Snowpack news

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From the Summit Daily News: “Based on the latest snowpack data, [Mike Gillespie, snow-survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service] is predicting a good run-off season. ‘Statewide, we’re about 114 percent of average,’ he said. The highest reading comes from the Rio Grande Basin, at 128 percent of normal. Only the South Platte drainage is slightly below average, at 98 percent. The Colorado River Basin is at 118 percent of average, while the Blue River drainage, defining much of Summit County, is at 125 percent.”

From the Cortez Journal (Kristen Plank): “Total precipitation, or liquid equivalent, for February has reached 0.73 inches so far, with a normal liquid equivalent of 0.96 inches for the entire month. This puts February at 77 percent of normal, [Jim Andrus, regional weather observer for the National Weather Service] said, but light snow is forecast for the remainder of the week. January had 69 percent of average precipitation, Andrus said. In January 2008, total snowfall reached 275 percent of normal. February 2008 was 211 percent of normal. Snowfall of the season, beginning with the first flakes in November, has totaled 34.6 inches through February. December saw 22.1 inches of snow. ‘Last year we had almost 4 feet of snow for the whole season,’ Andrus said. ‘This season we’ve received almost 3 feet of snow so far.’

“Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, said McPhee Reservoir is in good shape, especially with the recent snow. He said the reservoir was sitting at 119 percent of average at midnight Sunday but jumped to 128.5 percent as of midnight Tuesday. The reservoir is approximately 104,000 acre-feet below full, but based on the current snowpack, has a forecast inflow of 330,000 acre-feet based on the existing snowpack, Preston said.”

Animas-La Plata Project: Lake Nighthorse uses

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Here’s an update on potential uses for Lake Nighthorse, part of the Animas-La Plata project, from Dale Rodebaugh writing for the Durango Herald. From the article:

What kind of recreation will there be at Lake Nighthorse, which will have a surface area of 1,500 acres (the surface of Vallecito Reservoir covers 2,700 acres) when the basin is full in 18 months to three years? A skull session Thursday at a meeting of the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District produced some talking points for the first public discussion of the matter, scheduled March 5 at the Durango Public Library…

The lake will have a boat ramp because the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the Animas-La Plata Project, took on that job after the cash-short Colorado State Parks Department backed out last year. The federal agency has $750,000 in severance-tax revenue and $2.25 million from the federal Wallop-Breaux Fund. The Wallop-Breaux Fund is fed by motorboat fuel tax. What hasn’t been decided is what types of craft will be allowed on the water. Noise from power boats or Jet Skis would be audible to residents in nearby subdivisions to the west…

Other possible amenities mentioned are camp sites, picnic areas and hiking trails. A more sophisticated operation could involve a concessionaire, showers and a Laundromat to accommodate long-term visitors. Board members spoke by telephone at the meeting with David Merritt, a retired Colorado River Water Conservation District employee now working for a Glenwood Springs engineering consultant. Merritt described the development of recreation at Ridgway State Park north of Ridgway and Wolford Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling.

In its only formal action Thursday regarding Lake Nighthorse, the board authorized Whitehead to negotiate a single-appearance contract for Merritt to attend the March 5 public meeting…

The first public meeting to discuss recreation at Lake Nighthorse is scheduled from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. March 5 at the Durango Public Library. Lake Nighthorse will be the body of water behind the Ridges Basin dam three miles southwest of Durango. The federal Bureau of Reclamation, which is in charge of the project, expects to start filling the lake this spring.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Oak Creek moving on installation of water meters

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From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Melinda Dudley): “Water meters have been expressed as a goal by Oak Creek town boards for years, and the current Town Board is stressing their installation both to increase the fairness of town water billing and to encourage water conservation, [Mayor J. Elliott] said.

“The board budgeted $5,000 for preliminary work this year to install water meters for Oak Creek’s water customers and move to a tiered rate structure, instead of its current flat rate fees. A preliminary scope of work presented Thursday by Jones puts the price tag on a feasibility study, completed in July, at $14,250 — with the town paying for 20 percent, or $2,850, and grant funds covering the rest.

“If the town decides to proceed with water meter installation, after the completion of an eventual feasibility study, Jones estimated the project would take about five months. One crew can install about three meters a day, and Oak Creek would need to install about 490 meters to serve its existing customers, he said.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

San Luis Valley groundwater sub-district #1: Looking for federal funding

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Here’s an update on funding for the San Luis Valley’s first groundwater sub-district, from Matt Hildner writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The valley’s first groundwater subdistrict, which is currently under review by the Division 3 Water Court, has forwarded a $125.8 million proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would pay farmers to bring land out of production. The federal government would carry 80 percent of those costs under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, but the subdistrict would need to come up with $27.3 million for a local match. Tim Davis, a consultant for the subdistrict, said he hopes the federal government will sign off on the proposal in time so landowners can enroll in the program by Oct. 1. But before that happens, Davis said the program may need to see some funding shake loose…

Once the program’s open for enrollment, the greatest incentives will go toward landowners along the Rio Grande between Del Norte and Monte Vista. By reducing groundwater pumping along that stretch, the subdistrict hopes to create a hydraulic divide that would prevent river water from entering the aquifer on the north side of the river. Producers may be allowed to graze cattle on some of the retired ground, but that decision would be made by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Davis said.

The idea for the subdistrict was advanced as a way to avoid mandatory state rules, while allowing irrigators to reduce pumping and protect senior surface water users and the state’s commitment to deliver water downstream for the Rio Grande Compact. Should the water court sign off on the subdistrict’s management plan, as many as eight other groups from around the valley could follow with similar plans.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Fremont County alternative

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Here’s a look at the discussion prompted by Colorado Springs’ proposed Southern Delivery System route through Fremont County, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

If the westerly route is chosen over the proposed action at Pueblo Dam, water providers in Fremont County could benefit, said Bruce McCormick, Colorado Springs water services chief. How, exactly, they can benefit is still a matter of negotiations that were occurring on the eve of the Fremont County hearing and will continue over at least the next two weeks. “We feel it’s best to meet with stakeholders and get down to their concerns,” said John Fredell, SDS project director. Colorado Springs verbally committed to adding hydrants for fire protection and improving Florence’s river park as benefits to Fremont County at the public hearing last week. Holcim Cement concerns were mollified. Minimum flows in the Arkansas River for a regional sanitation plant and for rafters seem to be assured.

Some tougher questions loomed. The toughest dealt with the possibility of adding the Penrose Water District to the SDS line. Colorado Springs amended its plan in Pueblo County in 2007 to include a tap for Pueblo West if the project comes from Pueblo Dam. That change allowed full evaluation of Pueblo West as an SDS partner under the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement. It also provided a tangible benefit for ‘Pueblo County that is missing in Fremont County. Pueblo West is contributing just $1 million toward SDS under its 2007 agreement with Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain to participate in the project. The cost of building a river intake if the pipeline goes to Fremont County could be as much as $8 million.

The Penrose Water District could realize a similar savings. In 2006, the district bought water rights from Denzel Goodwin, a western Fremont County rancher. It applied for, and received, an $8.9 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board toward a $9.7 million project to develop a well field, pipeline and storage for the water that it would gain. SDS would be a much more attractive option. It would be relatively simple and less costly for the Penrose Water District to tap into the pipeline or share the intake at the Lester-Atterbury Ditch. The Penrose district has little money to put toward SDS or the revised EIS that would be needed should it become a partner, said Lissa Pinello, president of the district. Additionally, the district’s board had not formally met on a course of action.

The Beaver Park Water District, which has 530 shareholders and sells water for Penrose is further along in negotiations, said Gary Ratkovich, president. The district and Colorado Springs are talking about ways to bring water into Penrose from the Arkansas River as well as the Beaver Park drainage. One sticking point has been money, since Beaver Park also would have to pay to play in the SDS project. Beaver Park has a history of dealing with Colorado Springs, purchasing the Golden Cycle water rights it now owns from Colorado Springs in 1976. Ratkovich asked commissioners for a two-week delay to give the district time to negotiate a contract with Colorado Springs that would include both supply options and conditions for future water district projects.

Commissioners also had a late request from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency, to coordinate proposed flood protection projects in the Penrose area that in some cases share a footprint with the pipeline.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Stagecoach Dam to be raised by 4 feet

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The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District plans to raise the level of Stagecoach Reservoir 4 feet, according to a report from Melinda Dudley writing for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. From the article:

The Upper Yampa Water Con servancy District is awaiting permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Routt County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to raise the water level in Stagecoach Reservoir by 4 feet. If the permitting process goes through without any hitches the dam-raising would take place this fall, though delays could push it back another year, [Kevin McBride, district manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District] said.

“I’ve learned not to second-guess the permitting process,” McBride said Thursday, sitting in Fetcher’s office in the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District building…

To raise the water level of Stagecoach Reservoir, construction to the dam itself will be pretty simple, requiring a 4-foot cap to be placed on top of the dam’s existing spillway, McBride said. Raising the water level by 4 feet will increase Stagecoach Reservoir’s capacity from 33,273 acre-feet to 36,460 acre-feet, McBride said…

The surface area of the reservoir will increase from 771 acres to 819 acres, and the water will encroach anywhere from 4 to 40 feet on the existing shoreline, depending on terrain, McBride said.

Expanding the footprint of the reservoir will require a wide range of mitigation work on the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District’s dime, including infrastructure work for Stagecoach State Park, raising the boat ramps, and wildlife, wetland and waterfowl mitigation projects. The district worked extensively with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on wildlife mitigation plans. The water district will reconstruct some of the existing wetlands around the reservoir — which will be inundated when the water level rises — develop a new waterfowl habitat area and do preventative work to discourage pike breeding, McBride said.

Raising the water level in Stagecoach Reservoir and the associated mitigation projects will cost a total of about $3 million, McBride said. Because of the uncertain economy, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy Dis trict has not determined exactly how the project will be financed, though McBride said the district can fund it almost entirely out of reserves if need be.

Four years of Wyoming cloud-seeding efforts

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Here’s an update on Wyoming’s 5 year cloud-seeding project, from Wes Smalling writing for the Casper Star Tribune. From the article:

[Bruce] Boe is one of several scientists working on the five-year Wyoming Weather Modification Pilot Project, an $8.8 million research program funded by the state of Wyoming. The project’s scientists, along with state water managers, hope to find proof of whether the decades-old practice of seeding clouds — trying to squeeze more precipitation out of passing storms — actually works and that it’s a practical option for increasing the state’s water supply. Members of the world’s science community — cloud-seeing advocates and skeptics alike — are watching the project closely. “For a scientist doing research, this is it. As far as in terms of the research, it is the biggest in the United States by far,” Boe said…

The Wyoming project is in its fourth year, only the second winter in which cloud seeding in earnest has actually been performed. The first two years involved mostly taking measurements and weather readings, obtaining permits from the U.S. Forest Service, gathering other statistical data and getting equipment in place…

While Boe’s company is contracted to perform the cloud-seeding operations, independent teams of scientists from the Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Desert Research Institute in Nevada are independently evaluating whether any increases in precipitation that occur are from cloud seeding or from just normal variations in the weather. That’s the real trick to proving if it works. Cloud-seeding scientists estimate that, if done properly, pumping silver iodide into a cloud will increase snowfall in most cases by about 10 to 15 percent. That’s roughly the same percentage of natural variability possible in normal weather patterns…

It’s too early to say with any certainty that Wyoming’s cloud seeding is working to make more snow, but the scientists are beginning to amass a massive amount of vital information from the project. They still have much more data to collect. They conducted 26 four-hour seeding events in southern Wyoming last winter and more than 30 this winter. Ideally, they would like to have more than 200 cases to examine by the end of the five-year project…

While clouds are often seeded from airplanes, the seeding on the Wyoming project this winter is all being done from the ground by generators on 20-foot towers. Inside a generator placed upwind, a propane flame heats the silver iodide solution, and a nozzle sprays it into the air. It rises into the cloud and is carried by the wind to a target area, which is where the scientists want it to snow. There are eight generators in each mountain range, the Snowies and the Medicine Bows, and another seeding site on the west side of the Wind River Range that has 10 generators.

Meteorologists determine when conditions are right for seeding and tell the technicians which generators to turn on. The technicians, sitting many miles away at computers, activate the generators remotely through satellite modems. Boe, using a machine in his cabin called an acoustic ice nucleus counter, checks the outside air during seeding operations to detect the presence of silver iodide to make sure the particles are reaching the target area…

Before, during and after seeding events, the weather is monitored closely. Independent evaluation teams from NCAR and DRI check the snow for the presence of silver iodide and to collect other statistical data. Seed generators are never turned on at the same time in both the Snowy Range and Medicine Bow Mountains — only randomly either in one mountain range or the other. The forecasters and evaluators are not told which mountain range was seeded, which should eliminate any bias in their predictions and conclusions, said Dan Breed, lead scientist for NCAR. Seeding only one range at a time also allows researchers to collect a double dose of data from each storm — one from a seeded mountain range and one that only received natural snowfall. Comparing results between the two ranges could help determine if increases in snow were a result of seeding or that ever-elusive variability that occurs with natural snowfall…

Periodically this winter, [University of Wyoming] professor Bart Geerts and graduate students will fly over snowstorms in a Kingair research aircraft as cloud-seeding experiments are going on to study how the clouds are affected. Using technologies called cloud radar and LINAR, short for Light Detection and Ranging, the crew will take snapshots of the clouds similar to the three-dimensional slices of a medical MRI scan. “We are basically trying to look at it in the finest detail in time and space. We’re actually looking at the cloud as it is injected with silver iodide,” Geerts said. When a cloud is seeded, “The idea is that silver iodide injected into a cloud is going to turn all that liquid water into ice pretty quickly. We want to see if that really happens.”[…]

University of Tennessee professor Glen Tootle is leading a study on the effects of an increased snowpack on spring and summer runoff. The university experiment could determine what a small snowpack increase in the Medicine Bow Mountains would mean for the North Platte River drainage. No one knows for sure if 10 percent more snow created from cloud seeding would necessarily produce 10 percent more water for the state’s supply. “Those basic questions have not been answered,” Geerts said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.