Drought news: Winter looks dry #CODrought



From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Current water conditions

The water providers and experts at Tuesday’s Water Availability Task Force Meeting discussed the state’s current snowpack and reservoir levels, among other issues.

Snowpack across the state, as of Tuesday, was 52 percent of the historic average for Nov. 20. That’s an improvement from where the state ended its 2012 snow year. Snowpack for Colorado back on June 1 was only 2 percent of average — tying a record­low, set on June 1, 2002.

In the South Platte River basin, snowpack on Tuesday was at 53 percent of historic average. On June 1, snowpack in the South Platte basin was 3 percent of the historic average for that date.

The state’s lowest snowpack levels are in the Arkansas River basin, standing at 36 percent of average.

Statewide reservoir levels on Nov. 1 stood at 66 percent of the historic average for that date, and were filled to 37 percent of capacity. On Nov. 1, 2011, statewide reservoir levels were 103 percent of historic average.

In the South Platte basin, reservoir levels were at 73 percent of historic average and 44 percent filled to capacity. On Nov. 1, 2011, the basin’s reservoir levels were at 118 percent of average…

Climatologist Klaus Wolter opened his presentation Tuesday with, “Don’t kill the messenger,” and ended it by saying, “I hope I’m wrong.”

Needless to say, the weather forecast he provided between his opening and closing remarks isn’t the kind that water providers, farmers and ranchers want to hear.

Wolter, a research associate with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, told his audience that current weather patterns, combined with climate models and historical data, don’t bode well for Colorado receiving average snowfall amounts this winter.

Before and after Klaus’ presentation, the 25 water experts at the Water Availability Task Force Meeting, hosted by the Colorado Water Conservancy Board, all stressed how much snow is needed this winter to refill reservoirs that were depleted during this year’s drought.

In recent weeks, Klaus’ forecasts for this winter had been more optimistic.

But now, a potential El Niño pattern has “fallen apart,” he said Tuesday, and that, along with other factors, has tilted his predictions toward dryness for Colorado during January, February and March. Other states in the Southwest U.S., too, are expected to be drier than normal.

Klaus added there’s still the possibility of storms this winter dumping much more snow than expected — which has occurred in recent years in Colorado. Those “freak” occurrences are difficult for climatologists to predict, he added.

Klaus’ other glimmer of hope, he said, stems from a warm spot over the Pacific Ocean, west of the International Date Line, which, if pushed by westward winds, could eventually bring weather patterns to the region favorable for snow this winter.

However, those needed bursts of wind are typically south of the equator by this time of the year, he noted.

On more than one occasion during his presentation, Klaus talked about the uniqueness of current weather patterns, but also pointed out they share similarities with those that led up to the winters of 1953­54 and 2003­04 — neither of which brought good water years to Colorado.

In recent weeks, forecasters, including state climatologist Nolan Doesken in Fort Collins, had already predicted that this winter’s temperatures would be above­average.

Like the water experts who attended Tuesday’s meeting, local water providers and farmers and ranchers have stressed the need for snow this winter. Because 2012 brought record heat and record­ low precipitation, ag producers and residents depended heavily on stored water from reservoirs to grow their crops and irrigate their lawns.

That water usage dropped many reservoirs to historically low water levels.

Coming into 2012, reservoirs in the region had plenty of water to offer, thanks to record snowfall in the winter and spring of 2011.

But now, another dry winter would spell trouble for the next growing season, everyone says.

Water experts have said the region doesn’t need record snowfall like that of 2011 to meet the needs of next year’s growing season — just average snowfall this winter would do the trick.

However, Klaus’ updated weather forecast puts into question whether the region will get even that.

From the The La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

Do you manage drought? Or is it managing you?

Ranchers: What would you give to know 30, 40 or 60 days ahead of time that your livestock herd was going to run out of grass?

Would you give 1½ days of your time?

Would you like to learn a totally unique approach to drought management that has never been available before?

Then this workshop is for YOU! Mark your calendar for Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 11 and 12, and plan to attend a unique and comprehensive Managing Drought Workshop series in Wray, Colo.

This workshop series begins with a session Tuesday afternoon Dec. 11 and a separate session Tuesday evening. A final session on Wednesday, Dec. 12 will wrap up the series. Anyone may attend any part or all of the workshop sections.

There is no registration fee to attend the workshop series but preregistration by Dec. 5 is required to insure your meal.

Meet Matt Stockton on Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Wray City Hall. Registration will begin at 1:30. Matt is an economist with UNL who has a high energy entertaining style that will make this subject understandable and enjoyable. He will lead us through the thought processes of drought and the value of understanding the impact of the different choices on the ranch business using a tool known as the “Calf Cost Cow-Q-Lator”.

One of the hardest things to do is to know that a drought is happening. This is where the Cow-Calf Cost Cow-Q-Lator can be helpful. This Excel spreadsheet helps you look at your expected profit (or loss) given current and expected conditions. Variables in this tool include but are not limited to, hay and range cost, amount of feed fed, calf weaning size, and price. The spreadsheet results give the profit estimates ranging over 500 possible outcomes given producer supplied numbers. Attendees will go through an example using this worksheet as a group. This example will be reflective of attendees’ local conditions and prices. This tool is available on the Web as a free download.

After a provided dinner, the workshop series will continue at 6:30 at the USDA Service Center with an introduction to various Web resources led by Pat Reece. Pat is a highly sought after speaker who was a research scientist and range specialist for many years with the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center. Pat will explain why ranchers should know how to use website resources to gain information vital to making informed drought plan decisions. Attendees will have hands-on opportunity with each of the websites so they can go home and use them. Computers will be available, or you may bring your own WiFi ready laptop. The Service Center is located near the Sandhiller Motel just north of the railroad tracks off of Highway 385.

On Wednesday, we will meet again at the Wray City Hall with registration, coffee and rolls at 8:30. The workshop will begin at 9 a.m. and close at 3:30 p.m. Pat Reese will teach attendees about drought indicators, plant drought response, and drought planning.

Attendees will learn how to answer critical questions including:
– How much moisture do we need?
– How do I decide how many animals I can run next summer?
– When can I decide?

Wednesday’s workshop will empower attendees to take drought “by the horns” by making a drought plan for their ranch.

Plan to attend this workshop series whether you own rangeland and cattle, you are a landlord who leases range, or you are leasing the range for your cattle operation. The youth are particularly invited to attend.

For more information or to register, go to the Yuma County Conservation District website at http://www.ycconservation.com or email Julie.Elliott@co.usda.gov. If you prefer to talk to a live person, call (970) 332-3173, ext. 3 between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. MST. You may also call anytime to leave a message and receive a return phone call.

Pre-registration by Dec. 5 is required to insure an accurate count for meals.

This workshop series is sponsored by the Yuma County Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Thornton: Water and sewer rates to increase


From the Thornton Sentinel (Darin Moriki):

City Council unanimously approved a 3 percent water and 6 percent sewer rate increases Nov. 13. Thornton finance director Chuck Seest said both the sewer and water fees will flow into two designated sewer and water funds used to “maintain adequate cash reserves and debt service coverage based on expected future operating and capital costs.” In all, he said the water fund increase will generate about $1 million in additional revenue, while the sewer fund increase will generate an additional $500,000.

Seest said water rates are increased every two years in response to customer demands, regulatory requirements and inflationary costs. He said the looming increase is lower than the recent 4 percent inflation measurements taken over the past two years.

While the ordinance will allow for a 3 percent water rate increase next year, no rate increases are reflected for 2014. Seest said this adjustment will result in a slight average summer residential water bill increase from $50.01 to $51.49 and an average winter residential water bill increase from $19.59 to $20.17.

The second part of the ordinance, which calls for a 6 percent sewer rate increase and no rate increase for solid waste, was attributed to an 8 percent rate increase imposed by the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District for treatment services charged to the city. Seest explained these sewer rates are adjusted annually based on rate increases charged by the wastewater treatment facility. He said Metro Wastewater Reclamation District rate increases must be passed onto customers, because about 72 percent of the sewer fund’s operating costs is dedicated to paying these rates.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is installing a fish screen in Rifle Creek


Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has started work on a construction project to install a long-sought fish screen in Rifle Creek and officials say it will be complete and operational by spring of 2013. Fed by Rifle Gap Reservoir, the creek is a tributary to the Colorado River and is located northeast of the city of Rifle.

Partners involved in the project include Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Silt Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. A majority of the funding for the project came from sportsmen’s dollars, generated from the sale of fishing and hunting licenses.

Once it is functioning under all expected operating conditions, the screen will prevent non-native fish that have escaped from Rifle Gap Reservoir and into Rifle Creek from progressing downstream to the Colorado River where they can be harmful to native fish populations.

“This is a win-win project all the way around; we are protecting native fish populations downstream, while simultaneously having the opportunity to improve a combination, cool-warmwater fishery within Rifle Gap Reservoir,” said Lori Martin, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the northwest region. “We are answering the call of our anglers who are seeking more warmwater fishing opportunities but also keeping in mind the concerns of our partners within the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.”

The Recovery Program is a multi-state and multi-agency effort headed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a goal to recover four, endangered fish found only in the Upper Colorado River system – the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail chub, and humpback chub.

Brent Uilenberg of the Bureau of Reclamation agreed that the project would help both sport fishing and endangered fish downstream. Uilenberg says that the project will not affect reservoir operations and water supplies.

According to the USFWS, the 100-year floodplain of the Colorado River – downstream from the bridge over Interstate 70, at exit 90 – is critical habitat for the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker.

Current recovery efforts include removing non-native predators from sections of the upper Colorado River system, and preventing escapement from lakes and reservoirs where non-natives are thriving, often with the use of fish screens.

The existing cool-warmwater fishery of smallmouth bass and walleye in Rifle Gap Reservoir has been self-sustaining since the 1960s when the former Colorado Division of Wildlife stocked both species, prior to the inception of the recovery program. Currently, trout are the only fish that can be legally stocked into Rifle Gap Reservoir.

After the fish screen is in place, Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers will begin drafting a new, lake management plan for Rifle Gap Reservoir before submitting it to the USFWS and other Recovery Program partners for final approval.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife gathered initial input for fishery management within Rifle Gap Reservoir, including the installation of the fish screen, during a public meeting held in August 2010. The agency plans additional meetings in the coming months to provide the public with additional opportunities for input as the agency drafts the final lake management plan.

Warmwater fishing has become increasingly popular in western Colorado; however, opportunities are currently limited due to concerns with the threat that some non-native fish species can pose to native fishes.

Despite those concerns, state wildlife officials continue to look for effective ways, including the installation and maintenance of approved fish screens, to satisfy angler’s requests for additional warmwater fishing without compromising native fish recovery efforts.

“Coldwater fisheries in western Colorado are famous world-wide,” said Sherman Hebein, senior aquatic biologist in the northwest region. “But we also have a core of dedicated anglers that appreciate warmwater alternatives and we are working hard to provide them as much opportunity as we are able, given some of the obstacles and limitations we must take into consideration.”

More coverage from Dave Buchanan writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

An expanded fishery at Rifle Gap Reservoir got another step closer when Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently began construction of a fish screen in Rifle Creek below the reservoir. The screen, which is expected to be operational by next spring, will prevent non-native fish that may escape the reservoir from going down Rifle Creek to the Colorado River where the non-native fishes might harm native fishes.
It’s all part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery program and the only way the state legally could stock and manage non-native warmwater fish in Rifle Gap. “This is a win-win project all the way around,” said Lori Martin, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We are protecting native fish populations downstream, while simultaneously having the opportunity to improve a combination, cool-warmwater fishery within Rifle Gap Reservoir.”

Martin said the agency is responding to anglers seeking more diversity while also adhering to the tenets of the endangered fish recovery program. Partners involved in the screen project include Parks and Wildlife, the Silt Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

A majority of the funding for the project came from funds generated from the sale of fishing and hunting licenses. Total dollar amounts were not available this week from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The existing smallmouth bass and walleye fishery in Rifle Gap Reservoir has been self-sustaining since the 1960s when the then-Division of Wildlife stocked both species, prior to the inception of the recovery program. However, the recovery program mandates only trout can be legally stocked into Rifle Gap Reservoir. After the fish screen is in place, and a new lake management plan has been approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service and other recovery program partners, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be able to stock and actively manage such fish as smallmouth bass and walleye.

The recovery program is a multi-state, multi-agency effort headed by the Fish and Wildlife Service with the goal of recovering four endangered fish found only in the Upper Colorado River system ​— the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail chub, and humpback chub. Current recovery efforts include removing non-native predators from sections of the upper Colorado River system, including stretches of river in and around Grand Junction where state and federal crews have been working for several years. The recovery program also includes building ponds for raising native fish, such as those recently finished along the Colorado River south of Fruita.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

‘One of the things we don’t know about climate change is where it stops’ — Bill Geer


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Bill Geer believes climate change will dramatically change life for fish and big game and the sportsmen who love them. But the former director of the Utah Fish and Game Department didn’t ask the more than 70 people he spoke to Thursday night to back a policy or a political candidate.

Instead, Geer, who now works on climate change issues for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, presented the impacts species have suffered. The partnership’s research found that spring runoff in Colorado has become more erratic and the precipitation regime now includes a greater amount of rain than snow. And it sited a U.S. Geological Survey study that found snowpack in the Rocky Mountains since the 1980s has seen the biggest decline in history. Earlier runoff has made life tough for fish in Colorado’s mountain streams, particularly in August when dwindling stream flows and higher water temperatures can kill fish. Geer’s presentation focused on the dangers those conditions pose to Colorado River cutthroat trout in the northwestern part of the state. His talk did not focus on the Rio Grande basin.

But Jon Harp, the owner of Conejos River Anglers, echoed the concerns with late summer conditions. “There’s no question that the last 10 or 15 years it always seems to be an issue,” he said. Harp, who guides anglers on streams all across the southern San Juan Mountains, said last year’s early runoff would have resulted in widespread fish kills come August had the month not seen steady rains. He said the trout population has seen its most consistent decline in the tributaries of the Conejos, such as the Rio de los Pinos and La Jara Creek, and the lower Chama River in New Mexico. “The los Pinos, if you look at it in May and June and July, it looks like a fantastic trout stream,” he said. “You go in August and it’s just a warm bath.”

But the conservation partnership’s information on elk yielded less clear conclusions. Beetle-killed trees and warmer temperatures in the state’s high-elevation forests will clear forest canopies and allow for more grass and forbs, which would benefit elk.

And while Geer told those who were convinced of climate change’s impacts that they should act, he held out another thought for the unconvinced. “One of the things we don’t know about climate change is where it stops,” he said.

More Climate Change coverage here and here.

The SECWD pulls applications for increased storage in Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two water court applications, filed in 2000, claiming storage rights in Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake are being pulled because federal legislation has stalled. “Because we don’t have the federal legislation on (dam) enlargement, we wouldn’t be able to meet the can­andwill provisions of state law,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

The district filed for the storage rights after its Preferred Storage Options Plan was completed. The plan identified enlargement of Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake as the best ways to increase storage in the Arkansas River basin. But after 12 years, PSOP looks increasingly unlikely.

The district sought federal legislation to study enlargement of the reservoirs, which were built as part of the Fryingpan­Arkansas Project, but hit its first snag when it opposed Aurora’s inclusion in storage plans. A revised version of PSOP included Aurora, which made certain concessions to the Southeastern district in 2003. New agreements were reached with the city of Pueblo in 2004 that would have allowed PSOP to progress.

Ken Salazar, D­Colo., attempted to broker a settlement among 11 entities that would have allowed PSOP to progress in 2007, but those efforts failed when the Lower Ark sued the Bureau of Reclamation over its storage contract with Aurora.

Since then, Aurora has dropped its insistence to be included in the legislation.

Meanwhile, the “reoperations” of Lake Pueblo — another part of PSOP that defines how nonproject water is stored — have moved ahead through long­term excess capacity contracts for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Aurora and the Southern Delivery System. The Bureau of Reclamation also is considering a master contract sponsored by the Southeastern district. Southeastern continues to fund studies related to reservoir enlargement, with $132,000 included in next year’s proposed budget, to be adopted in December.

More Preferred Storage Option Plan coverage here and here.

Loveland: City council and utilities commission disagree on funding supply improvements


From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

Members of the Loveland Utilities Commission and the Loveland City Council agree that the city’s aging water treatment plant needs to be expanded, and that crumbling water lines need to be replaced. But a philosophical argument has brewed over whether long-term borrowing through sale of bonds is the best way to fund those projects. The utility board, unanimously, says yes. City councilors, or some of them, lean the other way.

The council will hear again on Tuesday their utility advisory board’s advice to issue bonds in the amount of $16 million, with 30-year terms, to raise the capacity of the treatment plant to meet rising demand and fix half-century-old water lines that are breaking with alarming frequency.

The solution contradicts a long-held philosophy by city councilors that Loveland should remain debt-free, paying for civic projects with current income.

More infrastructure coverage here.