Precipitation news

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice:

Several Colorado ski areas have already picked up more than 100 inches of snow this season, with Steamboat leading the pack at 111 inches. Breckenridge has reported 109 inches of snowfall for the season…Vail also broke the 100-inch mark during the most recent wave of snow…Beaver Creek is at 73 inches for the season and has about 800 acres of terrain open for early December skiing…Copper has picked up 87 inches of snow so far, and an automate SNOTEL site at Copper is showing that the snowpack is nearly double the average for this time of year…Keystone year-to-date snowfall…[is] 78 inches…Just across the Divide, Loveland also broke the century mark, with 101 inches of snow.

Colorado State University Scientists Lead Team Studying Precipitation in Higher-Latitude Clouds

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Here’s the release from Colorado State University:

Scientists have gained a much better picture of how much precipitation comes from clouds thanks to CloudSat, NASA’s first cloud-profiling radar in orbit designed in part by former Colorado State University researcher Graeme Stephens.

Even the best technology in the world needs a backup plan: Scientists need to check the measurements from CloudSat against actual observations in the sky to ensure that their predictions and models are working.

Tristan L’Ecuyer, a Colorado State research scientist and one of the original crew working on CloudSat with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, spent five weeks in September and October flying over Helsinki, Finland, to measure precipitation in clouds at higher latitudes. These clouds produce light, steady rainfall that makes up a large fraction of the fresh water that supports life at higher latitudes. Helsinki gets extended periods – usually two months – of this type of light rainfall, L’Ecuyer said.

L’Ecuyer flew in a specially equipped plane – owned by the National Science Foundation – to compare measurements of cloud particles and raindrops against precipitation models and CloudSat observations.

The experiment, known as the Light Precipitation Validation Experiment, provided some of the first observational data on these types of clouds. Also working on the project were research scientist Matt Lebsock and graduate student Norm Wood, both from Colorado State, as well as scientists from the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the University of Helsinki, Environment Canada and the University of Wyoming, which hosts the plane.

“Light rainfall at higher latitudes is an important source of fresh water that could be susceptible to climate change. It’s really important to be able to verify whether our model of future changes in light rainfall are on the right track or not,” L’Ecuyer said. “We’re trying to measure the whole vertical profile of the cloud that produces precipitation to help explain what we see from space with CloudSat. The CloudSat observations can then be used to test climate models globally.”

Measurements collected during the experiment show how these high-latitude clouds produce precipitation: Small ice particles at the top of the cloud collect into snow crystals just above the freezing mark. As those particles start to fall and the temperature warms above freezing, they collapse and turn into rain drops.

“We watched the ice crystals melt as we flew down through the clouds – you can’t see that with the naked eye,” L’Ecuyer said. “We’re studying the properties of the air, the humidity, temperature and the water content as well as how much rainfall actually landed.”

Funding for the project was provided through CloudSat and JPL.

Stephens, formerly at CSU and now at JPL, is the principal investigator on NASA CloudSat mission, which is one of the few university-led Earth science missions. CloudSat launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara, Calif., and reached its destination 438 miles above Earth in April 2006. Colorado State’s Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere – a partnership with NOAA – collects and distributes data from CloudSat to scientists across the globe.

The National League of Cities is holding its Congress of Cities and Exposition today in Denver

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From The Denver Post:

The National League of Cities is holding its Congress of Cities and Exposition at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver through Saturday. Thousands of municipal elected officials and city workers are in town for seminars with titles such as “Regional Perspectives on Water Infrastructure.”

Ben Grumbles takes over the reins at the Clean Water Alliance

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Say hello to the Clean Water Alliance. From their website:

The 501(c)(3) nonprofit Clean Water America Alliance (CWAA) is working today to explore the complex issue of water sustainability and plan for the future by improving public awareness that advances holistic, watershed-based approaches to water quality and quantity challenges. A broad cross-section of interests have come together through the Alliance to begin an important dialogue on the future – focusing on exploring and analyzing issues of critical importance to the nation’s ability to provide clean and safe waters to future generations, offering information and education to citizens and policy-makers on key issues, and recognizing organizations and individuals for innovation and outstanding achievements in the water quality and quantity arena.

Here’s the Grumbles’ announcement (Lorraine Lokin):

The Clean Water America Alliance welcomes Ben Grumbles, a dynamic water policy leader, as its new President beginning in December. A passionate civil servant, Grumbles served as Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and is the longest serving Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “The Alliance is uniquely positioned to make a big difference and improve water policy nationally and locally,” explains Grumbles. “I’m honored to have the chance to help unite, rather than divide, people and interests and make meaningful progress sustaining America’s most precious liquid asset.”

Grumbles has served on the Alliance Board of Directors since April 2009 and chaired the organization’s national dialogue series which concluded this past September. He succeeds Ken Kirk, who shepherded the Alliance for its first three years. Kirk will continue his role as the Executive Director of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). “New leadership is critical at this time to move the Alliance forward” says Kirk. “I believe strongly in the organization’s objectives and will continue to participate in other capacities going forward.”

While serving as the Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Grumbles focused on three priority areas: conservation and reuse of water (e.g. wastewater recycling), clean energy and climate change (e.g. solar power, vehicle emissions, uranium mining), and collaboration (e.g. the Colorado River, the Mexican Border, e-waste recycling). While serving as the Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. EPA he led its National Water Program from January 2004 – January 2009. He also served as associate administrator for EPA’s Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations in 2004, working with mayors, governors, and state and federal legislators.

Prior to EPA, Grumbles worked as a Senior Counsel for the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Environmental Counsel and Deputy Chief of Staff for the Science Committee. He also taught for 10 years at the Environmental Law Program of George Washington University Law School from 1994 to 2004. Ben has a BA degree in English from Wake Forest University in North Carolina, a JD degree from Emory Law School in Georgia, and an LLM (Masters) degree in environmental law from George Washington Law School in Washington, D.C.

Their Urban Water Sustainability Leadership Conference is next week.

Interbasin Compact Committee meeting recap: Strategies to take the pressure off agricultural water

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

During its meeting at the Denver West Sheraton on Wednesday, the IBCC unveiled that progress in a draft strategy for sustaining the state’s future water supply. Its four-pronged tenets are a blend of water conservation, identified projects and processes (IPPs), agricultural transfers and developing new supplies.

While agricultural transfers are a staple in the strategy, delicate handling of them and a mindful perspective on their impact also are keys, and minimizing agricultural transfers is an objective of the IBCC’s strategy. “Large-scale dryup of irrigated agriculture has considerable adverse economic and environmental impacts,” the report said. “While some future portion of (municipal and industrial) water will come from agricultural sources, encouraging alternative agricultural transfers and new water supply development is essential to prevent the dryup of agricultural land. To the extent the conservation, IPPs and new water supply development is successful, less water will be transferred out of agriculture to meet the (municipal and industrial) gap.”

One mechanism proposed in the report to protect agricultural water is a legislative fix that makes long-term leasing of water rights more enticing to municipalities. [IBCC member Jay Winner of Pueblo] said that could be an effective step away from the “buy-and-dry” approach that can cripple agricultural areas and the economies they support.

Winner forecast that projects mirroring the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch that feed the urban thirst for water while halting buy-and-dry situations will be another alternative to selling the water that feeds Colorado farms. “It could be the model for the Western United States that keeps agriculture whole while saving municipalities,” Winner said…

The IBCC recommended proceeding with planned water projects such as the Super Ditch in order to be prepared for the population boom and to accommodate its water needs as it gradually arrives. Among the report’s more bold recommendations was state funding for those long-term projects, even if it costs $18 billion. That is a monumental sum at a time when the state is confronting a $1 billion budget deficit, and the general fund at the Colorado General Assembly’s disposal is about $7 billion annually…

Among the more radical ideas contained in the report were the means of conservation. They included adopting a statewide plumbing code for reduced flows and requiring retrofits of water-using fixtures (such as toilets and sinks) to meet certain use conservation standards before a building or house could be sold. Gov. Bill Ritter said he recognized the value of those recommendations, but warned the IBCC to expect a fight from cities and counties that presently enjoy local control over those matters…

Winner said the conservation efforts outlined in the plan aren’t folly, but will be absolutely necessary in order for the state’s water needs to be met a half-century from now. “If the people of Colorado want the state that they envision, they need to take a serious look at this now,” Winner said. Other strategies proposed in the plan include greater state support from permitting to completion of water projects and steep fees to areas that gain water by taking it from another part of the state…

Winner said the timeline is indefinite for the recommendations in the plan to progress from draft to implementation. Certain aspects could be the topic of legislation in the General Assembly when it reconvenes in January, but much of the report will next be vetted by basin roundtables throughout the state.

More coverage — Governor Ritter’s speech at the meeting — from Patrick Malone writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The only way to balance the competing water interests of municipalities and agriculture is to move forward with a strategy for sustained water availability that takes both into account, Ritter said. Likewise, other opposing water forces — energy and nonenergy users, and consumptive and nonconsumptive uses — also must be weighed on the scale of reason when crafting water strategies for the future, the governor said. “You have to reinvent this,” Ritter said, emphasizing that factious fighting between the competing interests in the water arena must join forces to assure that none is left without…

Along with funding for higher education, Ritter said he warned his successor, Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper, that water is a matter of paramount importance awaiting him when he takes office in January. Ritter interjected his belief that human-caused global warming could impact precipitation levels in the future and further limit the water available to the state in the future. He urged even those in the water community who doubt global-warming theories to take heed of the projected impact on precipitation as they plan for the future. “You can’t think about water without some of the forecasting that’s been done, because it’s dire,” Ritter said. “I don’t think it’s something you can dismiss or ignore in terms of planning the future of water availability in Colorado.”

More coverage from the Associated Press (Stephen K. Paulson) via CB Online. From the article:

The panel suggested the state should coordinate, support and endorse projects. One of their main conclusions was that the state needs more storage on the Western Slope. They also suggested that the governor issue an executive order to state agencies to implement a water use reduction and conservation plan. Suggestions included requiring people who sell their house to replace appliances with water efficient models and help utilities reduce water use. Until now, the state has left most water development projects to loca l communities and shied away from promoting water projects until the federal government gave its approval…

“We can’t get to a state with 10 million people without thinking about water. We have often prided ourselves on local control of these issues … but at the same time, we need the statewide vision. If we don’t have statewide vision, we will do the unthinkable, which is become less of an agricultural state and become a state where water usage is for residential and municipal use,” he told the panel…

Former state Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament, a farmer who attended the water basin meetings but has no official role, said the report does little to solve problems in conservation, loss of agricultural land and finding new water sources.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Hite will rise again

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I just finished re-reading Edward Abbey‘s Hayduke Lives! where our favorite fictional eco-terroist gang takes on Bishop Love and the forces of mining in the Arizona Strip. I love Abbey’s writing and share many of his sentiments about the canyon country.

“Hite will rise again,” says Abbey — through the character Seldom Seen Smith. The town was flooded by Lake Powell but there was (is?) a marina there.

While looking for graphics for the Eagle River watershed this morning I ran across a great photo of Hite Marina on the Colorado River District website. It seems that the 10 year drought in the Southwestern U.S. has done the job for old Seldom Seen. Click on the thumbnail graphic above and to the right for the photo.

Here’s the link to the Colorado River District photo gallery.

Eagle River watershed: Water Settlement Secures Water Rights on the Upper Eagle River

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Here’s the release from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (Diane Johnson):

A settlement reached between water users on the Upper Eagle River has ended years of legal battles over water rights in the Minturn area, and set the stage for future cooperation on water quality and water supply issues in the Eagle River Basin.

Four cases, filed between 2005 and 2007, were settled between several of the major parties earlier this year, which eventually resulted in final decrees that secure water rights for the town of Minturn and the Battle Mountain Project.

“The settlement protects existing water rights and the water quality of the Eagle River, while providing for the development of new water rights to serve the future growth of Minturn and a more limited proposed Battle Mountain development project,” said Bob Warner, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District board chairman.

The settlement and decrees also provide Minturn with the ability to serve the future growth of the Town which occurs outside of the Battle Mountain Project using portions of its historic senior water rights, its junior water rights, and existing storage water in the Eagle River basin. The Battle Mountain Project will be served with new water rights.

Signatories to the settlement include the Town of Minturn, Battle Mountain, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, Vail Associates, Inc., Eagle Park Reservoir Company, and the Arrowhead, Beaver Creek, Berry Creek, Eagle-Vail, Edwards, Holland Creek, and Red Sky Ranch Metropolitan Districts.

“We believe the water quality and water use interests of the Upper Eagle River basin are best served when there is cooperation between all the users of this natural resource,” said Warner. He added that it is his desire that “the agreement reached between the parties will signal a new era of joint cooperation toward effective use and protection of Eagle River water.”

The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District has also agreed to make available to Minturn up to 50 acre-feet of the District’s storage water in either Eagle Park Reservoir or Homestake Reservoir, both of which are upstream of Minturn. “This water will be available to serve growth within Minturn’s original, pre-2008 water service area,” said Warner.

Water for the future Battle Mountain Project will come from proposed junior water rights stored in a proposed 1,210 acre-foot reservoir at Bolts Lake, south of the existing town of Minturn.

The settlement allows Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Eagle Park Reservoir Company, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and Vail Associates to monitor the design, remediation, and monitoring systems proposed for the Bolts Lake area. “This cooperative effort will ensure that water quality of the Eagle River is protected from historic activities conducted at the Eagle Mine, south of Minturn,” said Tom Leonhardt, Authority board chairman.

“In signing the settlement, the Minturn Town Council showed great vision and leadership,” said Dave Kleinkopf, a principal in Crave Real Estate and general partner of Battle Mountain. “In addition to achieving a very significant first step in making the Battle Mountain project a reality, the Council also secured the water future for the town.”

For more information, contact Minturn Town Manager, Jim White, at (970) 824-5645 or ERWSD General Manager, Dennis Gelvin, at (970) 476-7480 or visit

More Eagle River watershed coverage here and here.

Historical water price trends

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Here’s a report about the prices of raw water and the current trends from Steve Maxwell writing for the American Water Works Association. It’s not hard to predict what would happen if the market moved to private industry. Here’s an excerpt:

Today, declining water availability has become a critical determinant of future growth in many areas of the West: Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Denver, Colo.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Southern California. As such situations develop, water is gradually transferred from agricultural irrigation to municipal consumption, and the prices of such water transfers are increasing sharply…

As conditions of water scarcity and stress continue to develop in more and more regions around the world, water will continue to exhibit rapidly increasing prices. As this discussion demonstrates, we have already seen these trends in Australia and the western United States—and the conditions are in place for this or a similar trend to occur in many other parts of the world. As price rises, there will be more and more incentive for improved utilization of water, increased recycling, and increased reuse of water as well as more focus on wiser allocation of water among competing uses. Further- more, as water’s value is increas- ingly recognized and as its price continues to increase, water seems likely to begin to evolve into a new financial asset class as well—an increasingly attractive opportunity to invest in. For example, as shown in Figure 4, the price of Colorado water rights is indexed against various other investment asset indexes from 1989 to 2006. A dollar invested in water rights in that state would have clearly returned more than a dollar invested in most any of the other standard financial investment cate- gories—the stock market, precious metals, real estate, or commodi- ties. Water is our most precious commodity, and its price will increasingly reflect that fact.