Snowpack news: Below average west and average east of the Great Divide, where is La Niña?



Click on the thumbnail graphics to the right for the U.S. Drought Monitor and current snowpack map. Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

This year’s La Niña has been a bit of a disappointment so far, said Klaus Wolter a meteorologist with NOAA’s Climate Diagnostic Center who specializes in evaluating the impacts of the El Niño-La Niña cycle in the southwestern United States…

“The Front Range has done really well,” he said. At his backyard weather station, Wolter picked up 31 inches last week and has recorded more than 70 inches for the season, second only to 1997 in the past 20 years or so.

But Wolter, who recently updated the seasonal forecast for the SWcasts website, expects at least normal snowfall for the remainder of the winter.

The official three-month outlook (December to February) calls for a 33 to 40 percent chance of above-normal precipitation for most of northern Colorado, including the Summit County area.

The overall dryness from New Mexico into eastern Colorado since the beginning of October matches the forecast issued in September. The early November windstorms were also typical for a La Niña.

“My forecast for January through March 2012 is more optimistic than my earlier forecast from September for our north-central mountains, but not for the Four Corners region. The Arkansas Valley has better prospects (near-normal moisture) than is typical for La Niña, while northeastern Colorado has no clear preference for dry or wet this winter,” Wolter wrote in the SWcast outlook.

From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

Weather forecasters say La Nina — a weather system where cold ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean bring wetter than normal conditions across the Pacific Northwest and drier and warmer than normal conditions across much of the southern United States — is weaker than it was last winter. Recent weather patterns, however, just don’t follow any conventional wisdom about snow in northern Colorado, La Nina winter or otherwise. Joel Gratz, a meteorologist who runs the website, formerly, calls the weather pattern we’ve seen over the last six or so weeks “pretty difficult.” The computer forecasting models that Gratz and other weather forecasters use haven’t been helpful in predicting when the current pattern will shift…

The pattern is such that storms have been coming in from the Pacific Ocean over British Columbia, Washington or Oregon — as they typically do in La Nina winters — but then the systems have been splitting into two sections. The southern portion has been tracking farther south, while the northern portion stays north of Colorado, said Jim Daniels, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. The systems have just been going too far south to bring any significant snowfall to the Interstate 70 corridor. The next 14 days just show more of the same, too, Daniels said…

The news has been great for resorts like Wolf Creek, which has received significant snowfall accumulations over the last week and a half or so. And Vail and Beaver Creek have seen some light snowstorms move through in the same time frame, but accumulations have been minimal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service snow measurement data shows Vail Mountain precipitation from Oct. 1 to Dec. 13 of this year at 72 percent of normal.

Rare minnows restored to Arkansas River

Plains minnow photo credit Texas State University

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Michael D. Seraphin):

Two rare minnows are once again swimming in the Arkansas River thanks to pioneering research efforts at the John Mumma Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility.

Plains minnows (Hybognathus placitus) and suckermouth minnows (Phenacobius mirabilis) are native species on the Colorado threatened and endangered list. The small minnows were stocked into the Arkansas River above John Martin Reservoir in the vicinity of the Rocky Ford and Oxbow State Wildlife Areas in November. The fish will be monitored annually to determine the success of the stocking effort.

“We’ve been working on getting them re-established in portions of their native habitat for over a decade but were unable to reproduce them successfully until recently,” said Paul Foutz, Southeast Region Native Aquatic Species Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Because plains minnows and suckermouth minnows are exceedingly rare, efforts to aid in their recovery were hampered by the fact that very little research was available about the optimal conditions for them to reproduce in a hatchery. Since 2000, the staff at the Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility near Alamosa has worked meticulously and persistently to produce viable offspring. Several times they were able to achieve successful reproduction, only to encounter difficulties raising the young fish to maturity.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatchery technicians worked in conjunction with fish culturists at Colorado State University and the Albuquerque Aquarium investigating spawning and rearing techniques using methods similar to those that were successful for another small fish, the silvery minnow.

After a breakthrough in 2010, hatchery staff was able to create the proper conditions and reared approximately 38,000 plains minnow and 4,000 suckermouth minnows in 2011. The fish ranged in size from one to two inches.

As State listed endangered species, re-establishing populations of plains minnow and suckermouth minnow will have no impact on normal agricultural operations.

The original bloodstock of plains minnows came from collections in Kansas on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River in Barber County. The suckermouth minnows are offspring of fish that were collected from the wild in Colorado in areas where small populations existed in the Arkansas River.

Species summaries:

Suckermouth minnow (Phenacobius mirabilis)
Suckermouth minnows are native to the eastern plains of Colorado in the South Platte, Arkansas, and Arikaree Rivers. Its range extends to most of the Mississippi River basin from Ohio west to Wyoming, and south to Louisiana and Texas. This species has spotty and rare distribution and is currently a state listed endangered species. This small (2-5 inch) fish is slender with a conspicuous dark spot at the base of the tail fin. It inhabits shallow riffles with sand/gravel substrate, but utilizes deeper pools during low flow periods.

Plains Minnow (Hybognathus placitus)
This plains fish is native to the Arkansas, Republican and South Platte basins in Colorado. Its range includes the Missouri River and western Mississippi River systems from Montana south to Texas. A few specimens were collected on the eastern plains in the South Platte in the early 1980’s and mid-1990’s. It has not been seen in the Arkansas River since the 1960’s. It is olive or yellow-green with brassy reflection and grows to about five-inches. It is currently a Colorado state endangered species.

For additional information and pictures of the plains minnow and suckermouth minnow along with some of Colorado’s other native aquatic species please visit the following web sites:

More coverage from the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Plains minnows (Hybognathus placitus) and suckermouth minnows (Phenacobius mirabilis) are on the Colorado threatened and endangered list.The plains minnow hasn’t been seen in the Arkansas River since the 1960s.

The two species have different requirements for habitat, food and reproduction. Plains minnow primarily feed on algae as well as other microscopic plants and animals, while suckermouth minnows typically feed on larval insects and other microscopic organisms which they glean from the riverbed with their sucker-like mouth, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists.

Both species declined due changes that have taken place on the Arkansas River during many decades due to water and land development.

More endangered species coverage here.

Dillon Reservoir operations update: The reservoir is down about three feet going into winter


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Right now, the reservoir is about three feet below full, a level that enables Denver Water to place a big steel and wood cap on the glory hole.

In late November, the inflow from the tributaries that feed the reservoir was at about 93 cfs, while the outflow into the Blue River was about 88 cfs. Those flows are expected to fluctuate between a minimum required flow of 50 cfs and 105 cfs, sometimes dependent on downstream calls.

This year, the Roberts Tunnel, which transports water from the Blue River Basin under the Continental Divide to the South Platte River, was turned off in late November and will likely remain shut off until well into spring.

Steger said Denver Water is doing some maintenance on the valves at the eastern end of the conduit. But the tunnel itself will remain filled of water during the winter. It holds about 220 acre feet of water. Keeping it full enables Keystone to draw water from the Montezuma Shaft to augment Snake River flows during snowmaking season and also prevents the inside of the tunnel from icing up.

More Blue River watershed coverage here.

The South Platte Roundtable has approved their Education Action Plan


Here’s the link to South Platte Basin Roundtable Education Action Plan from the CWCB website. Here’s an excerpt:

As each basin roundtable carries out its charge to develop basin-wide water needs assessments, they are also required to advance the understanding of future water needs through educational programs and processes. In the statutes of HB 05-1177, each basin roundtable has powers and responsibilities that include the following:

“(c) … Basin roundtables shall actively seek the input and advice of affected local governments, water providers, and other interested stakeholders and persons in establishing its needs assessment, and shall propose projects or methods for meeting those needs.

(d) Serve as a forum for education and debate regarding methods for meeting water supply needs; and (e) As needed, establish roundtable subcommittees or other mechanisms to facilitate dialogue and resolution of issues and conflicts within the basin.”

Moreover, the Public Education, Participation, and Outreach (PEPO) Workgroup is a legislatively created committee of the IBCC. This group is tasked with: creating a process to inform, involve, and educate the public on the IBCC’s activities and the progress of the interbasin compact negotiations; creating a mechanism by which public input and feedback can be relayed to the IBCC and compact negotiators; and educating IBCC and roundtable members on water issues. The PEPO Workgroup’s membership consists of the Education Liaisons, a volunteer position on each basin roundtable, members of the IBCC, statewide water education experts, staff of the Water Supply Planning section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), and a consultant firm that facilitates the PEPO Workgroup. The members of this committee work to identify the best approaches for education and outreach at the statewide and basin-specific levels. The PEPO Workgroup and roundtable members are collectively defining the most helpful and meaningful ways in which the public can participate in the work of their basin roundtable.

In 2011-2012, the PEPO Workgroup will assist the basin roundtables in strengthening their education and outreach activities. By the end of 2012, each roundtable is expected to have a functioning Education & Outreach Committee tasked with creating an Education Action Plan (EAP). The EAP will detail the educational goals and tasks most effective for the basin roundtable. It will identify roundtable member education activities that promote a well- informed and high-functioning basin roundtable. It will also define public participation objectives and appropriate implementation methods.

In 2012, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education (CFWE) will work with the South Platte Basin Roundtable by providing assistance in forming or strengthening an Education & Outreach Committee and creating their Education Action Plan (EAP). To assist the basin roundtables in implementing their completed EAPs, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has created an application-based education fund. All basin roundtables with a completed EAP will have the opportunity to apply for up to $1,800 in state funds per year for action plan implementation.

More education coverage here.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission green lights new ‘toughest in nation’ hydraulic fracturing disclosure rule


From Alan Prendergast writing for Westword:

“We wanted to find the right balance,” [Governor Hickenlooper] explained, while predicting that the arrangement would allow companies to develop “greener, cutting-edge fracking fluids.”

Yet disclosure of what’s in the fracking brew probably won’t allay public concerns about the process, Governor Good Gas acknowledged. Fracking requires astonishing amounts of water, and the scale of projected drilling in Colorado and other western states is staggering. Disclosure needs to be coupled with exacting standards for how wells are drilled and operated, or Colorado could end up with a scenario similar to the suspected water contamination reported in Pavilion, Wyoming, last week, which has been blamed on shallow wells and inadequate casing.

“As drilling goes to where it’s never been before, we’re going to hear concerns,” Hickenlooper said. “But I have said all along that our groundwater is so far from [the formations being fracked] that there’s almost no possibility that we’re going to see contamination from fracking.”

Flanked by environmental and consumer advocates and gas industry execs, the governor announced the new fracking era in front of the giant John Fielder photograph of Lost Dollar Ranch in his office. Time will tell if the state can have its gas boom and keep its gorgeous scenery, too.

More on the reaction to the new rules from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.): “These new rules are a strong step forward for Colorado and our local communities. It’s vital that the industry does everything possible to show the public in a transparent way that hydraulic fracking is being done in a safe manner. It’s also important that the state continues to provide strong oversight and require a transparent process. I’ve always said that one well contaminated or one person made sick is one too many.”[…]

Tisha Schuller, President & CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association: “The Commission’s unanimous support for the new hydraulic fracturing disclosure rule is great news for Colorado. The Hickenlooper Administration, environmental groups, and the oil and gas industry have agreed upon a rule of which all Coloradoans can be proud.”[…]

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund advocacy group: “The public expects and deserves full transparency from the oil and gas industry. Today, Colorado has taken a critical step toward building the public trust.”[…]

Mike Chiropolos, Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates’ lands program director: “The disclosure compromise is a model for future collaborative efforts where industry concerns are balanced against the need to protect Colorado’s water as drilling expands across the state. This is an important step in creating the necessary protections for Colorado families, but there is more work to be done.”

More coverage from Nick Snow writing for the Oil and Gas Journal. From the article:

Colorado adopted hydraulic fracturing fluid ingredient regulations, effective Apr. 1, requiring disclosure of all chemicals and establishing ways to protect proprietary information. The rules drew praise from both oil and gas industry and environmental organizations…

Neslin said while disclosing frac fluid ingredients is important to increased transparency and better public confidence, the commission has other tools that provide more direct influence, notably casing and cementing requirements, and regulations for handling fluids and wastewater at the surface. He said the final regulations reflected an effective collaborative process. Leaders of both oil and gas and environmental groups quickly expressed their approval…

Environmental Defense Fund Pres. Fred Krupp said Colorado’s new regulations build on the experience of Wyoming, Arkansas, Texas, and Montana. Krupp believes Colorado’s regulations make important strides in requiring disclosures in ways that are both useful and user-friendly. “Moving to a searchable database format will allow land owners, neighbors, regulators, and policymakers to focus their questions and their research about hydraulic fracturing operations,” he said. “This is a big step forward, and possibly Colorado’s most important contribution to disclosure efforts in states across the nation.”

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

[Western Resource Advocates] now wants the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to implement recommendations made in October by a group called the State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) suggesting minimum surface casing depths for oil and gas wells that are fracked.

It’s been suggested that the failure to properly case and cement natural gas wells to depths below the groundwater aquifer may have been to blame in Pavillion, Wyo., where a report last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) linked fracking chemicals to well-water contamination.

“[STRONGER] recommends that the COGCC work with stakeholders to review how available information is used to determine minimum surface casing depths and how those depths assure that casing and cementing procedures are adequate to protect fresh groundwater,” the October STRONGER report reads.

COGCC director David Neslin said on Tuesday that fracking chemical “disclosure is not our first line of environmental defense. It’s important for transparency, it’s important to build public confidence, but our first line of environmental defense is the integrity of the wellbore. It’s the work that our engineers and environmental staff do in reviewing the permit applications.”

Neslin has long said that disclosure won’t stop spills caused by bad cement jobs of wellbores, pipeline problems or leaks from holding ponds that store fracking and other fluids. On Tuesday he said another line of environmental defense is “groundwater sampling, baseline sampling that we require our operators to do, and the prompt response that our field inspectors make when complaints or allegations of impact arise.”

WRA, however, would like to see another rulemaking on both the STRONGER recommendations and “a mandatory program for baseline testing, monitoring and tracers to protect our water quality.”

“Baseline testing can help eliminate the he said, she said arguments over contamination so that we can focus on keeping people safe,” WRA’s Chiropolos said. “One sick person is one too many. The [COGCC] should continue to be proactive in 2012 in order to protect Colorado families and our water.”[…]

“Colorado citizens are justifiably worried about the practice of fracking and deserve full confidence that the state is protecting the quality of their air, water and soil,” said Josh Joswick, energy issues organizer of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. Joswick was a La Plata County commissioner when local drilling rules were implemented in that gas-rich area of the state.

Increased drilling activity on the Front Range from Colorado Springs all the way north of Denver to the Wyoming state line will occur where far more Coloradans live than on the sparsely populated Western Slope. “This [disclosure] compromise means there is no free pass for drilling firms,” state Rep. Deb Gardner, D-Longmont, said in a release. “There is now a greater degree of checks and balances.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

How much water will the Niobrara shale play under eastern Colorado Springs require and where will it come from?


From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Colorado Springs Utilities is required to serve Banning Lewis Ranch under the annexation agreement, in which the annexor relinquishes the land’s water rights to the city forever, except for 2,000 acre feet of groundwater on the south end. That water, about 652 million gallons, is to be split between the city and annexor.

But Utilities, still building the SDS pipeline, hasn’t heard a water request from Ultra, says spokesman Dave Grossman. He says the city doesn’t know how much is needed, because “fracking is new to our area, so we don’t have past data for planning purposes.” Ultra did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but Montgomery says 1 million to 5 million gallons is used per frack.

If the 326 million gallons to which Ultra would have access under the annexation agreement isn’t enough, and the company doesn’t want to buy water from Utilities, Cherokee Metropolitan District, which serves the 18,000-customer Cimarron Hills enclave east of Powers Boulevard, is open to the idea of selling water, manager Sean Chambers says. Five years ago, Cherokee lost its use of several wells in the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Ground Water Management District, east of its service area, after illegally exporting water from the basin to its customers.

Chambers now wonders if that water, which Cherokee still owns, could be sold to drillers.

“We would consider it, so long as we were assured certain protections and we could confirm our decrees are consistent with what’s allowable,” he says. “The state is a little unsure … They don’t want this oil bonanza to turn into a water problem.”[…]

[Charlie Montgomery, energy organizer of the Colorado Environmental Coalition] says the next battle will be over local control. The Pueblo Chieftain has reported that Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, wants to require a more comprehensive state accounting of oil and gas drilling’s water needs. Meanwhile, the Longmont Times-Call says that Rep. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, wants to give local governments more control over the industry, including fracking.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable members received training on the CWCB’s ‘Portfolio Tool’ Wednesday


Computing a water balance amongst the various consumptive and non-consumptive uses with an eye towards avoiding large-scale dry-ups of agricultural land is one goal of the tool. Another is to demonstrate how an increase in one use affects the other uses. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has developed the portfolio tool to weigh how the success of water projects already under development, urban conservation, new projects and agricultural transfers fit into meeting a projected “gap” in urban water supplies. Members of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable were given the chance to learn how to use the tool Wednesday in a computer lab at Colorado State University-Pueblo, but only a few showed up.

Water resources workers from Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Aurora also attended the meeting to learn more about the tool and offer suggestions about assumptions that have been made…

The Metro Basin Roundtable, for instance, developed four scenarios, looking at different levels of future demand. It took another step and developed a white paper on how more conservation might be achieved to reduce the need to dry up farms or import more water. The Colorado Basin Roundtable produced a model that showed how agricultural preservation statewide could be maximized. “I think the tool shows how if you make a change in one area, it affects something else, like Whac-a-Mole,” said Dave Taussig, a member of the roundtable from Lincoln County.

The group moved parameters within the model to look at low, medium or high demand in the future, and agreed to share these with the full roundtable at a future date. In some cases — for instance, low demand, high conservation and development of identified projects — there would be very limited impact on agricultural land.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.