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.