Drought news: Fort Collins hints at watering restrictions in the spring #COdrought


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

When you factor in climate change, the only certainty about Colorado’s future water supply and drought conditions is uncertainty.

There is little indication that Colorado’s drought is nearing an end. The federal government, in a report released last week by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, is expecting dry conditions are going to be the norm about half the time over the next 50 years in the Colorado River Basin, a primary source of Larimer County’s drinking water supplies.

There are two other sure bets about drought in the Rockies right now: The 2012 drought was a natural disaster, and the precipitation outlook for the next few months is full of question marks…

“From a natural ecology point of view, the 2012 drought was horrendous,” said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. The region had an extremely warm March, kicking off a four-month spell of hot and dry weather, which dried vegetation and forest soils earlier than usual, he said…

On Friday, Horsetooth Reservoir was about 44 percent full, and storage throughout the Colorado-Big Thompson Project was sitting at 76 percent, said Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner.

Water supplies are expected to be adequate through the next year, but “you are going to start seeing more water providers looking at how they want to cut back,” he said. “You’ll see a lot more serious watering restrictions out of communities. Fort Collins is going to be looking at it if we stay where we’re at.”

The city of Fort Collins is likely to implement water restrictions in the spring as a precaution in case the city isn’t allowed obtain its full quota of water from Horsetooth Reservoir, city Water Resources Manager Donnie Dustin told the City Council in November.

He said the city will explore ways to get more water from the reservoir, including halting water rentals to the North Poudre Irrigation Company.

Baca National Wildlife Refuge: The elk herd is degrading riparian habitat


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing some hunting and hazing to scatter elk herds at the three national wildlife refuges it manages in the San Luis Valley.

The agency said elk have become a problem because of the damage they cause to wetlands and riparian habitat, a conflict that is especially pronounced on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, which has a herd of roughly 3,500.

A draft environmental assessment released Tuesday called for licensed hunts on roughly 27,000 acres on the Baca with the majority coming on the western edge of the refuge.

Other steps in the proposal also call for selective culling and hazing, with the possible use of cracker shells, horseback riders and agency staff on foot.

“We’d like to keep as many tools in the toolbox as we can,” said Mike Blenden, who oversees the valley’s three refuges.

The overuse by elk on the Baca caused the near total elimination of habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, which is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The environmental assessment also said elk had damaged some habitat on the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Opening all three refuges to public hunting was not considered as part of this plan, which will last for three years. The agency said that option will be considered in the management plan for the three refuges, which is due out in 2015.

The other options in the draft include the possibility of continuing with the existing policy of not managing the herds and another that uses hazing without the incorporation of the Baca hunts.

The agency will accept comments on the draft for 30 days. They can be sent to alamosa@fws.gov or in writing to: San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 9383 El Rancho Lane, Alamosa, CO., 81101.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Douglas County appeals Sterling Ranch ruling that has stalled development


From the Douglas County News-Press (Rhonda Moore):

The county aims to place the issue of water availability before the appeals court, which has not previously tested the applicable statute, said Lance Ingalls, county attorney.

The statute in question requires developers to prove the water supply for a rezoning before the start of new construction. Sterling Ranch in May 2011 gained the county’s approval to rezone and develop 3,500 acres in the Chatfield Valley, with a plan for 12,000 homes.

With passage of the rezoning, the county granted the request from developer Harold Smethhills to prove his water adequacy at each plat or phase of development. District Judge Paul King reversed the county’s approval in August, following a challenge by the Chatfield Community Association.

“While land use and development is a matter of local concern, the adequacy of water for new developments is a matter of statewide concern,” King ruled. “(L)ocal government shall not approve an application for a development unless it determines that the applicant has established that the proposed water supply for the development is adequate.”

From The Denver Post:

Those in the home-building industry said the outcome could affect projects on semi-arid land where there isn’t a lot of water. For years, suburban building has gotten the go-ahead without requiring that developers have sufficient water in place in advance.

More water law coverage here.