Snowpack/precipitation news: Dry east and west of the Great Divide, Arkansas River basin is at 89 percent of average

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“It looks really sad. There’s not much of a snowpack at all up here,” said Rick Sexton, caretaker of Clear Creek Reservoir for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “There’s very little snow in Leadville. It’s all melted off the south faces of the mountains and up to the tree line on the north faces. It’s 50 degrees here today, and windy as well.

“It’s shaping up to be a bad winter.”

In the Colorado River basin, which the Arkansas River depends on for supplemental water imports, it’s even drier. Snowpack in the Arkansas River basin is 89 percent of normal, while it’s only 63 percent in the Upper Colorado. The Rio Grande basin is in the best shape, with 93 percent of average…

The good news is that most of the snow typically doesn’t fall until March and April, and early readings can give a misleading impression of how much snow eventually will pile up.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo ended the year with 9.23 inches of precipitation, about 75 percent of average. The year 2011 ranked as the fifth driest year on record in the past 40 years. Other than 2002, when only 3.94 inches of moisture was recorded, it was the driest in a decade. Drought concerns prevailed throughout most of the year in Southern Colorado, with wildfires in several Eastern Plains counties last spring, dryland crop damage and cattle sell-offs making headlines…

National Weather Service forecasts call for chances of average precipitation over the next few months, with a weak La Nina (Pacific Ocean cooling) system. It’s impossible to predict when or where the snow or rain will land, however. The U.S. Drought Monitor lists much of Southern Colorado in severe to extreme drought.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

As of Dec. 30, the Natural Resources Conservation Service reported that snowpack in the South Platte River Basin was 15 percent behind the 30-year average for this time of year, while the Colorado River Basin was 37 percent behind normal — its second-lowest level recorded on Jan. 1 since records started being kept in the 1980s. The snowpack for the entire state is 28 percent behind the norm.

However, most of the snowfall in the mountains comes in March and April and “some really good snowstorms during those months could get numbers back up to normal before the snow season is over,” said David Nettles, an engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources office in Greeley.

Also, the amount of water stored in northern Colorado reservoirs and other storage facilities is at healthy levels because of last year’s above-average snowpack. Dana Strongin, communications specialist with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said water levels in the region’s 12 reservoirs that are part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project are nearly 30 percent above normal.

“There’s nothing terribly alarming about the snowpack numbers we’re seeing right now,” Nettles said. “If this continues, that could be a different story. But for now, we’re not panicking.” Jim Hall, water resources manager for the city of Greeley, echoed Nettles’ comments. He said the current low levels of snowpack aren’t particularly alarming, not for a city that has plentiful access to water storage facilities.

Since reservoir levels are well above average, those with senior rights on the river and access to water storage facilities — particularly municipalities — will be in good shape for quite a while, even if low snowpack levels persist.

2012 should see much increased exploration and production from the Niobrara shale play in eastern Colorado

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

Companies exploring the shale are operating mostly in Weld County, but Niobrara activity is spreading across the entire northern tier of Colorado and down the Front Range toward Colorado Springs.

“New oil boom. The words stir the excitement in the hearts of landmen, landowners, geologists, engineers, regulators, environmentalists, tax collectors, the unemployed and charlatans. Although oil production from the Niobrara strata began early in the 20th century, the new oil wells in Colorado are causing a land rush and drilling boom in many parts of the state,” Colorado State Geologist Vince Matthews wrote in the issue of the Colorado Geological Survey’s quarterly newsletter “Rock Talk”featured on the Colorado Department of Natural Resources’ website.

New horizontal drilling technology allowing energy companies to tap the Niobrara and make a tidy profit doing it “has raised the hopes of thousands of Coloradans,” Matthews wrote.

The Niobrara shale spreads across northeast Colorado, but it’s only about 400 feet thick and thousands of feet underground. Because the shale is so thin, energy companies couldn’t drill it very efficiently before horizontal drilling technology was developed in recent years. The new technology allows a single oil well to tap an underground reservoir of oil up to 12 times larger than an older vertical well, according to the Colorado Geological Survey…

Matthews warned that some wells have gushed oil while others haven’t, showing that it’s too early in the rush to explore the Niobrara to know if it’s going to prove to be as profitable and lucrative as some energy companies hope. One thing is for sure, however: Oil and gas companies are going to invest billions in the Niobrara in Northern Colorado in 2012 and beyond. Anadarko announced, on Nov. 14, that it plans to drill up to 2,700 new oil wells into the Niobrara shale in the heavily drilled Wattenberg Field in Weld County. Noble Energy, already a big Niobrara player in northern Weld County, told the Denver Business Journal in November that it will invest about $8 billion in exploring the Niobrara and Codell formations in the Wattenberg Field in the coming years. Anadarko spokesman Brian Cain said that the company is “encouraged” by the potential for Niobrara exploration in Larimer County, where no new drilling permits have been issued since March.

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

A special Ward II meeting to discuss hydraulic fracturing in [Commerce City] is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 10 at the Landmark Academy gym, 10550 Memphis St…

The Ward II meeting, hosted by city councilman Jim Benson, will feature panelists, including:

– Phillip D. Barber, an attorney with more than 30 years of oil and gas litigation experience.

– Charlie Montgomery, an energy organizers with the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

– Debbie Baldwin, environmental manager with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission.

– Jim Jones, general manager, South Adams County Water and Sanitation District.

The meeting will from 6:30 — 8:30 p.m. For more information, contact Benson at jbenson@c3gov.com or 303-288-7011.

Finally, the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners have decided to pass on the opportunity to set drilling guidelines, according to Carlos Illescas writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

Arapahoe County Commissioners today decided against passing rules for oil and gas exploration, deciding instead to focus on areas the state does not regulate. Those areas would be transportation and other types of infrastructure. The county’s planning and zoning commission had already passed a set of regulation for the commissioners to consider.

But at a public hearing today attended by about 75 people, the commissioners by a 3-2 voted denied an amendment to the county’s land development code to regulate oil and gas. Commissioners Rod Bockenfeld, Susan Beckman and Nancy Sharpe voted against the regulations, while Nancy Jackson and Frank Weddig were in favor of them. The commission also voted to work with state agencies on issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. A committee will also be created to help the county craft rules going forward.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Valley Courier Colorado Water 2012 series debuts today

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From the Valley Courier (Judy Lopez):

So to help busy Coloradans connect to their water resources and their abundant uses Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will declare 2012 the Year of Water.

2012 marks several important water milestones – it is the 100th Anniversary of the Rio Grande Reservoir. The Colorado Water Conservation Board, The Northern Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River Water Conservation District all are celebrating their 75th anniversaries. While the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District turns 50 this year, it gives every water conservation, conservancy, and irrigation entity a chance to be recognized for the vital service they provide each of their communities.

More importantly the Colorado Water 2012 movement is an opportunity to celebrate the value of water and recognize the multitude of uses that it provides to everyone in Colorado.

The goals of Colorado Water 2012 are to:

* Raise awareness about water as a valuable and limited resource

* Increase support for management and protection of Colorado’s water and waterways

* Showcase exemplary models of cooperation and collaboration among Colorado water users

* Connect Coloradans to existing and new opportunities to learn about water

* Motivate Coloradans to become proactive participants in Colorado’s water future

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.