The Uncompahgre Watershed Group is hosting a public meeting about the draft watershed plan December 15

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Here’s the announcement from the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership:

After more than three years of continuous work, the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP) has completed a draft of the watershed plan for the Uncompahgre River made possible by grants from the Colorado Water Quality Control Division and the Healthy Rivers Fund. Community educational forums looked at issues impacting the watershed posed by mining, agriculture, storm-water, wildlife, and recreation in Delta, Montrose and Ouray Counties. The purpose of these presentations is not only for the public to hear the problems identified and the possible solutions targeted by the plan, but also to gather what concerns and input citizens of the Uncompahgre Watershed have prior to a final draft. It is the intention of the UWP to use the final draft of the plan both as a tool to restore health to the watershed where needed as well as to keep the watershed healthy in future decision-making.

Sarah Sauter, author of the Uncompahgre Watershed Plan, will make at least two public presentations. The first presentation is scheduled the evening of Thursday, December 15, from 6:30 to 8:00pm at Ridgway Community Center. The doors open at 6:00pm and refreshments will be provided. The Community Center is located at 201 N. Railroad St. in Ridgway. The second presentation will be scheduled for a later time in January in Ouray. The plan is available on uncompahgrewatershed.org to read before the presentations. There is a table of contents to assist in finding areas of interest.

Here is the file UncompahgrePlanDraftv1

More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here and here.

Snowpack news: Average east and below average west of the Great Divide, 86% of average statewide

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Last spring — at a meeting of the CWCB’s Water Availability Task Force — I remember climate scientist Klaus Wolter saying, “We’ve [Colorado] never had a dry La Niña year.” He followed that up with a warning to all the assembled water suppliers that were gushing about the enormous snowpack, telling us that in second-year La Niña events, the second year has been dry in eight of ten cases at Lees Ferry below Glen Canyon Dam.

We’re in the second year of La Niña and it has started out weaker than last year.

Here’s the current diagnostic discussion for ENSO from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center:

Synopsis: La Niña is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2011-12.

During November 2011, below-average sea surface temperatures (SST) associated with La Niña conditions continued across the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean…The recent weekly SST indices in the Niño-3.4 and Niño-3 regions maintained levels near –1.0°C, indicative of weak to moderate La Niña. The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) weakened slightly, but still indicates a large area of below-average temperatures at depth in the eastern Pacific. Also reflecting La Niña, the atmospheric circulation over the global tropics featured anomalous low-level easterly and upper-level westerly winds in the central and west-central Pacific. Averaged over the month, convection was suppressed near and just west of the Date Line and enhanced over northern Australia and parts of Indonesia. Collectively, these oceanic and atmospheric patterns are consistent with the continuation of La Niña conditions.

A majority of the models predict a weak or moderate strength La Niña to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter…and then gradually weaken after peaking during the December – January period. The models are roughly split between those that predict La Niña to remain weak (3- month average in the Nino-3.4 region between -0.5 and -0.9°C) and those that predict a stronger episode. Over the last half-century, La Niña events that were preceded by ENSO-neutral conditions during the Northern Hemisphere summer (May-August) were less likely to attain strong amplitude (stronger than – 1.5°C) the following winter. This observation, in combination with the model forecasts, favors a weak- to-moderate strength La Niña during the Northern Hemisphere winter, likely weakening with the onset of northern spring.

During December 2011 – February 2012, there is an increased chance of above-average temperatures across the south-central and southeastern U.S. below-average temperatures over the western and north-central U.S. Also, above-average precipitation is favored across the northern tier of states, excluding New England, and drier-than-average conditions are more likely across the southern tier of the U.S. (see 3-month seasonal outlook released on 17 November 2011).

This discussion is a consolidated effort of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA’s National Weather Service, and their funded institutions. Oceanic and atmospheric conditions are updated weekly on the Climate Prediction Center web site (El Niño/La Niña Current Conditions and Expert Discussions). Forecasts for the evolution of El Niño/La Niña are updated monthly in the Forecast Forum section of CPC’s Climate Diagnostics Bulletin. The next ENSO Diagnostics Discussion is scheduled for 5 January 2012.

U.S. senators Udall and Bennet ask the USFS for a moratorium on new permit requirements that would prevent severing water rights from ski areas

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

In a Dec. 1 letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, along with Senators John Barasso (R—WY) and James Risch (R-ID), asked the Forest Service to consider a moratorium on the new water rights clause.

The ski industry claims the permit conditions are a federal water grab, while Forest Service officials say the intent is to keep the water rights linked with the permitted ski area use. Read more details and background in this Summit Voice story.

In their letter, the four lawmakers said ski area operators in their state expressed concern that the water rights clause could have immediate and practical implications on ski area operations, but the letter did not spell out those concerns. According to the letter, a moratorium would give the agency a chance to assess the impacts of the clause and “allow ski areas to avoid immediate impacts to water rights …”

More water law coverage here.

Peter Gleick: ‘Zombie water projects (Just when you thought they were dead)’

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From Forbes (Peter Gleick):

Water transfers from the Great Lakes or the Mississippi River or Alaska and Canada to the arid southwestern U.S.

These are perennial favorites: people look at the vast amount of water in the Great Lakes, or flowing down the Mississippi River, or flowing north to the Arctic Ocean and think, gee, what could make more sense than to take that water and move it to where we really need it, like California or Arizona or Las Vegas. After all, we’ve been moving water around since the beautifully designed Roman aqueducts, and even earlier. But most of these mega-projects are zombies – killed off years ago, only to linger, undead.

Patricia Mulroy, who runs the Southern Nevada Water Authority, recently revived the idea of moving floodwaters from the Mississippi River all the way to Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona to free up Colorado River water that could then be given to feed Las Vegas. Fear that similar projects would take water out of the Great Lakes led to a provision in the new international agreement signed by the U.S. and Canada that effectively prohibits transfers of water out of the basin because of fear that such diversions would lower the Great Lakes levels and threaten the health of fragile natural ecosystems. And of course there is the granddaddy of all water diversion proposals – called NAWAPA (the North American Water and Power Alliance) – proposed in the late 1950s and early 1960s by a consulting/construction company to divert around 150 million acre-feet of water annually (ten times the flow of the Colorado River) from the Yukon, Copper, Kootenay, Fraser, Peace, and other Alaskan/Canadian rivers all the way east to the Great Lakes and south to the southwestern U.S. and even Mexico. And a smaller version of this zombie is the Million Conservation Research Group proposal (named after Aaron Million – if it had anything to do with the cost, it would be the Billion Conservation Research Group) to build a pipeline from Wyoming to eastern Colorado to take 250,000 acre-feet of public water to sell for private gain. Professor Robert Glennon from the University of Arizona quipped that he sees many obstacles to the project, “not the least of which is the Rocky Mountains.”

These mega-projects are certainly technically feasible: there’s no mystery to building dams, aqueducts, pumping plants, and pipelines. What kills these projects is their massive political, environmental, and economic cost. They would cost tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars and lead to vast environmental destruction and devastation. Half a century ago, we didn’t know about the ecological consequences of massive water diversions, or we didn’t care, but those days are over. On top of this, any such project would require unprecedented political and legal water sharing agreements and anyone who believes such agreements can be reached is living in a fantasyland. But that doesn’t stop these zombies from periodically coming back to life.

More pipeline projects coverage here.

Green River: The Sweetwater County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopt a resolution opposing the Flaming Gorge pipeline proposed by Wyco Power and Water

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From the Green River Star (David Martin):

Wyco Power and Water Inc. filed a application for preliminary permit to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and FERC is seeking public comment about the proposal. The proposal would include hydroelectric power generating developments north of Green River, however it would also pump approximately 250,000 acre feet of water per year from the Green River basin, through eastern Wyoming and into Colorado’s Front Range.

According to the document, an imbalance greater than 3.5 million acre feet of water could exist over the next 50 years due to potential changes in climate. The commission argues that if such imbalances are possible, the water demands of local and regional entities should be placed above transbasin needs.

The commissioners also said the population of the Colorado River basin is rapidly growing, creating an increasing demand for water. However because of the population increases, they claim water needs for the Colorado Basin are not fully understood and allowing the project to move forward could compromise the potential for growth through the basin.

The commission’s resolution claims the water added to the Colorado River Basin could impact programs aimed to mitigate endangered species by altering the temperature and water quality of the river.

Finally, the resolution claims a proposed pump reservoir on White Mountain could compromise at least four high-pressure gas lines, fiber optics cables and the water line to the Jim Bridger Power Plant.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

New Castle: The town council bumps water and sewer rates for debt service in response to lowered development revenues

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

Water fees will rise by $1.50 per month across the board, mainly to cover a shortfall in revenues and increased operating costs, said Town Administrator Andy Barton. The larger increase will be in the fees for sewer service, which will rise by $6.50 per month per customer. The added revenue is needed in large part to pay off loans used for a new, $8.5 million wastewater treatment plant, built in 2009, Barton said…

Barton explained that the ongoing national recession yanked the bottom out from under the local housing boom. Although the town has trimmed budgets and staff over the past couple of years, Barton explained, the town still needs additional revenue to pay off the sewer-plant million debt at a rate of $500,000 per year.

More infrastructure coverage here and here.

Mark Pifher (Aurora water): ‘We don’t plan to buy or lease any more water in Arkansas basin in the near future’

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Aurora’s water rights include nearly all of the Rocky Ford Ditch in Otero County, about one-third of the Colorado Canal in Crowley County and water from 1,750 acres of ranches in Lake County. Those rights provide an average yield of 22,800 acre-feet per year — the equivalent of 80 percent of the potable water used by Pueblo each year.

– Aurora also uses the Homestake Project, Twin Lakes, Busk-Ivanhoe diversion and the Columbine Ditch to bring water from the Western Slope through the Arkansas River basin and into the South Platte basin. The average yield of those water rights is about 21,500 acre-feet annually.

– The city can reuse its Arkansas and Colorado basin water imports, and has built the $650 million Prairie Waters Project to directly recapture flows, rather than exchange them.

– Aurora’s South Platte water rights include wells, ranches, ditches and direct flow from the South Platte. They total about 46,000 acre-feet annually.

– Aurora has an agreement to trade 5,000 acre-feet of water a year with Pueblo West from Lake Pueblo to Twin Lakes beginning next year. It will replace a similar agreement with the Pueblo Board of Water Works that expires this year.

– The Pueblo water board sells Aurora 5,000 acre-feet of water each year.

– Aurora has a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation to store 10,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Pueblo and to move the same amount to Twin Lakes by paper trade.

– The water is moved from Twin Lakes to Spinney Mountain Reservoir through the Homestake pipeline system…

“We don’t have any current plans beyond what we’re already doing,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora water. “We don’t plan to buy or lease any more water in Arkansas basin in the near future.”

Instead, the city will continue developing Prairie Waters, a reuse project that pumps sewer return flows through a filtration and purification system, only at about 20 percent capacity so far. Aurora calculates that its average yield from its Arkansas River basin water rights is about 22,800 acre-feet annually. That’s roughly one-fourth of its total yield from its entire system, which includes South Platte and Colorado River basin rights. From a practical standpoint, Aurora does not move all of its water out of the Arkansas River basin each year.

More Aurora coverage here and here.