Forecast news: Cold front will push through eastern Colorado today #codrought #cowx

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

A cold front will push through eastern Colorado today, spreading a moist and cooler airmass back across the region. This will bring an increase in clouds to the state, with a chance for rain and snow developing along and west of the Interstate 25 corridor. The chances for precipitation will then spread across the remainder of the state during the day, with isolated thunderstorms possible by late afternoon through the Plains. Area temperatures will be noticeably cooler, with highs warming into the 50s to low 60s across most locations.

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

***Unsettled conditions the next two days*** Two weather systems will impact the region this weekend. The first arrives today and brings a chance of showers with a slight chance of thunder, mostly over the western Colorado mountains. Snow levels will be high and around 8000 to 9000 feet. A strong cold front blows across the area on Sunday morning that will lower snow levels to around the mountain bases with occasional snow showers. Expect windy conditions for much of the area, but the strongest wind gusts will occur over northwest Colorado and across the mountains.

Snowpack news: San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan snowpack is at 83% of average, South Platte = 69% #codrought


From The Watch (Peter Shelton):

Water managers care only about the snow-water equivalent – what snow hydrologist Mark Rikkers calls the “snow bank.” How much water is up in the high country that can be counted on to flow into rivers, irrigate crops, fill reservoirs and recharge watersheds?

They measure the water stored in snow by river basin: the Upper Colorado River Basin, the Gunnison, the Dolores/San Miguel, the Yampa/White. And so far this water season the numbers aren’t looking great. “Pray for a good monsoon,” said Tri-County Water Conservancy District General Manager Mike Berry recently. “If we don’t have a wet spring, and rain in July and August, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Tri-County manages nearly all the water in the Ridgway Reservoir.

Right now, according to Phyllis Ann Philipps, the Colorado State Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the state has only received 73 percent of average snowfall (averaged for the last 30 years). And that number is just 83 percent of last year’s snowpack, as of March 1.

Reservoir storage statewide is at 71 percent of average, and 67 percent of the levels recorded last year. Reservoir levels were higher last spring after a snowy 2011, but many had to be drawn down significantly during the dry spring and summer of 2012. Berry estimated it would take springtime snow and rain (from now until the beginning of irrigation season) on the order of 130-140 percent of average in order to “bring us up to 100 percent.”

The southwest region is actually doing better than some other parts of the state. The combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins, as of March 1, have 83 percent of their normal snowpack. The big Eastern Slope basins, the Arkansas, South Platte and North Platte, are averaging 70 percent of normal between them. And normal, according to Rikkers (and corroborated by Berry) is changing. Every year, the 30-year average drops the oldest-year data and moves ahead one year. And as the climate is warming and drying, the average is warming and drying too. So, our 83 percent is relative to the average since 1983. Old timers will remember decades when “average” was considerably wetter.

Drought news: Buena Vista approves voluntary watering restrictions #codrought



From The Chaffee County Times (Maisie Ramsay):

The Buena Vista board of trustees approved voluntary restrictions on outdoor water use at a March 12 meeting. The restrictions “are the same as last year’s,” public works director Rich Landreth said.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill: Judge Robert Hyatt rules against Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A Denver District Court judge ruled Tuesday that the state health department did not abuse its discretion when setting a financial security for the clean up of the Cotter Corp. uranium mill here.

The suit, filed in 2010 on behalf of the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, disputed the amount of the total financial security set by state health officials alleging that it was set at $20.2 million when estimated costs for cleanup and decommissioning exceed $43.7 million.

The suit was seeking an order to require Cotter to post $54.3 million in financial warranty costs for the entire facility and direct the state health department to recalculate estimates of the total costs.

However, Judge Robert Hyatt ruled that he is, “Convinced that state health officials and Cotter engaged in a thorough analysis of the financial requirements for decommissioning of the mill and the decision to approve the final numbers was not arbitrary or capricious, an abuse of the agency’s discretion, unsupported by the evidence, or contrary to the law.” He entered a judgment in favor of Steve Tarlton and his employers.

Hyatt wrote in his 27page ruling that the “exhaustive process” led to his review of more than 3,000 pages of documents.

“We’re pleased the judge reached the conclusion that the department acted entirely properly,” said John Hamrick, Cotter Mill manager.

“It appears the judge has accepted the health department’s representation the state will work to fix all the problems we’ve identified,” said Sharyn Cunningham, co-chair of the citizen group. “He’s gonna let the process move forward and not going to interfere.”

Cunningham said some good things have come from the suit.

“The EPA is taking a more serious role, we have a new community advisory group, there have been health department personnel changes and the Governor’s office has pledged to maintain oversight on how the cleanup progresses. We are going to watch to make sure we see the plans brought to the community for input,” Cunningham said.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 195 cfs in the Blue River below the dam #coriver

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Today, March 14, we are upping the releases from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue River. We’ve got to keep downstream water rights whole, what we call “owing the river,” so we’re cranking releases up by about 40 cfs.

The first change was at 10 a.m., pushing releases from 155 cfs to 175 cfs.

The second change will be at 3 p.m. today, pushing up from 175 to 195 cfs. We’ll hold at 195 cfs until further notice.

Meanwhile, current inflow to the reservoir is around 130 cfs. Releases from the dam continue to slowly drop the water level of Green Mountain. There is a good chance the slow decline will continue until June, when snow melt run-off typically begins. Of course, much remains to be seen with the weather this spring and the condition of snow pack in the Blue River Basin.

Climate change: ‘Temperatures are shooting through the roof faster than we’ve ever seen’ — The Atlantic


From The Atlantic:

A study published in Science reconstructs global temperatures further back than ever before — a full 11,300 years. The new analysis finds that the only problem with Mann’s hockey stick was that its handle was about 9,000 years too short.

Colorado River: ‘Flows will be below average…as they have been for ten of the last 13 years’ — Brett Walton #coriver #codrought



From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

The mid-February forecast from the Bureau of Reclamation pegged the water year 2013 inflows to Lake Powell at 5.375 million acre-feet, or 53 percent of normal. Now, the March forecast is even smaller.

Regardless of how much water flows into Lake Powell, the Bureau is required under the basin’s operating rules to release at least 8.23 million acre-feet from the reservoir for downstream users. That means the reservoir will suffer a net loss of water and lake levels will drop.

By the end of September, forecasts show Lake Powell plummeting 9.8 meters (32 feet) in a 12-month period, matching the drop in elevation it suffered the year before.

If these forecasts hold, total reservoir storage on the Colorado River will be just 50 percent of capacity by the end of the water year in September, a level not seen since 2005, when Lake Powell dropped to record low levels.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Hannah Holm: ‘Is irrigation efficiency the answer to Western water woes?’


From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Drying up farm and ranch land is widely recognized as undesirable, but there’s a common belief that small improvements in irrigation efficiency could yield big benefits to other water users. Could it really? Animated discussions at recent water meetings, including the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, indicate that the answer is complicated.

First of all, many people assume that efficiency must be the same as conservation, which means using less water, which should mean more available for other users and/ or the environment. Right? Well, in the case of agricultural water use, not really.

When water is diverted from a stream and put onto the land, part of that water is taken up by plants, part of it evaporates, and part of it makes its way back to the stream. With flood irrigation, a lot of the water diverted from a stream is simply used to push water to the end of the ditch, after which it makes its way back to the stream. Seepage will also eventually return to a stream, in some cases sustaining late season flows. Increasing efficiency through a sprinkler or drip system may require less diversion of water out of the stream to transport water to the plants, but the plants will consume just as much as before.

To actually “save water” that can then be available to other uses, you have to reduce the amount of water that’s actually consumed, either by plants or through evaporation. That means changing to a less thirsty crop, reducing your acreage, or giving your plants less water than they really want — which is likely to lead to lower crop yields. Apart from measures to reduce evaporation and weed growth, there’s not really any way to reduce actual water use and keep getting the same production as before.

That doesn’t mean that irrigation efficiency improvements have no value. For the stretch of stream between the headgate and return flow, smaller diversions as a result of increased efficiency could mean the difference between a stream with fish and one without, one you can float and one you can’t.

More conservation coverage here.

‘Let’s celebrate clean water’ — John Fleck


From the NM Science blog at the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

Today’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Snow, a British physician who could reasonably be called the father of the science behind clean water. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it was Snow’s 19th century work linking sewage discharged into the Thames (and found contaminating London drinking water wells) and the devastation of cholera.

Storytelling about Snow’s work revolves around the Broad Street pump, a well in London used in the neighborhood north of Piccadilly Circus. Snow famously removed the pump’s handle to prevent people from using it, and cholera cases in the neighborhood quickly dropped off.

Here’s a look at John Snow from Peter Gieick writing for Science Blogs. Here’s an excerpt:

This week is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the man who would help settle, once and for all, the question of the cause of cholera. In the process, a legend would develop around him, an honorary society would be created in his name, websites would be created to discuss his role in water history, and a pub in London would be named after him.

More water pollution coverage here.

‘It is extremely difficult to…implement a long-term strategy for short-term transfers of water’ — Don Frick


From the Fischer, Brown, Bartlett & Gunn – the Northern Colorado Law Center blog (Don Frick):

I’ve been seeing a lot of renewed interest in developing strategies for temporary water transfers, strategies, from what I have seen, that I do not expect to be particularly successful. The ideas that I have seen are not particularly new or novel – indeed, there has been no substantive change in the law which would allow temporary transfers where it did not before. At the end of the day, under existing law, and the current water court environment, it is extremely difficult to successfully implement a long-term strategy for short-term transfers of water in Colorado.

More water law coverage here.

Greeley: Water utility officials worry about #soldiercanyon fire burn scar affecting Horsetooth Reservoir #codrought


From The Greeley Tribune:

In a scene reminiscent of last summer, acrid smoke hung in the air in Greeley on Friday night as an 800-acre wildfire, driven by erratic winds, threatened more than 50 homes in northern Colorado and prompted hundreds of evacuation orders.

Like this past summer, the fire got the attention of Greeley water officials.

“We are quite concerned. The fire on the Poudre last year blackened quite a bit of our Poudre supply,” said Jon Monson, Greeley Water and Sewer Department director. “The Lory State Park drains into Horsetooth. Now, Horsetooth Reservoir is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and that is a second supply, so if both of those supplies are compromised then we’d be focused more on the Greeley and Loveland system for our supple coming out of the Big Thompson. This could be a fairly significant problem for us.”

The fire began Friday west of Fort Collins and was burning west of Horsetooth Reservoir, near the scene of a large wildfire last summer that burned 259 homes and killed one person.

Firefighters saved two homes and a state park visitors center from flames, authorities said. They said no homes had been destroyed.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Department said 860 phone lines got automated calls ordering evacuations Friday, but some addresses have multiple lines and other numbers were cellphones, so the exact number of homes in the evacuation area was not known.

Some people believed to be hiking in Lory State Park were unaccounted for, but sheriff’s spokesman Nick Christensen said they were not believed to be in imminent danger. Park rangers were looking for them.

Some evacuations ordered earlier Friday were lifted.

The cause of the fire is under investigation and authorities had no estimate of when it would be contained.

“The winds are playing a major factor right now,” said Patrick Love, a spokesman for the Poudre Valley Fire Authority. “We’ve had variable and erratic winds all day long.”

The wind initially pushed the fire north, prompting authorities to evacuate neighborhoods on the northwest side of the reservoir.

But the winds suddenly shifted to the south, and deputies and state troopers quickly barricaded another neighborhood on the southwest side of the reservoir that hadn’t been officially evacuated.

“It’s pretty ridiculous to shut things down and not let anyone know,” said Mark Martina, a mortgage broker who was heading home to get his dog when he reached the new roadblock not far from his house.

When authorities began allowing some residents back in for brief visits to retrieve valuables, Martina said he planned to stay as long as necessary to collect birth certificates, guns and other important items.

“I’m not a complete idiot. I’m going to leave if it’s coming close,” he said.

Chicago resident Terry Jones and his family were in a vacation house they own when they saw smoke billowing toward them, and then officers pounded on their door and told them to leave.

Late Friday afternoon, as the sun turned hillsides pink and smoke obscured the reservoir, Jones was asked if he’d rather be back home in Chicago.

“No,” he said. “Not even with the fire.”

The fire came as much of the state dealt with drought conditions after a relatively dry winter. The snowpack in the mountains was low, leaving farmers wondering how many crops to plant and raising the possibility of lawn-watering restrictions along the Front Range.

Monson said the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District spent more than $100,000 last year trying to stabilize the soil from the High Park fire that goes into Horsetooth. Brian Warner, spokesman for the district said officials are monitoring the fire.

“We don’t have anybody up there right now. There’s not a lot we can do. We’re trying to stay out of the way, but obviously we’re paying attention to it because it’s right above our water supply.”