Snowpack news: The South Platte basin is at 93% of the thirty year average, statewide — 84%


It’s been good snowboarding weather. Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for yesterday’s snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

“If you look where the statewide snowpack totals are right now, we are where we typically should be on February first. As snowpack levels go, we are kind of a month behind,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service Snow Survey Supervisor Mage Skordahl on Monday. “Currently we are at 77 percent average statewide, which is an improvement from 72 percent at the beginning of February. The percent of average snowfall needed next month (to get to 100 percent average) is 178 percent of average. We are still playing catch-up.”

After a high pressure ridge kept most of Colorado relatively dry in December and for the first part of January, the Pacific jet stream finally shifted southward and positioned itself over southern Wyoming and northern and Central Colorado, bringing precipitation to basins to the west of the Continental Divide. Relatively speaking, Colorado’s southern mountains had a better start to the winter than the central and northern Mountains. But as a typical La Nina precipitation and snowfall pattern returned to Colorado in January, the southern basins saw a significant decrease in precipitation.

That trend didn’t last long though, as February, which is typically a drier month, proved to be a snowy month statewide, including the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins.

“The storm tracks changed and dropped lower at the end of January and the first part of February,” Skordahl said. “It was very good news for those basins. As of today, we are at 77 percent of average. That’s a four-point percentage improvement from the beginning of February. That increase occurred in most basins across the state.”

In February, the Gunnison River Basin saw an increase in snowpack from 72 to 74 percent, the Upper Colorado River Basin jumped from 69 to 85 percent, and the Arkansas River Basin increased from 81 to 84 percent.

From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

Norris said talk of Vail Mountain intentionally inflating its snow reports is ridiculous. “People say marketing does it to drive their skier numbers — well that’s crap, I’m sorry,” Norris said. “Reporting 12 inches when we’ve got 2 — nobody in their right mind would do that on purpose. … We want to be as accurate as we possibly can.”[…]

Vail Mountain has been doing its snow reporting via video cameras since the 1998-99 season, just after radical environmentalists burned down the Two Elk restaurant while also damaging nearby chairlifts and the Patrol Headquarters apartment. A ski patroller used to sleep in that apartment and was responsible for measuring snowfall manually, but the fires changed that, Norris said. Because Vail Mountain was installing cameras all over the mountain for security purposes following the arson attack, the resort decided to install a camera for the purposes of measuring snow. The camera readings worked, and the communications center has been doing that morning snow report ever since, Norris said.

From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

Ninety-three inches of snow fell at the ski area’s midmountain measuring site last month, which benefited from the extra Leap Year day. The 20-year average for February snowfall at midmountain is 67.9 inches. The ski area summit received 108.75 inches of snow in February. In the city of Steamboat Springs, a measuring site off Anglers Drive recorded 57.6 inches of snow last month, according to local weather observer Art Judson. The city’s historic average for February is 29.6 inches. Snow fell on the slopes of Mount Werner on 17 of the 29 days in February, and 13 of those days recorded 4 inches or more. As of the end of the day Feb. 29, the ski area had received a total of 203 inches of snow at midmountain this season. The 10-year season snowfall average at Mount Werner is 354 inches.

From The Aspen Times:

The city recorded 23.51 inches of snow last month at the water plant, at an elevation of 8,161 feet. The average for February is 25.55 inches, but the record, recorded in February 1936, is 79 inches.

Shell is turning dirt on an experimental oil shale lease in western Colorado


From the Associated Press via The Washington Post:

Carolyn Tucker of Shell said Thursday that the company continues to make “significant progress” on its oil shale project, which until now has occurred only on Shell land. The Daily Sentinel reports ( ) Shell is preparing to do a test to address the federal government’s goal of developing oil shale while also extracting, or at least protecting, commercially valuable deposits of nahcolite in the same formations. Shell has three federal leases in Colorado’s Rio Blanco County for research on turning oil shale into oil.

More oil shale coverage here.

Reclamation To Issue a Lease of Power Privilege Permit for a Proposed Hydropower Project on the South Canal Near Montrose


Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Steve McCall/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation announced today that it will issue a Lease of Power Privilege to the Delta-Montrose Electric Association and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association to develop hydropower resources on the South Canal, a feature of Reclamation’s Uncompahgre Irrigation Project.

Reclamation will issue the LOPP based on the final environmental assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for the proposal. These documents have been completed in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act to address the effects of the construction and operation of hydropower facilities.

Federal policy encourages non-federal development of environmentally sustainable hydropower potential on federal water resource projects. The LOPP will ensure that the development of hydropower is consistent and compatible with existing operations and purposes of the Uncompahgre Project.

The final EA and FONSI are available on Reclamation’s web site or a copy can be obtained by contacting Steve McCall at (970)248-0638.

More coverage from Katharhynn Heidelberg writing for the Montrose Daily Press. From the article:

“It’s big news for us and big news for the Western Slope,” said Tom Polikalis, DMEA spokesman. “This will be the first utility scale project undertaken” by DMEA…

Plans are to construct two power houses on the South Canal, starting with a location at the far eastern end of Miguel Road. A second power house is to be built about 1.5 miles downstream on the canal’s “third” drop. When the project is complete, and depending on canal flows, DMEA expects to generate 6.5 to 7 megawatts — enough for 3,000 homes. (A megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts.)

More hydroelectric coverage here.

Snow scientist Chris Landry is doing the science around dust on snow events and snowpack


Here’s a look at dust on snow events and their effect on the timing and volume of snowmelt from Eric Ming writing for The Telluride Watch. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado River Basin is losing water at an ever-accelerating rate, and snow scientist Chris Landry wants people to know about it.

But spend a day with Landry, and you will accumulate more questions than answers: How much snow falls (or doesn’t); how dense and water-laden it is (or isn’t); and is there enough of it to reflect surface radiation back into the atmosphere and preserve it, or is it destined to continue to melt away earlier every coming year?

Each winter since 2003, Landry, the director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, a research organization in Silverton, has been on the job at his two research plots, Swamp Angel and Senator Beck Basin, near the summit of Red Mountain Pass. Here, Landry digs over 100 snow pits over the course of each winter to observe the layers of dust that accumulate on this outlying garrison of Colorado mountain ranges.

IBCC: Portfolio tool assessment completion is on the horizon, after that a new statewide water plan


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Three years of work will culminate, possibly as soon as May, as the Interbasin Compact Committee gets the final assessment of its portfolio tool from basin roundtables. Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to use the information in shaping a statewide water plan. “It remains to be seen how this information will be used,” said John Stulp, director of the IBCC and Hickenlooper’s water policy adviser. “I think the scenarios we focus on will involve all four legs of the stool.”

The IBCC has chosen to look at identified projects, municipal conservation, new projects and alternative ag transfers as the pillars for meeting future water needs. Environmental groups have developed their own reports that eliminate new large transmountain water projects from the planning.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable has launched a new effort to show the future need for agriculture as well. The area roundtable also has tried to stress the importance of building more storage as an overriding concern for all of the strategies.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

About 300 people, a mix of roundtable members and others concerned about water, cycled through conversations about how to meet state water needs at Thursday’s Roundtable Summit. The seating arrangements ensured different basins were represented at each table.

“A woman from the Southwest corner of the state was saying, ‘How can the Colorado River demand conservation, when they’re not doing it themselves?’ I was amazed that someone from the Front Range didn’t have to bring that up,” said Paul Fanning, public affairs coordinator for the Pueblo Board of Water Works…

Most of the work by roundtables matched demand to supply, but even then there were serious outcomes. In one model, 48 percent of the South Platte River basin’s farmland was dried up.

“Our group came to the conclusion that it’s time to do something,” said Gary Barber, chairman of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. “Everyone realized that options we have now are being foreclosed because we’re not acting as a state.”[…]

“Some from the Western Slope are beginning to say the East Slope deserves some water. I think that’s awesome,” [Former state engineer Jeris Danielson] said. “Now we’re beginning to talk about what pace we’re both comfortable with, or at least to have the same level of ‘uncomfortability.’ ”

More coverage from Eric Brown writing for The Fence Post. From the article:

Preserving future water for the state’s farmers and ranchers was a topic that came up as much as any during the discussions at the all-day Statewide Roundtable Summit. At that event, representatives of each of Colorado’s river basins convened to discuss plans and ideas for solving the water-supply gap that’s expected because of the state’s rapid population growth. The Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, compiled by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, estimates the South Platte River Basin alone will face a water-supply gap of between 36,000 and 170,000 acre-feet by 2050.

Thursday’s event served as an opportunity to refine those ideas before a May meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee — a 27-member committee established to address statewide water issues.

During the discussions in Broomfield, all parties agreed there isn’t one silver bullet to solve future water issues, that new water supplies and water conservation will both be needed, and the depleting of the state’s agriculture production should be minimized as municipalities and industries search for their future water supplies.

Everyone at the event, including the governor, said the unanimous conclusions reached Thursday marked a milestone for water talks, as the state’s water providers — representing diverse interests and regions — couldn’t come to any agreements as recently as last year.

Hickenlooper said that protecting agriculture’s water will be one of his highest priorities.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

HR1837: U.S. Representative Scott Tipton wants to make sure the bill remains a San Joaquin Valley water grab


Interesting legislation is wending its way through the U.S. Congress. Central Valley farmers are making a play for more water, and less water for the San Joaquin delta. U.S. Representative Scott Tipton is hoping to make sure that it doesn’t open up a new angle for federal reserved water rights in Colorado and the rest of the country. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., sponsored an amendment to the bill which would limit its scope to the San Joaquin Valley in order to avoid opening the door to federal reserve water rights in Colorado. “In order to protect jobs in Colorado, we attached language to the bill that would prevent it from preempting state law in any other state,” Tipton said…

The legislation, HR1837, authorizes the secretary of Interior to review water contracts in the San Joaquin Valley for 40 years, at the request of contractors. Its sponsor is U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

The bill would allow water deliveries from Northern California to continue in order to restore irrigation water to farms. The state supported federal preemption of state water law to protect delta smelt fish…

Tipton supports the bill, with his amendment to limit the scope of federal review, because it would protect farm jobs. He does not want the federal review to set a precedent that would be applied to other states, however.

More coverage from Michael Doyle writing for The Miami Herald. From the article:

“The question is, has the bill created so much distrust and chaos that the process of solving the problem has been set back?” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove. A former top Interior Department official, Garamendi contends the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act approved by the House on Wednesday “creates a huge disruption” that will complicate the search for long-term California solutions…

The water bill’s authors, having secured House passage by a largely party line 246-175 margin, now insist they are on a roll. “We’re going to figure out what our options are, how to bring the bill up on the Senate floor,” said the bill’s chief author, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.

The bill would would lengthen 25-year water contracts to 40 years, preempt strict state environmental laws and steer more water to farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Carefully negotiated language is designed to reassure Sacramento Valley farmers they won’t lose supplies as a result. The bill also would end an ambitious plan to restore salmon to the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam, replacing it with a more modest proposal for other fish species.

Supporters call the bill a way to save farms and turn water to better use. As Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, put it, the legislation will “put people to work.” Opponents call it a water grab by south-of-Delta farmers…

“It’s a very selfish bill,” [Senator Diane] Feinstein said of the House effort in an interview. “It says the farmers get the water, and everybody else be damned.” Feinstein, moreover, denounces [U.S. Representative Rep. Devin] Nunes’ characterizations of her. Nunes has run ads that say Feinstein “defines hypocrisy,” and in interviews he has called her a “liar” whose staffers are “radicals” aligned with “radical environmentalists” and the “hippie generation.” “In all my life, I’ve never been exposed to this kind of behavior,” Feinstein said. “It says to me he doesn’t want to work with me.”

More coverage from Karoun Demirjian writing for the Las Vegas Sun. From the article:

What happens in California holds sway over many of Nevada’s most important industries: Californians populate the state’s casinos, they are the state’s best would-be buyers of renewable energy, and now, they may be setting a standard for how Nevada’s scarce water resources will be allocated in the future.

Or at least that is what Nevada, along with a host of other Western states, fears will happen if a federal bill to restructure California’s system for sharing water among urbanites, farmers and conservation projects passes Congress…

The particulars of the dispute are localized to California. But some Nevadans believe that if the federal government can successfully intervene to impose a water settlement on California, there’s no reason government won’t meddle in Nevada’s water disputes too. “This flawed legislation would threaten our ability to determine how we manage Nevada’s most precious natural resource — our water supply,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, who voted against the bill this week. “That is why the state of Nevada opposed this bill and why I voted to protect the rights of the Silver State when it comes to water.”[…]

“Enacting (the bill) would set a dangerous precedent of preempting state water rights, which could reduce available water supplies from Northern California to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California,” the CRC of Nevada wrote. “This reduction could increase pressure on limited Colorado River water supplies crucial to Southern Nevada.”[…]

But while the House may have put its weight behind the bill in a 245-171 vote (mostly along party lines), momentum behind the effort is likely to stop there. California’s two Senators, both Democrats, are opposed to the plan, as is President Barack Obama, who complained through his advisers that the House bill “would codify 20-year-old, outdated science as the basis for managing California’s water resources, resulting in inequitable treatment of one group of water users over the other.”

More water law coverage here.