Drought/snowpack news: Pueblo taps stored water in winter for the first time in years, Arkansas Basin = 53% of avg #codrought



From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo had to dip into its water storage during winter months for the first time in years because of continuing drought conditions. “Typically, we see storage levels come up during the winter,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “We’re at the lowest level for this time of year since 2003, when we were recovering from the 2002 drought. We still have double the storage we had coming into 2002.”

Pueblo has more than 27,000 acre­feet of water in storage, which is about a year’s supply for potable water service. Storage water had to be used, rather than direct flow, to supply water to Xcel’s Comanche power plant during December because direct flow deliveries are capped under a 2004 intergovernmental agreement designed to keep water in the Arkansas River.

While the water board is not yet contemplating water restrictions in 2013, it will not lease much water to farmers, as it has in recent years. “We are at the point where we’re taking action, and that means cutting outside demand in 2013,” Ward said. “We won’t have water on the spot market.”

The water board will fulfill several long­term leases or contracts which bring in more than $8 million annually — about a quarter of total revenues.

Pueblo increased its water usage by 11.5 percent in 2012, with 9.3 billion gallons, 1 billion gallons more than the five­-year average. The outlook for water in 2013 is not good so far.

Snowpack is about 54 percent of average in the Arkansas River basin and 60 percent in the Colorado River basin, which supplies about half of Pueblo’s water through tunnels and ditches that bring water over the Continental Divide. Shortand long-­term weather forecasts aren’t providing much hope. “Nothing on the horizon tells us anything is going to change soon,” Ward said.

From The Greeley Tribune:

The winter storm that rolled across Colorado this weekend didn’t give any significant boost to the state’s snowpack figures. In fact, snowpack recently has fallen further behind historic averages, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

On Monday, snowpack in the South Platte River basin was 54 percent of average for Jan. 14. Two weeks ago, NRCS figures showed snowpack in the South Platte basin was 70 percent of average for the beginning of January.

Additionally, snowpack in the Colorado River basin — where the northern Front Range also gets much of its water supplies — is struggling to keep up so far this year. Snowpack in the Colorado River basin was at 68 percent of average two weeks ago, but was down to 59 percent Monday. Snowpack for the entire state was at 63 percent of average Monday.

Of the eight major river basins in Colorado, the Arkansas River basin continues to have the lowest snowpack figures, with its levels at 53 percent of average.

The lack of snow in the mountains has created headaches for farmers and ranchers and water providers for several months. Greeley, like many other cities in Colorado, depends heavily on snowmelt from the mountains to meet its water needs. Many farmers and ranchers, too, depend on winter and spring snowpack to provide runoff that fills irrigations ditches during the growing season.

At the end of last spring, snowpack across the state was just 2 percent of the historic average for that time of the year.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chacón):

Colorado Springs’ water storage system encompasses 25 reservoirs in various parts of the state. On average, the system is 65 percent full. But after a year that was the hottest and fourth driest on record, coupled with increased water usage, the system at the end of December was at 48 percent. In 2002, reservoir storage levels dropped to 46 percent.

“The mountains look great and it’s snowing today, but long-term, it’s just not making the difference we would like to see,” Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Lehermeier said Monday. “It looks real pretty. It just isn’t doing what it should do for us.”[…]

The city-owned utility will give the Utilities Board another update on the water situation and its drought response plans Wednesday. The board, which is made up of the City Council, is scheduled to take action in February. Two days of outdoor watering restrictions a week is “very realistic,” Lehermeier said.

The board also may be asked to consider a water rate increase and changing its pricing structure to encourage conservation by charging customers who use more water a higher rate…

Lehermeier said the strategy includes an extensive communications campaign to educate the community. Ratepayers used about 78.3 million gallons of water a day in 2012, about 7.6 percent more than in 2011.

From the Associated Press via KRDO:

Two days of outdoor watering restrictions a week and a fee hike may be on tap for residents in Colorado Springs this summer. The proposals are in response to a drop in water storage that are approaching levels not seen for a decade. Colorado Springs gets its water from 25 reservoirs in various parts of the state. On average, the system is 65 percent full. The system at the end of December was about 50 percent.

From The Greeley Tribune (D. Bruce Bosley):

Colorado landowners weathered through 2012’s record year of heat and drought. The high temperatures we experienced along with low rainfall made 2012 the record for plant evapotranspiration demand and consequently water use. Irrigation applications for most fields used record irrigation amounts just to keep up for crop water needs, and even then crops wilted early each day.

Making this situation worse, national weather forecasts for the western half of the United States and all of Colorado are not favorable for 2013. The seasonal drought outlook for Colorado and adjacent states predicts that the dry climate will persist or intensify over the next three months. Six- and nine-month forecasts also appear bleak, but as we know and hope, things can change. Colorado farmers and ranchers will need to cope with short irrigation water availability, dry soils and limited rainfall for the near future and possibly throughout the 2013 growing season.

Colorado State University Extension provides research-based information on how to reduce the drought impacts on farming and ranching businesses. CSU Extension’s mission is to help people meet the challenge of change through education leading to enhancing people’s knowledge, skills and coping strategies. CSU researchers have been conducting limited irrigation studies for several years. That research can be adapted by farmers to optimize profits through dry and water-short times.

I regularly write about and offer education programs that offer cropping system alternatives that can help farm producers meet drought and other challenges. Some alternatives require farmers to make major shifts in how they manage crops and fields and their whole farm operation.

For example, many dryland farmers in eastern Colorado have shifted from wheat-fallow to rotations including one or more summer crops before or after the wheat crop. These farmers use no-till system or a much-reduced tillage to reduce their costs and enhance their soil moisture capture. This very widespread change was initiated by research findings and the experience of a handful of innovative farmers. Although some farmers continue the traditional wheat-fallow system, the dryland farmers who are growing their operations are those who have succeeded in making the transition to these no-till multi-crop rotational systems. Dryland farmers make these new systems work. They also educate other farmers on the practical farming techniques through organizations such as the Colorado Conservation Tillage Association.

I feel it is my role to challenge the status quo farming practices with new agricultural ideas and techniques. Not all fit every farm and some do not fit any. It’s my conviction that if a farm manager is going to remain profitable, transition changes effectively and grow their business, they will need to keep abreast of the alternatives and try out a few of the most promising techniques and farming systems.

The same principle applies to each extension agent.

We also need to keep up with new and alternative research-based agricultural ideas and techniques. I encourage you to challenge me with your crop or crop system questions or ways I can improve my service to farmers.

Ken Salazar to step down as Secretary of Interior in March


From The Denver Post (Allison Sherry):

Salazar is expected to broadly announce his departure Wednesday. He has told President Barack Obama that he intends to leave his job by the end of March. Salazar, 57, will have served a little more than four years in Obama’s cabinet after being plucked from his beloved U.S. Senate seat serving Colorado in 2008.
His decision on whether to stay on at the helm of Interior or return to Colorado — and likely the less-glamorous but more-lucrative private sector — has been weighing on Salazar for a long time.

The president and the vice president have indicated they would like him to stay on at Interior. Obama, at a campaign event in Pueblo last year, called Salazar “one of the finest senators that the state of Colorado ever had, who is now doing a great job looking after the natural resources of this beautiful country of ours.”[…]

“As I think about my role as secretary of the Interior, it is perhaps the most wonderful job of any cabinet position in the United States,” Salazar said in December. “I would not trade it for attorney general or Housing and Urban Development or Transportation because I would find those jobs a little boring.”

But the pull of family obligations — he and his wife are primary caretakers of their 5-year-old granddaughter who has autism and is enrolled in a special school — was too great to commit to four more years, Salazar’s office said…

Salazar has said in his four years he is most proud of improving the relationship the federal government has with American Indians, cleaning up the oil and gas program after former departments were plagued with scandal and nepotism, and broadening a clean energy agenda.

The secretary established seven new national parks and 10 new wildlife refuges. He also launched 18 utility-scale solar energy projects on public lands. Before 2009, there were hundreds of pending applications but no construction projects approved.

He has also dealt with several natural and environmental disasters, including the explosion of a BP-operated deep water oil well, Deepwater Horizon, in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010…

In an April 2012 speech at the National Press Club, he called House Republicans “charter members of the Flat Earth Society” who lived in an imaginary energy world of “fairy tales.” “It’s a place where up is seen as down, where left is seen as right, where oil shale seems to be mistaken every day in the U.S. House of Representative for shale oil, where record profits justify billions of dollars in subsidies,” he said.

‘We are living beyond our means, and the gap is greatest in the Lower Basin’ — said David Kanzer #coriver


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Heather McGregor) via The Aspen Times:

“The bottom line is demand is ahead of supply. We are living beyond our means, and the gap is greatest in the Lower Basin,” said David Kanzer, senior water resources engineer for the Colorado River District.

Kanzer presented a summary of the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study to the Colorado River District’s 15-member board during the board’s quarterly meeting held Tuesday in Glenwood Springs. The 1,500-page study was first released Dec. 12 at a multi-state water users meeting in Las Vegas.

After Kanzer’s presentation, the board convened a closed-door session to discuss the state of Colorado’s negotiation strategy prior to a seven-state meeting next week. Sitting in on the session were Jennifer Gimbel, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state’s chief water official, and Ted Kowalski, chief of the state water agency’s interstate division.

“We’ll be meeting in Las Vegas next week with the other basin states to figure out what do we do with this study,” Gimbel said.

The basin study was funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin states: the upper basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, and the lower basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California…

River flows from 1991 to 2010 past Lee’s Ferry, which is just downstream of Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona, averaged 13.7 million acre-feet per year…

Current water use in the basin is 16 million to 17.5 million acre-feet per year, Kanzer said, which includes water from tributaries that drain into the Colorado River below Lee’s Ferry.

The basin study shows that water use has overtopped supply for the past 10 years, and the gap is forecast to continue.

“By 2060, the gap is 3.2 million acre-feet a year, and possibly as much as 8 million acre-feet a year,” Kanzer said.

Lee’s Ferry flows are critical for the upper basin states, as the four states must first send enough water downstream to meet the lower basin’s allocations — 75 million acre-feet in any 10-year period — and can only use water over that amount. So as snowpack and rainfall declines, it will be upper basin users, and western Colorado in particular, that will face limits in water use…

The study evaluates many ways to increase water supply, such as importing water from other basins, cloudseeding, desalinization of seawater, water banking, land use management in watersheds, and changes in reservoir operations. It also looks at options for reducing demand through stepped up urban and agricultural conservation.

“Even with all these scenarios, there will still be times we cannot meet 75 in 10,” Kanzer said, referring to the downstream allocations. “The upper basin shortage risk is real. The Lee’s Ferry deficit is real.”

Moreover, he said, models that assume rising temperatures and changing weather patterns from climate change also forecast the year-to-year variability in streamflow to increase. In other words, there will still be very wet years, such as 2011, and very dry years such as 2002 and 2012, but the very dry years will occur more often in the future.

With the study now published following years of work, water officials are now focused on educating the wider public about the water supply shortfall that Western states will face in the coming decades.

Gimbel said the Colorado Water Conservation Board is planning a “road show” to present study findings in communities around the state, particularly in western Colorado, and on the Front Range, which is heavily dependent on water diversions from Western Slope rivers.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works ponies up $50,000 for wildfire mitigation near Twin Lakes #codrought


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Forest fires can have devastating consequences to watersheds cities depend on, so the U.S. Forest Service is reaching out to municipal water providers to take measures to thin forests.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday voted to pay the Forest Service $50,000 to thin about 81 acres near Twin Lakes. The Forest Service provides the expertise and manpower to do the work. The water board will join other water providers throughout the West to reduce the impact of fires.

Last summer, large fires near Fort Collins and Colorado Springs burned thousands of acres, raising the specter that those cities will face the same challenges Denver and Aurora have had from the 2002 Hayman Fire.

“A movement is under way for the Forest Service to go into watersheds that are vital to municipal water supply to thin the forests and reduce the impact of fires,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager for the water board.

Colorado Springs and Aurora already have paid the Forest Service to clear other large areas near the Mount Elbert Forebay, located just north of Twin Lakes. Twin Lakes is a vital transfer point for the Homestake Project which the two cities jointly operate. Pueblo also stores water in Twin Lakes, as well as Clear Creek Reservoir and Turquoise Lake in the same general area.

“There are lots of areas in our watershed that are at extreme risk,” Ward said.

The water board and Forest Service are studying the possibility for future agreements in the watersheds of transmountain ditches in the Tennessee Creek area, he added.

Meanwhile climate change is expected to exacerbate the wildfire problem. Here’s a report from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradodoan. Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado’s future under the influence of climate change will be significantly warmer and drier than recent years, and the impacts will affect the regions’ water, forests, wildfires, ecosystems and ability to grow crops. That’s the conclusion of the draft of the federal government’s National Climate Assessment, which was released for public comment on Monday by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

The water content of Colorado’s snowpack and the timing of the spring runoff are changing, which could pose major challenges for the state’s water supplies and farmers, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University and co-author of the portion of the assessment addressing Colorado and the Southwest. The Southwest, including Colorado, will see significantly declining snowpack, increasing numbers of wildfires directly affecting communities, and threats to public health caused by spiking summer temperatures and disruptions in electricity and water supply, according to the assessment’s regional outlook.

Mounting evidence suggests that temperature increases caused by people are responsible for killing trees throughout the region, increasing the number of wildfires and sparking bark beetle outbreaks.

“Increased warming will increase wildfires and wildfire impacts,” Waskom said. “The models project more fire and greater risk.”[..]

The only good news to be found in the climate assessment is that Colorado’s growing season may get longer as the temperatures warm, Waskom said.