Arkansas Valley Conduit update: Source water quality problems would be improved by the conduit

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Besides providing a reliable amount of water, the Arkansas Valley Conduit would improve water quality for the 40 communities that have indicated an interest in the project.

Salinity and radiation in local water supplies exceed federal drinking standards. The levels have created regulatory pressure from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to find sources of better water, said Signe Snortland, who heads the Bureau of Reclamation team evaluating the conduit.

Meetings were held last week in Salida, Pueblo, La Junta and Lamar on the draft environmental impact statement.

Of the conduit participants, 14 are in violation of radiation standards.

Meanwhile, Reclamation has cut a contract with Vine Laboratories in Denver to do the geological work. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a $715,000 contract to Vine Laboratories of Denver to conduct geologic investigations, including drilling, testing and sampling of unconsolidated material and bedrock necessary for design of the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit project. The contract will provide some preliminary data describing geological conditions and other variables.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

2014 Colorado November Election: A plan is forming to ask voters for a commission to reform the state constitution

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

“We’re going to go for the tough one. We’re going to go for the fix,” said Brenda Morrison, a member of Colorado’s Future, in a presentation Friday to Action 22, a group of Southeast Colorado county leaders.

The ballot initiative would not target any specific part of the constitution.

Instead, it would set up a panel that would meet every decade or so to recommend changes to the voters.

The specifics have not been decided yet, including how the panel would be appointed, what its power would be or even what it would be named.

The most often-criticized parts of the constitution include the Gallagher Amendment, which limits residential property taxes but can burden businesses; the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which limits taxes and requires refunds if the state collects too much; and Amendment 23, which forces spending on K-12 schools to increase with the inflation rate.

More 2014 Colorado November Election coverage

Aspinall Unit update: 400 cfs in the Black Canyon

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From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

With the recent rains, flows in the Gunnison River at the Whitewater gage are well above the September baseflow target of 890 cfs. Short term forecasts predict flows will stay above 1000 cfs while the baseflow target for October drops down to 790 cfs. Considering all this, releases from Crystal Dam will be reduced on Saturday, September 29th, with the intention of maintaining 400 cfs in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon (down from the current flow of 480 cfs).

In the next couple weeks, decreasing irrigation demands will result in less diversion into the Gunnison Tunnel which may necessitate changes at Crystal Dam. Releases may be reduced further in light of the lower Whitewater gage baseflow target for October if rainfall and tributary flows continue to support flows in the lower mainstem of the Gunnison River.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here and here.

Restoration: CPW reintroduces cutthroats to Woods Lake

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife stocked the lake with 250 cutthroat trout last week as part of an ongoing project to restore the species to its native habitat. Transporting the fish was done via horseback and truck from a small stream on the Uncompahgre Plateau the same day. The cutthroat will take around two years to create a sustainable population in their new home, according to CPW. The reintroduction plan ultimately calls for more than 2,000 fish to be stocked into the lake and its surrounding tributaries — the next stocking is planned for the spring of 2013. “We’ll do [the spring relocation] to give us multiple age classes of fish and to provide good genetic diversity,” said Dan Kowalski, an aquatic researcher with Parks and Wildlife in Montrose, in a release.

The 24-acre lake is located off of Forest Service Road 618 west of Telluride and was chosen for a number of reasons — mainly its pristine condition and remote location. But its natural barriers also prevent non-native species from gaining access…

In Colorado, there are three species of cutthroat trout in different regions of the state. Colorado River cutthroat trout live in drainages west of the continental divide, Greenback cutthroat trout are in the South Platte and Arkansas River drainages, and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout are found in streams draining into the San Luis Valley, according to Parks and Wildlife.

Efforts to restore the species have been ongoing since the early 1970s, when Greenback trout was listed as endangered. Greenbacks currently have a lesser-threatened classification.

According to Parks and Wildlife, another cutthroat restoration project is ongoing in the upper Hermosa Creek drainage near the Durango Mountain Resort in San Juan County. When that project is completed in about five years, more than 20 miles of Hermosa Creek and feeder streams will be home to native cutthroats.

More restoration coverage here and here.

Long-term assurance for interruptible supplies for cities proposed legislature’s water resources review committee

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A proposal that would expedite partnerships between ditch companies and cities was proposed to state legislators this week.

It aims at modifying the state’s interruptible supply law to provide long-term assurance of drought-year water supply, preserving water court scrutiny and protecting agriculture water rights that are used in temporary transfers.

“We are not proposing specific legislation,” Gerry Knapp, Aurora Water’s manager for the Arkansas River and Colorado River operations, told the legislature’s water resources review committee this week. “But if the drought continues, several municipalities will be needing to use an interruptible supply.”

Aurora was the first and only Colorado city to use the interruptible supply law on a large scale, leasing water from the Rocky Ford High Line Canal in 2004-05. A joint water decree application was filed in water court and an agreement was signed to preserve the opportunity.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Funding running out for the Fountain Creek Watershed Greenway and Flood Control District — mill levy vote needed?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Efforts to fund a district devoted to improving Fountain Creek have to be stepped up, Pueblo County commissioner Jeff Chostner said Friday. “I’m trying to push this, because this district has such potential,” Chostner told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board. “I’m trying to start the discussion because I feel like we’re treading water.”

Chostner, who won the Democratic primary for district attorney and faces no competition in the November election, will likely leave the Fountain Creek board in January. That’s given him a sense of urgency in working toward his goal, announced earlier this year, of developing a mill levy proposal to take to voters.

The district faces the prospect of operating in the red by the end of next year if more funding cannot be found.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Wiggins: New water treatment plant ready to go but the town still needs approvals for supply pipeline

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From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did send a letter making comments on three proposals to take the pipeline through the town flood levee but wanted clarification on some details like elevations, sections and sketches, said Tim Holbrook of Industrial Facilities Engineering, the firm that is overseeing the Wiggins water project.

Wiggins is replacing its current water supply after the current water levels in town wells has fallen over the years, and because the water is under a health advisory from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

During a weekly meeting of the Wiggins Board of Trustees, Holbrook said he will write up what the corps needs over the next few days and send it to Wiggins officials. After that, it will take a while to get a reply, but it is not certain how long.

More Wiggins coverage here and here.

Mars: Curiosity Rover finds a dry stream bed on the Red Planet

Here’s the release from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration:

NASA’s Curiosity rover mission has found evidence a stream once ran vigorously across the area on Mars where the rover is driving. There is earlier evidence for the presence of water on Mars, but this evidence — images of rocks containing ancient streambed gravels — is the first of its kind.

Scientists are studying the images of stones cemented into a layer of conglomerate rock. The sizes and shapes of stones offer clues to the speed and distance of a long-ago stream’s flow.

“From the size of gravels it carried, we can interpret the water was moving about 3 feet per second, with a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep,” said Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich of the University of California, Berkeley. “Plenty of papers have been written about channels on Mars with many different hypotheses about the flows in them. This is the first time we’re actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars. This is a transition from speculation about the size of streambed material to direct observation of it.”

The finding site lies between the north rim of Gale Crater and the base of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside the crater. Earlier imaging of the region from Mars orbit allows for additional interpretation of the gravel-bearing conglomerate. The imagery shows an alluvial fan of material washed down from the rim, streaked by many apparent channels, sitting uphill of the new finds.

The rounded shape of some stones in the conglomerate indicates long-distance transport from above the rim, where a channel named Peace Vallis feeds into the alluvial fan. The abundance of channels in the fan between the rim and conglomerate suggests flows continued or repeated over a long time, not just once or for a few years.

The discovery comes from examining two outcrops, called “Hottah” and “Link,” with the telephoto capability of Curiosity’s mast camera during the first 40 days after landing. Those observations followed up on earlier hints from another outcrop, which was exposed by thruster exhaust as Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory Project’s rover, touched down.

“Hottah looks like someone jack-hammered up a slab of city sidewalk, but it’s really a tilted block of an ancient streambed,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The gravels in conglomerates at both outcrops range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Some are angular, but many are rounded.

“The shapes tell you they were transported and the sizes tell you they couldn’t be transported by wind. They were transported by water flow,” said Curiosity science co-investigator Rebecca Williams of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz.

The science team may use Curiosity to learn the elemental composition of the material, which holds the conglomerate together, revealing more characteristics of the wet environment that formed these deposits. The stones in the conglomerate provide a sampling from above the crater rim, so the team may also examine several of them to learn about broader regional geology.

The slope of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater remains the rover’s main destination. Clay and sulfate minerals detected there from orbit can be good preservers of carbon-based organic chemicals that are potential ingredients for life.

“A long-flowing stream can be a habitable environment,” said Grotzinger. “It is not our top choice as an environment for preservation of organics, though. We’re still going to Mount Sharp, but this is insurance that we have already found our first potentially habitable environment.”

During the two-year prime mission of the Mars Science Laboratory, researchers will use Curiosity’s 10 instruments to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater have ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech, built Curiosity and manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more about Curiosity, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl.

So far there is no news about Front Range water interests hoping to build a pipeline to Mars for new supplies.

Reclamation Awards Contract for Arkansas Valley Conduit Investigations

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

The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a $715,477.50 contract to Vine Laboratories of Denver, Colo., to conduct geologic investigations, including drilling, testing, and sampling of unconsolidated material and bedrock necessary for design of the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit project.

Vine Laboratories is a woman-owned small business in Colorado.

“Reclamation is pleased to award this contract to one of Colorado’s small businesses,” said Michael J. Ryan, Great Plains Regional Director.

The contract will provide some preliminary data describing geological conditions and other variables.

If constructed, the AVC would convey water from Pueblo Reservoir to communities in southeastern Colorado.

For more information, please visit www.usbr.gov/avceis.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: 190 cfs in the river below Ruedi Dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Today around 5 p.m., the release from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan River will be curtailed by about 50 cfs.

The reason for the slight decline is that water for the endangered fish program is almost at an end for the year. Releases related to that program will now start ramping down.

As of this evening, Friday, Sept. 28, flows in the Fryingpan at the Ruedi Dam gage should be about 190 cfs.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here.

CWCB Statewide Drought Conference: ‘dry and hot conditions…have desiccated rangeland’ — Hannah Holm

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current U.S. Drought Monitor map and the July 24, 2012 map. We are seeing improvement over the central and southwestern mountains. Exceptional drought is expanding on the eastern plains. Let’s hope that Klaus Wolter’s forecast (presented Wednesday at the Water Availability Task force meeting Twitter hashtag #cwcbwatf) for a wetter fall over the northern and eastern part of Colorado holds up.

Here’s a report about last week’s CWCB Statewide Drought Conference from Hannah Holm writing for the Grand Junction Free Press. From the article:

Meteorologists told us that some signals are good, and some are bad, but it’s quite possible that we’ll have more dry times ahead — maybe up to a decade before Colorado gets significantly wetter, or not, depending on which models end up working best. The good news is that the scientists are beginning to get a better understanding of how warming and cooling temperatures in various ocean locations affect Colorado. They’re keeping an eye on a lot more than just “La Niña” and “El Niño,” and better long-term forecasts could be coming soon, which would help ranchers and farmers make better decisions about when to sell cows and when to plant.

So, what to do? We heard about that, too. Planning might help, particularly if we implement our plans. Disaster aid actually does soften economic impacts. Given that agriculture uses upwards of 80% of our water, a lot of attention is going to getting more efficient with water use in that sector. New tools are coming online that help farmers get a lot more precise about irrigation. Restoring damaged rangeland with native vegetation can help improve the soil’s ability to hold water and slowly release it back to streams.

Cities can mitigate their vulnerability by interconnecting with neighboring systems and adopting a “one for all and all for one” philosophy, like Grand Valley domestic water providers do. Even the seven states that share the Colorado River are starting to figure out ways to share shortages. Collaboration and creativity will clearly be important if we are to do more with less water. Several speakers, including Gov. Hickenlooper, pointed out that more reservoir storage could help us better adapt to increasing volatility between wet and dry years. And, of course, we all need to conserve.

Most of this sounded familiar to me from other water meetings. I did hear some things I hadn’t heard before, though, at least not from featured speakers at meetings like this. Hickenlooper commented that at some point, we will have to ask: “What is the carrying capacity of the state?”

Keynote speaker Steve Maxwell, author of “The Future of Water,” argued that increasing prices for water will begin to impact business development and individuals’ location decisions — which could be good news for the nation’s rust belt. Another speaker commented that the market may take care of some of our looming supply and demand imbalances by shifting water demand away from dry regions like this one.

More coverage from Steamboat Today (Todd Hagenbuch):

Climatologists from Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are working on ways to determine how various environmental conditions across the world affect weather patterns in Colorado. We all are familiar with how El Niño and La Niña affect local weather patterns, but climatologists now are understanding how similar conditions in the Atlantic, Indian and other oceans conspire with one another to affect how much moisture our area receives. Such information could prove invaluable to farmers who could know in advance what type of crops to plant for appropriate moisture levels or for ranchers to know how to alter stocking rates in advance of a drought.

Part of becoming a more resilient business is to plan for the long term. Ranchers know that managing range for health will reap long-term benefits, even when a tough year makes an appearance. This point was driven home at another workshop I attended this week.

The CSU Extension Service, in partnership with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and multiple other partners, has developed the Colorado Rangeland Monitoring Initiative. The group presented a workshop in Walden this week to educate landowners and range managers about how to monitor range health with those long-term goals in mind.

More CWCB coverage here.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill update: Concerned citizens balk at Cotter rep on steering committee related to decommissioning

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Citizens objections to Cotter Corp. having a representative on a steering committee nominating members for a new Community Advisory Group have made health officials want to rethink the idea.

State and federal health officials hosted a public meeting to get input on reforming the Community Advisory Group that will be the community voice for weighing in on the decommissioning plans for the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill. Because the mill’s Manager John Hamrick was listed as a steering committee member, citizens raised questions about whether that would be ethical because Cotter is the responsible party for the clean up.

“This is a trust issue,” Paul Carestia of Canon City told health officials.

Although EPA Regional Superfund Remedial Program Director Bill Murray said that health officials felt it was appropriate to have a Cotter representative, Dr. Chris Urbina, state health department executive director, said he would like more time to think about the steering committee makeup.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Douglas County is hosting a public workshop on October 4 for review of the county’s water regulations

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From the Highlands Ranch Herald (Rhonda Moore):

County planners on Oct. 4 will host a public workshop to review proposed revisions to Section 18A of the Douglas County zoning resolution. Section 18A is the resolution that addresses the commissioners’ discretion to determine when an applicant shall satisfy the adequacy of the water supply for a proposed development. It is also the section of the county’s zoning regulations at the heart of the Sterling Ranch lawsuit.

In May 2011, commissioners approved the Sterling Ranch application to rezone 3,400 acres in a development planned for up to 12,000 homes. At the same time, the county approved an exception to section 18A of its regulations to permit Sterling Ranch to prove its water supply at each phase of construction, rather than at the beginning of the planned development. The board’s decision was challenged in court and, on Aug. 22, a district court judge ruled against the county.

Commissioners asked staff to revisit the county’s regulations to ensure the county remains aligned with state statute, said Commissioner Jack Hilbert.

Meanwhile the Sterling Ranch has asked the judge to reconsider. Here’s a report from Rhonda Moore writing for the Castle Rock News Press. From the article:

In a motion filed Sept. 12 in Douglas County District Court, the motion asked District Court Judge Paul King to have a second look at his Aug. 22 order in favor of the Chatfield Community Association that reversed the Douglas County Board of County Commissioner’s approval of the Sterling Ranch planned development and water appeal.

With their approval, commissioners granted Sterling Ranch permission to rezone 3,400 acres in a development planned for up to 12,000 homes. In tandem with the rezone, commissioners approved a water appeal that granted Harold Smethills, Sterling Ranch managing director, to prove an adequate water supply for the development at each plat filing, or phase, of construction.

King’s ruling came about a year after commissioners approved the Sterling Ranch application. King applied a state law that says “the Board has no authority to approve the application without the Applicant demonstrating the adequacy of the water supply.”

Attorney David Foster, on behalf of Sterling Ranch, hopes King will reconsider his decision. His argument is two-fold: that the rezone is not for new construction, it is for use; and that the state only requires a water analysis at one point during the development process.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

Drought news: Much of the nation is still fighting drought

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From Reuters (Carey Gillam)

In Colorado, studies predict a chain of Colorado River reservoirs that serve about 30 million people has a 50 percent chance of running dry in the next 45 years. This will affect seven states — Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. Longer and more frequent droughts, decreases in snowpack, and increasing demand are key factors.

“Over the last couple of years, people have started realizing that what they thought they had in terms of supply is not materializing. They are really panicking,” said Barney Austin, director of hydrologic services for INTERA Inc., an Austin, Texas-based geoscience and engineering consulting firm.

Overall, more than 30 U.S. states are anticipating water shortages by 2013, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Denver Water is raising rates starting in January 2013

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From the Associated Press via KRQE:

Denver Water said Wednesday that rates for an average residential customer in Denver using 115,000 gallons annually would go up 55 cents per month, or about 1.5 percent. It would go up about 91 cents per month on average for full-service suburban residential customers.

The rate increases were included in a $341 million budget for 2013 that the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted Wednesday.

The budget includes funding for projects including replacing failing underground storage tanks, upgrading water treatment facilities, and replacing aging pipes. The budget relies in part on the rate increase, bond sales, drawing down cash reserves, selling hydropower and tap fees for new service for funding.

More coverage from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

Denver Water’s 2013 rates will rise an average of 55 cents per month for residential customers inside the city, while rates for its suburban customers are expected to rise an average of 91 cents per month. That’s based on customers using 115,000 gallons a year, the average annual consumption for Denver Water’s customers, the utility said Wednesday

More Denver Water coverage here and here.

The General Assembly may come out for the skiing industry against the USFS’s ‘taking’ of water rights

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The proposed resolution, under review by an interim legislative committee, would oppose a new Forest Service water rights clause in ski area special use permits that would bar resorts from transferring certain water rights to third parties. The Forest Service clause also requires ski areas to transfer certain water rights to the United States or to subsequent special permit use holders if a permit is terminated. The measure is one of several water bills on the agenda during a session of the interim Water Resources Review Committee. The bills will be discussed by lawmakers Thursday (Sept. 27) morning, with public testimony in the afternoon. The session will be streamed on the web. Go to this Colorado Legislature website and click on the House Committee 0112 link…

One of the bills includes language that would guarantee water-rights owners a right-of-way through lands between the point of diversion and where the water is used…

Another bill under consideration, possibly prompted by this year’s drought conditions, could clarify when so-called graywater could be reused…

Yet another measure addresses enforcement of permit terms by ground water management districts for small-capacity well permits.

Another issue that comes up perennially is the use of severance tax funds for water infrastructure improvements, and one of the proposed bills claims that diversions of “significant sums from their originally intended purposes has had a devastating effect on the maintenance and development of water infrastructure in Colorado.”

More 2013 Colorado Legislation coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Conduit: Construction costs come in at $500 million

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The costs of building the Arkansas Valley Conduit would be about $500 million no matter which alternative is chosen, according to a preliminary analysis by the Bureau of Reclamation. Four routes from Pueblo Dam are being considered and the costs of annual maintenance range from $3.4 million-$4.6 million. More detailed cost estimates are being prepared and will be released in a report later this year, said Signe Snortland, who is heading a Reclamation team evaluating the conduit, master storage contract for Lake Pueblo and an interconnection at Pueblo Dam. The projects have been requested by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

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

While the Arkansas Valley Conduit would meet water supply and quality needs of 40 communities east of Pueblo, it first has to make it out of the city. “The conduit must go through or around Pueblo,” said Signe Snortland, head of a Bureau of Reclamation team evaluating the environmental impacts of the conduit and two other projects. Reclamation hosted two hearings in Pueblo on Tuesday on the conduit, a $500 million project that would bring clean drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley. Few comments were received, but the public has until Oct. 30 to provide input. Other hearings have been at Salida and La Junta. The hearings end today in Lamar.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

Drought news: Greeley is asking folks to stop watering on October 1

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From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano) via The Denver Post:

If residents stop watering their lawns by Oct. 1, the city will have more water in its reservoirs to use after this winter, said Jon Monson, Greeley’s water and sewer director. The city normally recommends that residents stop watering their lawns by Oct. 15.

Because water in the Poudre River was contaminated with ash and soot from the High Park and Hewlett Gulch fires this summer, much of Greeley’s water came from Boyd Lake and Lake Loveland. Coupled with one of the driest years on record, the drop in those reservoir water levels was one of the most drastic the city has experienced, cutting the supply in half.

Even so, Greeley has enough water to get through the winter, Monson said. He said the plea to residents to turn off their sprinklers is more of a proactive request…

If every Greeley resident stopped watering by Oct. 1, the city would probably save about 2,500 acre-feet of water, he said — enough to supply up to 600 Greeley households with water for a year.

Denver Water sets course for 2013 upgrades

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Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

Over the past five years, Denver Water has invested nearly $420 million in repairing and upgrading its water system, some of which was built more than 100 years ago. Like utilities across the nation, Denver Water faces the arduous task of staying on top of maintenance for its aging system to ensure area residents continue to receive high-quality, award-winning water and reliable service every day.

At its meeting today, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted a budget and rate changes to fund essential repairs and upgrades in 2013.

The 2013 budget is $341 million, which will fund a number of multi-year projects, such as replacing failing underground storage tanks, upgrading water treatment facilities to maintain water quality and meet new regulatory requirements, and replacing aging pipes. Next year’s budget will be funded by water rates, bond sales, drawing down cash reserves, the sale of hydropower and fees for new service (tap fees).

The budget calls for a rate increase effective January 2013 of $0.55 per month on average for Denver residential customers using 115,000 gallons annually (the average annual consumption for Denver Water’s service area) and about $0.91 per month on average for full-service suburban residential customers using the same amount of water. The amounts will vary depending upon the amount of water the customer uses and whether the customer lives in Denver or is served by a suburban distributor under contract with Denver Water. Customers in Denver tend to use less than 115,000 gallons per year; suburban customers tend to use more.

“In 2012, we completed a number of significant projects, like the $18.3 million upgrade of 100-year-old valves at Cheesman Dam, and a $17 million project to install a new hydro turbine and repair the 50-year-old valve system at Williams Fork Dam,” said Angela Bricmont, Denver Water’s director of finance. “We also reconstructed Harriman Dam, built in the 1890s, to bring it up to current standards.”

In the next decade, Denver Water plans to spend about $120 million on treated water storage tank projects, including the new 10-million-gallon reservoir in Lone Tree to store treated water (pictured) — a project that was completed in July. This fall, Denver Water will begin the $40 million construction of the Ashland Treated Water Reservoir facility that will take more than three years to construct.
The utility also completed Lone Tree Reservoir — a 10 million-gallon circular underground storage tank — to help meet the needs of residents on the south end of its service area. By the end of 2012, Denver Water will have replaced, upgraded or rehabilitated nearly 25 miles of pipe in area neighborhoods.

Denver Water owns and maintains more than 3,000 miles of distribution pipe — enough to stretch from Los Angeles to New York — as well as 19 raw water reservoirs, 22 pump stations and four treatment plants. The utility examines and adjusts its capital plan as necessary each year.

“Looking ahead, we will need to continue to invest in our reservoirs, water treatment facilities, watershed protection, recycled water and conservation,” said Greg Austin, president of the Denver Board of Water Commissioners. “As always, our goal is to ensure that our customers, their children and grandchildren will receive a reliable supply of the highest quality water in return for the investment they are making in their water system.”

Rates for Denver Water customers living inside the city would remain among the lowest in the metro area, while rates for Denver Water residential customers in the suburbs would still fall at or below the median among area water providers.

The water department is a public agency funded by water rates and new tap fees, not taxes. Water rates are designed to recover the costs of providing water service — including maintenance of distribution pipes, reservoirs, pump stations and treatment plants — and also encourage efficiency by charging higher prices for increased water use. Most of Denver Water’s annual costs are fixed and do not vary with the amount of water sold.

More Denver Water coverage here and here.

Northern Colorado Regional Issues Summit recap: More storage, conservation taken too far will kill the tree canopy

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Colorado’s population is expected to increase from 5.1 million people to nearly 7.2 million by 2030. Most of that growth will occur on the Front Range, including Northern Colorado. As a result, water use will surge from 511,800 acre feet to 630,000 acre feet, said Andy Jones, a water attorney for Lawrence Jones Custer Grasmick. An acre-foot of water is the amount required to fill one acre, one foot deep. That means the state must build even more reservoirs than are now planned if it hopes to address the projected 118,200 acre-foot gap in water supply, Jones said…

The panel addressed the situation as part of the Regional Issues Summit on Wednesday at the Embassy Suites in Loveland…

Water storage is particularly important for Northern Colorado considering the intense use of the resource by industry, including agriculture and brewing, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute.

More coverage from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the article:

If everyone stops watering their lawns, they will jeopardize their green grass, but “you’re also jeopardizing the tree canopy,” Wilkinson said. “Deep percolation off lawn water keeps trees alive.”

Experts at the summit agreed that there’s no way for water conservation alone to solve the region’s water supply challenges as the state endures extreme drought conditions and Colorado’s population is expected to explode to more than 7 million by 2030…

Though water conservation isn’t enough, the area needs to take water conservation more seriously so that the city can reduce water demand to from the current 155 gallons per person per day to 140, said Fort Collins Poudre River Sustainability Director John Stokes.

Bobby Magill was live-Tweeting the event at #nocoissues along with many others.

More coverage from Grace Hood writing for KUNC. From the article:

“With the water we have in agriculture in Weld and Larimer counties, we have plenty of water to sustain any population that you’d want to have in this area. It’s a question of how much agriculture do you want to dry up?” [Eric Wilkinson]

This problem doesn’t have easy solutions. Part of it could come from lowering Front Range water use by 10 or 20 percent. However reusing and recycling water more could present other problems according to Andrew Jones, an attorney who specializes in water issues.

“When we talk about conserving, we have to introduce that concept into the discussion that we may also be reducing flows in the river and changing the river regime,” he says…

Ultimately, Northern Water’s Eric Wilkinson says the region needs to become more protective of its water supply, particularly when it comes to Denver Metro expansion. And that could come from creating a so called “water bank,” which could buy water rights from retiring farmers, preserving and leasing them back to agriculture and northern cities…

“We will be pursuing a resolution from the legislature in support of NISP in order encourage its forward progress more swiftly given the dynamics at play,” [the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance’s Sandra Hagen] says.

More coverage from Craig Young writing for the Loveland Reporter-Herald. From the article:

[Eric Wilkinson], as head of a water conservancy district engaged in planning and building water storage projects, joined other panelists in urging the construction of reservoirs to capture water the region has rights to. He said the Denver metro area already has demonstrated its willingness to come north to obtain water for its burgeoning population…

“Satisfying Denver’s thirst is probably one of the more important aspects to look at,” he said.

Leaders in Northern Colorado “need to consider a protectionist attitude in regard to the water supplies in this area.”

One way to do that, he said, would be to tie up the water here in a cooperative arrangement between farmers and local entities “so it’s not a candidate for going south to Denver.”

Wilkinson suggested the formation of a water bank as something officials here should consider. Through a new tax, the bank could buy water from retiring farmers, “bank” it and lease it to young farmers and other users…

Panelist John Stokes, the city of Fort Collins’ director of Poudre River sustainability, made the strongest appeal for conservation. He acknowledged that Northern Colorado needs more water storage but said, “I agree we can’t conserve our way out … but we can be a lot more aggressive about conservation.”

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

‘I would suggest (skiers) take full advantage of the powder days and not take them for granted this season’ — Joe Ramey

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From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

[Joe Ramey, a meteorologist and climate expert at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction] is predicting the return of a weak El Niño this year, a climate pattern that typically has major winter storms track south of Interstate 70 and favor the San Juan Mountains. “I would suggest (skiers) take full advantage of the powder days and not take them for granted this season,” Ramey said. “The tendency (during El Niño years) is for snowstorms to be few and far between in Steamboat. But there are lots of ways for my climate prediction to be wrong.”

He said El Niño could cede to neutral conditions as early as January, a weather pattern Ramey said is more unpredictable and could bring an abundance of snowfall to Northwest Colorado, or a lack of it. Ramey bases his annual winter forecasts on snowfall data going back to 1950 and following the state of El Niño…

Ramey said the study of El Niño and La Niña is the best way to try and develop an early winter forecast. “Dynamic climate models and statistical climate models still are not as effective as looking at the state of El Niño and following those patterns,” he said. While the rising Pacific Ocean temperatures currently spell bad news for Steamboat’s ski season, Ramey said time always can prove the predictions wrong and reverse Steamboat Ski Area’s fortunes.

Drought news: Telluride lifts watering restrictions

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

With the summer high season coming to a close, Telluride has lifted the water restrictions that had been in place since June 12. Town Manager Greg Clifton repealed those restrictions on Friday with an executive order. Clifton said that it wasn’t a boost in water supply that prompted him to lift the ban. Rather, it was the drop in water demand that takes place on the heels of the festival season, coupled with the fact that irrigation and lawn watering are tapering off. “We’re at the point where consumption’s not going to surge anymore,” Clifton said…

Construction of the town’s Pandora water treatment plant, a new water delivery system that’s been in the works for two decades, has been proceeding on schedule this summer, Clifton said. The new system is designed to pipe water from lakes in Upper Bridal Veil Basin down Black Bear road to a new treatment facility located near the Pandora Mill, and is expected to improve the town’s water capacity. If all goes as planned, the new plant could be activated in the spring of 2014.

Can the Flaming Gorge pipeline save ag and water Colorado’s burgeoning population?

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Eric Hecox. He is exploring the benefits of the Flaming Gorge pipeline, originally conceived by Aaron Million, now in the gunsights of the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition. Here’s an excerpt:

One potential new water project, the Flaming Gorge Pipeline, is being discussed and analyzed for its feasibility. The newly formed Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee is taking a closer look at this pipeline project. Simultaneously to this process, both public and private groups are investigating the potential of the project to meet present and future water demands. The Colorado/Wyoming Coalition, a public organization comprised of water and municipal entities in Colorado and Wyoming that could receive water from the pipeline if it is built, is conducting a feasibility study. A private developer, Aaron Millions, is also examining the project.

The Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee has identified three areas of focus related to the Flaming Gorge Pipeline: explore interests and issues related to a possible Flaming Gorge water supply project; gather and analyze current information about the potential impacts of such a project; and explore what additional work or activities would be needed to address the issues and interests.

The committee itself is a pilot project, created to assess the effectiveness of roundtable-based collaborations to explore water supply projects and issues. While the committee is focused on the Flaming Gorge project, it will also evaluate and track ideas and issues that emerge that can be applied to other potential water supply projects. The committee’s purpose is to gather information and explore ideas. It will not make recommendations about whether or not to build the Flaming Gorge Pipeline.

The Colorado/Wyoming Coalition is also analyzing the feasibility of the project. Established in 2010, the coalition is a joint collaboration between Colorado and Wyoming entities. The Colorado entities are: Douglas County, South Metro Water Supply Authority, Parker Water and Sanitation District, Town of Castle Rock and Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority. The Wyoming entities are: City of Cheyenne, City of Torrington and Laramie County…

The Colorado/Wyoming Coalition is committed to a transparent examination of the Flaming Gorge Project. The coalition will complete the study, develop information, and engage in discussions with supporters as well as with skeptics and opponents.

Meeting Colorado’s water needs undoubtedly necessitates developing new water projects. The Flaming Gorge Pipeline project appears promising, however there is much work to be done including an objective examination of the project and open discussions among interested parties. Colorado has a robust water supply planning process and it is encouraging that, through this process and through project proponents, potential solutions to Colorado’s water shortage are emerging.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

Windsor: A look at the town’s water resources

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From the Windsor Beacon (Carrie Knight):

Water is a confusing topic in the West. Windsor is not exempt from the historical idiosyncrasies of water law upon which Colorado was founded. Sitting at the heart of Colorado Water Law is Article 16 of the state Constitution, better known as “Prior Appropriation.” “Prior Appropriation” essentially states first in use, first in right. Many people are surprised when they find out that in addition to a set number of water “shares” the town holds in Windsor Lake, the town purchases its water from three additional providers, including the North Weld County Water District, city of Greeley and Fort Collins-Loveland Water District. Each of these districts holds prior appropriation to water sources from which the town directly benefits.

The “shares” or allotments of water in Windsor Lake are owned by the Kern Reservoir and Ditch Co., of which the town owns majority shares. The Kern Reservoir and Ditch Co., formerly the Lake Supply Ditch Co., has a long history in Windsor. As early as 1903, the Lake Supply and Ditch Co., had secured “first in right” of Windsor Lake. Today, it is used solely for recreational purposes and as a nonpotable irrigation reservoir. Windsor entered into its agreement with the city of Greeley for mountain water drawn from the Poudre River near Bellvue in 1908. Other early Windsor residents benefited from private wells drilled on their property. Some of these private wells still exist today.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

Former Governor Bill Ritter is stumping for 90by20

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter is promoting a campaign to substantially reduce water use in the Colorado River basin by the year 2020. The goal of the program is to reduce per-person daily water use in the Colorado River basin, and in communities that use water from the river, to 90 gallons per day. The figure includes only residential use, including landscape watering.

“We are stretching the capacity of the Colorado River well past its limit,” Ritter said last week. “The future of thousands of businesses, farms and communities depends on our commitment to conserving water in the river, and the 90 By 20 initiative is a critical part of that commitment.”

The initiative is aimed at communities in the Colorado River basin, and those which impact the basin.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Public Scoping Continues on Paradox Valley Salinity Control Projects, meetings September 25, 26 and 27

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Terry Stroh/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation announced today that it will hold three public scoping meetings to solicit public input on a planning report and environmental impact statement concerning the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Unit, located near Bedrock, Colo. The meetings will be held:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. – Paradox, Colo., Paradox Valley School, 21501 6 Mile Road

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. – Montrose, Colo., Holiday Inn Express, 1391 S Townsend Ave.

Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. – Grand Junction, Colo., Colorado Mesa University, Student Center, 1100 North Ave., Room 221

Historically, the Dolores River picked up an estimated 205,000 tons of salt annually as it passed through the Paradox Valley. Since the mid-1990’s much of this salt has been collected by the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Unit in shallow wells along the Dolores River and then injected into deep subsurface geologic formations. The deep well injection program has removed about 110,000 tons of salt annually from the Dolores and Colorado rivers.

The current deep injection well is projected to reach the end of its useful life in three to five years under current operations. Reclamation is seeking public input to identify and evaluate brine disposal alternatives to replace or supplement the existing brine injection well. Initial alternatives include developing a new injection well and using evaporation ponds.

The project will be described and questions will be answered at the meetings; comments may be provided at the scoping meeting, emailed to tstroh@usbr.gov or mailed to Bureau of Reclamation, 2764 Compass Drive, Suite 106, Grand Junction CO 81506 by November 26, 2012.

More coverage from Gus Jarvis writing for The Telluride Watch. From the article:

The deep brine injection well is projected to reach the end of its useful life in three to five years under current operation, and the Bureau of Reclamation is seeking public comments to identify and evaluate brine disposal alternatives to replace or supplement the existing well. Initial alternatives include developing a new injection well or using evaporation ponds.

Installed in the mid-1990s, the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Unit has removed an estimated 110,000 tons of salt annually from the Dolores River as its waters passed through the Paradox Valley. Much of the salt is collected in shallow wells along the river and then injected deep into subsurface geologic formations.

“From our perspective, this has worked really well,” Bureau of Reclamation public relations specialist Justyn Hock said in an interview last week. “It makes a big impact in reducing the salt content in the river and improves the water quality downstream.”

Since the unit is nearing the end of its lifespan, Hock says the agency is beginning to contemplate its options on how to move forward with a similar injection unit or something completely different altogether.

“This is a unique project and we have been doing this for a while and its worked great,” she said. “Before we decide to do a new project, we are going to make sure this is still the best way to do it or find out if there is a better way. Two of the options we have right now are installing a new well or building evaporation ponds. We are open to other options if people have ideas.”

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.

Longmont’s water supply system turns 130

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Here’s a look at the history of Longmont’s water supply from Scott Rochat writing for the Longmont Times-Call. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Longmont’s prime water source near Lyons filled up and spilled over Button Rock Dam on Monday. That’s an unusual sight this year — the city’s other lakes are between half and two-thirds full, with more demand for water ahead — and a welcome reassurance for the winter months.

It was also a handy way to celebrate Longmont’s water system turning 130, a system that’s grown from a single 6-inch line to a utility that regularly supplies 16 million gallons of water a day to the city’s residents…

When Longmont got its start in 1871, water meant two things: irrigation companies and the St. Vrain Creek. The city’s planners had already done some thinking about the former, buying out an unfinished irrigation ditch and completing it as the Longmont Supply Ditch. The latter, meanwhile, was sufficient in the earliest days of the “colony,” when a light population could easily stay near the creek flow…

A water wagon from Lyons supplemented the local supplies for a while. But when fire ravaged the 300 block of Main Street in 1879, the well and bucket brigades from the creek simply couldn’t keep up. By April 1882, a $70,000 bond had been voted in for the first water line, a 6-inch pipeline from just south of Lyons to the current site of Price Park. That would be enough for about 25 years, until further growth and the start of what became the Great Western sugar refinery made it necessary to run a 12-inch line into town…

During the 2012 drought, possibly the worst since its 2002 predecessor, Longmont adopted no water restrictions. In April, the city projected its present water supply would be sufficient not just through the summer, but through 2014.

More South Platte River basin coverage here and here.

NOAA: State of the Climate report released

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Here’s the link to the report from the Nation Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Here’s the report summary:

The globally-averaged temperature for August 2012 marked the fourth warmest August since record keeping began in 1880. August 2012 also marks the 36th consecutive August and 330th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.

Most areas of the world experienced much higher-than-average monthly temperatures, including far northeastern North America, central and Southern Europe, and east central Asia. Meanwhile, parts of Siberia were notably cooler than average. In the Arctic, sea ice extent averaged 1.82 million square miles, resulting in the all-time lowest August sea ice extent on record. On August 26th, the Arctic dipped below the record smallest daily extent, previously set on September 18th, 2007.

The equatorial Pacific Ocean continued to reflect neutral El Niño-Southern Ocean (ENSO) conditions in August. However, according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the El Niño warm ocean phase will likely develop during September. In addition to influencing seasonal climate outcomes in the United States, El Niño is often, but not always, associated with global temperatures that are above the average trend.

Global temperature highlights: August

– The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for August was the fourth highest on record for August, at 61.22°F (16.22°C) or 1.12°F (0.62°C) above the 20th century average. The margin of error associated with this temperature is ±0.16°F (0.09°C).

– August marked the 36th consecutive August and 330th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average temperature August was August 1976 and the last below-average temperature month was February 1985.

– The global land temperature tied with 2001 and 2011 as the second warmest August on record, behind 1998, at 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average of 56.9°F (13.8°C). The margin of error is ±0.32°F (0.18°C).
Higher-than-average monthly temperatures were most notable across far eastern Canada, southern Greenland, central and southern Europe, western Kazakhstan, Japan, Western Australia, and Paraguay, while temperatures were much cooler than average across parts of Siberia.

– The average August daytime (maximum) temperature across Australia was 1.49°C above normal, making this the sixth warmest August since national records began in 1950. Conversely, it was colder than average at night. The average nighttime (minimum) temperature across Australia was 0.83°C below average, making the difference between the average daytime temperature and the average nighttime temperature the greatest on record for August and third highest for any month on record.

– The average monthly temperature in New Zealand during August was 1.2°C above average.

– Austria reported its fourth warmest August since national records began in 1767, with a temperature that was 1.9°C above the long-term average, leading to the third earliest complete snowmelt on August 19th at the high-elevation mountain station in Sonnblick.

– Spain reported two heat waves in August that led to its second warmest August since its records began in 1961, behind only August 2003, at 2.0°C above average.

– For the ocean, the August global sea surface temperature was 0.94°F (0.52°C) above the 20th century average of 61.4°F (16.4°C), or fifth warmest August on record. This was also the highest monthly global ocean temperature departure from average for any month since July 2010. The margin of error is ±0.07°F (0.04°C).

– Neutral conditions continued during August across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, with sea surface temperatures trending toward 0.9°F (0.5°C) above average for a three-month period, the official threshold for the onset of El Niño conditions. According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, El Niño conditions will likely emerge during September.

Polar ice highlights: August

– August 2012’s Arctic sea ice extent averaged 1.82 million square miles, which was 38.5 percent below the 1979 to 2000 average. During the month, the Arctic lost an average of 35,400 square miles of ice per day, the fastest rate ever observed for the month of August, resulting in the all-time smallest August Arctic sea ice extent on record.

– According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice shrank to 1.58 million square miles on August 26th, dipping below the smallest extent on record, which occurred on September 18th, 2007 at 1.61 million square miles. By the end of the month, sea ice extent dropped to 1.42 million square miles, with the melt season expected to last until mid-September. All of the six lowest sea ice extents have occurred in the past six years.

– On the opposite pole, Antarctic sea ice during August 2012 was 1.6 percent above average and ranked as fourth largest August extent in the 34-year period of record.

Precipitation highlights: August

– In the North Atlantic, Hurricane Isaac brought locally heavy rain to Hispaniola, Cuba, and parts of the southeastern United States, with some areas receiving up to 20 inches (500 mm) of rain.

– In the western Pacific, a record three typhoons—Haikui, Saola, and Damrey—made landfall along China’s coast within a one-week period during late July and early August.

– August was dry across most of Australia, with the country as a whole reporting its fifth driest August since national precipitation records began in 1900, with monthly rainfall just 44 percent of average. The last month with a national average deficit this great was March 2009.

– The high-pressure systems that led to heat waves in Spain also contributed to a dry August. Spain reported its third driest August since national records began in 1961, with average precipitation just above one third of normal.

Global temperature highlights: June–August

– The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for June–August tied with 2005 as the third highest on record for this period at 61.25°F (16.24°C), or 1.15°F (0.64°C), above the 20th century average of 60.1°F (15.6°C). The margin of error associated with this temperature is ±0.16°F (0.09°C).

– The global land temperature was the all-time warmest June–August on record, at 1.85°F (1.03°C) above the 20th century average of 56.9°F (13.8°C). The margin of error is ±0.27°F (0.15°C).

– For the ocean, the June–August global sea surface temperature was 0.90°F (0.50°C), above the 20th century average of 61.5°F (16.4°C), tying with 1997, 2001, and 2002 as the seventh warmest for June–August on record. The margin of error is ±0.07°F (0.04°C).

Global temperature highlights: Year to Date

– Record to near-record warmth over land from April to August and increasing global ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean resulted in the first eight months of 2012 tying with 2006 as the ninth warmest such period on record, with a combined global land and ocean average surface temperature of 1.01°F (0.56°C) above the 20th century average of 57.3°F (14.0°C). The margin of error is ±0.18°F (0.10°C).

The January–August worldwide land surface temperature was 1.71°F (0.95°C) above the 20th century average, marking the sixth warmest such period on record. The margin of error is ±0.38°F (0.21°C).
The global ocean surface temperature for the year to date was 0.76°F (0.42°C) above average and ranked as the 11th warmest such period on record. This was the warmest monthly departure from normal since August 2010. The margin of error is ±0.07°F (0.04°C).

Drought news: Northern Colorado used much of their stored water this summer, snow dances are in order

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From Windsor Now! (Eric Brown):

Because 2012 brought record-low amounts of precipitation, farmers and residents depended heavily on stored water from reservoirs this year. And now — seeing how low reservoir water levels are — water providers in the region say at least average snowfall will be needed during the upcoming months.

Another dry winter, like the one Colorado had this year, would spell trouble for the next growing season, they say. “The reservoirs this year certainly served their basic purpose: They filled up during wet years, and then helped us get through a dry year,” said Jon Monson, director of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board. “But if we don’t get some good snows this winter to refill those reservoirs, we could be in a tight spot next year…

Heading into this month, the estimated amount of water in the Greeley-Loveland System — which consists of three reservoirs and is one of Greeley’s primary water sources, supplying anywhere from 30-50 percent of the city’s demand — was less than half of what it was just a year earlier, having dropped from about 57,000 total acre feet down to about 25,000 acre feet. It was the system’s biggest one-year decrease during at least the past 25 years…

The city of Greeley gets about 25 percent of its water from direct flows in the Poudre River, but that supply had to be shut down earlier this summer, because ash and debris from wildfires were dumping into the river. Not being able to use those direct flows forced the city to even more so deplete its reservoirs this summer…

Like Monson, Andy Pineda, the water resources department manager at the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees operations and deliveries of the C-BT Project, said the region doesn’t need record snowfall like that of 2011 to meet the needs of next year’s growing season. Just an average snow year would do the trick.

‘Water in Colorado and the Grand Valley’ and ‘Pass the jug’ presentations at Mesa County libraries starting October 2

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From KKCO:

If this past summer has taught us anything, it’s the importance of water. Join Hannah Holm, Water Center coordinator at Colorado Mesa University, for “Water in Colorado and the Grand Valley,” an overview of where our water supplies come from, how we use water, and constraints on our water use. The presentation at three Mesa County Libraries locations also will discuss current water supply challenges and planning efforts to address them.

Holm’s presentation is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday Oct.2, at the Central Library; 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the Fruita Branch; and 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct.4, at the Palisade Branch. It is open to the public at no charge.

Holm is also scheduled to lead children in a “Pass the Jug” activity dramatizing the concept of water as a limited resource that must be shared among a variety of users. The children’s activity is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday Oct. 16, and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct.17, at the Central Library.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Cañon City: Hearing for de-commissioning of Cotter Mill is Thursday

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

State and federal health officials will host a public meeting this week to work toward putting together a community advisory group to help guide the Cotter Corporation Uranium Mill’s decommissioning process. The meeting, at 6 p.m. Thursday at Canon City’s City Hall, 128 Main St., will be hosted by Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health officials…

The decommissioning process is expected to take 10 to 15 years and will be guided by both the state health department and the EPA.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.

Pure strain of greenback cutthroats found southwest of Colorado Springs

 

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Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder (Jessica Metcalf/Andrew Martin/Jim Scott):

A novel genetic study led by the University of Colorado Boulder has helped to clarify the native diversity and distribution of cutthroat trout in Colorado, including the past and present haunts of the federally endangered greenback cutthroat trout.

The study, led by CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Jessica Metcalf, was based largely on DNA samples taken from cutthroat trout specimens preserved in ethanol in several U.S. museums around the country that were collected from around the state as far back as 150 years ago. The new study, in which Metcalf and her colleagues extracted mitochondrial DNA from fish to sequence genes of the individual specimens and compared them with modern-day cutthroat trout strains, produced some startling results.

The biggest surprise, said Metcalf, was that the cutthroat trout native to the South Platte River drainage appears to survive today only in a single population outside of its native range — in a small stream known as Bear Creek that actually is in the nearby Arkansas River drainage. The strain from Bear Creek is thought to have been collected from the South Platte River drainage in the 1880s by an early hotelier who stocked the fish in a pond at the Bear Creek headwaters to help promote an early tourist route up Pikes Peak.

“We thought one way to get to the question of which cutthroat trout strains are native to particular drainages was to go back to historical samples and use their DNA as a baseline of information,” said Metcalf of the chemistry and biochemistry department and a former postdoctoral researcher at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. “Our study indicates the descendants of the fish that were stocked into Bear Creek in the late 1800s are the last remaining representatives of the federally protected greenback cutthroat trout.”

A second, key set of data was all of the Colorado cutthroat trout stocking records over the past 150 years, a task spearheaded by study co-author and fish biologist Chris Kennedy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Between 1889 and 1925, for example, the study showed that more than 50 million cutthroat trout from the Gunnison and Yampa river basins were stocked in tributaries of all major drainages in the state, jumbling the picture of native cutthroat strains in Colorado through time and space.

Originating from the Pacific Ocean, cutthroat trout are considered one of the most diverse fish species in North America and evolved into 14 recognized subspecies in western U.S. drainages over thousands of years. In Colorado, four lineages of cutthroats were previously identified: the greenback cutthroat, the Colorado River cutthroat, the Rio Grande cutthroat and the extinct yellowfin cutthroat.

The museum specimens used in the study came from the California Academy of Sciences, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology. Colorado cutthroat trout specimens were collected by a number of early naturalists, including Swiss scientist and former Harvard Professor Louis Agassiz and internationally known fish expert and founding Stanford University President David Starr Jordan.

The new study, published online today in Molecular Ecology, follows up on a 2007 study by Metcalf and her team that indicated there were several places on the Front Range where cutthroat populations thought to be greenbacks by fish biologists were actually a strain of cutthroats transplanted from Colorado’s Western Slope in the early 1900s.

Other co-authors on the new study included CU-Boulder Professor Andrew Martin and CU-Boulder graduate students Sierra Stowell, Daniel McDonald and Kyle Keepers; Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist Kevin Rogers; University of Adelaide scientists Alan Cooper and Jeremy Austin; and Janet Epp of Pisces Molecular LLC of Boulder.

“With the insight afforded by the historical data, we now know with a great deal of certainty what cutthroat trout strains were here in Colorado before greenbacks declined in the early 20th century,” said Martin of CU’s ecology and evolutionary biology department. “And we finally know what a greenback cutthroat trout really is.”

Metcalf and her colleagues first collected multiple samples of tissue and bone from each of the ethanol-pickled trout specimens, obtaining fragments of DNA that were amplified and then pieced together like a high-tech jigsaw puzzle to reveal two genes of the individual specimens. The tests were conducted on two different continents under highly sterile conditions and each DNA sequencing effort was repeated several times for many specimens to ensure accuracy in the study, Metcalf said.

Roughly half of the study was conducted at CU-Boulder and half at the Australian Center for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, where Metcalf had worked for two years. “By conducting repeatable research at two very different, state-of-the-art laboratories, we were able to show the Bear Creek trout was the same strain as the cutthroats originally occupying the South Platte River drainage.”

The Bear Creek trout strain is now being propagated in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatchery system and at the USFWS Leadville National Fish Hatchery.

In addition to identifying the Bear Creek cutthroat trout, Metcalf and her colleagues discovered a previously unknown cutthroat strain native to the San Juan Basin in southwestern Colorado that has since gone extinct. The study also confirmed that the yellowfin cutthroat, a subspecies from the Arkansas River headwaters that grew to prodigious size in Twin Lakes near Leadville, also had gone extinct.

Fortunately, most fish preserved by naturalists before 1900 were “fixed” in ethanol, which makes it easier for researchers to obtain reliable DNA than from fish preserved in a formaldehyde solution, a practice that later became popular. Prior to the new study — which included DNA from specimens up to about 150 years old — scientists working in ancient DNA labs had only performed similar research on ethanol-preserved museum vertebrate specimens less than 100 years old.

“One of the exciting things to come from this research project is that it opens up the potential for scientists to sequence the genes of other fish, reptiles and amphibian specimens preserved in ethanol further back in time than ever before to answer ecological questions about past diversity and distribution,” said Metcalf, who conducts her research at CU’s BioFrontiers Institute.

Funding for the study was provided by agencies of the Greenback Cutthroat Trout Recovery Team, including the USFWS, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and Trout Unlimited.

“I think in many cases success depends less on the application of a new technology and more on the convergence of people with shared interest and complementary skills necessary for solving difficult problems,” said Martin. “Our greenback story is really one about what can be discovered when dedicated and talented people collaborate with a shared purpose.”

“We’ve known for some time that the trout in Bear Creek were unique,” said Doug Krieger, senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Greenback Cutthroat Trout Recovery Team leader. “But we didn’t realize they were the only surviving greenback population.”

The decline of native cutthroats in Colorado occurred because of a combination of pollution, overfishing and stocking of native and non-native species of trout, said Metcalf. “It’s ironic that stocking nearly drove the greenback cutthroat trout to extinction, and a particularly early stocking event actually saved it from extinction,” she said.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

“We’ve known for some time that the trout in Bear Creek were unique,” said Doug Krieger, senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, who led the team. “But we didn’t realize they were the only surviving greenback population.”

Greenback cutthroats — the official state fish — are native to the South Platte River basin. The Bear Creek population, currently estimated at about 750 of the state fish, survived in headwaters of the Arkansas River basin because, according to the study, they apparently were stocked there in the early 1880s by a hotel operator hoping to promote a tourist route up Pikes Peak.

CU authors of the study identified six cutthroat lineages native to Colorado — two, the yellowfin from the Arkansas and a lineage from the San Juan, are believed extinct. Biologists say the findings may lead to an overhaul of scientific understanding of the fish.

Forecast news: Snow — SNOW — expected above 11,000 feet

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From 9News.com (Amelia Earhart) via The Denver Post:

The National Weather Service has issued a Special Weather Statement for the Gore and Elk Mountain Ranges, the West Sawatch Mountains and the San Juans above 11,000 feet. One to three inches of snow is possible – beginning Monday night through Tuesday morning. Below 11,000 feet, thunderstorms with cloud-to-ground lightning are possible as well.

Drought news: Miriam (Pacific hurricane) send us your moisture

From the Associated Press via Boston.com:

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Miriam is packing top sustained winds of 120 mph (165 kph), making it what’s classified as a major hurricane.

The hurricane formed a day earlier in the eastern Pacific and was centered about 410 miles (655 kms) south-southwest of the southern tip of the Baja peninsula.

The center says Miriam was moving northwest at 12 mph (19 kph). No coastal watches or warnings are in effect, but swells will hit Baja’s southern and western shore during the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, Horsetooth Reservoir is back on the rise, according to Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

Since the middle of last week, Horsetooth Reservoir has risen more than two feet. Water officials have stopped filling Carter Lake and are sending water being pumped to the Front Range from the Western Slope directly into Horsetooth Reservoir, which is expected to continue rising slowly for the foreseeable future. “We hope to fill it by next spring,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

The reservoir is one of two primary sources of drinking water for the city of Fort Collins.

Aspen: The search is still on for an economic geothermal resource

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From The Aspen Daily News (Andrew Travers):

The twice-suspended project had been set to resume this fall, but new drilling plans have yet to be finalized as September draws to a close, and remain in the works…

The prospect of tapping cheap, clean and renewable energy in underground Aspen water was encouraged by a 2008 city study, which found that water below town may be as warm as 140 degrees. Water warmer than 100 degrees could be used to heat homes or offices.

If the Prockter drilling site is successful, city officials have said they would want to find a second test drilling site before attempting to use the geothermal energy.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

Drought news: Gov. Hickenlooper authorizes relief for drought-stricken ranchers and livestock owners

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Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office. Here’s an excerpt:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced he signed an Executive Order to suspend permits necessary to authorize transports of large baled hay or baled livestock feed which may exceed lawful maximum height.

“Large areas of Colorado have experienced devastating damage from drought. This has severely impacted the ability of Colorado livestock producers to acquire the requisite amount of feed for their animals,” the Executive Order says. “As winter approaches, such restrictions put Colorado livestock in severe danger and producers require immediate assistance to meet their feed requirements.”

The Executive Order suspends rules that prevent the State from issuing single-trip, extra-legal permits for divisible loads of “baled hay” or “baled livestock feed” of heights ranging from 14 feet, 6 inches to 15 feet. The Order will stay in effect until Oct. 21, 2012.

Forecast news: El Niño this year could keep major winter storms south of Interstate 70 — Joe Ramey (NWS)

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From The Denver Post via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

“I would suggest (skiers) take full advantage of the powder days and not take them for granted this season,” Ramey told the Steamboat Pilot. “The tendency (during El Niño years) is for snowstorms to be few and far between in Steamboat. But there’s lots of ways for my climate prediction to be wrong.”

Ramey bases his annual winter forecasts on snowfall data going back to 1950 and by following the state of El Niño.

Drought news: Public hearing tonight for Western Weather Consultants’ cloud-seeding application

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Here’s the notice from the CWCB website:

The CWCB has received an application from Western Weather Consultants to renew their permit for a wintertime ground based cloud seeding program on behalf of Denver Water and Colorado Springs Utilities and several other sponsors.

This notice of intent has been advertised in eighteen newspapers in eighteen counties for this public hearing.

The public hearing will be held at La Quinta Inn & Suites, Loveland Room, 560 Silverthorne Lane, Silverthorne, Colorado, at 6:00 PM on Monday September 24, 2012.

The public record will be held open so that comments can be emailed to joe.busto@state.co.us or mailed with postmark of October 1, 2012 for consideration as part of the record of decision.

Public comments oral and written are used by the State to develop a record of decision that is used to deny, approve, or approve with special terms and conditions a weather modification permit.

More CWCB coverage here.

Lawsuit alleges mismanagement on the part of Robert Lembke and United Water and Sanitation

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I remember seeing Robert Lembke at a series of water lectures, Wringing Water from the Rocks sponsored by then Mayor John Hickenlooper and organized by Beth Conover. I remember Mr. Lembke taking the podium, slowly pouring a glass of water, and saying, “You have to get some free Denver Water anytime you can.”

Mr. Lembke and United Water and Sanitation have been hit with a lawsuit by one of their partners. Here’s a report from Karen Crummy writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

Plaintiff Silver Peaks Holdings LLC said it put in 550 acres of land near Lochbuie as part of a real-estate-development venture with Robert Lembke and two of his associates. But instead of helping the development, Silver Peaks alleges that the three men, through a network of companies and enterprises, used its assets to benefit interests they had in other ventures. The plaintiff contends Lembke and his associates used the land as collateral to borrow money to build a water-transport system with a capacity far exceeding the needs of the planned 2,300-home development. As result, the $14 million debt secured for the project was 10 times the cost of an adequate water system for the development. Then Lembke and Ted Shipman, who Silver Peaks alleges controls the board of the Silver Peaks Metropolitan District, transferred water certificates and the entire water-delivery system to United Water and Sanitation District. United, which has no residents and a potential statewide service area, was created by Lembke as a vehicle to provide a water network serving future developments throughout the Front Range. The plaintiff alleges that United is using the water-delivery system to help fulfill contracts with East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District and Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority… “The defendants are using that water-transport system throughout Colorado’s Front Range to enrich themselves, while our client is left with a worthless investment in a business that derives no benefit from … the system it financed,” said attorney Timothy Flanagan, whose firm Fowler, Schimberg & Flanagan PC represents the holding company.

One cool thing about the Internet is the opportunity for targets of investigative journalism to respond to negative articles quickly. Here’s United Water’s response to Ms. Crummy from their website:

As some of you may have seen in today’s paper (click here for article), The Denver Post has reported on a meritless civil lawsuit filed in Adams County against SP Equities and other parties about the Silver Peaks housing development in Weld County that more than 275 families already call home. Contrary to the implications in the article, since 2006 Silver Peaks has had — and will continue to have — a fully working water system sufficient to meet the development needs of the project. We plan to address the baseless claims in the complaint by Silver Peaks Holdings and its sole representative, Aspen socialite Kelley Carson, in the courtroom. In the meantime, it’s clear that Ms. Carson and her attorneys are attempting to play the case out in the courtroom of public opinion. As we said to the Post, the claims give proof to the adage that “In good times you pursue business, and in bad time you pursue litigation.” We want our friends and colleagues to know that this case is a thinly disguised last-ditch attempt by Ms. Carson to extract additional money from a 12-year old development project whose success is due almost entirely to the parties wrongly maligned in the complaint. The complaint ignores stacks of evidence and history confirming that Ms. Carson and her former partner were actively involved in the operations of the project and were fully aware of the operational agreements negotiated during the early years of the development. Ms. Carson eventually chose to take an absentee role in the project, attending only 5 of the 65 Silver Peaks Metro District meetings since 2004. Prior to the economic downturn, the project near the town of Lochbuie represented one of the more successful developments in the Northern Front Range. The project has strongly withstood the real estate recession and is poised to meet the growing demand for development in the Lochbuie area. The Silver Peaks neighborhood is also home to the only new retail development in Lochbuie. Throughout the project some of the parties now sued by Ms. Carson have maintained the project by servicing debt on the project, while at the same time the Silver Peaks investment partnership distributed Ms. Carson’s entity millions in cash and property. As late as 2010, Ms. Carson asked some of the parties she is now suing to continue to finance the project without any personal contribution by Ms. Carson. We have tried in good faith to resolve Ms. Carson’s issues, and we are now prepared to respond in the courtroom.

More South Platte River basin coverage here and here.

San Luis Valley: Geothermal event set for October 4 (Saguache), October 5 (Crestone)

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From The Mountain Mail:

The Northern San Luis Valley Conservation Roundtable will present an educational event about local geothermal resources Oct. 4 in Saguache and Oct. 5 near Crestone.

“We’re in Hot Water – Geothermal in the Northern San Luis Valley” will be presented at 6:30 p.m. both nights – at the Saguache Road & Bridge meeting room, 305 Third St. and Baca Grande POA Hall, 68575 CR T.

Paul Morgan, senior geothermal geologist with Colorado Geological Survey, will speak about geothermal resources and possible resource development in the Northern San Luis Valley.

Topics include how geology, water sources and geothermal resources interrelate, Colorado Geological Survey research relating to geothermal leasing in the San Luis Valley, and other Colorado Geological Survey research in the area.

Morgan will answer questions during and following the presentation.

Refreshments will be served. More information is at 719.221.8434 or barb@olt.org.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

Drought news: GMO crops to the rescue?

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From the Los Angeles Times (Ricardo Lopez) via The Denver Post:

Agricultural biotechnology companies have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into developing plants that can withstand the effects of a prolonged dry spell. Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, has received regulatory approval for DroughtGard, a corn variety that contains the first genetically modified trait for drought resistance.

Seed makers, such as Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. of Johnston, Iowa, and Swiss company Syngenta, are already selling drought-tolerant corn varieties, conceived through conventional breeding.

At stake: a $12 billion U.S. seed market, with corn comprising the bulk of sales. The grain is used in such things as animal feed, ethanol and food. The push is also on to develop soybean, cotton and wheat that can thrive in a world that’s getting hotter and drier.

“Drought is definitely going to be one of the biggest challenges for our growers,” said Jeff Schussler, senior research manager for Pioneer, the agribusiness arm of DuPont. “We are trying to create products for farmers to be prepared for that.”

Their efforts come amid concerns about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and the unforeseen consequences of this genetic tinkering. Californians in November will vote on Proposition 37, which would require foods to carry labels if they were genetically modified. The majority of corn seed sold is modified to resist pests and reap higher yields.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The lack of rainfall has pushed flows on the Arkansas River to low levels that are being maintained mostly by releases from Pueblo Dam by municipalities leasing water to farmers.

“This is kind of a weird place to be,” Division Engineer Steve Witte told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday. “It is a strange set of circumstances we find ourselves in.”[…]

Thursday, the flow at Moffat Street was under 50 cubic feet per second. Other than a brief surge after some rain last week, flows have been under 100 cfs all month, about one-third of average. The target minimum is 100 cfs, under a 2004 flow agreement Inflows to Lake Pueblo have been about 200 cfs throughout most of the summer, and the Bessemer Ditch and Board of Water Works require about half of that. “It’s been hard to maintain 100 cfs,” Witte said. At the Avondale gauge station, the Arkansas River met average flows only briefly in July, and has been well below average on most days since May.

For much of the summer, when it does not rain, the call has been stuck at the Rocky Ford Ditch’s 1874 water right. Downstream, the river has been split into four calls many days, as water is diverted and return flows bring the water level back. “I can’t recall we’ve ever had a four-way call,” Witte said.

Kansas has elected not to run the water it has stored in John Martin under terms of the Arkansas River Compact because most of it would be lost running down the river.

‘Development may be pushed to areas that have water’ — Chris Woodka

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A recent Colorado appeals court decision reversed Douglas County’s decision to approve the Sterling Ranch development because commissioners apparently violated a 2008 state law that prohibits permitting developments unless they can prove they have adequate water supplies.

Initially, I was worried that this could spark a feeding frenzy and even more agricultural water rights would be purchased for domestic water supplies. On further review, I’m not so sure.

What if this kink made developers a little more thoughtful about where new building took place, and got them out of the habit of plunking down endless subdivisions in the I-25 corridor? Why spend millions of dollars moving water to where it isn’t?

Look out Dolores the subdivisions are coming.

Water rich areas attracting industry and development is one of the themes of Steve Maxwell’s book, The Future of Water: A Startling Look Ahead.

Mr. Maxwell was at last week’s drought conference. He expects the rust belt to prosper as the West dries up from climate change, resource development and overpopulation.

More infrastructure coverage here and here.

Reclamation Hosts Public Hearings on AVC Draft EIS

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

The Bureau of Reclamation announces five public hearings to be held as part of 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.

Meetings will be held September 24-28 in Salida, Pueblo, La Junta and Lamar, Colo. There will be an afternoon and an evening meeting in Pueblo. For dates and locations, please visit the website at http://www.usbr.gov/avceis.

The hearings will include an open house, presentation, question and answer forum, and an opportunity for oral comments from the public. The schedule for evening meetings is 6:30 pm open house and exhibits, 7:00 pm presentation with questions and answers, and 7:30 pm hearing. The afternoon meeting starts at 1 pm with the open house and exhibits, 1:30 pm presentation with questions and answers, and 2 pm hearing.

In compliance with 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 and can be accessed via the aforementioned website.

“Public comments are a key component to our environmental compliance process,” said Mike Ryan, Regional Director for Reclamation’s Great Plains Region.

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.
For more information please contact Kara Lamb at (970) 962-4326 or klamb@usbr.gov.

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

A series of meetings this week will give area residents the opportunity to review a draft environmental impact statement for the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The meetings will be hosted by the Bureau of Reclamation, which prepared the draft EIS on the conduit and a master storage contract requested by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Comments on the draft EIS will be accepted through Oct. 30. The draft EIS does not list a preferred alternative for the conduit.

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

Residents along the Arkansas River will be given an opportunity to comment on an environmental impact statement regarding the Arkansas River Conduit project, running between Pueblo and Lamar.

The Bureau of Reclamation has set up a series of public hearings between September 24 and 27 in various locations. One will be held in La Junta on Wednesday, September 26 at Otero Junior College from 6:30pm to 8pm and one will be held in Lamar, Thursday, September 27 in the multi-purpose room at the Lamar Community Building, also between 6:30 and 8pm. Each of the public hearings will be preceded by an Open House. The Reclamation Bureau will accept written comments on the EIS until October 30, 2012.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

Forecast news: NOAA three month outlook — Good chance for above average temps, equal chance for normal precip

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the three month precipitation and temperature outlook.

Colorado is a zone where it is hard to forecast the effects of an El Niño on winter snowpack. Sometimes we get good moisture other times not. The year’s El Niño is weaker than most. In addition, El Niño winters can be dry for Colorado.

The Climate Prediction Center released new 3-Month outlooks on Thursday with the probability of above average temperatures for Colorado for the next 3 months. Precipitation could go either way, equal chances.

Get prepared for mandatory watering restrictions next summer.

Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. Here’s an excerpt:

“It’s probably too late to get a major El Nino … it’s going to be somewhat weaker than we expected a few months ago,” [NOAA scientist Huug van den Dool] said, explaining that there’s still a chance for enhanced precipitation across the South. An average El Niño footprint would normally also result in below-average precipitation in the northern tier of states.

El Niño or not, the Climate Prediction Center says there’s a good chance the next three months will bring mostly above average temperatures to a big swath of the country, from the eastern edge of the Great Basin through the central and northern plains, up into the Great Lakes region and New England.

The three-month precipitation outlook is for near-normal total for much of the country, with a chance of above-normal rainfall in the southeast, and drier-than-normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

Forecast news: El Niño ‘is on life-support right now’ — Klaus Wolter

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

There is an El Nino brewing in the Pacific Ocean right now, and that normally means a wet fall, dry winter and wet spring.

“This is a weak El Nino,” Wolter said Thursday at the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s 2012 Statewide Drought Conference. “It’s something we haven’t seen in quite a long time.” Not seen at least since the 1950s or early 1960s, he said.

The El Nino, he said, “is on life support right now.”[…]

He said he is optimistic that the next two months may be wetter than expected, especially for Colorado’s Eastern Plains.

Here’s the link to last Monday’s ENSO Discussion from NOAA. Here’s an excerpt:

• ENSO-neutral conditions continue.
• Equatorial sea surface temperatures (SST) are greater than 0.5°C above average across the eastern Pacific Ocean.
• The atmospheric circulation over the tropical Pacific is near average.
• El Niño conditions are likely to develop during September 2012.

Glenwood Springs: The next meeting of the Colorado River Roundtable is Monday #coriver

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Here’s the link to the meeting notice. Here’s the link to the agenda.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Drought news: Fish kill due to low water at North Sterling State Park

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Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Due to low water levels and oxygen deprivation, North Sterling State Park has suffered a nearly complete fish kill, as of Tuesday, Sept.18.

North Sterling State Park employees began seeing a few dead fish on top of the water on Saturday, Sept. 15. By Tuesday, Sept. 18 dead fish littered the entire south and east shorelines of the reservoir. Due to the species and the number of fish found, this appears to be a complete fish kill, meaning all of the fish that used to inhabit the reservoir are likely dead.

“Based on the fish that I and park staff observed at the reservoir, the fish kill is due to low oxygen levels in the reservoir,” said Mandi Brandt, aquatic biologist. “Colorado Parks and Wildlife will begin work to rebuild the fishery as soon as better conditions are available, hopefully next spring.”

As the primary function of North Sterling Reservoir is to store irrigation water, the water level has been severely drawn down during 2012, leaving a relatively small pool of water for fish to inhabit. Recent winds across the shallow pool resulted in a turnover, where water near the surface of the pool was forced to the bottom of the pool and water near the bottom of the pool is forced to the top, effectively mixing the whole pool. Water at the bottom of the pool is low in oxygen due to decaying organic matter. When this water is mixed throughout the pool the oxygen level throughout the entire pool is driven down, leaving little oxygen for fish to survive.

CPW employees found dead wiper, walleye, saugeye, channel catfish, crappie, bluegill, green sunfish, freshwater drum, common carp, and gizzard shad.

Due to severely low water levels in Jumbo Reservoir, Prewitt Reservoir, and Jackson Reservoir, anglers who would like to fish in the upper northeast corner of the state are encouraged to fish at Jumbo Annex Reservoir or Stalker Lake.

2012 CWCB Statewide Drought Conference recap: Colorado’s weather will become more volatile and unpredictable

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Here’s and in-depth look back at this week’s conference from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

…as the El Nino sputters in the Pacific Ocean, hardly guaranteeing a dramatically better snow season than the dry winter that ushered in this year’s drought, Coloradans are asking deeper questions about what Colorado might look like if extended drought becomes a disastrous reality…

Little is certain about that future, except that most scientists and climate watchers agree that Colorado’s weather will become more volatile and unpredictable…

“Colorado is at a transition point where some seasons are wet with El Nino and some are dry,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climatologist Klaus Wolter.

Northern Colorado usually experiences a wet fall and spring but dry winter during an El Nino year. Wolter said he’s still refining his forecast for the upcoming snow season, but it doesn’t look promising. “In the winter, if you want powder, pick a La Nina year,” he said.

And yet, last year’s dry winter came at the height of a strong La Nina. Most drought years come after a two-year La Nina.

“I share that attitude — the high country may not fare so well (this winter),” said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken.

More CWCB coverage here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Lake Granby at 63% of capacity

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

As we move into fall, operations on the Colorado-Big Thompson Project start to shift gears a little bit.

I mentioned earlier this week that the pump to Carter has gone off for the season. Water we were sending up to Carter, we are now taking over to Horsetooth to begin bringing that water level up a little bit as we start to get ready for next year. This is good news for Horsetooth as it is currently just over 30% full.

We could still see some more demands come out of both Carter and Horsetooth in late September and well into October, but right now, the water level elevation at Horsetooth has started to gain, just a little bit and the water level at Carter has held fairly steady. It remains just above 50% full. We are currently delivering around 500 cubic feet per second to Horsetooth.

Pinewood Reservoir is back to more average operations, fluctuating with power generation down at the Flatiron Power Plant.

Similarly, Lake Estes has maintained a typical operation schedule as we continue to bring C-BT water over from the West Slope, generate hydro-electric power and deliver the water to Horsetooth. We are no longer releasing project water through Olympus Dam to the canyon. We are bypassing what is natively in the Big Thompson River on through Lake Estes down the river. That’s been about 50 cfs all week this week.

With the diversion from the West Slope still on and the Adams Tunnel running, the water level elevation at Granby will continue to go down. That is typical for this time of year, but more noticeable than in years past because of the heavy draws the entire C-BT system has seen this summer due to drought conditions. As a result, Granby is around 63% full.

More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here.

USDA and Colorado Announce Rio Grande Basin Water Conservation Project Agreement

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar today announced that Colorado and USDA have agreed to the terms of a new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to help conserve irrigation water and reduce ground water withdrawal from the Rio Grande Basin. The project will enhance water quality, reduce erosion, improve wildlife habitat and conserve energy in portions of the Rio Grande watershed in Colorado. Vilsack and Salazar made the joint announcement at the 2012 Colorado Water Conservation Board Statewide Drought Conference.

“USDA is proud to work with the state of Colorado to enroll up to 40,000 acres of eligible irrigated cropland in an effort to address critical water conservation and other natural resource issues within portions of the Rio Grande watershed,” said Vilsack. “USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program continues to be one of our nation’s most successful voluntary efforts to conserve land, improve our soil, water, air and wildlife habitat resources—and now producers in Colorado have even greater incentives to enroll in efforts to protect the Rio Grande Basin.”

This agreement is for the establishment of permanent native grasses, permanent wildlife habitat, shallow areas for wildlife and wetland restoration on up to 40,000 acres of eligible irrigated cropland with a primary goal of reducing annual irrigation water use by approximately 60,000 acre-feet.

The sign-up date for this voluntary conservation program is expected to be announced soon after an agreement is formalized later this year. Farmers and ranchers in portions of Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache counties will then be able to apply for this program at their Farm Service Agency (FSA) service center. FSA will administer the Colorado Rio Grande CREP within these counties, working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the state of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources through the Division of Water Resources, Subdistrict Number 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, and other state and local CREP partners.

After the agreement is formalized, participants will (1) voluntarily enroll irrigated cropland into specialized 14-15 year Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, and (2) enter into water use agreements with Subdistrict Number 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. An additional perpetual irrigation water retirement agreement also will be an option for producers to help achieve long-term water savings.

The following national CRP conservation practices will be made available for eligible land focusing on water resource conservation:

– Establishment of Native Grasses and Forbs – CP2
– Establishment of Permanent Wildlife Habitat, Non-easement – CP4D
– Establishment of Shallow Water Areas for Wildlife – CP9
– Restoration of Wetland Habitat – CP23 and CP23A

CREP is an option under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that agricultural producers may use to voluntarily establish conservation practices on their land. The project will provide land owners and operators financial and technical assistance. Under this CREP, participants will receive annual irrigated rental payments, cost share and incentive payments for voluntarily enrolling irrigated cropland into contracts and installing the approved conservation practices. USDA also will pay up to 50 percent of the cost of installing the conservation practices. Additional special incentives and cost share will be provided by the WAE for land enrolled within a designated focus area within the project area. Additional incentives will be provided by the subdistrict’s WAE to producers who elect to retire water permanently. Participants will establish permanent vegetative covers on enrolled land according to CRP conservation plans developed by NRCS.

To be eligible, cropland must meet CRP’s cropping history criteria, which includes cropping history provisions, one-year ownership requirement, and physical and legal cropping requirements. Marginal pastureland is also eligible for enrollment provided it is suitable for use as a needed and eligible riparian buffer. Producers who have an existing CRP contract are not eligible for CREP until that contract expires. Producers with expiring CRP contracts who are interested in CREP should submit offers for re-enrolling their land into CREP during the last year of their existing CRP contract.

In 2011, as a result of CRP, nitrogen and phosphorous losses from farm fields were reduced by 623 million pounds and 124 million pounds respectively. The CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and associated buffers and reduces soil erosion by more than 300 million tons per year. CRP also provides $1.8 billion annually to landowners—dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs. In addition, CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the country. By placing vulnerable cropland into conservation, CRP sequesters carbon in plants and soil, and reduces both fuel and fertilizer usage. In 2010, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.

In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion.

For more information about the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program or CRP, contact the local FSA service center or search online at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.