Ed Quillen: ‘I feel safe in offering these sure-fire predictions for the West in 2011’

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Here are Ed Quillen’s insights into the new year from the High Country News. From the article:

Petroleum prices will spike for some reason or another, perhaps political tension in the Persian Gulf or a storm in the Gulf of Mexico. Whatever the gulf, this will inspire politicians to demand the immediate development of “America’s vast oil shale reserves” in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. And of course they will denounce anyone who points out that to date, there is no economical method of producing petroleum from these rocks as they forget the old but true saying that “Oil shale is the fuel of the future — and always will be.”

Or my personal favorite, “Oil shale has been the next big thing in Colorado for over a hundred years.”

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More from Ed:

The Colorado River will continue to be over-appropriated, and someone will propose supplying southern California with water via tanker ships from Siberia or towed icebergs from Alaska, thereby allowing California’s share to be used by other states. But no such water will be imported in 2011.

Climate change: Will nitrogen be the new carbon in ten years?

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From The Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

“In 10 years, we won’t be talking about global warming, we’ll be talking about nitrogen,” Jay Ham, a meteorology and environmental expert in the soil and crop sciences department at Colorado State University said. “It’s a way bigger issue.” Everyone’s heard about minimizing their carbon footprint, sequestering carbon or trading carbon credits. But nitrogen, which converts into a particle capable of traveling long distances when it escapes into the atmosphere, is getting more attention in Colorado and around the country. During the Colorado Ag Classic, Ham explained that nitrogen is a greenhouse gas 300 times more efficient at trapping atmospheric radiation than carbon dioxide. It impairs visibility and interferes with plant and animal life. The level of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere has increased 20 percent over the last century…

Ham attributes half of agricultural nitrogen to concentrated animal feeding operations and another quarter of it to farm fertilizer. “In some crop and livestock systems, we’re removing 20 to 30 percent of the nitrogen we’re applying,” he said. “We can lose it to air or to water. So one thing we can do is to improve agricultural efficiency.” There are three main ways to keep nitrogen from escaping into the atmosphere, Ham said. They include reducing inputs, retaining more of the nitrogen in the finished product or storing it on-farm.

Water-smart home option now available to Colorado home buyers

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From the Associated Press via KDVR.com:

New homes in Colorado are getting a small change in 2011 — builders are now required to offer options to save water. The law taking effect Saturday requires builders to offer the option of “water-smart homes” that include options such as low-flow toilets.

More coverage from Tim Hoover writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

House Bill 1358, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, would require builders of single-family, detached homes to offer customers the option of water-conserving toilets, faucets and showerheads. The bill even specifies what kinds of fixtures qualify, noting for example that “toilets shall use no more than one and 2 8/100ths of a gallon per flush.” And if builders offer upgrades for appliances and landscaping, they also will have to offer homebuyers water-thrifty dishwashers and Xeriscaping.

More conservation coverage here.

The Colorado Farm Bureau honors State Senator Bruce Whitehead

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From The Durango Herald:

The Colorado Farm Bureau has awarded outgoing state Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, with the 2010 Pinnacle Award in recognition of his support of the agricultural community during the 2010 legislative session…

The annual award recognizes legislators who “go above and beyond the call of duty to promote Colorado’s agricultural interests,” a bureau news release said. “This is evident through their sponsorship and co-sponsorship of bills, their leadership in defending and advocating on behalf of Colorado agriculture, their cooperation with the industry, and their voting record on Farm Bureau priority issues.”[…]

“He worked for the Colorado Division of Water Resources for 25 years and was the past executive director for the Southwestern Water Conservation District,” [the bureau’s president, Don Shawcroft] said. “We look forward to seeing what the future holds for you.” Whitehead served as chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee during the 2010 legislative session. He was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter in 2009 to replace outgoing Sen. Jim Isgar, also of Hesperus.

Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project update

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The $100 million project, intended to help sustain new growth in water-poor Denver suburbs, also will inundate 45 acres of cottonwood, willow and Russian olive groves in the park, destroying habitat for about 60 bird species. This has put the Audubon Society, Denver Field Ornithologists and other birder groups at the front of opposition to the project. “You take away all those trees, all those birds that nested in the trees aren’t going to be here,” said Joey Kellner, who coordinates Denver’s annual bird count…

“We want to make sure that the ecological benefits are captured — because there are losses,” [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Gwyn Jarrett] said. “We’re going to do as much on-site as possible. It’s imperative that the public be involved. It’s in (suburban water agencies’) interest to meet the environmental concerns, because that means less opposition.”[…]

…authorities say the dam is strong enough to hold an additional 20,600 acre-feet trapped from the South Platte and Plum Creek. That would bring the total capacity to about 48,000 acre-feet of water.
The additional water could sustain about 41,200 households…

Colorado Water Conservation Board officials asked the Army Corps of Engineers to expand the reservoir on behalf of 15 metro water-user agencies. Residents who pay monthly water bills would have to pay the $100 million if the federal engineers approve the project. The South Metro Water Supply Authority and water suppliers in Castle Rock, Centennial and other suburbs currently rely heavily on groundwater wells that in some areas are running dry.

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here and here.

Energy policy — solar: Water requirements dictate solutions in the San Luis Valley

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

In Alamosa County, where three plants have secured power purchase agreements with Xcel Energy since 2009, companies have chosen to use photovoltaic technology largely because of its low water requirements. “The water has been one of the main determining factors to go with photovoltaic over some other types of solar plants,” said Craig Cotten, the division engineer in the valley for the Colorado Division of Water Resources…

The water needs for the photovoltaic plants have been met by the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, which normally provides augmentation water for business and residential developments. The augmentation water is used to replace the depletions to the system caused by the new uses and ensure senior users are not injured. Mike Gibson, the district’s manager, said supplying the photovoltaic plants was no different than how it supplies its other clients, with the exception that additional agreements were needed with ditch companies to move the water to the plants. Moreover, the district also struck agreements with neighboring landowners to build recharge pits, where the replacement water filters back into the aquifer.

When solar companies began flooding the San Luis Valley with proposals that never made it off the drawing board, a number of them called for utilizing concentrated solar power, also known as solar thermal technology. Those types of plants gather the heat from the sun and use it to heat water to power a turbine. In the cases where those plants deploy a water cooling system, the need for water is large. And in the valley where all the water is already tied up, local water managers were uneasy with the proposals…

California-based SolarReserve had submitted a proposal to Saguache County that had originally called for their plant near Center to use up to 1,200 acre-feet per year. The company told the county in October that it would switch to a dry-cooling system, although it would still require up to 300 acre-feet per year. It has yet to offer details to the county on how it will get that amount of water.

More solar coverage here and here.

Arkansas River basin: Storage update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

At the heart of the area’s storage system is Lake Pueblo, built in the early 1970s as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. It was the last large reservoir to be built in the Arkansas River basin. Lake Pueblo not only provides storage, but flood control and recreation as well. A full reservoir is good for recreation, but too much water would diminish its value for flood control. Storage remains the core purpose, however, and space is getting tighter…

Since 2003, municipal storage in Lake Pueblo has tripled, and half of the water in the reservoir is in temporary accounts that mainly serve cities. Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Aurora and other cities have sought long-term contracts for storage to replace the one-year contracts to provide better long-term planning. More municipal storage will be needed when the Arkansas Valley Conduit is built to serve communities east of Pueblo. “The reality of this is that it reduces the yearly available storage space in Pueblo Reservoir,” [Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project] said. “This has resulted in water managers re-evaluating the need for additional water storage in the basin.”[…]

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District has led efforts for more than 10 years to study enlargement of Lake Pueblo. The Preferred Storage Options Plan looked at enlargement of Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake as the best ways to gain needed storage space, and agreements among the largest municipal water users to open the study were reached in 2004. Attempts to ramrod legislation through Congress were abandoned in 2005, and new rounds of talks began that brought other interests to the table. In 2007, former Sen. Ken Salazar hosted public sessions that were making progress until the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District sued the Bureau of Reclamation in federal court for its decision to issue Aurora a long-term storage contract. The Lower Ark and Aurora reached a settlement in 2009 that could revive the PSOP legislation, although serious discussions among the as many as 12 different interests have not resumed…

It’s unlikely that any new reservoir would be built on the Arkansas River mainstem — as witnessed by the public outrage at Colorado Springs proposal to build a dam near Buena Vista in the early 1990s. Colorado Springs plans two large reservoirs on Williams Creek, a tributary of Fountain Creek, as part of its Southern Delivery System second phase. There are several gravel pits along Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River that could be converted to storage reservoirs in the future. There is abundant space in reservoirs east of Pueblo, such as John Martin in Bent County and the Plains Reservoirs in Kiowa County, but they are located downstream of the population centers to directly use them.

Click through for Mr. Woodka’s short bio of Ray Vaughan.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Snowpack/Precipitation news

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Gayle Perez):

The frigid temperatures were ushered in with Thursday’s storm that dumped 6.6 inches of snow at the Pueblo Memorial Airport by Friday afternoon, according to Larry Walrod, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service. “Most areas around Pueblo saw 3 to 4 inches of snow, while Pueblo West had 2 to 3 inches,” Walrod said.
Snow accumulations elsewhere in the region ranged from 1 to 2 inches near Trinidad and Lamar to 2 to 4 inches around La Junta.

Here’s a look at the NRCS’ efforts to measure snowpack and predict runoff, from Janice Kurbjun writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

[Mike] Gillespie and [Chris Pacheco] are the Denver-based snow survey supervisor and assistant supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They have been doing snow surveys for 30 years, but the process — and its resulting data — has been of importance for more than a century in the West. It all started in the Lake Tahoe area, Pacheco said, where Dr. James Church realized that part of a solution to the ongoing water wars was to predict how the lake would rise each spring. In 1904, he established a snow course and began gathering data. Some of the first runoff forecasts were established in 1910 as text-based pamphlets that were mailed out to interested parties. “The western United States relies on snowpack for about three-quarters of its water,” Pacheco said. “As demand for water increases, there’s more of a need to understand the content of the snowpack … It’s a vital part of living in the West.”[…]

Municipalities and reservoir operators are also among those seeking information gleaned from the surveys, which includes snowpack depth and snow water content. The information is further synthesized into broader streamflow forecasts

The Berthoud Pass manual snow survey is the first of the 2011 season, giving the first glimpse of what water availability will be in 2011, Gillespie said. It kicks off a set of more than 100 monthly manual measurements from January to May across Colorado. They’re performed by about 50 field personnel with offices in each Colorado county. The manual survey network nearly doubles the automatic SNOTEL system of about 110 sites, which take hourly measurements each day. The SNOTEL sites are generally higher in elevation and more difficult to get to than the manual reading sites, Pacheco said. Maintaining manual readings helps defray costs of expensive SNOTEL equipment as well as provides a way to verify automatic data.

When averaged, Thursday’s Berthoud Pass measurements largely matched the day’s automatic readings at the site. Pacheco said the snow depth was 40 inches, and the snow-water content was 10.5 inches. That’s compared to 36 inches and 9.3 inches, respectively, from the SNOTEL. Both data sets show the snow has a density of 26 percent, he said…

According to SNOTEL information, the statewide snowpack is at 134 percent of average. In the Colorado River Basin, it’s at 145 percent of average, while the Arkansas River Basin is at 102 percent of average…

“The northern part of the state has been above average almost since the get-go,” Pacheco added.

From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

Ten inches were reported in Cortez, just shy of a 1969 record 24-hour storm that dumped 11 inches on Cortez, making it the 20th biggest snow storm on record, said Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction…

The wet month, at 230 percent of normal precipitation, comes at the end of a three-year trend of wet Decembers. December 2009 saw 170 percent of normal precipitation, December 2008 saw 212 precent of normal, and December 2007 saw 278 percent of normal.