Snowpack news

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From The Mountain Mail: “Statewide snowpack measured March 1, was 108 percent of average, while a month ago it was 117 percent of average. Snowpack was 120 percent of average Jan. 1…

“Southern Colorado reported some of the greatest decreases in percentage of average snowpack including the Arkansas River basin which decreased 14 percent from last month.

“Despite decreased percentages, Colorado snowpack totals remain above average nearly statewide. The South Platte basin recorded the only below average snowpack – 94 percent of average. Elsewhere in the state, snowpack percentages range from 102 percent of average in the North Platte basin, to 115 percent of average in the Colorado River Basin. Snowpack this year dipped to significantly less than that measured last year at this time. Statewide snowpack is 80 percent of that last year, and basinwide totals remain well below last year in the Rio Grande and combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores, and San Miguel basins.”

More coverage from the Longmont Times Call:

The statewide snowpack, measured Sunday by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, was 108 percent of average. A month ago, though, it was was 117 percent of average. Only the South Platte basin recorded a below average snowpack, at 94 percent of average. Longmont gets its water from the South Platte basin and the Colorado River basin, which measures 115 percent of average.”

More coverage from (Dave Delozier):

Denver Water will also be watching the month of March closely as well for precipitation. “March certainly is a month that can tell us a lot about what the summer is going to look like,” Stacy Chesney, spokesperson for Denver Water, said. She says that while an assessment of Denver’s watersheds on Feb. 1 didn’t show reason for alarm, March is a month they count on to help fill the reservoirs. Additionally last month saw less snow fall in Denver than any February in history…On March 1, the statewide snowpack measured 108 percent above average. Just a month ago, that figure was at 117 percent and in January it was at 120 percent.

More coverage from the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Snowpack in the high-elevation mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 93% to 146% of the 30-year average, with the highest readings on the south side of the valley and the lowest readings on the north side. This is similar to last year when the moisture content was 96% to 133% of average on March 1, although last February was much snowier than this February. Snow at the lower elevations in Middle Park has undergone a February thaw and does not reflect the above-average snowpack conditions at higher elevation. Snow density is averaging 28%, which means that for a foot of snow there are 3.3 inches of water.

In Colorado, the snowpack on the western slope exceeds that of the eastern slope, and all major basins are above average except for the South Platte. The highest snowpack, relative to normal, is in the Roaring Fork sub-basin of the Colorado River Basin. Reported readings for the major river basins in Colorado are as follows: The upper Colorado River Basin averages 115%; Gunnison River Basin, 109%; South Platte River Basin, 96%; Yampa River Basin, 112%; White River Basins, 107%; Arkansas River Basin, 109%; Upper Rio Grande Basin, 108%; San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River Basins 107%; and the Laramie and North Platte River Basins, 102% of average for this time of year.

Graywater reclamation research

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Colorado State University is taking on the job of doing the science around gray water reclamation systems in order to develop recommendations. Here’s a report from CSU via the Athletic Turf News. From the article:

Graywater – nonpotable water from showers, handwash sinks and laundry – is used for residential landscape irrigation in a number of states in the Southwest; however, little is known about long-term effects of this practice, according to Colorado State University civil engineers.

Sybil Sharvelle and Larry Roesner, professors with the Urban Water Center in Colorado State’s College of Engineering, are in the first year of a 3-year $370,000 graywater study awarded by the Water Environment Research Foundation to investigate the effects of using household graywater for residential landscape irrigation. They are sampling soil, plants, and water at homes with graywater systems in California, Arizona, Texas and Colorado. Four of the homes have graywater systems that have been in place for more than five years, and four additional homes will have new systems installed before spring of 2009.

Three homes with systems in place for more than 5 years – in Colorado, California and Texas – have been tested to date.

“We are assessing plant health, soil chemistry and microorganisms in graywater irrigation areas and comparing the findings with samples taken in the same yard where similar vegetation exists that is irrigated with city water,” Sharvelle said. “You can’t just assume that if a plant looks good now, that it has long-term viability. By applying scientific analyses of plant health, soil quality and microbial populations, we will be able to shed better light on whether it is safe to irrigate landscape for long periods with graywater.”

For the study, the team picked states where governments have taken interest in graywater systems or where regulatory processes have been established. California, for example, has detailed regulations for graywater irrigation systems, targeted at minimizing human interaction with graywater due to concerns about pathogens and graywater chemical constituents such as surfactants – a common ingredient in soap. Arizona has a permitting process that tracks graywater systems through the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Colorado is currently working to develop regulations for outdoor graywater reuse…

The study is one of four projects that Roesner and Sharvelle are leading on campus. The team also is working with the CSU Department of Facilities Management on several projects involving campus facilities including:

-Construction and monitoring of a wetlands treatment system for graywater at the Atmospheric Chemistry building on the Foothills campus. Students planted bull rushes and cattails last summer that, so far, are removing nearly all of the pathogen indicator organisms in sink and shower water, Sharvelle said. Researchers are also hauling shower and laundry water from a university residence hall to the Foothills campus to increase the quantity of water treated.

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-Installing an anaerobic digester at the Atmospheric Chemistry building to treat toilet water or “blackwater” and test it as a source of renewable energy. Anaerobic processes generate methane, which can generate electricity.

-Plumbing one wing of the new residence hall, under construction, for complete capture of graywater from sinks, showers and laundry water; in addition, water supply lines to toilets are being plumbed to use either domestic water, or non-potable water (irrigation water or conditioned graywater) for toilet flushing. Studies by Sharvelle and Roesner will determine what level of treatment of graywater is required to make it suitable for toilet flushing. They are working with Water Legacy, a Colorado manufacturer of graywater treatment systems.

Energy policy — oil shale: Water requirements for production

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Here’s a recap of a February forum hosted by the Rocky Mountain and Northwest Colorado Farmers Unions and the Bookcliff Conservation District, from Mike McKibbin writing for the Rifle Citizen Telegram. From the article:

Dan Birch, deputy general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District went over the results of a water demands study released late last year by the Colorado, White and Yampa River basin water roundtable. It looked at the combined estimated water needs for coal, natural gas, oil shale and uranium over the next several decades…

Direct and indirect water demands for the oil shale industry could reach 152,000 acre-feet in the long term…

Still, Birch said he did not think water availability would limit future energy production, including oil shale. “Energy interests already have an abundant amount of conditional water rights to use,” he said. “If they have none, they have the resources to acquire new sources. And those rights will be acquired from agriculture.” Birch said the river district would rather see those rights acquired through new appropriations and perfection of an estimated thousands of cubic feet of conditional water rights and hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of conditional storage rights already held by the industry. “I think there may be an opportunity somewhere in the mid-range of these estimates to work with the industry on a water project to provide water not only for the industry, but for agricultural, municipal, environmental and other needs,” Birch said. Any new storage project would not be built on the main stem of any major river in Colorado, Birch said…

Electrical production needs for the in situ processes rise to near 19,000 megawatts in the long-term, high-production scenario, he added. “To compare, the Craig generating station, which I think is the largest coal-fired plant in Colorado, has a 1,300-megawatt capacity,” Birch said. In the mid-range estimate, Birch said it could be possible for Shell to generate their own electricity, using natural gas produced on site.

In situ processes also require an estimated 1.5 barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced, while the underground mining and retort process previously used by Exxon and others in the last oil shale boom used 2.9 barrels of water per barrel of produced oil, Birch said. Shell, which has tested an in situ process using electrical heaters and a “freezewall” to protect groundwater for the last several years in Rio Blanco County, might only require one barrel of water per barrel of oil, he added. Those figures assume a long-term, high-production rate of 1.5 million barrels of oil a day for the in situ process, Birch pointed out…

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.