Aspinall Unit update

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users will begin the irrigation season this week by starting diversion of water through the Gunnison Tunnel. Over the next three days, the Water Users will be gradually increasing diversions to 250 cfs. Releases from Crystal Reservoir will likewise increase. Flows in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge will fluctuate slightly during this transition, but will end up near the present flow of about 600 cfs.

Don’t forget to put the Aspinall Operations meeting on your calendar for 1:00 p.m., April 22nd , to be held in Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office – Grand Junction, 2764 Compass Drive, Suite 106. We’ll be discussing spring operations and other Gunnison River basin water related activities The public is welcome.

Please contact Dan Crabtree (dcrabtree@usbr.gov) with questions or suggested agenda items.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Snowpack news: El Niño weakening

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Update: From the Aspen Daily News:

While the weather was still dry in Aspen around 8:30 a.m. Thursday, a “pretty miraculous” storm had moved into the Snowmass Village area, causing whiteout conditions, according to Snowmass Village police Sgt. Brian Olson. In the span of just a few hours, about a foot of new snow fell on Snowmass ski area, while Aspen Mountain saw only 5 inches, according to snow totals reported by Aspen Skiing Co. Thursday afternoon.

From the Longmont Times-Call:

[Don Graffis, a soil conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service] was part of a team that trekked up Longs Peak on Tuesday to measure the snowpack. They found that with 8.8 inches of moisture, the snowpack is at 81 percent of the 30-year average. Last month, it was at 78 percent, with 6.7 inches. “Last year at this time, we were at 8.6 inches of moisture,” Graffis said. “So we are very close to what we were seeing last year on this site.”[…]

At NRCS’ measuring site near Ward, the snowpack is 100 percent of the average, with 5.7 inches of water, he said.

From NBC11News.com (James Hopkins):

The snowpack is ten percent below average, with some basins in the north central mountains at 20 percent below average. This means stream flows are also expected to be low when rafters start heading out onto the water. “Some of the upper regions will have some challenges and maybe some shorter seasons,” says [Outfitter Tom] Kleinschnitz.

The El Nino winter has pushed the bulk of the snow to the southern parts of the state, favoring the San Juans, causing the Upper Colorado basin to fall short. “As a result the southern mountains are 100% while the northern mountains are around the 70–80% range,” says Meteorologist, Mike Chamberlain. The Green River, which feeds in to the Colorado is even further behind. “The upper and lower Green river is in the 50–60% range,” says Chamberlain…

Rivers in the southern part of the state are already flowing as normal. While Grand Junction is looking to see sunshine as early as tomorrow, the higher elevations, are expecting snow straight through to next Wednesday. “The northern mountains will do a little better out of this storm,”says Chamberlain. With some areas seeing accumulations of up to two feet. Which might not bring them back to normal, but every inch helps.

From The Greeley Tribune (Bill Jackson):

Todd Boldt, along with John Fusaro, conservationists with the Fort Collins office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, surveyed the April water content of the snowpack in the Poudre Canyon on Wednesday, after doing the same thing in the Big Thompson Canyon the day before. At the 10,276-foot summit at Cameron Pass, the content was 65 percent of the 30-year average and 61 percent of last year’s reading. “That’s not as bad as 2002, but it’s not good,” Fusaro said, referring to the middle of what turned out to be one of the worst droughts in history…

Even in those snowfields that showed above-average amounts, the density of the snow was considerably lower than is normally found at this time of year, which means the water content of that snowpack is not that good. That was particularly true in the Big Thompson Canyon.

Don Magnuson is the superintendent of the Cache la Poudre Irrigation and Reservoir Co., which supplies irrigation water to some 40,000 acres from near Windsor to east of Greeley and Eaton. He wasn’t happy with the latest snowpack numbers, but he emphasized the snowpack is just part of the big picture. “Reservoir storage is great, and that’s why they are there to help us through something like this. It’s yet to be seen how tight things get, and it may look real bad coming out of this in the fall. But right now, soil moisture is good, and if we don’t lose that we can get things started,” Magnuson said.

From the South Florida Sun Sentinel (Eliot Kleinberg):

At the [National Hurricane Conference] opening session Wednesday, National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read credited the quiet 2009 season to El Niño, the pattern of warm Pacific waters that tends to hinder tropical storm formation. But with the hurricane season set to start on June 1, El Niño is showing signs of weakening, which could mean more storms. Colorado State’s [Phil] Klotzbach told the conference that computer models suggest “El Niño, which is our friend and kept hurricane activity down last summer, will be gone by June or July.”

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

Last month was the 18th warmest and 34th wettest March in Fort Collins in Colorado State University’s 122 years of recordkeeping, according to the Colorado Climate Center’s March monthly weather summary report. The city received 1.55 inches of wet precipitation, or 109 percent of normal. Total monthly snowfall was 13.1 inches last month, or 111 percent of normal.

From the Craig Daily Press (Nicole Inglis):

National Weather Service Forecaster Aldis Strautins said a Pacific cold front stalled [Thursday] over western Colorado, focusing the moisture over Craig and surrounding areas. Strautins said the mountains in Northwest Colorado could see more than 8 inches, however, after the cold front moves through, cool temperatures will make for lighter snow, easing the burden on power lines. The forecast for Easter weekend includes two more storms to pass through the area before Tuesday, bringing more precipitation and wind to Craig.

From Steamboat Today (Brent Boyer):

A winter storm warning is in effect until 6 a.m. Friday for the mountains surrounding Steamboat. A winter weather advisory will impact the valley’s lower elevations, including the city of Steamboat Springs. Between 8 and 14 inches of snow could fall in Steamboat, with higher amounts in the northern part of the county, including Clark. The total storm accumulation could reach 8 to 16 inches at the Steamboat Ski Area. The storm will be accompanied by winds of 15 to 25 mph, and gusts as high as 40 and 50 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Colorado legislative roundup

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

The $7 billion bill to fund the state government passed the House on Thursday on a 40-25 vote. Rep. Ellen Roberts of Durango was one of three Republicans to vote for the measure. The bill now goes to the Senate…

The ninth bill in Gov. Bill Ritter’s tax package cleared the Legislature. House Bill 1197 caps the conservation easement tax credit program at $26 million a year. That’s an estimated $37 million less than the state would have given out in tax credits to preserve land from urban development. The Senate passed the bill 22-13 on Monday, and the House agreed with changes Thursday and repassed the bill on a 38-26 vote…

A bill to crack down on uranium mill pollution won strong support from the House in a voice vote Thursday. House Bill 1348, by Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, requires faster cleanup of pollution at uranium mills. The bill is targeted to Colorado’s only uranium mill, in Cañon City. A second mill could be built in Montrose County. It would not be affected by HB 1348 unless it attempted to expand without cleaning any pollution it might create.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone). From the article:

The House gave preliminary approval Thursday to a bill that would hold the Cotter Corp. uranium mill near Canon City more accountable for pollution and notification of residents in polluted areas. Next, HB1348, sponsored by Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, faces a full vote of the House…

Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Colorado Springs, on Thursday said Cotter has polluted millions of gallons of groundwater. “Uranium companies need to be responsible and clean up their mess,” she said.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Aurora: Prairie Waters Project update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

If it weren’t for an array of metal electrical boxes and some pipes sticking up from the ground, there would be little to indicate that a state-of-the-art water system is percolating under your feet. Driving along the pipeline, which follows E-470 for about half of its 34 miles north to Aurora, you try not to blink or you’ll miss the pump station visible from the freeway. When you reach the Peter D. Binney Water Purification Facility just below Aurora Reservoir, you’re tempted to walk inside and ask for the park ranger. There’s water cascading down some steps into a clear blue pond — called a forebay. “There’s not much to see until you get into the water treatment plant,” Aurora Water director Mark Pifher apologizes…

“About 90 percent of our water is reusable in the system from all sources,” Pifher said. “Since all sources come through the treatment plant in Denver, we will use them all in the same proportion.” Aurora draws water from the South Platte, Colorado and Arkansas river basins, and reusing more of it through Prairie Waters will cut down on the amount it takes from its sources. Initially, the $659 million Prairie Waters Project will recycle up to 10,000 acre-feet — 3.25 billion gallons — each year.

“The footprint’s there so we can expand it to 50,000 acre-feet as we grow,” Pifher said. That would nearly double Aurora’s water supply from its current yield of about 58,000 acre-feet…

The first water moved through it this week, as workers and engineers tested the lines installed over the past three years. The project is more than 90 percent complete and a formal dedication is planned in September…

Aurora ratepayers will finance about 60 percent of the project, while new growth in the city is expected to pay for the rest. That’s a somewhat unusual mix for a water project, with more cost usually assigned to growth, but the drought hardening aspect of the project benefits Aurora’s current users, who have been under constant restrictions for water use since 2002. Once Prairie Waters is up and running, it will not take any additional employees to run it. The pump stations require periodic maintenance, and the automated water purification plant requires only six operators, Baker said.

More Prairie Waters coverage here and here.