Snowpack news: Arkansas Basin is at approximately 85% of average — best in the state

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Big storms in December along the Colorado/New Mexico border boosted snowpack in the southern part of the Arkansas Basin so even after 17 months of drought the basin is out in front of the rest of the state. The Rio Grande basin is not far behind which is good news since parts of the area were in extreme drought conditions during water year 2011. Statewide snowpack is sitting at 72%. The Colorado River basin — source for much of the water for the Metro Denver area is only at 71%. Thankfully there is a storm moving into Colorado today and tomorrow.

Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Colorado snowpack was listed at 73 percent Monday, and the Arkansas River basin was in the best shape at 81 percent of average. The Arkansas River basin is in its 17th month of severe drought, however, with little new snow in the mountains and precious little moisture on the plains. Flow conditions on the Arkansas River are below normal for the first time in more than a year, while precipitation in January was practically nonexistent. Pueblo recorded just 0.03 inches of precipitation, far below the 0.29 inches recorded last year and the average of 0.33 inches.

In the Colorado River basin, which Arkansas Valley users rely on for supplemental water imported via tunnels and ditches, the picture is even bleaker. The U.S. Drought Monitor now lists Western Colorado as abnormally dry, verging on a moderate drought. Snowfall moisture is at 72 percent, with moisture content in the mountains at 4-10 inches. At this time last year, many areas were beginning to build near-record snowpack. “March and April are coming, when we get most of the snow,” said Linda Hopkins, of the Pueblo office of the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments has released a report about the importance of water to Colorado’s headwaters counties

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

The Front Range benefits from spending associated with the fishing industry, for example, by as much as 57 percent, even though fishing takes place largely in the streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs of the headwater counties.

The economic impact of fishing in the Colorado River Drainage headwaters counties — Routt, Grand, Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties — equates to about 14 percent of the overall fishing expenditures. The remainder is attributed to other parts of Colorado.

And it’s important to note, the sport of fishing like other river recreation that attracts tourism to the state has minimal consumptive water use (water taken from rivers and never returned), the study emphasizes.

Snow-making for skiing, for example, has about 20 percent consumptive water use; transmountain water diversions are 100 percent consumptive.

“Colorado is continuing to look to the headwaters for growth; our message is you cannot dry up your headwater counties,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry, who is the chair of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Water Quality and Quantity Committee and the vice chair of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

More transmountain/transbasin diversions coverage here.

Action 22 Southern Colorado Water Summit recap: Walking the tightrope between watering a growing population, saving agriculture and preserving the environment

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“I’ve often wondered what the Anasazi thought when they packed up and left,” John Stulp, water policy adviser for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said Tuesday. “If I could back and tell the chief that Colorado would have a population of 5 million people in 2012 that would double in 50 years, what would he think? Yet today, we have the same water resources as Mother Nature chooses to drop on us.” Stulp was addressing the Southern Colorado Water Summit, hosted by Action 22 at Colorado State University-Pueblo. About 85 people from across Southern Colorado attended.

The Interbasin Compact Committee, which Stulp chairs, is looking at ways to avoid sacrificing agriculture for urban growth, while preserving the environment. At the same time the climate could become warmer, and possibly drier.

When asked whether people in the future might just move to where water was more plentiful, like the Anasazi, Stulp said such a migration would be unlikely. “I think there is enough water if we’re smart about it,” Stulp said. “It’s interesting that as a society, we’ve been able to use the existing supply.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Brian Werner: ‘Tell me when the next big drought comes, and you’re going to see people screaming about storage’

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

“Tell me when the next big drought comes, and you’re going to see people screaming about storage,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud. “Their willingness (to consider building new reservoirs) ebbs and flows based on when your last drought was.”

The uncertainty about the mountain snowpack, which fluctuates every year, is the primary argument for building new reservoirs in the West, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “The amazing thing is, it comes down to three or four big storms every year, whether they get them, or they bypass us,” he said…

One of five major proposed water storage projects in Larimer County that are in various stages of planning, [Northern Integrated Supply Project] calls for storing about 170,000 acre-feet of Poudre River water in the proposed Glade Reservoir north of Ted’s Place. A final decision could come sometime in 2013 or 2014…

The other four proposed projects include expansions to Fort Collins’ Halligan Reservoir and Greeley’s Seaman Reservoir, the Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Carter Lake and the more uncertain Cactus Hill Reservoir proposed for a site on the Weld County line between Wellington and Nunn. If those projects are built, Waskom said, it’s hard to conceive of other such large projects being built in Northern Colorado regardless of the need because there are few other places to build them, at least in Larimer County. “Unless we can get Aaron Million’s project or a West Slope diversion built, we don’t have any more water left,” he said…

“All the easy projects have been built,” [Waskom] said. “Now we’re dealing with the hard projects. What comes after the projects, that’s the question, right? Where’s the water and reservoir sites, and where’s the political will to build projects?”

More infrastructure coverage here.