Cloud-seeding rules may help to determine the efficacy of the various delivery methods #CORiver


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

As part of the state-authorized weather modification plan, operators of cloud-seeding operations are required to complete annual “target versus control” analyses, comparing snowfall in target areas against similar non-targeted control areas. Over time, the data from those evaluations may help determine if cloud seeding really does boost snowfall by up to 15 percent, as claimed by the operators.

“This method is credible and develops relationships between snow data and tracks precipitation totals over time in both seeded areas and non-seeded areas to help track the efficacy of the program,” said Maria Pastore, of Glenwood Springs-based Grand River Consulting, who manages the central mountains cloud-seeding rogram.

“In addition, the State has new data types and evaluation methods suggested for cloud seeding programs,” Pastore said. “They are not required but are suggested as good periodic evaluations that can help the long-term sustainability of these programs.”

Cloud seeding in Colorado involves burning silver iodide in ground-based generators to inject tiny particles of the material into approaching weather systems. The silver iodide is said to provide nucleii for crystal formation and growth, helping to wring a bit of additional moisture from the clouds.

For the 2012-2013 season, the central mountains program will cost $293,600 and target an area of about 1,668 square miles of the Upper Colorado River Basin, generally above elevation 8,500 feet, in parts of Pitkin, Eagle, Summit, and Grand counties. If it works, the program could benefit A-Basin, Breckenridge, Keystone and Winter Park, all included in the target area.

More cloud-seeding coverage here and here.

Drought news: Many eyes are on the water in the Missouri River reservoirs #CODrought


From The Winona Daily News (David A. Lieb):

From Montana to West Virginia, officials on both sides have written President Barack Obama urging him to intervene _ or not _ in a long-running dispute over whether water from the Missouri’s upstream reservoirs should be released into the Mississippi River to ease low water levels that have imperiled commercial traffic.

The quarrel pits boaters, fishermen and tourism interests against communities downstream and companies that rely on the Mississippi to do business.

“We are back to the age-old old battle of recreation and irrigation verses navigation,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri.

If the water is held back, downstream states warn that shipping on the Mississippi could come to a near standstill sometime after Christmas along a 180-mile stretch between St. Louis and the southern Illinois town of Cairo. But if the water is released, upstream communities worry that the toll of the drought could be even worse next year for farms and towns that depend on the Missouri.

Obama has not decided whether to enter the dispute, nor has the White House set a timetable to respond. But tensions are rising in this decades-old battle.

From his perch as executive director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority, Dan Overbey watched this week as workers scrambled to ship out as much grain as possible before the Mississippi gets so low that it is not economically feasible or physically possible to move loaded-down barges…

More than 800 miles to the northwest, Michael Dwyer was also stewing. He’s the executive vice president of the North Dakota Water Users Association.

To Dwyer, the downriver interests are “taking selfishness” to “a level you can’t even comprehend.”

“We suffered the impact of these reservoirs” when they were created decades ago by dams that flooded 500,000 acres of bottomland, Dwyer said. “To have some use of the resource only seems appropriate.”

At the Mississippi River port near Cape Girardeau, Mo., about a million tons of cargo are loaded or unloaded annually, providing about 200 jobs, Overbey said.

The water is also vital in parts of the Dakotas, where the dammed-up Missouri River has spawned a tourism industry centered on boating and fishing…

Over the past three decades, more than a dozen lawsuits have been filed challenging the management of the river, many of which set Missouri and other downstream states against the Dakotas and other upstream states.

The battles started in 1982, when Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska challenged a government contract allowing water to be drawn from the Missouri River in South Dakota to flush coal through a pipeline to power plants in the southeast. The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the project, but other lawsuits followed, including an effort by upstream states to reduce the water released from dams in an attempt to boost sport fishing in the reservoirs.

Missouri, meanwhile, sued the Army Corps of Engineers when it held back water because of droughts and shortened the navigation season. Environmental groups also joined the court battles, advocating for spring surges and summer declines in downstream river levels to help threatened species of birds and fish.

So far, no lawsuits have been filed in the current competition for water. But battle lines have been drawn…

The Corps of Engineers, which manages both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, says its guidelines prohibit it from releasing water from the Missouri River reservoirs for the primary purpose of improving navigation on the Mississippi. That position was backed up by a 1990 report from the federal government’s General Accounting Office, though officials from downstream states believe Obama could trump that by declaring an emergency to avoid an “economic calamity.”

Water Under Pressure: What Oil Shale Could Mean for Western Water, Fish and Wildlife


Click here to read a new report on oil shale exploration and production [well, maybe someday] from Melinda Kassen:

For more than a century, efforts to wring oil out of rock formations in the Rocky Mountain West have waxed and waned. The deposits underlying northwestern Colorado, southwestern Wyoming and northeastern Utah have been portrayed as “the Saudi Arabia’’ of oil shale, a vast source of domestic energy that would cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil, create many jobs and produce millions of dollars of revenue for state and local governments.

That same area, the 16,000-square-mile Green River Formation, is home to some of the nation’s most valuable fish and wildlife habitat. Colorado’s Piceance Basin boasts North America’s largest migratory mule deer herd and some of the country’s largest elk herds. The huge tracts of public land also support greater sage-grouse, Colorado River cutthroat trout, black bear, bald eagles and mountain lions. Hunting, fishing, other wildlife-based activities and outdoor recreation are cornerstones of the regional economy and integral to the area’s lifestyle, heritage and identity. Coursing through the wildlife habitat, ranches, fruit orchards and communities is the water that allows the people, the wildlife and the commerce all to thrive in the semi-arid climate. The rivers, fed by mountain snow and beloved by anglers, include the Green, the White, Uintah, Lake Fork, Strawberry and Duchesne. They include Utah’s top two fishing destinations, the renowned Green River gorge and Strawberry Reservoir, as well as hundreds of miles of headwaters trout and larger reaches with fat rainbows and browns.

This report explores how large-scale commercial oil shale development in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado could affect the region’s water supply and quality and what that might mean for fish, wildlife and communities. After more than 100 years of trying, we are still several years away from an economically viable oil shale industry. The technology is unproven and the potential environmental impacts are unknown. Even conservative estimates indicate the volume of water needed to transform kerogen – a precursor to oil – into a usable fuel could be huge. For a resource that lies in the midst of the semi-arid West, with sparse precipitation and few large rivers, it is not
clear where the water would come from, or how it would affect the fish that live in the local streams. With the region already straining its water supply and facing continued population growth, finding another increment of water for oil shale, while protecting native and sport fisheries, may be an insurmountable challenge.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently proposing a cautious approach to oil shale development. The BLM has proposed keeping development off sensitive wildlife habitat, limiting new public leases to research and demonstration projects and moving ahead with commercial leases only after the pilot projects produce results. This approach is a prudent way to test oil shale potential and limit the risk to the regions water supplies

From American Rivers’ The River Blog (David Moryc):

If you were to draw up a list of rivers where you wouldn’t want to extract oil shale in the United States, the Green, the White and the Upper Colorado would be in the list. (Similar to developing a massive copper and gold mine in the most productive salmon watershed on the planet, but I digress.)

Yet, due to a curse of geology that is unfortunately exactly where industrial-scale oil shale production of oil shale is proposed that could require as much as 123 billion gallons of water, according to a new report [PDF] authored by Melinda Kassen.

More coverage of oil shale — the next big thing for over a hundred years now — here and here.

‘If we’re in the same situation at the end of January, we can start worrying’ — Rege Leach #CODrought


From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The total flow in the Animas through Durango during November was 9,209 acre-feet, the lowest in 102 years of records, Rege Leach, the state Division of Water Resources engineer in Durango, said Thursday. The second-lowest flow in the Animas was in 1934, when 9,374 acre-feet flowed through Durango, Leach said.

Other area rivers didn’t fare much better, Leach said. The November flow in the La Plata River was the fourth lowest in 103 years of record keeping, and the Dolores River carried its third-lowest flow in 96 years of records…

“It’s too early to tell because SNOTEL sites in the San Juan and Dolores basins don’t tell that much right now,” Leach said. “If we get a couple of good storms in the next weeks, we can be back to an average snowpack.

“You can’t say it’s going to be a dry winter now,” Leach said. “But if we’re in the same situation at the end of January, we can start worrying.”

From the Christian Science Monitor (Pete Spotts):

Less than 18 months after the US Army Corps of Engineers blasted gaps in a levee on the Mississippi River to cope with a record flood, it’s getting ready to detonate explosives for the opposite reason – to clear rock outcroppings on the bottom of the drought-depleted waterway so cargo can keep moving…

Even in a year that saw hurricane Sandy, the drought could be the headline severe-weather event of 2012.

Initial estimates range from $60 billion to $100 billion, with a first official estimate from the US Department of Agriculture expected in February, says Steven Cain, a specialist with Purdue University’s Agriculture Communications Service in West Lafayette, Ind.

By some estimates, Sandy inflicted at least $75 billion in damage…

Graineries in St. Louis reportedly loaded their last barges until further notice Friday, according to Lynn Mench, a senior vice president with the American Waterway Operators (AWO), based in Arlington, Va. Grain shippers are opting to halt their work rather than send barges down partially loaded, which gets them down river but at a higher cost to the grain’s buyers. Sending them fully loaded could result in the barges running aground and remaining stuck until water levels rise.

Restrictions on barge capacity also affect winter-friendly commodities coming up river – from road salt to coal that power plants need to keep generators humming. Other forms of transportation will try to pick up the slack, but at higher cost.

One inch in a barge’s hold represents about the same capacity as one semi truck, Ms. Mench notes. Where normally barges will be loaded to a 12-foot draft, conditions now are limiting them to about 7-1/2 feet – a loss of about 54 trailers’ worth of capacity per barge.

To help keep the St. Louis-to-Cairo run navigable for as long as possible, the US Army Corps of Engineers is getting set to blast away rocks on the river bottom near Thebes, Ill. But that may not happen until early January.

Storage news: Southeastern’s winter water storage program diversions are about half of normal #CODrought


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

No surprise: Winter water storage is at about half of last year’s levels, and less than 40 percent of average. The program, administered under a water court decree by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, allows 11 Arkansas Valley ditches to store water from Nov. 15 to March 15. The water can be used either to start crops in a dry spring or finish them in a dry summer.

But in the midst of a drought, there is just not much to store.

The first accounting of storage this year, on Nov. 30, showed just 9,764 acrefeet had been stored. The 20­year average is 24,600 acre­feet. By the same time last year, 19,500 acre­feet had been stored.

That doesn’t bode well for the next few months if dry conditions don’t let up.

Last year, winter water netted 121,000 acre­feet, about 85 percent of average.

River flows on the Arkansas River continue to lag far behind normal levels. Snowpack in the Arkansas River basin, as well as the Upper Colorado River basin, which provides supplemental water to the valley, is at just 25 percent of average.

Rainfall in the Pueblo area is just 4.7 inches, about 40 percent of normal and the driest year since 2002.

Meanwhile, the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Board is planning to pony up $18.8 million in 2013 for various costs including $1.8 million for to enhance streamflow in the Colorado River. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka Writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday approved the 2013 budget with $18.8 million in expenditures, most of which will go to the federal government to repay the Fryingpan­Arkansas Project.

The district also approved the expenditure of about $1.8 million toward a ranch to provide water for Colorado River flows. 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. That includes some money budgeted this year, but not spent because of delays in contract negotiations.

Revenues to the district are expected to be about $16.2 million through a 0.935 mill levy in parts of nine counties, water sales, payments from enterprise members and investments.

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

More Arkansas River Basin coverage <a href="