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


Here’s the link to yesterday’s summaries from the Colorado Climate Center. Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the precipitation summary.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Snowmass: The new Ziegler Reservoir should meet the town’s supply needs at buildout


From the Snowmass Sun (Jeanne McGovern):

“It is an expensive process to build a reservoir, but we felt it was necessary to be prepared for a full build-out of the town,” said Rhonda Bazil, vice president of the Snowmass Water & Sanitation District board of directors, during a presentation before the Snowmass Village Town Council on Feb. 6.

According to Bazil’s report, the district created three scenarios for municipal demand based on levels of development: existing municipal demand with Base Village and redevelopment, district build-out, and build-out with reserves.

With Ziegler online, the district is able to meet the third standard, which assumes as much as a 110 percent build-out that “may result from additional redevelopment and infill” within the district.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.

Former Gov. Ritter, Environmental Scientists to Participate in CSU Water Cafe on Thursday, Feb. 9


Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Emily Narvaes Wilmsen):

Water is one natural resource that will be at the forefront of defining a healthy future. Recognizing the importance of dialog and planning on this topic, the Colorado State University Water Center and the School of Global Environmental Sustainability will host the CSU Water Café, starting with a panel on Thursday, Feb. 9, featuring former Gov. Bill Ritter and a host of environmental experts at CSU.

Water Café is an interdisciplinary, interactive series designed to examine critical water issues and the University’s roles in their solutions. The first event on Thursday will feature an interdisciplinary panel discussing water and energy from 1-3:30 p.m. in the Lory Student Center Senate Chambers.

Members of the panel include:

• Former Gov. Ritter, now director of the Center for the New Energy Economy
• Ken Carlson, co-coordinator, Colorado Water Energy Consortium, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
• John Labadie, professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
• Sally Sutton, department head, Department of Geosciences.
• James Pritchett, department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
• Mark Paschke, Shell Endowed Chair in Restoration Ecology, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship

The panel will be moderated by Neil Grigg, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Water Café sessions will create synergy among the greater CSU community with faculty groups working on topics related to water and sustainability issues to identify opportunities for university advancement in research, student activities, and outreach.

“People who follow the news know that energy is a critical issue, but they might not connect the dots on the importance of water in generating energy or how energy use can impact water resources,” Grigg said. “Water and energy are bound together, and we will be developing a research strategy to help the nation solve the puzzle.”

The next Water Café is planned for Feb. 29 from 1-5 p.m. in the Lory Student Center Senate Chambers. The session, titled “Exploring Sustainability in Our Own Backyard: The Cache la Poudre Watershed,” will feature two panel discussions, one focused on community stakeholders and another on CSU’s role in advancing water research and conservation in Northern Colorado.

Two additional Water Café sessions are planned for Spring 2012 in March and April and will focus on water issues surrounding sustainability and food. For complete details on upcoming Water Cafés, go to

More energy policy coverage here and here.

Colorado Water 2012: Craig Cotten — ‘The Rio Grande Compact is the agreement, signed in 1939, that provides for the equitable apportionment of the waters of the Rio Grande between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas’


Here’s this week’s installment of the Colorado Water 2012 series from the Valley Courier. Craig Cotten (Division Engineer and Colorado’s Engineer Adviser to the Rio Grande Compact Commission) explains the Rio Grande River Compact:

The Rio Grande Compact is the agreement, signed in 1939, that provides for the equitable apportionment of the waters of the Rio Grande between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, much of the flow of the Rio Grande began to be diverted for irrigation in the upper part of the Rio Grande Basin, which caused concern to the downstream states. The Compact was necessary to fairly allocate the flows of the Rio Grande between the three states. It provides the framework for a fair allocation and use of water in the Rio Grande and its tributaries from year to year.

The delivery obligations set forth in the Compact were based upon a study of the Rio Grande during 1927 through 1936. Engineers studied the amount of water used by each state and developed a schedule of required delivery for Colorado and for New Mexico dependent on the total yearly flow in the river. The engineers also developed a limit on the yearly amount of water that Texas could use from the upper Rio Grande. These limitations allow each state to develop its water resources at will, subject only to its obligations as set forth in the Compact. In essence, the compact limits all three states’ use of water from the Rio Grande to approximately what they were using in the 1920’s.

The Compact requires Colorado to annually deliver a certain amount of water to the state line according to its delivery schedules. Colorado has a separate delivery schedule for the Rio Grande and for the Conejos River. Snowpack, rainfall, and the delivery schedules control the annual amount of water available to Colorado diverters. In any given year, from 20 to 60 percent of the water generated in the Rio Grande and Conejos River basins needs to flow to the downstream states. In a low water year, Colorado can use a higher percentage of the water, but in a high water year, Colorado must send a larger percentage to the downstream states.

It is important to note that Colorado does not have to strictly adhere to the Compact’s delivery schedules each year. The Compact allows for a system of credits and debits. This credit and debit accounting provision of the compact provides Colorado with some flexibility in managing water use from year to year.

Since 1939, the administration of the Rio Grande Compact in Colorado has been an evolutionary process marked by three distinct periods. The first period from 1939-1967 was a time when water rights were administered as they had been during the study period of 1927 to 1936. This administration worked well until 1952 when Colorado began to under-deliver on its obligations. By the mid 1960’s, Colorado’s debt to the downstream states exceeded 900,000 acre-feet. In 1966, the states of Texas and New Mexico sued Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court to force Colorado to comply with the provisions of the Compact and to pay back the debt. In May of 1968, the Court granted a continuance of the case as long as Colorado met its Compact delivery obligation each and every year.

During the second period, from 1968 to 1985, Colorado administered the compact pursuant to that stipulation and was forced to begin curtailing water rights, i.e. shutting off ditches, specifically to meet the compact obligations. From approximately 1968 to the present, the Colorado State Engineer has directed that the Compact be administered as a two-river system (Rio Grande and Conejos) with each river responsible for its own delivery obligation. The State Engineer also directed that any curtailment of diversions would come from the junior water rights which would have otherwise been in priority on any given day of administration. Colorado met or exceeded its obligation each year from 1968 through 1984 because of the directive of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The third and current period began in June of 1985, when Elephant Butte Reservoir in Southern New Mexico spilled and eliminated Colorado’s remaining debt. The lawsuit against Colorado was dismissed, and since that time Colorado has operated in accordance with the Compact and has met or exceeded its obligation.

Although some believe that the compact causes too big of a burden to Colorado water users, it actually protects us and our water. Large cities downstream of us such as Albuquerque, El Paso, and Juarez are actively searching for more water. The downstream states also are always looking for more water to ease their endangered species, Indian water rights, and environmental issues. The compact offers a legal defense to these demands that Colorado send more water to quench the ever-growing thirst of the downstream states.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

The January 2012 Colorado River District news summary is hot off the press


You can download the document here. Thanks to Jim Pokrandt for sending it along in email. Here’s an excerpt:

General Manger Eric Kuhn has authored a paper that outlines risk-management issues associated with the growing use of water in the Colorado River Basin.

It is called “Risk Management Strategies for the Upper Colorado River Basin.”

It can be downloaded from the CRD website or obtained by calling (970) 945-8522 or e-mailing

Kuhn lays out the risks lurking in the shadows as demands on the river exceed supply. He explores strategies to minimize the risk of a Colorado River Compact curtailment of the states of the Upper Basin, which are Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

Also in the paper, Kuhn addresses new storage projects, re-operation of current projects and litigation as strategies to manage risk. He also advocates for a water bank and conservation as hedging tools.

Looking ahead, Kuhn says new agreements could reduce risk, and that the most effective ones would be the most controversial.

At the top of that list is the idea of interstate water marketing, allowing market mechanisms to address regional shortages and the movement of water.

Kuhn also suggests that the Upper Basin states be allowed to store conserved water in Lake Powell as a water bank.

He advocates that dust control, phreatophyte eradication and cloud seeding should be maintained and better financed.

Additionally, he discounts the value of the desalina- tion of ocean water as a big water-supply generator and says it is unlikely that a big project will be built that would move water from another part of the country, like the Mississippi River, to the southwestern U.S.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Snowpack news: Yampa & White basins are at 59% of average, Arkansas basin still on top — 85%


From The Denver Post:

According to the National Resources Conservation Service Feb. 1 report, snowpack statewide was 72 percent of average and 62 percent of the reading taken Feb. 1, 2011. State conservationist Phyllis Phillips said the Pacific jet stream has shifted south and by the middle of January was delivering much needed precipitation to southern Wyoming and northern and central Colorado…

The Arkansas basin was at 81 percent of average on Feb. 1, down from 94 percent at the beginning of January. The greatest decrease was measured in the Upper Rio Grande basin where snowpack was down 15 percentage points from Jan. 1 to 77 percent of average.

January storms boosted the snowpack in west central Colorado. As of Feb. 1, both the Gunnison and Colorado basins snowpack percentages increased by 9 percentage points from where they were on Jan. 1. The Yampa, White, and North Platte basins did not gain much during these storms. The basins are reporting nearly the same snowpack percentage as last month: 65 percent of average as of Feb. 1…

The South Platte basin, which provides much of the water to the Front Range and eastern plains, was at 80 percent of average and 66 percent of last year. The Colorado was at 69 percent of average and 51 percent of the snowpack logged this time last year.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The low readings were most evident in the Yampa and White river basins, where the combined snowpack was only 60 percent of average. Forecasts for spring and summer water supplies in these basins reflect the below average snowpack. Reservoir storage across the state continues to remain in good condition which should help ease potential shortages this season.

The Pacific jet stream did start to shift southward in January,passing over southern Wyoming and northern and central Colorado by mid-month and bringing much needed precipitation to basins west of the Continental Divide.

The pattern reversed from earlier in the season, with basins east of the Divide reporting little snowfall during this period. The most recent storm in early February did help boost snowpack in the Arkansas and South Platte basins to more than 80 percent of average,.

With typical La Nina precipitation and snowfall patterns returning to Colorado in January, the southern and southeastern basins saw significant decreases in their snowpack’s after a stellar start to the season.

The Arkansas basin was at 81 percent of average on February 1 down from 94 percent at the beginning of January. The greatest decrease was measured in the Upper Rio Grande basin, where the snowpack dropped 15 percent from the Jan. 1 reading.

Water Storage Vital to Rural Communities, Job Creation, Economic Growth


Here’s the release from the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee:

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held an oversight hearing today on “Water for Our Future and Job Creation: Examining Regulatory and Bureaucratic Barriers to New Surface Storage Infrastructure.” The hearing highlighted the regulatory burdens that hinder vital water storage improvement projects that help create jobs, increase agriculture production, generate hydropower and grow the economy and common sense ways to overcome those hurdles.
Cumbersome environmental regulations have delayed critical water storage projects for years while urban growth, environmental litigation and age strain current water storage infrastructure. Rural communities, ranches and family farms across the country are dependent on a dependable water supply, which is directly linked to storage capacity. Current and new dams and reservoirs provides affordable emission-free electricity to millions of Americans, supports the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands hard-working families and protects America’s food security.

The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) has built more than 600 dams over the last century, however over 66% of their facilities were constructed over 50 years ago. A recent BOR study found nearly one hundred potential sites for new surface storage, yet due to environmental regulations and other factors it has been over a generation since BOR built multiple large scale water storage facilities.

“Regulations and associated litigation have hijacked these projects, to the point where their very purposes have been compromised and the construction of new water storage to continue to meet the needs of these regions is nearly impossible to achieve,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings. “Water users throughout the West have been forced to stand by and watch powerlessly as increasingly burdensome federal rules based on questionable science and never-ending litigation makes it more and more difficult to continue to receive the water they need.”

“The legendary multi-purpose dams and reservoirs of the last generation turned deserts into farmlands, created vast new recreational areas, tamed the environmentally devastating cycle of floods and droughts, and produced clean and abundant hydropower that provided a foundation for unprecedented prosperity throughout the western United States,” said Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (CA-04). “This hearing will explore the bureaucratic obstacles that federal agencies have placed in the way of water development. Congress must make a concerted effort to identify and remove these obstacles that lead to increasingly expensive water and power and affect our prosperity as a nation.”

“Prudent water storage can help aid agriculture, residential use, recreation, hydropower production and environmental protection. Water storage is a precursor for multiple use water management in arid regions such as Colorado’s third Congressional district,” said Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-03). “I am hopeful that this hearing will be a productive step in highlighting some of the shortcomings of the existing water storage regulatory framework, and how it can be streamlined to better support jobs and communities that depend on the availability of water.”

“I commend the Subcommittee for holding this hearing to address water storage concerns. In my district water is a vital resource to our livelihoods, and we must ensure we have a reliable storage and conveyance system in place in order to spur job growth. I introduced bi-partisan legislation, H.R. 1604, to eliminate duplicative environmental regulations in California and alleviate burdensome policies restricting job creation,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (CA-19).

“Reducing the burdensome regulations that the federal government has imposed is critical to the vitality of our nation. The American people continue to be strapped by the bureaucratic layers of protocols and hindrances that continue to skyrocket our federal deficit,” Congressman Raúl Labrador (ID-01) said.

Mr. Pat O’Toole, President of Family Farm Alliance, who represents family farmers, ranchers, irrigation districts, and allied industries in seventeen Western states, testified about the importance of increased storage to agriculture and food security. “There must be more water stored and available to farms and cities. Maintaining the status quo simply isn’t sustainable in the face of unstoppable population growth, diminishing snow pack, increased water consumption to support domestic energy, and increased environmental demands,” said O’Toole. “If we don’t find a way to restore water supply reliability for irrigated agriculture…our country’s ability to feed and clothe itself and the world will be jeopardized.”

The Committee also heard testimony from Mr. Thad Bettner, Clenn-Coulsa Irrigation District; Mr. Norm Semanko, Idaho Water Users Association.

More infrastructure coverage here.

2012 Colorado legislation: SB12-107 would regulate hydraulic fracturing near superfund sites and formations containing radioactive materials


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

State Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, is sponsoring the “Water Rights Protection Act,” which, if passed, could affect future oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in eastern Larimer County where there are underground uranium deposits…

Carroll’s bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, seeks to require the state to write new rules that would regulate fracking near federal Superfund sites and sites containing radioactive materials.

Energy companies would be required to report to the state how much water they plan to use to frack a specific well and submit water quality reports for all water wells within a half mile of a fracked oil well.

The bill would prohibit fracking within a half mile of any surface water unless the driller keeps all the fracking fluid contained within a “closed-loop” system, which would prevent the fluid from escaping into the environment.

Energy companies would also be held responsible for any water pollution that occurs within a half mile of a well and its bottom-hole if that pollution occurred within six months of drilling…

She said the bill, primarily written to address issues with fracking near unexploded munitions and places where depleted uranium was stored at the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range in Aurora, would apply to areas with uranium deposits, possibly including Powertech’s Centennial Project site between Wellington and Nunn.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.