Snowpack news: Crested Butte Mountain Resort cancels the Freeskiing World Tour’s annual stop due to low snowpack in the extreme terrain on the mountain

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the current Colorado snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

Crested Butte Mountain Resort made a difficult decision last week to cancel the Freeskiing World Tour’s annual stop in Mt. Crested Butte, originally scheduled for March 7-11. Ski patrol and event organizers made the call due to low snowpack in the extreme terrain.

“Due to an unfortunate weather pattern this year, we cannot provide the venue that truly showcases the athletes and what they have come to expect here in Crested Butte,” said Crested Butte snow safety director Frank Coffey in the official announcement.

Public relations and communications manager Erica Reiter said the decision also came down to safety. She also said CBMR opted not to relocate the event to a run like the Headwall because it would not provide the type of terrain expected by freeskiing athletes. It would displace other skiers on the mountain, and given how late the Headwall opened, that wasn’t a viable choice.

From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjun):

The Colorado River Basin is at 75 percent of average snowpack and 59 percent of last year’s snowpack. That’s improved from Feb. 1’s 69 percent of average snowpack. Water storage in the Colorado basin, though, is at 116 percent of average, indicating good planning on behalf of water managers in a high runoff year last year…

Statewide, snowpack is at 81 percent of average, up from 72 percent recorded on Feb. 1. Water storage statewide is at 107 percent of average…

Meanwhile, February’s snowfall pounded the Yampa, White and North Platte basins as well as the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins, putting those areas in a much better position than in previous months.

The March 1, 2012 Colorado Basin Outlook Report is hot off the press: Below average streamflow forecast, above average storage will help over the summer

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This is the time of year that the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Basin Outlook Reports are the talk of the town. Here’s the link to the March 1, 2012 Colorado Basin Outlook Report. Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the streamflow forecast map from the report. Here’s the introduction to the report:

Summary

The month of February brought improvements to snowpack percentages in all major basins in Colorado. Unfortunately the snowy month was not enough to boost the snowpack to average conditions; as of March 1 the state snowpack was at just 81 percent of average. With only four to six weeks remaining in the typical accumulation season the odds of the snowpack obtaining average conditions are diminishing. Runoff forecasts remain below average across the state, with slight improvements over last month in the northern and southwest portions of the state. A majority of basins have considerably dry soils beneath the snowpack which can reduce surface water supply. Thanks in part to a good water supply year in 2011 reservoir storage volumes for the state are currently at 107 percent of average.

Snowpack

Despite above average snow accumulation during the month of February the statewide snowpack remains below average. The good news is that last month’s snowfall was very beneficial to the Yampa, White and North Platte basins. These basin’s snowpacks have been well below average for the entire season and previously reported just 65 percent of average conditions on February 1. As of March 1 the basins snowpack percentages had improved to 78 percent of average. The combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores, and San Miguel basins also benefited from above average snowfall in February. These basins saw a snowpack increase from 73 percent of average on February 1 to 86 percent of average measured on March 1. Across the rest of the state snowpack improvements were more nominal. The South Platte basins’ snowpack increased 8 percentage points over the last month from 81 percent on February 1 to 89 percent of average on March 1. In the Gunnison, Colorado, Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins only slight increases in snowpack percentages were measured compared to last month’s readings. For the state overall, the March 1 snowpack was reported at 81 percent of average, this is only 71 percent of last year’s readings at this same time. Comparisons to last year show indicate that the current snowpack is well below last year’s readings for all basins except for the Rio Grande and the combined basins in the southwest.
Precipitation

Mountain precipitation measured at SNOTEL sites across Colorado during the month of February was near to well above average. Statewide monthly totals were at 111 percent of average, marking a welcome turn in conditions after three consecutive months with below average precipitation measured. The Arkansas and Colorado basins were the only basins in the state to post below average monthly precipitation totals; still each basin reported a respectable 92 percent of average for the month. While February brought above average precipitation, water year totals are still below average for most basins. Year to date precipitation totals now range from just 80 percent of average in the Colorado basin to 103 percent of average in the Upper Rio Grande basin. The Upper Rio Grande and the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan basins are the only basins in the state with above average water year precipitation totals. Statewide year to date precipitation was at 90 percent of average at the close of February. Without the wet month of October and the return to above average conditions this past month, water year totals would be quite dismal.

Reservoir Storage

End of February storage data from the state’s major reservoirs indicates that volumes increased slightly during the past month. Statewide, storage is at 107 percent of average and there are a total of 3,588,000 acre feet of water available in the state’s reservoirs. Only two basins, the Upper Rio Grande and the Arkansas have below average storage volumes as of March 1. The lowest percentage in the state, at 69 percent of average, was reported in the Upper Rio Grande, this basin has had well below average storage volumes since the beginning of the water year. The highest storage amounts, as a percent of average, were reported in the Yampa basin which was 124 percent of average on March 1. Strictly looking at total volumes, the Colorado basin is storing the largest volumes above the average for this time of year with 117,000 acre feet greater than average stored as of March 1. Statewide storage on March 1 was 102 percent of last year’s storage amounts on this same date. This equates to an additional 56,000 acre feet of water compared to last year’s levels. Once again, the good storage volumes across most of the state will most certainly aid those water users who face potential surface water shortages this summer.

Streamflow

Below average streamflow runoff is expected this spring and summer across the state of Colorado. Outlooks for the northwest and southwest portions of the state have improved in the past month thanks to above average snowfall. Elsewhere forecasts remained consistent with those issued on February 1. Currently, the lowest forecasts in the state occur in the headwater tributaries to the Gunnison and South Platte rivers. Most of these forecasts range from 60 to 75 percent of average. March 1 forecasts for most of the rest of the state generally range from 75 to 85 percent of average. Volumes in this range are expected to prevail throughout the Yampa, White, Colorado, and combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins. The lower portion of the South Platte and the northeastern portion of the Rio Grande are in slightly better shape with forecasts ranging from 80 to 95 percent of average at most locations.

Rio Grande Watershed Conservation District quarterly meeting recap: The NRCS is looking for ideas for the 2013 budget

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From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

A crowd comprised of Valley conservationists was pleased to welcome special guest Natural Resources Conservation Services Colorado State Conservationist Phyllis Philipps to the meeting and to hear about upcoming agency plans. Philipps said the agency is looking for ideas from local conservation districts to shape the 2013 NRCS budget. “We are asking you what you want to do,” Philipps said. “We want to rally around what you are passionate about.”

She explained that the state recognizes that each of the 76 conservations districts in the Valley have unique needs and operate at different levels. She encouraged the conservation districts to strive to identify projects that have a true impact…

The conservationists recommended that the districts focus on growing green manures – cover crops – to help reduce water use in Rio Grande Sub-district 1 without fallowing land. The sub-district is calling for 40,000 acres to be removed from production. “I’m not seeing a lot of emphasis on soil health and erosion,” [RGWCD President Brian Nuefeld] said. “They go hand in hand.”

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Colorado Water 2012: Water law and Chaffee County water history from The Mountain Mail

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Here’s the first article in their year-long series examining water issues in the Upper Arkansas Valley from Joe Stone writing for The Mountain Mail. From the article:

Along the western edge of the valley, the peaks of the Sawatch Range reach heights exceeding 14,000 feet above sea level and receive far more precipitation than the valley floor. As a result, approximately 80 percent of regional water comes from mountain snowpack that accumulates during winter and flows downstream as warmer temperature melts the snow. These characteristics of geography and climate created challenges for early settlers and fostered development of a water management system unique in the United States…

Early settlers found good farmland in the Lower Arkansas Valley and diverted water from the Arkansas River into the Rocky Ford High Line Canal. The canal has an 1861 water right senior to Upper Arkansas Valley water rights and, therefore, continues to affect Upper Ark water rights…

The oldest ditch in Chaffee County is the Trout Creek Ditch with an 1864 appropriation date. Other early ditches included the 1864 Thompson Ditch on Cottonwood Creek and the 1870 Hayden Ditch near Coaldale.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Delta County Oil and Gas forum provided information on leasing and production potential in the region

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Here’s a release from Delta County via the Delta County Indpendent. Here’s an excerpt:

It shows real commitment of those interested about potential oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley, to spend an entire Saturday in educational sessions. But a large number of people did just that by attending the Oil and Gas Public Information Meeting sponsored by the Delta County Commissioners.

The meetings started at 9 a.m. and went until 4:30 p.m. and some longer than that. People continued to talk with various experts in the hallways at Paonia Junior and Senior High Schools before, during and after the sessions.

Delta County put together a list of speakers who have many years experience on the regulations, the initial nomination of parcels, the public’s roles throughout and what the agencies can and cannot do. In the afternoon break out sessions, citizens had the opportunity to ask questions that have been nagging them and were not settled during the morning presentations.

Olen Lund, chair of the Board of County Commissioners, moderated and introduced each speaker.

Dr. David Noe, senior geologist with the Colorado Geological Survey, began on the very important subject of the geology of the North Fork Valley where oil and gas exploration is being proposed. Dr. Noe has been mapping the geology from Montrose up to Rogers Mesa, and has not completed his work on the rest of the North Fork Valley.

After his presentation, he made clear that just mapping the geology of the area will not answer the question everyone is seeking — How viable is oil and gas production in the valley?

“It’s hard to evaluate that,” he said. “Just as I showed with the maps this morning, the way to understand the geology is to look at it systematically. You just take that general idea and you go into great depth with it,” Dr. Noe said. “The level of detail that we have with the geology mapped out right now doesn’t answer those questions at that general level. You have to dig in a little bit and look into the old oil and gas records. It’s hard to say. I can’t answer that question for you. The proof is really in doing it.”

Meanwhile, the BLM has released their preliminary environmental assessment on oil and gas exploration in the North Fork area, according to this release from the Bureau of Land Management via the Delta County Indpendent. From the release:

The EA analyzes whether or not the parcels are offered for competitive oil and gas leasing to allow private individuals or companies to explore and develop federal oil and gas resources in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. There are three alternatives offered within the EA including offering all of the nominated parcels for sale, offering a subset of the parcels for sale or not offering any parcels at this time

“The BLM has implemented a thorough and public review of oil and gas leasing, and we appreciate the input and information the public provided during this process,” said Barbara Sharrow, BLM Uncompahgre Field Manager. “Now, we encourage the public to review the preliminary environmental assessment and provide us with your comments on the proposed action.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Aaron Million: ‘This project would divert less than 5 percent annually out of the massive Flaming Gorge Reservoir’

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Here’s a guest column about the Flaming Gorge pipeline written by Aaron Million running in the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

The argument that no further Upper Basin water projects be developed, which is a position some have taken, by default and in the simplest terms means California, Nevada and Arizona all benefit to the detriment of this region. Colorado faces a massive water supply shortfall, projected to be between 500,000 to 700,000 acre-feet over the next 20 years. New water and new storage, one of Gov. Hickenlooper’s keystone policy objectives and a long-standing objective for Colorado, can basically be accomplished with a pipe connection. This project would divert less than 5 percent annually out of the massive Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which is 25 times larger than Horsetooth Reservoir…

…the Flaming Gorge Project has several advantages for a new water supply. The Green River system itself, starting just south of Jackson Hole, has a different snowpack regime, which mitigates risk compared to relying on water from a single source or watershed. Also, global warming models predict the Green’s more northerly region to be wetter than average, while the Colorado River main-stem drainage, the historical focus of Front Range water needs, is predicted to be dryer than average. And the Green River is as large as the Colorado River main-stem, with comparatively little consumptive use and very few diversions.

Without question, the river has major environmental and recreational benefits that require protection…

So why does that matter for this region? It matters because an overall systems analysis on the Green River following implementation of the ROD indicates substantial surplus flows after meeting all the environmental needs of the river. Those surpluses, estimated at several hundred-thousand acre feet in a river system that flows over 1.5 million acre-feet annually, could be used to bring in a new water supply for the South Platte and Arkansas basins, generate new alternative energy, produce hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits, and provide re-use of waters for agriculture to keep the region strong and vibrant.

So the real question is this: If a large river system can be fully protected, and at the same time some of the potential surpluses from that same system alleviate major supply issues elsewhere, isn’t that an environmentally sound and reasonable water supply approach? The question remains unanswered until a rigorous and thorough environmental impact evaluation is completed…

I believe this we need to take this project through its paces. If it is environmentally sound, it should be permitted and built. If not, then stick a fork in it. The truth of a full scientific and environmental evaluation may be hard for some in the environmental community to swallow, but the consequences of not allowing that evaluation to occur remain: A continued bulls-eye on the Poudre, reverse-osmosis plants on the South Platte because of poor water quality, more future dry-up of the agricultural base in this state, and continued pressure on the western high country of our nearby mountain peaks.

The Flaming Gorge pipeline will be the topic of discussion March 14 at the Collegiate Peaks Anglers Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Here’s the release via The Chaffee County Times:

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Glenwood Springs: Former oil patch water handler calls for the EPA to classify produced water from oil and gas wells as a ‘toxic substance’

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

Aaron Milton, 36, has started an online petition to pressure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reclassify produced water from gas wells as toxic waste. The petition, titled “Classify production and reclaimed frack water toxic,” can be found at www.change.org/petitions.

Milton also is involved in making a documentary film about the industry with filmmakers Hamilton Pevec of Carbondale and Austin Lottimer, formerly of Carbondale but now living in Denver. The film, Milton said, will be titled, “The Water Handler.” “It will be my story, and there’s a lot of other whistleblowers that are going to be in there, too,” Milton said.

Milton, who said he’d rather be called a concerned citizen than a whistleblower, told the Post Independent he recently worked for a Garfield County gas exploration company. He declined to name the companies he worked for and with, and said he worked there for less than a year…

Milton questions the safety of a regular industry practice of using injection wells to dispose of produced water that cannot be used again for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. “The problem is, that is not classified as anything but water by the EPA,” Milton noted. “But that is not just water.”

David Ludlam, director of the Western Colorado Oil and Gas Association trade group, responded that the disposal of produced water is done in more than one way, depending on a variety of factors. “If Mr. Milton has concerns about the protocol for handling produced water, our industry is anxious to hear more.” Ludlam wrote in an email to the Post Independent. “I’ll be giving Mr. Milton a call next week to see if he is interested in meeting with our member companies so we can learn from his experiences and collaborate on how to address his grievances.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Report: Oil Shale 2050 — Data, Definitions, & Everything You Need to Know About Oil Shale in the West

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Oil shale has been the next big thing here in Colorado for over a 100 years now. Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):

Today Western Resource Advocates (WRA) introduced a comprehensive new report about oil shale development titled: “Oil Shale 2050: Data, Definitions & What You Need to Know About Oil Shale in the West.” This timely new analysis of oil shale in the Western United States comes just one week ahead of public meetings planned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to discuss a new federal policy on oil shale development.*

“We looked at this issue inside and out, and based on extensive research, we can’t find a good reason why commercial oil shale development should be pursued in the West,” said David Abelson, Oil Shale Policy Advisor at WRA and the lead author of Oil Shale 2050. “Frankly, I sometimes wonder why this is even a discussion. Oil shale would foul our air and water, soak up enormous amounts of water, and disrupt local economies. And nobody has been able to come up with a viable commercial process to produce it anyway.”

Oil Shale 2050 is the first report to link water demands and regulatory frameworks with potential oil shale development, examining the history of oil shale and key data points all under one cover. The release of Oil Shale 2050 is particularly timely; the BLM is holding public meetings in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming next week to discuss proposed federal guidelines for oil shale research and development, and this report is the ideal guidebook for those discussions.

The report also comes on the heels of a late February announcement by Chevron, in which the company decided to stop working on oil shale research in order to redeploy resources towards fuel sources for which extraction technologies already exist.

“Chevron’s announcement is another in a long line of examples proving that nobody knows how to develop oil shale on a commercial scale,” said Rob Dubuc, Staff Attorney and Oil Shale Expert in WRA’s Utah office. “Oil and gas companies are abandoning oil shale research independently, yet the State of Utah is still preparing to turn over public resources for speculative development. That’s like building a factory before you know how to make the widget. It doesn’t make sense.”

Oil Shale 2050 addresses these issues and more, including:

• What is oil shale and how might it be turned into a fuel source?
• Will oil shale production ever be commercially viable?
• How would oil shale development impact the environment compared to the production of more traditional sources of fuel?
• What are the impacts of diverting large amounts of water for oil shale development? How would that impact present and future demand for water?
• How is oil shale different from shale gas and shale oil?

“Even if we could develop oil shale, we would need a larger conversation about whether we should,” said Mike Chiropolos, Chief Counsel to the Lands Program at WRA. “Annual commercial oil shale production could require one-and-a-half times the water needs of all 1.3 million Denver Water customers. Where would that water come from?”

This year may well be the most important year in the history of oil shale speculation, as upcoming decisions by the Department of the Interior and Congress will fundamentally direct the course of oil shale policy for decades. Oil Shale 2050 will be an invaluable tool for decision-makers as they plot the future allocations of Western lands and energy sources.

To download the complete report or fact sheets, go to www.WesternResources.org/oilshale2050.

*The BLM is holding public meetings on oil shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming during the week of March 12. For a list of scheduled meetings, go to: http://ostseis.anl.gov/involve/pubschedule/index.cfm

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (Troy Hooper):

“Water is the defining resource in the West,” Mike Chiropolos, chief counsel for Western Resource Advocates, told reporters on a conference call this week. “There is an enormous uncertainty of what the impacts are of utilizing large quantities of that supply.”

The report, “Oil Shale 2050, comes in advance of the Bureau of Land Management’s meetings in Colorado and Utah next week that ask for public feedback to the Department of Interior’s plan to dramatically scale back the acreage of lands available for oil shale and tar sands development. Federal officials are proposing to cut the Bush-era oil leasing inventory from 1.9 million acres to 462,000 for oil shale and from 431,000 acres to 91,000 for tar sands.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, however, is sponsoring H.R. 3408, the “Pioneers Act,” which would revive the Bush-era plan to open vast amounts of public lands in Utah, Wyoming and western Colorado to oil shale and tar sands production. His bill made it out of the House Committee on Natural Resources last month, and House Speaker John Boehner has said oil shale revenues will partly pay for national transportation projects in the next five years.

Oil shale production, however, has yet to be proven commercially viable.

More coverage from KSL.com (Amy Joi O’Donoghue). From the article:

“Oil Shale 2050,” released by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, details critical links between the resource development and its use of water in the thirsty West, as well as what the group says is an unproven technology that should be abandoned in pursuit of clean energy alternatives. “The finite research and development dollars available should be invested in clean energy solutions,” said Mike Chiropolos, the group’s chief counsel of its lands programs.

Chriopolos and two other representatives from the organization spoke to the report’s findings in a Wednesday teleconference, noting that after 100 years of trying to pull deposits from the ground, the industry is no closer to success. The trio pointed to the late February decision by Chevron to give up its experimental lease for oil shale in Colorado, instead opting to direct its three staffers on that project to work in other areas. They said they hope that sends a signal to other would-be developers.

More oil shale coverage here and here.