Drought news: Northern Colorado farmers are facing the uncertainty of being water short this season #codrought

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

With Colorado’s mountain snowpack still starved of water, Fort Collins isn’t sending its excess water to farmers this year. “I’m going to be 70 percent short of water,” [Eldon Ackerman] said. “I’m going to have to make some drastic decisions. It’s going to be a disaster, really.”[…]

The final word about how much water many farmers will be able to draw from the region’s reservoirs comes in April, but region agricultural producers are bracing for bad news as they make decisions about what and how much to plant because there isn’t as much water in the reservoirs as last year…

Drought is forcing farmers close to the foothills to fallow their land because they rely more on reservoir water and snowpack runoff than well water, said Colorado State University agricultural and resource economist James Pritchett. Farmers in far eastern Colorado rely on the Ogalalla Aquifer, preventing them from having to fallow their land.

There are 350,000 fewer acre feet of water sloshing around in the area’s lakes and reservoirs than there was a year ago — enough water to fill two reservoirs the size of Horsetooth Reservoir. And, the water locked up in the snow destined to drain into the Poudre and South Platte rivers is 29 percent below the normal level for this time of year…

One of the biggest reasons northern Larimer County farmers will be stuck with a water shortage this year is that Fort Collins isn’t allowing them to rent its water because the city’s water supply is taking a hit from both the drought and the effects of the High Park Fire…

After the High Park Fire destroyed the quality of water flowing down the Poudre, the city started taking nearly its entire water supply from Horsetooth Reservoir. Last year, the city was able to take about the full amount of water it is allowed to take from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, or C-BT.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District will decide in April how much C-BT water Fort Collins will be allowed to receive this year. Because of the drought and the weak snowpack, Fort Collins is likely be allotted between 50-60 percent of its allowable share of water, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said…

Even if Northern Colorado has a wetter-than-normal spring, all that water won’t be enough to make up for more than a year of drought, and it won’t be enough moisture for the plains to weather the normal late-spring dry season, said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. It takes more than one year to recover from a drought, he said, and the region is still in the midst of a severe one that is likely to continue.

Denver Water: Antero Reservoir to be drained for drought management, evaporative loss is the villain #codrought

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Here’s the release from Denver Water (via email):

Denver Water, in coordination with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, will close Antero Reservoir on May 1 to drain the reservoir to save water supply during the ongoing drought.

Antero Reservoir has the highest evaporation rate of any of Denver Water’s reservoirs, so draining and storing the water in Cheesman and Eleven Mile reservoirs will reduce system evaporation losses by about 4,000 acre-feet.

“We’re exploring as many ways as possible to be efficient with our water supply,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager for Denver Water. “Antero is a drought reservoir designed to provide water to our customers during a severe drought. Moving water from Antero to Cheesman will allow us to make the water available for our customers and reduce evaporation losses to our system.”

Denver Water is working closely with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to minimize the loss of fish during the drain and to allow the public to use the reservoir before it closes.

Beginning Wednesday, March 20, the bag and possession limit on trout at Antero will be increased from two to eight fish with no minimum size restriction. All other fishing regulations apply.

  • Immediately after the ice has melted off the reservoir, CPW staff will trap and relocate spawning trout.
  • Once the fish have moved off the shoreline and inlet areas, the draining of the reservoir will increase significantly. CPW staff will install a series of screens below the reservoir to capture fish as they leave the reservoir.
  • In March, the standard recreation regulations apply.
  • South: Open 24 hours a day and camping is permitted.
  • North: Open from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.
  • Beginning in April, Antero Reservoir will be open for recreational use from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. No camping will be permitted. After the ice has melted, only hand-launched vessels will be allowed. No trailered boats will be permitted.
  • “The fish relocation effort and stream flow management plan will be closely coordinated with Denver Water,” said Jeff Spohn, aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We have come up with a plan to successfully remove as many trout out of Antero as possible to stock in other reservoirs in Park County. On a positive note, the water from Antero will be delivered to Cheesman at a flow rate that will benefit the wild rainbow trout fishery below Eleven Mile Reservoir.”

    Drought conditions will determine when the reservoir can be refilled. The reservoir was also taken out of service to assist with water management during the drought that began in 2002.

    “We have a blueprint on how to successfully rebuild the fishery at Antero,” Spohn said. “We will be putting a lot of our efforts back into the reservoir once it begins to fill again, and we hope to see similar trophy trout fishing that we saw last time the reservoir refilled.”

    Wildlife concerns and questions regarding fishing at Antero can be directed to Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 303-291-7227. For questions regarding Antero operations, contact Denver Water at 303-628-6117.

    Snowpack news: Mid-month Arkansas and Rio Grande basins SNOTEL data #codrought

    Forecast news: Winter returns to the high country this weekend #codrought #cowx

    From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

    High pressure will begin to break down but dry conditions and warm temperatures will continue today. Disturbances in the westerlies will bring mountain snow showers and a chance of valley rain showers Saturday and Sunday. Snow accumulations of 4 to 8 inches will be common for the higher mountains of Colorado over the weekend. A few thunderstorms are also possible both days, along with windy conditions for Sunday. Temperatures will cool Saturday through early next week, but valley locations are expected to stay at seasonal to slightly above seasonal levels.

    Snowpack news: Watering restrictions are popping up around the east slope #codrought

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    Here’s a release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

    Despite recent snows in parts of Colorado, most of the state is in the second year of a severe drought that’s not getting better. The drought has led to low snowpack, above-average temperatures and low reservoir levels across the state. As a result, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners intends to declare a Stage 2 drought later this month, which means customers will have two assigned watering days a week beginning April 1. Commissioners discussed their intention during yesterday’s board meeting.

    “We’ve never seen conditions like this, and we are concerned about our water supply,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “Our reservoirs haven’t been full since July 2011. We need our customers’ help to reduce water use and keep as much water as possible in storage as we move through this year and into the next.”

    “Our goal this summer is to ensure water is available for public health and safety, while balancing the quality of life and economic vitality of our community,” Lochhead said. “Last year was dry, and this year has been, too. Ultimately, we need to be prepared for a potentially worsening situation in 2014.”

    The utility asks customers to be cautious with water use this spring. While April is a good time to get irrigation systems set-up and examined, they don’t need to be used yet. Instead, postpone turning on sprinkler systems and hand-water sloped areas of the lawn or sections that are receiving full sunlight. April is typically a cool month with some precipitation, so it may not be necessary to water lawns two days a week, which will help save water.

    Mandatory watering restrictions mean Denver Water customers may only water two days a week and must follow this schedule:

  • Single-family residential properties with even-numbered addresses: Sunday, Thursday
  • Single-family residential properties with odd-numbered addresses: Saturday, Wednesday
  • All other properties (multi-family, HOA, commercial, industrial, government): Tuesday, Friday
  • In addition, customers must follow these annual watering rules:

  • Do not water lawns between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Do not waste water by allowing it to pool in gutters, streets and alleys.
  • Do not waste water by letting it spray on concrete and asphalt.
  • Repair leaking sprinkler systems within 10 days.
  • Do not water while it is raining or during high winds.
  • Snowpack in the South Platte and Colorado River basins from which Denver Water receives water are 53 percent of average and 68 percent of average, respectively. That snow is what serves as Denver’s water supply.

    “This year, we all must do our part to save water indoors and outdoors,” said Lochhead. “Together, we need to save 50,000 acre-feet of water, or 16 billion gallons, by April 2014.”

    The utility plans to cut operating expenses, defer projects and tap cash reserves to help balance finances through the drought. A temporary drought pricing structure also is expected to be implemented, starting with May water use, to encourage customers to use even less water and help reduce revenue loss.

    The Board expects to declare a Stage 2 drought at its March 27 meeting, which will make official the mandatory watering restrictions and drought pricing.

    Use these conservation tips to help save water indoor and out.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    While several Colorado cities are putting in mandatory water restrictions, Pueblo West has implemented voluntary outdoor watering rules, while the Pueblo Board of Water Works is considering its own conservation moves as the drought deepens.

    Statewide, snowpack is only at 78 percent of average, while reservoir storage is just 71 percent of average. In the Arkansas River basin, snowpack is 74 percent of average, while storage is at 55 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s most recent update. “What we’re seeing so far hasn’t triggered restrictions based on water we have in storage,” said Paul Fanning, spokesman for the Pueblo water board. “We’re talking about voluntary restrictions, so that if the drought continues, we’ve had some practice.”

    The water board staff is still mulling possible action and should make recommendations to the board next week. “We still encourage people to use the Wise Water Use tips available on our website, and people have been watering lawns less since 2002,” Fanning said.

    Meanwhile, Pueblo West put odd-even water restrictions in place on March 1 on a voluntary basis. Residents were asked to restrict watering according to whether addresses end in an odd or even number. No watering is allowed on the 31st of any month.

    Denver Water and Fort Collins this week announced mandatory outdoor water restrictions to two days a week beginning April 1. Colorado Springs and Aurora are considering similar restrictions.

    Aurora already has some mandatory limits on outdoor use, but is looking at stricter controls as its reservoir levels drop. Aurora has been looking for water leases in the Arkansas River basin to supplement rights it owns, but no deals have been announced.

    Several other Northern Colorado cities have restrictions in place, including Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, South Adams and Brighton.

    From the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

    Denver Water, Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities are all contemplating strict drought restrictions, which have yet to be approved. Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney told the Denver Post the only way lawn-watering restrictions could be avoided in Denver is if the mountains were to receive at least 8 feet of snow by April…

    Snowpack in the South Platte and Colorado River basins from which Denver Water receives its supply are 53 percent of average and 68 percent of average, respectively. That snow serves as Denver’s water supply. Denver Water provides about one-third of the state’s treated water supply, serving most of the Denver metro area and suburbs…

    Meanwhile, Colorado lawmakers are also considering steps to cope with the drought. Legislators have tentatively approved 15 water storage and other projects that they said will help Colorado better plan for future dry spells. More than $70 million in water projects throughout Colorado are planned. The money will come from funds set aside for construction that have helped nearly 440 water projects since 1971.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable wants $300,000 to model diversions

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is backing a $300,000 study to develop a way to sort out complexities of water projects.

    The roundtable is applying for grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to fund a thorough analysis of water use.

    “The reason it’s needed is that everyone does planning for an average year, but everyone has to deal with wet years and dry years,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    The most extreme case in point were the 2011 and 2012 water years. In 2011, the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project brought over record amounts of water, and the next year yielded one of the lowest amounts ever.

    “We need an accounting tool that tells us how much water is available through native or imported sources, how much is in storage and how much can be exchanged,” Broderick said. The plan continues the roundtable’s regional planning efforts that try to incorporate multiple uses into projects.

    For instance, the timing of how water is moved for irrigation or municipal purposes can improve flows for rafting and fishing, as demonstrated by the Upper Arkansas River flow program started in 1990.

    The study would look at data back to 1982 and develop a report about how water was diverted as supplies varied from year to year. That would provide data for a water supply model that could be posted online to assist water users in planning, based on hydrologic conditions.

    “Eventually, it serves an educational purpose as well,” Broderick said.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.