Snowpack news: South Platte Basin snowpack is tracking the 2002 line #codrought #cowx



Click on the thumbnail graphics for a trip down memory lane. I’ve posted the snowpack graphs for the South Platte River Basin from yesterday and for water year 2003. Check out the boost in snowpack from the record-setting snowstorm that started around St. Patrick’s day in 2003. Reservoir storage was very low after the 2002 drought episode and many water suppliers talk about how that one storm saved the day.

From the Boulder Daily Camera (William Callahan):

With only 0.27 inches of moisture and just 3.7 inches of snow, Boulder was way off normal levels. But 25 other Januarys had less than 4 inches of snow, and 36 other Januarys had less than 0.3 inches of moisture. Just recently, January 2003 had 0.5 inches of snow and 0.9 inches of moisture. So a dry January is seldom noteworthy. However, this year is different because its very dry January was preceded by just 20.4 inches of snow during the last half of 2012. Thus, the seasonal snow total now stands at 24.1 inches, which is just more than 50 percent of normal. Last winter had little snow, but reservoirs remained full. The fear has been that the reservoirs would be drawn down throughout 2012 and that if this winter is also dry, they won’t be replenished, intensifying Colorado’s drought.

At the beginning of January, the statewide snowpack was 70 percent of average, and the South Platte River Basin stood at 67 percent. By Jan. 23, the statewide average had dropped to 61 percent, and the South Platte to 55 percent. At that time, the drought monitor showed 13.5 percent of Colorado at the highest level, 5 (exceptional), 45 percent at level 4 (extreme) and the rest of the state at level 3 (severe). Heavy snows in the mountains during the last three days of the month pushed the statewide to 75 percent, and the South Platte to 57 percent. The U.S. seasonal (through April 30) drought outlook from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center has Colorado in the middle of a 12-state area where drought is expected to “persist or intensify.”

Drought news: ‘Early in 2002, we did not realize how bad it would get’ — Stacey Chesney #codrought


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

No water rationing is planned in Pueblo unless drought conditions severely affect flows in the Arkansas River next summer.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works initiated outdoor watering restrictions in 2002, but then increased the amount of water to avoid rationing. The strategy paid off in 2012, a year that was nearly as dry as 2002, because Puebloans did not see rationing.

“The board has made an investment of its customers’ money to allow them to use the water when it’s dry,” said Terry Book, executive director of the water board. “If we put in restrictions, we have to cut off extraterritorial water, and it just snowballs.”

The water board’s budget also is predicated on a certain level of use. Ratepayers are seeing the
benefit of greater-­than-anticipated water use last year in lower bills in 2013. The revenue is necessary to operate, maintain and improve the water system, Book said. “We still encourage customers to use water wisely,” he added.

Pueblo water customers have reduced the amount of water used per account by about 17 percent since 2002, an earlier study showed.

The trigger for restrictions would come if Pueblo’s 1874 water right fell out of priority, as it did in 2002. Water rights are determined by court decrees that recognize when water was first put to beneficial use. Some ditch companies — notably Bessemer Ditch and the High Line Canal — have rights senior to Pueblo’s 1874 decree. Pueblo also has several senior rights, but not with large amounts of water.

Last year, the water board used some of its water in storage to meet heavy demand in late summer and early fall. However, the board still has 27,000 acre­feet in storage and expects to accumulate more during runoff. The board has cut off one-­year leases that provide supplemental agricultural water in 2013 to build up storage.

Here’s a report about the drought panel at last week’s Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

When customers’ water is about to be cut off, the first impulse might be to use even more.
The solution for one water provider: Normal or nothing. “When we told them we were about to move to the next level, people used even more water,” said Diane Johnson of the Eagle River Water Conservancy District.

She was part of a panel of water providers who shared the lessons learned from the 2002 drought at last week’s meeting of the Colorado Water Congress. Stacey Chesney of Denver Water and Russ Sands of Boulder also spoke. The drought conditions of 2002 are similar to 2012 and could continue this year. Some cities already are in or considering outside watering restrictions.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works is not planning restrictions at this time. In general, the state is better prepared to deal with a short­-term drought, the panel agreed. “Early in 2002, we did not realize how bad it would get,” Chesney said. Following 2002, Denver pushed a goal of 22 percent reduction of per capita water use by 2016 and already has seen a 20 percent reduction, she said.

The latest climate briefing from Western Water Assessment is hot off the press #codrought #cowx


Click here to go to the Western Water Assessment website. Click through for all the cool graphics. Read ’em and weep if you’re in Colorado. From the website:


  • January precipitation was patchily distributed across the region; western Colorado, southeastern Utah, and north-central Wyoming ended up wetter than average, with most other areas drier than average
  • After storms in the last week of January roughly balanced out dry conditions the rest of the month, snowpacks remain below-average across Colorado and southeast Wyoming, and near- or above-average in Utah and the rest of Wyoming
  • The January 1 forecasts for spring-summer streamflow call for below-average flows in nearly all basins in the region; the February 1 forecasts that have been released thus far show a similarly dry outlook
  • The NOAA CPC seasonal climate outlooks, as well as the “SWcast”, continue to show a slight dry “tilt” for late winter and spring precipitation for the southern half of our region, but the one-month outlook for February has a wet tilt based largely on the storms forecasted for the next week

    January Precipitation and Temperatures, and Current Drought

    January saw a very uneven distribution of precipitation across our region, in both space and time. The first three weeks of January were quite dry, with two systems in the last week generating most of the month’s moisture. Most mountain areas in western and central Colorado ended up with above-average precipitation, as did eastern Utah and north-central Wyoming. Drier-than-average conditions predominated in southern Wyoming and, yet again, in eastern Colorado. The HPRCC Water Year Precipitation map shows that while January aided some areas, most of the region remains drier than average since October 1. Southeastern Colorado is still the driest area in the region, with less than 50% of average October–January precipitation.

    Perhaps the most notable aspect of January’s weather was the cold anomaly over most of Utah and portions of western Colorado, with monthly temperatures more than 10°F below average. Intrusions of Arctic air were followed by upper-level ridging and calm winds, leading to persistent surface inversions. Moab, Utah ended up with a record-cold January monthly average of 8.6°F, or 18°F below normal, and more than 5°F below the previous record. In northern Utah, a particularly strong inversion caused a serious air pollution episode from about the 18th to the 26th.

    The latest US Drought Monitor, representing conditions as of January 29, shows very little change in drought conditions since January 1. The vast majority of the region is still classified in severe (D2) or worse drought: Colorado, 100% (up from 95%); Wyoming, 86% (unchanged), and Utah, 66% (up from 64%).

    Current Snowpack and Streamflows

    The dry first three weeks of January saw regional snowpacks decline with respect to the typical trajectory—especially in Colorado, where this slippage was dramatic. But the final, snowy, week salvaged the month for most basins, bringing conditions close to where they were on January 1 in terms of percent of average. The NRCS Current Basin Snowpack map on February 1 shows that Colorado and southeastern Wyoming basins remain well below to below average. In the rest of Wyoming and in Utah, snowpacks are generally near-average or slightly above average. In Utah’s Wasatch Range, the mountain snowpack slipped to about 85% of average even as the urban areas and foothills experienced above-average snowfall, thanks to “upside-down” storms. The February 1 basinwide snowpack for the Upper Colorado River above Lake Powell was 84% of average, compared to 86% of average on January 1.

    In the maps of current streamflows in the three states, most gages are ice-affected and not reporting, as is normal for this time of year. The Green River near Greendale, UT gage, was in the 40th percentile, at 81% of the median flow for February 1.

    Spring-Summer Streamflow Forecasts

    See the previous briefing for details of the January 1 streamflow forecasts for spring-summer 2013. The general outlook for the region is drier than average, reflecting the snowpack anomalies. The next (February 1) streamflow forecast map should be posted by NRCS (and on the Dashboard) around February 10th; we expect no major changes in the regional outlook from the January 1 forecasts. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) has released their official February 1 forecasts here; there are slight improvements in the forecasted flows for the San Juan and Uncompahgre basins compared with January 1, but the forecasts are generally lower elsewhere in the Upper Colorado Basin and eastern Great Basin. IMPORTANT NOTE: While NRCS and NOAA continue to collaborate on streamflow forecasts, the forecast values are no longer being strictly coordinated between NRCS and some of the RFCs, including the CBRFC.

    Seasonal Climate and Drought Forecasts

    The latest monthly Climate Outlooks for February, released on January 31 by NOAA CPC, shows a wet tilt for most of Utah and western Colorado through February, reflecting the weather model guidance showing a tendency towards troughs (= moisture) over that area in the first half of February. It is also consistent with the wet forecast for our region seen in the 5-day QPF for the February 6–11 period. The latest seasonal Climate Outlooks released on January 17 by NOAA CPC continue to show a slight tilt towards drier-than-average conditions for the late winter and spring in the southern portion of our region, with the area of dry tilt covering more of Colorado and Utah than the previous outlooks. The CPC Climate Outlooks continue to show enhanced odds for above-normal temperatures for the winter and spring seasons, consistent with the long-term trend towards warmer conditions. The latest CPC Seasonal Drought Outlook released January 17 projects that the drought conditions across our region will persist, through at least April 2013, with a slight change from previous outlooks, in that some improvement is expected in far northern Wyoming.

    The latest PSD Precipitation Forecast Guidance (“SWcast”), released January 23 for January–March 2013 conditions, continues to forecasts a dry tilt in late winter for most of Utah and Colorado, with the strongest tilt towards dry conditions (>10%) in north-central Colorado—though the model skill is marginal in northern Colorado for this season. A modest tilt towards wet conditions is forecasted for far northern Utah. Overall, this dry outlook for Utah and Colorado is mostly unchanged from the forecast made in November, and is consistent with a continued cold North Pacific (PDO-) in conjunction with a warm North Atlantic (AMO+).

    As has been the case since last fall, the seasonal forecasts are not being influenced by ENSO, since the ENSO indicators continue to show ENSO-neutral conditions—though tipping most recently towards La Niña conditions—and the models in IRI’s mid-January ENSO Prediction Plume show a consensus towards ENSO-neutral conditions continuing through next summer.

    Rafting companies saw big drop in revenue in 2012 #codrought


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    Arkansas River rafting and summer tourism at the Royal Gorge Bridge took a huge hit in 2012. Rafting companies and the gorge posted double­digit drops in visitors in a year marked by the summertime Waldo Canyon wildfire and low Arkansas River flow. Rafting took a nearly 19 percent dive, the worst year since drought­stricken 2002.

    The number of boaters went from 208,329 in 2011 to 169,486 in 2012, according to a report by Colorado River Outfitters Association members Joe Greiner and Jody Werner. The decline in economic impact was not quite as harsh: about 16 percent. The drop­off in boating came during a summer marked by a weak economy, low water levels due to a drought and the wildfire. In 2002, visitation sank to 139,178. The rafting industry credits last year’s better numbers to a marketing push promoting the benefits of lower­flow rafting for first­timers and families.

    The industry’s outlook for this summer is brighter due to a slight upturn in the economy. However, the potential for continuing drought “weighs on the possibility of a full recovery,” the association reported.
    According to the group’s 2012 report: Last summer, the rafting industry brought in $20.5 million in direct expenditures to the Arkansas River corridor and a total economic impact of $52.5 million when factors such as meals, lodging and gasoline are considered. In 2011, the industry created $23.8 million in direct expenditures and $60.9 million in economic impact.

    “Colorado’s whitewater rafting industry took a solid hit in 2012. It was the largest drop we’ve seen since 2002 following similar drought and fire conditions throughout the state,” Greiner said in the executive summary. “The proactive education of consumers regarding the quality of lower water conditions helped improve river use over drought stricken 2002 levels.

    “Many families were able to experience rafting for the first time and consumer reviews were extremely positive regarding the quality of the experience. Although the Arkansas River has guaranteed flow targets that are augmented by large upstream reservoirs, river use was affected by the Colorado Springs (Waldo Canyon) fire,” Greiner reported.

    More whitewater coverage here.

    Sterling: New reverse osmosis treatment plant to be online by late summer


    From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (David Martinez):

    Some unexpected hang-ups have pushed back the time before residents receive the full benefits of the new water treatment plant until late summer. The plant has been filtering the city’s water since November, but the full 80/20 reverse osmosis (RO)-filtered water to regular filtered water mix will eke its way into Sterling’s system over the next several months…

    The water treatment plant will significantly lower uranium and pollutant levels, and significantly drop the hardness of the water.

    Most of the issues crews ran into concerned well and distribution issues, but one stood out: A thick, black, non-cohesive material in the well water was clogging up filters faster than expected. “We don’t know entirely what it is,” said Rob Demis, of Hatch Mott MacDonald, the company overseeing construction of the plant. He brought a bottle of it to show the council, showing it as fine black sediment layered at the bottom of clear ground water. After a couple of shakes, the water turned black and opaque. The material – 20 percent organic material and 30 percent manganese, with traces of other elements, such as iron and silicon – is also odorless, though Demis guessed it would have tasted “metallic” and “bitter.” The manganese gives the material its color.

    The raw water filter running now, which catches sediment down to the one-micron level, has caught the material at the five-micron level. Crews would change the filters every couple of days in November, but it’s since become less prevalent, which Demis credited to the city’s aggressive pipe flushing program. “We don’t know the origin. It may be coming out of the pipes. It may be coming out of the formations,” he said. “The good news now is we’re filtering it.”

    The plant also encountered issues with its distribution system, which wasn’t getting water out of the plant quick enough to the city’s distribution tanks to fill them. Demis said the plant quickly fills Sterling’s north and south tanks but doesn’t reach its west tank. Part of the problem might be buildup in the pipes over the years slowing water flow (like plaque clogging an artery, Demis said), but many of the pipes are also 100 years old…

    The plant had planned on having the ability to pump more than 7,900 gallons of water per minute, but right now it can only pump about 5,500. That means that of the treatment plant’s three pump levels – the third allowing the maximum amount of water to pump during peak use – they can only pump enough water to fulfill the first two…

    Water treatment crews have also been finishing construction on two deep water injection wells, which will deposit treated waste water more than a mile underground. One of the wells was dug at about 7,200 feet underground, as recommended by EPA estimates, while the second was dug to about 6,100 feet.

    Demis said the area’s geology hasn’t been fully explored, so the crew will need to test the area over time.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    ‘Ski areas’ water rights should be protected from federal infringement’ — Mike McLachlan (HD 59) #coleg


    From The Durango Herald (Mike McLachlan HD 59):

    On Monday, I attended the Colorado Water Congress and met with former Sen. Bruce Whitehead. Later in committee, we had a full discussion about the relationship between U.S. Forest Service attempts to link the ski area permit system to what some people consider an infringement on ski area water rights. One side of the debate wants to make this a full-fledged assault on all levels of the U.S. government. As a legislator who has a significant number of ski areas in his district, I listened earnestly to all the testimony and do understand that the ski areas’ water rights should be protected from federal infringement. Because the bill as currently drafted is so broad and so sweeping, I cannot support it in its current form, but if it is narrowed to the U.S. Forest Service and our Colorado ski area water rights, I will support House Bill 1013…

    On Thursday I also was privileged to attend and participate in a legislative panel at the Colorado Water Congress. As I told its membership, I continue to remain committed to bipartisanship and good government. I fully understand the responsibilities of a Western Slope legislator regarding the protection of our water rights, rivers and streams. It was good to see Sen. Ellen Roberts, Sen. Gail Schwartz, John Porter, Steve Fearn, Barry Spear, Steve Harris, Bob Wolfe, Billy Nesbitt, Frank Kugel and John McClow. I will continue my dialogue with the Colorado Water Congress to ensure that the water rights of the 59th District are fully protected.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.