Drought news: ‘The lack of snow continues to heighten concern across much of the West’ — Mark Svoboda #codrought



From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

There was some good and some bad news in Thursday’s U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal website that tracks drought.

The good news is that nationally, the percentage of the USA that’s considered either abnormally dry or in a drought dropped below 70 percent for the first time since June of last year. Recent rain and snow has helped ease drought conditions in the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Midwest, according to the monitor.

However, very dry conditions continued in parts of the Plains and the West. 100 percent of the states of Colo., S.D., Neb., Kan., Okla., and Iowa remain in a drought.

“The lack of snow continues to heighten concern across much of the West,” according to climatologist Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb.

Colorado in particular is extremely dry, he says.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

“These are just based on computer models, nothing is guaranteed,” said Mark Wankowski, a meterologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. “Right now it’s not looking the best.”

Colorado is one of 10 states in the midst of an exceptionally severe drought, and more than half of the state is in the second-worst level of drought, according to a weekly report released Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Last January, during what was the start of an already dry year, only a fraction of a percent of the state was in “extreme drought,” the second-driest classification used by the center after “exceptional drought.” This January, however, 58.6 percent of Colorado is painted red for “extreme” on the U.S. Drought Monitor’s map.

El Paso County is among those now plunged into a dry-spell that could mean disaster come wildfire season — all of the county is in extreme drought except for the southeast corner, which is “exceptional,” according to the report. It’s been a common theme this winter, said Wankowski…

The three-month prognosis, put together last week, is not good. Precipitation from February through April is expected to be lower than average, while temperatures should be higher than average, Wankowski said…

The record high temperatures and low precipitation for 2012 helped fuel one of the most devastating wildfire seasons on record, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Last year, 67,000 wildfires consumed acreage and homes across the country.

Forecast news: Heavy snow expected in the eastern San Juan and La Garita Mountains #codrought #cowx

Leadville: Water rates to jump ten percent


From The Leadville Herald-Democrat:

All Parkville Water District rates in 2013 will be increased by 10 percent across the board. This decision was made by Parkville management and the board of directors at the regular meeting in December.

More infrastructure coverage here.

San Luis Valley: Aquifer levels are moving in the wrong direction #codrought


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The shallow groundwater aquifer leaned on heavily by farmers in the north­central part of the San Luis Valley continued its drought-driven slide in 2012. Allen Davey, engineer for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, released calculations showing the aquifer declined by 123,000 acrefeet from 2011. Since the district began monitoring the section of the aquifer in 1976, its volume has dropped by 1.2 million acre­feet.

The drop comes despite the fallowing of nearly 30,000 acres and a roughly 20 percent decline in groundwater pumping from wells in Subdistrict No. 1. Subdistrict No. 1, which includes roughly 3,400 irrigation wells in the north­central valley, assesses fees on its members to take farm ground out of production and reduce pressure on the aquifer also while providing mitigation to other water users who are harmed by the pumping.

Steve Vandiver, the district’s manager, pointed to a sustained history of poor flows on the Rio Grande as the cause of the decline. “The problem as I see it is the recovery rate, whether we’re pumping or not, is dependent on what the river runs,” he said. “If we’re in sustained drought, we’re going to have little or no diversions and little or no recovery.” The main source of recharge for the shallow, or unconfined, aquifer comes in the spring when ditches divert from the Rio Grande and deposit that water on farmers’ fields where it waters crops, then filters down. Once the river’s flows dwindle in summer, many valley farmers then turn on their groundwater pumps to pull water from the aquifer and finish their crops through the remainder of the growing season.

“If we don’t have runoff to support this system we have to do more and more to get this turned around,” Vandiver said. He said the subdistrict would have more money to pay for fallowing in 2013.

Travis Smith, who represents the valley on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said expanded regulation of pumping through the rest of the valley was needed to help recover the aquifer.

More Rio Grande Basin coverage here.

Forecast/snowpack news: Another winter storm heading to western Colorado tonight #codrought #cowx

South Platte Basin: ‘It [oil and gas operations] was something we should have thought of, but didn’t’ — Reagan Waskom


From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

The expanding oil and gas industry has been good for Weld County’s economy, but it’s doing little to help with what’s already a “very complex” groundwater study in the South Platte River Basin.

That point was made by an attendee at a public meeting Thursday in Gilcrest regarding the ongoing groundwater study in the region. Reagan Waskom, a CSU engineering professor and director of the Colorado Water Institute, agreed that the growth of the region’s oil and gas industry will require more underground pipeline, and that continually increasing amount of pipe will create “barriers and drains” in the soil that could affect how groundwater moves and how quickly it returns to surface streams.

The groundwater study was approved when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1278 into law this spring, and is now in progress — under the direction of CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.

Waskom said Thursday’s meeting was the first time he had been told the increase in pipelines should be factored into the study. “It was something we should have thought of, but didn’t,” Waskom said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re having these meetings with the public.”

The meeting in Gilcrest was the last of three public meetings this month regarding the study. The other two were in Longmont and Sterling. Much of the push for the groundwater study came from area farmers who own curtailed or shutdown groundwater wells, along with residents who’ve had flooded basements in recent years because of high groundwater levels. Some of them believe the state’s well augmentation requirements are too stringent. That has prevented farmers from being able to pump some of their wells, and that has caused the aquifer to overflow in recent years, they say.

Others, though, believe different factors, such as historically wet years in 2010 and 2011, have contributed to the rising groundwater levels, and they say the stringent augmentation requirements are needed.

Waskom has the task of studying the South Platte basin’s groundwater to better find out what’s going on, and then giving a full report to state legislators before they convene for their 2014 session. In addition to groundwater pumping and underground pipe, Waskom’s study also has to factor in cities that are conserving more water, which affects return flows to the river; farmers shifting to more efficient irrigation systems and the growth of non­native vegetation along the streams and rivers.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

Complete rewrite of state regulations governing septic tanks/leach field systems in the works


From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The state is going to scrap current regulations governing septic tanks/leach field systems and start anew, San Juan Basin Health Department board members were told Thursday. Greg Brand, the department’s newly hired director of environmental health, characterized the changes as sweeping. They will apply to all new dwellings not covered by a municipality or independent metro district, Brand said. The health department will have a year to bring its regulations into conformity. “My reading is that the new regulations will apply more to site evaluation – soil quality and size – than to installation,” Brand said. “Installers will be following a plan.”

Steve Gunderson, director of the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said by telephone that the new regulations will constitute a complete overhaul, a major revision. “We’ve been working on this for three years, with involvement of environmental health officials, health departments, developers and system installers,” Gunderson said.

“We were being hammered by local officials because current regulations are too rigid,” Gunderson said. “What applies in the Eastern Plains may not fit in the mountains.

More infrastructure coverage here.