“We’ve improved our snowpack, but we’re still in a lower snowpack year,” said Dan Olson with Natural Resources Conservation Service in Teller County. Over the past couple of days crews with Natural Resources have been in Colorado’s high country for their monthly snowpack measurements. It is runoff from snowpack that determines how much water there will be to fill reservoirs that hold Colorado’s water supply.
They take samples of snow and determine the water equivalent. With our ongoing drought situation this year’s measurements have added importance. The snowpack for the state is at 75% of normal. At close to 65% of normal it is even lower in southeast Colorado. “We’re going to need a really big March to catch up to our average,” said Olson.
Farmers along the Arkansas Valley are facing a dire outlook this summer, following news of a huge water shortage this year. One farmer estimates the industry stands to lose at least $80 million and all of this will have a trickle down affect on you the consumer…
This all impacts about 100,000 acres of crops in Southern Colorado. According to [Shane] Milberger and a board member with the association, that’s an $80 million hit to their industry. “The end result is to the consumers, which is we don’t have a commodity to sell,” said Milberger. Meaning the next time you head to the market there will be less produce and potentially higher prices.
Snowmass has been the big powder winner this month with 58 inches through Tuesday morning, or 111 percent of average, according to Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle. He noted there is a “big disparity” in snowfall amounts this month at the company’s four ski areas. Aspen Mountain had received 49 inches of snow as of Tuesday and was at 98 percent of average. However, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk were well below their averages. Highlands has picked up 30 inches of snow, or 65 percent of average, while Buttermilk scooped up 30 inches, or 67 percent of average…
Sustained snow improved portions of the snowpack over the sprawling Roaring Fork River watershed — which includes the Crystal and Fryingpan river basins — but that also is seeing a wide disparity. The Independence Pass automated Snotel site east of Aspen was showing a snowpack just 56 percent of average Tuesday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
In the Fryingpan Valley, the snowpack has bounced back nicely in the higher elevations but is still meager on lower slopes. The snowpack is 96 percent of average at the Ivanhoe site at 10,400 feet, the conservation service said. The snowpack is only 62 percent at Kiln, 9,600 feet, and 52 percent at Nast Lake at 8,700 feet, the agency reported.
While spotty, snowpack at three sites in the Crystal River drainage are averaging the highest. McClure Pass is at 87 percent of average, according to the conservation service. North Lost Trail outside of Marble is at 92 percent of average while Schofield Pass is at only 72 percent of average.
Castle Rock’s utilities department on Feb. 19 updated councilmembers on the Water and Supply Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency agreement for the purchase of water from Denver and Aurora. The agreement is a partnership with 10 members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. Castle Rock in January selected WISE as one of two solutions for its long-term water supply. WISE has been on the map since February 2008, when the WISE partnership signed an intergovernmental agreement with Denver Water and Aurora Water.
Since the town began its analysis, rate increases from Denver and Aurora prompted Castle Rock to order another rates and fees feasibility study. The rate structure in the WISE agreement is one of the greater considerations, said Heather Beasley, water resources manager. Since 2011, the WISE delivery rate has increased about 20 cents per thousand gallons, Beasley said. Aurora also added a temporary surcharge between 17 and 51 cents per thousand gallons, Beasley reported. “It sounds small, but we could be talking (potentially) millions in increase for our residents,” said Mayor Paul Donahue. “We are concerned about being able to control that rate.”[…]
Other factors impacting WISE are negotiations among Western Slope providers, who must sign off to allow Denver and Aurora to sell the water to the WISE partners; targeting the pipeline infrastructure to get the water from Aurora to the south metro service area; and meeting the terms of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit amendment requirements to store the water in Rueter-Hess.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
This year, the water trust wants to try and expand the voluntary Call for Water. Building on last summer’s success, the short-leasing program — authorized by a 2003 state law — could once again help maintain flows in drought-vulnerable streams.
Details on the 2013 Call for Water will be posted this week at this Water Trust web page. Under the 2003 state statute, parties may temporarily lease or loan their water rights only to contribute water to fill existing instream flow water rights.
An audit of last year’s program showed that water users wanted more time to consider the short-term leasing option. As a result, the water trust is launching the 2013 program this week, well before the irrigation season begins.
Essentially, the water trust uses donated funds to lease water rights that might otherwise be used for irrigation or simply stored upstream. Under those leases, the streams benefit from added flows in sections that might otherwise come close to drying up. Last summer, for example, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District leased 4,000 acre-feet of stored water in Stagecoach Reservoir in one-year deal that helped boost flows in the Yampa by as much as 26 cfs during the driest parts of the summer. The lease enabled flexible management if conditions on the Yampa improved or deteriorated.
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Steve McCall/Justyn Hock):
Reclamation announced today that it released a draft Supplemental Environmental Assessment on Ridgway Dam Hydropower Interconnection Facilities. The draft EA supplements the 2012 Ridgway Hydropower Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact and addresses additional details and information on the interconnection and transmission facilities.
The proposed action in the EA is to issue a license agreement and rights-of-way to Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association for construction of interconnection facilities to interconnect Tri-County Water Conservancy District hydropower facilities to the existing 115-kV transmission line that runs along U.S. Highway 550. In addition, a memorandum of agreement will be signed with Tri-County to relocate dry storage facilities and utilities operated by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as part of Ridgway State Park.
Tri-County is currently constructing the hydropower facilities at Ridgway Dam on the Uncompahgre River in Ouray County, Colo. and operates and maintains Ridgway Dam.
The draft supplemental environmental assessment is available on our website or a copy can be received by contacting Steve McCall with Reclamation in Grand Junction at (970) 248-0638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Comments can be submitted to the email address above or to: Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 2764 Compass Drive, Suite 106, Grand Junction, CO 81506. Comments are due by Friday, March 15, 2013.
CSU said it is looking into implementing a Stage II restriction, which would limit watering to two days per week. “You don’t go on to three days a week and expect to see a savings and expect to get benefit from that, and so that’s why we’re having to go right into the two days a week,” said Abby Ortega,CSU water rights administrative supervisor.
Ortega said while the recent snow has been beneficial with respect to local soil moisture, the snowpack and moisture relied upon to replenish reservoirs remains limited. CSU said if restrictions are not implemented, water storage could drop below the designated risk tolerance threshold, which is enough water to supply the community for an entire year without additional inflow.
From the Environmental Protection Agency Watersense Program:
Did you know that the average American family can waste, on average, more than 11,000 gallons of water every year due to running toilets, dripping faucets, and other household leaks?
Nationwide, more than 1 trillion gallons of water leak from U.S. homes each year. That’s why WaterSense reminds Americans to check their plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems each year during Fix a Leak Week.
WaterSense is teaming up with our partners to promote the fifth annual Fix a Leak Week, March 18-24, 2013.
From New Mexico’s search for bad flappers to leak detection efforts in Texas, West Virginia and across the nation, explore our list of some of the Fix a Leak Week 2012 events.
Some farmers in the Arkansas Valley who were already bracing for drought learned over the weekend that they will have no supplemental water this season. The Colorado Water Protective and Development Association mailed a letter to members Friday saying it would have no water available to supplement agricultural wells this year. “Knowing that farmers and ranchers are trying to get their plans in place by March 1, we notified them that we do not have the resources to provide water,” said Ann Lopkoff, general manager.
The engineering analysis of conditions will continue during March and April, and well owners will be notified if conditions change, but right now things do not look positive.
The decision does not affect municipal wells covered by CWPDA because there is sufficient water in storage to cover those depletions.
From the Commerce City Sentinel Express (Gene Sears):
…the keynote [at the Colorado Agriculture Big and Small Conference] featured a discussion on climate perspectives gleaned from the 2012 season. Given by Nolan Doesken, Colorado State Climatologist and Senior Research Associate, the talk highlighted the second year of drought for the state, coupled with record high temperatures. Doesken compared the recent weather patterns with other historic droughts, while assessing the long-term impacts.
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:
In the San Luis Valley nature is now putting on one of its most memorable annual displays: the spring migration of greater sandhill cranes. In appreciation of this wildlife spectacle, area organizations, businesses and wildlife agencies are holding the 30th Annual Monte Vista Crane Festival, March 8-10.
“Everyone who lives in Colorado should see this migration stopover at least once,” said Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley. “The sights and sounds are truly amazing.”
The cranes start arriving in mid-February, flying from their winter nesting ground in Socorro, New Mexico. Large wetland areas and grain fields in the San Luis Valley draw in about 25,000 birds every year. The cranes stop in the valley to rest-up and fuel-up for their trip north to their summer nesting and breeding grounds in northern Idaho, western Wyoming and northwest Colorado.
Cranes are among the oldest living species on the planet: Fossil records for cranes date back 9 million years.
The birds that migrate through Colorado are the largest of the North American sandhill subspecies standing 4-feet tall, having a wing-span of up to 7 feet and weighing in at 11 pounds. Besides their imposing size, the birds issue a continuous, distinctive and haunting call. At this time of year cranes are engaged in their mating ritual and the birds perform an elegant hopping dance as they attempt to gain the attention of other birds.
The birds are abundant in areas near the town of Monte Vista and are easy to spot. Wildlife watchers can see the birds most readily in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge and in the Rio Grande, Higel and Russell Lakes state wildlife areas.
During the three days of the festival, free tours are offered at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the birds are most active. Visitors take buses to various spots on the wildlife refuge, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffers talk about the migration and the refuge.
The number of cranes in the valley peaks in mid-March and many linger through the month. So, even if you can’t go the weekend of the festival there’s still plenty of time to see the birds.
Birdwatchers who travel on their own should be cautious when parking, getting out of vehicles and walking along roads. People are also asked to view birds from a distance with binoculars and spotting scopes, and to observe trail signs and closure notices.
Many other bird species – including eagles, turkeys and a variety of waterfowl – can also be seen in the area.
The festival headquarters and starting point for the tours is the Ski Hi Park building located near U.S. Highway 160 on Sherman Avenue on the east side of Monte Vista. Visitors can pick up maps, schedules and information at the headquarters. Besides the tours, a variety of workshops are put on by bird, wildlife and photography experts. An arts and crafts fair continues through the weekend at the headquarters building.
The crane festival is organized by the local crane festival committee, with help from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rio Grande County, SLV Ski Hi Stampede, Monte Vista school district, and the city of Monte Vista.
Approximate distances to Monte Vista: Denver, 220 miles; Colorado Springs, 182 miles; Salida, 85 miles; Vail, 175 miles; Durango, 135 miles; Grand Junction, 230 miles.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
Work will resume next week on the cleanup of millions of tons of uranium mill tailings from Moab, Utah, after the project was stalled for the winter. In all, 27 employees of the contractor to the U.S. Energy Department will return to work Monday, and operations are to resume March 7, after employees receive refresher training and a review of procedures. Returning employees had chosen to be laid off for the winter and all are coming back to their old jobs, the Energy Department said.
Employees who worked through the winter installed permanent liners in the containers used to transport the tailings from Moab north 30 miles to Crescent Junction by rail. The liners are intended to prevent tailings from sticking to the sides of the containers and their use will ultimately increase efficiency, said Don Metzler, who directs the project for the Energy Department. Previously, employees had placed single-use liners in the containers.
￼“The sustained below-freezing temperatures this winter made the container-lining project an even more difficult task than already anticipated,” Metzler said. “But, as usual, the workforce didn’t let the cold
weather keep them from getting the job done.” In all, 40 employees worked through the winter.
The cleanup will result in the transfer of 16 million tons of mill tailings from a pile near Moab to Crescent Junction. The project is to be complete by 2025.
On Tuesday, a cold front will move through the region bringing scattered snow showers to the area, says Yates. High temperatures will be in the upper 20s and lower 30s under cloudy skies. Winds will be breezy. Overnight, snow showers will decrease and temperatures will return to the single digits and teens. Snowfall accumulations through Tuesday will be light, with most locations seeing less than an inch of snow.
Southern Colorado will see another fast moving weather system make its way across the region Tuesday and Tuesday n twitpic.com/c6vqvk
According to figures from the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow network, in the 48-hour period ended at 7 a.m. Monday, 3.8 inches of snow fell in one area of Bailey. During the same time period, 5.5 inches of new snow fell in an area of Fairplay, and 3 inches of new snow fell in an area of Lake George. The CoCoRAHs figures show that the Conifer area in Jefferson County got hit harder than Park County, receiving 12.4 inches of new snow in the 48-hour period ended at 7 a.m. on Feb. 25. During that period of time, an area near Pine in Jefferson County received 7.8 inches of new snow…
According to CoCoRAHs figures, in the five-day period ended at 7 a.m. on Feb. 25, 7.8 inches of new snow fell in the KZ Ranch subdivision, northwest of downtown Bailey. The CoCORAHs figures show that during that five day period from Feb. 21 through Feb. 25, new snow was recorded every day. During that same five-day time period, one area of Fairplay recorded 12.2 inches of new snow. During the same five-day period, one area of Lake George in southeastern Park County, recorded 7.8 inches of new snow…
From the five days from Feb. 21 to Feb. 25, one area of Confier got 17.8 inches of new snow. During the same period of time, an area of Pine received 10.8 inches of new snow.
The weekend’s snowstorm wasn’t a drought-buster but every little bit helps. Colorado Springs is already planning water restrictions this summer. Pueblo doesn’t have any mandatory restrictions yet. For now, Pueblo’s Board of Water Works is urging people to conserve the amount of water they use. Every drop of moisture helps increase the amount of water stored in Pueblo’s reservoirs. But with little snowfall in Pueblo so far this year, there’s not much snowpack in the mountains. “We’re at around the 60 percent of our snowpack for the year and that’s where most of our drinking water comes from is that water that’s stored by mother nature in the snowpack during the wintertime,” said Paul Fanning of Pueblo’s Board of Water Works…
As of January, Pueblo’s Board of Water Works had nearly 28,000 acre feet of water in storage- that’s down by 35 percent from what it had during that time last year. For now, Fanning says people in Pueblo are encouraged to conserve water as they wait to see how much more moisture is in store for the Steel City. Fanning says if this drought continues for another full season, there could be water restrictions in Pueblo by next year.
From email from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District:
The program provides Northern Colorado water users with another method to acquire Colorado-Big Thompson Project water on a seasonal lease basis. Based on RPP rules, Northern Water’s Board of Directors may allocate water from the Regional Pool only when C-BT Project storage reserves exceed 200,000 acre feet on November 15 of the same water year. Reserves on November 15, 2012 fell about 85,000 acre feet short of this amount.
This policy is intended to help maintain supplies in C-BT storage for future years. This is the first year reserves have not been high enough for pool allocations since the program’s first allocations in 2010.
A manmade play wave, fashioned with rocks and concrete boulders in the river, would be the first whitewater park in Grand County. Such play waves attract paddlers from far and wide. It is planned to be located at Pumphouse, the popular Bureau of Land Management boating site on the Colorado River west of Kremmling off the Trough Road, between the Gore Canyon’s class 4-5 rapids and the splashy, family friendly class 2-3 section below Pumphouse. The Pumphouse site is already developed with a parking area and bathrooms, and is a strong location for boaters late in the season due to upstream reservoir releases…
Grand County is seeking water rights attached to the whitewater park at Pumphouse and a potential feature — someday in the future — at Hot Sulphur Springs, which the town has indicated it favors having as an attraction, according to Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran. The county, with help from hired Project Coordinator Caroline Bradford of Eagle, established these locations as most-preferred among actual users of the river by conducting a series of meetings and reaching out to boaters across the state. Bradford received more than 100 letters in favor of the park, she said…
The county is seeking river flows varying from 800-1,200 cfs, depending on the time of year between April and October, for recreational use on the Colorado River. The rights are still pending in District 5 Colorado Water Court, and Underbrink Curran said the county has satisfied the concerns of all but three objectors. Water attorneys for the county are “optimistic,” Underbrink Curran said. They have indicated they are “confident that they have a good opportunity to settle with the objectors,” two of which are Colorado Springs Utilities and Climax. The county has until April 2014 to settle…
Financing the $1.7 million project remains another hurdle. Grand County has pledged $600,000 and is using a chunk of that to pay for the legal process of obtaining water rights. Last week, Bradford announced a “a huge step forward” for the park when the Colorado Water Conservation Board committed a $500,000 grant toward the project from its Water Supply Reserve Account. Although more than $39 million has been awarded to hundreds of water projects across the state since the fund’s inception in 2007, it was the first time the board awarded money for a recreation project…
Meanwhile, fundraising continues to see the project to fruition. Bradford is charged with leading the effort to raise another $500,000 to $600,000 from within the boater community and from other partners, she said.
Work on the project will be overseen by both the Bureau of Land Management and the Army Corps of Engineers, according to Carey, and the county will be applying for appropriate permitting. The process will involve public comment periods.
Construction of the project would take place during a three to four month window, taking into account the sensitivity of the river, he said. The project would involve diverting the river channel around the work area.
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Sarah Jane Kyle):
It’s beginning to look a lot like winter in Fort Collins. The National Weather Service reported 14 inches of snow in some parts of Fort Collins on Sunday…
National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Kalina said the storm dumped 7 inches of snow in parts of Denver by late Sunday morning, and more is expected through Sunday night. Some areas in the foothills west of Denver received 19 inches to 21 inches of snow, and Kalina said some parts of Fort Collins have reported 14 inches.
Snowfall tapered off in the evening after falling the previous night to total more than 5 inches in Greeley, with little more precipitation expected through the night, according to meteorologists. Weld County and Greeley officials said no other major crashes were reported on Sunday, although both entities went on accident alert, meaning enough minor crashes occurred that they didn’t have the resources to deploy officers to those that were not serious. They reported road conditions as icy and snowpacked, with poor visibility throughout the county.
Another quick-moving snowstorm swept through Pueblo on Sunday, bringing more much-needed moisture to the area. According to the National Weather Service, Pueblo received two inches of snow at the Pueblo Memorial Airport and as much as three inches in other parts of town. The snow made a nice blanket over trees and grass, but didn’t accumulate much on the roads and left them mainly wet. Wind gusts got all the way up to 39 mph in the afternoon, and the longest sustained wind gust of the day was 32 mph, according to the NWS.
Both Walsenburg and Canon City received an inch of snow. In Wetmore, snow accumulations were measured at four inches. Beulah and Rye received the most snow with five and six inches, respectively.
“We were talking in the order of Pueblo getting two to four inches of snow, so this is about what we expected,” Randy Gray, with the NWS, said.
A water development project of huge interest to local farmers got a big boost Thursday, after it had endured setbacks in recent weeks when a couple of participants backed out. The Colorado Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee moved forward a bill that supports $70 million in water projects, with about $28 million of that going toward the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project, according to a news release from Senate Majority Whip Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, who introduced the bill. The measure, [Senate Bill 13-181: Water Conservation Bd Construction Fund Projects] will go to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.
The Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley, which provides augmentation water to more than 100,000 acres of irrigated farm ground in the area, is one of 13 water-providers participating in the proposed Chatfield project. The endeavor would raise the Denver-area lake by as much as 12 feet, and, in doing so, would provide an additional 2,849 acre-feet of water to some of Central’s users.
The $184-million Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project wouldn’t provide immediate help for local farmers, who battled drought last year and are potentially facing another round in the upcoming growing season. But local farmers say they need to secure future water supplies quickly, because the cities around them are growing and are increasing their own water needs.
Central Water and the farmers within its boundaries have long been dependant on leasing excess water from local cities, but those supplies will soon be limited, and are already becoming more expensive. Augmentation water is needed to make up for depletions to the aquifer and surrounding surface flows caused by pumping water out of the ground.
In addition to battling cities for supplies, the additional augmentation water is needed since many of the wells in Central Water’s boundaries were either curtailed or shut down in 2006, when the state made augmentation requirements more stringent. Some farmers haven’t been able to use their wells since then because they haven’t had the necessary amount of augmentation water to do so. Randy Ray, executive director for Central Water, said that, if S.B. 181 goes through, it could speed up the Chatfield project by at least several months. Ray said he expects the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project to get federal approval by the end of 2013, meaning participants can go forward with needed mitigation efforts.
Before additional water can be stored at Chatfield Reservoir, facilities at the state park must be relocated to higher ground and new wildlife habitats must be created, along with other measures. Without the new bill freeing up state funding, the water-providers participating in the proposed project wouldn’t have enough dollars to get going on those mitigation efforts, Ray said.
Two water providers — Aurora Water and the Roxborough Water and Sanitation District — recently backed out of the Chatfield project to pursue other projects. Ray described that development as a “setback.” They had accounted for about 20 percent of the funding for the project. But if the bill can pass this year and make state funds available, mitigation efforts at Chatfield can take place as soon as federal approval comes.
Without the state funds, though, there’s uncertainty about whether there would be enough dollars available, and the project, even with federal approval, would be at a standstill until state funding was available later in 2014, or maybe even farther down the road. According to the news release from Schwartz, the 15 water projects in the bill would get under way without taking money from the General Fund. The funds will come from the state’s Construction Fund and the Severance Tax Trust Fund Perpetual Base Account, both of which include sustainable revolving loan programs. The Construction Fund has helped nearly 440 water projects get going since 1971, according to Schwartz.
In November, voters in the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District approved a pair of water measures, including a $60 million bond issue that would help pay for Central Water’s portion of the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project, along with other endeavors. Central Water officials also are considering the construction of gravel pits for an additional 8,000- 9,000 acre-feet of storage, and buying 1,000 acre-feet of senior water rights with the approved bonds.
The Big Thompson Watershed Forum will have its meeting Thursday in Greeley. The meeting, titled “Critical Surface Water Issues — 2013,” will focus on agriculture water sharing and development, wildfire effects on water quality and watershed management, fracking and other issues.
The Big Thompson River Watershed, an area encompassing more than 900 square miles, provides drinking water to numerous cities in northern Colorado including Greeley, Estes Park, Fort Collins and Loveland, and is used for commercial, agricultural, recreation, and wildlife habitat purposes.
Of the 12 presenters on hand, Patricia N. Limerick — professor of history at the University of Colorado and faculty director and chairwoman of the Center for the American West — will be the keynote speaker.
The meeting will take place from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Island Grove Regional Park’s Events Center, 425 N. 15th Ave.
The cost to attend the meeting is $40 and includes breakfast, snacks and lunch. Cash or check will be accepted at the door.
Here’s an in-depth report about Durango’s sewer system, from Jim Haug writing for The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
The Colorado Water Quality Control Division has ordered the city to come up with an emergency-response plan, a sewer-maintenance program and a training program.
The city had no such formalized plans in place as late as four months ago, said Steve Salka, the new utilities director.
“The state was leading us in a direction, but I knew we needed an emergency action plan,” he said. “I knew we needed a spill-response plan. I knew we needed a maintenance plan. I just put it all together (and sent it to the state).”
The city has struck a tentative agreement to spend $84,000 on backup generators for its sewer lift stations to bring it into compliance.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), two major upstream diverters and three billionaires with property near Aspen have active statements of opposition on file against the county’s proposal.
On Feb. 1, Judge James B. Boyd of Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs gave the parties in the case another 60 days to settle.
The county is seeking the right to run between 240 and 1,350 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water over two rock and concrete structures it plans to build in the river, at a cost of about $1 million, which includes a stairway to access the feature. The new water right would be what’s known as a “recreational in-channel diversion,” or RICD, which is a program that allows governments to obtain a water right for recreational purposes. It can have the added benefit of keeping more water in a river.
The structures would form two waves for kayakers and other boaters in the Fork, just across Two Rivers Road from the entrance to the Elk Run neighborhood.
The county so far has come to terms with three of the 14 parties that originally filed statements of opposition in the case — the city of Aspen, the Basalt Water Conservancy District and the Starwood Metropolitan District.
Of the remaining 11 entities, at least three are controlled by billionaires who own property upstream of the proposed “Pitkin County River Park.”
Bill Koch (via Elk Mountain Lodge LLC) and Penny Pritzker (via PT Ranch Barn LLC) each own property along Castle Creek, and Ed Bass (via Mountain Valley Cabin LLC) owns property on the banks of the upper Roaring Fork.
Another opposing entity is GRE II LLC, which is controlled by David Gerstenhaber of Argonaut Capital Management, a New York hedge fund. GRE II owns 37 acres of land, with water rights, on Star Mesa above McLain Flats Road.
Statements of opposition in water court are typically formulaic and it is not easy to discern a party’s true intent in filing them. Some parties file statements simply to monitor changes in a case…
The latest draft proposal from the county has the water right stepping up and then back down across a 142-day runoff season.
Beginning on April 15, the water right would run for 33 days at 240 cfs, another 24 days at 380 cfs, and then for 15 days at 1,530 cfs, ending June 25.
Then the flows step down from the peak — with 56 days flowing at 380 cfs and another 14 days at 240 cfs, ending Labor Day.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
A storm rolling across the state Saturday night delivered the goods, with every ski area in Colorado reporting new snow Sunday morning. Totals (24 hour) ranged from 11 inches at Monarch to six inches and Wolf Creek and Steamboat, at opposite ends of the state. Most resorts in between also reported about a half a foot of new snow Sunday morning.
The parched Front Range and plains also got relief, with heavy snow especially across northeastern Colorado. Just a few days ago, parts of the plains were under a red flag fire warning. The National Weather Service blizzard warning for the area east of Denver remains in effect through 11 p.m. Sunday evening.
6 inches of snow on the ground at Betasso Preserve and still snowing hard. So quiet up here you can hear the snow falling.#boco_trails
From email from the Eagle River Watershed Council:
Join us next Wednesday as we partner with Walking Mountains and Avon Public Library to bring a Water Wise Wednesday/High Country Speaker Series event featuring Zak Podmore of Down the Colorado. Zak Podmore has kayaked the length of the Colorado River, first in 2011 when he and his partner journeyed from the source of the Green River in Wyoming to the Gulf of California in Mexico, and again in 2012 from the source of the Colorado River to Lake Powell. Podmore will share stories and videos from his most recent trip, highlighting the particular water use interests of recreation, agriculture, and oil and gas…
Avon Public Library
Join Colorado State University’s Public Lands History Center and the Water Resources Archives at CSU Libraries for Coping with Extremes: the 1st Annual Western Water History Symposium on Friday, March 1 from 1:30 to 4:30 pm at Colorado State University’s Morgan Library Event Hall. The event is FREE and open to the public.
This year’s water symposium features four prominent historians of the US West: Patty Limerick, Louis Warren, Jay Taylor, and Donald C. Jackson.
Here’s a report from Tony Rayl writing for The Yuma Pioneer. Here’s an excerpt:
On Wednesday, February 13th, Senate Bill 75 passed the Colorado Senate. The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Greg Brophy (R-Wray), would prevent any government organization from changing the amount of water a permit holder can draw from an aquifer based on conservation measures. This practice, Senator Brophy argues, encourages overconsumption.
“Something happened in the water permitting process that created an incentive to use the maximum amount of water that you possibly can on your farm,” Brophy stated. “What this bill is trying to do is remove the incentive to waste water and instead incentivize conservation.” To keep groundwater aquifers from being depleted, the state regulates how much water a permit holder can draw from an aquifer. The amount an individual is allowed to draw is based on how much water they have needed to water their crops in the past.
“When users try to conserve water, the state sees their water usage drop and sometimes lessens the amount of water they can use from then on,” argued Senator Brophy. “This encourages irrigators to waste water to avoid having their allowable water consumption amount permanently reduced.”
The bill would protect permitted consumptive use — in designated groundwater basins — as the floor for a permit in perpetuity and would prevent the reduction of pumping rates or annual volumetrics based on consumptive use after implementation of conservation measures.
The outcry from residents over the new stormwater fee in Adams County has prompted another public meeting. A group, dubbed Adams County Stormwater Utility Citizens in Opposition, is set to meet at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, at Werth Manor Event Center, 8301 Rosemary Dr., in Commerce City. Gary Mikes and attorney Sean Gallagher will present information on a litigation plan to stop the implementation of the county’s new stormwater utility. For more information, contact Gary Mikes at 303-475-0413 or http://www.garymikes.com or visit http://www.stopstormwaterutility.com.
We’ll see if they are as successful and Douglas Bruce and his cronies in Colorado Springs were when voters passed a poorly-worded Issue 300. Anti-tax zealots have severely impacted the city’s ability to deal with stormwater issues, including placing a burden of millions of dollars on the Colorado Springs Utilities enterprise fund budget.
Meanwhile, Adams County is working to correct billing errors in the system. Here’s a report from Yesnia Robles writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:
Adams County commissioners approved the stormwater fee last fall, telling residents that new federal mandates and the inability to fund stormwater mitigation from the general fund led them to pass on the tab to residents of the unincorporated county. Not doing so put them at risk for costly federal fines for not complying with the regulations, officials told residents at a handful of community meetings. The fee took effect Jan. 1.
Now the county has hired an outside consultant and is working with temporary staff to review 27,000 bills sent to residents. The county estimates it will spend about $100,000 to correct the errors before April 30, when payments are due.
Of the 6,600 parcels reviewed to date, 2,298 have been adjusted — about a 34 percent error rate. “We knew there was going to be some calculations that would have to be adjusted, but, in part, the photography we used made things more difficult,” said deputy county administrator Todd Leopold. “It was more than we anticipated.”
Residents are assessed based on how much of their property doesn’t allow stormwater to soak into soil. The county estimated that a single-family home would be assessed an average of $62.64 per year. Some residents, however, reported bills as high as $900. Adams County used photography it already had and contracted another vendor to analyze the photos. But, Leopold said, the pictures weren’t detailed enough to differentiate between impervious surfaces — such as roofs or concrete, which repel water — and hard surfaces — such as cracked asphalt or hard dirt, which allow water to soak in.
From the La Junta Tribune Democrat (Candace Krebs):
Climate change is an inevitable and sometimes uncomfortable topic for popular weather experts hitting the speaking circuit at this year’s winter meetings…
The notion of climate change is generating frequent headlines these days. The U.S. Department of Agriculture fed into the ongoing speculation recently by issuing a widely circulated report on future climate projections with suggestions for adaptation strategies. The department is also accepting public comments on a new adaptation plan, announced as part of President Obama’s sustainability initiative for the federal government, which includes goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing green power generation and fuel use.
Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said at his annual weather report presented during the Colorado Farm Show that he’s tended to downplay the prospect of manmade global warming since talk of it first started back in the 1980s. Back then, he recalled one farmer telling him gradually warmer temperatures were less of a concern than dramatic fluctuations. Flash forward to early 2013 and Doesken admits he has become more worried about the potential consequences of a warming climate and more uncertain about how easily farmers could adapt. “In 2012, the temperatures were pretty extreme,” he said. Notable heat waves struck in March and again in June. Only one year in history could rival it — 1934.
“If the computer models are anywhere close to right, 2012 will be an average year in just a few decades,” he added. “We don’t know what precipitation will do, but when we do have dry years, if the temperature is like this, we’ll have a lot of adapting to do.”[…]
Brian Bledsoe, KKTV chief meteorologist and private weather consultant from Colorado Springs who has appeared on some of the same panels with Doesken recently, remains skeptical of climate change theory though he prefers to avoid the subject because of how polarizing it has become. I simply can’t wrap my mind around the fact that the CO2 in the atmosphere is going to supersede all the stuff I’ve shown you today,” he said following a lengthy presentation on ocean temperature cycles and other long term trends at the High Plains No-Till Conference in Burlington. “The CO2 probably contributes something, but it is not a driver, in my opinion.”
In fact, on a global basis, the earth actually entered a cooling phase in 2000 as the sun began emitting less energy, he said. That mirrors a solar cycle that happened in the early 1800s. “We cooled as a planet,” said Bledsoe, who refers to himself as a weather historian. “We’re trending that way again.”
He also pointed to predictions made back in the 1950s that Florida would be underwater today.
Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Yampa/White Basin High/Low graph from Friday. Here’s a report from Tom Ross writing for Steamboat Today. Here’s an excerpt:
…the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs would need to see above-average snowfall for the next 60 days to build up the snowpack needed to fill streams and rivers during the coming spring runoff.
Time is growing short if the snowpack — water content in the standing snow — surrounding Steamboat is to its historic norm by the end of the season, Mage Hultstrand, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, said Thursday. She said February and March typically combine to provide 36 percent of annual snowpack, with April contributing another 3 percent. With current snowpack in the combined Yampa/White River basin standing at 47 percent of the annual peak, mountains in the area would have to see 53 percent of the annual snowpack accumulate between now and the second week in April to reach the average.
“The average peak there is on April 11,” Hultstrand said. “To get there in the next two months would take well above-average snowfall for February and March.” Hultstrand is the agency’s assistant snow survey supervisor…
The NRCS reported Feb. 1 that despite heavy snowfall in late January, Colorado’s snowpack was at 72 percent of normal for the date and 10 percent lower than where it stood at the same time in the drought winter of 2011-12. The combined Yampa/White river basin, which includes most of Routt County, is doing a little better, according to the NRCS, at 77 percent of average and 115 percent of last year’s levels. Another encouraging sign is that reservoir storage across the twin basin currently stands at 103 percent of average for the date. Focusing on specific locations in the Yampa River Basin, the snow measuring station at 9,400 feet on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass was showing 11 inches of water contained in 43 inches of snow Thursday, or 75 percent of average for the date. Those 11 inches of water also represent 42 percent of peak snowpack (water content); Rabbit Ears typically peaks at 26.1 inches of moisture April 28.
At the Tower site at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, there currently is 69 inches of snow on the ground containing 19.2 inches of moisture. The water content at the Tower site, which typically holds some of the most robust snowpack in the state, is just 66 percent of the average of 29.1 inches for the date and 37 percent of the seasonal peak. The Tower site peaks, on average, at 51.4 inches of water May 9. As a reference point, in early May 2011, the Tower site, after 27 days of snowfall in April, measured 200 inches of standing snow containing an all-time Colorado record of 72.6 inches of snow-water equivalent.
Click here to check out the Water Center at CMU’s Facebook page for snowpack.
“The conditions for Colorado are very poor,” said Mike Strobel, director of the National Water and Climate Center under the Natural Resources Conservation Service, based in Portland, Ore. Strobel said in an interview following his presentation that Colorado was at 72 percent of its normal snow pack as of Feb. 1, and at 69 percent of its average reservoir storage on that same date. Several basins in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico are at less than 50 percent of their normal snow pack.
“The conditions are very poor” in Colorado, Strobel said. “The far southwest part of the state is looking better than the rest of the state. But on the Front Range areas, and near Denver, you’re looking at well below normal snow pack, and it’s not boding well for the streamflow forecast at this point.”[…]
Forecast maps showed that warmer-than-normal temperatures are anticipated over much of the country for the next three months, with the exception of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. At the same time, much of the Western U.S. — as well as the Southeast — are expected to suffer below-normal precipitation.
The U.S. Drought Monitor now shows portions of eastern Colorado already in a state of “exceptional” drought, with the balance of the state rated as experiencing “extreme” or “severe” drought. Only the far southwestern corner of the state is rated as in a state of only “moderate” drought.
Colorado Water Law is a unique, complex series of statutes, court cases and decreed water rights. This framework of laws is designed to protect people who do not live next to the river, but have a real need to use the water that flows from snowmelt in the spring and summer months.
Some of my colleagues in the state Legislature are seeking to change this system in favor of benefiting large cities such as Aurora and Denver at the expense of rural Colorado.
House Bill 1130 seeks to extend the operation of interruptible water supply agreements in Colorado. Because of the arid nature of our state, the Legislature entrusts the Colorado water courts to oversee the decreed water rights in order to ensure that people with junior water rights are treated equitably with those who have senior water rights.
This bill gives the Colorado water engineer the ability to grant interruptible supply agreements in three-year increments outside of court oversight for up to 30 years. Only after the state engineer has made a determination can someone appeal to water court. This simply entrusts the state engineer with more authority, and it will lead to rural Coloradans losing the water to large, metropolitan areas of the state.
Southern Colorado cannot stand for this. There are better ways for the Legislature to allow, in times of drought, the ability to divert water out of priority. The current network of laws, in my opinion, adequately addresses all surface water rights. I hope that my fellow legislators are able to work together and defeat HB 1130. This is bad legislation for Southern Colorado.
The future of water and energy in Southern Colorado will be the focus of an Action 22 conference next month. “Managing water and energy resources will be critical to Colorado’s future. How we manage these valuable assets over the next 10 to 20 years will have lasting impacts well into the 21st century,” said Cathy Garcia, Action 22 executive director. “The first step in wise resource management is to understand technical, financial and legal issues that govern Colorado’s policy decisions.”
The Water and Energy Conference, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. March 13 at the Pueblo Convention Center, will feature 15 speakers who will discuss state water issues, including hydraulic fracturing regulations and techniques.
John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s water adviser, will deliver the luncheon keynote address. Other top state water officials also will be on hand.
There will be a review of Fountain Creek watershed protection efforts in the aftermath of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire. Fracking presentations will be in the morning, while the statewide water topics are featured in the afternoon.
Action 22 is an association representing governments, individuals and other interests throughout a 22-county area of Southern Colorado.
Cost is $70 per person ($60 for members of Action 22). Lunch-only registration to hear John Stulp is halfpriced. A detailed agenda and registration is available at Action22.org or by calling Garcia at 1-888-799-1799.
With less than a month left, the winter water storage program rivals 2002-03 as the worst year on record since 1978. Storage in the program was at 56 percent of average for mid-February. Winter water storage allows nine large canals and two smaller ditches downstream of Pueblo Dam to store water from their Arkansas River water rights from Nov. 15 through March 15 for use during the irrigation season. Water is stored in Lake Pueblo, John Martin Reservoir and reservoirs owned by some of the ditch companies.
This year, throughout the entire system, storage totals 53,858 acre-feet, compared with 85,899 acre-feet last year, and a 20-year average of 94,877 acre-feet. Last year’s total on March 15 was 125,000 acrefeet, among the driest years on record. The lowest years on record were 2002-03, with 74,775 acre-feet, and 2003-04, with 81,439 acre-feet. In general, the years since 2000 have been significantly lower than the wetter 1980s and 1990s.
Storage at that level is a drop in the bucket for ditch systems that are several miles long. For perspective, in a more normal precipitation year, large ditches like the Bessemer, High Line, Catlin and Amity could expect deliveries of 60,000-100,000 acre-feet at the headgate during the entire irrigation season. The largest ditch, the Fort Lyon Canal, typically would receive 200,000-250,000 acre-feet to cover its 113-mile length. In terms of winter water, Fort Lyon gets about 26.5 percent; High Line and Catlin, about 15 percent each; Bessemer and Amity, about 10 percent each. Other ditches in the winter water program are Oxford, Las Animas Consolidated, Riverside, West Pueblo, Colorado Canal and Holbrook.
Stream flows gained little following storms that moved through the area last week, according to U.S. Geological Survey and state river gauges.
Public landscaping consumed about 9 percent of metered water by the Pueblo Board of Water Works in 2012. The water is provided by the water board at no charge or half-price, and its use increased at a greater rate than the use by paid accounts. Often, public landscape watering occurs during daylight hours when homeowners are encouraged to refrain from turning on the sprinklers
“Our conversations about this have been ongoing, and it’s frustrating. We really don’t have a hammer,” said Paul Fanning, spokesman for the water board. “I’m going to be pressing harder this season about why we need to be concerned.”
About 850 million gallons of water were used to water landscaping in city parks, schools, public buildings, rights of way and on the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, according to a report by the water board last week.
A total of 9.3 billion gallons were used in Pueblo’s metered water system, an increase for the third straight year as drought deepened in Southern Colorado. However, the use for public areas increased about 7.8 percent from 2011, while the total use in Pueblo was up only about 5.3 percent. The value of the no-charge or half-price water, if it were used in paid accounts, would be about $1.8 million. The total revenue from metered accounts last year was $22.4 million.
The water board will devote more of its advertising budget to conservation messages this year, but is not yet planning mandatory restrictions, Fanning said. “We’ll be emphasizing drought preparedness,” he said. “We’re definitely encouraging all of our customers to water less often and more deeply. The outlook doesn’t look good, and one could argue it’s an opportunity to use water more efficiently.”
The measure combines long-term debt, internal borrowing and rises in rates paid by business and home owners that will double their costs in nine years. The prickly issue for councilors, one that extended discussion of the measure until nearly 11 p.m., was whether to commit $750,000 annually for five years from the city’s general fund to pay for water system improvements…
Mayor Cecil Gutierrez, who had adamantly opposed the general fund ingredient in the formula to pay for water line replacement and treatment plant upgrades, reversed himself in casting the deciding vote on the issue.
Council member Joan Shaffer said steering surplus general fund money to the utilities department jeopardizes the city’s ability to meet other needs, particularly those related to economic development.
Councilors Hugh McKean, Daryle Klassen, Dave Clark and John Fogle joined Gutierrez in supporting the new rate plan.
Shaffer and councilors Ralph Trenary and Phil Farley cast the minority votes. Trenary’s motion to eliminate the general fund appropriation from the package had failed on a 4-4 vote.
The rate structure covering the years through 2022 would become official with another council action March 5.
A prolonged drought is forcing Denver Parks and Recreation to close its grass sports fields for soccer and lacrosse until April 1 — which will keep thousands of children and adults from playing their sports. The news of the closure came only 15 days before the start of the spring season for most teams…
Public Schools, which has 362 acres of irrigated playgrounds and sports fields that normally consume 400 million gallons of water a year, is examining whether to shut down access to its fields. District officials will meet with Denver Water to figure out the next steps, but at this point, the district’s fields are still open for the spring.
From9News.com (Dave DeLozier) via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:
While the snowfall in eastern Colorado is beneficial to winter wheat farmers, what farmers who use irrigation really need is a major snowfall in the mountains. That would provide a snowmelt that could help fill reservoirs and provide water for irrigation throughout the growing season. “Frankly, as far as we’re concerned it will have to be a storm of epic proportions to get us caught up,” [Dana] Strongin said…
The water storage facilities in northern Colorado are currently far below normal for this time of year and there is grave concern there may not be enough water to get farmers through this growing season. “They are looking at a situation in which they may just choose not to plant this year and rent out the water back to cities,” Strongin said.
Nominations are now being accepted for the ninth annual “Bob Appel — Friend of the Arkansas” award to be presented at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 24 and 25 at the Walsenburg Community Center. The award is designed to honor an individual who has demonstrated commitment to improving the condition of the Arkansas River as it flows from its headwaters near Leadville to the Kansas state line.
Nominations should include a thorough description of why the individual is being nominated as well as any testimonials or letters of recommendation. Nominations may be sent to Jean Van Pelt, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, 31717 United Ave., Pueblo, CO 81001 or email@example.com, or faxed to 719-948-0036.
“We do have another sytem that’s coming down Sunday,” said Makoto Moore, meteorologist with the weather service in Pueblo. “It looks like it’s going to be somewhat unsettled.” Sunday’s storm will hit the Continental Divide late Saturday night and roll across the state Sunday, he said. “This is definitely a good thing,” Moore said. “I wish we’d get a lot more of it, but we’re still knee deep in drought.”
A whopping 17.5 inches of snow fell at Monarch Mountain overnight Wednesday giving the resort a healthy 58-inch base much to the delight of skiers and snowboarders. The resort has received 175.5 inches of snow so far this season despite a late start that delayed opening by 24 days. Dry weather patterns meant little moisture for the all-naturalsnow resort where snowmaking equipment is not used, but Mother Nature seems to be very cooperative now.
“Nothing motivates the market like fresh snow,” said Greg Ralph, Monarch marketing manager.
Elsewhere in Chaffee County, weather spotters reported 4 inches of snow in Buena Vista and 2 inches of snow in Salida. In Fremont County, Texas Creek residents reported 4 inches of snow, while 2 inches were measured in Canon City and 1 inch in Penrose.
According to the KRLN radio, which maintains a weather station, Canon City has received 0.56 of an inch of moisture in February — nearly a quarter-inch above the monthly average. For the year, 0.73 of an inch of moisture has been recorded, just .03 under the annual average. In Custer County, snowfall ranged from 2 to 6 inches from the overnight Wednesday and early Thursday storm.
A quick-moving storm brought much-needed moisture to parts of Colorado, but moved out of the area by noon Thursday. The heaviest snowfall in the state was in the southwest and central mountains, along with the Colorado Springs-Denver area.
Fountain received more than 10 inches of snow overnight Wednesday, the highest amount reported. Moisture content was about 1 inch. Other parts of El Paso County received 5 to 9 inches of snow.
In Pueblo, snow was lighter, but wet. About 1 to 3 inches fell overnight in most parts of the area, with 0.1 to 0.2 inches of precipitation. In the southern part of Pueblo County, up to 0.25 inches of precipitation was recorded.
Light snow fell into midafternoon on the Eastern Plains, as the storm moved eastward.
“Normal” in snowpack history can be many years ago, and it’s not the discrete date that counts; it’s what that entails; as well as what’s happened since that normal date. The 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s brought millions more people to Colorado, owning millions more cars; the temperatures are higher each summer; and hundreds of coal-fired energy plants have been built from California to Colorado, and even with best intentions and the latest high-tech filters; they all contribute to a dirtier snow. Dirtier snow melts earlier. Next snowstorm, take two identical plastic paint buckets, and, pack one with just snow; but in the other put a dozen black marbles in on top of every three inches of snow. Put them out in the Colorado sunshine that usually follows a snow. Check your watch, and you will notice that the bucket with the marbles melts in much less time than the snow-only bucket. This is the way it works with our snowpack, too.
Our farmers use 80 percent of our water to irrigate crops, and they can only irrigate after preparing their fields, planting, and fertilizing. If the precious and prayed for snow melt continues to occur earlier in the year; the bulk of our water will run downstream to Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California before the farmers have a chance to use it. Then, later in the year, when it’s almost too late, they will exercise their senior water rights to irrigate. Our rivers will be significantly drained, forcing many municipalities to start rationing.
This is a warning that “normal,” may be worse that the experts expect. In future columns, we will explore both practical and possible alternatives to alleviate part of this looming water crisis.
Typically precipitation in February in the Springs is 0.21 inches. So far this month, the area is at 0.85 inches, said Mike Nosko, meteorological technician with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. Overall snowfall in the Springs so far this month is at 9.8 inches, with 7.3 inches of that blanketing the ground Wednesday night, he said.
The highest 24-hour totals reported by CoCoRaHS were from observers in central Kansas. However, the area of heaviest snow was rather broad and extended into southern Nebraska and western Missouri with amounts of 10 inches and more common. South of the main snow areas, freezing rain glazed streets, trees, and power lines from Arkansas northeast through central Indiana. Ice accumulations of one quarter to one half inch were reported by CoCoRaHS observers in Arkansas this morning.
During his presentation at the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention forecaster Brian Bledsoe said, “Drought feeds on drought.” Click on the thumbnail graphic to check out the latest seasonal drought forecast from the climate prediction center along with this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor map from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
From the Associated Press (Josh Funk) via the Albuquerque Journal. From the article:
Experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln released their latest predictions Thursday.
Currently, 56 percent of the continental U.S. is covered by some form of drought. That’s an improvement from last summer, when the drought covered two-thirds of the nation.
The drought forecast calls for conditions to improve somewhat in eastern Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Georgia and South Carolina. But the February-through-May drought forecast predicts conditions will worsen overall this spring, NOAA climatologist Dan Collins said.
And below-average precipitation is expected this spring in most Western states and the southeastern United States.
As a result, the drought is expected to spread from southern California to cover nearly the entire state. All of Arizona, most of Texas and most of Florida also are expected to be affected…
“We’re trying to figure out whether this is the new normal — is this climate change? Or is this just another 10-year drought?” said [Debbie Davis], who ranches northwest of San Antonio.
Late January brought beneficial moisture to the four corners region of the state, decreasing the drought severity in the southwest. However, the eastern plains remain exceptionally dry and have seen an expansion of D4 classification according to the US Drought monitor. Early February also brought above average temperatures for much of the state. While mountain snowpack has improved in some portions of the state, it has declined in others, and all basins remain below normal for water year precipitation and snowpack. Many water providers are preparing for continued drought conditions throughout the spring and summer. The state is working with providers to help ensure all essential needs are met.
As of the February 12, 2013 US Drought Monitor, 100% of Colorado is experiencing some level of drought classification. D1 (moderate) and D2 (severe) and cover 49% of the state, while D3 (extreme) accounts for an additional 26%. One fourth of the state is now experiencing exceptional drought (D4), which is isolated to the eastern plains.
Despite beneficial moisture in some portions of the state during January and early February that boosted snowpack to 91% of average in the Southwest and 81% in the Rio Grande basin; the state as a whole remains at 76% of normal for the water year.*
The South Platte is experiencing the lowest snowpack in the state at 59% of normal followed by the Arkansas at 65%. The North Platte, Yampa/White, Colorado and Gunnison are at 72, 76, 70 and 78% of normal, respectively.*
Given current conditions 143% of normal precipitation is needed to reach the average peak snowpack, which typically occurs on April 8th. There is a 10% chance that this will occur.
Municipalities and water providers are actively preparing to respond to continued drought conditions with both mandatory and voluntary watering restrictions throughout the spring and summer demand season. Many are reporting storage levels below 50% of capacity.
Statewide reservoir storage is at 69% of average and 38% of capacity. The highest storage levels are in the Yampa/ White River Basin, at 103% of average while the lowest storage in the state is the Rio Grande River basin at 51% of average. All other basins range from 57% to 80% of average and 18% to 76% of total capacity. Last year this time the state was at 105% of average reservoir storage.*
Surface Water Supply Index values have improved in isolated areas of the state following recent precipitation, yet all values remain negative.
NRCS is forecasting below average streamflows for the entire state, with most of the basins falling within the 50-69% of average forecast range for April 1st.
* The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) uses a 30 year running average that is updated every ten years. The transition to the new “normal” period of 1981-2010 began in early 2013 (previous months used the 1971-2000 period). NRCS is also transitioning to the use of median rather than average to define normal. Please keep in mind that this transition will affect the data when presented as a percent of normal.
Across the West, lakes are half full and mountain snows are thin, omens of another summer of drought and wildfire. Complicating matters, many of the worst-hit states now have even less water on hand than a year ago, raising the specter of shortages and rationing that could inflict another year of losses on struggling farms.
Reservoir levels have fallen sharply in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. The soil is drier than normal. And while a few recent snowstorms have cheered skiers, the snowpack is so thin in parts of Colorado that the government has declared an “extreme drought” around the ski havens of Vail and Aspen.
“We’re worse off than we were a year ago,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center.
This week’s blizzard brought a measure of relief to the Plains when it dumped more than a foot of snow. But it did not change the basic calculus for forecasters and officials in the drought-scarred West. Ranchers are straining to find hay — it is scarce and expensive — to feed cattle. And farmers are fretting about whether they will have enough water to irrigate their fields.
“It’s approaching a critical situation,” said Mike Hungenberg, who grows carrots and cabbage on a 3,000-acre farm in northern Colorado. There is so little water available this year, he said, that he may scale back his planting by a third, and sow less thirsty crops, like beans…
In Northern Colorado, a combination of drought and wildfire is shutting off the spigot for scores of farmers. Cities are worried about ash and sediment flowing from the burn areas into the rivers that supply their water, so they are holding onto every drop possible this year and not selling any water to local farmers.
In 2011, the Northern Colorado city of Greeley alone leased enough water to irrigate 13,000 acres of farmland — representing millions of dollars in wages for farmhands, seed money, fertilizer sales and profits for farmers. Every year, just after midnight on Jan. 1, farmers start calling the city to sign up to lease the surplus water. This year, Greeley had to call them all back to say there was none to be had.
Eldon Ackerman, who grows sugar beets, pinto beans and alfalfa on his farm in Wellington, said he only had water supplies for about one-third of his fields. He was praying the spring snow and rains would come to save him. If they do not, he said he might have to let 1,000 acres lie fallow this year.
While the report said the drought was over in most of the nation east of the Mississippi River, the portion of the country still facing drought — most of the West and Florida — should expect it “to persist or intensify.”
“The 2012-2013 drought has serious implications for agriculture, navigation, recreation and municipal water supplies, costing the nation at least $35 billion in economic losses,” said the outlook, which was developed by a federal interagency group and issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A growing body of research suggests that extreme weather patterns such as drought are being driven by climate change. As a result, federal, state and local agencies are trying to prepare for protracted drought in different parts of the country.
There are “webinars” for Great Plains ranchers to raise livestock in drought conditions, and handbooks for cities to make them “drought-resilient.” In Thebes, Ill., the Army Corps of Engineers is blowing up rock formations in the Mississippi River to make it navigable when the water is low. Emergency management staff members in Texas are readying for the possibility that some communities might run short of water, said Veva Deheza of NOAA.
NOAA predicted that most of the United States would have higher-than-usual temperatures over the next three months and that much of the West, down through Texas, the Gulf Coast and the Southeast would have below-normal precipitation.
Snowpack in several river basins in Colorado, Wyoming and Mew Mexico is “less than 50% of normal,” the outlook said. If the snowpack does not recover in the next two months, farms and municipalities in California and other Western states could face considerable challenges this summer.
The Interior Department identified areas of concern for greater wildfire risk, including Upper Plains states like the Dakotas and Montana; the Southwest; Florida; and eastern Colorado down into Oklahoma and Texas.
For Aspen bears, ’12 was a record-breaking year, w/ 1040 bruin-related police reports. Drought to blame: bit.ly/X00BzO
From the Grand Junction Free Press (Caroline Bradford):
At their recent board meeting, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) members awarded Grand County $500,000 from the Water Supply Reserve Account (WSRA) to help construct whitewater features in the Colorado River at the popular BLM recreational boating site west of Kremmling.
Over $39 million has been awarded to hundreds of water projects across the state since the WSRA’s inception by the Colorado Legislature in 2007. This is the first award for a project that is primarily for recreational purposes.
“The time has come to recognize non-consumptive water rights have a place at the table in Colorado,” said CWCB’s Colorado Basin Director Russell George. “Just a few years ago, this would have been inconceivable, but we’re evolving.”[…]
The proposed $1.7 million whitewater park will take at least another couple years to bring to fruition. Partnerships with other funders are needed to leverage the major investment Grand County has made to date. Approximately $500,000 more must be raised from boaters and other partners before construction can begin.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board members noted the broad and diverse support for the project. Endorsements for the grant came from Denver Water, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Colorado River District, Eagle County Commissioners, Summit County Commissioners, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Colorado Trout Unlimited and American Whitewater. Additionally, over 100 boaters sent passionate letters of support to CWCB for the project. During the 2012 Gorefest Race, kayakers enthusiastically pledged funds to help Grand County build the park.
This major capital investment in recreation infrastructure is expected to create a good financial return for Grand County and the State of Colorado. According to the 2012 Year End Commercial River Use Report just released by the Colorado River Outfitters Association, commercial boating on the Upper Colorado River through Grand County, Eagle County and Glenwood Springs already provides an economic impact of over $32 million annually to the state. In 2012, there were 39,645 commercial passengers and about 40,000 private boaters who floated this reach. Only the Arkansas River had more users.
The accessible new feature on the Upper Colorado River above Launch #2 at Pumphouse will provide additional opportunities for kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders to perfect their skills. This park-and-play whitewater park will be situated between the exhilarating Class IV-V Gore Canyon run and the splashy, scenic Class II-III section below Pumphouse. Even in low water years, this family-friendly reach has consistent flows all summer due to upstream reservoir releases for farmers and other downstream water users in the Colorado Basin.
To learn more about how you can help Grand County bring the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park to life, contact project coordinator CarolineBradford@wildblue.net.
Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary. Click here to read all the summaries from the Colorado Climate Center.
Meanwhile, NIDIS funding is up in the air out in Washington D.C. Here’s a report from Brett Walton writing for Circle of Blue. Here’s an excerpt:
…because of budget cuts and the uncertainty from not even passing a budget for fiscal year 2013, the U.S. government is hindering the ability of its own science agencies to collect the basic information used by the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), a federal warning system that predicts and responds to drought. Instead, Congress is chipping away at the program’s foundation — the hydrological data on snowpack and river flows that makes drought analysis possible — at the same time that legislators are clamoring for systems that better prepare the nation for climate change.
“It’s hard to analyze data you don’t have. Obviously more could be done with more resources,” said Tony Willardson, executive director of the Western States Water Council. “NIDIS is a very important tool for evaluating the impacts of drought. It’s what we’ve been looking for, for a long time, as a clearinghouse of drought information.”
Willardson is not alone. Water managers and environmental groups across the country rely on NIDIS, which is overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for climate and river forecasts. Even the most recent National Climate Assessment, a draft of which was released in January, stated that adaptation to climate change would require better coordination between local, state, tribal, and federal partners, which is one of NIDIS’s central goals.
According to the National Weather Service, the area can expect a 20 percent chance of snow starting Wednesday afternoon. The probability of snow increases later in the evening with snow likely overnight Wednesday. Accumulation is expected at less than half an inch. Thursday, the weather service forecast calls for the potential of more snow, with winds from 9 to 16 miles per hour and gusts as high as 23 miles per hour. Any remaining snow showers are expected to taper off overnight Thursday.
According to an advisory issued by the agency (National Weather Service), snow will develop Wednesday afternoon in the mountains and spread to the Front Range into the evening. The advisory also states that thunderstorms are possible, which will produce very heavy snow totals over a short period of time. Heaviest snow will be east of Interstate 25 in southern Weld County and moving east from there. While Loveland will get a small amount of snow, forecasters predict the far eastern plains could get as much as 8 inches of drifting snow, and the mountains will get another pulse of snow on Friday.
From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Amy Gillentine):
A hot dry summer followed by low snowpack in the mountains this winter and higher-than-expected demand has created a water crisis for Colorado Springs Utilities. Trying to refill reservoirs that are at 48 percent of capacity, the city-owned utility is suggesting Stage 2 water restrictions for customers starting in April. That means that outdoor watering — lawns, trees, shrubs, gardens — can occur only two days a week…
Customers aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch. CSU expects a $17 million drop in revenue, thanks to the restrictions. Utilities officials say they aren’t expecting to increase water or electric rates, however. Instead, they’ll put off projects to stay within budget, Forte said.
Reservoirs are now around the levels of the 2002 drought, near historic lows. Utilities is not only looking at conservation, it wants to boost supply as well — moving water from other places and working with the Bureau of Reclamation to find needed supplies. According to Wayne Vanderschuere, general manager of water supply, some of the needed water is just down the road in the Pueblo Reservoir. Getting it here before Southern Delivery System is finished will be costly, he said.
While the outlook for moisture looks bad for the state and within the Arkansas River basin, it’s worse in Pueblo’s water collection system.“It’s not any better than the basin average and in many cases worse. Conditions continue to be poor,” said Alan Ward, water resources administrator for the Pueblo Board of Water Works.
Snow course readings for the ditches, lakes and tunnels the water board relies on to move water are running at 38-63 percent of average, and just 44-88 percent of 2012 levels. Snowpack in the Arkansas River basin is 61 percent of average and 70 percent of last year. Things are a little better in the Colorado River basin — which supplies about half of Pueblo’s water — with 66 percent of average and 92 percent of last year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The NRCS information is based on Snotel sites throughout the basins, while the water board’s information is more closely linked to sites within its own collection system, Ward explained.
The water board has 27,700 acrefeet of water in storage — about one year of its potable water needs. That’s down 15,000 acrefeet from one year ago. The board has several longterm contracts to supply water, which it plans to fulfill in 2013.
It will cut spot-market leases this year, but does not plan any mandatory watering restrictions yet.
Click here to read a KUNC interview with Dana Strongin from Northern Water (Nathan Heffel). Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Water managers across Northern Colorado are watching the winter season go by with little precipitation to replenish dwindling water reservoir levels. Northern Water is very concerned the season will not produce the amount of moisture needed to restore supplies.
The actual snowpack for the upper Colorado River basin is actually slightly below the mid-January readings from a year ago…
The National Resources Conservation Service, the federal agency that measures things such as moisture, reports that snowpack in the region is only 61 percent of the multi-year average, despite above-average snowfall in December. “This year we really started slow,” said Mage Hultstrand, the assistant snow supervisor for the Colorado office of the National Resource Conservation Service. “We got some snow around Veterans Day, and that was pretty much it until December.”[…]
The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District provides water and sewer service from East Vail to Edwards. The district relies on a combination of streamflows and wells to handle indoor water needs for both winter and summer. That indoor use is remarkably efficient, too. District communications manager Diane Johnson said that the district is able to return 95 percent of all indoor use back to the streams. When the strain comes is in the summer, since outdoor watering returns far less back into the system. That use also tends to come when streams are running high with snowmelt.
Most years, snowmelt ends around the end of June. Last year, the streamflows started dropping in May. The district got by with its usual watering regulations but encouraged landscapers and homeowners to cut back or delay any new planting. Rains in July helped a lot, but water supplies remained tight through the rest of the growing and watering season…
During a recent presentation to the Avon Town Council, water attorney Glenn Porzak said there’s enough supply in the streams and reservoirs that the district uses to handle three years like the 2012 snow year. That estimate was for “normal use,” Johnson said. “If we really restricted outdoor use, we could stretch it beyond that. We can meet our demand.”
Snowpack in the Blue River Basin, where shades of brown can still be seen at the top of peaks 9 and 10, is only at 59 percent of last year’s total at this point in the year, and 42 percent of the median snowpack for the area.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Drought Monitor continues to place Summit County, and much of northwestern Colorado, in an extreme drought.
After a dismal January for snowfall delivered only 6 total inches in Breckenridge, compared to an average 23 inches, it is becoming more likely that the winter season many hoped would pull Colorado out of one of the worst droughts in a decade will fail to do so. Without a significant increase in snowfall over the next several months, parts of the state may be on track to see another difficult summer marked by a lack of water and high wildfire danger.
Consecutive months of below-average snowpack accumulation are statistically decreasing the possibility of reaching normal conditions by April, a Feb. 1 Colorado State Basin outlook report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service stated. Last year’s below-average snowpack did not offer any buffer to our current situation. … Water users in all basins should start planning for below-average surface water supplies this season. The potential for shortages this season is great…
But Dillon Reservoir is now only 66 percent full, far from its 90 percent normal for this time of year, according to data from Denver Water, the utility company that owns the lake. Denver Water’s total storage system is at only 63 percent of total capacity, falling below levels recorded during the 2002 drought year, when the system dipped to 76 percent of capacity at the end of January.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
Colorado’s snowpack is making a mini-comeback, with February snowfall running close to normal across the mountains, piling up at an average rate of 1 to 2 inches per day…
But for now, the statewide snowpack is tracking behind last winter, at 75 percent of average as of Feb. 15. The southwest corner of the state is reporting the highest readings, with the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan reading at 89 percent of average, the Upper Rio Grande and 79 percent and the Gunnison Basin at 76 percent.
Colder than average temperatures across the mountains in January helped maintain the snow that did fall during the month, but the state’s water managers are still concerned about summer supplies as storage levels have dropped to well below average. Some municipal water providers are considering mandatory restrictions before the lawn-watering season starts.
The South Platte Basin, key to Denver Water’s supply system, is the driest in the state at 40 percent below average. The Arkansas Basin, critical for agriculture on the southeastern plains, is 35 percent below average.
Up in the northwest corner of the state, snowpack in the Yampa Basin has crept up to about 80 percent of average thanks to a few sneaker storms that delivered more moisture than expected.
Drought preparedness dominated discussion at the Thursday meeting of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors, and directors agreed to develop a formal drought plan. Engineer Ivan Walter said, if the weather does not change, “it’s going to be harsher next year than anything we’ve ever seen.”
The lack of moisture is not helping Colorado’s drought concerns as 25 percent of the state, all on the eastern side, is now listed at “exceptional” drought levels.
Ron Carleton from Colorado Department of Agriculture says the weather forecast for the upcoming months isn’t hopeful. “[The forecast] shows higher than average temperatures and lower than average precipitation,” Carleton said. “For most of Colorado, [the] drought is expected to persist or even intensify,” Carleton said. Carleton says in order for the state to recover from the drought, it would need to receive above average precipitation.
“Currently, our reservoirs are sitting at about 63 percent full and normally this time of year we’d see them at 80 percent,” Travis Thompson with Denver Water said. The hot and dry conditions that persisted through last year forced Denver Water to declare a stage one drought last spring. They asked customers to voluntarily cut back on water use. If conditions continue to worsen voluntary may become mandatory. “We’re working on what a stage two drought would look like right now and what that would look like for our customers,” Thompson said. “If we did go to stage two drought we would ask our customers to cut back their outdoor water use with mandatory water days and times.”
The concerns are not limited to Denver. In Northern Colorado the diminished status of water storage is also of grave concern. “Our storage is about 75 percent for what we would consider normal for this time of year. It’s looking pretty bad,” Dana Strongin with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District said. The water storage levels have gotten so low there is concern about whether normal spring moisture will be enough to curb the drought conditions…
Strongin says while the prospects for a prolonged drought will have an impact on residential water users the impact on farmers will be significant. Last year’s drought placed many Colorado farms in a declared disaster situation. With water storage much lower this year going into the planting season it could be worse.
After endless hours of study by the Loveland Utilities Commission, and three evenings of City Council review at study sessions, the question of how high to ratchet city water rates likely will be settled Tuesday. The expected result will mean average monthly water bills for home and business owners will more than double by 2022, part of a package that will fund nearly $50 million in water system improvements…
What councilors will consider on Tuesday is a hybrid, a plan that includes:
A 20-year external loan, taking advantage of historically low interest rates, to raise $10 million of the projects’ costs and make it immediately available.
An eight-year, $6 million loan to the water utility from its electric power twin, to be repaid partly with an annual appropriation of $750,000 from the city’s general fund.
Rate increases that will begin at 13 percent in 2014, shrink to 9 percent from 2015 to 2019, and to 8 percent from 2020 to 2022. The average monthly residential water bill would climb from $24.25 this year, to slightly more than $53 in 10 years. For business customers, the average bill would rise from $78.56 to more than $182.