Runoff news: There’s a 50% chance that the peak could be 80,000 cfs in Cataract Canyon this year

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The latest projection from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah has projected the Colorado River in Cataract Canyon to have a 50% chance of peaking at over 80,000 cfs (cubic feet per second). Since 1985 the Colorado River has only reached 80,000 cfs one time. That happened on June 19, 1995 when the Colorado River peaked at 80,700 cfs.

Arkansas Valley lysimeter installation data may have an effect on consumptive use calculations in change cases

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The lysimeter physically weighs the amount of water being used on a crop, rather than estimating use through equations. At the same time, a weather station at the site calibrates temperature, moisture, wind speed and other environmental factors to take the guesswork out of where the water comes from and where it goes. Results from 2008-10 show that with 10 to 12 inches of rainfall and 40 to 44 inches of irrigation water, nearly all of the water was used by the alfalfa crop. Very little of the water drained…

Still, the research has far-reaching implications about how consumptive use is treated in the courtroom, said Dale Straw, a Division of Water Resources researcher. The Penman-Montieth model replaced the Blanney-Criddle model as the way water use is estimated after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kansas’ interpretation in the Kansas v. Colorado lawsuit over the Arkansas River Compact. That decision means that well users in Colorado repay depletions to the aquifer at the highest possible rate. Within the state, Water Court decisions have tended to underestimate the use of water because of pressure from objectors during change cases, Straw said.

The state hopes to improve the Penman-Montieth model by introducing data specific to the Arkansas Valley. Currently, the model is based on data collected in Idaho. The Penman-Montieth takes more weather factors into consideration, and the wind in the Arkansas Valley appears to be the biggest variable not taken into account, Straw said.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Snowpack news: 2010-2011 was the best snow year since 1996 for the Arapahoe Basin Ski & Snowboard Area

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

While the curtain is going down the ski season at most of Colorado’s ski areas, Arapahoe Basin is going strong, reporting its best snow season since 1996 and the third-best on record. As of April 23, A-Basin was reporting 370 inches for the season, about 130 percent of average.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross) via the Craig Daily Press:

Mike Gillespie, Colorado Snow Survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, confirmed that the snow depth at the Tower measuring site stood at 180 inches, or 15 feet, setting a record for measured snow depths there that go back to the mid-1960s. The previous record was the 175-inch snow depth recorded on April 25, 1978. “It will be a welcome change when these storms let up,” Gillespie said Friday. “We certainly have enough water supply.”[…]

Although the snow depth is at record levels, the amount of moisture in the snow on Buffalo Pass, 68.2 inches, is less than what was measured on April 25, 1978, when it was 71.1 inches…

Up north on the edge of the west side of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, the Elk River measuring site stands at 160 percent of average. And in South Routt, Lynx Pass at 8,880 feet is at 148 percent of average, and Crosho Lake, outside Phippsburg at 9,100 feet on the edge of the Flat Tops, is at 163 percent of average. The west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass is at 157 percent of average with 105 inches of standing snow.

Bayfield: The town approves more comprehensive grease trap standards in March

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From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

The town board approved updates to the town’s grease trap ordinance in March, to require more business accountability for grease trap and interceptor maintenance. It lists penalties but states intention to seek voluntary compliance first…

Saba told the Times that the grease issue is not just restaurants. It’s residential customers too. “We have a pretty good idea of a resident dumping motor oil” into the system, he said. He urges residential customers not to put grease down the drain.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

Runoff news: Steamboat gets hit with localized flooding

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From the Associated Press via The Durango Herald:

The Steamboat Pilot and Today reported Friday that higher elevation snowmelt in the coming weeks could result in more high water flows. Stream monitors have been reporting record flows at more than double the 101-year median for the date. Officials say flooding began Monday night. The unusually heavy snowmelt has flooded warehouses and caused thousands of dollars in damages and lost property. Officials say sewers and drains are overwhelmed with the amount of water from runoff and snow. Some business owners have reported water levels up to 10 inches in buildings unable to handle the drainage.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife to recommend suspending fish limits at Bonny Reservoir

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At the request of the Department of Natural Resources I’ve taken down my Bonny Reservoir post from Friday. Here’s the corrected release. There was a “mixup” according to a department spokesperson. He said in email, “Don’t ask how it happened,” so I won’t. It’s actually kind of nice to know that they read Coyote Gulch at DNR.

Here’s the new release:

As Colorado prepares to drain Bonny Reservoir to help the state come into compliance with the Republican River Compact between Kansas and Nebraska, the Colorado Division of Wildlife will recommend lifting bag and possession limits on all sport fish caught at the southeastern Yuma County reservoir.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission will be asked to approve removing bag and possession limits at its May meeting in Salida. A press release issued Friday incorrectly stated that relaxed bag limits would go into effect May 1.

This fall, the State Engineer will begin to drain the reservoir to satisfy a legal obligation to release all the water to Kansas and Nebraska. The result will most likely be the loss of the entire fishery.

“Right now it is unknown how long it will take to drain the lake, but it looks like this might be the last year for fishing at Bonny,” said DOW Area Wildlife Manager Cory Chick. “The Division wants anglers to have an opportunity to harvest as many fish as possible before the water is gone.”

At present, the water level at Bonny Reservoir is about 18 feet below normal, but the boat ramp at the State Park is still operational.

Aquatic Biologist Gary Dowler said that recent sampling indicates that the overall number of sport fish is good, particularly for walleye and catfish. Numerous flathead catfish over 10 pounds were landed in 2010 and sampling efforts revealed a strong population of walleye with many fish over 20 inches.

But Dowling said he expects fishing for larger wipers and white bass to be fair to poor because large wipers and bass were impacted by low water levels over the past few years.

In addition to relaxing bag limits, the DOW will propose moving some of the sport fish to other reservoirs with public fishing.

“We typically are able to move no more than 10 percent of the fish,” said Chick. “That is why we would like anglers to have an opportunity to try to catch as many as they can, too.”

If the Commission approves the recommendation, recreational anglers will still need to have a valid Colorado fishing license, and must fill out a two-part form indicating the number and species of fish kept when they complete their fishing.

Boating and shore access could be closed as a safety precaution in the event that unstable banks and muddy conditions create a danger to anglers.

The reservoir will reach its lowest level when the water level drops to a point even with the outtake valve, which is expected to occur sometime in the fall or winter.

“We won’t know the final depth of the reservoir until that happens, but it doesn’t look like the boat ramps will ever be usable again past 2011,” Chick said.

Bonny Reservoir was created in 1951 when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation built a flood control dam on the South Fork of the Republican River.

Recreation on the reservoir, and the land on the east end of the lake, is managed by Colorado State Parks. The DOW manages the recreational use on the lands adjacent to the park and below the dam as the South Republican State Wildlife Area.

Please contact Colorado State Parks website for hours of operation, current boat launching conditions as well as camping information

For more information on the South Republican State Wildlife Area go to:

More Republican River basin coverage here and here.

Klaus Wolter’s website at the Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Science Division is back online

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The forecasts, known as “SWcasts” have been supported by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Forecasts will be updated on a monthly or seasonal basis on Klaus Wolter’s website. The updates will include the current status and outlook for ENSO (El Niño/Southern Oscillation) and what this means for Colorado in particular.

Here’s Klaus’ executive summary from the website:

1. After reaching levels not seen in 35 years, La Niña has finally turned a corner to weaken more rapidly just in the last month. It will probably take a ‘leave of absence’ this summer, but odds are still better than 50/50 that it will return later this year.

2. In the Front Range, March ended up dry, windy, and warm, as is typical for La Niña. It stayed wetter than expected in our mountains. April started out in the same fashion, with last night’s storm a decisive return to ‘near-normal’ for the next week or two. I stated last month that April has the best odds of deviating from a general dry spring pattern in Colorado with La Niña. This will curb fire danger in the next two weeks.

3. My forecast for late spring (April-June) shows a tilt towards dryness covering the southern and eastern parts of our state, while near-normal or even wetter-than-normal conditions might linger over northwestern Colorado. The latter forecast is now supported by better skill than in previous months. The first forecast for the summer (July-September) is fraught with uncertainty this far out, but fairly benign (mostly near-normal or even wet), for what it’s worth. The expected break in La Niña conditions should help in that respect.

4. Since mid-March, our last WATF meeting, there have been a couple of dust storms in the San Juans, but not at the frequency of the last two years. Given their low snowpack, we may see an accelerated snowmelt in that part of our state next month.

5. Bottomline (unchanged since March): Count your blessings, this La Niña winter has delivered decent amounts of snow in our mountains which will lead to a good runoff season in much of our state. I am much less optimistic for local conditions over the eastern plains, nor do I expect a repeat performance for our mountains next year.

6. Coda: This is the first edition of my renewed ‘SWcasts’. For now, funding has been restored to keep them going for at least one more time (into June), with good prospects for the period beyond that. They will probably not stay in this particular format for very long, nor do I anticipate regular monthly updates. I will keep things posted on this website. THANK YOU to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for supporting this effort, and to all of you who wrote letters of support in the past year or so.