Restoration: Gov. Hickenlooper announces $1.3 million for Lower North Fork Fire recovery efforts


Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced that $1.3 million from the Wildfire Preparedness Fund will be made available for recovery efforts in the Lower North Fork Fire burn area. Hickenlooper made the announcement at the 2012 Forest Health Summit.

“Colorado’s forests are a part of our identity and economic fabric, from industry to recreation, to where we work and play,” Hickenlooper said. “This summer’s wildfires reinforce why we must create proactive strategies to improve forest health and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. Additionally, we must work quickly to rehabilitate burn areas after wildfires are extinguished. Today’s funding announcement will help residents in the Lower North Fork Fire burn area recover.”

The funding could pay for such things as to fell, remove or mulch burned trees in the burn area.

The Colorado State Forest Service and the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will meet with residents affected by the Lower North Fork Fire and gather input on the best way to proceed with the recovery options. The Colorado Department of Corrections’ State Wildland Inmate Fire Team and the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control will be available to assist in the recovery operations.

The 2012 Forest Health Summit held today at the History Colorado Center focused on bringing together the forestry industry, local communities, non-profit groups, conservation groups and policy makers to determine how to improve forest health and reduce the risk from catastrophic wildfires.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

‘Recreation is one of the few uses of water that doesn’t require pumping water out of our rivers’ — Zak Podmore


From the Huffington Post (Zak Podmore):

When we talk about reasons to keep water in our rivers — as opposed to sinking it deep into fracking wells, spreading it on the lawns of new subdivisions, or sending it over the Rockies to other river basins — recreation is often found near the top of the list. Recreation is one of the few uses of water that doesn’t require pumping water out of our rivers. Instead, it encourages making our rivers as accessible, clean, and as naturally beautiful as possible.

In an election year like this one some candidates would like us to believe that to be pro-economy you have to be pro-growth, pro-drilling and in favor of new water projects such as reservoirs and diversions. According to this mentality, anything that’s going to protect our state’s natural resources is going to kill jobs and hurt our wallets. But there are other voices speaking up to say the direct opposite: that a strong, stable economy in Western Colorado is going to be built not on the booming and busting cycles of resource extraction, but on the seasonal, sustainable cycles of resource preservation. People who come to enjoy the Western Slope of Colorado to raft, fish, hunt, bike, camp, or simply to sightsee are drawn by the recreational opportunities the mountains and rivers have to offer as intact mountains and rivers.

As our expedition team floated down the length of the Colorado, we met with many river experts who commented on value of river recreation. First was Molly Mugglestone, the project coordinator for river-advocacy group Protect the Flows, who met with us to explain the river’s contribution to the regional economy. Mugglestone has spent the last year creating a coalition of over 500 businesses in the Colorado River Basin who rely on a healthy river for their livelihoods. Coalition members range from the obvious rafting and fishing companies to small businesses in tourist towns who need the yearly influx of people to stay in business. Together Protect the Flows and the businesses they represent have been speaking up for the needs of a recreation economy.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Forecast news: Snow possible down to 8,500 feet in the mountains around the San Luis Valley


At the last CWCB Water Availability Task Force meeting Klaus Wolter told us that Colorado had a good chance for a storm with snow accumulation on October 12. Once in a while forecasters hit the nail on the head. The forecast across Colorado is for showers and thunderstorms with snow down to 8,500 feet in some of the mountain areas. Woot!

Click on the thumbnail graphic for the forecast map from the National Weather Service — Pueblo office for noon today.

CMU: ‘Drought and Climate Change in Colorado: What Can We Expect?’ seminar recap


From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

While [Dr. Jeff Lukas of the Western Water Assessment team at the University of Colorado] said precipitation is much more difficult to predict than temperature, he noted that warmer temperatures will certainly intensify the drought conditions brought on by any dry years. That’s because warmer temperatures increase evaporation rates. It doesn’t help that in general, dry years tend to be hotter than wet years. The average results of climate modeling for precipitation indicate that conditions are likely to get wetter to the north and drier to the south, with Colorado right on the dividing line between the two.

Lukas was careful to emphasize that climate change models are not crystal balls, especially at the local level. Different models give very different outputs, so analysts look at each of them individually as well as the average results. The variations result from different assumptions about, among other things, the feedback responses of different elements in the climate system (oceans, ice caps, etc.) to increasing greenhouse gasses and higher temperatures. Adding to the uncertainties about how climate change will play out in any given location are regular, cyclical climate variations, like the “El Niño” and “La Niña” shifts in South Pacific Ocean temperatures that influence the tracks of our winter storms.

Despite these uncertainties, Lukas noted that warming on a global scale is happening already, and observations indicate some clear trends for Colorado. These include increased warming in spring and summer, a higher portion of precipitation falling as rain rather than snow, and earlier melting of the snowpack we do get. Further climate change is likely to intensify these trends. Even if overall precipitation levels didn’t change at all, these trends would pose significant challenges for water managers trying to meet existing demands, as well as increasing demands from anticipated population growth in the state.

Lukas also pointed out that tree ring studies indicate that there have in the past been more severe and more prolonged droughts than anything since formal record-keeping began around 1900, so even if climate change weren’t a factor, we could see more challenging drought conditions in the future than we are used to.

The climate change modeling results and observations Lukas discussed are dealt with in great depth in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study, as well as water supply studies undertaken by the state of Colorado. State water officials are also using them as they work on building a set of plausible scenarios to plan around as they and basin roundtables of stakeholders around the state negotiate about how to balance water supply and demand in coming decades.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

All objectors have stipulated out of San Miguel County’s water rights application


From the Montrose County Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

District Judge J. Steven Patrick on Wednesday signed an order approving stipulations between the county, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state and division engineers. Patrick must yet issue a formal decree, which is expected soon.

The county filed in 2010 for water rights on the San Miguel River and said it acted quickly so that its application could come in ahead of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s. Initially, the county wanted up to six reservoir sites and several thousand acre-feet of water. Controversy arose after environmental groups questioned the overall plan as a “water grab” and others raised questions about eminent domain.

More San Miguel River Watershed coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley: Ag water supply gap, ‘…could hit us in 2013, 2014 or 2020’ – Alan Hamel


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While the state is preparing for a water gap 50 years in the future, the crisis could come much sooner for the Arkansas River basin.

“The agriculture gap is coming sooner,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “If you start thinking about it, even without any new ag demands or changes in crops, there is less water available.”

Hamel reviewed comments he made at last month’s CWCB meeting with the Arkansas Basin Roundtable on Wednesday.

Well augmentation rules adopted in 1996 and the 2010 surface irrigation rules have left farmers scrambling for additional water. They’ve found short-term supplies from Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Aurora, but those could dry up as the cities begin using more. “It’s become obvious that both of those programs have become dependent on the cities,” Hamel said.

The cities planned ahead following the 2002 drought, but another year of drought could accelerate the gap for the Arkansas Valley.

“I think people may be misled into thinking the gap will be critical in 2050, when it could hit us in 2013, 2014 or 2020,” Hamel said. “We may need more water to meet the demands we have today.” Hamel said the roundtable’s efforts to support water leaseland fallowing studies, coupled with more storage projects have identified a way the valley could cope with nearterm water shortages.

“If we had built 75,000 acre-feet of additional storage, we could have filled it in 1999, and again in 2011,” he said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

San Luis Valley: Groundwater Subdistrict No. 1 implementation plan trial scheduled for October 29


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

One of the main groups objecting to how irrigators in part of the San Luis Valley mitigate the harm caused by groundwater pumping has chosen not to withdraw a number of its claims from court. The move by surface water users from the Conejos River basin and the northwestern corner of the valley, which came in a Tuesday filing to the water court for the Rio Grande basin, means a scheduled trial is still on for Oct. 29.

The objectors reaffirmed their claim against the use of water from the Closed Basin Project, which pumps groundwater from the east side of the valley and sends it down the Rio Grande River to assist Colorado in meeting the Rio Grande Compact.

Subdistrict No. 1, which includes just under 3,400 groundwater wells in the north-central part of the valley, had proposed using up to 2,500 acre-feet from the federal reclamation project to replace an estimated 4,700 acre-feet in depletions this year.

The subdistrict also has leased rights to roughly 5,500 acre-feet from reservoirs and trans-basin diversions near the Rio Grande’s headwaters to meet the depletions.

Judge Pattie Swift said last week the issue concerning the reclamation project could not be decided without a trial since there were issues of fact that were in dispute.

Swift also said the proposal from objectors to have a special master appointed likely would not be decided until after the trial.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.