Drought news: Index that measures economic health in CO, WY and UT drops slightly

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

The index, a mathematical average of indices for new orders, production, sales, employment, inventories and delivery lead time, declined from 57.2 in June to 56.1, according to Creighton University’s Goss Institute for Economic Research. The good news? The index in June remained above a growth neutral rating of 50 for the 33rd straight month, meaning the region’s economy remains healthy overall…

At the time of the survey, weather conditions had not yet adversely affected companies in the mountain states, Goss Institute for Economic Research Director Ernie Goss said. “Only 14 percent of the firms reported that drought conditions had increased the costs of inputs for their companies’ sales, while almost none reported impacts on company sales,” Goss said. “I expect this to change in the months ahead, pulling the overall index lower.”

Teachers/schools can get free rain gauges and training from CoCoRaHS

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From CoCoRaHS via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

CSU and its volunteer network, called Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHs, is donating the devices as a means to educate students about the importance of taking scientific measurements and to bolster precipitation data collection efforts.

Teachers who would like to obtain a rain gauge and receive training on how to use it should contact education@CoCoRaHs.org for more information, according to a news release from CSU. Training webinars are scheduled on the following days:

• 10 a.m. Wednesday: To register, visit bit.ly/N671bp.

• 4:30 p.m. Aug. 20: To register, visit bit.ly/Oulj81.

Between Sept. 5 and 11, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, plans to host “Rain Gauge Week.” During this time, the group will encourage participating schools to submit their measurements.

Data collected by CoCoRaHs, which formed after the 1997 Spring Creek Flood in Fort Collins and now has 16,000 volunteers in the U.S. and Canada, helps predict flooding on the Missouri River and verifies satellite data on crop health, among other uses.

Drought news: ‘You have to be really careful how you use your water this year’ — Rod Weimer

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From CBS Denver:

“You have to be really careful how you use your water this year,” said Fagerberg Farms employee Rod Weimer. “This year it’s been really tough because the ground started off really dry.”[…]

Weimer said the water situation is concerning but they’ll have to wait until harvest to see how their crops will yield without the benefit of enough water.

From the Associated Press (Jim Suhr) via The Durango Herald:

More than half of U.S. counties now are classified by the federal government as natural disaster areas mostly because of the drought. The U.S. Agriculture Department on Wednesday added 218 counties in a dozen states as disaster areas. That brings this year’s total to 1,584 in 32 states, more than 90 percent of them because of the drought.

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Denis Reich):

In 2012, we’ve had the worst year for snow-pack runoff in some time, perhaps since the late 1970s. Many stream beds are already down to a trickle. Still, irrigators aren’t sure how to classify 2012 as a water year. In some ways, it’s clearly a bad drought: scarce snow pack, warm winter, low soil moisture, dry conditions and large wildfires. But the picture is complicated by reservoir storage and, to a lesser degree, the recent monsoon rains.

From high altitude tributaries all the way to Mexico, there is a network of reservoirs in the Colorado River basin. There’s a largely invisible world of horse-trading that allows water to be released from one reservoir to the next so rivers and canals can flow, regardless of what conditions might have naturally been. Perhaps your grandfather remembers the confluence of the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers being dry in August, but it’s been many decades since it’s happened.

One of the wettest years on record in 2011 left local reservoirs nearly full heading into 2012. This is what’s keeping water flowing now, unlike in 2002, which followed a dry year. Releases from Taylor, Blue Mesa and Ridgway reservoirs are maintaining just enough flow to prevent the Gunnison Tunnel, which carries water into the Uncompahgre Valley, from putting a call on the river that would cut off water to junior users upstream. It’s a good thing, too, for hay producers. Prior to recent rains, the Gunnison County hay crop was under serious threat. As it is, they will probably get a cutting of sorts and limp into the fall.

What is truly concerning is the risk of a curtain call from the drought in 2013. In 2003, we were about two months from apocalyptic drought and were saved mid-March by a record-breaking snow storm. With residual soil moisture only slightly replenished by the recent rains, another below average year would create significant problems. Consecutive years of drought are unusual in Colorado, but not unheard of. We just had two 30-year extremes back to back and that is exceptionally unusual.

McPhee and Jackson Gulch reservoirs status

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From the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 6,020 acre-feet with a 9,948 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 9,014 acre-feet average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 76/51 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 88 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 299,646 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 343,394 average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 4,120 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 45,079 acre-feet were released for trans-basin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 70/57 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.

Questions can be directed to the Southern Water Management Group, Resource Management Division of the Western Colorado Area Office, Durango.

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here. More Mancos River Watershed coverage here.

Uncompahgre River Watershed: ‘Good Samaritan’ clean up of Red Mountain Creek in the offing?

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From The Telluride Watch (Samantha Wright):

The Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership, a grassroots coalition of citizens, nonprofits, local and regional governments, and federal and state agencies dedicated to understanding the Uncompahgre Watershed, would like to do something about this caustic problem child. Red Mountain Creek is, after all, a tributary of the Uncompahgre River, and one of the main reasons why the southernmost portion of the river is deemed “impaired” – or, as some would say, dead, because it cannot support aquatic life.

The coalition has recently identified its top priority as improving water quality so as to remove impaired segments of the Uncompahgre River from the State of Colorado’s list of impaired streams.

Thus, Przeszlowska is watching with interest current efforts headed up by U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to find a way to allow so-called Good Samaritans (ranging from individuals to citizen groups like UWP to governmental and nongovernmental agencies) to take on projects to improve water quality in areas where there are abandoned mines, without fear of incurring liability under the Clean Water Act.

Reclamation experts have found plenty of ways to shore up leaky old mines and reduce acid mine drainage flowing into impaired watersheds. These range from simple fixes, like reducing the amount of water entering into the mine by building plugs or diverting the water around old workings, to treating drainage with settling ponds, wetlands, limestone drains, or some other form of passive or active treatment.

But certain provisions in the federal Clean Water Act create major stumbling blocks to such efforts. The Clean Water Act likes big, perfect fixes – like permanent water treatment pants that cost millions to build and millions more annually to operate, and which convert toxic water into potable stuff that fish can cruise around in.

So-called Good Samaritans have had to walk away from more modest mine cleanup projects for fear that if they don’t bring the discharge water all the way up to CWA standards, they may be sued by a third-party citizen or even another environmental group.

Pat Willits, the executive director of the Ridgway-based Trust for Land Restoration, which helps communities deal with a myriad of issues related to abandoned mining, explains the liability problem like this: “Good Samaritans are spooked by the ‘citizen suit’ provision of the Clean Water Act, which says that if someone suspects a violation of the Clean Water Act, a citizen may begin a legal action and if successful, the defending party will have to pay all of the legal expenses of the citizen’s group. If they are unsuccessful, the defendant does not have recourse to countersue.”[…]

Two decades’ worth of efforts to shield would-be Good Samaritans legislatively by creating a new provision in the Clean Water Act (including, most recently, U.S. Senator Mark Udall’s Good Samaritan Cleanup of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2009), have floundered in Congress, due to fears from environmentalists about opening up the Clean Water Act, even for such benign and altruistic purposes as protecting Good Samaritans…

Fed up with past efforts, Udall is now taking a new approach. He believes that updating, or even simply clarifying, Environmental Protection Agency policy may accomplish pretty much the same thing as legislation in terms of affording legal protection to Good Samaritans.

The agency already has some existing guidance that encourages potential Good Samaritans to enter into voluntary agreements with EPA or federal land management agencies that helps to facilitate certain kinds of Good Samaritan cleanups.

As they stand, these protections are considered good enough protection for Good Samaritans to undertake reclamation projects that do not include direct attempts to improve water quality beyond, for example, rerouting a stream so it does not flow through a mining waste dump, or preventing water from flowing into old mine workings.

More water pollution coverage here.

Montrose: The Montrose County Commissioners endorse the the town’s whitewater park application

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From The Telluride Watch (Katie O’Hare):

City Councilors and the Montrose Recreation District board asked county commissioners to the table on July 31 to discuss if the county was willing – and at what cost – to support a project that would include creating a whitewater park along the Uncompaghre River at Riverbottom Park.

The city teamed up with MRD hoping to submit a Great Outdoors Colorado grant application by Aug. 29 that could provide $350,000 toward the project, which includes improvements to the MRD’s ball fields and surrounding areas, also in Riverbottom Park.

“In principal, it’s all about improving the community for all of us,” said Kerwin Jensen, City of Montrose community development director.

After a two-hour meeting, commissioners David White and Gary Ellis – who did most of the talking for the county – agreed to put the request for funding help on their regular commissioner meeting agenda for Monday, Aug. 6…

The city staff stressed the economic benefits the county could see from having a whitewater park in Montrose, which included increased tourism and new businesses to cater to those visitors, as well as the recreational opportunity it would provide county residents.

“Economic development is number one in our strategic plan, and things like this contribute to that,” Commissioner David White said.