Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper Colorado River Basin #CODrought #coriver

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Here’s the link to the summaries from last week’s webinar from the Colorado Climate Center. Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary of October 7 – 13 and the water year precipitation summary.

Yampa River: ‘A water lease to the rescue’ — Sandra Postel #CODrought

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From National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

That summer of 2002, the river “smelled like rotting seaweed,” Van De Carr recalled. “It was a nightmare.”[…]

But 2012 would turn out differently. On Friday, June 29, as if by a miracle, the river started to rise. By 9:30 that night, it was flowing at 71 cfs.

Something had happened that had never happened before in Colorado: an intervention to spare a river – and its dependents – from decimation during a drought.

Back in the spring, when the skimpy mountain snowpack spelled disaster for so many of Colorado’s rivers and streams, the non-profit Colorado Water Trust (CWT) issued a statewide request for water. Anyone willing to sell or temporarily lease water was encouraged to contact the CWT. If the water could help a river weather the drought, the CWT would consider buying it.

One answer to the call came from Kevin McBride, director of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District in Steamboat Springs. McBride had just had a contract with a customer fall through, leaving 4,000 acre-feet (1.3 billion gallons) of Yampa River water unclaimed in Stagecoach Reservoir. For the right price, McBride was willing to lease that water to the Colorado Water Trust.

“We rocketed that (project) to the top of our priorities,” said Amy Beatie, Executive Director of the water trust, based in Denver.

“It looked like a system that was ecologically going to crash,” Beatie said. “The river was starting to crater.”

So for a total of $140,000, or $35 per acre-foot, CWT leased the water district’s spare water. McBride had set the price, based on what he knew his board would approve. In that part of the West, the cost was very reasonable.

On June 28, the leased water began flowing out of Stagecoach Reservoir into the Yampa. The extra flow would directly benefit seven crucial miles downstream of the reservoir, as well as the river’s course through Steamboat and beyond. The idea was to keep the river as healthy as possible through the summer, by releasing about 26 cfs a day into September.

Along the way, the leased water provided multiple benefits. It generated extra hydropower at the Stagecoach Reservoir. It provided aesthetic and recreation benefits in Steamboat, helping businesses like Backdoor Sports avoid tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenues. Further downstream of the reach targeted for the lease, some irrigators even got more water for their crops, a welcome boost during a drought and dire economic times.

“The purpose of the lease is to maximize the beneficial use of water in Colorado,” Beatie explained. “These incidental benefits make this a win-win-win-win. “

Besides rescuing a river and its dependents, the Yampa drought-lease set a precedent in Colorado. It was the first use of a 2003 state law, passed in part in response to the devastating 2002 drought, that allows farmers, ranchers, water districts or other entities to temporarily loan water to rivers and streams in times of need.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

Drought news: The drought in some areas of the country is abating a bit

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From Reuters (Carey Gillam):

Roughly 62.39 percent of the contiguous United States was experiencing at least “moderate” drought as of October 16, down from 63.55 percent a week earlier, according to Thursday’s Drought Monitor, a weekly compilation of data gathered by federal and academic scientists.

The portion of the United States under “exceptional” drought – the direst classification – fell to 5.84 percent, from 6.18 percent a week earlier.

In the High Plains, which include Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, severe or worse drought levels covered 87.42 percent of the region, down from 87.58 percent the prior week. An estimated 27.44 percent of the region was in the worst level of drought, down from 28.24 percent a week earlier.

In Kansas, a top wheat-growing state where farmers are planting a new crop, drought levels improved dramatically. “Extreme” drought, the second-worst level, shrank to 77.80 percent from 95.70 percent of the state, while the worst level fell to 39.69 percent, from 44.63 percent.

In Oklahoma, also key to wheat production, several inches of rain helped reduce extreme drought areas to 66.75 percent of the state, from 80.57 percent.

Hard-hit Nebraska, which suffered its third-driest September on record, saw extreme drought decline to 95.31 percent of the state from 97.94 percent. All other levels held steady, with 77.58 percent of that state still locked in exceptional drought.

South Dakota missed out, as extreme drought expanded to 57.21 percent of the state from 52.65 percent the prior week.

From Reuters (Ayesha Rascoe/Gerald E. McCormick):

The drought that ravaged the United States this year does not appear to be abating and may spread through the winter, government forecasters said on Thursday. “The large majority of that drought we expect to persist,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We even see drought expanding westward … into Montana, Idaho and part of Oregon and Washington.”

CCLT webinar on the findings of the state audit of the conservation easement program to be held Wed. 24th

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From email from the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts:

CCLT will be hosting a webinar at 10:00 on Wed. 24th of Oct. with Jordan Beezley on the state audit results, which were made public a few days ago. Jordan will spend about 1 1/2 hrs. explaining the implications of the results and taking questions. To sign up for the free webinar, please email info@cclt.org. There are only a few spaces remaining, so please let us know as soon as possible if you want to attend.

In other conservation easement news Colorado Parks and Wildlife has added a new conservation easement near Maybell. Here’s the release:

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission has approved the acquisition of a 15,000-acre Perpetual Conservation Easement on the Tuttle Ranch in Moffat County. The purchase will help preserve critical habitat and winter range for wildlife while allowing ranching operations to continue.

Consisting of sagebrush steppe, foothills grassland and pinyon-juniper woodlands, the property is home to greater sage-grouse and provides critical winter range for elk, mule deer and pronghorn.

The conservation easement was purchased from the RSH Land Company LLC, with a combination of funds from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado.

“When habitat is preserved, wildlife benefits, and all of us benefit, too,” said Bill de Vergie, Area Wildlife Manager in Meeker. “There are plenty of challenges out there to wildlife habitat – all kinds of development that can raise issues – but the cooperative approach of conservation easements is a way we can work with landowners to protect habitat.”

Because habitat loss is considered a primary cause for the decline of many wildlife species in Colorado, its preservation is critical, especially during winter months when big game animals are in search of any available forage at lower elevations.

“Preserving wildlife habitat is just one of our management challenges, but is among our most important,” said Ron Velarde, Regional Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “With acquisitions like this one, we ensure that we will continue to have viable wildlife populations for our future generations.”

For more information, please visit: http://wildlife.state.co.us/LandWater/Pages/LandWater.aspx

Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages 42 state parks, more than 300 state wildlife areas, all of Colorado’s wildlife, and a variety of outdoor recreation. For more information go to cpw.state.co.us

GOCO is the result of a citizens’ initiative passed by the voters in 1992. As the recipient of approximately half of Colorado Lottery proceeds – $57 million in Fiscal Year 2012 – GOCO awards grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Since 1994, nearly 3,500 projects in all 64 counties have received GOCO funding. Visit http://www.goco.org for more information.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

Animas River: Wetlands project helps offset wetlands reduction in the Animas River Valley

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The Colorado Riparian Association has awarded Patti and Ed Zink its Excellence in Riparian Management award for 2012…

The Zinks in 2006 enrolled 80 acres of their land in a permanent open space conservation easement and created a 50-acre wetlands at their Waterfall Ranch in the Animas Valley north of Durango. The project improves water quality, provides a corridor for bird migration and conserves the aesthetics of wetland open space. The Animas River Wetlands will provide habitat for wildlife and serve as a local educational facility.

Projects elsewhere in the county that invade sensitive areas can use the Zink wetlands to offset their impact. One recent example occurred when La Plata County used ¾ acres to improve the intersection of County Road 311 and Colorado Highway 172.

More Animas River Watershed coverage here and here.

Pueblo Board of Water Works staff water rate increase request totals 2.75%

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A relatively modest 2.75 percent increase in water rates is envisioned in the 2013 budget for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. The increase would be the lowest since 2004, and would keep Pueblo’s rates the lowest among large Front Range water providers.

It would mean an increase of less than $1 per month for the average residential customer.

A $32.3 million budget is being proposed by staff. The water board will hear details about the budget at a workshop on Nov. 6. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled at 2 p.m. Nov. 20 at the water board offices, 319 W. Fourth St.

The budget continues last year’s timeout for revenues into the water development fund — which uses one-time revenue sources such as long-term leases to fund water planning activities — until 2015.

Spending increases in 2013 are expected in legal costs, maintenance and chemicals. Utility costs are expected to remain relatively flat.

Among the largest costs for specific projects are $1.15 million for main expansion and improvement and $940,000 for continued conversion to automatic meter reading.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here and here.

Forecast news: Rain and snow possible towards the end of the week #COwx

Drought news: Pueblo’s water reserve levels drop to lowest point since 2005, above 2002

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo water storage levels have dipped to the lowest point since 2005, but remain well above the low point in 2002.

Pueblo stores both native and imported water, and in most years can accrue a surplus. But the prolonged drought has cut into the supply, and Pueblo has been pumping water from storage to meet needs.

“We’re no longer pulling water out of storage,” Executive Director Terry Book told the Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday.

In 2002, Pueblo kept about 16,000 acre-feet in storage, and drew that supply down by a third during the height of the drought. Pueblo keeps water in Pueblo Reservoir, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Lake and Clear Creek Reservoir, which it owns.

After 2002, Pueblo increased its storage target, and reached a high point of 50,000 acre-feet last year. The levels vary throughout the year, because some water is leased out of storage. Normal levels of precipitation or water imported from the Colorado River basin replenish the supplies.

At the end of September, 28,788 acre-feet were in storage — about one year’s supply of potable water for Pueblo — compared with more than 43,000 acre-feet at the same time in 2011. Pueblo’s maximum storage would be 69,300 acre-feet.

One of the consequences of drawing down the storage will be the likelihood that the water board will have less water to lease on the spot market next year, which affects farmers who are looking for augmentation water for wells or surface-fed sprinklers.