Snowpack news: The South Platte River basin — 151% of average

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Last fall Klaus Wolter said, at a meeting of the Water Availability Task Force, “We’ve never really had a dry winter with La Nina.” Water year 2011 is no exception. Monster snowpack all across the northern mountains while the San Juans are gaining against average. The Rio Grande looks to have a tough year but even they’ve come up 3% against average over the weekend.

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Water watchers know that the average peak is April 12. Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for a look at the SNOTEL Basin Time Series Snowpack Summary Graphs. Today’s graph shows the highest peak value for the year so far.

From The Greeley Tribune (Bill Jackson):

John Fusaro and Todd Boldt of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Fort Collins measured the snowpack in the Big Thompson and Poudre canyons Wednesday and Thursday and came back with unbelievable numbers — an average snow depth of 133 inches at Cameron Pass, the top of the Poudre. One measurement at that snowfield reached 161.5 inches, or almost 13.5 feet. At the highest field in the Big Thompson Canyon, the snow depth was 95 inches. “I’ve never seen that much snow at the end of April. Usually, the amount of snow starts to decline by this time of the year, but if it keep going like this we may be sent back up there at the end of May, and that’s never happened before,” Fusaro said Friday…

Perichino said the latest projections are that once the snowmelt starts, the Poudre River will flow at 6,0000 cubic feet per second, compared to 4,300 cfs when the river went out of its banks last spring. There is no place to put much, if any, of the expected runoff, he added. “We just hope there’s not a quick thaw along with thunderstorms like we had last year,” Perichino said…

Fusaro said the snow at Cameron Pass was almost too deep to measure in places. About two-thirds of the way up that field, he and Boldt found 161.5 inches of snow, and the measuring tube broke as they started to bring it back up. “We had to dig down 10 feet to get the rest of it. We were up there for the better part of two hours,” Fusaro said. The snow fields are marked with bright yellow signs on 8-foot iron posts. At the lower end of the Cameron Pass field, Fusaro said, they couldn’t find the signs. “We even took a metal detector with us, but it wasn’t good enough to find the signs. They were buried by too much snow,” he said.

Aurora: Watering restrictions in effect starting yesterday

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From The Denver Post:

Residents can pick any three days to water but no more than that. Also, watering is not permitted from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. because that is the part of day when water tends to evaporate more.

Aurora Water officials are encouraging people to get out their hoses and sprinklers, as more trees and lawns are dying this year because of the lack of moisture this winter.

More Aurora coverage here.

Leadville: First ‘Water Aware’ session May 4

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When it comes down to water rights, it’s not just enough to be at the top of the hill, you had to the one or have acquired the right, that put the water to work watering hay or some other beneficial use. Here’s the announcment from the Leadville Herald Democrat:

The Lake County Watershed Advisory Council will host the first in a three-part series of water-education seminars, starting at 6 p.m. on the evening of May 4, in the Longyear Auditorium at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. Doors will open for registration and informal discussion at 5:30 p.m.

The first session will focus on Colorado Water Law and its impacts on Lake County’s ability to provide a dependable source of water to support sustainable growth.

According to Mike Bordogna, Lake County commissioner, many people in Lake County aren’t aware that we don’t own the water passing through our community and are therefore of the false impression that we have all the water we will ever need to support our current and future needs…

The discussion of Colorado Water Law will be led by Steve Kastner, assistant division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, who will outline the state laws and regulations that all Colorado communities and individuals must abide by in securing water for their own use.

This will be followed by a presentation by David Hallford of Balcomb and Green, PC, Lake County’s water attorney, who will apply the principles and constraints of Colorado Water Law to the specific needs of Lake County, and discuss the steps needed to determine the county’s water future.

Time will be allowed for questions and answers. The session is free to the public, and refreshments will be served.

For information, go to www.wateraware2011.com

More education coverage here.

Leadville: Parkville Water District waiting on runoff

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Storage in the Parkville Water District’s raw water supply reservoirs is very low due to a combination of events. Here’s a report from Ann E. Wibbenmeyer writing for the Leadville Herald Democrate. From the article:

Most years, said Greg Teter, general manager, runoff begins filling two upper reservoirs by April 15. Evan’s Creek, which fills those reservoirs was still dry early this week. To add to the issue, a water main broke on the 500 block of East 8th Street near the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at about 10 p.m. April 22. It was discovered at about 6 a.m. the next morning. The cause of this break is speculated to be connected to the ditch dug for the sanitation project last summer, which was parallel to the water line. The dirt began washing away and the water line went with it, said Teter. This caused a loss of about 500,000 gallons of water. “I’ve never seen it lower than this,” he said…

The issues facing the water district are all physical, he said, not legal. The district owns plenty of water rights, but is needing to find better ways of accessing the water. “There are ways to fix the issues that all involve money,” he said.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: The Japanese disaster played a role in Powertech’s decision to put their Weld County ‘Centennial Project’ on hold

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The company plans to focus all its efforts on getting its Dewey-Burdock uranium mine permitted and producing uranium in South Dakota before moving ahead with the Centennial Project, Powertech USA President Richard Clement said…

Powertech plans to mine uranium there and at Dewey-Burdock using a process called in situ leaching, requiring the company to inject a baking soda-like solution into the ground, dissolve the uranium ore and pump it out as a liquid. “Dewey-Burdock is the most advanced project the company has, therefore, we’re concentrating our efforts on Dewey-Burdock to get permitted,” Clement said. “Especially in the post-tsunami financial environment, we need to concentrate our efforts as much as any other company.”

The March 11 Tohoku earthquake in Japan and nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant that followed sent uranium prices plummeting. Just before the earthquake, uranium prices had topped out around $75. By Tuesday, the price had dropped to $55.25, according to TradeTech, a Denver-based uranium market analysis firm. “This is about as bad a story as you can imagine for the U.S. nuclear power industry,” said Charles Mason, True Chair of energy economics in the economics and finance department at the University of Wyoming, who is writing a book about uranium exploration and its impacts. “It certainly is bad news.”[…]

Dewey-Burdock, planned for South Dakota’s Black Hills on the Wyoming border west of Wind Cave National Park, is in the middle of a complex U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm-ission permitting process. NRC spokesman David McIntyre said he expects the Dewey-Burdock permitting process to be complete by mid-2012 unless federal budget cuts affect the agency. The future of Centennial is “going to be dependent upon what the results are going to be and how fast we get operating at Dewey-Burdock,” Clement said. Uranium production at Dewey-Burdock will generate enough cash flow to help finance Centennial, he said…

Powertech’s report also says a new Colorado law requiring complete cleanup of the groundwater at Centennial could affect the project’s profitability. For now, Powertech will continue with Centennial’s state and federal permits already in process, but the company will wait to pursue any additional required permits, Clement said.

From the Associated Press via the The Greeley Tribune:

The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reports that Powertech Uranium Corp. plans to focus on getting permits for a mine in South Dakota before moving forward with the proposed mine near the town of Nunn. Powertech USA President Richard Clement said Wednesday that the company will concentrate on the Dewey Burdock project near Edgemont, S.D., because it is further along. Clement says Powertech will move forward in Colorado only when the mine in southwestern South Dakota starts producing.

From Windsor Now! (Bill Jackson):

The Canadian company announced earlier this week it was putting its plans to mine uranium in northern Weld on hold indefinitely and would focus its efforts on a mining project in South Dakota. The effects of the Japanese nuclear disaster played a part in that decision, company officials said…

Weld County Commissioner Dave Long, who represents that area of the county, said while the decision in the short term is good for residents in the area, “it still doesn’t resolve the cloud that remains over them on the long term” concerning their quality of water. Although the county was asked to take a stance one way or another on the proposal, Long said it could not because it would have to conduct the permitting process for the proposal and a resolution either way would have presented many legal problems.

Jay Davis, who lives about 8 miles northwest of Nunn, is a member of two groups that oppose the project. “There are a lot of people who are pretty excited right now,” Davis said. But he, too, is concerned about the future. “I think what this shows is the volatile market (for uranium) and that’s subject to change overnight,” he said. He noted that when the uranium market crashed in the 1980s, it stayed that way for nearly 30 years before rebounding and that could happen again.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

NIDIS Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment Summary of the Upper Colorado River Basin

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I’m very late in posting the link to last week’s webinar from the Colorado Climate Center.

Aspinall Unit update: Annual operations handouts and presentations available online

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

The meeting was held at Reclamation’s Grand Junction office. Highlights of the operation meeting include:

Blue Mesa April through July inflow is projected at 800,000 af, representing an average wet year and approximately 111 percent of average. Based on this inflow, the Black Canyon reserved water right 1-day peak target is 6,370 cfs. This will be revisited when the May 1 forecast is received.

Blue Mesa Reservoir is expected to fill; following ramping down from peak flows, flows in the Gunnison Gorge should be in the 1,000-1,200 cfs range for the summer.

If you have any suggestions on improving the operation meetings or summaries, please let us know. The next operation meeting will be on Thursday, August 18th at the Elk Creek Visitors Center at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

Handouts and presentations are available for review at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/water/rsvrs/mtgs/amcurrnt.html

Precipitation/snowpack news: One to three inches of snowfall in the Wet Mountain Valley

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Across the region, snowfall Sunday ranged from 1 inch in Buena Vista to 5 inches in La Veta, on Monarch Pass, and in Salida. Canon City had about 2 inches, yielding .20 of an inch of moisture. Other snowfall Sunday included 3 inches in Monte Vista, Rosita and Rye and 3.5 inches in Walsenburg and Del Norte.