Drought news: Southeastern Colorado — 2 years of drought is taking its toll

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the U.S. Drought Monitor nationwide maps from August 28 and last year on August 30.

Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

“If you have a well, you got some crop. The canal has been dry since mid-June,” said Dale Mauch, a Lamar farmer on the Fort Lyon Canal. “We started cutting corn (for silage) on July 5. It started out promising, with the first two cuttings of hay, but we didn’t get anything on the third cutting.”

This is the second year of drought in the Arkansas River basin, which is now listed in the exceptional drought category — the worst possible conditions — by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Farmers on some other ditches in the Arkansas Valley have been able to stretch native water supplies with water stored in winter water accounts, supplemental water from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project or water leased from Pueblo, Colorado Springs or Aurora…

The drought monitor this week listed two-thirds of Colorado in extreme drought, and the entire state in severe drought.

Precipitation in Pueblo has totalled 3.68 inches since January, about one third of average.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Even with drought conditions statewide this year, the city of Aurora is signing contracts to deliver extra water to customers outside the city — a dramatic change from the drought of 2002.

Then, as lack of snow sapped Colorado water supplies, Front Range cities and water districts instituted a wide range of water restrictions. Since then, many water providers — including Aurora — have ramped up water supply projects in hopes they won’t be caught short again.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

New Belgium Brewing is entirely at the mercy of Fort Collins’ water treatment plant when it comes to the viability of its business, and the speed with which the High Park Fire burn area is restored is vital to the brewery’s future, said Jenn Vervier, New Beligum’s director of sustainability and strategic development.

“The health of the watershed equals the quality of our beer,” she said.

That’s a big deal when it comes to being part of the High Park Fire Restoration Coalition, which held a public discussion Tuesday evening about the massive High Park Fire restoration effort about to kick off. The coalition, which also includes Colorado State University, Trout Unlimited, Poudre Wilderness Volunteers and other organizations, will embark on a years-long effort to stabilize the soil in the burn area, reseed the forest, restore trails and research post-wildfire ecological recovery. Restoration of the burn area is critical for Fort Collins’ water supply, much of which comes from the Poudre River, which runs directly through the burn zone.

Water quality in the Poudre, from which the city hasn’t taken any of its tap water since early June, is in trouble, said Fort Collins Water Manager Lisa Voytko. “Every time it’s rained, the river has turned black,” she said.

From the Thornton Sentinel (Tammy Kranz):

Thornton residents will be under mandatory water restrictions beginning Sept. 1. City Council unanimously passed a resolution Aug. 14 declaring a Stage 2 Drought Warning. A dry winter, low snowpack and earlier summer weather conditions have caused the city’s water storage to drop. The city is at 68 percent capacity, while usually by the end of August the city is at 80 percent, according to the city’s water resources manager Emily Hunt.

The water restrictions include banning watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., limiting turf irrigation to two days a week, and requiring people to obtain a permit for commercial and residential sod and seeding installation.

“Whenever you’re planning for your customers and for a community like Thornton, you always have to be looking to the future and making sure that the reserves…are as sufficient as you can make them to help you prepare going into the next year,” City Manager Jack Ethredge said.

From the Golden Transcript (Darin Moriki):

As the drought continues to plague the state, agricultural and livestock producers have seen feed prices skyrocket, causing many of them to thin their herds. That action may provide some temporary financial relief to consumers nationwide but also contributes to long-term concerns, experts say.

“When you reduce the size of your herd because of stressful conditions, you don’t rebuild that herd overnight,” Ron P. Carleton, Colorado Department of Agriculture deputy commissioner, said. “It takes time to build it back up, so we’re going to see the level of cattle probably drop here for at least a period of time.”

He said low precipitation and snowpack rates, combined with higher-than-normal temperatures, contributed to a low hay yield statewide. As a result, Carleton said, hay’s scarcity has forced stores to charge twice as much, if not more, for the crop than in other years.

At the American Pride Co-Op store in Brighton, farm store manager Dave Swanson said the store is currently charging customers $14 for a bale of alfalfa hay, $1 to $2 higher than last year. He said the store has enough locally produced alfalfa hay on hand for the winter months, but is only receiving about half of the cheaper grass hay that it would get in other years.

USGS: Surface-Water Salinity in the Gunnison River Basin, Colorado, Water Years 1989 through 2007

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Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Keelin R. Schaffrath):

Elevated levels of dissolved solids in water (salinity) can result in numerous and costly issues for agricultural, industrial, and municipal water users. The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act of 1974 (Public Law 93–320) authorized planning and construction of salinity-control projects in the Colorado River Basin. One of the first projects was the Lower Gunnison Unit, a project to mitigate salinity in the Lower Gunnison and Uncompahgre River Basins.

In cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a study to quantify changes in salinity in the Gunnison River Basin. Trends in salinity concentration and load during the period water years (WY) 1989 through 2004 (1989–2004) were determined for 15 selected streamflow-gaging stations in the Gunnison River Basin. Additionally, trends in salinity concentration and load during the period WY1989 through 2007 (1989–2007) were determined for 5 of the 15 sites for which sufficient data were available. Trend results also were used to identify regions in the Lower Gunnison River Basin (downstream from the Gunnison Tunnel) where the largest changes in salinity loads occur. Additional sources of salinity, including residential development (urbanization), changes in land cover, and natural sources, were estimated within the context of the trend results. The trend results and salinity loads estimated from trends testing also were compared to USBR and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) estimates of off-farm and on-farm salinity reduction from salinity-control projects in the basin. Finally, salinity from six additional sites in basins that are not affected by irrigated agriculture or urbanization was monitored from WY 2008 to 2010 to quantify what portion of salinity may be from nonagricultural or natural sources.

In the Upper Gunnison area, which refers to Gunnison River Basin above the site located on the Gunnison River below the Gunnison Tunnel, estimated mean annual salinity load was 110,000 tons during WY 1989–2004. Analysis of both study periods (WY 1989–2004 and WY 1989–2007) showed an initial decrease in salinity load with a minimum in 1997. The net change over either study period was only significant during WY 1989–2007. Salinity load significantly decreased at the Gunnison River near Delta by 179,000 tons during WY 1989–2004. Just downstream, the Uncompahgre River enters the Gunnison River where there also was a highly significant decrease in salinity load of 55,500 tons. The site that is located at the mouth of the study area is the Gunnison River near Grand Junction where the decrease was the largest. Salinity loads decreased by 247,000 tons during WY 1989–2004 at this site though the decrease attenuated by 2007 and the net change was a decrease of 207,000 tons.

The trend results presented in this study indicate that the effect of urbanization on salinity loads is difficult to discern from the effects of irrigated agriculture and that natural sources contribute a fraction of the total salinity load for the entire basin. Based on the calculated yields and geology, 23–63 percent of the estimated annual salinity load was from natural sources at the Gunnison River near Grand Junction during WY 1989–2007. The largest changes in salinity load occurred at the Gunnison River near Grand Junction as well as the two sites located in Delta: the Gunnison River at Delta and the Uncompahgre River at Delta. Those three sites, especially the two sites at Delta, were the most affected by irrigated agriculture, which was observed in the estimated mean annual loads. Irrigated acreage, especially acreage underlain by Mancos Shale, is the target of salinity-control projects intended to decrease salinity loads.

The NRCS and the USBR have done the majority of salinity control work in the Lower Gunnison area of the Gunnison River Basin, and the focus has been in the Uncompahgre River Basin and in portions of the Lower Gunnison River Basin (downstream from the Gunnison Tunnel). According to the estimates from the USBR and NRCS, salinity-control projects may be responsible for a reduction of 117,300 tons of salinity as of 2004 and 142,000 tons as of 2007 at the Gunnison River near Grand Junction, Colo. (streamflow-gaging station 09152500). USBR and NRCS estimates account for all but 130,000 tons in 2004 and 65,000 tons in 2007 of salinity load reduction. The additional reduction could be a reduction in natural salt loading to the streams because of land-cover changes during the study period. It is possible also that the USBR and NRCS have underestimated changes in salinity loads as a result of the implementation of salinity-control projects.

Click here to download the report.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here and here.

Windy Gap Firming Project: Larimer County offerred tours of the site for the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir this summer

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Here’s a report from the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Dickman). Click through for the photo slide show. Here’s an excerpt:

Four times this summer, the county and Northern Water have opened the land — 1,847 acres purchased in 2004 by Larimer County with open space sales tax and a Great Outdoors Colorado grant and by Northern Water — to residents through a tour.

The trek winds past two old homesteads, through meadows and into mountainous areas, through protected ground and sunny slopes. The scenery ranges from cottonwoods to pines with grasses and wildflowers filling the gap. A lone deer, wild turkeys and a rattlesnake made appearances during a recent tour, but signs of larger creatures abound — scat, areas where bear have snuggled down under a tree and the bones of large prey.

Much of the beauty will be covered with water, but the western edge will be open to recreation and improved for the wildlife that call the habitat home.

More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.

IBCC: ‘We are still working to define the concept [non-consumptive needs]’ — Jennifer Bock

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From The Grand Junction Free Press (Jennifer Bock):

In 2008 the Black Canyon decree assigned minimum and peak flows to the National Park, and flows for endangered species and whitewater parks have also influenced our state’s water landscape for decades. Yet, when the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act asked each basin roundtable to assess their “non-consumptive needs” — water for the environment and for recreation rather than consumptive uses — there was more than a little confusion and today, as the roundtables attempt to fund non-consumptive projects, we are still working to define the concept.

The Gunnison Basin Roundtable completed its non-consumptive needs assessment last summer, and detailed ongoing projects that provide water for the environment as well as planned projects. In early May, the non-consumptive subcommittee of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable met in Hotchkiss to hear from proponents of non-consumptive projects and discuss what kinds of projects should receive funding.

At the Roundtable’s June meeting in Gunnison, it approved funding for two key non-consumptive projects: A project co-sponsored by the City of Gunnison and the Division of Parks and Wildlife to restore riparian habitat on the Gunnison River near the City of Gunnison, and a project sponsored by Trout Unlimited to redesign a diversion structure on the Gunnison River below its confluence with the North Fork.

One important note is that both projects have non-environmental benefits as well as environmental benefits. A 2011 study of the riparian corridor through the City of Gunnison found that a healthy riparian zone would facilitate recharge of the aquifer and aid late season flows. The Trout Unlimited project on the lower Gunnison will not only provide a more efficient diversion structure for irrigators, but will also rehabilitate the eroded riverbanks and restore impaired habitat along the Gunnison River.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here and here.

Colorado Water 2012: Schools ‘Rain Gauge Week’ happening September 5th-11th — CoCoRaHS

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Here’s all the information about the program from the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network.

More education coverage here.

Drought news: Telluride tables repeal of emergency fire ordinance

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

Telluride Town Council members voted Tuesday to table the repeal of an emergency fire ordinance, which has been in place since June. During its Aug. 7 meeting, the council cast one of two required votes to repeal the ordinance. However, due to the uncertainty of its water supply — and a lingering potential for fire — the council decided to table the second vote until its Sept. 18 meeting. The ordinance bans all open fires in the Town of Telluride as well as smoking on combustible surfaces…

When the ordinance was put into place, the area was experiencing one of the worst dry periods in a decade. However, recent monsoonal moisture has given eastern San Miguel County some much-needed rain.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

There is enough water in storage to serve the Grand Valley for the rest of the year, but providers “are preparing for the unknown in 2013,” said Joe Burtard, chairman of the Drought Response Information Project. “If the snowpack this winter looks anything like last year’s snowpack, then our customers can expect to be placed on mandatory water restrictions.”

The hammer for those restrictions would be Stage II drought rates, which remain to be set, said Burtard, who also is the spokesman for Ute Water. Stage II drought restrictions also would require that restaurants serve water only when requested by customers and curbside vehicle washing would be prohibited. Private swimming pools couldn’t be filled and ornamental fountains would have to be turned off.

“We’ll have a pretty good feel in February” whether water suppliers will have to set rates intended to rein in water use in the face of an even greater drought than the one so far this year, said Dave Reinertsen, assistant general manager of Clifton Water District.

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Scott Condon):

The big shift from warm and dry weather in Colorado dating back to March to cooler and wetter conditions will be triggered by an El Niño replacing a La Niña weather system, [Meteorologist Jack Boston] said. In an El Niño, the water in the Pacific Ocean along the equator warms up and influences the world’s climate. “We expect it to kind of come to a peak as a moderate El Niño around mid-November then back off as a weak El Niño,” Boston said…

The difference this winter from last winter will be colder Canada air masses dropping down into the Plains states, Boston said. That sets up Colorado’s mountains for snow. Last year, AccuWeather and “everybody else” issued what turned out to be a poor forecast, Boston said. The cold air mass settled west of Colorado, so mountains stayed warmer and drier than expected, he said.

AccuWeather is forecasting near-normal temperatures into mid-October and then lower-than-normal temperatures in November and December. Boston said he is “on the fence” about temperatures in the Colorado mountains in September and October. He believes there is a chance those months also will be cooler than usual.

From The Brighton Blade:

The prolonged drought — one of the worst in modern Colorado history — has prompted city officials to declare a Phase 3 drought warning. The warning comes with a number of water restrictions that will be in place through Nov. 1, when winter watering rules will go into effect. Residents are restricted to watering their yard only every third day under the restrictions, and turf watering is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Additionally, large irrigation users such as farms will be asked to curb consumption by 25 percent through October.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Lisa Walton):

Monday’s high of 90 put Colorado Springs at 44 days of scorching 90-degree heat this year, tying last year’s record. National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Wankowski said Colorado Springs will likely topple last year’s record as the hottest by Tuesday or Wednesday. Since 1893, Colorado Springs has hit 100 degrees only seven times. Three of those came in the last week of June: June 23, when the Waldo Canyon fire erupted, June 24 and June 26, the hottest day in Colorado Springs history.

Morgan County dairy tour highlights importance of water to agriculture

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From The Fort Morgan Times (John La Porte):

Lawyers, Front Range city council members, a grain elevator operator, water purification company executives and a power company representative were among the others making the trip.

The group also heard from Joe Frank of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District about efforts by people from Kersey to the Colorado-Nebraska state line to work together and better manage water, particularly augmentation plans.
The group would like to partner with some Front Range municipalities to do some leases and exchanges of water instead of the “buy and dry” philosophy some Front Range entities are pursuing…

Morgan County Quality Water District started in the mid-1970s from efforts by dairy farmers Paul McDill and Bob Samples to get better water for their cattle, Kip Barthlama of the district’s board of directors said.

Water quality gets worse as one moves downstream along the Platte, it was noted. Frank pointed out that Sterling is in the process of building a $30 million reverse osmosis plant.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

San Miguel River: Montrose County water rights application heading to trial

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Montrose County’s stipulation with several objectors in its water rights case has been accepted by District Judge J. Steven Patrick, court records show. A three-day trial remains set, however, as the stipulation did not encompass all 29 objectors to the county’s filing for water rights on the San Miguel River. The Colorado Water Conservation Board in June had filed a statement of opposition, as well as a motion to intervene in the case “due to information that was not in the (water rights) applications, but was revealed in the engineering report,” unclear language, and proposed actions, such as appropriating instream flow and recreational in-channel diversions, that were not listed in the application.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.

Reclamation releases draft Arkansas Valley Conduit environmental impact statement

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Here’s the release from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The Bureau of Reclamation announces the public comment period for the Arkansas Valley Conduit and Long-Term Excess Capacity Master Contract Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Comments will be accepted through October 30, 2012.
“Public comments are a key component to our environmental compliance process,” said Mike Ryan, Regional Director for Reclamation’s Great Plains Region.

As part of the National Environmental Policy Act, Reclamation is analyzing three proposed federal actions for the AVC and Master Contract that would tie into its Fryingpan-Arkansas water project. The Draft EIS summarizes the analyses to date.

To access the Draft EIS, Executive Summary, and supporting technical reports please visit http://www.usbr.gov/avceis. A list of libraries where the Draft EIS is available is also included on the website.

In late September, Reclamation will host five public hearings to present the Draft EIS to the public, answer questions, and accept both written and oral comments. The hearings will include an open house, presentation, question and answer forum, and an opportunity for oral comments from the public. Meetings will be held in Salida, Pueblo, La Junta and Lamar, Colo. For dates, times and locations, please visit the website at http://www.usbr.gov/avceis.

Comments outside of the hearings must be sent to the attention of J. Signe Snortland, Reclamation Environmental Specialist, via mail or e-mail at Bureau of Reclamation, Dakotas Area Office, PO Box 1017, Bismarck ND 58502; or jsnortland@usbr.gov.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Bureau of Reclamation Wednesday released a draft environmental impact statement for the conduit and a master storage contract proposed by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

The 40 communities that would receive clean drinking water from the conduit would pay some of the costs, but many face more costly alternatives to remove salts and radionuclides.

The master contract would provide more certainty for long-term storage of nonproject water in Lake Pueblo both for use by the conduit participants and other users within the Southeastern district. The 400-page report does not recommend an alignment for the conduit, but instead lists a no-action alternative, five possible alternatives for the conduit and an alternative that includes only the master contract.

Meetings are planned next month to discuss the report in Salida, Pueblo, La Junta and Lamar.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

Grand Mesa: Rotenone to be used to reclaim Water Dog Reservoir

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Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

The public is advised that Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be reclaiming Water Dog Reservoir to remove white suckers beginning Sept. 5. The reservoir is located on the Grand Mesa, east of Grand Junction. Lands around the reservoir are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Anglers and others engaged in recreation in the area are asked to observe posted signs and avoid the area around the reservoir until further notice. Wildlife managers expect the project will be completed by the middle of October.

The most recent survey performed by wildlife managers found only white suckers present in the reservoir. Wildlife managers say that white suckers, likely introduced by anglers using them as live bait, can displace rainbow trout.

Once the work is complete, Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans to stock rainbow trout into the reservoir in the early summer of 2013.

“Water Dog is a productive reservoir and had been an excellent rainbow trout fishery,” said Lori Martin, aquatic biologist from Grand Junction. “Because there are only white suckers in the reservoir, and the current water volume is low, it gives us an opportunity to eliminate the suckers and restore the sport fishery.”

At full capacity, the reservoir is approximately 24 surface acres, but it was recently drawn down to approximately 15 surface acres to meet the needs of downstream water users.

White suckers will be removed through the application of rotenone, a toxicant derived from a South American plant. Rotenone has been used as a fisheries management tool throughout Colorado and the United States for decades because it degrades quickly and poses no danger to other wildlife or humans.

Application will be carefully controlled and the water will be monitored afterward by aquatic biologists from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. No treated water will be released from the project area before detoxification of the water is confirmed.

Dead fish will be left to decompose naturally to recycle important nutrients as the reservoir fills. The public is prohibited from harvesting fish killed by the project, and people are asked to avoid the reservoir while the project is underway.

“We look forward to restoring Water Dog Reservoir as a great place for anglers to catch rainbows,” said Martin. “We encourage anglers to be ethical and follow fishing rules and regulations to prevent live baitfish from establishing populations that will negatively impact our sport fisheries.”

Wildlife managers remind the public that with the exception of Navajo Reservoir, the use of live fish as bait is illegal in all waters west of the Continental Divide in Colorado. Violators can face significant fines and the permanent loss of hunting and fishing privileges. For more information about angling ethics, please visit: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Fishing/ResourcesTips/AnglerEthics/Pages/AnglerEthics.aspx

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

Nineteen wetland and riparian restoration projects score upwards of $1 million in grants

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Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has selected 19 wetland and riparian restoration projects that will share in more than $1 million in grants for the 2012 Wetlands Program grant cycle.

The selected grant applications include projects to remove invasive trees along the Republican River in northeastern Colorado, improve wet meadow hydrology and habitat in the Upper Gunnison Basin, and enhance marshes in the San Luis Valley. The selected projects encompass 2,870 acres around the state with project partners including private landowners and county, state and federal agencies.

“Wetland habitat covers less than two percent of the land in Colorado, but it provides benefits to 75 percent of the wildlife species in the state,” said Brian Sullivan, Wetlands Program Coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “The value of wetlands can’t be overstated. About 125 species that are found here in Colorado are dependent on wetlands for their survival, including 98 species of migratory birds.”

The species that will benefit from the projects funded during the 2012 cycle include waterfowl and 20 priority non-game species. Those species include the bald eagle, northern leopard frog, piping plover, least tern, Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, river otter and southwest willow flycatcher.

The funded projects will receive a share of $1,018,020 that was available this grant cycle. Funds for the Wetland Program come from lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and sales of the Colorado waterfowl stamp.

“GOCO shares the commitment to wetland preservation and restoration and has been contributing to these efforts since 1995,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, GOCO Executive Director.

The Colorado waterfowl stamp program is designed to conserve wetlands for waterfowl and water birds. To date the stamp program has provided more than $6.7 million to help fund projects to protect more than 19,500 acres of wetlands. Wetlands conservation efforts of the Waterfowl Stamp Program improve habitat for ducks, geese, and more than 500 other species of shorebirds, songbirds, amphibians and reptiles.

“As well as improving wildlife habitat, many of these projects will improve public hunting opportunities for waterfowl,” said Rick Cables, Director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Eight of these projects are on state wildlife areas, and two on national wildlife refuges, all of which are open to public hunting.” Cables added that through the wetlands grant funding, limited public hunting will also be allowed on two tracts of private land.

The complete list of 2012 wetland and riparian restoration projects can be found online at http://wildlife.state.co.us/LANDWATER/WETLANDSPROGRAM/PROJECTFUNDING/Pages/WetlandsProjectFunding.aspx

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

The latest newsletter from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is hot off the press

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Click here to read the newsletter. Thank to Gigi Richards Twitter feed @igig42 for the heads up.

More education coverage here.

Colorado Water 2012: Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project update

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Couriers’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Heather Dutton of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2001, the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District sponsored a 90-mile study of the Rio Grande, the 2001 Study, which identified causes of concern and potential methods of remediation. The 2001 study was completed with guidance from a Technical Advisory Committee composed of representatives from local, state, and federal entities. The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP) was formed to implement the recommendations of the 2001 Study.

In 2004, the Colorado Rio Grande Restoration Foundation (Foundation) was formed to act as the governing body and fiscal agent of the RGHRP. The Foundation is a Colorado 501(c)(3) organization. Since establishment, the RGHRP has accrued a successful record of performing projects on the Rio Grande through the Streambank Stabilization and Riparian Restoration Program, In-Stream Structure Repair and Replacement Program, and Outreach and Education Program…

The RGHRP seeks to bring people together and build relationships, which result in projects that enhance the ecological, cultural, and agriculture value of the Rio Grande. Although great progress has been made in addressing the issues identified in the 2001 Study, the need continues for projects to improve the condition of the Rio Grande Basin. The RGHRP is always interested in developing new projects and partnerships. If you would like to work with the RGHRP or would like more information about program activities please contact Heather Dutton, Coordinator, at 589-2230 or visit the RGHRP website at riograndeheadwaters.org.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

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

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary for August and the SNOTEL summary for water year 2012. Here’s the link to the summaries.

Drought news: Dillon Reservoir continues to drop

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The current elevation of the reservoir (9,002.53) feet, is 15 feet below full and about 10 feet below the average elevation for this date, which is about 9,012 feet Most recently, the reservoir dropped to near the current levelsin spring of 2009, when it hit as at 9,006.72 just before the start of the runoff season in mid-March. The current level may seem low, but the water dropped more than 40 feet lower in 2003 during Colorado’s last significant drought, reaching its lowest point on March 18, 2003, at 8,960.86 feet.

The reservoir will continue to drop the next few months, said Bob Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply, explaining that the combined current outflow through the Roberts Tunnel and the Blue River far exceeds the inflow of the streams that feed the reservoir.

As of Aug. 28, Denver was was diverting about 380 cubic feet per second through the tunnel, with about 53 cfs flowing downstream into the Lower Blue, with the combined inflow from the Snake, Blue Tenmile and other minor tributaries combining for an inflow of about 145 cfs for the month of August. The average August inflow is about 270 cfs, Steger said. At this rate, the reservoir will drop about 12 feet by the end of October. If the weather turns very dry, it could drop another 10 feet; if late summer and fall are wet, the level could be a little higher going into the cold season.

Fort Morgan Water Treatment Plant is trying to get a handle on odor causing bacteria — actinomycetes

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From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

City workers at the Fort Morgan Water Treatment Plant have identified the source of an earthy odor and sometimes taste in city water that had been reported by residents over the last year.
Now, the workers are seeking to eliminate the cause of the odor, which was due to a treatment process to kill and remove naturally occurring, nontoxic bacteria called actinomycetes, according to City Clerk/Public Information Officer John Brennan.

“It is actually the destruction of these bacteria during the water treatment process, not the bacteria themselves, that can cause a musty odor that is noticeable to some people in the finished water that comes out of their faucets,” Brennan stated.

Actinomycetes are a large group of bacteria that are responsible for the characteristically “earthy” smell of freshly turned, healthy soil, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture…

Modifications are being made to the treatment process to help get rid of this odor. “Some of the chemicals used in treatment can intensify the odors that result from destruction of the bacteria,” Brennan stated. “Other treatment options are being investigated that are not currently used in the process.”

City residents reported earthy odors and organic smells and tastes in city water as far back as late summer 2011.

More water treatment coverage here and here.

Elk River: Late summer water rights administration has water commissioners hopping

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From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The Elk just above its confluence with the Yampa was flowing at 29 cubic feet per second Tuesday morning, well below its median flow of 100 cfs for the date…

Water Commissioner Brian Romig has shut down eight ditches because they had no flow-measuring device to confirm the water rights holder was not taking more water from the Elk than he or she was entitled to. In addition, Light said, Romig has pulled 20 pumps from the river. That step was taken because the pump owners did not have a decreed water right, did not have a measuring device or were removing water under a right that was junior to the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ right to protect a baseline flow, which dates back to 1977.

In two cases, Romig required water users to reduce the amount of water they were taking out of the river…

Even though the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ minimum flow right is junior to most of the agricultural water rights along the Elk, it takes precedence when those rights holders do not use proper measuring devices on their head gates, [District 6 State Water Engineer Erin Light] explained. An improperly installed flow-measuring device can indicate that a water rights holder is removing more water than he or she is entitled to, she said…

The Colorado Division of Water Resources has the right to put a call on the Elk when its flow dips below 65 cfs, Light said. But that doesn’t mean the result will be that the river is restored to that level. So far, she said Romig’s efforts have increased the flow of the river by 6 to 10 cfs, and he may not be able to find much more water that can remain in the Elk in order to protect the natural systems…

The enforcement of water rights comes at the end of the irrigation season when most of the hay crop has been harvested and irrigators are turning water on their hay fields to generate some regrowth in order to pasture cattle and to demonstrate continuous use of their water rights.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

CWCB: Next board meeting — September 27-28 in Berthoud

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From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

Notice is hereby given that a meeting of the CWCB will be held on Thursday, September 27, 2012, commencing at 8:30 a.m. and continuing through Friday, September 28, 2012. This meeting will be held at the offices of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, located at 220 Water Ave, Berthoud, CO, 80513.

There will be a meeting of the Finance Committee on Wednesday, September 26th, at the same location, from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM.

More CWCB coverage here.

Denver: Statewide Drought Conference September 19-21

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Taryn Hutchins-Cabibi):

Building a “Drought-Resilient” economy focus of CWCB event in Denver

The Colorado Water Conservation Board is holding a two-day drought conference with discussion themed around “Building a Drought Resilient Economy through Innovation.” The conference, September 19 and 20 at the History Colorado Center in Denver, will highlight the research and experiences of professionals working in regions and economies impacted by drought.

Participants will share new and innovative approaches to drought preparedness across various industries and sectors. The conference will also present information on what drought may look like under future climate change conditions.

Professionals or interested parties working in government, the non-profit and the private sector are encouraged to attend the event to learn the latest in preparing for and responding to drought. Those wishing to register for the event can do so through CWCB’s website: http://cwcb.state.co.us

The conference agenda includes panels and speakers addressing:

– Advances in drought monitoring, mitigation and impact assessment
– Drought preparedness innovations in agriculture, business and energy sectors
– The response and impacts from the 2011 drought – Colorado and Texas
– Managing drought-related risk
– Opportunities for interagency/intergovernmental collaboration and public/private
partnerships on drought response and mitigation efforts
– What the latest science says about drought and climate change
– Vulnerability and economic impact of drought to tourism and recreation, as well as urban and natural environments

Registration for the event closes at 5 p.m. on September 14. Cost for the event is $175 per participant before September 1st and $195 thereafter. Registration includes a complimentary pass to the History Colorado Center, located at 1200 Broadway in Denver.

More CWCB coverage here.

USGS: Streamflow of 2011—Water Year Summary

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Remember all the way back to water year 2011 when Colorado’s reservoirs mostly filled to the brim? Here’s the Streamflow of 2011 — Water Year Summary from the United States Geological Survey (Xiaodong Jian/David M. Wolock/Harry F. Lins/Steve Brady).

For you numbers junkies the document should be a great read to take along next time you’re sitting under the cottonwoods by your favorite stream.

Here’s the introduction:

The maps and graph in this summary describe streamflow conditions for water year 2011 (October 1, 2010, to September 30, 2011) in the context of the 82-year period from 1930 through 2011, unless otherwise noted. The illustrations are based on observed data from the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Streamflow Information Program (http://water.usgs.gov/nsip/). The period 1930–2010 was used because, prior to 1930, the number of streamgages was too small to provide representative data for computing statistics for most regions of the country.

In the summary, reference is made to the term “runoff,” which is the depth to which a river basin, State, or other geographic area would be covered with water if all the streamflow within the area during a single year was uniformly distributed upon it. Runoff quantifies the magnitude of water flowing through the Nation’s rivers and streams in measurement units that can be compared from one area to another. Each of the maps and graphs can be expanded to a larger view by clicking on the image. In all of the graphics, a rank of 1 indicates the highest flow of all years analyzed.

More USGS coverage here.

Drought news: Some Teller County wells are drying up

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From KRDO.com:

Lynn Lansford said they believed the lack of water to be a result of a broken pipe, which cost the family $2,500. They learned that the real source of the problem was a lack of water in the well itself. “We’re just not getting the moisture, and it’s not filling our wells,” said Lynn Lansford.

She said the well is 700 feet deep, and they have already explored the option of looking deeper. “It’s already been fracked once, just to see if it could expand into the aquifer more, but they didn’t find anything. There wasn’t anything,” said Lansford.

Lansford said the quoted price to construct a new well in a different location on their property would be $20,000 to $30,000.

So the Lansfords have resorted to having water delivered to them, which they store in two cisterns on their property. They are able to house 2,500 gallons, which has to last them about three weeks.

From TheDenverChannel.com (Mike Nelson):

We have now hit the 90 degree mark 62 times this year, passing the old record of 61 days set in 2000. The average number of 90-degree or higher days in Denver is 40.

Climate change: Arctic sea ice extent at new low

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The data show the area covered by sea ice shrank to 1.58 million square miles, its lowest ebb in 32 years. That’s about 27,000 square miles less than the previous low of 1.61 million square miles recorded Sept 18, 2007. Another 150,000 square miles of sea ice could melt before the middle of next month, when refreezing typically begins, NSIDC research scientist Walt Meier said, during a conference call with colleagues at NASA. The past six years have brought the six lowest levels of sea ice since 1979, when measurements began. The climate scientists said the melting will open shipping routes for energy companies hoping to claim untapped oil and gas, while also worsening climate change worldwide…

The dissolving of white sea ice into darker open water means reduced reflection. More sunlight is absorbed into oceans, raising water temperatures. This ocean warming is seen by some as related to climate change, affecting ocean currents, air currents and storm paths.

Roaring Fork Conservancy study reveals healthy macroinvertebrate population in area waters

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (April E. Clark):

[Chad Rudow, water quality coordinator for Roaring Fork Conservancy] said 17 of the 20 sites sampled in the Roaring Fork and Crystal watersheds showed scores indicating healthy conditions. Of the 20 sites, only two, Cattle Creek at the Highway 82 culvert and the Roaring Fork at Slaughterhouse Bridge in Aspen, were considered impaired. Farther upstream in Aspen, the Roaring Fork at the Mill Street Bridge fell into a gray area between healthy and impaired.

The study sampled a variety of aquatic insects, such as mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, and used the results to evaluate the health of rivers and streams. The aquatic insects are seen as good indicators of river health because they have limited mobility, high population densities, and spend a relatively long time in their aquatic life stage before hatching out into adults. They are also highly sensitive to disturbance.

“In layman’s terms, these aquatic insects are like the canary in the coal mine of how the rivers are doing,” Rudow said. “They are very intolerant of pollution and are some of the first insects to disappear. They are a good marking point, as they reflect the quality and quantity of the water.”[…]

The study was conducted in late September and early October 2011, a key time of year to study macroinvertebrates, according to Rudow. High snowpack the previous winter led to high streamflows well into the summer of 2011 and likely had a positive effect on the study’s collected data.

Rudow said the study will be repeated during the same period this year, and it may show how much the 2012 drought conditions have impacted streams, rivers and aquatic habitat.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.

World Water Week 2012 kicks off

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It’s World Water Week. They are webcasting the presentations live so click through for all the gory details. Twitter hash tag #WWWeek.

Tomorrow in Denver: A public celebration of the life force and legacy of Joe Shoemaker

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From email from the Greenway Foundation:

A public celebration of the life force and legacy of Joe Shoemaker, Founder and longtime Chairman of both The Greenway Foundation and the Foundation for Colorado State Parks, will be held on Tuesday, August 28th, at Confluence Park (map), beginning at 10:00 a.m. Following, a reception will be held across the River at Shoemaker Plaza. Complimentary parking has been made possible by the Downtown Aquarium (map).

Confluence Park is a large open area. Chairs will be provided, but please be prepared for the weather. It is often very hot and sunny, and there is also the possibility of rain.

The Downtown Aquarium’s parking lot is located on Water St. – one block off of the I-25 and 23rd Ave. exit (#211), across the street from the Aquarium and Fishback Landing Park. The parking lot is situated approximately one block away from Confluence Park. Shuttles are being provided to assist those in need of transportation from the Downtown Aquarium parking to Confluence Park. Attendees are encouraged to car pool to maximize the availability of the limited free parking so generously provided by the Downtown Aquarium.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

Horsethief Canyon Native Fish Facility Construction Completed

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation:

The Bureau of Reclamation in cooperation with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service have completed construction of a complex of grow-out ponds at the Horsethief Canyon Native Fish facility located just outside of Fruita, Colo. The ponds were constructed as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the San Juan River Basin Recovery Program, to hold and rear endangered Colorado River fish.

A total of 22 ponds were constructed by Kissner General Contractors Inc., of Cedaredge, Colo., at a total cost of $5.3 million which was funded by the recovery programs to rear endangered razorback sucker, and Colorado pikeminnow, as well as bonytail and humpback chub in the future.

The ponds range in size from 0.1 to 0.5 acres with a combined total of approximately 6.2 acres of ponds each between five and six feet deep and lined with a geo-membrane fabric to reduce seepage. This will allow the ponds to be drained, maintain water levels during operation, and provide an area for the fish to be concentrated when the time comes to be relocated. All design work on the ponds was completed by Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office. In the coming months, Reclamation will complete mitigation and re-vegetation of the site.

The need for the grow-out ponds was initially identified as an essential component of the recovery programs to ensure the successful reproduction of the endangered Colorado River fish and genetic monitoring efforts. Without the grow-out ponds, production of endangered fishes of optimal size and numbers for stocking cannot be ensured and certain research in the area of genetics and propagation will be hampered.

The FWS currently produces approximately 28,000 razorbacks suckers annually at the Ouray National Fish Hatchery, Grand Valley Unit in Grand Junction, Colo. Approximately 75 percent of these fish are taken to private ponds leased by the Service and the remainder of the fish are kept at the hatchery. The Service has an annual goal of releasing a minimum of 15,000 fish, at an approximate length of 300 millimeters (11.8 inches), back to the rivers.

The Horsethief Canyon Native Fish Facility will reduce, if not eliminate, the need for leasing private ponds. Also, since the facility will be operated and maintained by the Service, the facility will provide greater numbers of fish to be returned to the river…

The ponds were constructed at an elevation that will prevent overtopping up to the 100-year flood event. The facility will be fenced to prevent river otters from entering the ponds and to preclude entry by the public.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Sterling Ranch Rezoning and Water Appeal Revoked

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From email from Jennifer Riefenberg and the Chatfield Community Association:

On August 22, 2012, Douglas County District Court’s Judge Paul King, determined that Douglas County Commissioners abused their discretion in approving both the Sterling Ranch rezoning as well as its controversial water appeal, in May 2011, siding with the Plaintiffs, the Chatfield Community Association, et. al. In his determination, Judge King ruled that “The Board has no authority to approve the application without the Applicant demonstrating the adequacy of the water supply.” Judge King cited “In this case the applicant freely admits that it did not submit proof of an adequate water supply as part of its application.”

Douglas County has a long-held reputation for approving development which is dependent on non-renewable ground water or other non-sustainable water supplies. The Board of County Commissioners continued this trend when they approved the Sterling Ranch development in May 2011. Yesterday’s decision by the District Court focused on a 2008 revision to state statutes (CRS 29-20) that require “a water supply that will be sufficient for build-out of the proposed development in terms of quality, quantity, dependability, and availability to provide a supply of water for the type of development proposed…” , as well as Douglas County Zoning Resolution.

Water is a critical issue for the citizens and legislature of Colorado. However, Douglas County is currently proposing changes to their own zoning regulations that would make it even easier for development to occur without demonstrating a sustainable water supply. The impact of Judge King’s ruling should thwart this attempt to loosen these regulations..

Chatfield Community Association (CCA) is comprised primarily of citizens living in the Chatfield Basin area. CCA is interested in responsible growth, including clear and reliable evidence that the developer can provide the necessary infrastructure, water and wastewater commitments, density-appropriate plans for protecting sensitive areas, including Chatfield State Park, and protecting the rural way of life in the Chatfield Basin

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

CoCoRaHS a finalist in Jackson Hole Science Media

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Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Emily Wilmsen):

The program, called Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS, has been named a finalist in the Best Short Program category for a video about the water cycle called “CoCoRaHS Presents: The Water Cycle Community.” The educational video was created by CSU and Noah Besser.

More education coverage here.

San Miguel River: Montrose County water rights application amended, some objectors remain

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

The agreement, which was also signed by the Town of Telluride, allows Montrose County far fewer water rights — both in volume and the ability to build reservoirs — than it originally applied for. The agreement mandates that the county drop its claims for the Marie Scott Reservoir and other facilities, which were proposed to be constructed near Specie and Beaver mesas, and forces Montrose County to select, within six years, one or two of the remaining four proposed new reservoirs to develop and abandon the others. It subjects all the water rights to volumetric restrictions of 3,200 acre-feet, and subjects the county to what are known as need-based reality checks. Under this measure, Montrose County is given a period of time to demonstrate that the predictions it had to justify the water rights applications were valid. If it fails to meet those requirements, its water use limit will be reduced.

The Town of Telluride, which was one of the parties that filed in opposition to the county’s application, signed off on the settlement agreement after determining that it sufficiently protects the water in the river. Town Attorney Kevin Geiger said the town will likely send the judge a fully executed stipulation and proposed decree this week to consider entering as an order to the court…

Montrose County Commissioner Gary Ellis, meanwhile, said he is happy with the settlement. He feels the agreement is a fair and realistic settlement that provides the county enough water to meet its needs…

Not everyone has given it the OK, however. The Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Division of Water Resources remain as objectors; Montrose County Attorney Bob Hill told the Montrose Daily Press this week that the county is working out some details with them. And Telluride-based environmental organization Sheep Mountain Alliance dropped out of the settlement agreement to preserve its right to challenge Montrose County in the future…

Montrose County filed the six applications for water rights in the San Miguel River and its tributaries in 2010. It filed the applications in a bid to get ahead of a planned Colorado Water Conservation Board instream flow water rights application, which aims at ensuring minimum flows in the waterway to protect aquatic habitat, and cited a need to supply future industrial, residential and commercial development, including a golf course, uranium milling activity and an anticipated population growth.

In its filings, Montrose County sought to adjudicate diversions of more than four cubic feet per second, six separate reservoirs and reservoir enlargements with a capacity of more than 51,000 acre-feet and potential annual diversions of more than 96,000 acre-feet, and water exchanges to facilitate diversions, storage and water delivery, according to Town of Telluride documents.

The filing raised alarms in the river’s watershed; soon, the Town of Telluride filed statements of opposition, joining several other objectors in the case, including Sheep Mountain Alliance, the owner of Gateway Resorts, San Miguel County and private landowners in the region.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.

Drought news: Instream flow leases help keep water in the Yampa River over the summer

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From the Summit Daily News (Zach Smith/Edalin Koziol):

As Colorado watched state snowpack report maps change from a dull yellow to bright red at the end of 2012’s spring, Yampa River flows at Steamboat Springs dove from 501 cfs on June 1 to 42 cfs on June 27. On June 28, when flows on the Yampa average near 1,000 cfs, Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District began releasing water from a pool of 4,000 acre-feet the Colorado Water Trust (CWT) and Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) leased for instream flows. Since that day, flows through Steamboat Springs have ranged from 72 cfs to 138 cfs, staving off what might have been a disastrous summer for the Yampa River.

To date, CWCB and CWT have entered into three such leases in two different water divisions in the state, with several more still in the negotiation and approval stages. In addition, Colorado Parks and Wildlife worked directly with CWCB for a lease of water out of Lake Avery for the White River. But the lease with Upper Yampa, officially approved by the Division of Water Resources on July 11, represents the first use of a drought-response law crafted after the drought of 2002.

These voluntary, market-based transactions form the heart of CWT’s mission: to restore and protect streamflows using such solutions. We are neither an advocacy nor a policy group, but a Denver-based nonprofit organization dedicated to using existing tools within the prior appropriation system to rewet dry streams statewide. Founded in 2001 by a group of water attorneys and engineers, CWT also facilitates the permanent transfer of senior water rights into the CWCB’s Instream Flow Program.

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Chris Forman, Aspen’s city forester, says the yellow leaves popping up in the area could indicate stressed trees and could mean an early and shorter color season.

But Jim Kravitz with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies tells the Aspen Daily News the rain in July and August has helped nourish a lot of the forest. And he predicts the trees’ color will peak the third week of September, which is the time it typically occurs.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The town government on Friday lifted the mandatory watering restrictions it had imposed July 10. Recent rains have increased humidity and vegetation moisture levels, making the restrictions on irrigation less critical.

From email from the Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District (Randy Gillette):

The District has been supplying potable water from a combination of deep wells and Lake Woodmoor since May 2012. With the combination of our customers practicing water smart conservation measures and the use of Lake Woodmoor, we were able to meet the peak demands during the summer irrigation season.

The lake level has been lowered approximately ten feet which is within the normal range of operations. The past few months have been warmer than normal and with the lower lake level, changes in water quality can be expected. The District’s water treatment facilities are designed to meet federal and state treatment standards in the event of changes to water quality. With the lake at the lower operating level and recent changes to water quality, we will transition back to using water exclusively from the Denver Basin aquifers.

Customers may notice a change in water quality; however, the transition to well water may take a few days to completely exchange throughout the distribution system.

National Weather Service: El Niño watch in effect

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Click here for the September – November Climate Outlook for Colorado from the National Weather Service. Here’s a preview:

During July, prevailing oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean indicated the presence of ENSO-neutral conditions. However, in recent weeks positive equatorial sea surface temperatures (SSTs) have continued to steadily increase, exceeding 0.5C across the eastern tropical Pacific. This and other indicators reflect a likely progression towards El Niño…

Nine of the 17 dynamical models used to predict the different phases of ENSO indicate an El Niño of at least moderate strength (an average SST anomaly of 1.0˚C and greater) during the September-November (SON) 2012 climate season. Two dynamical models go so far as to predict a strong El Niño during this three month period.

By contrast, none of the eight statistical ENSO prediction models indicate an El Niño stronger than weak during the SON 2012 season. Three of these models predict neutral conditions to persist through the 2012-2013 winter season…

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Precipitation in northeast Colorado for the [3-month] period of September, October and November has historically been above average during El Niño events, slightly below average during ENSO-neutral conditions and below average during La Niña episodes.

For the same three month period, temperatures were slightly below average during El Niños, and above average during ENSO-neutral conditions and La Niña events…

For the months of September, October and November, precipitation in southeast Colorado has historically been above average during El Niño events and near to below average for ENSO-neutral and La Niña episodes.

For the same three month period, temperature was below average during El Niño events and near to above average during ENSO-neutral and La Niña conditions…

Precipitation in western Colorado during these same 3 months was historically above average during El Niños, near to slightly below average for ENSO-neutral conditions, and below average during La Niña events.

Temperatures during the same period were slightly below average for El Niños, and slightly above average for ENSO-neutral and La Niña conditions.

Click through and look at the whole report. It’s chock full of data.

‘Can the EPA cut ocean plastic pollution with the Clean Water Act?’ — Bob Berwyn

Salida: Flaming Gorge Task Force meeting Tuesday

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Click here for a copy of the agenda. Thanks to Heather Bergman for sending it along in email.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District hopes to set up a funding mechanism for the district

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Good luck. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District followed up on a suggestion by board member Richard Skorman and voted unanimously Friday to ask the Trust for Pueblo Land for technical advice on how to set up a funding mechanism for the district.

El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark brought up the possibility that the district could be the funding mechanism for stormwater efforts in that county, if different mill levies could be assessed for the two counties. She acknowledged that Pueblo County does not want to, and should not have to, pay for projects that are El Paso County responsibilities.

Executive Director Larry Small said those types of questions are what the district would ask the land trust to sort out.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

This week, the Waldo Canyon Burned Area Emergency Response team began aerial mulching with straw and shredded wood, which is expected to reduce runoff and sediment by 20 percent on about 3,000 acres in the most badly burnt areas. “This treatment should reduce the immediate response following a storm to give people time to safely get to higher ground in areas that could be impacted by increased water and sediment flows,” said hydrologist Mary Moore.

The team, which includes the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Springs, El Paso County and other agencies, is also working on long-term restoration efforts, Mark Shea of Colorado Springs Utilities told the Fountain Creek board.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Loveland: City councillors are debating long-term debt and water rate increase for 2013

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From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

Whether it’s 13 percent, the smallest bump among options that city councilors will hear about Tuesday, or 71 percent will depend on whether Loveland is willing to assume some long-term bonded debt. If the city tries to pay for water system improvements on its traditional pay-as-you-go basis, rates will rise by nearly three-quarters…

Even the staunchest advocates for pay-as-you-go financing have opened their thinking to issuing bonds and taking on debt, given the historically low interest rates that the bonds carry.

“The last figure we got, the one that we’ve been basing these discussions on, is 1.82 percent,” said councilor Daryle Klassen, the council’s liaison to the Loveland Utilities Commission, a group that takes its recommendation for long-term bonding to the council on Tuesday…”When we measure that against what the inflation rate is going to be over the course of the bond, you’d be foolish not to borrow the money.”[…]

Miles of old water lines under Loveland streets are springing leaks twice weekly on average this year, compared to twice monthly seven years ago. The average cost to repair each leak in that time has risen from just over $3,500 to more than $5,000. Meanwhile, the city’s treatment plant is also nudging close to its capacity, and needs expensive short-term expansion to keep it in line with the city’s projected growth. Utilities commissioners at a meeting earlier this month found that a plan to issue $16 million worth of bonds with a 30-year maturity would fund the needed projects and spread the cost to ratepayers in a more bearable way…

The average monthly residential water bill in Loveland, under the long-term debt plan, would rise from the current $19.69 to $24.25 in 2013.

More infrastructure coverage here.

South Park: The BLM is gearing up for expanded oil and gas activity

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

…Aurora Water, local authorities and conservationists are pushing back, demanding careful planning before any land is leased…

“We want to preserve our environment, our water quality, our air quality, our wildlife corridors, our wildlife and fisheries,” [Park County administrator Tom Eisenman] said. “Our economy is based on recreation.”

Aurora Water wants a 1-mile buffer around Spinney Reservoir, utility spokesman Greg Baker said. “We’re concerned about surface contamination,” he said.

The leases being considered for early next year would allow drilling on 2,850 acres, including land within a half mile of Spinney, the large reservoir that holds water for Aurora.

NGWA Conference on Great Plains Aquifers: Beyond the Ogallala — October 25-26

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Here’s the link to their registration webpage.

More groundwater coverage here.

Drought news: Reclamation expects Carter Lake to start dropping at least a foot a day to meet late summer demand

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Drought demands are continuing. This week we saw demands come up along the Big Thompson River.

To help meet those demands, we dropped Pinewood and Flatiron reservoirs. We did this in order to postpone turning off the pump to Carter Lake as long as we could. We have reached that point. Today [August 24] at 3 p.m., we turned the pump to Carter off. C-BT water coming over from Granby and the West Slope is being delivered to project demands served off the Big T River below the mouth of the canyon. Without the pump to help slow the draw on Carter from the south, the water elevation will begin to drop more sharply than it has so far–most likely between a foot and a foot and a half a day.

The good news is: boat ramps remain in the water and will be functional for Labor Day weekend.

Click here for a screen shot of the river calls this morning on the South Platte River courtesy of Colorado’s Decision Support Systems.

National Weather Service — ‘Good day for racing’

Final Preliminary Alternatives Development Report on Grand Lake Now Available

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The Bureau of Reclamation has finalized its Colorado-Big Thompson Project West Slope Collection Preliminary Alternatives Development Report that addresses concerns of water clarity at Colorado’s Grand Lake. The report is available at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao.

“The Department of the Interior is prioritizing efforts to improve water quality conditions in Grand Lake,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. “The Bureau of Reclamation, Interior’s water management agency, is committed to protecting the aesthetic values of Grand Lake and maintaining a secure water supply for its customers. We recognize the problem and are working hard with state and local leaders to understand the causes and find appropriate solutions.”

Grand Lake is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project’s West Slope collection system, which diverts water under the Continental Divide to Colorado’s East Slope and Front Range. A proposed state of Colorado water standard for the lake is scheduled to take effect in 2015. The Preliminary Alternatives Development Report is the first step toward improving water quality in Grand Lake in an effort to meet this state standard and improve this resource for its many uses. Four alternatives are considered in the report ranging from ceasing pumping during the summer season to building a bypass for project water to be delivered to the East Slope. The viability of each alternative is evaluated for a number of measures.

Reclamation continues to collaborate with water and power customers, stakeholders in and around Grand County, citizens groups around Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, recreation managers at affected water bodies and other local, state and federal agencies.

The final Alternatives Development Report has been provided directly to stakeholders and posted to Reclamation’s website for the general public. Next steps include the Technical Review, which begins this fall and completes in fall 2013, and will examine the technical and financial feasibility of the alternatives presented in the Alternatives Development Report.

To download the report in PDF, please visit www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Drought news: The latest US Drought Monitor shows Colorado in D2, D3 or D4 stages

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the current U.S. Drought Monitor map.

Here are the summaries from this week’s NIDIS Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment Summary of the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Here’s the August 15 Drought Update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Meanwhile, the City of Thornton has declared State 2 mandatory drought restrictions:

Judge reverses the decision by the Douglas Count Board of County Commissioners to approve the Sterling Ranch planned development

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From the Castle Rock News Press (Rhonda Moore):

Douglas County District Court Judge Paul King on Aug. 22 issued an order in favor of the Chatfield Community Association, granting its request to reverse the decision by the board of county commissioners to approve the Sterling Ranch planned development and water appeal. James Kreutz served as county attorney in the 1990s and said the key to the judge’s order was clarity in state law. “The board wanted to approve (Sterling Ranch) and tried to figure out a way to get around the state statute that requires a showing of availability of water in quality and quantity,” Kreutz said. “And it didn’t work.”

King’s decision came more than a year after the board approved Harold Smethills’ request to subdivide more than 3,400 acres in the Chatfield Valley and gain an appeal to the county’s water regulations…

“The Board has no authority to approve the application without the Applicant demonstrating the adequacy of the water supply,” King wrote in his order. “The Water Appeal cannot be used to thwart the requirements of the development permit approval process.”[…]

Smethills, who this month announced two deals with Aurora Water that paved the way for the first plat filings for Sterling Ranch, remains committed to the development.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

Colorado River Basin: Is a Colorado River Compact call imminent?

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Here’s an article about the potential for a call on the Colorado River by the Lower Basin States, written by John McClow running in the Grand Junction Free Press. Here’s an excerpt:

A glance at a map discloses that the sources of the Colorado River lie in the mountains of the Upper Basin, with about 70% of the river’s total flow originating in Colorado. The Upper Basin is currently experiencing a protracted drought that began in 2000 and has continued through 2012 (despite a very wet year in 2011). Because of the drought, attention has become focused on the language in the compact directing that the Upper Basin states “will not cause the flow of the river at Lee Ferry to be depleted below an aggregate of 75 million acre-feet for any period of 10 consecutive years.” That averages out to the 7.5 million acre-feet per year apportioned to the Lower Basin. In addition, the Upper Basin provides one-half of the 1.5 million acre-feet per year promised to Mexico in a 1944 treaty. How does the Upper Basin accomplish that, given the variability in river flows?[…]

The drought of the past 12 years has raised concern that a compact call is a real possibility. Presently, the 30-year average inflow into Lake Powell is 10.83 million acre-feet per year. Since 1999, when the reservoir was full, inflows to Lake Powell have met or exceeded that average only in 2005 (105%), 2008 (102%), and 2011 (142%). The 2002 inflow totaled only 25% of the average and in 2005, storage fell below 9 million acre-feet. As the Colorado River Basin continues to experience the worst drought in over a century, with low inflows and depleted reservoirs, is a compact call imminent?

Probably not. In May 2005, the Secretary of the Interior initiated a process to develop strategies to address the drought. Many stakeholders participated, led by representatives of the seven Colorado River Basin states. The result was the adoption of interim guidelines for the operation of Lake Powell and Lake Mead that coordinate operations to minimize shortages in the Lower Basin and avoid the risk of curtailment in the Upper Basin.

From Tuscon News Now:

In the Southwest, the drought is most noticeable in reservoir levels…

Even though Arizona has experience a fairly wet monsoon this year CLIMAS says “One reason for these {ongoing drought} classifications is that many of the region’s important reservoirs are low. The most probable inflow volume into Lake Powell for the 2012 water year is projected to be 5.15 million acre-feet, or 48 percent of average. If this comes to pass, Colorado River streamflows will go down as the third lowest on record.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

SDS: ‘It seems like Colorado Springs Utilities and city officials are doing a lot of talking’ — Jay Winner

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District has made a formal request to the Bureau of Reclamation to reopen environmental studies for the Southern Delivery System because the 2008 study assumed a Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise was in place…

“It seems like Colorado Springs Utilities and city officials are doing a lot of talking,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district Wednesday. Forming a regional task force isn’t enough, he said. “They talk as if this could be done by the end of the year, but that’s not going to happen. While they meet with a task force, we’re the ones who suffer.”

Last week’s letter identified broad concerns about the repeal of the stormwater enterprise, while this week’s letter from Peter Nichols, attorney for the district, deals with more specific points related to SDS documents. The letter points out that the $15 million annually generated by the former stormwater enterprise would have been sufficient to cover the nearly $500 million in backlog of stormwater projects and maintenance identified in Colorado Springs. “Reclamation has a continuing duty to analyze significant changes in conditions that affect the environment and that call into question the original decision,” the letter stated.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Chatfield Reallocation Project update: ‘A re-timing of when water would be flowing downstream’ — Rick McLoud

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Here’s an in-depth look at project proponents’ assurances, from Ryan Boldrey writing for the Highlands Ranch Herald. From the article:

As a public comment period nears its Sept. 6 close, the issues of environmental and recreational impact remain at the forefront of the discussion.

Both the Audubon Society and the South Platte Working Group – which includes officials from the City of Littleton and South Suburban Parks and Recreation District – have expressed concerns. Issues include possible negative effects on animal habitat, potential damage to the South Platte River and loss of trees and recreational amenities.

Proponents say all environmental and recreational impacts would be fully mitigated.

“Change is never easy and we are not going to suggest that it is going to look exactly like it does today,” said Steve Welchert of the Chatfield Water for Life Coalition. “But more water is a good thing, it increases habitat for everybody. The bike paths, hiking paths and marina would all be moved, but not eliminated. Included in the cost of the project is $45 million dedicated to the modification of recreational facilities.”

According to Rick McLoud, water resource manager for Centennial Water and Sanitation District, another $70 million of the total $180 million price tag is dedicated to environmental mitigation…

According to McLoud, the project would take extra water from the South Platte River during high-runoff flow months such as April, May and June and hold it in the reservoir. Sixty percent of that water would then end up being released downstream at points later in the summer during high-drought times.

“In essence we would be doing a re-timing of when water would be flowing downstream,” McLoud said. “We would see stream enhancements and work on the channel configuration to aid the low-flow times, benefitting not just farmers in Weld County and people in the suburbs, but habitat as well.”

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here and here.

El Paso County Communities stormwater funding falls short

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

At a kickoff event for a stormwater task force on Tuesday, they stressed the need to educate residents about the impact of stormwater on people’s daily lives…

In unincorporated areas of the county that have been built up, such as Security and Widefield, there are no underground storm sewers.

While Colorado Springs has nearly $500 million in unfunded stormwater needs, there are an estimated $100 million more in other areas of El Paso County along Fountain Creek. In addition, a potential $150 million in projects are contemplated by the Fountain Creek Watershed District.

Pueblo has $85 million in identified long-term projects that are being funded through its stormwater enterprise.

More coverage from Daniel Chacón writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette:

“For decades, there have been discussions about stormwater in this area,” El Paso County Commission Chairwoman Amy Lathen said during the so-called Sand Creek Summit, where officials met under a tent next to the creek near Airport Road…

Officials chose Sand Creek for the summit to show erosion problems there that include, among other things, exposed Utilities lines. Various agencies are pooling resources to address the problems there.

A regional stormwater task force that met for the first time last week plans to compile a list by the end of the year of the infrastructure capital improvement needs in the region and how much money each government entity can contribute to address the problem, said City Councilwoman Brandy Williams. The task force’s next meeting is in September.

More stormwater coverage here and here.

Greeley: Water and Sewer Board recommends a 5.4% net rate hike, water up, sewer down

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A 5.4 percent rate increase for the average single-family home was recommended by the Greeley Water and Sewer Board on Wednesday. The water and sewer board’s 7-0 vote sent a $52.7 million proposed budget to city council members, who, along with City Manager Roy Otto, will consider the measure during the next few months before finalizing the 2013 rates late in the year…

Following revisions during the past month, the proposed budget brought before the board and approved Wednesday includes a 7.9 percent increase in water rates, while sewer rates would drop by 2.2 percent — amounting to an overall 5.4 percent increase for the average single-family home.

Bringing about much of the rate increase for 2013, like other years, are the costs associated with the city’s acquisition of more water supplies, as well as the construction of the city’s new pipeline from the Bellvue Treatment Plant, its participation in the new Chimney Hollow Reservoir and the permitting costs associated with proposed reservoirs.

More Greeley coverage here.

Rifle City Council approves ballot question to raise sales tax for new water treatment plant

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From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Mike McKibbin):

If approved by city voters, the increase will help the city repay a $25.5 million loan from the Colorado Water and Power Development Authority. The loan, on which the city closed on Aug. 14, will fund the construction of a new water treatment plant to replace the current Graham Mesa plant, which is old and in danger of failure, according to city officials.

The sales and use tax hike, if approved in November, would take effect in January and would end once the loan is repaid. It would increase the city’s sales tax rate from 3.5 cents to 4.25 cents and would raise an estimated $1.65 million a year.

More Rifle coverage here and here.

Drought news: This year’s drought could dry up irrigation water leases next season

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We’re still in good shape in terms of having a reserve, but we’ll probably have to throttle back onetime leases next year,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager for the [Pueblo Board of Water Works]. “We may lease very little water or none at all on the spot market next year.”

The water board leases have been an important source of water for farmers on the Bessemer Ditch and for well augmentation groups this year. This year the water board was able to lease 14,000 acre-feet — the equivalent of half the metered water supply for Pueblo.

The situation shouldn’t affect the board’s long-term leases to Aurora, Xcel’s Comanche power plant and other businesses.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here and here.

Drought news: Drawdown of Wolford Mountain Reservoir an opportunity to inspect Ritschard Dam settling

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Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Martha Moore):

The Colorado River District, which owns and operates Wolford Mountain Reservoir, will take advantage of this year’s drought and resulting low reservoir water levels to further monitor movement at Ritschard
Dam.

As with all earthen dams, Ritschard Dam was expected to settle over time. However, over its 16-year life, the dam has settled nearly two-feet, rather than the estimated one-foot. This year’s dry conditions require drawing the reservoir down lower than most years in order to meet contractual and environmental demands for the stored water. Previous monitoring data suggest the settling rate slows as water levels decline. A major drawdown of the reservoir this year will assist in further assessment of the situation.

“The dam is safe. There is no reason for concern over dam failure,” assures John Currier, chief engineer for the Colorado River District. “There are no leaks; the dam is solid. However, we need to determine the cause of continued settling,” added Currier.

About Wolford Mountain Reservoir:

Wolford Mountain Reservoir is located on Muddy Creek, five miles north of Kremmling. It stores 66,000 acre feet of water when full. The reservoir primarily provides water to west slope contract holders when their water rights would otherwise be called out by more senior water users on the Colorado River. Water is released from the reservoir to protect Western Slope water users and to substitute for water diverted by Denver Water at Dillon Reservoir in critically dry years.

Water releases from Wolford also benefit endangered fish in the Colorado River near Grand Junction to enhance flows in the spring time and in late summer during times of lower flows.

Wolford was built in cooperation with and financing from Denver Water and Northern Water, both Front Range transmountain water diverters.

More coverage from Drew Munro writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

“This year is a really good test,” John Currier told Kremmling Town Board members Wednesday night, explaining that the reservoir will be drawn down 30-35 feet below full by the end of October.

“The reservoir hasn’t been drawn down like this since 2002-2003,” he added.

Currier, chief engineer for the river district, was at the meeting along with other district representatives to allay rumors that Wolford Mountain is being drawn down to prevent it from failing and to present a progress report about the ongoing investigation into why the dam is moving.

He said the reason the reservoir will be drawn down so far this fall is that Denver Water, which holds a lease for 25,000 acre-feet of “substitution water” annually in the 66,000 acre-foot impoundment, will release all its water this year. That, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will use another 6,000 acre-feet this fall to augment downstream flows for endangered fish, he said.

In a “normal” year, he said the reservoir is drawn down about 10 feet. When that occurs, he said monitoring instruments indicate the rate of settling slows substantially. What engineers will be looking at this fall is whether there is a point at which the settling slows further or stops as the water level falls.

More Wolford Mountain Reservoir coverage here and here.