NWS: Winter weather outlook for Southern Colorado

From the National Weather Service:

In general terms, there is a greater than 40 percent chance that the average temperature for the winter months of December 2012 through February 2013 will be above the 30 year climatological average, with equal chances of seeing above, below or near normal precipitation…

The data collected from observation sites across south central and southeast Colorado during previous ENSO neutral winters also indicate a wide range of distribution, especially in precipitation. Of particular interest is the data from the winters of 1961-62 and 1962-63, which had similar characteristics to the current state. In looking at this limited data set of 2 winter seasons, a possible trend of near normal precipitation may be gleaned across portions of south central Colorado, along with a possible trend of below normal precipitation across southeast Colorado.

So what will happen this winter? We will still see snow and cold temperatures; however the frequency of storms may be decreased, especially across southeastern Colorado. Time will tell. One thing that does seem certain is the likely persistence of drought conditions across Colorado.

Snowpack news: The storms last weekend push statewide snowpack to 57% of avg #CODrought


Click on the thumbnail graphic for the statewide snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Statewide, the snowpack was at 57 percent of average, as of Nov. 15, with most West Slope basins between 50 and 60 percent of average. Even the North Platte drainage, which has seen some significant snows in the Never Summer Range, is only at 64 percent of average.

In Summit and Eagle counties, many streams are flowing at or below historic low levels, creating challenges for some ski areas that rely on direct stream diversions for snowmaking. Keystone, for example, has had to dial back its snow guns several times in the past week as the Snake River dropped to a flow of just six cubic feet per second, the minimum required under state regulations.

Earlier this week, automated gage readings posted online showed that the Snake flowed below that minimum for several hours. Last winter — during a wet year — Keystone’s snowmaking diversions caused the Snake River to drop below the required minimum stream flow between 15 and 20 times, according to officials with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is now calling for a winter unaffected by either the El Niño or La Niña weather patterns. That differs from earlier forecasts, when weather experts were expecting an El Niño winter, which typically doesn’t bring ideal snow conditions to Northwest Colorado. La Niña, which often creates more favorable storm tracks for Steamboat Springs, also won’t be a factor. Instead, with near-normal ocean temperatures, forecasters are predicting what they call ENSO-neutral conditions, and that typically results in varied snowfall in Colorado’s ski towns…

Looking at seven ENSO-neutral winters going back to the season of 1961-62, snowfall in the city of Steamboat Springs was above normal three seasons and below normal four seasons. The Steamboat Ski Area saw its second best season on record during a neutral winter in 1996-97, when 447.75 inches of snow fell. The ski area also saw its worst season on record during a neutral winter; that was in 1980-81, when just 133.25 inches of snow fell…

Phillips said a weak system coming off the west coast could possibly bring snow showers Friday. A second system also favoring northern Colorado will push into the area early next week.

Denver: COGCC regulations hearings recap — Tougher rules on the horizon?


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A state agency touted as a national leader in regulating the oil and gas industry on Wednesday began looking to toughen its rules even further, even as some residents and local governments contended its draft proposals don’t go far enough.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held an all-day hearing in Denver to begin considering requiring groundwater testing before and after drilling, and stricter rules governing setbacks between well pads and homes, schools and other occupied buildings. The new proposals arguably would represent the most sweeping update of rules governing the industry since the commission approved a landmark regulatory overhaul in 2008. They would have even greater implications than the commission’s decision a year ago to adopt what the state called the nation’s most far-reaching requirements for public disclosure of constituents used in hydraulic fracturing. The setback proposal would include required mitigation measures including limits on noise and operating hours, emissions control devices, traffic plans and other measures for operations within certain distances of buildings.

The new rulemaking comes as concern is growing about drilling across the state, particularly near homes in more urban areas, and as more communities are seeking to impose drilling rules of their own. With the backing of Gov. John Hickenlooper, the oil and gas commission recently sued the city of Longmont, contending its rules conflict with areas of state authority. Last week, Longmont voters approved a ban on hydraulic fracturing. While it might be argued that that ban won’t withstand a challenge in court, that’s missing the larger point that such a ban probably could pass in most Front Range communities, said Elise Jones, who just stepped down as the executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition after being elected as a Boulder County commissioner.

“There’s a lot of concern out there and it’s very widespread,” she told the commission Wednesday.

“Citizens are going to continue to take these efforts into their own hands,” said Sam Schabacker, of the activist group Food & Water Watch. That’s particularly the case if the best the commission can do is establish a minimum 350-foot setback rule, he said. Energy companies currently can drill within 150 feet of homes in rural areas, and 350 feet in urban areas.

“There’s a consensus in many communities that (drilling) simply doesn’t belong that close to homes or schools,” said Mike Freeman, an attorney who helped lobby for revised oil and rules in 2008 and noted that setbacks were a big unresolved issue from that rewrite.

Mineral owners’ interests

The commission is considering a recommendation to allow drilling closer than 350 feet to homes only with the consent of surface owners and owners of occupied buildings within that distance. The mitigation measures would apply, and such measures also would apply as far as 1,200 feet away. Numerous Front Range residents expressed concerns to the commission about the prospect of drilling near homes. But Harry Thompson, a leader of Citizens Supporting Property Rights in Routt County, argued in favor of the current setback rules. He said increased setbacks could make it unprofitable for companies to reach oil and gas deposits, resulting in a waste of resources and denying mineral rights owners access to their property.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Drought news: Current inflow to Dillon Reservoir is at 90% of average #CODrought


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Currently, [Dillon Reservoir] is about 74 percent full, holding about 190,000 acre feet of water. Historically, it’s about 94 percent of capacity this time of year, according to Denver Water’s Bob Peters. In May 2011, the reservoir dropped to 72 percent of capacity just ahead that year’s runoff season. Before that, the last time it dropped to anywhere around this level for any sustained period of time was between May 2002 to April 2003, when it bottomed out at 48 percent, Peters said. Denver Water will continue to draw water throughout the winter, so the reservoir is likely to drop at least another 10 to 12 feet during the next few months.

Here’s and excerpt from the drought discussion provided by the U.S. Drought Monitor:

The West: A slow-moving Pacific storm system brought precipitation to most of the region, but the greatest weekly totals were found in the mountains. 1 to 3 inches of precipitation fell on the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, northern and central Rockies, Utah’s Wasatch and Uinta Ranges, and across east-central Arizona. With a generally stormy weather pattern affecting the Northwest since mid-October and the 2012-13 Water Year off to a good start (basin average precipitation between 100 and 150 percent of normal), some additional improvements were made along the D0 to D3 western and northern edges in Idaho and Montana. The most noticeable modifications were made across western and northern Montana as persistent precipitation the past 4 weeks has eliminated short- to medium-term deficiencies, and has instead produced surpluses at 30-, 60-, and 90-days. The central Sierra Nevada was also upgraded from D1 to D0 as 1 to 1.5 inches of precipitation bumped its basin average precipitation up to 82 percent of normal from 77 percent a week ago. In northern Utah, 2 to 3 inches of precipitation in the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains improved drought by 1-category as basin average precipitation increased 10 to 20 percentages from a week ago to above normal (101 to 112 percent), and snow water content jumped to 150 percent of normal. In the Southwest, 1.5 to 2.5 inches of precipitation in east-central Arizona and west-central New Mexico slightly eased back D2 in those areas. Some slight adjustments were made in central Colorado: D2 was expanded into eastern Eagle and Summit counties which has seen a poor start to the Water Year and missed out on the most recent storm; some improvement was made in northeastern Colorado as normal October precipitation has kept winter wheat conditions fair; and D2 was trimmed in Douglas and Elbert counties to better match conditions.

More Blue River Watershed coverage here and here.

‘The calamity we are facing is our potential inability to balance supply and demand in an orderly way’ — Hannah Holm #CORiver


Here’s a recap of the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Conference hosted by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University Nov. 8-9, from Hannah Holm running in the Grand Junction Free Press. Here’s an excerpt:

The heavy train [heading towards a cliff] is our collective use of Colorado River water, and the calamity we are facing is our potential inability to balance supply and demand in an orderly way. According to a nearly complete study on Colorado River Basin water supply and demand coordinated by the US Bureau of Reclamation, we’ve passed the point where use of the basin’s water resources exceeds the quantity provided by Mother Nature. The fact that the train wreck isn’t here yet is because of big reservoirs that store water from year to year. Climate change shows no sign of helping: The mean of all the models used in the bureau study indicates higher variability from year to year and a decline in average natural flows at Lee Ferry of 9% by 2060…

Top water officials from Colorado, Utah and New Mexico who spoke at the conference said that while we need to help the Lower Basin states solve their water problems, the solutions most definitely do not include eating into the Upper Basin’s share of the river. On that score, the Upper Basin officials were united. The Lower Basin train can wreck without us.

However, under the terms of the 1922 compact, if hydrology and increased use in the Upper Basin conspire to drop flows past Lee Ferry below 7.5 million acre feet in any 10-year period, we could be required to curtail uses until those flows are restored. This, a “compact call,” is the Upper Basin’s own train wreck scenario. It appears to be farther off than the Lower Basin’s train wreck, but it’s likely enough and close enough to be taken seriously…

Fortunately, the [Bureau of Reclamation’s] study, recent history and presentations by other conference participants do show encouraging signs that the principal players can work together to identify options. The bureau study itself is an example of cooperation among numerous stakeholders. It is subjecting numerous options for adding to supply and curtailing demand to rigorous analysis on their reliability, financial cost and environmental cost. The options include desalination, re-use, and importation of water from elsewhere. The seven basin states have also cooperated recently to coordinate reservoir operations between Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and a new proposed agreement with Mexico would allow for releases to recharge wetlands in Mexico. Work is also underway to figure out how to temporarily transfer water from farms to cities in times of drought, rather than permanently dry up farmland.

As the parties continue to work together, with input from the public, we may be able to curve the tracks so our various train cars skirt the edge of the cliff, instead of going over it. Or something like that. To find out more about the study, go to http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy.html.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

The Southeastern Water Conservancy District board approves $18 million budget for 2013


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A move by Front Range water providers to protect fish in the Colorado River will add about $1 million to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s 2013 budget.

Finance manager Tina White walked the district’s board through the $18 million budget at a public hearing Thursday. The board will vote on adoption of the budget at its December meeting.

Southeastern is joining other water providers to buy the Red Top Ranch near Granby for water rights that will be used to protect endangered fish in the Colorado River. This year, it will cost the district $1.09 million. The district also will spend about $600,000 toward a plan to add hydroelectric generation at Pueblo Dam. Both are multiyear projects that involve other partners, and were financed through reserves.

The district expects to generate $16.2 million in revenues through its general fund and enterprise. The money comes from a 9.35­mill property tax over a nine­county area, enterprise fee collection and grants. Most of the money will go toward repaying federal contracts for the Fryingpan­Arkansas Project to the Bureau of Reclamation — $6.5 million to repay the agricultural share of the project and $5.3 million for the Fountain Valley Conduit (paid only in El Paso County). The municipalindustrial portion of the Fry­Ark Project was paid off first because it carried interest, while the agricultural share does not. About $42.4 million is still owed. The largest operating expenses in the budget are $2.2 million for human resource, personnel and overhead, and $1.2 million for outside services, studies or partnerships.

The budget also includes about $500,000 for continued work on the master lease contract, Arkansas Valley Conduit and outlet interconnection at Pueblo Dam.

More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.