Take a trip down memory lane by clicking on the thumbnail graphics. I’ve posted snowpack maps from around this time of year for 2013, 2012 and 2011.
From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Dickman):
Although 2013 has just begun, it already is drier than 2012 at this point, and the amount of water stored in reservoirs is much less than January of last year. Snowpack is at 61 percent of normal in the Upper Colorado and South Platte Basins, which affect Larimer County — lower than it was Jan. 10, 2012, said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water.
But water managers knew there was liquid in the bank in 2012 coming off three consecutive wet years and with area reservoirs at 121 percent of the level considered full. This year, by comparison, Colorado-Big Thompson reservoirs as well as other local storage facilities are 79 percent full — a 42 percent margin.
…[Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten] updated the [Rio Grande Roundtable] members on the status of the snowpack. He said the Rio Grande Basin was about 60 percent of average as of Tuesday.
“We need about 137 percent of average from now on through the rest of the winter season to get us even up to that average level,” he said. “We definitely need some more snow.”
He said the Natural Resources Conservation Services’ stream forecast for this year predicts about 66 percent of average flow on the Rio Grande and 74 percent of average on the Conejos River system, or about the same as 2012. Forecasts for the rest of the streams around the San Luis Valley vary from 36 to 76 percent of average, he added.
“We have still got a few months of winter left, and we can definitely get some good snow still, but it is not looking real good so far.”
The 2013 water year has gotten off to a slow start in the mountains of Colorado. As of Jan. 1, Colorado’s statewide snowpack was 70 percent of average and 91 percent of last year’s readings, according to Phyllis Ann Philipps, state conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“Conditions could have been much worse if we had not received the moisture we did in December,” Philipps said. The much-needed snowfall in December boosted the snowpack from just 36 percent of average recorded on Dec. 1. The Jan. 1 snowpack is the fourth lowest within the last 32 years, she added.
Mountain precipitation was 112 percent of average for December, but due to exceptionally dry conditions statewide in October and November, total water year-to-date precipitation remains below average. In October and November, Colorado received only 50 and 41 percent of average precipitation respectively.
Statewide year-to-date precipitation was at 68 percent of average as of Jan. 1. Basins in southern Colorado have the greatest deficits. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins reported only 59 percent of average year-to-date precipitation on Jan. 1. The Upper Rio Grande and Arkansas basins recorded 62 and 61 percent of average for year-to-date precipitation respectively.
So far this winter season has been dominated by high-pressure weather systems and a jet stream that has not cooperated. Jan. 1 snow surveys confirm that snow accumulation is below average for this time of year across the state. Total accumulation ranges from 82 percent of average in the Yampa and White River basins to 61 percent of average in the Arkansas basin.
Due to last spring’s well-below-average snowpack and subsequent low stream-flow volumes throughout most of the state, reservoir storage is currently well below average throughout Colorado. Statewide reservoir storage at the end of December was just 68 percent of average and 38 percent of capacity.
As far as local reservoirs are concerned, Twin Lakes is at 13 percent of capacity, 24 percent of average and 20 percent of last year. Turquoise Lake is at 33 percent of capacity, 48 percent of average and 44 percent of last year.
Despite recent snowstorms, Arkansas River Basin snowpack measured 61 percent of average, the lowest of any river basin in the state, as of Jan. 1. Data from the National Resources Conservation Service show statewide snowpack at 70 percent of average and 91 percent of 2012 readings.
Wednesday’s declaration — the first such designation made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2013 — makes all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans…
All of the designated counties have shown a drought intensity value of at least D2 (severe drought) for eight consecutive weeks based on U.S. Drought Monitor measurements, providing for an automatic designation. Logan County has ranged from extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) — the highest level on the scale — since early August 2012. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Jan. 3 shows Logan County in a large swath of central and western states where the drought is expected to persist or intensify at least through March 31.
In 2012, USDA designated 2,245 counties in 39 states as disaster areas due to drought, or 71 percent of the United States. At the height of the 2012 drought, Vilsack announced a series of aggressive USDA actions to get help to farmers, ranchers and businesses impacted by the 2012 drought, including lowering the interest rate for emergency loans, working with crop insurance companies to provide flexibility to farmers, and expanding the use of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for haying and grazing, which opened 2.8 million acres and brought nearly $200 million in forage for all livestock producers during a critical period.
At the same time, the ag secretary and many other officials were calling on Congress to pass a new Farm Bill to replace the expiring 2008 bill to ensure that the USDA would continue to be able to provide certain programs to help farmers and ranchers facing losses from the drought. As part of the so-called fiscal cliff deal, the 2008 Farm Bill was extended temporarily, but according to Logan County FSA director Sherry Lederhos, it is still unclear what that means for relief programs. She said the office is waiting for direction on which programs have been extended and what assistance they can provide to local producers…
In addition to Logan County, Wednesday’s designation includes Adams, Arapahoe, Baca, Bent, Chaffee, Cheyenne, Crowley, Custer, Douglas, Elbert, El Paso, Fremont, Huerfano, Kiowa, Kit Carson, Lake, Las Animas, Lincoln, Logan, Morgan, Otero, Park, Phillips, Prowers, Pueblo, Sedgwick, Teller, Washington, Weld and Yuma counties as primary disaster areas. All contiguous counties are also eligible for natural disaster assistance.
In all, the designation affects 597 counties in 14 states: Alabama, 14 counties; Arkansas, 47; Arizona, 4; Colorado, 30; Georgia, 92; Hawaii, 2; Kansas, 88; Oklahoma, 76; Missouri, 31; New Mexico, 19; Nevada, 9; South Carolina, 11; Texas, 157; and Utah, 17.
Meanwhile, CSU Extension is holding drought summits through March 12. Here’s the inside skinny:
As calendar year 2012 came to a close, most of the State of Colorado was categorized in D2 – D4 drought stage. The outlook for 2013 is toward above average temperatures and average to below average precipitation. Management decisions will be critical for agricultural producers and families to maintain the resource base of their operations.
Colorado State University Extension in the Golden Plains Area is planning to host a series of Drought Summits to provide critical drought management information to producers and their families.
Five informational meetings will be held at different locations throughout the Golden Plains Area and will simultaneously be presented as a web cast. Anyone can attend either in person at the sites listed below or link to the web cast. There is no charge for attending in person or linking to the web cast. For those attending at the physical locations, lunch will be provided courtesy of sponsors.
Drought Summit dates, locations, and topics are as follows:
Feb. 12 – Burlington Community Center, Burlington – Weather updates and Crop Insurance issues.
Feb. 19 – Washington County Events Center, Akron – Crop production issues, forage production with limited irrigation, entomology and insect concerns during drought.
Feb. 26 – Yuma Community Center, Yuma– Livestock production issues including herd liquidation and tax consequences and livestock disease during drought.
March 5 – Phillips County Events Center, Holyoke – Range management issues, pasture management, invasive weeds, insects.
March 12 – Sedgwick County Courthouse Annex, Julesburg – Human resources issues, family financial management and communications.
All five summit presentations are scheduled to begin at 11:00am and conclude at 1:00pm.
Please RSVP by the Monday prior to each meeting to Dennis Kaan in the Washington County Extension office at 970-345-2287 if you are planning to attend a presentation in person so we can get an accurate count for lunch. The web cast will be presented via Adobe Connect. In order to login to the web cast, go to the following web address: http://connect.extension.iastate.edu/colodrought
When you go to that URL you will find yourself at a login page. Simply click on bullet “Enter as a guest.” You will then be prompted for your name. Enter your name and click “Enter Room” to enter the meeting space. You can hear the presentation but you will have to type questions in the chat box and the presenters will address them.
FromThe Aurora Sentinel (Sara Castellanos) and the Associated Press:
Aurora’s water reservoirs are at about 57 percent of their storage capacity, which is low and “not normal or ideal,” said Marshall Brown, director of Aurora Water. Brown said he’s concerned because if this year’s mild winter continues, it would be compounded with the dryness of 2012 which would lead to water levels being even lower in Aurora’s reservoirs.
“The forecasts for 2013 are not good right now, so the potential is for this drought that we’re in now to be as bad as anything we’ve seen in recent history,” he said.
The city uses about 50,000 acre-feet of water annually. As the drought continues, the Prairie Waters drought hardening project will be operating at full-blast, Brown said. “Prairie Waters is a huge help for us now,” Brown said.
Currently, the Prairie Waters project is being operated at half its capacity, said Joe Stibrich, deputy director of water resources for Aurora Water. By the summer, Prairie Waters is expected to deliver 10,000 acre-feet of water, or 20 percent of Aurora’s total water consumption, which wouldn’t need to be pulled out of Aurora’s reservoir storage. “As demand increases we’d ramp Prairie Waters up (in the spring),” said Stibrich.
It’s too early to tell whether any updates will be made to the city’s watering restrictions in the spring, but it’s always a possibility, Brown said. Aurora City Council members would have to approve new watering restrictions for 2013 before they would go into effect…
The outlook for a major change in Colorado’s drought is uncertain even though holiday storms have improved the mountain snowpack, according to climate researchers. “It’s not quite good enough to pull us out of the ‘drought,’ but at least (it’s) bringing temporary relief and optimism,” State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said.
Snow levels were as low as 40 percent of average earlier this month in the state’s eight major river basins. Doesken said the forecast for the first part of 2013 doesn’t include much moisture, and the longer range outlook is uncertain.
Warren Mesloh has been appointed manager of the North Front Range Water Quality Planning Association.
Mesloh brings more than 30 years in engineering to his new position, which he started at the beginning of the year. He is the former owner and president of The Engineering Co. in Fort Collins and has been a private consultant to wastewater districts in the region.
Mesloh replaces Connie O’Neill, who had been manager for the past eight years. She will be staying on for a couple of months to help with a smooth transition, according to the association.
The first official meeting of the association under Mesloh will be at 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Southwest Weld County Service Center in Del Camino.
Noting the state is still in drought, the governor has set a goal of creating a state water plan by 2015, one that focuses on conservation. “While expanding reservoir capacity makes sense, and rotational fallowing of agricultural land shows great promise, every discussion about water should start with conservation,” [Governor Hickenlooper] said.
One issue that the governor didn’t mention, and which caught [Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg’s] attention, was agriculture. “Nothing referencing agriculture and its contribution as the 2nd largest industry and conservation is the answer to water. Dang,” he tweeted after the speech.
The first days of the 2013 session saw the introduction of more than 100 bills, with more than a dozen dealing with water, agriculture and county governments. Legislators can expect to see 500 to 700 bills during the session.
Sonnenberg also is the chief House sponsor of an accompanying measure, HJR13-1004: CONCERNING OPPOSITION TO NEW SPECIAL USE PERMIT WATER REQUIREMENTS, which claims the federal rule is in conflict with Colorado’s Constitution regarding prior appropriation. The resolution states that the Forest Service does not have the authority to require leasees to transfer their water rights. But the problem goes beyond the 22 affected ski areas in Colorado. According to the resolution, the Forest Service also has held up permits for ranchers who lease land for cattle and sheep grazing, also seeking those water rights.
Both measures are unanimously supported by the 10-member bipartisan water resources committee, which includes Brophy.
Next, a Western Slope lawmaker has introduced a bill to grant the Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission exclusive authority to regulate the “beneficial use of produced water for dust suppression on unpaved roads in rural areas.” This refers to groundwater produced during oil and gas operations. HB13-1018: CONCERNING THE BENEFICIAL USE OF PRODUCED WATER FOR DUST SUPPRESSION requires the commission to establish rules and standards for use of that water. The bill states the standards must prevent the discharge of pollutants into the state waters and minimize public exposure to naturally-occurring radioactive materials that come from the produced water. Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose) is the bill’s sponsor. The commission is part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…
And in line with the governor’s request for water conservation measures, Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass) and Rep. Randy Fischer (D-Fort Collins), have introduced SB 19, which would encourage water users to increase the efficiency of their water utilization.
More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:
Colorado legislators want to issue up to $50 million in bonds to protect watersheds from the threat of wildfires. They also want to extend the state’s tax credits for homeowners who pay for fire mitigation on their rural properties. The ideas in HB13-1012: CONCERNING THE EXTENSION OF FINANCIAL INCENTIVES FOR WILDFIRE MITIGATION are the Legislature’s first response to the wildfires that ravaged the state last year.
The Weather and Climate Summit was established in 1985 to bring together television weathercasters and meteorologists from top U.S. and Canadian markets with leading scientists and researchers. This summit allows for dynamic and frequent interchange between the media and scientists in order to foster improved communication and collaboration between these diverse professions. The Weather and Climate Summit enables television meteorologists to learn more about upcoming technologies and research findings that will lead to improved public awareness. The Weather and Climate Summit also helps the attendees and scientists understand how each one operates, produces information, conducts research and communicates. The ultimate outcome of this summit is the establishment of improved media-scientist relationships that fosters continued dialogue for improved scientific communication to the public.
Goal of Summit Participants
To learn about advanced technologies that can help improve weather forecasting and warning dissemination;
To understand the latest on the state of the climate and climate science research;
To better understand how extreme weather and climate change may impact their viewers;
Foster improved relationships with the speakers, scientists and subject matter experts.
For years, Summit participants have raved about the quality of the speakers and the benefits that come out of a week-long intimate gathering of professionals.
Water rates increased 3 percent again this year for town residents, who will see the change take effect in their water bills this month. The Town of Buena Vista board of trustees has scheduled a 3 percent increase in water usage fees every year since 2009, in order to cover the increasing cost of operating and replacing town water infrastructure.
The suit, filed in U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, alleges New Mexico is not delivering to Texas the water owed that state under the compact, which also includes Colorado. [Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten] had just learned of the suit Tuesday morning and said he was not exactly sure of the specifics. He said the main disagreement was between New Mexico and Texas, but since Colorado is part of the multi-state 1938 Rio Grande Compact, it was included.
“The State of Texas is requesting no action from the State of Colorado. They are included only because they are a signatory to the compact,” a January 8 release from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) stated.
TCEQ Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein said, “It is unfortunate that we have had to resort to legal action, but negotiations with New Mexico have been unsuccessful, and Texas is not getting the water that it is allocated and legally entitled to.”
Rubinstein alleged New Mexico was trying to circumvent and ignore the compact, and by filing suit against New Mexico, Texas was attempting to rectify alleged harm New Mexico had caused Texas water users…
Texas is alleging that New Mexico has allowed hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water to be illegally diverted from the Rio Grande downstream of Elephant Butte Reservoir, the storage facility for the three-state Rio Grande Compact.
“Essentially, New Mexico is delivering water to Texas at Elephant Butte Reservoir and then re-diverting Texas’ water below the reservoir as it is being released to Texas,” TCEQ officials stated.
“The illegal diversion of this water is negatively impacting water flows in the river, taking water that is released for the Rio Grande Project beneficiaries, including the State of Texas … Grave and irreparable injury has occurred and will be suffered in the future by Texas and its citizens unless relief is afforded by the court to prevent New Mexico from using and withholding water which Texas is entitled to, and which New Mexico is obligated to deliver, under the Rio Grande Compact and Rio Grande Project Act.”
Cotten said the engineer advisors for each state are scheduled to meet on the compact in February, and the annual Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting will be held in Alamosa this year on March 21 at Adams State University.
As far as Colorado’s deliveries to downstream states in 2012, the state over-delivered its obligation by about 6,000 acre feet, Cotten explained. The over deliveries were all from the Conejos River system, which sent about 9,000 acre feet more than was required to downstream states. The Rio Grande under-delivered about 3,000 acre feet, so between the two rivers, the state ended up with a credit of about 6,000 acre feet.
Cotten said he hoped Colorado would be able to work with Texas to relinquish that credit water to Texas in exchange for the ability to store water up here. Since Elephant Butte Reservoir has been so low, Colorado has been prohibited from storing water in post-compact reservoirs in Colorado, according to provisions of the Rio Grande Compact.
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach is saying that the city will fund their needs with operational efficiencies and through Colorado Springs Utilities. Good luck with that. I’ll bet that Utilities’ rate payers will have something to say about enterprise funds being used for general fund purposes. City voters disbanded the stormwater enterprise fund a while back so now there is really no funding mechanism for stormwater related expenses.
Mayor Steve Bach is trying to hijack a regional stormwater task force and censor its findings, two civic leaders said Monday [January 7, 2013]. The group has worked for months to assess stormwater needs in the Pikes Peak Region and prioritize critical projects. Members of the group said they were summoned to the mayor’s office Friday and rudely dismissed by Bach, who told them he was taking over the task force and handing the project over to a consultant…
During the meeting, Bach said he stressed the importance of regional collaboration in sequencing stormwater improvements with other jurisdictions. When a regional tax was suggested, Bach said he told the group that the city would fund its stormwater requirements through operational efficiencies in the municipal government and Colorado Springs Utilities and through increased sales and use tax revenues from a growing economy…
“I explained that we are now asking for an expedited, outside engineering expert second opinion on the scope and priorities so that the community can be comfortable that the internal analysis is accurate,” Bach added. “When a participant in the meeting suggested that the task force announce publicly that the storm water backlog is much higher than previously suggested, we did request a hold on that until the outside opinion is in hand.”
But task force members Jan Doran, a longtime neighborhood activist, and Robin Roberts, president of Pikes Peak National Bank, disputed the mayor’s account.
Doran said the group was asked to brief the mayor Friday at 11 a.m. in advance of a series of briefings planned for the Colorado Springs City Council, the El Paso County Commission and others. A previously scheduled task force meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday at the City Administration Building is still on the calendar.
On Friday, Doran and Roberts said the group never got a chance to give its presentation to the mayor. Bach and City Attorney Chris Melcher cut them off before they could get started, Doran said…
A previous City Council created a Stormwater Enterprise in 2005 to raise money for a backlog of drainage projects after sewage spills led to fines and lawsuits against the city. The enterprise, which levied a fee on property owners, was eliminated after the passage of ballot Issue 300 in November 2009.
More coverage from Daniel Chacón writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:
After finding nearly $1 billion in regional stormwater needs, members of a task force working on the project for months recommended Thursday [January 10, 2013] moving into phase two, including identifying ways to pay for projects.
But the city of Colorado Springs, which accounts for most of the stormwater needs, plans to hire an outside engineering firm to vet the numbers first. “We’re not doing this to stall the process. We’re doing to it add validity to it, to add credibility,” Public Works Director Helen Migchelbrink told the task force during a meeting at the City Administration Building downtown…
The future of the task force remains unclear. For now, it plans to present its findings to El Paso County commissioners Jan. 17 and then to the City Council in February…
Thursday’s meeting started with questions from citizens about a meeting last Friday between Mayor Steve Bach and task force members, who said they were rudely dismissed by Bach and told that their work was done.
Neumann called it “the elephant in the room.”
“Yes, what was written in the paper was mostly true,” she said.
“I mean, some of the facts are wrong. We could debate that. I could say, ‘No, that’s not exactly what happened and so forth.’ That happens all the time. But I believe there were people who felt like their ideas didn’t matter, they were not appreciated. They volunteered good time and expertise. That was not the intent. That was not the intent of the meeting. I’m very sorry for that perception because I think it made a stumble on something that’s very significant, so what I would like to do is kind of dust ourselves off and move forward and try to make a difference with what the real issue is,” she said.
Neumann said she wasn’t there to apologize on behalf of Bach, who was in Denver at the governor’s State of the State speech.
“If he could be at this meeting, he would speak for himself,” she said. “But I will say that I know that he was very disappointed that that was the perception at the end of the meeting. But he does know he had a hand in that, and it was unintentional.”
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
A task force found $906 million in stormwater needs and is recommending El Paso County and cities in the county find ways of paying the bill. Colorado Springs, which has $686 million in needs, plans to hire an outside engineering firm to verify the figures, however.
The task force had its final meeting last week. It also identified $10.9 million in annual maintenance and permit needs — Colorado Springs accounts for $8.6 million. Another $3 million in planning and other onetime costs is needed. The task force identified only $6.7 million in sustainable funding to meet all stormwater needs — Colorado Springs accounts for $5.7 million of that amount.
The findings will be presented to El Paso County commissioners on Jan. 17 and to Colorado Springs City Council in February.
Two subcommittees strongly encouraged continuing the task force.
A citizens group said problems are getting worse and longterm funding is needed, saying it is cheaper to maintain the Fountain Creek drainage system than replace it. A business group said the task force should continue so it could priotize capital projects and work toward a regional solution.
Colorado Springs is being pressed by Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to put funding in place equal to what would have been generated by the stormwater enterprise — $13 million or more annually. Council disbanded the enterprise following a 2009 city ballot issue promoted by antitax activist Doug Bruce.
More coverage from Bob Stephens writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:
El Paso County engineer Andrè Brackin has addressed stormwater issues since joining county staff in 1996. He’s not confident the problem will be solved any time soon.
“This scenario plays out the same every time,” Brackin said Tuesday in the aftermath of a dust-up between Colorado Springs officials and stormwater task force members. “They crunch the numbers and it turns out the same. All I have to do is pull a file from before. And then it always stops with elected officials.
“In 2000 we had the exact same scenario, just different players in different positions.”
A regional task force to study stormwater needs and prioritize critical projects in the Pikes Peak Region was formed several months ago. The five county commissioners agree that stormwater is a regional issue, to be solved with collaboration among several municipalities and entities.
But they’re not sure Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach feels the same way.
“We can’t look at this based on boundaries,” said commissioner Amy Lathen. “There is no room for turf wars. We need to deal with this regionally. Water does not recognize municipal boundaries.”
Bach, who called it a “mayor’s task force” Tuesday, said, “We certainly want to collaborate on planning and implementation. Where we part is funding.”
…a coalition of business and government leaders from El Paso County is pushing Colorado’s congressional delegation to support a House bill drawn up with the primary purpose of funding relief efforts in the areas hit by Superstorm Sandy. But Emergency Watershed Protection funding may be included in an amendment.
“We need to make sure that amendment and the bill has the language and resources to address this issue,” said Joe Raso, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Business Alliance, which is part of the coalition. “We want to make sure our delegation — our House delegation — does what’s necessary to make that happen, and if not, what are the additional steps they’re going to take to get the necessary funding we requested? We need those dollars.”
Colorado Springs Utilities also has been involved in trying to procure the funds, and while it’s not clear how much might funnel into the Pikes Peak area or how much any one entity might get, the city utility would use the money to pay for about $12 million in repair, flood mitigation, erosion control and drainage projects.