EPA WaterSense: ‘Fix a leak week’ starts tomorrow, runs through next Sunday


Here’s the announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

Did you know that an American home can waste, on average, more than 10,000 gallons of water every year due to running toilets, dripping faucets, and other household leaks?

Nationwide, more than 1 trillion gallons of water leak from U.S. homes each year. That’s why WaterSense reminds Americans to check their plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems each year during Fix a Leak Week.

WaterSense is teaming up with our partners to promote the fourth annual Fix a Leak Week, March 12-18, 2012.

From New Mexico’s search for bad flappers to leak detection efforts in Texas, West Virginia and across the nation, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in this year’s Fix A Leak Week. Explore our list of some of this year’s many events to find out more.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack approximately 81% of average, below average streamflow forecasted


From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Following a winter last year that refused to yield its grip on much of the state until the calendar said it was officially summer, the winter of 2011-12 never really got rolling in the Rocky Mountains until mid-February. And the snowpack that local rivers and reservoirs depend upon for water currently reflects that. February’s wintery weather created optimism that the state might rebound from its sluggish start. But statistics on the board offer a grim outlook for salvaging even an average water year on the majority of the Western Slope, the wet side of Colorado.

The National Water and Climate Center currently places year-to-date precipitation below average in seven of Colorado’s eight major river basins, establishing a comparably subpar snowpack. And even as the Upper Rio Grande basin registers 101 percent of precipitation average, the snow water equivalent there remains down 15 percent at just 85 percent of average.

Elsewhere in the state, the numbers are generally worse. With 92 percent of its average precipitation so far, the South Platte River basin is clinging to 85 percent of its snow water equivalent, and the Arkansas River basin is pulling 84 percent of the water from 87 percent of its average snowfall. Salvaging a solid runoff and healthy fishing flows is not out of reach in those areas, given a shift in weather patterns through April, generally the second- snowiest month in the mountains.

But the Upper Colorado River basin — fed at its headwaters by the mountains of Grand County and downstream by the Blue and Eagle rivers of Summit and Eagle counties — will face increased urgency to mount a comeback from a snowpack of only 77 percent. A similar scenario holds true for the Yampa and White river basins to the north, while the Gunnison River basin to the west is faring slightly better at 80 percent snowpack and 78 percent snow water equivalent, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, February’s series of storms helped boost the state’s overall snowpack by 9 percent. As of this week, the snowpack for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basin was up to 82 percent of average, which put it 1 percent ahead of the statewide average. It’s still slightly behind the basin’s average for this time of year, but considering that it sat at just 61 percent of average on Jan. 15, it’s come a long way. The NRSC’s Snotel censor measured the snow depth at Lizard Head Pass on Friday at 47 inches.

According to weather data compiled by local resident Thom Carnevale, the town of Telluride received 37.8 inches of snow in February, up significantly from the monthly average of 26.8 inches. That translated into 2.21 inches of precipitation, up from the average of 1.72 inches. (The record snowfall for the month, according to Carnevale’s records, is an astonishing 97.9 inches, which fell in 1936)

January, meanwhile, saw 27.8 inches, according to Carnevale’s reports, up slightly from the average of 26.9 inches. Of the total inches, Carnevale said, 20 fell between Jan. 21 and 27…

Technically, the La Niña pattern hasn’t gone anywhere, and Colton said the region might be feeling more of its downsides as March unfolds. “We’re expecting conditions to warm up and dry out for the next 30 days,” [Jeff Colton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction station] said this week…

As of March 1, reservoir storage statewide was 107 percent of average, and the reservoir storage in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basin was 104 percent of average.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The combined Yampa and White river basins stood at 80 percent of average moisture stored in the snow on Monday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Things have improved for Colorado since Feb. 1, that’s for sure,” NRCS assistant snow survey supervisor Mage Skordahl said. “But overall the chances are pretty unlikely we’ll get back to average by April. We don’t get a lot of moisture in April, but if we get a wet spring there can still be a large accumulation then as well.” Skordahl was putting the finishing touches on a statewide water forecast Monday and said Colorado had picked up 9 percentage points in February to reach 81 percent of average snowpack. She said in a typical year, Colorado gets 20 percent of its seasonal snow moisture in March.

Close to Steamboat Springs, at 9,400 feet, the Rabbit Ears Snotel site showed 15.2 inches of water in the snowpack compared to the typical 22.3 inches for the date. That translates to 68 percent of average. But there’s more ground to be made up…

The Tower Snotel site at the 10,500-foot summit of Buffalo Pass on the Continental Divide northeast of Steamboat typically peaks on May 6 with 52.4 inches of water, according to the NRCS. On Monday, the water content in the snow there stood at 28.7 inches. That’s 74 percent of average for the date, but 55 percent of the average peak.

The area around Crosho Lake on the edge of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area between Phippsburg and Yampa has a good shot at reaching average snowpack — water content there on Monday was 9.8 inches, or 92 percent of the average for the date of 10.7 inches. The Crosho Snotel site needs to get to 12 inches to hit the April 5 average peak snowpack.

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

The overall snowpack for Middle Park is at 81 percent, with 100 percent being “average.” “We’re doing a little bit better. Hopefully March will still be snowy,” said Mark Volt of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kremmling Field Office. At the beginning of February, snowpack was at 75 percent of the 30-year average snowpack.

Field Office snow surveyors Volt, Vance Fulton, and Joe Messina took the March 1 snow survey measurements during the last days of February.

Snowpack in the mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 55 percent to 111 percent of the 30-year average. Last year at this time, the area was at 128 percent of average. Two areas of Middle Park measured better than other areas. Areas around Gore Pass met the 30-year average in moisture content of snowpack at 104 percent of average, with 43 inches of snow depth, and a Granby snow course near the old Granby Landfill and C Lazy U Ranch measured at 106 percent of average with 40 inches. Snow density is averaging 22 percent, which means that for one foot of snow there is about 2.6 inches of water. “This is pretty low snow density for this time of year,” said Volt. “Snow density for March 1st usually runs in the high 20s.”

From the Associated Press via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Tuesday that statewide snowpack increased to 81 percent of average, up 9 percentage points from the 72 percent of average recorded on Feb. 1. Forecasters say despite these gains, this year’s snowpack continues to lag well behind last year’s totals. As of March 1, all major basins in Colorado are expected to have below average runoff conditions this spring and summer.

Climate change wildcard: It’s hard to forecast how much carbon arctic soils may give up to the atmosphere with warming


From the North Forty News (Gary Raham):

In a recent Science News article (“Soil’s Hidden Secrets,” Jan. 28, 2012) Charles Petit said, “If the bank of carbon held in the world’s soils were to drop by just 0.3 percent, the release would equal a year’s worth of fossil fuel emissions.”

Soil hoards about three times the amount of carbon contained in the air and all above-ground vegetation combined, but it doesn’t just hold carbon like a laundry basket holds dirty socks. Soils form complex and varied ecosystems like the prairies, rain forests and coral reefs humans can more readily recognize. Soil scientists create color-coded soil type maps of the world that look like someone spilled a handful of confetti on an atlas. The problem is that these scientists sometimes have a hard time knowing just how and when different soils may play their carbon trump cards in a warming world.

In eastern Colorado, we walk on prairie soils. Such soils contain a layered mix of living and non-living components. Finely ground rocks, clay, sand and wind-blown debris (loess) form the bottom layer. The middle layers house a community of worms, mites, insects and microorganisms swimming in a sea of partially decayed organic matter invaded by networks of feathery roots and spider-web filaments of fungi. The remains of Ice Age mammoths and tigers mingle with those of the cattle and corn stalks of more recent grasslands. Billions of bacterial and fungal cells constantly work at breaking down a backlog of complex carbon molecules into climate-warming gases such as carbon dioxide…

“Biochar,” a clever term for charcoal created during fires in forests and grasslands, represents another wildcard in soil chemistry. Under certain conditions, biochar can sequester carbon in the soil for decades or centuries, but sometimes it can degrade within years and cycle the carbon into the atmosphere. Soil scientists, like Prof. M. Francesca Cotrufo at Colorado State University, work on ways to produce biochar for different purposes.

“Depending on the feedstock, temperature, and other conditions of pyrolysis (burning),” Cotrufo said, “we can make a biochar which is relatively easy to decompose and works best for soil fertility but not for carbon sequestration, as well as build a very recalcitrant biochar.”

The latter type keeps carbon compounds out of the air longer…

The soil that may hold the fate of the world’s climate in its black, carbon-rich depths lies in the Arctic. Scientists estimate that once permanently frozen Arctic soils contain 1.5 billion tons of carbon — about half of all the carbon contained in soils worldwide. As these soils warm and microbes fire up their engines, a torrent of greenhouse gases could tip the planet from the relatively icehouse conditions of today to the hothouse conditions of eons past.

More climate change coverage here and here.

Aspen: The city plans to install three additional tap water stations in town by summer, they serve up filtered tap water


From the Aspen Daily News (Dorothy Atkins):

The specifically designed filling stations are strategically placed around town and provide filtered tap water to the public. They have a traditional water fountain and a spicket to fill bottles, and each has a gauge that determines how much water is used. They currently do not operate during the winter months.

The city kicked off its “Aspen Tap” campaign last year by installing three stations — one near the restrooms at Wagner Park, another at Conner Park, next to City Hall, and the third at the skate park next to the Rio Grande Trail.

Between July and September of last year, people consumed over 700 gallons of water from the station at Conner Park and over 1,000 gallons from the skate park tap.

Good idea.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Dolores: McPhee Reservoir and Dolores Project operations meeting March 21


From the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Cortez Journal:

The Bureau of Reclamation will host a McPhee Reservoir and Dolores Project operation meeting on March 21 at the Dolores Community Center at 7 p.m. Topics of discussion will focus on anticipated water releases to the lower Dolores River and an overview of the Dolores Project.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

2012 Colorado November election: Farmers are eyeing initiatives 3 and 45 warily


From The Fence Post (Eric Brown):

Initiatives 3 and 45 — proposed citizen-sponsored legislation pieced together and filed by Richard Hamilton of Fairplay and his attorney, Phil Doe — seek to apply the public trust doctrine to Colorado water rights through a constitutional change.

[Gene Kammerzell], a Weld County produce grower who owns Arborland Nursery and is a member of the Colorado Farm Bureau Water Committee, has joined a number of other farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations — as well as the Colorado Water Congress — in fighting the initiatives because they could cause chaos with state water rights, according to the opponents. Both sides agree in that the initiatives would override the state’s current prior-appropriation system — which states that those who own older water rights have a higher priority in using them — and 136 years of case law that have also helped define how water may be used in Colorado.

In addition to invalidating water rights, the proposed measures, if voted into law, would allow anyone to use the state’s water and then leave it up to the public to determine if the water is being used for the common good, Hamilton explained in a phone interview Wednesday. If members of the public were to determine the water isn’t being used for the common good, they could file a lawsuit in effort to curtail or prevent further water use in that capacity.

Hamilton, an aquatic microbiologist who has been a lobbyist in the environmental and natural resources industries for nearly 40 years, said the purpose behind his initiatives — in addition to placing control of the state’s water into the general public’s hands — is to prevent further contamination of water, often seen in return flows to the rivers following industrial use, and prevent the further depletion of the state’s rivers, caused by increased municipal, industrial and agricultural use. “Water is a public right,” Hamilton said, “and if you want it, don’t overuse the resource … and don’t send it back to the public filled with crap.”

More 2012 Colorado November election coverage here.

Windsor: Sales of water for hydraulic fracturing operations is a growing source of revenue


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

After years of selling small amounts of municipal water to construction firms, oil and gas well servicing companies started lining up in November at the [Windsor’s] fire hydrants, earning the community nearly $17,000 in millions of gallons of water sales as of March. 1…

Fracking is a thirsty process, with each Niobrara frack job using an average of 4.3 million gallons of water, or about 13 acre-feet, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. Where that water comes from and where it goes is critical because many environmentalists are sounding alarms about the amount of water being used for drilling along the Front Range because they say it poses serious future water supply problems as the energy industry continues to boom here.

But the state begs to differ. Colorado energy regulators project that roughly 16,000 acre feet of water will be used this year for fracking statewide, most of which will stay far underground without being returned to a local stream or river. Compare that to the 13.9 million acre-feet of water used for farming in Colorado each year. Or the 1.2 million acre-feet of water all the state’s cities use each year. Those figures show that fracking represents only a fraction of the state’s overall water demand, said Thom Kerr, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission…

The Coloradoan asked 32 municipalities in Larimer and Weld counties to report how much bulk municipal water they sold or rented to the energy industry in 2011, including oil and gas companies and their water haulers. Of the 26 that responded, seven were able to report selling water specifically to oil and gas companies and water haulers. The rest either did not sell water to the energy industry last year or do not track what kind of companies buy their water…

Greeley, in the heart of Northern Colorado’s oil and gas patch, is another big benefactor of the industry’s thirst for water. The city made $1.6 million in 1,507 acre-feet of bulk water sales in 2011, up from $951,000 in 2010, mostly to the oil and gas industry, said Jon Monson, director of Greeley Water and Sewer…

Also reaping big benefits from selling water to the energy industry is the city of Fort Lupton in southern Weld County, where officials are using the windfall of cash to pay down $20 million in debt the city racked up from replacing its water treatment plants in the 1990s, Fort Lupton city administrator Claud Hanes said…

“They don’t understand what the cumulative impact is going to be if we put in another 100,000 wells,” said environmentalist Phillip Doe of Littleton, a former environmental compliance officer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. If all the wells that exist today were fracked multiple times, “it’s not hard to come up with calculations that come up with Denver’s annual water use. This stuff goes underground and never comes back.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Pueblo: The city’s raw water supplies are sufficient to cover anticipated growth


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo’s advantage is that it has not grown into its existing supply, unlike many other Front Range communities. While storage is the key to ongoing statewide strategies, few new projects have been built since the completion of Lake Pueblo in the 1970s. The Preferred Storage Options Plan, which would look at enlarging Lake Pueblo, is 14 years old and “still at Step 1,” [Executive Director Alan Hamel] said. The water board bought 28 percent Bessemer Ditch in 2009 as a way to reduce dependence on Colorado River water, but half of Pueblo’s supply still comes from the Western Slope. It will be at least 10 years before the Bessemer shares are converted to municipal use in water court, Hamel said. At the same time, Pueblo water customers have voluntarily cut their use 17 percent and the water board is looking at other strategies for conservation…

The water board is pricing water service rates to new large users at the true cost of providing water — $16,200 per acre-foot. As it has developed the policy, staff members have worked behind the scenes with city staff and met with the Pueblo Economic Development Corp. to make sure the rates don’t scare off companies that could bring jobs to Pueblo, Hamel said.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.