CMU Natural Resources of the West seminar recap — ‘Are we really ever at average? Probably not’ — Nolan Doesken



From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):

The warm temperatures and dry conditions facing ski resorts and water managers are discouraging but not unprecedented, and no one can say if it’s part of a longer trend.

There’s little anyone can do except look to the skies and hope the drought ends soon, but memories are long.

Many veterans of the state’s ski industry still shudder when recalling the winter of 1976-77, a year when the April 1 snowpack peaked at 46 percent of long- term average, making that year the driest in memory.

This year’s unexpectedly warm temperatures and bare slopes have many people this winter already comparing it to last winter, when many resorts didn’t see significant snowfall until January, too late for the important Christmas-New Year’s holiday.

While the expansion of snowmaking in the last 25 years has helped save at least part of a dry ski season, it’s not enough to save the entire season.

Vacationing skiers disappointed in the holiday snowpack fail to return later in the season, even after snow conditions improve.

It’s no coincidence that snowy years mean more skiers.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, the record-breaking snows of 2010-11 attracted an estimated 60.54 million skier/rider visits nationwide, the highest total ever.

One year later, the 2011-12 season saw the lowest national average resort snowfall since 1991-92 and the nation as a whole saw skier and rider visits drop to 51 million, the lowest total since 1991-92 (50.8 million).

A forecast reminiscent of last winter is in the works this year, with the National Weather Service’s 90-day outlook calling for above average temperatures and little certainty in improved precipitation patterns.

How could the state go from record snows to drought in a year? Why can’t we just be average for a while?

“There are such huge variations in year-to-year precipitation patterns, it’s hard to say what’s ‘average,’ ” state climatologist Nolan Dosken said Monday at Colorado Mesa University. “Are we really ever at ‘average’? Probably not.”

Doesken, who addressed “Drought History in Colorado” as part of CMU’s Natural Resources of the West: Water and Drought series, said there is little sense and even less pattern in tracking the state’s drought history.

“It’s all over the place,” he said. “Temperature fluctuation is like this (making tiny wiggles with his fingers) while precipitation is like this,” waving his arms up and down.

“Except for the mountains, the state is already pretty dry much of the time.”

That makes ski resorts de facto water managers, their slopes providing a part of the summer runoff, key to water supplies across the state.

Likewise, water managers are thinking of last year, when the snowpack tied for second lowest (with 2002) at 52 percent of average.

Only in 1977 was the snowpack less.

What might be of concern is four of the eight lowest years have come in the past 12.

“We’ve been closely monitoring water releases as much as possible and we’re certainly looking at the forecast,” said Dan Crabtree, lead hydrologist for the Bureau of Reclamation in Grand Junction. “You look at the NOAA forecast and it doesn’t really give you much hope things are going to change.”

What role does global climate change play?

“There’s nothing to base that decision on,” said Doesken, emphasizing he was speaking from a personal view. “But do I see enough of a (warming) trend to concern me? Oh, yeah.”
Crabtree said resource managers recognize the state is coming off a “lousy water year.”

“The more the sun shines and the more we have 50-degree days in November really causes us concern,” he said.

More education coverage here.

Bear Creek: Judge rejects settlement statement for lawsuit to protect the only pure greenback population


From The Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

Last week, attorneys for the environmental group and the Forest Service signed a settlement, with the agency agreeing to ban dirt bikes on trails 665, 668, 701 and 720 and part of trail 667. Officials agreed to install signs and barriers within 10 days of the court approving the settlement and to keep the trails closed until an ongoing watershed assessment is complete. They also agreed to get approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before reopening the trails to vehicles.

But Monday, U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane rejected the settlement. At issue is a provision saying if there is a dispute over the implementation of the document, neither side can be found in contempt of court. The judge ruled that provision exceeds the authority of the two sides and could lead to them not reporting violations of the court order.

Tim Ream, attorney for the environmental group, called it a “very esoteric point” and said negotiations continue on reworking the settlement.

Dirt bike groups, who have funded and carried out maintenance work on the trails for years, have blasted the lawsuit as unfairly singling out dirt bike riders from hikers, mountain bike riders and others they say also impact the creek.

“We are not satisfied with the process to date,” said Don Riggle, president of the Colorado Springs-based Trails Preservation Alliance. His is one of three groups representing motorized vehicle riders that have joined the lawsuit as intervenors.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Garden City: The next meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration is December 6


From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

The Arkansas (ahr-KANZ’-uhz) River Compact Administration meets in Kansas next week to review operations at the John Martin Reservoir in Colorado.
The panel’s annual meeting takes place Dec. 6 in Garden City. Also on the agenda are a compliance update, committee reports, and other developments from state and federal agencies.

The group administers provisions of the Kansas-Colorado Arkansas River Compact, including operations at the John Martin Reservoir. The compact was negotiated in 1948 between Kansas and Colorado to settle disputes and remove sources of future controversy over water in the Arkansas River.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Aspen: City council is considering an annual lease for 400 acre-feet of water from Reclamation via Ruedi Reservoir


From the Aspen Daily News:

The city of Aspen is considering buying water from Ruedi Reservoir, which would give it more long-range flexibility if climate change curtails the natural streamflow of area rivers.

In a rare opportunity, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Ruedi allotments, is putting the available water up for sale.

The city is considering spending around $500,000 on the rights for 400 acre feet per year. Controlling that amount of water would mean that, in a dry year, the city could would have a cushion if downstream users on the Colorado River that have rights senior to Aspen’s “call out” water rights. This happens when water is too scarce to meet everyone’s needs.

Aspen City Council heard information on the proposal at Monday night’s meeting, and is expected to vote on the matter at a meeting next week.

Phil Overeynder, former utility department head who works on a consulting basis with the city, said that acquiring the water rights would essentially provide a hedge against global warming.

While current conditions in Maroon and Castle creeks, and also some groundwater wells the city uses, are adequate to supply the town with water in historically dry years, that may not be the case in the future, because of changes in snowpack and runoff patterns that may result from climate change, Overeynder said.

If less water is available, it might harm the city’s ability to pursue things like runoff-capturing ponds and a system that would take water from the sanitation district facility and pump it back up the hill to the golf course.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.

Loveland: Council looks to bond new treatment plant, rates will go up to cover debt service


From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

Loveland water bills will rise. A lot. Maybe they will triple within eight years. But among 18 Colorado Front Range communities, the city’s water rates are the lowest…

Councilors have spent a year, including nearly four hours on Tuesday night, pondering how to pay for about $50 million covering water treatment plant expansion and replacement of old water lines that leak so often that crews do little else but patchwork. After yet another session with the city’s water managers, they listened to chairmen of public boards who have unanimously recommended courses of action. The conclusion of the Loveland Utilities Commission: Sell bonds that have a 30-year term, raising $16 million to take care of immediate needs…

Councilors in December will buckle down to the business of setting water rates to cover whatever solution they agree upon.

Meanwhile the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District raised tap fees last week. Here’s a report from Kevin Duggan writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

The Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, which provides water to much of the area south of Harmony Road, north of Loveland and west of the Larimer-Weld county line, last week raised the cost to connect water to a new home from $16,000 to $18,000.

The bump will go into effect gradually, with an extra $1,000 to cover the cost of acquiring water beginning Feb. 1 and an additional $1,000 to support the district’s water delivery infrastructure beginning June 1.

The higher fees are needed to cover the rising expense of water and the demand for new service in the district’s coverage area, said Mike DiTullio, the district’s longtime manager.

The district has provided about 500 new connections — called taps — this year, he said. About 200 have come from the Timnath area; other hotspots are around Provincetowne and Observatory Village in south Fort Collins.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Colorado Gives Day — December 4: Donate some dough to the organizations that are there to keep our waters safe and full of trout


Here’s the link to the Colorado Gives website. You’re done sending money to politicians this year, right? Dig deep for the environment.