Secretary Salazar, Governor Hickenlooper to Announce Next Steps in Fulfilling Vision for America’s Next Great Urban Park

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Here’s the release from the Department of Interior and Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

On Friday, May 4, 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will announce the next steps in implementing conservation and recreation projects throughout the Denver metropolitan area and along the South Platte River, including the Rocky Mountain Greenway Project.

Last May, Gov. Hickenlooper and Sec. Salazar announced three conservation initiatives in Colorado as part of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, a nationwide effort to encourage and support community-driven conservation and recreation projects around the country. On Friday, they will host a meeting with elected officials, local and regional planners, and other open space leaders throughout the metropolitan area to discuss the initiatives’ ongoing progress.

The Rocky Mountain Greenway Project focuses on a federal, state, local and stakeholder partnership to enhance the Denver metropolitan area parks, open spaces, river corridors and trails—creating an uninterrupted trails/transportation link connecting the Denver metro area’s trail systems, the three National Wildlife Refuges in the metro region, Rocky Mountain National Park, and community trails systems in between.

Sec. Salazar and Gov. Hickenlooper will also be joined by Senator Mark Udall, Congressman Ed Perlmutter and Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock to unveil a Colorado Department of Transportation directional sign for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. A former chemical weapons manufacturing facility, the site has since been transformed into an urban gateway and sanctuary for residents, visitors and wildlife. The sign is part of an effort to increase the refuge’s visibility and encourage more visitors.

WHO: Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior
John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado
Michael B. Hancock, Mayor of Denver
Mark Udall, U.S. Senator
Ed Perlmutter, U.S. Representative
WHAT: Press Conference on Colorado’s Great Outdoors
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. MDT
WHERE: Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center
6550 Gateway Road
Commerce City, Colorado

Aspinall Unit operations meeting summary: Blue Mesa won’t fill this season

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From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The meeting notes from the Aspinall Unit Operations Meeting have been posted to the website and are available at the following link:

http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/water/rsvrs/mtgs/amcurrnt.html

Below is a summary of our April 26, 2012 meeting to coordinate Reclamation’s operation of the Aspinall Unit. The meeting was held in Reclamation’s Grand Junction Office. Significant items discussed included:

· Blue Mesa April through July inflow is predicted at 315,000 acre feet (af) based on April 15 data; in January the prediction was 450,000 af. The 315,000 af represents a dry category year and results from low precipitation over the last 4 months. This low level of inflow would be expected to be exceeded in 96-97 percent of years. In contrast, last year the inflow was 893,000 af, representing a moderately wet year.
· Blue Mesa Reservoir is not predicted to fill and releases from the Aspinall Unit to the Gunnison River will be lower than normal.
· Based on this April 2012 forecast, the Black Canyon National Park water right would call for a 1 day peak of 937 cfs and Flow Recommendations for endangered fish would call for a 900 cfs peak at Whitewater.

The forecast for runoff into the Aspinall Unit is expected to continue to drop which will result in a change to the Black Canyon National Park water right peak flow target. Currently river flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 390 cfs. Operations during the summer months will primarily be dictated by downstream demands.

If you have any suggestions on improving the operation meetings or summaries, please let us know. The next operation meeting will be on Thursday, August 9th at the Elk Creek Visitors Center on Blue Mesa.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Snowpack/drought/runoff news: The Rio Grande Basin is at 20% of average as is the statewide snowpack

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map and the Basin High/Low graph for the Rio Grande Basin along with the current U.S. Drought Monitor map (a new one is due out later today).

From The Crestone Eagle (Keno):

Drought conditions are rated on a scale from abnormally dry (D0) to exceptional (D4). As of April 1, readings across the state were as follows: Both the entire Four Corners area, along with the South Platte Basin, were rated D0, while a D2 zone covered the northwest part of Colorado. Parts of the Rio Grande and Arkansas basins have been at D2 and D3 since last summer. For the San Luis Valley, the Northern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and the entire Crestone area, all of which is a part of the Rio Grande basin, the reading is D2.

The snowpack up in the mountains, which the entire state of Colorado relies on for its water, has been at record low levels across the state since March, thanks to the lack of snowfall. The statewide average for snowpack was at 39% as of April 19 and has been falling rapidly, dropping on average of around 10% in just a week’s time. That 39% reading is even lower for that date than what it was at in 2002, the year of one of Colorado’s worst droughts ever, when the early April snowpack measured back then was at 52% of average.

Here are a few snowpack reports from locations in Colorado: the Gunnison Basin was at 47% of average; the upper Colorado Basin, 37%; the Yampa Basin 38%; the Arkansas Basin 44%; the South Platte Basin, 52%; and the Rio Grande Basin at 45%. The Sangre de Cristo mountain peaks did see a nice amount of snow fall in mid-April that did help a bit in slowing down the snow melt, but we need to see a lot more of that in the next several weeks before any real improvement can be noted.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The Yampa River, pushed by 0.71 inches of rain overnight Thursday, jumped to 1,570 cubic feet per second at 7:30 a.m. Friday where it flows beneath the Fifth Street Bridge in downtown Steamboat Springs. And with the benefit of hindsight, that may turn out to have been the river’s peak for spring runoff 2012. However, with high-elevation snowpack hanging on in the Park Mountains, water officials aren’t quite ready to commit.

The river had been on the way down since Friday night and was flowing at 797 cfs at 5 p.m. Monday. And the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City expects the river to remain at fairly consistent flows through May 9.

The river could rebound to just more than 1,000 cfs at midweek, then slip to 750 cfs May 8 to 9, based on the latest projections. Ashley Nielson, a hydrologist with the agency, said April 23 that based on historical data the Yampa River where it passed through Steamboat had a 90 percent chance of peaking at 1,200 cfs, and a 75 percent chance of peaking above 1,400 cfs. Thanks to last week’s rainstorm, the Yampa has beaten that 75 percent proposition. However, it might be a lot to expect it to rally to 1,800 cfs this season. Nielson rated that peak flow a 50-50 chance a week ago. The historic average peak flow for the Yampa is 3,070 cfs at the Fifth Street Bridge…

[Mage] Skordahl’s agency [NRCS] doesn’t look at peak flows in individual rivers. Instead, the NRCS is interested in the total volume of water expected to flow past the various stream measuring gauges in Colorado over the entire course of spring runoff. That number on the Yampa at Fifth Street is typically about 100,000 acre feet during the four months from April to July, Skordahl said. The river here already has seen 36 percent of that total flow in the first 25 percent of the timeframe, she said.

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

According to data from the Colorado Snow Survey, snowpack levels reported Tuesday for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were sitting at 29 percent of average. Statewide, the snowpack is at 25 percent of average. The levels represent the fifth lowest year to date since snowpack record-keeping began in 1968. Last spring, following heavy storms in April, snowpack levels for the area were reported at near 100 percent of average — bringing big spring runoffs to the region.

“I’d say based on the weather that we’ve been having, that snowpack levels are not going to improve by any great means,” said Mage Skordahl with the Colorado Snow Survey program. “It looks like, from our data, that we reached peak snow-water equivalent in early to mid March. That’s around two to six weeks earlier than average.”[…]

The San Miguel River near Placerville was flowing at around 220 cubic feet per second April 30, according the U.S. Geological Survey. The river hit a high in mid April at just over 400 cubic feet per second, but it has been in decline since then, according the Survey. Last year, the San Miguel was flowing at more than 300 cubic feet per second by May 1.

Local temperature records were also broken during the months of March and April. According to a blog run by Thom Carnevale, who compiles local weather data, the temperature in Telluride reached 73 degrees on March 25, tying the record set in 1986. On April 23, he reported, a high of 79 degrees was recorded in town, which broke the previous record of 78 degrees set in 1992.

Snowfall has also been sparse this spring. Carnevale measured a total of 15.5 inches of snow in the month of March, down from the month’s average of 33.9 inches.

From The Brighton Standard-Blade (Steve Smith):

City officials see no reason to change the watering schedule that’s been in place since 2000. That means another summer of circles, diamonds and squares, depending on the last two numbers of the address. Residents can water every third day but not between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. “That’s the warmest part of the day,” said city water specialist Dawn Hessheimer. “That’s when the water will evaporate the most.”

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch pilot project is good to go for this water year

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The State Engineer can approve a substitute water supply plan if certain conditions are met. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch pilot project is good to go this water year now that the SEO has blessed the scaled-back plan. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“Many people said we’d never get this far in 20 years, but we’ve managed to do it in just four years,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which is funding Super Ditch program. “This will be a benefit to every farmer in the Lower Arkansas Valley.” The transfer is seen as a test case for a much larger program that would move larger amounts of water from as many as seven ditches east of Pueblo. Under Super Ditch, water could be leased by farmers to cities, the state or even farmers on other canals without selling water rights…

Wolfe rejected an assertion by Tri-State Generation and Transmission that a water court filing must precede the substitute water supply plan, saying he has statutory authority to issue a permit as long as all conditions are met. He also rejected Tri-State’s claim that some of the return flows from the transfer will lag more than five years. The Super Ditch plans to build ponds to return water to the river over multiple years, just as the water historically would have run off the fields. The pilot program follows accepted ways to return flows to the river, Wolfe said.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Rio Grande River basin: The State Engineer has approved the groundwater Subdistrict No. 1 Annual Replacement Plan

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The State Engineer has approved the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s annual replacement plan for groundwater Sub-district No. 1.

From email from the State Engineer’s office:

On May 1, 2012 State Engineer Dick Wolfe approved the Annual Replacement Plan for Subdistrict No. 1. This Approval was filed with the Division No. 3 Water Court.

All documents are located on DWR’s website at the following location:
http://water.state.co.us/DivisionsOffices/Div3RioGrandeRiverBasin/Pages/Division3EventsAndLinks.aspx

Note: these documents can also be downloaded from the DWR’s FTP site:
ftp://dwrftp.state.co.us/dwr/ARP_Subdistrict1/

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

It turns out that Colorado Springs did need a stormwater enterprise after all, where is Douglas Bruce?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A Summit Economics study, now being reviewed by communities in El Paso County, identifies $752.5 million in unfunded stormwater management needs on Fountain Creek. Only $3.2 million of those are in Pueblo, although no assessment has been made of the parts of the creek in unincorporated Pueblo County. There are also about $13 million in annual funding needs that have not been addressed…

Nearly $500 million in projects are needed in Colorado Springs, with about $86 million considered critical needs, the study stated. That’s a significantly higher amount than reported to Colorado Springs City Council in 2005, when it created a stormwater enterprise. The enterprise was dissolved by council after the 2009 municipal election. A 2005 stormwater study identified about $300 million in Colorado Springs projects, with $66 million considered critical were presented.

In Pueblo, at that same time, there were about $65 million in needs. Pueblo instituted a stormwater fee in 2003 that generates about $2.8 million per year to begin addressing those problems. Puebloans pay about $25 per capita monthly into the fund…

Colorado Springs, with nearly four times the population, spends about $1.9 million, or $4.63 per capita monthly to address stormwater issues, mainly compliance with state or federal permits. The Front Range average is $52 per capita monthly.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.