Colorado River Cooperative Agreement: Parties to the agreement flip the switch on the Shoshone Outage Protocol

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Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):

In this year of historically low runoff, the Colorado River District, Denver Water and the Bureau of Reclamation are cooperating to add flows to the Colorado River through the Shoshone Outage Protocol for the benefit of fish, rafting and crop irrigation along the entire stretch of the mainstem from Parshall in Grand County to Grand Junction in Mesa County.

The extra water is the result of the Shoshone Outage Protocol, a part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement that was hammered out over the last six years by 42 West Slope entities and Denver Water.

The three reservoir operators are increasing river flows by about 450 cubic feet a second (cfs) through releases from Wolford Mountain Reservoir, Williams Fork Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir, respectively. Through the weekend and early next week, flows in Glenwood Canyon should hover around 1,100 cfs, to improve rafting and to aid farmers and ranchers in the Grand Valley, helping to boost flows that are too low. The 71-year average of flows for this time of the year in Glenwood Canyon is more than 6,000 cfs.

Additionally, the flows are helping to lower water temperature levels in the river along the Pumphouse area of the river in Grand County to help trout survive.

“This makes a real difference in the river,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “Since we started, you can see by the gage that the temperature of the water has come down 4 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The Protocol is designed to add water to the Colorado River when the Shoshone Hydro Plant in Glenwood Canyon is down for maintenance and not using its senior water right, which normally would have the river flowing at about 1,250 cfs through the canyon, absent the usual runoff flows. The Protocol is taking place even though all the parties have yet to sign the agreement.

“This is a good example of how the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement can work when everybody is pitching in to help the river in a time of need,” said Lurline Underbrink Curran, the Grand County Manager.

Said Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager of Denver Water, “This is exactly why we all came together to sign the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement – to provide benefit to the Colorado River. Denver Water is proud to be part of an effort that fulfills our goal to operate our system in a way that benefits the environment.”

Currently, the Shoshone Hydro Plant is operating at about half capacity, which requires about 700 cfs of water. Xcel Energy is unable to run Shoshone at full capacity while it works on repairs to the tunnel that runs about two miles from the Hanging Lakes power plant dam to the power plant itself. The work could last until early September.

A call on the river, such as the Shoshone 1,250 cfs water right, forces junior water rights holders to replace diverted water from reservoir storage or to stop diverting, thus boosting flows as they decline with the natural drop of the runoff throughout the summer.

From the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

The Colorado River District, Denver Water and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are increasing river flows by about 450 cubic feet a second through releases from the Wolford Mountain, Williams Fork and Green Mountain reservoirs. That should boost flows in Glenwood Canyon to around 1,100 cfs through early next week. The river district says the 71-year average of flows for this time of the year in Glenwood Canyon is more than 6,000 cfs. The extra flows will help reduce water temperatures in Grand County to help trout survive.

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.

Western Governors’ Association: Outdoor recreation in western states = $255.6 billion

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Here’s the release from the Western Governors’ Association website (Chris McKinnon/I Ling Thompson/Kathy Van Kleeck/Thom Dammrich)

The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and a coalition of outdoor industry groups today released a joint study documenting the continued growth and importance of outdoor recreation to the economies of the Western states and the nation. The recreation economy was the topic of discussion at the opening session of WGA’s Annual Meeting being held here.

“The numbers are better than expected,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire (Wash.), WGA’s Chair. “We knew that outdoor recreation was a growth sector and that it creates jobs, but this study documents just how important it is to our national and Western economies.”

Joining the Governors to discuss ways state and local governments can work with industry to grow the outdoor recreation economy were: Michael Caldwell, Mayor of Ogden, Utah; Sally Jewell, President and CEO of REI; Bennett Morgan, President and COO of Polaris Industries, Inc.; and Dusty McCoy, Chairman and CEO of the Brunswick Corporation.

“WGA will continue working with our industry partners to release state-by-state data later this year on the economic impact of outdoor recreation,” said Gov. Gary Herbert (Utah), WGA Vice Chair. “With this information states can consider policy that will help to create more businesses, jobs and income related to outdoor recreation.”

Outdoor recreation is an overlooked economic giant. With $646 billion in national sales and services in 2011, recreation dollars are nearly double the size of pharmaceuticals ($331 billion) and motor vehicles/parts ($340 billion). As another comparison, it powers the economy in a manner comparable to the financial services and insurance industry ($780 billion) and outpatient health care ($767 billion). The full report can be found on the WGA Web site at www.westgov.org/reports.

This study marks the first time both the motorized and non-motorized sectors of the outdoor recreation industry have worked together to document the total size of the outdoor recreation economy. The study, commissioned by the WGA, was conducted by Southwick and Associates. Southwick surveyed households on actual expenditures on outdoor recreation then, based upon that data and modeling, generated the jobs, taxes, payroll and total economic impact.

The Outdoor Industry Association, Outdoor Foundation, Motorcycle Industry Council, Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association, Specialty Vehicle Institute of America and National Marine Manufacturers Association contributed funding for the study.

From the report:

Western States — Tax Revenue
Spending on outdoor recreation generates significant tax revenues for local and state governments. In westernstates in 2011 it generated an estimated:

$15.41 billion in Federal tax receipts
$15.38 billion in state and local tax receipts

Drought/runoff news: Consumption up despite appeals from water suppliers to conserve, monsoon on the way?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Since 2002, which was a dry year like this one, Puebloans have cut back per capita water use 17 percent, mostly through better watering habits and more efficient lawn irrigation systems. But with warmer temperatures this year and nearly the same amount of rainfall, Pueblo water use during May was the highest since 2008. The average water customer used 13,700 gallons per month, compared with 14,100 gallons per month in 2008. “In 2006, it was 15,000 gallons, but typically, it’s in the 12,000 to 12,500 gallon range,” Clayton said. Outside watering accounts for 55 percent of water use in Pueblo, he said.

Consumption for the year is up as well, since many people have been watering their lawns since March. So far, the water board has pumped 3 billion gallons in 2012, a little more than last year and well above the average of 2.6 billion to 2.9 billion gallons.

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

The NRCS is predicting stream flows for western Colorado to be around or less than 25 percent of average for the rest of June. “In most areas peak [stream] flows were around a month early,” Assistant Snow Survey Supervisor at the NRCS, Mage Skordahl said. “Going into the remainder of our stream forecast from April to July, things are well below normal. That means that we’re expected to see [streams and rivers] returning to base flow or minimum flow much earlier than normal.”

According to U.S. Geological Survey information, the San Miguel River near Nucla was flowing around 147 cubic feet per second Tuesday. The average flow for this time of year is around 677 cfs. The lowest recording was 60 cfs in 2002; the highest was 1,520 cfs, recorded in 1995…

Over past few years, most areas in Colorado have had closer to average snowpack levels, which has made the current situation less severe than it was in 2002. Ground water levels are closer to normal, but could be reduced if the dry conditions persist over the next couple of years. “If the soil’s wet then you are going to get surface flow,” Skordahl said. “Any year when you have low snowpack you’re not going to recharge your groundwater as much as a high snowpack year, but how much that system is [affected] by snowpack depends because it’s a slower system than the streams and snowpacks. So really it’s when you have multiple years of below average snowpack that you have to worry about your ground water recharge.”

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

Commissioners approved a fire ban for unincorporated Grand County on Tuesday. Although commercial professional fireworks displays are allowed, the sale and use of personal fireworks is prohibited by the ban, according to the decision made in Hot Sulphur Springs. Use of charcoal grills or gas outdoor grills on private property such as home decks still is allowed under the ban, but use of charcoal grills on public property is prohibited. And use of fire pits of any kind on private property is not allowed — such as chimineas, wrought iron fire pits and backyard fire pits. However, the fire ban does not restrict use of fire rings and pits at supervised, developed and “established” campgrounds in Grand County, commercial and public. Burning of fence rows, irrigation ditches, fields, wildlands, trash and debris is prohibited.

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From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Local weather observer Art Judson reported this week that the monthly rainfall total stands at one-tenth of an inch, and the National Weather Service in Grand Junction confirmed Wednesday that there’s nothing significant on the way. The polar jet stream will dip toward Northwest Colorado this weekend, meteorologist Travis Booth said, but “there doesn’t appear to be any significant moisture on the way.” The National Integrated Drought Information system still has most of Routt County under an extreme drought with pockets of milder severe drought in North Routt and the far southeastern corner of the county…

This week, the drought monitor indicates soil in Routt County has been exceptionally dry through the first half of June, but at least in terms of streamflows, the area is better off than most despite the fact that the Yampa in downtown Steamboat was flowing at 141 cubic feet per second at midafternoon Wednesday compared with the average for the date of 2,070 cfs. The record low for June 13 was 120 cfs recorded in 1934…

“The models are hedging toward a high-pressure system setting up over the Texas Panhandle” that could allow the annual summer monsoon flow to reach Colorado in July.

From the Craig Daily Press (Joe Moylan):

The Moffat County Commissioners approved, 2-0, Resolution 2012-72 on Tuesday establishing a fire ban in unincorporated portions of Moffat County. The ban takes effect immediately. Among the activities prohibited include the burning of trash, fence rows, debris and vegetation; lighting a camp fire or charcoal grill outside of developed recreation areas featuring permanent fire pits with grates; smoking outside in non-designated areas; operating a chainsaw without a U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved spark arresting device; welding or using an open-flamed torch that is not clear of flammable materials for at least 10 feet on all sides; using explosives requiring fuses or blasting caps; and the discharge of any fireworks.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown) via Windsor Now!:

Standing as the hottest year on record so far for the Greeley area, the heat has forced winter wheat to mature much faster than normal. Therefore, it will force farmers to get out the combines well ahead of schedule. While it’s been hot this year, it’s also been dry — the driest year on record for much of the region, in fact. That means, while wheat heads popped out early this year, other aspects of the plant’s growth were stunted, and some of the area’s wheat fields won’t be producing the above-average yields farmers saw last year or the record-breaking yields they hauled to local elevators in 2010. In addition to the dry times, Thursday night’s hail storms wiped out thousands of acres across northeastern Colorado. Because of all of those factors — the early harvest, minimal precipitation and hail damage in isolated areas — Bosley said yields this year in northeastern Colorado will probably be all over the place. Some fields will produce average yields — 30 to 40 bushels per acre — while some fields will produce yields as low as 15 bushels per acre and some will produce 45 bushels per acre, he said. Some fields might not even be harvested, he added. Moisture was so low in some parts of northern Weld County, that some wheat only grew about 6 to 8 inches tall — some of which is so short it might not be able to be combined.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The reason the High Park Fire has spread so quickly is complicated, however, said Chad Hoffman, assistant professor of fire science at Colorado State University. “What’s really important to remember is that fire behavior and how it burns is always determined by a factor of the topography, the fuels and the weather,” he said. “Right now, when we look at the High Park Fire, it’s been windy, we have dry conditions and we have a lot of bark beetle mortality up there. To say it’s one or the other is really tricky because all those things kind of interact to determine what’s going to happen.”[…]

Research that Rocky Mountain National Park relies on for its forest management strongly suggests that beetle-killed trees play a small role in the spread of wildfire.

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

The Fremont County Commissioners conducted a public hearing Tuesday regarding a new ordinance covering restrictions on open fires and open burning in the unincorporated area of Fremont County. The ordinance is a rewrite of the fire restriction ordinance already in place in the county. It adjusts the stage 1, 2 and 3 restrictions to be more in line with other local agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management.

From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

For the first time in 15 years, the Boulder Fire Department Wildland Division is sending out fire patrols to find extreme fire conditions in an effort to prevent serious wildfires…Officials in Greeley say they also have been preparing for disasters like the one in northern Colorado that is blamed for one death and damage to more than 100 structures.

From email from the U.S. Forest Service (Barbar Timock):

Beginning immediately, Stage 1 fire and smoking restrictions are in place on public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Pike and San Isabel National Forests located in Chaffee, Clear Creek, Custer, Douglas, El Paso, Fremont, Huerfano, Jefferson, Lake, Las Animas, Park, Pueblo, Saguache, and Teller Counties, Colorado. Restrictions will remain in effect until they are rescinded.

Here’s a release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced Wednesday that county fire bans and restrictions will be strictly enforced in state parks and wildlife areas because the fire danger is extremely high across the state.

All fires, including those in pits and grills, have been banned in 14 counties due to dry conditions and the risk of wildfires. Fire restrictions are in place in many other counties. The agency reminds all park visitors and sportsmen that county bans and restrictions apply to the state parks and wildlife areas in those counties.

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife will enforce the county fire bans and other restrictions. We urge visitors to parks and wildlife area take every precaution possible to prevent new fires from starting,” said Rick Cables, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director.

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

The [Board of Utility Commissioners] recommend that citizens not water their lawns between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. During these hours, much water is lost to evaporation. La Junta received an allocation of 150 acre- feet of water from the Fry-Ark Project this year. “That’s not quite enough to cover our evaporation losses for the year,” said Kelley. “I project that this will leave 1900 acre-feet at the end of this pumping year. Another winter of low snowpack would require the implementation of water restriction next year. Customers are advised not to waste water.”

From the Salida Citizen:

Chaffee County Sheriff Pete Palmer announced today that Stage I fire restrictions will be in effect as of Thursday, June 14. No open fires are allowed, with the following exceptions:

1) Campfires, warming fires and charcoal fires within a permanent constructed fire grate in a developed public campground or picnic ground or permanent constructed fire grate or fire ring in a commercial campground or on private property.

2) LP gas or liquid fueled stoves and appliances which allow the operator to turn the flame on and off.

3) Fireplaces within enclosed buildings which are equipped with adequate spark arresting screens on the flue.

4) Charcoal grill fires at private residences.

These restrictions are due to high winds, low relative humidity, and very dry conditions. They will remain in effect until further notice.

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Scott Rochat):

The Weld County commissioners declared a disaster emergency Monday because of the drought. The commissioners are asking Gov. John Hickenlooper to order water from normally restricted South Platte irrigation wells for 30 days to give the county the water it needs.

Commissioners said that too little snow in January and too little rain this spring led to the emergency. County Chairman Sean Conway said the county has between seven and 21 days to get more water, or else risk losing this year’s crops…

Since March, precipitation levels in the county have been, at best, 70 percent of normal, and some areas have been below 50 percent, according to the High Plains Regional Climate Center…

Conway said if Hickenlooper can turn the wells on for 30 days, the county should be able to make it to the “monsoonal” rains in August. “This is just a temporary solution to just get us through this hot, dry summer,” Conway said.

Colorado Water 2012: Surface water and the formation of the Great Sand Dunes

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series. Andrew Valdez explains some of the geology — along with the role of surface water — in the formation of the Great Sand Dunes. Here’s and excerpt:

Streams play an important role in the delivery of sand to the sand deposits. The sand of the Great Sand Dunes originates in the surrounding San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The weathering process, aided by water, breaks rock down into boulders and smaller fragments that can be transported by water into the San Luis Valley. Saguache and San Luis Creeks and their tributaries collect water in their mountain basins and flow into the valley bringing sediment with them. Coarser material, such as boulders and cobbles, are deposited in alluvial fans at the mountain front as stream flow slows down.

Beyond that, and into the San Luis Valley, the low energy streams continue to transport sand and finer material. Once the streams reach a playa lake/pond, the sand is deposited in a delta and silt and finer material settle in the open water of the lake. Wave action can redistribute the sand forming a beach deposit.

Playa lakes/ponds are temporary features that begin to dry, and then disappear as water input drops below water loss. Once dry, the former beach deposits are exposed to the wind, and can be transported by the wind. Small playas often have crescent-shaped sand ridges on their downwind side that are known as lunettes.

The dominant wind direction on the valley floor is from the southwest, therefore dunes formed from the beach deposits will migrate to the northeast toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Currently some of these dunes migrate an average of 35 feet per year. As they approach the passes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the wind patterns change from unimodal or dominant in one direction, to bimodal, or dominant in two directions. In this case, the bimodal directions are from the southwest and northeast. In this bimodal zone, dune behavior changes and the dunes stop migrating and begin to grow vertically. Along the mountain front, away from the passes, the winds remain unimodal and sand ramps form as dunes migrate up the slope.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.