemper said right now there is too much uncertainty around which streams and which activities will be overseen by federal and state agencies.

    “It’s a big deal right now because you don’t really know what activity is covered and what is exempted,” said Kemper. His group has not taken a position on the CDPHE’s initiative, in part because a formal bill has yet to be introduced.

    Environmentalists said it’s important that the state moves quickly to assume the permitting authority to protect streams and to allow millions of dollars in construction, dam and road projects to be properly reviewed and permitted.

    Industry groups, however, believe new legislation isn’t required right now because the state has some discretion to act already and because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees much of the work on federally protected streams, also has some discretionary authority to review and issue permits.

    “We’re concerned that the focus is solely on legislative options,” said John Kolanz, an attorney who represents the Colorado Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. He believes the state could make changes to its own rules, rather than enacting a new law.

    “We don’t think it’s advisable to rush through legislation and a complicated rulemaking by the end of the year,” Kolanz said during a public work group meeting hosted by the CDPHE Monday.

    Melinda Kassen, general counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership who tracks water quality regulation, disagreed, saying the CDPHE must be given new legal authority quickly in order to adequately monitor and fund stream protection work over the next one to two years.

    “The biggest part of this legislation is getting some fees so that the [Colorado Water Quality Control] division can do its job and go out and see what’s happening on the ground,” Kassen said Monday.

    At issue is what’s known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. The rule was designed to classify which streams are subject to federal rules and which activities must obtain permits from the Army Corps to ensure those streams are protected even when they are disturbed by home and road building, construction of new storm water systems, and other activities.

    But WOTUS has been contested in courts for years over murky definitions about which waterways fall under its jurisdiction, which wetlands must be regulated, what kinds of dredge-and-fill work in waterways should be permitted, what authority the CWA has over activities on farms and Western irrigation ditches, and what is allowable for industries and wastewater treatment plants to discharge into streams.

    It has also been difficult to administer because the U.S. is home to such a wide variety of waterways.

    In the East and Midwest massive rivers are filled with barge and shipping traffic and are clearly “navigable.” That was the term early courts used to determine how water would be regulated. If a stream was considered navigable, it was subject to federal law.

    But Colorado and other Western states rely on shallow streams that don’t carry traditional commercial traffic. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates 44 percent of Colorado’s streams are intermittent, meaning they are sometimes dry, and 24 percent are ephemeral, meaning they can be dry for months or years and appear only after extraordinary rain or snow. Just 32 percent of Colorado streams are classified as being perennial, meaning they flow year round.

    Under the new federal rule only perennial and intermittent streams, or those deemed navigable, are regulated, meaning that thousands of miles of streams in Colorado and other Western states are no longer protected under the law.

    If the CDPHE’s new legislative effort succeeds, it would give state health officials the authority to issue so-called dredge-and-fill permits on stream segments no longer protected by the federal law.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    Holy Cross Energy takes a small but strategic step toward decarbonization and resilience with solar-plus-storage — The Mountain Town News

    Solar-plus-storage project at the Spring Valley Campus near Glenwood Springs.

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Big Pivots

    Another small but important piece of the giant puzzle that Holy Cross Energy has set out to solve was revealed Tuesday.

    The electrical cooperative serving members in the Vail-Aspen-Rifle area has agreed to purchase electricity from a solar and battery storage project being built by Ameresco Inc. Near Glenwood Springs, on the Spring Valley Campus of Colorado Mountain College, the company will install solar panels capable of generating a maximum of 4.5 megawatts of electricity.

    Adjacent to the solar panels it will operate battery storage with a capacity of 5 megawatts (or 15 megawatt hours). Batteries will be charged with electricity generated by the solar panels.

    The batteries can be tapped to supply electricity during times of peak demand on a daily basis. In the Vail-Aspen area, peak demand typically occurs in evening hours, with the strongest demand during winter months.

    The lithium-iron-phosphate batteries can also augment Holy Cross’s electrical generation during times of disruption, such as caused by wildfires or storms.

    “That battery and local generation is an important part of the infrastructure that is real important to creating a resilient energy system for the future,” said Steve Buening, the vice president for power supply and programs at Holy Cross.

    The battery storage will be able to have 5 megawatts of power vs. 15 megawatt-hour of capacity. Beuning compares the 5 megawatts to what happens when you press on the gas pedal of an internal-combustion car, while the mega-watt hour is how much the gas tank can hold.

    With 45,000 members, Holy Cross is among the larger of Colorado’s 22 electrical cooperatives. As of 2018 it was responsible for 2.2% of electrical sales in the state.

    This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine. To get a free subscription, sign up at http://bigpivots.com

    Holy Cross has been assembling disparate pieces of infrastructure, some in and among the communities it services, others hundreds of miles away, as it pursues a goal of completely decarbonizing its electrical supply by 2030.

    In addition to the new solar-plus-storage complex near Glenwood Springs, Holy Cross plans a 5-megawatt solar farm on McCain Flats, near the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. Construction is scheduled to begin this spring.

    Complementing this local generation will be electricity generated for Holy Cross at the Arriba wind farm, to be constructed during the next year along Interstate 70 near the eponymously named town 120 miles southeast of Denver. The wind farm will have 100 megawatts of capacity, enough to supply roughly a third of demand by Holy Cross members.

    In storage, Holy Cross has something of the same approach, a mixture of local and smaller and elsewhere and larger.

    See also Dec. 15, 2020 story: Holy Cross and the ‘Journey to 100%’

    Directors of Holy Cross in 2020 adopted a plan that lays out potential strategies, including pumped-storage hydro. Water in pumped-storage projects is released to generate electricity to meet peak demands, then pumped uphill again when electricity is more abundant and hence cheaper.

    It’s not new technology. Colorado has two such projects, the larger and older being near Georgetown. There, the Cabin Creek project uses a 1,200 feet vertical drop between two reservoirs to generate a maximum of 324 megawatts. The system went on-line in 1967 but has been upgraded since then.

    Bryan Hannegan, the chief executive of Holy Cross, has spoken about the value of small pumped-storage hydro projects in the Aspen-Vail area, perhaps combined with larger capacity pumped-storage projects elsewhere.

    Why the battery storage now for Holy Cross instead of waiting for prices to tumble further. Prices of battery storage have dropped about 80% in the last decade and are projected to decline even more, from $137 per kilowatt-hour to as low as $100 by 2023, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

    Holy Cross decided that the prices were already good enough.

    “One thing that may be holding back investment in utility-scale energy storage is concerns about being an early adopter at higher prices than in the future if battery prices continue their downward trend,” says Buening.

    That being noted, the savings are good enough already to yield lower costs of electricity for Holy Cross members.

    “We were ready to go ahead,” he says.

    Xcel is also planning 275 megawatts of battery storage as it closes two coal-fired power units at Pueblo in the next several years. In a recent filing with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, the utility plans even more in the years beyond 2024. It’s Colorado’s largest utility with 52.5% of Colorado’s electrical sales for 2018.

    Photo at top is rendering of the solar-plus-storage project at the Spring Valley Campus near Glenwood Springs.

    Work to boost #SteamboatSprings #water supply redundancy continues — Steamboat Pilot & Today

    Yampa River. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Suzie Romig):

    City of Steamboat Springs officials know the municipality’s primary fresh water supply is increasingly at risk from potential wildfire danger in the Fish Creek watershed, so work will continue this summer to boost water supply redundancy.

    The city along with Mount Werner Water District are proceeding with construction of enhanced and expanded “infiltration galleries,” or shallow wells that are filled by ground water near the Yampa River, to increase the volume of secondary water supply intake. Water collected through the Yampa well field, which is located near where Walton Creek meets the Yampa River, is piped to the nearby Yampa Water Treatment Plant

    Frank Alfone, water district general manager, said the district’s work should be complete by Dec. 1 for a third shallow well and new raw water transmission line located about a quarter mile south of the district’s two existing wells. The additional well will push intake capacity for 2022 from 1.8 million gallons per day to 2.8 million.

    The Yampa Water Treatment Plant, built in 1972, has about half the capacity of the primary Fish Creek Filtration Plant. The Yampa plant was updated in 2018 to be able to process more gallons per day and is used primarily to process water for the outdoor watering season from June through September, Alfone said.

    Kelly Romero-Heaney, city water resources manager, said the city will open up bids in 2022 for construction of four additional Yampa River shallow wells to increase the overall intake capacity in the location to 3.5 million gallons per day, which would be available by 2023.

    The secondary water intake improvements are part of the city’s updated Water Supply Master Plan, completed in 2019, and a key component of the overall supply plan is the updated Water Conservation Plan approved in May, Romero-Heaney said. The goal of the 10-year Water Conservation Plan is to reduce the amount of water used per household by 10%…

    [Romero-Heaney] said the city accomplished six key water conservation measures in 2020. Steamboat Springs City Council and the district adopted regulations that permanently limit outdoor watering to between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. three days per week based on the last digit of a street address. The city replaced 619 feet of aging and possibly leaking water lines, fixed five water main breaks and replaced irrigated sod in front of City Hall with a low water use demonstration garden.

    The city updated the water distribution infrastructure master plan to prioritize water line replacements to mitigate leaks and water loss…

    Screenshot from the linked Steamboat Pilot & Today article April 7, 2021.

    The updated conservation plan, posted on the city’s Water Conservation webpage, notes the city is actively engaged in meeting a variety of challenges to ensure a reliable water supply. Those challenges include drought, wildfire, need for more water treatment capacity, uncertainty of Colorado River Compact call, aging infrastructure, low flows in Fish Creek, growth in the west Steamboat Springs area and the uncertainty of climate change that has increased the statewide annual average temperatures by 2.5 degrees through the past 50 years…

    The plan looks to preserve the health of Fish Creek and the Yampa River and protect drinking water supplies while reducing the use of chemicals and the energy intensive carbon footprint of treating fresh water and waste water. The plan also factors in the water requirements of the estimated 400,000 to 500,000 visitors to the city each year.

    Steamboat’s primary source of treated water comes from snowmelt from the 22-square-mile Fish Creek watershed. Those supplies are stored in Fish Creek and Long Lake reservoirs and treated at the Fish Creek Filtration Plant.

    Questions about the water conservation plan can be emailed to kromeroheaney@steamboatsprings.net.