Snowpack news: The hot and dry start to March is taking a toll on snowpack statewide


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

With average spring precipitation, the [Dillon Reservoir] should fill in June, but it’s unlikely there will be enough water to sustain a lengthy rafting season in the Lower Blue, according to Denver Water, which late last week released a detailed outlook for Dillon Reservoir operations…

Under a dry scenario, Denver Water expects the reservoir to reach a maximum elevation of about 9,015 feet in June, then drop rather quickly, by about six feet in July and another seven feet by the end of September.

Even under the dry scenario, water levels would remain high enough for reservoir operations through most of the summer.

With above-normal precipitation through May, the reservoir is projected to fill in June and stay close to maximum capacity through the summer. The provisional outlook is subject to change, depending on developing conditions. For example, a hot and dry summer on the Front Range could result in a quicker draw-down, while a wet monsoon season could reduce the demand for water.

In a message on its website, Denver Water indicated that reservoir storage is above normal for this time of year. But storage is only one indicator of drought and “reservoir levels can drop quickly when we don’t get much snow and rain,” the water provider wrote.

Chris Woodka (The Pueblo Chieftain): ‘Your sources have to be good, and you don’t burn them’


I’ve known Chris Woodka for a few years now — since I’ve been linking and excerpting his work from The Pueblo Chieftain — and I count him as a friend and mentor. He has taught me much over the years by just reading his stuff. Here’s a profile from Matt Jenkins writing for the High Country News. You have to subscribe to read the whole thing. Here’s the lede:

In 2004, Pueblo Chieftain publisher Bob Rawlings, assisted by his daughter, Jane, was running full-throated editorials against water transfers and occasionally making news himself. The not-exactly-impartial coverage of the controversy bothered Chris Woodka, then a managing editor. So he asked to be assigned to the water beat. “I said, ‘OK: I’m going to do it objectively. I’m going to do it as a reporter,’ ” Woodka explains. ” ‘And Bob and Jane, you’re just going to be news sources.’ ” Today, Woodka, 57, is Colorado’s sole remaining full-time water reporter. He has worked hard to separate himself from the Chieftain’s editorial slant, and has built a reputation for his fair coverage of an extremely complicated and contentious subject. “You kind of make your own luck,” Woodka says. “Your sources have to be good, and you don’t burn them.”

Click here and here for articles written by Woodka quoted on Coyote Gulch.

Parker: Rueter-Hess Reservoir celebration this week


Parker and other South Metro communities will celebrate the opening of the largest Front Range reservoir since Aurora Reservoir this week. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Parker Water and Sanitation has completed Rueter-Hess Reservoir, a 72,000 acre-foot storage facility that will store water for Parker and surrounding communities in the South Denver area. “The project is a significant accomplishment for Parker Water and Sanitation District, its customers and the entire south metropolitan area. Congratulations is due all around,” said Frank Jaeger, manager of the district…

Rueter-Hess has been in the planning stages for 25 years and under construction for the last eight. It cost $165 million to build, including $56 million from Castle Rock, Castle Pines North and Stonegate, which like Parker are located in Douglas County…

The other Douglas County communities joined the project in 2008, expanding the capacity of Rueter-Hess by 56,000 acre-feet. The reservoir still must undergo state safety inspections before it can begin storing water. It will collect water flows from wet years for use during summer months and dry years. It is the largest Front Range reservoir to open since Aurora Reservoir with a capacity of 36,150 acre-feet, began filling in 1990.

More Rueter-Hess Reservoir coverage here and here.

San Luis Valley: Fallowing of acreage irrigated by pumping to start this season, reduction of 5,000 acre-feet is the target


The Rio Grande Water Conservation District has been working diligently for several years to set up groundwater subdistricts to reduce pumping from the aquifer underlying the valley. The hope was to avoid having the State Engineer’s office come in a shut down wells as has happened in the South Platte and Republican River basins. The effort in the Valley has led to the creation of groundwater Subdistrict No. 1 which will start operations this season with a goal (set by the State Engineer’s office) of a 5,000 acre-foot reduction. Here’s a report from Matt Hildner writing for The Pueblo Chieftain Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The unconfined aquifer, or shallower of the valley’s two major groundwater bodies, is recharged every spring when irrigation canals pull water from the Rio Grande River to fields in the district where it percolates down. Farmers pump it back up later in the growing season. But drought and largely unregulated use have seen the aquifer drop by 740,000 acre-feet, down to its lowest level since water managers began monitoring it in 1976. The subdistrict aims to reverse that trend by retiring up to 40,000 acres of farm ground over the next decade, a move they hope would return between 340,000 and 540,000 acre feet to the aquifer.

While the subdistrict doesn’t expect to finalize all of ifs fallowing contracts until April 1, up to 10,000 acres could be pulled from production this growing season, said Steve Vandiver, manager of the subdistrict’s parent organization, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. “That will probably be 20,000 acre feet we’re not pumping,” he said. “That’s a big start.”[…]

The subdistrict’s other main task will be to replace the injury pumping of wells causes to surface water users. The valley’s aquifers and streams are connected to varying degrees depending on where one is in the area. And for more than four decades the valley’s surface users have had to bear the burden of the state’s compliance with the Rio Grande Compact as irrigation ditches were curtailed so water could be sent downstream. Groundwater wells faced no such burden. But that will change this season. State computer modeling has determined that the subdistrict will have to return 5,000 acre-feet to the river to make up for the injuries caused to surface water owners. While the subdistrict will have to formally submit its replacement plan to the Office of the State Engineer next month, Vandiver said the subdistrict could have between 6,500 acre-feet and 7,000 acre-feet at its disposal. Most of that water is stored in reservoirs on the Rio Grande upstream of the subdistrict.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.