CWCB: September 2012 Drought Update

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for Klaus Wolter’s forecast for October thru December.

Here’s the summary from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Kevin Rein):

The western slope of Colorado benefited from August and September rains; alleviating but not eliminating drought conditions; while portions of the eastern plains received no measurable precipitation in August and has seen an increase in exceptional drought conditions. Temperatures in August were cooler than June and July, but were still above average. For this calendar year to date, the statewide average temperature of 51.4 degrees Fahrenheit ranks as the 2nd warmest on record (1895-2012).

 Many municipalities have activated their drought stages resulting in both voluntary and mandatory watering restrictions. Highlands Ranch is now utilizing non-renewable groundwater supplies; and Pueblo has begun to utilize their “strategic reserve” and is forecasting that they will have limited water to lease to the agriculture sector during the 2013 growing season. Should drought conditions persist this may result in further impacts to the agricultural sector within the Arkansas River basin.

 Reservoir storage is at 68% statewide. Highest storage levels are in the Yampa/ White River Basin, at 104% of average while the lowest storage in the state is in the Rio Grande River basin at 50% of average. The Yampa/ White is largely dominated by energy producers who are keeping their water in storage in case the drought persist, roughly 2/3 of storage in the major reservoirs of that basin is held by energy producers. Some Front Range providers are reporting system storage levels as low as 33%.

 Surface Water Supply Index values have improved with some areas seeing near normal conditions. This is partially the result of municipal year-to-year carryover in large projects such as the Fryingpan-Arkansas. However, the vast majority of the state remains in the severe drought category with values below -3.

 Many weather stations are on track to set new record low reference evapotransipiration rates, a result of both dry conditions as well as consistently high temperatures throughout the growing season.

 As of the September 25, 2012 US Drought Monitor, 100% of Colorado is experiencing some level of drought classification. D2 (severe) and D3 (extreme) predominate over 80% of the state. 17% of the state is experiencing exceptional drought all of which is isolated to the eastern plains. Conditions over the eastern plains have deteriorated over the last month.

 While dry conditions have resulted in decreased yields, high commodity prices have helped to alleviate some of the impacts and markets remain strong. To date, the state has seen a 40% increase in agricultural exports.

 The latest long term experimental forecast released September 24, shows a chance of increased precipitation over the eastern plains and drier conditions over the four corners region. While conditions have switched to an El Nino, which often favors wetter conditions in Colorado, this El Nino is very weak and is not expected to result in “typical” conditions.

Click here to go to the CWCB website to download all of the presentations.

I live-tweeted the meeting at Twitter hashtag #cwcbwatf.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Despite occasional rainstorms, 2012 is shaping up to be one of the hottest, driest years on record for Colorado. That could be changing, as long-term forecasts predict the Eastern Plains of Colorado, at least, could see more rain from now until March 2013. But nothing is guaranteed. “Should drought conditions persist this may result in further impacts to the agricultural sector within the Arkansas River basin,” Assistant State Engineer Kevin Rein said in the most recent report from the Colorado Water Availability Task Force.

More CWCB coverage here.

H2O Outdoors — 3 day school in Keystone for High School Students — starts up October 13

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Here’s the link to the brochure from the Keystone School. Here’s an excerpt:

H2O Outdoors is a three-day, standards based, educational camp held at the Keystone Science School campus. The program, sponsored by Keystone Science School, Colorado River District, Aurora Water and Denver Water, is open to all Colorado high school students.

The aim of the program is to help students understand the issues and questions surrounding Colorado’s water resources and how the decision-making process works in real life. Students will experience firsthand where Colorado’s water comes from, learn about Colorado’s water law while hiking the Continental Divide, and conduct hands-on water quality experiments as they explore and observe their watershed. They’ll also meet experts representing actual stakeholder groups, and collaborate with fellow students to create water management policy recommendations. At the close of the program, students will present their findings during a “town hall” style dialogue.

Keystone Science School provides meals and dorm-style housing for all students and chaperones. Thanks to generous sponsorships from the Colorado River District, Aurora Water and Denver Water, the program is offered at no charge to participants and requires only a nominal administrative fee. Our goal is to create a program with a diverse geographic representation of students across Colorado.

More education coverage here.

Boulder: Council to consider new agreement to allow testing of graywater system for dormitory

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From the Boulder Daily Camera (Erica Meltzer):

The city’s Water Resources Advisory Board has already recommended approval of the agreement. The Boulder City Council will consider it Tuesday.

The dorm, which opened in fall 2011, houses 500 students near Baseline Road and 30th Street and received top green credentials from the U.S. Green Building Council, becoming the only residence hall of its size in the nation to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum rating for its sustainability features. However, the university hasn’t yet been able to take advantage of additional plumbing installed during construction that would allow water from sinks and showers to be captured, filtered, treated and reused for flushing toilets. That’s because case law around water rights in Colorado protects downstream users from the potential loss of water that gets reused instead of being returned to the watershed…

However, that may be less of a concern when graywater is used in toilets — which ultimately send water into the same wastewater treatment system that handles water from sinks and showers — than it is when graywater is used for irrigation, Arthur said.

As part of the agreement, CU will carefully monitor water use in the building and report all that information to the city. Arthur said that will allow city officials to assess the impact of graywater systems on the larger water delivery and treatment system and might provide the basis to lobby for changes to state law…

In the meantime, the city is designating water from the Western Slope that it receives through the Colorado-Big Thompson water project for Williams Village North. Because that water is not from the Boulder Creek watershed, it’s subject to different rules and is eligible for reuse, Arthur said. That way, no downstream users should complain they aren’t getting all the water they are owed.

More graywater reclamation coverage here and here.

Glen Canyon Dam: Reclamation is considering a high flow release in November for habitat improvement #coriver

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Lake Powell, the key reservoir in the Colorado River system, ended the 2012 water year at just 57.5 percent of full and will continue to drop through the fall, with a steady release of about 8,000 cubic feet per second scheduled through October.

Despite the low-water year, the Bureau of Reclamation is considering implementing a high-flow regime in November, as part of an effort to mimic natural flood conditions on the great River considered essential for maintaining wildlife habitat and potentially reducing erosion of archaeological sites.

The high flows may also enhance riparian vegetation, maintain or increase camping opportunities, and improve the wilderness experience along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. The protocol is designed to take full advantage of sediment provided by tributaries of the Colorado River as a result of rainstorms and monsoons.

According to BuRec, preliminary sediment estimates appear favorable for a high flow experimental release to occur during the period of November 18 – 25, 2012 should sediment and other conditions warrant.

The total water release for the year from Lake Powell was about 9.46 million acre feet. The inflow during the peak April through July runoff season was just 2.06 million acre feet, which is 29 percent of average and the third-lowest April-to-July period on record, behind 1977 and 2002.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

2013 Colorado Legislation: Interim water resources committee moves 6 bills forward

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Five bills to protect water rights, another to change stormwater permit process and two resolutions were approved last week by the interim water resources committee. The actions represent concerns brought to the committee, which includes members of both houses, over the last two months by water users throughout the state. They will be referred to the full Legislature in 2013.

One seeks to address questions of the amount and location of acreage intended to be irrigated by older water rights. When the water rights are changed in court, lawyers argue over the original intent of the irrigator. The new law would change the determination to the maximum amount of land irrigated during the first 50 years after the original decree. It would apply to water rights claimed more than 75 years ago, when it is unlikely that those who claimed the right would still be living to testify about intent.

Other bills involving water rights protection include:

● A remedy for erroneous points of diversion caused by technical errors or refinements in surveys. The bill would allow water rights to be more easily amended.

● A bill to promote conservation of water in designated groundwater basins by avoiding penalizing those who conserve water, while maintaining the volume authorized by a groundwater commission.

● A measure that limits a landowner’s ability to impose restrictions on water rights used on that land. The bill was inspired by the U.S. Forest Service attempt to tie up ski area water rights.

● Deletion of the requirement for a final permit for wells in the Denver Basin aquifers. Another bill would require the state to follow rule making procedures when changing stormwater permits.

That would mean the state providing permit holders a basis for the changes, evidence about why the change is needed and a costbenefit analysis.

The resolutions oppose diverting mineral severance tax revenues from water projects to meet funding needs in other parts of the state budget and oppose the Forest Service water permit requirement for ski areas.

More 2013 Colorado Legislation coverage here.