Creede: The town board approves CWCB contract for a $250,000 grant for restoration efforts on the upper Rio Grande watershed

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From The Mineral County Miner (Judith Stone):

A $250,000 grant contract from the Colorado Water Conservation Board was submitted for approval. In order for the town to receive the grant funds, the Lower Willow Creek Restoration Company has to review, sign and send it to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. When obtained, the grant will provide funds ensuring preservation of water quality and quantity in the Rio Grande.

A funding grant contract for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment which needs to be approved by the Lower Creek Restoration Company is expected to be ready by the April regular town board meeting.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here and here.

Snowpack/drought news: The backward march of snowpack continues, statewide snowpack at 58% of average

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Here’s a report from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune. Click through and read the whole article and check the photos of the NRCS guys getting snowpack readings this year and last. Here’s an excerpt:

“We knew it would be low, but not this low,” said [Todd Boldt, NRCS], who has been making the monthly drives from Fort Collins up to the mountains to conduct surveys for 17 years. Boldt made that statement early in the afternoon while sitting in his truck at Cameron Pass, a 10,000-plus-elevation spot where they had taken their final readings of the day. The overall snow-water equivalent measurement they had just taken at that location was 50 percent below the 30-year average for late March.

And those were the good numbers for the day. [John Fusaro, NRCS] and Boldt had taken readings earlier that showed the snow-water equivalent at Big South was only 7 percent of the 30-year average.

Low snowpack figures this year aren’t isolated to the Poudre River Canyon. According to the Colorado Snotel Snowpack Update Map on Friday, Colorado’s statewide snowpack was 42 percent below the 30-year average for March 30 — only 2 percent better than it was for that date in 2002, the year of Colorado’s historic drought. Additionally, the South Platte River Basin’s overall snowpack was 36 percent below normal Friday, and the Colorado River Basin’s snowpack was 43 percent below average — the latter of which is 11 percent worse than it was in 2002, and only 3 percent better than the all-time low for March 30, recorded in 1977.

More coverage Electa Draper writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

It looks as if this will be the second-warmest March on record for Denver, surpassed only by 1910. Daytime highs in Denver were 9 degrees higher than the March average. Nighttime lows were 6 degrees higher.

“If it weren’t for the early fires, we’d call this a nice spring,” state climatologist Nolan Doesken said.

“People are loving the warm weather. It’s more like May. But there’s this nagging discomfort watching the mountain snowpack go so early. You’re enjoying the sunshine but knowing it’s not quite right.”

The snowpack is at 60 percent of normal statewide. Almost the entire state is either “abnormally dry” or in a short-term “moderate drought,” according to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. The state’s southeastern corner is experiencing severe drought.

More coverage from KKTV.com:

…water officials from both Pueblo and Colorado Springs tell 11 News they are prepared if we see a repeat. Pueblo water officials say they have been building up a water reserve for years, just in case we see extreme drought conditions. At this point, Southern Colorado officials are optimistic that customers won’t have any watering restrictions this summer…

The Pueblo Board of Water Works says they expect significantly lower than average stream flow in the Arkansas River this year and tight water supply situations throughout the Arkansas Valley because of the lack of rain and poor snow-pack. Officials say the board is carefully monitoring the water supply, and maintained an ample reserve supply in storage at Clear Creek, Twin Lakes, Turquoise and Pueblo Reservoirs. The board also does not anticipate any curtailment of extraterritorial water leases for this coming summer.

Southern Delivery System: ‘They have to meet the level of commitments in the record of decision’ — Kara Lamb

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs voters in 2009 disbanded the stormwater enterprise approved by council in 2005. Since then, only about $1.2 million has been spent annually to meet federal mandates.

“They have to meet the level of commitments in the record of decision,” Reclamation spokeswoman Kara Lamb said this week. “If any requirement in the record of decision is not met, there has to be new mitigation. That’s the commitment they made.” Lamb clarified that, even once the SDS pipeline, pumping stations and treatment plant are constructed, Reclamation still may decide whether the project may use Lake Pueblo, a federal facility, to deliver the water.

Colorado Springs intends to fulfill its requirement with continued monitoring of conditions on Fountain Creek and the impact caused by SDS. There are regional issues that will play a role, too, as population grows in Colorado Springs and the surrounding communities, said Janet Rummel, a spokeswoman for the utilities agency. The city also will meet stormwater commitments in the 1041 permit for SDS issued by Pueblo County in 2009, Rummel said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Orchard City: The town board approves $20,000 for planning, design, and permitting activities for proposed small hydroelectric installation

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From the Delta County Independent (Hank Lohmeyer):

The full Orchard City Town Board has endorsed a trustee water committee request to pursue a $20,000 grant application that would pay for “planning, design, and permitting activities” of a proposed small hydro power unit at the town’s water treatment plant…

During their March 14 meeting, the board voted unanimously to go ahead with the application for the $20,000 grant, which would require a matching $20,000 from the town. But a complication since March 14 could slow the project. “Since we met,” Gage explained, “we found out we were not able to get into the (state’s grant) program, so we are going to have to (work) through (federal permitting regulations) on our own.”

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

CWCB: Funding approved for Terrace Reservoir spillway replacement and Conejos River stream gages

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $407,000 grant to install gauging stations in the Conejos River basin and signed off on a $1 million loan and a $1.5 million grant to replace a spillway at Terrace Reservoir. Terrace Reservoir, which backs up the Alamosa River, has had the size of its storage pool restricted by the state since the 1980s due to the inadequate size and poor condition of the reservoir’s spillway…

The Terrace Irrigation Co. owns the reservoir and has 24 shareholders. It irrigates 9,300 acres in Conejos and Rio Grande counties. The restrictions required the storage pool to remain roughly 2,000 acre-feet below the reservoir’s 15,182 acre-foot capacity. The added capacity would accommodate a 2,000-acre foot instream flow water right that is being worked on by the CWCB and the Alamosa Riverkeepers…

Construction could begin this summer once the State Engineer’s office signs off on the spillway’s design, Reinhardt said. Terrace’s project also will benefit from $2 million in Natural Resource Damage funds, which came from fines assessed to the operators of the Summitville gold mine that has since been turned into a Superfund cleanup site.

The second project to earn funding from the state called for the installation of 72 river gauges and four remote-controlled headgates by the Conejos Water Conservancy District. The district, which has 86,000 acres of irrigable land in the southwestern corner of the valley, hopes the gauges will allow for a more accurate accounting of the Conejos River’s deliveries under the Rio Grande Compact.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here and here.

Flagstaff, Arizona: Glen Canyon Long Term Experimental and Management Plan EIS meeting April 4 – 5

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Here’s the latest newsletter from the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation. Here’s an excerpt:

The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and National Park Service (NPS) are working on a plan that will use the latest science to help ensure releases of water from the dam and other potential actions meet the goals of protecting the environment in Glen and Grand Canyons while continuing to supply water and power for communi- ties, agriculture, and industry. Known as the Long Term Experimental and Management Plan (LTEMP), it requires the development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environ- mental Policy Act, one of the nation’s oldest environmental laws.

Here’s the link to the meeting agenda.

Here’s the link to the LTEMPEIS website.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack is 60% of the thirty year average, a year ago the statewide figure was 115%

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The snowpack map for Colorado now shows snowpack across the entire state at below 70% of the thirty year average. The April 1st snowpack is important for planners across the state and this year’s picture is cause for reflection. There is hope, but not much, looking at the 30 day forecast from the Climate Prediction Center. Readers may remember the Saint Patricks Day storm in 2003 that brought the Front Range out of the 2002 drought with record snowfall in some areas.

Click on the thumbnail graphics above and to the right for the current snowpack map and the April 1, 2011 snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service along with yesterday’s U.S. Drought Monitor map.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

There’s no mud in Leadville, much less snow. That’s at 10,152 feet above sea level. On the other side of the mountains, in Glenwood Springs, the water slide opened at the Hot Springs pool this week, much to the delight of local school children on spring break. Higher up in the mountains, there still is snow — skiers were adroitly avoiding the rocky places on slopes at Vail — just not as much as would be expected at this time of year. “February was a good month, but in March it just stopped,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “Usually at this time of year, we’re building a snowpack.”[…]

All of the state’s basins are below average — ranging from 67 percent in the northwest corner of the state to 83 percent in the Arkansas River basin. “Typically by this time of the year Colorado has reached 92 percent of its average peak snow water equivalent for the season,” said Veva DeHeza, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board in the latest state drought planning report. “However, to date, the state has only achieved 67 percent of the peak and 72 percent of the average statewide.” The Arkansas River basin is now in its 18th month of drought and as spring arrives is again susceptible to fire. Water storage levels remain near average.

From The Mountain Mail (Cailey McDermott):

Decreased snowpack in the Arkansas River Valley basin, 70 percent of average as of Tuesday, threatens agriculture and the tourism economy in Chaffee County. Mage Skordahl, assistant snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said this time last year the snowpack in the Arkansas River Valley basin was 95 percent of average…

Skordahl said lower tributaries, which don’t contribute much to the overall flow of the Arkansas River, skew overall numbers for the Arkansas River basin. More telling numbers, she said, are those for just the upper portion of the basin where snowpack level is 60 percent of average – down from 78 percent March 1. Feb. 1 the entire basin was 81 percent of average and the upper basin was 71 percent. “We usually receive 20 percent of our snowpack in March, but we’ve had little to no snow across the state – and it’s been warm,” she said…

“The good news is we’re having below-average snowpack following an above-average year, so we have plenty of water stored in reservoirs,” Skordahl said. March snowpack was lower in 2000 and 2002, she said.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

According to figures provided by the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins, this month has so far been the driest and hottest March for Greeley since the city’s climate records started being kept in 1967. And the effects are seemingly sparing no one, from farmers — some of whom have been forced to replant wheat and may have to irrigate their spring crops sooner than normal — to municipal water users — who could potentially see lawn-watering restrictions this year or increased water fees next year as a result on the ongoing dry times. In a month in which Greeley averages about 8.3 inches of snow, there has been none this March — which has only happened two other times, in 1972 and 2004, according to Wendy Ryan with the Colorado Climate Center. And the .01 inches of precipitation recorded during this month match the all-time low, also set in 2004. Even March 2002 — in a year that, according to some measures, was the driest for the area in centuries — had more moisture to offer Greeley than this month. There was .51 inches of precipitation that month…

National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin said temperatures are expected to drop in the first week of April, with highs in the 50s and 60s. But precipitation is an uncertainty…

Most wheat farmers in the area said their crops have so far survived the dry, hot and windy conditions and still look decent, but they need rain soon so damage is prevented. Farmers who are planting their spring crops or soon will be — producers of corn, onions, sugar beets, potatoes, dry beans — are also hoping for moisture. Without snow or rain, farmers will soon have to start tapping into the stored-water supplies to irrigate their crops, doing so ahead of their normal schedule.

Municipal water officials, too, could be forced to tap into their stored-water supply ahead of schedule if rains don’t come soon. Jon Monson, director of the city of Greeley Water & Sewer Department, said the ongoing dry spell — at a time residents either are or will soon begin watering their lawns — has led water officials to look at whether or not to send more water from the city’s reservoirs, or save that water for the future and, in doing so, put watering restrictions in place for Greeley residents. Already, Monson said, the city is producing about 20 million gallons of water a day from its Bellvue Treatment Plant — a water-usage mark the city typically doesn’t hit until later in April — and the city could be forced to begin producing water from the Boyd Lake Treatment Plant as early as next week, about two weeks ahead of most years. That move would increase costs for the city, an expense that could trickle down to the city’s water users next year…

“At this point, we’re holding out hope for a wet April,” Monson said. “That’s about the only way we’re going to avoid these potential problems we face.”

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The water in the snowpack 10 miles east of Aspen was 8.6 inches Thursday, only 52 percent of the average between 1971 and 2000, the Natural Resources Conservation Service reported. On March 29, 2002, the snowpack was at 78.5 percent of average. The snowpack disappeared quickly that year because of high temperatures and dry soil conditions that persisted from 2001. The central mountains and much of Colorado were in the grip of a severe drought through half of July. This year, the U.S. Drought Monitor, operated by the federal government, officially classifies the Aspen area as “abnormally dry.” The center’s outlook says more severe drought conditions could develop in Colorado in the next few months. “It’s looking horrid,” said Sharon Clarke, a land- and water-conservation specialist with Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit that focuses on water quality and quantity issues in the valley. “I haven’t seen anything that looks very hopeful.”[…]

The Colorado River District, a Glenwood Springs-based public water-policy agency, is urging water providers to come up with a contingency plan in case of drought. Reservoir operators, for example, can scale back releases in anticipation of less snowmelt this spring, said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the river district. Water providers can get customers thinking in advance of conservation. Property owners who are considering installing new sod and other landscaping that requires watering might want to consider delaying plans. “I think it’s not too early to talk about it now,” Kuhn said about the possibility of drought…

Streamflow forecasts, based on snowpack levels and weather forecasts, will be updated by federal agencies during the first week of April. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center says Colorado’s mountains can expect continued warmer and drier weather over the next eight to 14 days, with only a small disturbance creating the chance of precipitation on Sunday and Monday.