Snowpack/runoff news: Eagle County Emergency Management is getting the news out about potential flooding

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From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

“It’s never a matter of how much snowpack we’ve got, it’s how fast it melts,” said Barry Smith, with Eagle County Emergency Management. Smith sent out an Eagle County Alert Tuesday that contained information about flooding — everything from the definitions of flash floods, flood watches and flood warnings, to tips for local citizens on how to remain safe during floods…

Snowpack is about a 110 to 115 percent of normal right now. If the snowpack starts exceeding 130 percent, Smith said it might be time for the county and local agencies to start stocking up on more sand bags. “Right now, I’m not real concerned about (local preparedness),” Smith said. “I think we’re adequately prepared for what’s coming our way, but if we start seeing forecasts with two weeks of temperatures in the 70s, that’ll obviously change.”[…]

The floods in Vail last summer exceeded 100-year flows, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There were 58 locations in the town of Vail alone that experienced floods, with improvements to the damaged areas expected to cost anywhere from $1.5 million to $3 million, according to a 2010 Gore Creek flood assessment report…

Sean Glackin, owner of Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards, said people are already running the [Colorado River] down by Glenwood Springs and in western Colorado toward the Utah border.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Dillon Reservoir is likely to fill sometime in June regardless of spring weather, said Bob Peters, a resource engineer with Denver Water.

Lake Powell news: 2011 water year inflows forecasted to be 106 percent of average, about 12.78 million acre feet

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Lake Powell (actually a reservoir at Glen Canyon) shows up on the original maps Delph Carpenter used as technical support for the movers and shakers that negotiated the Colorado River Compact. He saw the reservoir as key to enabling the upper basin states to meet compact requirements for deliveries to the lower basin states at Lee’s Ferry. The reservoir has served the compact well in that role. The upper basin states have never failed to deliver the 10 year moving average of 75 million acre-feet required by the “Law of the River.”

Here’s an in-depth look at the recent hydrological history of the upper basin and how Lake Powell has fared with a look ahead for this water year, from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizen’s Voice. From the article:

As recently as 1999, Lake Powell was full, storing 23.5 million acre-feet of water — about 97 percent of capacity. During the next five years, 2000 – 2004, inflow into Lake Powell was well below average and storage dropped to about 8 million acre-feet, about 33 percent of capacity. Drought conditions eased somewhat in 2005, 2008 and 2009, bringing storage back up to about 12.9 million acre-feet (53.1 percent of capacity) as of March 7, 2011. For perspective, that’s still about 88 feet below full pool…

Based on current snowpack readings and runoff predictions, the Bureau of Reclamation expects March inflow to be about 90 percent of average, climbing to 112 percent of average in April and 126 percent of average during the peak runoff month of May. For the 2011 water year, the expectations are that inflow will total about 106 percent of average, about 12.78 million acre feet.

More coverage from The New York Times (Felicity Barringer). From the article:

the Interior Department announced this week that it would follow its original plan and deliver 40 percent more water than usual from Lake Powell, the Utah reservoir that is 357 miles upstream and about 2,500 feet uphill from Lake Mead. With users in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the agricultural valleys of California and Arizona expected to take a little less than normal for 2011, most of the excess of more than three million acre-feet will stay in Lake Mead, the lower of the two massive Colorado River reservoirs that have enabled the rapid growth of Phoenix, Las Vegas and southern California.

Here’s a guest commentary about the Colorado River basin written by Lori Weigel and Andrew Maxfield that is running in The Denver Post. From the article:

As Democratic and Republican pollsters, we can speak to the fact that the West is politically divided on many issues, but water isn’t one of them. Voters of all political stripes have witnessed the rapid growth in states like Colorado, Arizona and Nevada, where urban populations have grown by 20 percent to 30 percent over the last decade. They know demand has increased.

On the supply side, Republicans and Democrats may disagree somewhat on the reasons why there is less water, but at a certain point, it doesn’t matter whether the reduced water flows are due to higher temperatures from climate change or the result of a 12-year drought. It is simply a harsh reality everyone faces.

The effects have been felt by some in the West more than others, but most everyone recognizes that future water shortages will affect everyone. Farmers and ranchers have been dealing in a high-stakes game with cities over water rights, affecting our food supply and city budgets. Outfitters, hunters, fishermen and recreationists such as paddlers can speak to the already profound effects that reduced water flows are having on lakes, rivers and wildlife in the West’s great outdoors — risking the environment and outdoor recreation-dependent economies. People are beginning to experience the effects of less water in their own households…

In the Harstad Research polling, voters almost unanimously said we need to find a way to balance the water we have — between personal and residential water needs, the water needed to preserve the rivers, lakes and forests of our national parks, and the agricultural water needs of our farms and ranches — even if it means that everyone must find ways to conserve. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the recent meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association, “We must build a water policy that is inclusive of all interests.” Well, voters would tend to agree. There are plenty of political fights ahead in the West, but figuring out what to do about water shouldn’t be one of them.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Report: ‘Agricultural/ Urban/Environmental Water Sharing: Innovative Strategies for the Colorado River Basin and the West’ to be presented today to the Western States Water Council meeting in Sante Fe

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Sante Fe was the location for the signing of the Colorado River Compact which set aside prior appropriation on the Colorado River with an agreement to share streamflow between the upper and lower Colorado River Basin states. Hopefully, the location will beneficial to drive alternative strategies to the dry up of agricultural lands to water people and bluegrass. Here’s a report from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the article:

The report suggests that water sharing between agricultural producers, cities and environmental interests may be one of the keys to meeting future water supply requirements while also helping to maintain wildlife habitat in some areas, said MaryLou Smith of CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, which wrote the report. The report, “Agricultural/ Urban/Environmental Water Sharing: Innovative Strategies for the Colorado River Basin and the West,” will be presented to the Western States Water Council, part of the WGA, today in Santa Fe, N.M. The hope is that governors in all 11 western states will add to their Cabinets a water expert who will focus on ways each state’s water interests can come together and solve water supply problems through sharing.

Water sharing, Smith said, would allow farmers to share some of their water with conservationists or cities, keeping farms active while providing for water to be kept in streams for wildlife or sent to cities for drinking water. It’s an alternative to agricultural water transfers, which would require farmers to fallow their land and possibly go out of business in order for their water to be used in growing cities or for wildlife conservation.

The Arkansas River Roundtable approves a study of water law and new water sharing strategies

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The study would help projects like the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, or any effort that would allow farmers to retain water rights yet lease water, to determine what limitations could work against the concept, and what laws might help implementation. The study would then be discussed in a facilitated dialogue to air concerns in public…

The $20,000 study would be administered by the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority, which [Gary Barber, chairman of the roundtable] manages, and would be jointly funded by four separate roundtables, in hopes of avoiding the pitfalls of a failed bill that raised numerous objections. The study of laws would be done by Sand Dollar Research, a firm headed by policy analyst Dick Brown. Heather Bergman, of Peak Facilitation and the facilitator for the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force, would referee community discussion about the findings…

Reeves Brown, a Beulah rancher who sits on the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board that has supported Super Ditch, said the valley needs to find ways to make better use of water. “There’s extra water that could be put to use every year,” Brown said.

Some were nervous about the implications of changing water law. “You really risk a lot. What’s to prevent expansion of use?” asked Terry Scanga, manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. “It’s important to find out where we are now.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.