Snowpack/drought news: The outlook for the San Luis Valley remains dry in the second year of drought, snowpack checks in at 51%

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

“It does not look like a good year for stream flows, worse than last year. Last year was not a good year either. It is so low in certain areas of the Valley we are looking at probably a lower stream flow than we had in 2002,” Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said on Tuesday.

That was one of the Rio Grande Basin’s worst drought years. Cotten explained that the 2002 levels would not hit the San Luis Valley’s bigger streams, the Rio Grande and Conejos, “but we could have it in isolated smaller creeks.”

He said the Natural Resources Conservation Services’ (NRCS) annual forecast currently for the Rio Grande is 465,000 acre feet, or about 71 percent of the long-term average. The NRCS forecast for the Conejos River system is 215,000 acre feet or about 65 percent of the long-term average…

The Rio Grande Basin, encompassing the San Luis Valley, stands at 51 percent of average for snowpack right now, Cotten reported to the Rio Grande Roundtable members on Tuesday…

“We just have not had a good snowmelt year for several years,” Cotten explained. “We started off this last winter with a decent snowpack up until maybe February. We were looking at a fairly good, at least average year. Then the snow stopped.” Even the big snowstorm a week and a half or so ago did not help the overall picture much, he said…

Cotten said the stream flows now are higher than average, but that is not a good sign because it means the water will be gone faster…

Taryn Hutchins-Cabibi, technical specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s drought program, told the Rio Grande Roundtable members on Tuesday that every part of the state, including the San Luis Valley, is listed at some level of drought classification according to the U.S. Drought Monitor…

Hutchins-Cabibi said some assistance could be available for members of the agricultural community should the drought continue. Other areas of the economy throughout Colorado including municipalities and tourism-related industries could also potentially be adversely affected should drought conditions persist another year, which is quite possible, Hutchins-Cabibi explained.

Colorado Water 2012: History and purpose of the San Luis Valley’s closed basin project

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s series for Colorado Water 2012, written by Ken Beck, manager of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Closed Basin Project. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The Closed Basin Project, which is operated and maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation and currently employs 23 individuals, pumps water from the sump area through a network of shallow groundwater wells or salvage wells. This salvaged water is delivered through a 42-mile canal to the Rio Grande. The project also delivers water to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, the Blanca Wildlife Habitat Area and San Luis Lake.

The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) provides civil maintenance on the Closed Basin Project.

A three person operating committee consisting of representatives of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, RGWCD and Reclamation oversees operation of the Closed Basin Project. The committee ensures operation within parameters outlined in the Rio Grande Compact regarding pumping restrictions and water quality requirements.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

State of the Rockies Project: Governor Hickenlooper names conservation as a major part of the solution to Colorado’s supply gap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While talking about the ongoing efforts to find statewide solutions through the more traditional route of roundtable meetings, Gov. John Hickenlooper suggested the answer to projected water shortfalls could be found in social media — the favored means of communication and sometimes creative solutions for today’s young people. Hickenlooper spoke Tuesday at Colorado College as part of the release of the 2012 State of the Rockies report…

As mayor of Denver, Hickenlooper witnessed conservation reduction of nearly 20 percent after 2002, largely because of creative messages crafted by Denver Water to encourage saving water.
“We now have collaboration and a conservation ethic,” Hickenlooper said. “The next step is to take those frameworks and drive conservation to another level.”[…]

One student asked Hickenlooper what the state is doing to “combat more pipelines across the Continental Divide.” “Conservation, where we take as little as possible from the West Slope,” Hickenlooper replied. Saying the whole state is better off with a healthy Colorado River, he urged both urban and agricultural conservation techniques to reduce transmountain diversions.

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

Denver’s done better than most U.S. cities, with residents reducing use by 20 percent since 2002 to 160 gallons a day, but “we can make dramatic additional efforts,” Hickenlooper said. “Our self-discipline in the amount of water we use is going to be the foundation of everything we will do,” he said.

Yet further drawdown of the over-subscribed Colorado River is continuing as state officials support two major projects that would divert more river water across the Continental Divide to sustain Front Range urban communities…

Beyond conservation, “we’re going to need some more dams, ways to manage water,” Hickenlooper said.

Two rival pipeline projects would divert an additional 100,000 acre-feet or more of water from the upper Colorado River basin in Wyoming to the Front Range. A state-backed task force is exploring the idea. State planners calculate that Colorado could be entitled to as much as 900,000 acre-feet of unallocated river water under the 1922 interstate compact that governs use of the river. Hickenlooper declined in an interview to rule out a Wyoming diversion, saying that “we have to let that process run its course.”[…]

“‘The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.’ Colorado has to find a balance so that rivers can live alongside our human culture,” Save the Colorado coordinator Gary Wockner said. “The next year or two will be pivotal. Every water project on the table is proposing to drain more water out of our river.”

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More coverage from Ben Noreen’s column running in The Colorado Springs Gazette. He writes:

As many other water users have pumped their share of the Colorado and we’ve learned more about the river’s annual flow, it is becoming apparent that Colorado Springs’ share of the river is a bit tenuous. That’s the central theme of this week’s conference at Colorado College, “The Colorado River Basin: Agenda for Use, Restoration and Sustainability for the Next Generation.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper joined in Tuesday, re-stating something that has become increasingly apparent since the 1970s: “Bigger and better dams are not going to be the solutions.”

More coverage from Debbie Kelley writing for the Colorado Springs Independent. From the article:

The remark: Denver wouldn’t be Denver without Western Slope river water. Hickenlooper said what he meant was that all Front Range cities, also including Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Fort Collins, benefit if everyone uses less water. Because by keeping more water on the Western Slope and using less in urbanized areas, not only do skiing, white-water rafting and other tourism businesses succeed, but so do the ranchers and farmers. “There’s a direct benefit here. A home on the Front Range is worth more than a home in Kansas City or Indianapolis,” he said…

Hickenlooper says he advocates new creative ways of saving water and a commitment from every resident to do so. Front Range utilities companies now use about 60 percent of the water that originates in the upper Colorado River basin.

“A lot of it is our own self-motivation or discipline,” Hickenlooper said. “How we make it joyful and give people a kick out of it? I think that’s where the youth come in. If we can find ways of using that combination of youthful exuberance and optimism and technology, we have the formal framework to achieve changes.”

Hickenlooper also praised his Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which he helped create last year between stakeholders in the Denver area and on the Western Slope to improve management of future water projects.

But it does not address two additional proposed diversion projects that would further deplete the river. And unlike U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who spoke at CC’s conference on Monday, Hickenlooper did not mention the potential impact of oil shale development on the river, which some in Congress are pushing for, including U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs.

More conservation coverage here.