National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center: The April 21 U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook is hot off the presses

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Here’s the link to the web page:

The La Niña present during the 2010-11 winter led to expansive drought development across the lower Mississippi Valley, southern Plains, and Southwest. During the past month, drought conditions have worsened rapidly across Oklahoma, Texas, and southern New Mexico. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), parts of Texas are designated in the exceptional drought (D4) category. Since the CPC monthly or seasonal outlooks favor enhanced odds for below median precipitation and above normal temperatures, persistence can be expected in eastern Colorado, the southern high Plains, the Southwest, and much of Texas/Louisiana. Development in parts of Arizona is related to low snow water content values and a relatively dry climatology. Prospects for improvement increase in eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas. Across the Southeast, drought reduction has occurred since the beginning of March. Some improvement is forecast across the interior Southeast, while odds increase for improvement across Florida due to a wet climatology beginning in late May. It should be noted that short-term worsening of drought conditions may occur in Florida prior to the onset of the wet season. Some improvement is forecast across the Hawaiian Islands. Outside of the drought areas depicted on the USDM (April 21), monthly/seasonal tools offer no strong signal for dryness. This lack of a dry signal coupled with antecedent wetness favors little or no expected development through the end of July.

Groundwater: The Colorado Geological Survey says that farm runoff and septic systems have degraded the water quality in the Upper Black Squirrel designated groundwater basin, public presentation Monday, April 25

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Here’s the executive summary from the report:

This report documents the work, findings, analysis, and recommendations of the Colorado Geological Survey (CGS) in executing the scope of work commissioned by El Paso County, through the Groundwater Study Committee, established in reference to Resolution No. 09‐202. The subject of this report is the groundwater quality of the alluvial aquifer within the Upper Black Squirrel Creek (UBSC) basin (Figure 1.1). The Phase 1 study objectives are to characterize the current groundwater quality in the alluvial aquifer and determine whether there is a correlation between existing and future land uses and groundwater quality. The scope of work for Phase 1 was finalized in January 2010, and the County contracted with CGS to perform the work.

The current study is limited to evaluation of existing water quality data for groundwater in the alluvial aquifer system of the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Designated Groundwater basin (UBSC basin) of east‐central El Paso County, Colorado. As part of the study a literature review identified 34 relevant publications and an annotated bibliography was prepared. Previous published studies indicated that the groundwater was of good quality, but identified nitrate as a contaminant of concern. Water quality data was acquired from a variety of public sources (county, state, and federal) and study cooperators. The data represent 150 samples collected from 72 different wells between 1954 and 2009. Samples collected for water quality analysis within the study area have a limited spatial and temporal distribution. Approximately 80% of the data were collected in the 1980s and 1990s, and the great majority of wells are within three miles of the Ellicott Highway. One of the most important characteristics of this data is the lack of multiple samples from individual locations. The northern and western portions of the UBSC basin where rapid development has occurred and is expected to continue are not represented in the data.

Groundwater chemical analysis data for inorganic compounds, total dissolved solids (TDS), nitrate, metals, organic compounds, and radionuclides were evaluated to characterize the UBSC basin alluvial aquifer’s water quality. The groundwater sample data indicate that, where sampled, the water is generally acceptable with respect to drinking water standards; of moderate hardness; and free of pesticides, herbicides, and regulated organic contaminants. At certain times and locations, some water quality parameters were detected at concentrations in violation of primary and secondary drinking water standards including: arsenic, nitrate, pH, TDS, sulfate, and iron. Nitrate values greater than 5.0 mg/L are common in the basin, and suggest that the alluvial water quality has been influenced by sources of nutrient loading.

No clear relationship between land uses and groundwater quality was evident from the available data. Existing UBSC basin land uses evaluated include residential, agricultural, urban, commercial, industrial, military, and unregulated industrial waste disposal. Elevated nitrate concentrations are distributed over parcels associated with residential, dry land farming/grazing, and irrigated agriculture, suggesting localized sources rather than being impacted from categorical land use. Groundwater quality data are lacking in the northwest portion of the basin where the majority of the development is occurring. Consequently, information regarding nitrate concentrations in areas with higher density ISDSs is missing. Elevated TDS values are associated with both dryland farming/grazing land and rural residential land use. Potential contaminant sources associated with future land uses have been summarized in Table 5.1. Anticipated future land uses within the basin are a continuation and expansion of current land uses, primarily consisting of residential development in urban, rural residential and rural development densities with accompanying commercial development. Figure 5.2 summarizes activity nodes and transportation corridors where future development is expected to be concentrated.

Due to the spatial and temporal limitations of the compiled water quality data, this study was only partially successful in meeting the objectives established by the study committee. Unfortunately, there is no groundwater quality data available in the northwest portion of the basin, where urban land uses and ISDSs are concentrated and continued development is expected.

Decision makers in El Paso County attempting to assess the vulnerability of the groundwater resource currently lack a complete understanding of the hydrogeology of the aquifer system and the associated anthropogenic effects controlling the source, transport, and fate of potential contaminants. To address this gap, we recommend implementing a Phase 2 investigation focusing on refining our understanding of the groundwater flow system and acquiring the water quality data needed to support and scientifically defend land use planning decisions.

More coverage from The Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

The Colorado Geological Survey recently analyzed records of water quality samples from 1954 to 2009, a $53,000 project initiated by county commissioners to help guide land-use decisions in the basin. More than half of the water samples showed nitrate levels of 5 milligrams per liter or higher. That’s below the federal drinking water standard of 10, but the study’s author said it is still higher than it should be given the natural conditions, in the 2 to 3 milligrams per liter range.

“Five is just higher than one would expect in a native groundwater environment. It suggests there are some human influences on the increased concentrations,” said hydrogeologist Ralf Topper.

Nitrates are a by-product of fertilizer, which can get into the aquifer as runoff from farm fields and cattle pens. They can also come from the breakdown of human waste in septic systems…

Public meeting on groundwater study

El Paso County’s Groundwater Quality Study Committee will hold a public meeting 6-8 p.m. Monday in the Falcon High School cafeteria, 10255 Lambert Road in Falcon. Members will present information on the recently completed study of groundwater quality in the alluvial aquifer of the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Basin.

More groundwater coverage here and here.

Conservation: Denver Water releases summer watering rules

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Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

Denver Water’s summer water use rules begin May 1, but the utility encourages customers to pay attention to weather and lawn conditions before watering.

“Half of a household’s water use goes to outside watering,” said Melissa Essex Elliott, manager of conservation. “Most lawns don’t need as much water as you might think. Watering your lawn two days a week should be sufficient during May and into June.”

Denver Water’s watering rules, in effect until Oct. 1, are:

– No lawn watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
– Do not water more than three days per week (there are no assigned days for watering).
– Do not waste water by allowing it to pool in gutters, streets and alleys.
– Do not waste water by letting it spray on concrete and asphalt.
– Repair leaking sprinkler systems within 10 days.
– Do not water while it is raining or during high winds.

The utility will continue to enforce its rules with a team of 12 Water Savers, including four on bikes.

“The Water Savers’ purpose is as much about educating customers as it is about enforcing Denver Water’s rules,” said Elliott. “We continue to have some monitors on bikes as a more approachable way to talk with our customers one-on-one about wise water use.”

If you see water waste in one of Denver’s parks, call 3-1-1. To report waste elsewhere, call Denver Water at 303-628-6343.

Colorado’s dry climate means everyone needs to take part to ensure adequate water supplies will be available well into the future. “A small step like adjusting your watering times based on the weather is a great way to become more efficient,” said Elliott. Denver Water’s long-term plan to secure water for the future includes encouraging water conservation as a permanent way of life for Denver residents.

Visit conservation for tips, rebates, irrigation calculators and many more tools for saving water outdoors, including suggested watering times.

Denver Water is going to draw down Antero Reservoir to evaluate damage to the dam from seepage

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife:

Denver Water, in coordination with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Office of the State Engineer, will lower Antero Reservoir by two feet beginning the first week of May. The gradual drawdown will take four to five weeks. Denver Water will keep the popular reservoir open to recreation, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife will continue to manage the fishery.

The drawdown is a safety precaution to reduce water pressure and seepage within the dam to ensure it doesn’t pose a safety risk to area visitors and residents. Antero Dam, built in 1909, has experienced excessive seepage since it was built and has been operating under reservoir storage restrictions by the state since the early 1900s to ensure public safety.

“The dam has exhibited seepage for a prolonged period,” said Mike Miller, Denver Water dam safety engineer. “Our accrued measurement data from within the dam indicate we need to conduct further studies to determine the extent of damage. Lowering the reservoir elevation as a safety precaution will reduce seepage impacts.”

Further engineering evaluations of the dam will determine the long-term plan for the facility. The duration of the study will depend on what Denver Water learns from the initial information.

Denver Water and the Colorado Division of Wildlife are working cooperatively to examine all of the possibilities to lessen the potential impacts to the fishery from the drawdown,” said Jeff Spohn, northeast region aquatic biologist. “Once Denver Water finishes its study, we will have a better understanding of future fish management at Antero.”

“We recognize the importance of Antero Reservoir to Park County’s economy and as a prime fishery for anglers, but need to drawdown the reservoir for public safety,” said Miller. “We will keep the county, DOW and reservoir users informed as the study progresses.”

Antero Dam was completed in 1909 by Canfield and Shields of Greeley, and its purchase was finalized by Denver Water in 1924. The reservoir was named Antero, derived from the Spanish word “first,” because it was the first reservoir on the South Platte, nearest to the river’s headwaters.

Wildlife concerns and questions regarding fishing at Antero can be directed to DOW at 303-291-7227. Questions regarding Antero operations, contact Denver Water at 303-628-6320.

More Denver Water coverage here.

Happy Earth Day 2011

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I’m not as optimistic about the future as I should be but instead of citing the sources for my pessimism I’ll just wish y’all a Happy Earth Day and hope that you will be part of the Billion Acts of Green today.

I rode my bike into work today which I do more often than not anyway. A quick calculation via the Web says that I am keeping 3.01 tons of carbon dioxide per year out of the atmosphere by riding.

Floyd Ciruli: ‘The feeling with the Colorado River is that if we don’t get it soon we’ll never get it — You’ll be visiting it at the Bellagio’

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Floyd Ciruli presented his polling information to a recent meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Ciruli has checked the pulse of opinion about water in both the South Platte and Arkansas River basins for years, and has consistently found the public does not want to dry up farms to meet urban water needs. “Water and farming have been a part of the valley for a really long time,” he told Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board at its monthly meeting. He talked about his family’s roots in Pueblo and the Lower Ark Valley as well…

“The [2002] drought got everyone thinking differently,” he said. Since then, the state as a whole has begun moving in a new direction to reverse the trend of buy-and-dry to meet urban needs. That was illustrated by last month’s Roundtable Summit in Denver…

While Coloradans universally believe the state needs to protect its entitlement of water under the Colorado River Project, people are divided on whether it should be held in reserve to serve the Western Slope or developed in a project like the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline, Ciruli said…

Ciruli said the Super Ditch has become a model in Colorado and other states — it was highlighted in a recent Western Governors report…

Super Ditch President John Schweizer asked whether more people will move to where the water is, which some have supported as an alternative to building expensive projects to pipe water into growing areas. “Pueblo is about the same size as when I was in high school,” Ciruli replied, adding that sizeable growth has mainly occurred in Pueblo West.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here. More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Tamarisk control: Federal, state and local officials complete clearing 3,000 acres in the Arkansas River valley near the Kansas border

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Some people ask why we’re starting at the bottom when it spreads downstream,” said Henry Schnabel, a Prowers County commissioner. “In our case, Holly would be inundated if there was a backup because the river channel is clogged.”[…]

Michael Daskam, of the Holly Natural Resources Conservation Service office, Wednesday gave the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board an overview on the progress of the Prowers County tamarisk project. The Lower Ark board voted to support the project with $30,000 in the coming year. Schnabel said not all of the funding may be necessary, because the program requires private landowners to sign up. The project has been more cost-effective than anticipated, costing a total of $264,690 to spray 3,172 acres by helicopter over the past two years, or $83.50 an acre, Daskam said…

The benefits include better water quality and quantity. The U.S. Geological Survey last year reported tamarisk water savings have not been proven, but did not rule out the possibility in a report released last year, Daskam said…

This year, the program will focus on spot spraying, catching areas that were not sprayed by helicopter, such as clumps of tamarisk growing under cottonwoods. A revegetation workshop is also planned to discuss the best ways for restoring native plants, Daskam said. Other partners in the project include the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Southeastern Colorado Resource Conservation and Development, State Land Board, Northeast Prowers Conservation District, Division of Wildlife and Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association. Kansas also is working on the problem just across the state line.

More tamarisk control coverage here and here.

The Las Animas County Commissioners ask Governor Hickenlooper for drought designation

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Monster snowpack in the northern basins, southern basins not so much and D3 drought up and down the eastern plains. This water year is a study in contrasts. Here’s a report from Anthony A. Mestas writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

In a letter sent to Hickenlooper this week, the commissioners said the lower than normal precipitation along with high velocity winds have made for drought conditions that are severely impacting ranchers and farmers in the county. “The significantly reduced precipitation will decrease the growth of natural grasses thereby reducing grazing pastures and less water for irrigation causing a further decline in production of feed for cattle,” the letter states…

County Administrator Bill Cordova said the eastern portion of the county, where most of the ranching is, has been hurt the most by lack of precipitation. Cordova said if the governor declares a drought disaster, the issue will then go to state Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar. If Salazar is persuaded, then he would initiate a request for assistance from the United States Department of Agriculture for a federal drought disaster declaration for the county. “The USDA has the final say,” Cordova said.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board releases their ‘Snowmelt Flood Preparation Status Update’

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You can download the document here. Here’s the introduction:

The 2011 flood season in Colorado is fast approaching, and much attention has been focused on the quantity of snowpack within certain areas of the state. Although floods can occur any time of the year in Colorado, the height of flood season generally occurs from May 1st through September 30th. Preparations have already started to address the high snowpack existing in the Colorado’s high country.

Since January, the CWCB’s Watershed and Flood Protection Section has been monitoring snowpack throughout the state. GIS-based maps have been prepared showing the areal extent of the snowpack as well as percent of historical averages within the river basins. These maps are posted to the CWCB’s Flood Decision Support System (DSS) website and are updated regularly. Please visit to access those maps and a significant amount of other helpful information related to flooding in Colorado.

Tables have been prepared that summarize the areas of highest snowmelt flood potential. As of April 21st the watersheds of greatest concern are in the North Platte River Basin, the Yampa and White River Basins, the Colorado River Mainstem Basin, and the South Platte River Basin. As of that date, each of these entire river basins show snowpack greater than 129% of average, with individual readings as high as 223% at localized levels. Certain watersheds in the Gunnison River Basin and the Arkansas River Basin also exceed 130%, although these watersheds as a whole are displaying values closer to historical averages.

The Colorado Flood Task Force met in March of this year, with another meeting scheduled for May 11th. This meeting, chaired by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, assembles engineers, meteorologists, climate experts, federal agencies, state and local officials, emergency managers, and other interested parties to exchange data and discuss plans for the upcoming flood season. It is anticipated that much attention at this meeting will focus on what, if any, actions are needed to address the upcoming snowmelt season. Snowmelt flooding has been known to occur in Colorado any time from late April to early July, depending on weather conditions.

Outreach regarding the availability of flood insurance within communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program has been ongoing. Special note should be made to prospective policy holders of the 30-day waiting period before the insurance becomes effective.

A number of meetings and workshops have already been scheduled throughout the state, and more are being considered at the request of local communities. These workshops will focus on emergency preparedness and flood insurance. As this calendar is continually being updated, interested parties should contact the CWCB at 303-866-3441 for a current list of scheduled meetings.

Four attachments provide background information, current geographic areas of concern, actions being taken at all levels, and Colorado flood history.

More CWCB coverage here.