Secretary Salazar pow wows with the governors of the Colorado River basin states

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From the Ridenbugh Press/Water Rights (Randy Stapilus):

As a record drought goes into its eleventh year, Secretary Salazar called today’s meeting to discuss a number of ongoing water issues confronting the Department and the States, and to continue the collaboration that has historically occurred on such issues. At today’s meeting, the state and departmental representatives renewed their commitment to a strong working partnership with open lines of communication in order to tackle the challenges ahead.

Thanks to Loretta Lohman for the link.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Cache la Poudre River: Lawsuit to be filed by conservation groups over the Arapahoe snowfly

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From email from Save the Poudre (Gary Wockner):

Today a coalition of citizens’ groups provided the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) with a formal written notice of the groups’ intent to sue the Agency over its failure to address the groups’ petition to list the Arapahoe Snowfly, an insect important for the ecological health of the Poudre River basin, as an endangered species. Snowflies (sometimes called winter stoneflies) require cool, clear rivers and streams to survive, which makes them excellent biological indicators of watershed health – the Poudre Watershed is the Arapahoe Snowfly’s only known place of existence on earth. The Arapahoe Snowfly is endangered by a host of environmental problems, including stream dewatering. Scientists and conservation groups believe the Snowfly is on the brink of extinction in the Poudre River ecosystem.

“Our organization’s mission is to protect and restore the Poudre River,” said Gary Wockner of Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper. “And that extends to every species living in the river. We believe the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is violating the Endangered Species Act by not addressing our petition to list the Arapahoe Snowfly.”

By law, when any person or group petitions the USFWS to list a species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the USFWS has 90 days to evaluate the petition and make a “finding.” The coalition of groups filed the petition on April 6, 2010 – the finding should have occurred by July 6, 2010. The Service is now nearly 5 months late.

“Unfortunately, these delays are all too common in our dealings with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Nicole Rosmarino, whose group WildEarth Guardians is leading the legal effort to list the Arapahoe Snowfly under the ESA. “While the USFWS has paid lip service to speeding up its ESA work, hundreds of species remain waiting for findings in the United States. The Arapahoe Snowfly simply cannot wait – we will continue to press the government to issue a finding on this species.”

There are now 251 species of plants and wildlife that are formal “candidates” awaiting federal listing. Many of these species have been on the waiting list for protection for a decade or more. Outside of Hawaii, only 4 new U.S. species have been listed under the Act since Interior Secretary Ken Salazar took office. At the current pace, it would take nearly a century to get through the backlog of candidate species in the continental U.S.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to act immediately,” said Scott Black of Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “The Poudre River ecosystem cannot afford to lose the Arapahoe Snowfly – we can’t allow the Snowfly to go extinct.”

Co-signing the NOI are all of the groups that originally filed the petition, including: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation , an international nonprofit scientific organization dedicated to protecting wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat; Dr. Boris Kondratieff , a Colorado State University entomologist and expert in aquatic insects who discovered the Arapahoe Snowfly; Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper , an organization that works to protect and restore the Cache la Poudre River; Cache la Poudre River Foundation , an organization founded for the protection of Wild Trout through the town of Fort Collins, Colorado; WildEarth Guardians , which protects and restores wildlife, wild rivers and wild places in the American West; and Center for Native Ecosystems , a group dedicated to protecting native species and their habitats in the Rocky Mountain Region.

The Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue is publicly posted here:

Read the petition.

Read more about the Arapahoe snowfly.

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

A coalition of environmental and citizen activist groups today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for failing to act on a petition to list the Arapahoe Snowfly – native to the Poudre River basin in northern Colorado – as an endangered species. The snowfly, also called winter snowflies, are only found in the Poudre watershed, but are seen by conservationists as an “indicator species’ indicative of the overall biological health of watershed. The groups planning to sue the USFWS cite scientists who feel the snowfly is on the brink of extinction, an indication the Poudre is succumbing to mounting pressure from a variety of users.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

NIDIS Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment Summary of the Upper Colorado River Basin

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Here are this week’s notes from the Colorado Climate Center (Wendy Ryan/Henry Reges).

Precipitation news

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From the Longmont Daily Times Call (Scott Rochat):

Longmont logged just 3 inches of snow for November, a quarter of its usual 12-inch tally. But a couple of early rainstorms helped keep the water coming: 0.66 inches of precipitation for the month (vs. a 0.83 average) and 13.23 inches for the year (compared to an average of 13.57.) Now the bad news: It might stay dry. For a while. “It does fit the La Niña pattern,” said Times-Call weather expert Dave Larison. “If it continues like this, we might have to be watering lawns in January or February just to keep the moisture up.”

Cloud-seeding starting up in Summit County

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Combined, Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin are pitching in $75,000 to help pay for the installation of five new silver iodide generators and two months of operations, with an option to extend the deal for a third month at a cost of $20,000. Vail has been cloud-seeding for more than 30 years, but this the first time Summit County ski resorts have been directly targeted by the program, which is part of a larger regional effort to increase winter snowfall and spring runoff…

The state permitting process addresses environmental and public safety concerns with triggers that require a cessation of cloud-seeding in certain conditions, For example, when parts of Colorado were under a blizzard warning during the Thanksgiving weekend, cloud seeding stopped…

The Summit County cloud-seeding program involves manually operated ground-based generators that release silver iodide particles into the atmosphere when conditions are favorable for precipitation. The particles help provide additional seed material for snow crystal formation. By some commonly accepted estimates, the process can increase precipitation by 5 to 15 percent.

More cloud-seeding coverage here.

Snowpack news

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Copper Mountain‘s reading is 189 percent of normal, with Grizzly Peak at 158 percent and Fremont Pass at 145 percent of normal. The only sites that were a bit below average are at lower elevations, for example Summit Ranch, at about 72 percent of average, according to Blue River Basin water commissioner Scott Hummer. Across the Blue River Basin, the snowpack is at 136 percent of the long-term average for Nov. 30, Hummer said, emphasizing that it’s the April and May readings that are critical for summer water supplies.

The November snow totals only represent a small percentage of the seasonal totals, but at least the winter is off to a good start, Hummer said. Statewide, the Nov. 30 snowpack is close to normal, at 104 percent. the highest reading comes from the North Platte Basin, at 150 percent of normal, while the lowest reading is in the Rio Grande Basin, at only 56 percent of average. So far, precipitation patterns have been in line with La Niña-based predictions that call for better than average snowfall across the northwestern part of the state, with below average snow down south…

All the state’s northern basins have above-average snowpack readings, with the Colorado Basin at 131 percent of average. The farther south you go, the lower the totals, with the Gunnison Basin at 87 percent, the Arkansas at 74 percent and the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basin at 66 percent. The South Platte — the key basin to Denver’s water supply, is at 116 percent of normal, thanks to snows in the headwaters area. Beyond that, the entire Front Range, and the plains out toward Kansas are now listed on the drought monitor under a D1 status, for moderate drought conditions — another forecast effect of a La Niña winter.

Regular autumn snowfall helped Summit County streamflows stay near average after they dipped very low in late summer, Hummer said. For example, the Blue River below Goose Pasture Tarn was flowing at 10 cfs Tuesday morning, just 1 cfs below the 27-year average. The record minimum flow was 7,8 cfs in 1993, the record high was 21 cfs, in 1985. Some local stream gauges are frozen, but the Snake River, just below Keystone’s snowmaking diversion, was flowing at 16. 2 cfs Tuesday morning, close to average and well above a state-set minimum of 6 cfs.

NRCS snowpack monitoring

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From The Greeley Tribune (Bill Jackson):

The USDA has conducted a cooperative snow survey program since 1935…The program is a federal, state and local partnership directed by NRCS and includes not only Colorado, but Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming as well. Alaska and southern Canada are also partners. California has an independent program. The program, under federal leadership, was developed following the drought of 1934, when ag leaders requested USDA’s help in forecasting water supplies for the 1935 growing season. Since then, about 1,600 snow courses have been developed. Generally, they are about 1,000 feet long and are located in small meadows protected from the wind. NRCS specialists, such as [John Fusaro and Todd Boldt with the Fort Collins NRCS office], take measurements near the first of the month during the snowpack season. In the Poudre Canyon, there are four such courses, and in the Big Thompson Canyon, there are four more…

In 1977, the NRCS began development of a network of automated radio telemetry sites for collecting snow survey data. The so-called SNOTEL network provides the agency’s offices with daily or more frequent information on streamflow potential. That comes in handy especially during periods of flood or drought. There are half a dozen or more SNOTEL sites in Larimer County and several more in northern Colorado.

The Colorado River District is kicking off a grant program for water resources projects

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From email from the Colorado River Water Conservation District (Martha Moore):

The Colorado River District is accepting grant applications for projects that protect, enhance or develop water resources within the 15-county area covered by the District. This includes all watersheds in north- and central- western Colorado, except the San Juan River basin.

Eligible projects must achieve one or more of the following:

– develop a new water supply

– improve an existing system

– improve instream water quality

– increase water use efficiency

– reduce sediment loading

– implement watershed management actions

– control tamarisk

– protect pre-1922 Colorado River Compact water rights

Past projects have included the construction of new water storage, the enlargement of existing water storage or diversion facilities, rehabilitation of non-functioning or restricted water resource structures and implementation of water efficiency measures and other watershed improvements. Such projects that utilize pre-1922 water rights will be given additional ranking priority over similar projects that do not. Each project will be ranked based upon its own merits in accordance with published ranking criteria.

Eligible applicants can receive up to a maximum of $150,000 ((or approximately 25% of the total project cost whichever is less, in the case of smaller projects this percentage may be slightly higher) for their project. The total grant pool for 2011 is $250,000. Application deadline is Jan. 31, 2011.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.