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

wyutcoprecipitationjuly1tojuly232011coclimatecenter.jpg

Here are this week’s presentations from the Colorado Climate Center.

Fort Collins reports demand down sharply due to ample rainfall

watersprinkler.jpg

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Sarah Jane Kyle):

In May and June alone, Fort Collins received 7.28 inches of rain, 2.72 inches more than the 30-year average for Fort Collins, according to precipitation records by the Colorado Climate Center. The average for January to June is 8.58 inches. Colorado Climate Center research associate Noah Newman said July’s rain totals already have exceeded the 30-year average of 1.57 inches for the entire month of July; from July 1 to 15, Fort Collins received 1.8 inches of precipitation…

Due to increased rainfall and other factors, Fort Collins has seen only 70 percent of the projected water usage for the month of July, city of Fort Collins water resources manager Dennis Bode. “We’ve just had a number of rain events in early July that we typically don’t have,” Bode said. “That has certainly reduced our water use. We’ve seen that trend since irrigation season started. Bode said Fort Collins residents have been more frugal with their water use for most of the year, using only 85 percent of projected water usage since Jan. 1.

More conservation coverage here.

Whitewater: Two standup paddlers traverse 225 miles of the Grand Canyon including the major rapids

standuppaddlinggrandcanyon2011

From Stand Up Paddle Surfing Magazine (Son of the Sea):

Whitewater expert Seth Warren and surf artist Drew Brophy rode standup paddleboards (SUPS) down 225 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The previous record was set by Hawaiian Archie Kalepa, who logged 187 miles in 2009.

On May 14, 2011, Brophy and Warren began their 16 day excursion at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, navigating more than 125 rapids, with 42 major rapids rated between 5 and 10g on the Grand Canyon scale of 1 to 10g. They standup paddleboarded about fourteen miles each day. Their expedition ended at Diamond Creek, Arizona. Adding to the challenge of riding over rapids on stand-up paddleboards was the unusually high river water level. According to experts, the Colorado River was running at its highest level in thirty years.

The most challenging rapids they encountered included the infamous Lava, Hermit, Granite and Crystal Rapids. By day eight of the trip, their time on the river allowed enough experience to become skilled enough to stick it to the end of most of the 6 or 7 class rapids. But any class higher than 7 often landed the paddleboarders into the 42 degree waters. Brophy says, “There’s just no easy button. It’s amazing, the power of that water.”

More whitewater coverage here.

Kayakers, sportsmen, conservationists deliver 23,887 clean water comments to EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin

eisenhowerfishing.jpg

Here’s the release from Environment Colorado (Pam Kiely):

As the public comment period comes to a close for the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed guidance on determining whether a waterway is protected by the Clean Water Act, kayakers, conservationists, and sportsmen from across the state gathered Tuesday morning to demonstrate broad-based support for EPA’s efforts, hand-delivering to EPA officials 23,887 comment postcards, photo petitions, letters, and stacks of emails in support of EPA action to keep our state’s waterways clean.

“This summer we’ve heard from tens of thousands of Coloradans,” said Pam Kiely, program director of Environment Colorado, “And the consensus is clear— people support strong EPA action to fully protect the creeks and rivers they’re rafting, kayaking, swimming, and fishing in all summer long.”

Over the past decade, interpretations of Supreme Court rulings have left murky which Colorado waterways are fully protected under the Clean Water Act by removing some critical types of waters from federal protection, causing confusion and uncertainly for regulators and businesses alike about which waters and wetlands are actually protected under the Clean Water Act.

The U.S. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have developed draft guidance for determining whether a waterway, water body, or wetland is protected by the Clean Water Act. This guidance would replace previous guidance to reaffirm protection for critical waters, including intermittent, ephemeral, or headwater streams. In Colorado, these types of waterways account for 62% of the total river miles that feed into public drinking water supplies; over 3.7 million Coloradans receive their drinking water from a source that is fed by, at least partially, on one of these smaller waterways.

“EPA has laid out a comprehensive plan to maintain and improve the health of our nation’s waters,” said Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver. “A fundamental part of that plan is reaffirming the clear application of the Clean Water Act. The guidance we are proposing will help protect the streams and wetlands that keep Colorado’s watersheds, and the state’s multi-billion dollar recreational economy, healthy.”

The draft guidance will reaffirm protections for small streams that feed into larger streams and rivers, and reaffirm protection for wetlands that filter pollution and help protect communities from flooding. Keeping these smaller waterways safe is critical for the overall health of the watershed.

“Anglers know it takes clean water in small tributaries upstream to create great fishing opportunities on rivers downstream – yet those tributaries are at risk of losing protection under the Clean Water Act,” noted David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “Sportsmen applaud EPA for developing new guidance that will keep these streams protected, so that future generations can continue to enjoy clean fishable waters across Colorado.”

The Guidance currently in place has caused unnecessary confusion and delay in the implementation of the Clean Water Act’s important programs, has interfered with effective enforcement activity and has put drinking water sources for at least 117 million people at risk nationwide. In Colorado alone, protections on over 65,000 miles of streams have been called into question.

Since the Supreme Court decisions in SWANCC and Rapanos and ensuing EPA Guidance documents issued in 2003 and 2008, bodies of water that Congress intended to protect when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 have been put at risk. Congress enacted the Clean Water Act “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” and existing Guidance documents clearly threaten protection for wetlands, streams and other water bodies that play a critical role in overall health of the nation’s watersheds and drinking water sources.

The full text of the newly proposed guidance can be found at: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

The EPA is trying to assert its authority over small, intermittent and headwaters streams after Supreme Court decisions in 2003 and 2008 seemed to limit the Clean Water Act to larger bodies of water. David Nickum, head of the Colorado chapter of Trout Unlimited, said it feels like the Clean Water Act’s protections have been fading the last 10 years after three successful decades. “So many of our rivers and our fisheries depend on healthy headwaters. It’s pretty simple – if you have pollution upstream, it’s going to make its way downstream, and you’re going to have unhealthy rivers,” Nickum said.

Martin said his agency spends too much time trying to figure out whether it has jurisdiction over a stream and not enough time cleaning up or preventing spills. “Ultimately, our goal is to protect the physical and chemical integrity of all of our waters,” Martin said. “We’re going to move forward. This is really important to the protection of clean water in this country.”

A public comment period about the EPA’s clean water proposal closes this week. After that, the agency will have a formal rulemaking period to determine the scope of its authority.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

In another show of force on the water front Tuesday, conservation groups, kayakers and anglers rallied at Confluence Kayaks along the Platte River in downtown Denver and hand delivered 23,887 public comments to EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin. The comments were in favor of an EPA rulemaking designed to clarify which bodies of water qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act.

While the rulemaking has met with considerable resistance – including from Republican members of Colorado’s congressional delegation – EPA officials say it’s necessary in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have muddied the waters on which streams, creeks, ponds, lakes, rivers and wetlands are actually protected under the Clean Water Act.

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

This [EPA] initiative could double the stream-miles covered in Colorado, where 3.7 million residents receive water from sources connected to unregulated seasonal creeks and streams, which feed seven major rivers that flow through 27 states. Nationwide, water supplies of 117 million Americans are connected to waterways where the EPA currently does not regulate pollution.

Agriculture, mining and homebuilding industry leaders oppose the push, deploying lobbyists who accuse the EPA of overreach that could bog the economy.

“This is really important for protecting clean water in the United States,” EPA regional administrator Jim Martin told supporters rallying Tuesday in Denver at Confluence Kayaks. “We want to get back into the job of preventing pollution.”

Formerly chief of Colorado’s health department, Martin said state regulators lack resources to police streams. Amid current legal uncertainty, EPA officials notified of spills, are paralyzed trying to determine whether waterways qualify for protection – instead of cleaning up pollution, he said. “It makes no sense.”

“If you don’t give the EPA the tools to protect those gullies and deal with spills there, ultimately they will not be able to protect rivers either,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

EPA officials say draft guidelines make exceptions for agricultural producers. Pollution from stock ponds and irrigated croplands that flows into waterways would be exempt from new regulation.

More EPA coverage here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline update: The Colorado Environmental Coalition, et al., want the state to nix public funds for the Flaming Gorge Task Force

flaminggorgepipelinemillion.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Creating the Flaming Gorge pipeline would cost billions of dollars we don’t have, it would deliver water at a price that nobody can afford, and it would land a devastating blow to our environment,” said Elise Jones, executive director of Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Now, the proponents of this project want the state to spend $150,000 of taxpayer dollars on an unnecessary process to push the project forward.” Jones referred to a proposal by the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority requesting $150,000 from the Water Supply Reserve Account from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for a Flaming Gorge pipeline exploration committee. The proposal also includes $40,000 from basin roundtable accounts, making its total $190,000. The CWCB is expected to consider the grant proposal in September. The Pikes Peak Water Authority is not one of the proponents of the project, originally proposed by Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million. The Colorado-Wyoming Coalition, made up of water providers in both states, also is looking at its own version of the plan. The coalition is led by Frank Jaeger, manager of Parker Water and Sanitation, and includes Donala, which also is a member of the Pikes Peak Water Authority…

Regardless of who would be interested in developing the pipeline, the environmental groups say it would be a waste of state resources to engage in any studies. “Coloradans need to know about this boondoggle,” said Bill Dvorak, a Salida-based river outfitter. “People in this state recognize the need for balanced water supply policies that preserve what’s best about Colorado — this pipeline does not meet that standard.” The environmental groups say the pipeline would result in irreparable environmental impacts on Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River below the reservoir and further drain the Colorado River.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

Save the Poudre and a group of 19 other environmental organizations led by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates and the Colorado Environmental Coalition announced Tuesday they oppose any state funding for the task force. The groups are hosting a “telephone town hall” at 7 p.m. today, which will allow residents from all over the state to hear why conservation groups oppose a Flaming Gorge pipeline and ask questions about it.

“The point is to discourage the state Water Conservation Board from spending any funding or tax dollars on studying the project any further,” said Western Resource Advocates water program manager Bart Miller. He said the pipeline could cost $9 billion and be one of the most expensive and environmentally damaging water projects in Colorado history…

Save the Poudre Executive Director Gary Wockner said the state should be spending its resources studying less divisive solutions to Colorado’s water challenges. He said that because it’s unclear whether there’s enough water available in the Colorado River Basin for a pipeline to extract 250,000 acre feet of water annually, the pipeline could spark a water war throughout the West. The Green River is part of the Colorado River Basin…

A Flaming Gorge pipeline also is opposed by the Colorado River Water Conservation District whose officials worry that there is too little water in the Green River to support a pipeline.

Million said Tuesday the Regional Watershed Supply Project was designed to keep plenty of water in the Green River for Flaming Gorge and downstream uses. “There’s still ample water for the project to move forward,” he said, adding that if major environmental problems are found with the project, it shouldn’t be built…

Conservation groups opposing the pipeline and the task force include Colorado Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Colorado Whitewater Association, Environment Colorado, the National Parks Conservation Association and about a dozen others.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

… [A] coalition of environmental groups will conduct a “telephone town hall” at 7 tonight that’s expected to draw thousands of Coloradans concerned about the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline that would transport at least 250,000 acre feet (81 billion gallons) of water a year from the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir in southwestern Wyoming over the Continental Divide to the Front Range of Colorado. Go to the Western Resource Advocates website for more information on tonight’s town hall.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

National Water Resources Association conference recap: Governor Hickenlooper cites the need for cooperation amongst stakeholders

topographywesternus.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“A lot of what we’ve done in water is to focus on public sentiment,” Hickenlooper told the National Water Resources Association. “So often we get into a fight over the legalities, rather than make sure people understand the facts.”[…]

Environmental and agricultural water interests are “joined at the hip” with the municipal water interests in Colorado, Hickenlooper said…

In Colorado, he outlined a three-pronged approach to water, based on the Interbasin Compact Committee’s work over the past six years:

Innovation. This includes alternative ag-urban water transfers and working relationships between water providers and irrigators that stay within the boundaries of Colorado water law.
– Conservation. Denver has cut back per-capita water use 20 percent. Hickenlooper said conservation is needed, but can’t be the basis for future growth.
– Storage. “New water projects are an important tool to deal with the water deficits we observe,” Hickenlooper said.

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement among Denver and 30 Western Slope communities, negotiated mainly during the years he was Denver mayor, is a new model for negotiating water issues within the state, he said…

“If I could get all the other governors to agree, we’d sign an agreement that we don’t recruit each other’s businesses by offering incentives,” Hickenlooper said, adding that he formed a similar pact between Denver and its suburbs while mayor. “If we invest in infrastructure, then that’s the way to compete. All of the opportunity to lift up the last and the least comes from successful business.”

More Colorado water coverage here and here.