Drought/snowpack news: Long-term outlook is cause for concern, snowpack is recovering a bit #codrought #cowx



From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Forget the groundhog. The Earth’s weather patterns could have it in for Colorado again this year. Meteorologist Brian Bledsoe gave a pessimistic forecast for the year ahead to the Colorado Water Congress Friday.

Why believe a weatherman? “In a lot of ways, it’s easier to forecast five years than five hours,” Bledsoe said.

He then launched into a detailed explanation of world weather patterns. “In many years, El Nino (Pacific Ocean warming) and La Nina (cooling) are not the major factors for Colorado,” Bledsoe said. “We’re in between both right now.”

During La Nina cycles, Eastern Colorado is frequently dry. Many climate models show the pattern could drift back into La Nina again, meaning more dry years.

But weather systems over the Indian Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and North Pole can affect weather in the Southern United States, Bledsoe said. Long­term weather patterns show the state could experience weather similar to the 1950s in the coming years, and perhaps decades. “I’ve been talking to a lot of farmers and ranchers, particularly younger ones, and I stress to them they have to have a plan,” said Bledsoe, who grew up on a farm in Eastern Colorado and lamented that his parents sold off half their organic beef herd.

Another dry year would add to Colorado’s woes. The warm weather in 2012 increased evaporation, while precipitation decreased throughout Colorado, said Nolan Doesken, state climatologist. Statewide, 2012 was the second-­warmest year in recorded history, surpassed only by 1934.

From The Denver Post (Megan Mitchell):

A heavy snowstorm last week increased Colorado’s snowpack statewide by 17 percentage points, boosting totals to 75 percent of normal on Feb. 1 from 58 percent of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Anything helps at this point,” said NRCS assistant snow survey supervisor Mage Hultstrand. “It’s huge improvement, but not nearly enough to push us to normal conditions for this month.”

Hultstrand said 75 percent of normal is still 25 percent short of what state reservoirs want in water storage. Still, the fact that snowpack increased in a month to 75 percent of normal from 70 percent — the fourth-worst Jan. 1 reading in 32 years — is encouraging, Hultstrand said. January finished the month at the eighth- lowest level in 32 years.

On the Front Range, where snow totals don’t figure into snowpack reports, the National Weather Service recorded 4.6 inches of snow in January. Some regions have seen more improvement than others. Snowpack in southwest Colorado, including the San Miguel, San Juan, Dolores and Animas basins, is up to 85 percent of average, and the Gunnison and the Upper Rio Grande are at 78 percent.

From the Loveland Reporter Herald (Pamela Dickman):

Natural Resources Conservation Service resource specialists were shocked by their findings earlier this week with some Larimer County areas registering snowpack at 25 percent and 26 percent of average, while the highest they found was 74 percent of average. And all places in the Big Thompson and Poudre River drainages were worse off than last year 2012 — a year meteorologists rated as one of the third driest on record including a year during the dust bowl. “I’m going to have to look at this as the glass is half full and hope we get some storms in February and March that will boost the snowpack up,” said Todd Boldt, half of the team that snowshoes into test sites and manually measures snow. “If you look at it half empty, you go into depression.”

The sites that supply the Big Thompson River were worse off than those that supply the Poudre River, although both ultimately feed into the South Platte. Overall, the South Platte basin is registering 59 percent of average, according to Northern Water. At the 9000-foot Deer Ridge test site in Rocky Mountain National Park, snowpack measured 25 percent of the 30-year average and 20 percent of what was at the same location at the end of January 2012.

Other locations in the Big Thompson are:

* Hidden Valley, 9,480 feet elevation, 26 percent of average and 29 percent compared to last year.

* Willow Park, 10,700 feet, 39 percent average, 54 percent compared to 2012.

* Bear Lake, 9,500 feet, 50 percent of average, 58 percent compared to 2012.

In the Poudre Canyon, the levels were better, although still below average and below the measurements at the end of January 2012. Cameron Pass, the highest elevation area tested, ranked 51 percent of average and 78 percent compared to 2012. The closest to average was at Big South, 8,600 feet elevation, ranking 74 percent of average and 68 percent of 2012. Chambers Lake, 9,000 feet, measured 46 percent of average — the lowest in the Poudre — and 72 percent compared to 2012.

Regional water experts also look at the snowpack that feeds into the Upper Colorado River, which as of Thursday, was at 69 percent of average at automated sites…

The reservoirs that hold Colorado-Big Thompson water are 26 percent below the average fill levels.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Heather McGregor):

Sunlight Mountain Resort received 20 inches of new snow from Sunday through Tuesday, and snow is still falling, said Jennie Spillane, marketing manager for Sunlight. “We now have a 45-inch base, and there is more snow in the forecast through Thursday,” Spillane said. “There is still a lot out there to be had.”[…]

“Monday started out with a lot of rain, even in the high country,” said Nancy Shanks, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. “Then it snowed all day — up to 10 inches over 10 hours on McClure Pass.”[…]

Snowpack in the Colorado River basin is just 64 percent of average for Jan. 30, said David Kanzer, senior water resources engineer for the Colorado River District, the 15-county agency that advocates for Western Slope water.

“The snow is much-needed, and we need much more,” said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the River District. “To get to normal, we’d need to get 136 percent of normal snowfall through the rest of the winter. Anything is possible, but that illustrates the magnitude of the issue.”

Kanzer said the basinwide snowpack for the Colorado River above Dotsero is still less than it was on Jan. 30 in 2012 and 2002, the two most recent severe drought years. It is higher than in 1981, he noted. Comparative figures for 1977, considered to be the rock-bottom year for drought, weren’t readily available.

Spring runoff into Lake Powell is forecast to be just 56 percent of average, and may fall below 50 percent with new estimates, Kanzer said.

From Colorado Public Radio (Zachary Barr):

A bad situation is getting worse. That’s the top line from farmers, ranchers, and water managers as the state’s drought marches on. Over the past year, Colorado’s had about 30% less precipitation than average. The US Department of Agriculture has declared two-thirds of Colorado’s counties “disaster areas,” and that includes every county on the eastern plains.

Meanwhile, it will be an early spring, according to Punxsutawney Phil. Here’s a report from ABC News:

When the Pennsylvania groundhog emerged from his dwelling at Gobbler’s Knob Saturday morning, he did not see his shadow.

And so ye faithful, there is no shadow to see, an early Spring for you and me,” proclaimed Bob Roberts, one of Phil’s handlers.

According to folklore, if a groundhog emerges from its burrow and see its shadow, then six more weeks of winter weather is on the way. But if it comes out and sees no shadow, spring is expected to come early.

Punxsutawney, the Pennsylvania town that is home to one of the most famous weather-predicting groundhogs, Punxsutawney Phil, has been carrying on the tradition of Groundhog Day since the 1800s, according to The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

January 2013 climate summary from the NWS Grand Junction office #cowx #codrought


Here’s the link to their facebook graphic. Wow, 1.74 inches of precipitation in Durango.

I have a retirement place just over the hill near Dolores. I hope there was good moisture there.

Twin Lakes Reservoir and Irrigation Canal Co. is the lone objector standing in Pitkin County instream flow change case


Change of water rights cases often drag on until all parties come to agreement and stipulate out. In many cases objectors raise issues with the proposed change that can only be settled at trial in water court. It looks like a change case by Pitkin County — to leave agricultural water in the stream for riparian purposes — is heading to court because Colorado Springs wants to make sure that the change won’t leave them water short at Twin Lakes if there is a rebound call from downstream seniors or a Colorado River Compact call. Here’s an in-depth look at the issue from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article for the great detail and analysis along with graphics that help illustrate the issues at hand. Here’s an excerpt:

Pitkin County and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) are finding it’s not easy to leave water in a river for environmental purposes.

The two entities have been working since mid-2010 to reach agreements with various opponents to a plan that would leave 4.3 cubic feet per second (cfs) of county water in lower Maroon Creek and the Roaring Fork River, instead of diverting it for irrigation purposes to the Stapleton Brothers Ditch near the base of Tiehack.

They’ve reached agreements with 10 opponents so far, but the 11th, an entity controlled by the city of Colorado Springs called the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., is proving to be challenging.

On Thursday, attorneys for Pitkin County asked a judge in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs to set a trial date as the parties have not yet resolved their differences. Judge James Boyd set the five-day trial for Feb. 3, 2014. The case number is 10CW-184.

The trial results from an agreement between Pitkin County and the Colorado Water Conservation Board that was announced in 2009.

Mr. Gardner-Smith has published a shorter version of the story in conjunction with the Aspen Daily News. Here’s an excerpt:

“We have been in active settlement discussions with the applicants and have every intention of reaching agreement prior to trial,” said Kevin Lusk, a principal with Colorado Springs Utilities, the city’s water utility that controls Twin Lakes. “We believe that we have made significant progress and do not feel that the remaining issues are in any way insurmountable.”

Lusk also serves as president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which diverts significant amounts of water off the top of the Roaring Fork River basin each year, sending it in tunnels underneath the Continental Divide to Twin Lakes and eventually the Front Range.

“Twin Lakes has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders to protect its interests,” Lusk said. “Because of this, Twin Lakes routinely objects to water rights cases on the Roaring Fork when they are of significant size or if there is significant precedent involved.”

Lusk said Twin Lakes is concerned that a change to the county’s water right from irrigation to an instream-flow right may indirectly lead to a situation where Twin Lakes is allowed to divert less water off the top of the Roaring Fork River basin.

But the county and state say there will be no injury to Colorado Springs’ water rights if the 4.3 cfs is left in the river instead of being used for irrigation, especially as monthly flow limits have been placed on the water right consistent with its historic use.

“The maximum and average uses proposed … will prevent any expansion of use of the Stapleton Brothers Ditch water right,” stated engineers from Bishop-Brogden Associates, Inc., the firm working with the county and the CWCB, in a report submitted to the court.

The county owns a total of 8 cfs of water in the Stapleton Brothers Ditch, which diverts that amount and more from Maroon Creek near the base of Tiehack and takes it some 3 miles across the base of Buttermilk Mountain to Owl Creek.

The county’s water right in the Stapleton Brothers Ditch of 4.3 cfs has a 1904 priority date and was used by the Stapleton family to irrigate 163 acres of hay and alfalfa fields on land along Owl Creek.

Most of that land is now occupied by the lower half of the runway at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. And since the county no longer uses all of the water for irrigation, it wants to leave about half of it — or 4.3 cfs — in the river for the benefit of the riparian ecosystem.

If successful, Pitkin County would become the first entity in the state to legally leave its water in a river for environmental purposes via a long-term trust agreement with the CWCB, as allowed by a state law enacted in 200 via House Bill 08-1280.

“It is significant because it is the first long-term agreement since HB 1280,” said [Linda] Bassi of the CWCB.

More instream flow coverage here.