Vail: The current Colorado drought to be discussed on tonight’s ‘Community Focus’ radio program on KZYR #CODrought

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From email from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (Diane Johnson):

Drought conditions and water supply are the topics for tonight’s “Community Focus” show on local radio station KZYR, 97.7 FM the Zephyr.

Eagle River Water and Sanitation District General Manager Linn Brooks and board Chairman Rick Sackbauer will join Community Focus host Rohn Robbins to discuss current drought conditions and what the community can do to mitigate local impacts.

The Zephyr’s Community Focus is an hour-long talk program that airs at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Brooks and Sackbauer will discuss potential drought impacts, how the public water system has prepared for drought conditions, collaborative efforts to mitigate impacts, and actions community members can take.

The district’s water use priorities are public health and safety (normal indoor water use and maintaining storage for fire protection); local economic benefits associated with streamflows, recreation, and tourism; and long-term system reliability.

Drought intensity in Eagle County is “extreme” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor and all of Colorado is experiencing some level of drought condition. Drought conditions reflect this winter’s record low snowpack, including the driest March on record in Colorado, the warmest March through May on record, and windy conditions. Current streamflows are correspondingly low; Eagle County waterways are flowing at about 20 to 30 percent of historical averages.

Community Focus is also aired live on Eagle County’s ecotv18, channel 18 on local cable systems, and streamed live at http://www.ecotv18.com and will be archived on KZYR’s website at http://www.kzyr.com.

For more information, contact Communications and Public Affairs Manager Diane Johnson at 970-477-5457.

Western Resource Advocates Releases First Detailed Study on Water Requirements for Hydraulic Fracturing

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Click here to go to the WRA website to download your copy of the report. Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):

Western Resource Advocates (WRA) today released a new report on the amount of water needed for hydraulic fracturing in Colorado, providing the most comprehensive numbers available on the subject. In Fracking Our Future: Measuring Water and Community Impacts from Hydraulic Fracturing, researchers examined available data on water and fracking using Colorado as an example, and found that fracking requires enough water to otherwise serve the residential needs of the entire population of some of the state’s largest cities.

“It’s clear that we need to take a step back and make sure we aren’t over-allocating our most important natural resource one frack job at a time,” said Laura Belanger, Water Resources & Environmental Engineer with Western Resource Advocates and the lead author of the report. “While we need natural gas to transition to a cleaner energy future, we must have water to survive.”

Based on figures compiled from government and private industry sources, Fracking Our Future calculates that the amount of water used annually for hydraulic fracturing in Colorado (22,100 to 39,500 acre feet) is enough to meet the yearly residential needs of up to 296,100 people—more than the population of cities such as Cincinnati, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; or Orlando, Florida.

“It is a travesty that in a water-starved state like Colorado, we are using so much water for oil and gas drilling,” said Longmont resident Barbara Fernandez, who retired in 2011 after 24 years with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and has grown increasingly concerned about fracking near residential areas.

The report notes that it is particularly important to properly manage the amount of water used for hydraulic fracturing because fracked water is 100% consumptive. Whereas 90-95% of indoor residential water returns (from uses such as showers and washing machines) eventually makes its way back into streams, frack water contains potentially harmful chemicals that must be disposed of in underground wells or pits.

From the Boulder Daily Camera (John Aguilar):

Water use by the oil and gas industry has come under greater scrutiny of late as the number of wells drilled in and near cities and towns in the state has exploded, prompting several municipalities to enact moratoria on new drilling activity. In 2010, there were more than 43,000 active wells in the state.

Reliance on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at those well sites has put even more strain on the water supply. Fracking involves injecting a water-sand-chemical mixture deep into the ground to force out pockets of natural gas trapped in tight rock formations.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the industry trade group, says fracking a typical vertical well requires up to 1 million gallons of water, while a horizontal well can require up to 5 million gallons. A spokeswoman for the group didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the report this morning.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

NIDIS Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment Summary of the Upper Colorado River Basin

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Click here to download a copy of the summaries from yesterday’s webinar. Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the precipitation summary.

Colorado Water 2012: ‘Anyone in the basin will say that North Park remains a quiet and unique place’ — Caitlin Coleman

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series. Caitlin Coleman takes us on a tour of the North Platte River Basin. Here’s an excerpt:

The North Platte Basin—a 2,050 square-mile area that encompasses all of Jackson County and a portion of Larimer County—is nestled up against the Continental Divide in north central Colorado between the Front Range, Routt County and the Wyoming border. About 65 percent of Jackson County is public land, managed by state and federal agencies; still there is plenty of room for the basin’s small population of about 1,400 people.

Anyone in the basin will say that North Park remains a quiet and unique place. Bearing the headwaters of the North Platte River and connected by this artery to Wyoming and Nebraska, the North Platte Basin is somewhat insulated from the booming population and water worries of the rest of Colorado. Geography, lack of major development and a U.S. Supreme Court Decree governing water development have protected the basin…

The basin’s first water rights were adjudicated in 1892. Until then, there were no water districts, no water commissioners, and no official water appropriations in the North Platte Basin, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t water diversions and development. Rather, the basin slowly developed throughout the 1880s, according to former water commissioner and historian Eric Wagner.

The water adjudication system began as a response to droughts in 1891, when people faced with stressed water resources wanted legal recognition of their water diversions. In the North Platte Basin, this precious water is used mostly for flood irrigation—watering meadows to produce a crop of high mountain hay, which sustains cattle locally or is trucked outside the basin and sold as a commodity, such as horse or cattle feed. That’s the way it’s been for years. Ditches wind across the basin, transporting water from rivers, streams and reservoirs to nourish agricultural land.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

South Platte Basin: Governor Hickenlooper does not allow pumpers to turn on wells in the alluvial aquifer without augmentation water, cites lack of authority

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From the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

The state’s courts have ruled that farmers who take water from underground wells must replace what they take, so that there’s enough water left for holders of senior water rights. That’s been difficult in dry conditions.

Weld County commissioners this month issued a disaster declaration due to drought conditions and asked Hickenlooper to issue an executive order easing restrictions on pumping. Attorneys with the state attorney general’s office said in an informal memo Monday that Hickenlooper doesn’t have that authority. They said Hickenlooper can suspend state laws and rules but not judicial orders, judgments or decrees. They also said an order like one Weld County is seeking could create conflicts with Colorado water law.

From the Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar/Scott Rochat):

[Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway] said Hickenlooper produced a legal memorandum from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office saying the governor didn’t have the power to permit the resumption of pumping from the aquifer below farmland in the South Platte River Basin. “We’re disappointed,” said Conway, the chairman of Weld’s Board of County Commissioners.

Based on legal research by Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker, Conway said the commissioners “respectfully disagree” with the memo that deputy attorney general Casey Shpall and first assistant attorney general John Cyran sent to James Eklund, Hickenlooper’s deputy legal counsel.

Hickenlooper and his water adviser, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp, delivered the bad news in person to the Weld commissioners Tuesday morning. The commissioners met with the governor and his staff in Denver on Thursday and participated in a telephone conference call with members of Hickenlooper’s staff last Friday. Hickenlooper said in a Tuesday afternoon statement, “Even if we could legally pump groundwater to use for irrigation and reduce water in basements, that water belongs to someone else downstream.”

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Southern Delivery System: State Representative Sal Pace calls on Colorado Springs Utilities to halt construction

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pace sent a letter to Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach Monday calling for a halt to the $986 million SDS, now under construction…

“According to your own environmental documents, the SDS will increase Fountain Creek flows by 40 percent,” Pace wrote in the letter. “That increase will now take place without the protections in place that your city promised when you submitted the project to the Bureau of Reclamation for environmental review.”

As part of its 1041 land-use permit with Pueblo County, Colorado Springs agreed to meet requirements in a record of decision by the Bureau of Reclamation, which included a fully funded stormwater enterprise. “Temporarily stopping the project is the least that your city can do to guarantee the protections downstream communities morally and legally deserve,” Pace wrote.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Drought news: Combination of high temperatures and lack of precipitation is taking its toll on crops

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

“The continued hot, dry conditions are wreaking havoc on agriculture on the Eastern Plains,” said Wendy Ryan, a researcher with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. “Many people have very poor range conditions out there. We’ve gotten reports of people that are getting water who will irrigate for 30 hours and it makes it 300 feet down the field.”[…]

Currently, most of Larimer County is considered to be under both severe and extreme drought conditions, depending on the area. Extreme drought conditions are spreading throughout northwestern Colorado, where the mountain snow has completely melted off the slopes and very little precipitation has fallen in recent months…

The Poudre River’s flow through Fort Collins is in the third percentile at a time when it should be near its peak spring runoff flow. “It means 97 percent of other years were (seeing) a higher flow than right now,” Ryan said.

On Tuesday, the Poudre was running through the Fort Collins gauging station at 79 cubic feet per second, or cfs. The average flow for June 19 is 979 cfs, and a year ago the river was running through the city around 2,500 cfs, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Low water levels are creating odor problems for residents near Lake Minnequa. The good news is that the city of Pueblo, Pueblo Board of Water Works and Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel are working on a long-term solution. The bad news is that the water level of the lake continues to fall during the drought. Residents, particularly on the west side of the lake, have been complaining about the odor for several weeks. “As more shoreline is exposed, the smell probably comes from vegetation rotting,” said Scott Hobson, assistant city manager for community investment. “I don’t know of a quick fix for the odor issue.”

Low levels are affecting other water supplies around the lake. “People who live nearby say the water levels in wells are the lowest they’ve seen in more than 30 years,” Hobson said. The only source of water for the lake at the current time is stormwater, and even a fairly intense storm like the one last week doesn’t do much to fill the lake. Last year, there were two large fish die-offs at the lake that created a brief, intense smell.

From KJCT.com via the Aurora Sentinel:

Ranchers in western Colorado are selling off cattle to avoid losing them to a severe drought. Livestock auctioneer Bill Martin of Loma says his auction barn usually sees between 200 and 400 cows a week, but this year the numbers have sometimes nearly quadrupled.