NSAA v. USFS: ‘In the West, state water law and the rights it protects are sacred to westerners’ — Scott Tipton


Here’s the release from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-3) spearheaded a hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, [April 25, 2013], to draw attention to recent federal attempts to circumvent long-established state water law in the Western United States in order to hijack privately held water rights. With Colorado jobs and the economic health of rural communities at stake, Tipton has led the charge in Congress to protect privately held water rights in Colorado and other Western states.

Read Tipton’s opening statement.

In her testimony, Geraldine Link of the National Ski Areas Association, laid out what is at stake for Colorado’s economy should the federal government succeed in taking away privately held water rights that ski areas, communities and other businesses rely on for their livelihoods.

“Collectively, ski areas have invested hundreds of millions of dollars on water rights to support and enhance their operations…Water is crucial to future growth of ski areas and that future growth directly impacts the rural economies associated with ski areas. Ski areas are major employers in rural economies, employing 160,000 people, and help drive job creation in rural and mountain economies,” Link said. “US Forest Service (USFS) water clauses that demand transfer of ownership of ski area water rights to the United States substantially impair the value of these ski area assets…These types of water clauses provide a disincentive for ski areas to acquire more water rights in the future… If ski areas stop investing in water rights for the future, the outlook for the rural economies dependent on them would be bleak.”

Read Link’s full testimony.

The USFS is moving forward to implement a permit condition to require the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government, without any compensation, as a permit condition on National Forest System lands. Last year, the National Ski Areas Association filed suit against the Forest Service to block implementation of the permit directive. In December 2012, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado vacated the 2012 USFS directive, and ordered the agency to pay $125,000 to cover the Ski Area Association’s legal fees.

In January 2013, the USFS announced that it intended to initiate a public comment process as it once again ramps up efforts to implement a directive that would require the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government as a permit condition on National Forest System lands. The USFS justifies this policy as necessary in order to ensure that these water rights are not improperly sold off and used for other purposes, and to ensure that water is available for snow making and grazing.

Tipton asked Link if there has been a case of these water rights being sold or used improperly by the ski industry.

Link replied that this is a “made up issue,” and that there has been no such case. As such, she said that it’s believed that the USFS intends to use the water for other purposes, including endangered species protection, rather than for continued snowmaking and grazing as the agency has stated.

“The Agency’s most recent explanation for its policy which is, ‘saving the ski areas and the ski communities,’ is really just a cover for a longstanding objective of getting more water for the woods, for these other purposes,” Link said. “If the Agency were truly aiming to keep the water with the ski areas, why under its 2012 policy for example, which was struck down in federal court, was the Forest Service not willing to guarantee that the water would actually stay with the ski areas?”

VIDEO: Watch Tipton question the witnesses.

The implications of the USFS water grab extend past the ski area association and into the heart of rural America where farmers and ranchers rely on privately held and developed water rights to secure loans, as well as irrigate crops and livestock.

“This policy isn’t limited to ski areas. The Forest Service has also been implementing a similar requirement for grazing permits in several western states,” Tipton said. “Many of the ranchers I represent can’t afford drawn-out and costly legal battles with the Forest Service to protect what is rightfully theirs under state law.”

In addition to seeking the relinquishment of water rights through ski area permits, the USFS has begun implementing back door ways to control private water rights.

In his written testimony, Gary Derck, CEO of Durango Mountain Resort, told the committee that although the resort has been a good steward of the environment and its water rights, the Forest Service has repeatedly denied access to develop those water rights, jeopardizing those privately held rights under state law.

“A few years ago, the policies of the USFS took a distinct and concerning change of course. Local USFS officials began telling us that they were no longer in charge of making decisions relative to water rights and water access … and that direction/decisions on these matters was now coming from ‘higher up in the Forest Service,’” wrote Derck. “Apart from the obvious “taking” issue of our private water rights, we are concerned that it appears that our local USFS representatives have been directed to “stand down” and stop working collaboratively with us to help us with what we need to continue to make snow, operate/improve our business, maintain/grow our employment, and provide the recreational activities and services we currently provide for the Four Corners region and the town of Durango.”

Read Derck’s full testimony.

In response to Derck’s testimony, Tipton told the Committee, “This is nefarious and coercive, and it has to stop.”

To add to the list of federal threats to state water law, the Department of Interior recently issued Secretarial Order 3321 establishing the National Blueways System. This is a “source to mouth, watershed-wide” federal program about which little is known, and which has raised the fears of many local water conservation districts who are already doing an outstanding job of managing precious water supplies.

In February, Tipton joined 22 of his colleagues in urging Secretary Salazar to withdraw the Blueways Order, writing, “Water is the lifeblood of our communities, and it should be managed for the benefit of the community in a transparent fashion…Any designation by a federal agency that directly or indirectly attempts to manage the non-navigable headwaters of many of our nation’s rivers would be a usurpation of state authority.”

The Administration tuned-out this request and included funding in its FY2014 budget to expand the Blueways Program.

Russell Boardman, Supervisor of the Shoshone Conservation District in Frannie, Wyoming testified on the Blueways Program during the hearing.

“I would ask how a designation that requires no public notice, no comment opportunity and was created without coordination or consultation with affected landowners, local governments or states, could result in increased coordination…our district and all others in Wyoming are already coordinating with private, state and local entities and we are already promoting best practices and we are already sharing information and resources,” Boardman said. “We fail to see how a Blueways designation will enhance this. In fact, we are concerned in Wyoming that this designation will hamper these efforts by creating fear, confusion and controversy. Real conservation occurs at the grassroots level. If there is a commitment to grassroots conservation then local efforts like the ones implemented by our conservation district should be supported, rather than trumped by a Secretarial edict.”

Read Boardman’s full testimony.

“The bottom line is this: we continue to see a trend of federal intrusion into state water law which protects all of the uses we hold dear, from recreation to irrigation, domestic use and environmental protection. To undermine this system is to create risk and uncertainty for all Western water users,” Tipton said. “This isn’t a political battle, it’s a regional one. Water is the lifeblood of the West.”

From the Cortez Journal (Stephanie Dazio/Joe Hanel):

The hearing, entitled “Federal Impediments to Water Rights, Job Creation and Recreation: A Local Perspective,” did not include any witnesses from the U.S. Forest Service…

In Colorado, state law says water rights are a property right. Owners can use or sell the rights as they please, provided a water court approves of the water’s uses, the Herald previously reported.

Tipton, R-Cortez, grilled Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a March hearing about the topic, saying the struck-down directive was an attempt to circumvent state law. “The focus here is making sure that we use our forests … in the most appropriate way,” Vilsack said then. “We need to balance that with the interests of those who need the water for economic purposes,” he added, citing the ski industry.

State legislators rebelled against the practice this year and passed a resolution condemning the Forest Service for its policy.

But the Forest Service managed to scuttle a much more substantive bill, which would have changed Colorado water law to prohibit the federal government from demanding water rights in return for issuing land-use permits.

Undersecretary of Agriculture Harris Sherman, who oversees the Forest Service, personally called several state lawmakers and asked them to kill the bill. It has been sitting idle on the House calendar for two weeks, and its sponsor, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said he expects it to die when the yearly session ends in two weeks.

Sonnenberg has argued that the Forest Service policy takes direct aim at Colorado’s long-standing principle that water rights allow the owner to use or sell the water for any purpose anywhere in the state, as long as a court approves.

More NSAA coverage here.

Forecast news: The melt out has started but a storm expected today may boost snowpack, red flag warning south #COdrought

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

A Red Flag Warning is in effect for all of southeastern Colorado except for northern El Paso, Teller, and Kiowa counties from 11AM to 8PM. Expect very warm and dry conditions today across the region. Temperatures will be in the upper 80s across the I-2 corridor and eastern plains, in the mid 70s in the San Luis Valley, and in the 50s and 60s in the mountains. Skies will be partly cloudy most of the day, thickening late this afternoon. Light showers are possible across the central mountains and Colorado Springs area this evening.

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

Changes are ahead today into Wednesday as a strong cold front pushes southward through the region. It will be very warm and windy across the central and southern half of the area today, well ahead of the front, with a Red Flag Warning in effect for west central and southwest Colorado as well as wind advisories in effect for the central and southern valleys. Blowing dust will occur along with the strong winds this afternoon. Showers with isolated thunderstorms are expected along and behind the front this afternoon/evening, with much colder air moving in on Wednesday. By Wednesday afternoon, most of the precipitation will have ended with only scattered snow showers for the northern and central mountains. Well above normal high temperatures today will drop some 15 to 20 degrees for Wednesday. Fair conditions with gradual warming is anticipated Thursday and Friday.

Snowpack/drought news: Statewide snowpack = 84% of avg, down from 92% last week #COdrought



Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map and the statewide basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

The weekly Roaring Fork snowpack report issued by the Roaring Fork Conservancy on Friday indicated that current snowpack for the watershed is 112 percent of normal for April 26. However, that statistic is a bit misleading and needs to be put in perspective with the winter season as a whole, the conservancy also said in its report. “Due to cold temperatures and late season snows, snowpack has been rising instead of falling,” according to the report.

Snowpack usually peaks around April 6 before the seasonal melt-off begins. However, this year’s peak snowpack within the Roaring Fork watershed came on April 24 following a recent series of snowstorms that brought heavy, wet snows to the high country.

But, “At peak, we still only had 87 percent of average snowpack” for the season, the report emphasized. The snow-water equivalent also ranged in the most recent report from 96 percent of the to-date median on Schofield Pass in the upper Crystal River drainage, to 118 percent of the median in the upper Fryingpan Valley. “As a result of all these factors, every river in the watershed is flowing less than 50 percent of the median flow,” the report also said.

Statewide, the high country snowpack was still at 95 percent of normal for Friday’s date, and 87 percent of average for the season, according to Mage Hultstrand of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver. As of Friday, the Colorado River Basin remained just above the 100 percent threshold for both the normal and seasonal average, Hultstrand said.

Compared to last year, though, there’s more than three times as much snow still packed away in the high country than there was on April 26, 2012. Colorado had one of its earliest peak runoffs ever last spring.

2013 Colorado legislation roundup: Drought helps drive the legislative agenda


From The Colorado Statesman (Marianne Goodland):

The work for the 2013 legislators began last summer, with the annual interim water resources review committee. The group of 10 legislators traveled the state last summer and fall, hearing about water conservation and legal issues on water rights. The end result was a recommendation for eight measures for 2013: two joint resolutions and six bills. Three other proposed bills were not approved by the entire com-mittee, but members of the committee sponsored two of those bills anyway.

The group’s legislative agenda was its most aggressive since the 2002 decision by the General Assembly to make it an annual permanent interim committee. Six bills and two resolutions came from the committee’s summer work, and two other bills that were not adopted by the committee got to the legislature anyway, introduced by committee members…

A drought can make legislators do things that they haven’t been able to do in the past, and that may hold best for HB 1044, which would authorize the use of graywater. Legislators, including those on the interim water committee, have tried for several years to get a graywater statute into the books, without success. This year, however, the General Assembly is just one more vote away from making it part of the state’s conservation efforts…

Perhaps the most significant bill on water rights was Senate Bill 13-074, which clarifies water court decrees issued prior to 1937; according to sponsors, that’s most of the decrees.

Prior to 1937, some decrees did not specify the amount of acreage that would be irrigated under a water right; SB 74 says that in a dispute, the court could rely on the historical acreage irrigated in the first 50 years after the decree was entered. Supporters claimed that farmers have counted on that water for generations, and that it has substantial value, including for estate planning purposes.

Opponents, including the Colorado Water Congress, claimed it might harm senior water rights and intends to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s unusual for the CWC to oppose anything coming from the interim committee, according to attorney Steve Simms. He said that the water courts have faced virtually every possible scenario on water rights during the past 100 years, and in 95 percent of those cases, they can go back to the original intent of the decree and figure out how much acreage was to be irrigated. SB 74 says “if you cheat and get away with it, we’ll legitimize it as long as you can hide it long enough,” Simms said.

State Water Engineer Richard Wolfe said there are more than 16,000 water decrees. He said he could not estimate how many would be affected by SB 74 without reviewing each one individually. The bill was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on April 4…

SB 75 was signed into law by the governor on March 15. It prohibits reductions in the amount of water allocated when a user has undertaken conservation measures. Sponsors, including Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, explained that farmers are implementing better irrigation systems and techniques for water use, but they should not have their water allocations reduced as a consequence, particularly in drought situations.

SB 19 is another one of the bills not supported by the interim committee but that got onto the legislative calendar anyway. The bill, in its final form, applies to three water districts on the western slope, and provides opportunities for conservation, according to Schwartz, its primary sponsor. Some mountain water districts have voluntarily curtailed water use in order to maintain river flows, according to attorney Kristin Moseley, who represented the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. SB 19 encourages voluntary curtailments without penalizing the water user long-term by reducing their water diversion rights, Moseley said. SB 19 has passed the General Assembly and is awaiting signature from the governor…

SB 41 also deals with water rights and conservation, and another state need: firefighting. State water law is basically “use it or lose it,” and it includes a variety of needs that are considered “beneficial use,” such as irrigation, dust suppression, recreation and domestic. However, water storage isn’t among the approved uses under state law, and that was verified in 2011 by the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court, in stating that storage is not a beneficial use, could have forced the state water engineer to empty reservoirs every year. SB 41 reverses the Supreme Court position to allow water storage as a beneficial use, and it also adds firefighting to that list. The governor signed the bill into law on April 8.

There are two major water bills still moving through the process: HB 1248 and HB 1316.

HB 1248 is the legislature’s attempt to save water rights on agricultural land; it sets up a pilot program on fallowing agricultural land and letting that water be used for municipal purposes. The bill is based upon concerns that Colorado could lose more than a half-million irrigated acres statewide and basins could lose up to 35 percent of their irrigated acreage, all by 2050. “If we do nothing, ‘buy and dry’ becomes the default for meeting 21st century water needs,” according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Fischer. “Buy and dry” refers to the practice of permanently selling off agricultural water rights for development purposes.

Under HB 1248, the Colorado Water Conservation Board would authorize up to three pilot programs that would allow for temporary leasing of agricultural water rights, for up to 10 years, for four river districts: the South Platte, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande and certain portions of the Colorado. It doesn’t solve long-term water needs, but according to attorney Peter Nichols, it would create a short-term supply for municipalities during times of drought. The bill is awaiting Senate action.

The last major bill is HB 1316, which passed the House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee 6-5 on Thursday and ends an exemption for the largest oil and gas field in Colorado and increases groundwater testing. Currently 25 percent of all drilling activity and the most intense growth of development and applications for new drilling occurs in the Greater Wattenberg Area (GWA) in northern Colorado. This month, of the 28 spills that have been reported to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, 15 occurred in the GWA.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

CFWE: ‘Colorado’s water is important to the state, but it also impacts the rest of the country’ — Caitlin Coleman


From The Colorado Statesman (Caitlin Colemen):

Colorado’s water is important to the state, but it also impacts the rest of the country — we are a headwaters state with water flowing from our mountains to nourish 19 states and the Republic of Mexico. Our water matters. If Colorado has a dry year, or pulls more than our allocation of water from the state’s rivers, our downstream neighbors will feel the effects. This has always been true, but as populations continue to grow and we experience more frequent hot and dry years in the West, competition for water is going to intensify and those choices we make become increasingly grave. It’s important to understand the implications of water use on a personal and policy-level…

…the state often sees new policy-makers who need to quickly learn water policy; this year there are eight new legislators on the House Agriculture Committee. “They’re certainly dealing with a variety of complex topics, everything from climate to groundwater policy to water planning,” [Doug] Kemper says.

Making those complex topics digestible is why the Colorado Foundation for Water Education exists — to help all Coloradans ‘speak fluent water.’ That means knowing where your water comes from, where it goes, who else depends on it and using that background to make informed decisions. The nonprofit started in 2002 as the result of legislation and was backed by financial support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. As Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs says, water professionals came together with the shared sentiment that Colorado needed an organization focused on nonbiased statewide water education. “We can point to a law that the legislature passed that is unlike anything else that I know about in the water field,” Hobbs says. “The fact that the state of Colorado has decided to support a non-advocacy, nonpolitical water foundation to communicate with people is extraordinary.”

I consider Ms. Coleman a friend and teacher. She is the primary blogger at Your Water Colorado Blog. (Disclaimer: I helped her start the blog using WordPress software.)

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here and here.

SDS: ‘My central issue is that we need a concrete plan to identify stormwater needs’ –Terry Hart


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County commissioners want Colorado Springs to explain its stormwater plan as soon as possible, and hinted Monday that a hearing on the 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System could be necessary if answers aren’t forthcoming. “We as a community are very concerned that when the stormwater enterprise disappeared, the conditions in the 1041 permit disappeared,” Commission Chairman Terry Hart said. “The community has been patient.”

Colorado Springs City Council in 2009 eliminated its stormwater enterprise and $13 million annual funding for identified needs. Since then, a new majority of the council has been elected in 2011 and 2013, and Steve Bach was elected mayor under a new governance system. A regional stormwater task force has formed, but apparently it does not have Bach’s support and it won’t begin making recommendations on funding nearly $1 billion in projects until July at the earliest.

At a workshop Monday, commissioners reviewed several parts of the 1041 permit, including revegetation of the pipeline scar through Pueblo West and Walker Ranches and the potential for acceleration of $50 million in payments for improving Fountain Creek. But the big issue was stormwater. The commissioners want an accounting of which projects were on the Colorado Springs stormwater list, what was addressed when the fee was in place and what remains to be done. “My central issue is that we need a concrete plan to identify stormwater needs and how they are going to pay for it,” Hart said.

Colorado Springs Utilities has asked Pueblo County to wait until July to hold an explanatory meeting, in order to allow stormwater task force committees to complete their work.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Parker Water and Sanitation District board is evaluating joining with Aurora and Denver in the WISE project


From the Parker Chronicle (Chris Michlewicz):

The Parker Water and Sanitation District board of directors will hear a presentation later this month from new manager Ron Redd, who will recommend that the district enter into WISE, the Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency project. Six members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, including Pinery Water and Wastewater, the Cottonwood Water and Sanitation District and Stonegate Village Metropolitan District, committed to WISE by signing intergovernmental agreements in late March. The agreements will bring nearly 7,000 acre-feet of recycled water to the south metro area…

The Parker Water and Sanitation District board asked Redd to examine the possibility of buying 500, 1,000 or 1,500 acre-feet through the WISE project. He was expecting to receive the results of a cost analysis on April 5 to determine the possible financial impacts. Any rate hikes on customers would likely be implemented incrementally and equate to about 2.5 percent to 3 percent per year, Redd said, cautioning that those figures are preliminary. The cost of WISE water increases annually over an eight-year period.

It would be relatively easy, Redd said, to move the reclaimed WISE water from Aurora to Parker if the district can come to an agreement to use a pipeline along E-470 owned by East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District. If the board gives approval, the intergovernmental agreement would be signed by late May…

Rueter-Hess Reservoir, which contains 5,700 acre-feet of water and was built to store 70,000 acre-feet, will be paid off by the time the Parker Water and Sanitation District takes on more debt to build pipelines to transport the water that will be needed for the future.

Meanwhile, Centennial has inked an IGA with the WISE Partnership. Here’s a report from Ryan Boldrey writing for the Highlands Ranch Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

Centennial Water and Sanitation District was one of six members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority to sign an IGA this past week committing to more renewable water by way of the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership. Through the agreement, Aurora Water and Denver Water will provide roughly 7,000 acre-feet of fully treated water annually to participating SMWSA members and deliver it in phases, starting in 2016. As part of the IGA, the participating South Metro WISE entities have agreed to fund new infrastructure that will move the water from Aurora’s Binney Water Purification Facility to its end locations. “A region-wide water solution makes more sense than having each water entity fending for themselves to source, treat and deliver renewable water to customers,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of SMWSA. “We’re excited about the progress we’re making through WISE towards transitioning the region from nonrenewable groundwater to renewable water.”

Hecox said that the agreement helps provide SMWSA with about a third of the necessary water that participating entities will need long-term. From here, work will continue on the Chatfield Reallocation Project as well as of other options and alternatives to bring more water to the region…

For Centennial Water specifically, it’s another step toward cementing a long-term supply and not relying as much on groundwater or leased water. “We’ve got many years of full supply, but some of that full supply comes from leases that are not long-term,” said Centennial Water and Sanitation District General Manager John Hendrick. “We want to add to our portfolio with long-term or near-permanent surface water sources…

Other SMWSA members committing to the project at this time are Cottonwood Water, Meridian Metropolitan District, Pinery Water, Rangeview Metropolitan District and Stonegate Village Metropolitan District. Hecox said he expects Dominion, Inverness, Castle Rock and Parker water districts to sign the IGA by the end of April. SMWSA members not expected to take part in the IGA include: Castle Pines Metro, Castle Pines North, East Cherry Creek Valley, and Arapahoe.

More WISE coverage here.

Conservation: Right Plants Right Place Help to Save Water and Save Money #COdrought

Thanks to the Douglas County Water Resource Authority for this video link:

Forecast news: Storm on the way Tuesday into Wednesday #COdrought #COwx

Snowpack/drought news: Denver Water sees a drop in consumption for early spring #COdrought




Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current US Drought Monitor, the current drought outlook from the Climate Prediction Center and the current statewide snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

On average, Denver Water’s customers use 120 million gallons in March. This year that figure dropped by 16 million gallons. For the first 17 days of April, customers used 40 million gallons less water — 105 million instead of the normal 145 million. That’s more than 21 percent less water used for the early spring period…

Denver’s weather-monitoring site at Denver International Airport has received 20.4 inches of snow in April, a month when it normally gets 9. Closer to the mountains, Wheat Ridge has collected 29.5 inches this month, according to the National Weather Service. In March, Denver received 23.5 inches of snow, helping boost the city’s total for the season to 75 inches, way above the average tally of 57.5, according to the weather service’s data.

From The Wet Mountain Tribune (Nora Drenner):

This week’s snow/water equivalent is 15 inches or 71 percent of average. The average for this time of year is typically 21.1 inches. The current Arkansas River basin-wide snow/water equivalent is 80 percent of average…

The precipitation measurement is yearly snow, rain, hail and sleet. This week’s year-to-date precipitation is 18.8 inches or 79 percent of average. The average for this time of year is 23.9 inches.

The basin-wide year-to-date precipitation is currently 72 percent of average for the Arkansas River Basin, while the snowpack stands at 79 percent of average.

Statewide, snowpack levels are at 90 percent of average, based on the following averages for the state’s eight river basins: Upper Rio Grande 70 percent; San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan, 71 percent; Arkansas 79 percent; Gunnison, 88 percent; South Platte 88 percent; White/Yampa 98 percent; North Platte 102 percent; and Colorado, 103 percent.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Bruce Bosley):

The South Platte communities from Kersey to Sterling have received from 2.66 to over 3.13 inches total precipitation this year so far. Greeley, Iliff, and Crook weather stations have recorded less total precipitation: 1.44″, 1.78″ and 2.32″ respectively.

These same storms have missed much of the high plains south and east of the South Platte Basin. In this area, Akron and Holyoke have received the most: 1.43″ and 1.38″ respectively. Farms south and east of there have missed many of these storms, getting just a fraction of the moisture during this same period. Yuma, Wray, Burlington, Stratton and Last Chance weather stations have received less than 0.8 of an inch this year.

Dryland winter wheat fields in the High Plains region and further south are struggling to survive. March and April precipitation has helped fields located in the South Platte basin to catch up to seasonal average soil moisture reserves after the lingering effects of the 2012 drought. The lack of precipitation for this same period south and east of the South Platte Basin has further resulted in droughty soils. The freeze injury on the wheat plants is only part of the challenges that fields in this area have to cope with.

Making matters worse for the high plains farmers is that, while wheat is their No. 1 crop, the continued drought may prevent them from planting corn, millet, sunflowers and other summer crops unless they get favorable rains later this month through early June.

Here’s an editorial about Aurora’s water customer reactions to the city’s drought mitigation efforts from The Aurora Sentinel. Here’s an excerpt:

Here’s the problem. For the past decade, as Aurora water and tap rates have climbed ahead, and far ahead, of other metro-area water rates, city officials have assured everyone that the much ballyhooed Prairie Water Project, which cost about $660 million, would “drought harden” the city’s water system, preventing water shortages during lean snow-pack years. The fear of going dry was instilled in city lawmakers after a sustained drought at the turn of the century, prompting a complex marvel that pumps South Platte water miles downstream of Aurora back up to the city.

Here’s the public-relations problems Aurora has painted itself into:

Each time city council members approved water rate hikes, they lauded the Prairie Water project publicly for protecting the city during droughts. In 2010, water rates increased by 7.5 percent over 2009, in 2009 they increased by 8 percent, and in 2008, 2007, and 2006 there was a 12-percent increase. In 2003 and 2004 water rates increased by 15 percent over the previous years to pay for the Prairie Waters project.

It was a lot of rate hikes, and a lot of bragging. Last year, the city controversially agreed to sell water to Andarko for fracking, sell water for bottling, lease water to other cities, and kept bragging about how lucky city residents are for having invested in the Prairie Waters Project.

City residents are feeling so lucky right now as they look at big water bills and big water restrictions, the same restrictions other metro-area cities must endure without the financial burden of the magnificent Prairie Waters Project…

But for most residents, the perception is that Prairie Waters did nothing to “drought harden” the water system, but it did plenty to hike their water bills. They have nothing else to conclude since they’re under the same watering restrictions as their municipal neighbors paying much less for their restricted water…

The reality is, Aurora’s water system and problems are hugely complicated. Even though the city is netting more potentially potable water, it needs more local storage. And the reality is, we don’t have more storage, we can’t afford to build more storage, and the city’s available water situation isn’t as dire as Aurora officials are making it out to be.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A Bureau of Land Management official says recent precipitation has boosted the prospects for reseeding efforts taking hold in the area of the Pine Ridge Fire, and he is hoping for more moisture. “This last storm that we got, where we got the snow here in the valley, was very timely because it was starting to dry out,” said Jim Dollerschell, a rangeland management specialist for the BLM in Grand Junction.

Last summer’s Pine Ridge Fire burned some 14,000 acres near De Beque in the largest fire ever within the Grand Junction BLM office’s jurisdiction. Continuing dry weather last year limited seed germination of a temporary, quick-growing cover crop. The BLM this year did aerial seeding involving a variety of vegetation, mostly native, with an eye toward longer-term stabilization. Dollerschell said he visited the area a few weeks ago and some grass seedlings were sprouting. With the recent storms being followed by warmer temperatures, he’s expecting more growth now.

Seeing some germination has been promising. He’s hoping for rain to get through May and June, with the expectation that the vegetation then benefits from monsoon moisture in July and August. “June is a tough month, so dry and hot. If we can get plants up pretty good before that hits, they’ll stand a pretty good chance of surviving,” he said.

The susceptibility to erosion was demonstrated shortly after the fire occurred. A storm resulted in ash and debris reaching the Colorado River. The Clifton Water District shut down its river intake for more than a day. Part of the problem is that a lot of the burned area consisted of solid sagebrush or piñon-juniper forest, without much existing understory vegetation that could grow back after the fire, he said. He said that with the time it will take for the reseeding to take hold, “nothing’s really going to be too stable up there for another year or two.”

The Barr Lake State Park May/June Oasis newsletter is hot off the press


Click here to read the newsletter.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

Telluride’s water system upgrades $500,000 over budget this year


From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

Council had originally budgeted $6.5 million for the 2013 portion of the ambitious project, which aims to provide a state-of-the-art water distribution and treatment system to ensure a reliable, high-quality water supply for the Town of Telluride. This number, however, did not incorporate the so-called Falls Crest Diversion outlined in the Comprehensive Settlement Agreement which the town and Idarado entered into late last year. The agreement brought a 20-year legal battle over water rights between the two entities to an end.

The elaborately engineered Falls Crest Diversion brings one source of water from Bridal Veil Basin via pipeline across the cliff face directly below Bridal Veil Power Station to tie into the tailrace (where another source of water comes out of the turbine). The water then flows into a collection system vertically down toward Black Bear Road, eventually reaching the Pandora Water Treatment Plant currently under construction. The CSA calls for Idarado to contribute about a quarter of the cost for the Falls Creek Diversion – roughly $125,000 – with the Town of Telluride picking up the rest of the tab.

Also not included in original cost projections for 2013 were the “zero-discharge” processes that are an essential part of this project as it has been negotiated in the CSA. Initially, Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud explained, the design for the water treatment plant included a discharge component that would release some untreated water into Marshall Creek. The CSA’s zero-discharge requirement scuttled that plan. “There won’t be anything coming out of the plant except clean water,” Ruud explained. “This did add considerably to the expense of the plant.”

Beyond the cost overruns for construction in the current year, council also discussed the fact that the overall construction cost for the project (including the small hydro component) is estimated to come in at around $15 million – significantly more than the $10 million bond approved by Telluride voters to pay for the project in 2005. This money, mobilized in 2010, has gone toward improvement of complicated diversion and conveyance infrastructure over the past two years that is intended to get the water from Bridal Veil Basin to the site of the new Pandora water treatment plant. Last fall, the Telluride Town Council approved an additional $2 million transfer of Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) funds from the Capital Improvement Fund to the Water Fund to cover additional costs for the project through 2013…

Despite of the Pandora Water System Project’s hefty and ever-mounting price tag, council generally agreed in the end that it was a price worth paying. “I am thankful that past council members made the decision to get us started,” said Councilor Ann Brady. “Imagine if we were just starting this project, with the climate change we are facing now. Thank goodness the people before us took the step (of securing the $10 million bond). Even though it was skimpy, at least it got us started.”

Clifton echoed Brady’s sentiment, adding, “This will bring the town well into the future in terms of our domestic water supply.”

More infrastructure coverage here.

2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-144 (Authorize Graywater Use) passes state Senate Ag committee #COleg


From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

[Patti] Mason says water rights concerns, specifically the idea that every drop of rain is already bought and paid for, has kept state lawmakers from loosening their grip over graywater usage, despite the fact that using it would help conserve the precious resource…

Senator Ted Harvey, a Republican from Highlands Ranch, agrees. “The bill is different from the one last year,” Harvey says. “This is very voluntary. It does not require local water providers to regulate it, so it’s not a mandate on water providers.” Harvey, who supports the bill, says water conservation is increasingly on the mind of lawmakers at the State Capitol. “This is not a partisan issue; water is never a partisan issue,” said Harvey…

Patti Mason says the graywater bill has a pretty good chance of passing. But she says it’s just the first step in educating lawmakers about the full potential of graywater use.“I do think that broadening the community’s ability to capture precipitation is next,” said Mason. “There are examples of existing policy in place that has allowed for precipitation harvesting to take place in limited scale. “

The graywater bill easily passed through the House, and was approved unanimously in its first Senate hearing. If the bill is approved by both chambers, it would become law later this year.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Parachute Creek sprill: ‘We don’t see any particularly large (red) flags right now’ — Guy Patterson #ColoradoRiver


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Dilution should protect De Beque from benzene contamination in an upstream tributary of its water supply, the Colorado River, the town’s manager says. “We don’t see any particularly large (red) flags right now,” Town Manager Guy Patterson said Thursday.

The river is the town’s sole source of potable water, and De Beque is about 10 miles downstream from Parachute Creek, the site of benzene contamination from what Williams says was a natural gas liquids leak from a pipeline leaving its gas processing plant.

Groundwater and soil contamination involving thousands of gallons of hydrocarbons was discovered last month, but benzene hadn’t been found in the creek until last week. However, the benzene levels remain below the state drinking water standard of 5 parts per billion in Parachute Creek. Also, no benzene has been detected where the town of Parachute diverts its irrigation water supply 2.7 miles downstream of the leak source area, or at the creek’s mouth at the Colorado River.

“Since we’re much further downstream it looks like we’re safe but we’re continuing to monitor the situation,” Patterson said.

Like others, De Beque was concerned about a lack of notification about the incident when it was first discovered. Officials first learned of it through media accounts. But Patterson said the town is now being kept up to date about surface water test results.

Williams said Thursday it has completed installing a water aerator in the creek to remove benzene and other volatile organic compounds. Installation of similar systems making use of what are called air sparging devices are either pending or nearly complete in both the creek and underground along the creek bank where a trench also is being built to try to keep benzene-tainted groundwater out of the creek.

Williams has installed another well for recovery of liquid hydrocarbons, and two more are planned. It has continued to drill monitoring wells to delineate the extent of contaminated groundwater.

The highest benzene measurement in the creek so far was 3.9 ppb, on Tuesday. The high reading Thursday was 3.2 ppb, with additional detections of 1.4 and 1.3 ppb at the next test locations downstream.

The state Water Quality Control Division doesn’t consider the creek a drinking water supply, and has set a maximum benzene standard in the creek of 5,300 ppb to protect aquatic life.

While the creek is used for irrigation and livestock graze near it and drink from it, the division hasn’t established agriculture-based standards for organic chemicals.

“However, in general, aquatic life and drinking water uses are much more sensitive than agriculture uses, meaning that standards established for those uses are much more stringent,” said division director Steve Gunderson, who also noted that benzene typically dissipates quickly in streams.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

The responsibility of overseeing the investigation and cleanup of the natural gas liquids leak near Parachute will shift from state oil and gas regulators to health officials, authorities said Saturday. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the state Department of Public Health and Environment have agreed that the health department will assume primary jurisdiction, according to Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Williams has said thousands of gallons of natural gas liquids leaked from a faulty pressure gauge. Benzene has been discovered in Parachute Creek and in groundwater.

Meanwhile, Garfield County will hold a 6 p.m. community meeting Monday about the leak. Representatives from four agencies will answer questions. The event will be at the Grand Valley Fire Protection District building, 0124 Stone Quarry Road, in Battlement Mesa.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Drought/snowpack news: Eagle County moves up to D1, Oy Vey, Rio Grande Basin #COdrought




Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current US Drought Monitor, the current drought outlook from the Climate Prediction Center and the current statewide snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

During a week in the middle of this month, the snow-measurement site on Vail Mountain recorded 5 feet of heavy, wet snow. The snowfall through March and April, and especially in April, actually moved the needle on a drought scale that for more than a year has pointed resolutely toward dangerously-dry conditions. That needle in Eagle County has moved in just the past couple of weeks from D3 — “extreme” drought — to D1 — “moderate” drought…

“When we moved into moderate drought 15 months ago, it was a wake-up call,” Eagle River Water and Sanitation District spokeswoman Diane Johnson said. “Now, at least temporarily, the situation has improved.”

The improvement in the west’s water situation led one participant in a weekly conference call about drought conditions to wonder if the region might not be on the verge of a repeat of 1983, when late spring snow and a fast melt-off led to the first, and only, use of the overflow system at the Hoover Dam. That isn’t likely — snowpack in the region is just barely reaching or exceeding normal levels — but the speed of the seasonal warm-up could lead to some flooding…

Forecasts aside, the drought’s effects continue to linger, particularly soil moisture. Soil moisture is a key element of fire danger because once vegetation dries out, re-moistening those plants can be time consuming. Dry ground also means that snow on hillsides doesn’t always end up in streams and reservoirs, since ground takes its share first.

More from the Daily:

Until snow on the mountains melts, area streamflow is still very low. Here’s a look at Friday’s report from several measurement stations in the valley:

• Black Gore Creek: 26 percent of the historic median for that date.
• Gore Creek near Minturn: 28 percent of median.
• Eagle River near Milk Creek, west of Wolcott: 31 percent of median.
•Eagle River below Gypsum: 40 percent of median.
• Colorado River at Dotsero: 46 percent of median.

Remember, “median” is not “average.” Median is the middle data point in a set of numbers, average is the sum of those numbers, divided by the number of data points.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Thanks to a snowy April, Denver Water will no longer need to close Antero Reservoir in order to move the water and store it in Cheesman and Eleven Mile reservoirs during the ongoing drought.

“Managing water supplies through a drought is an ever-changing process,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager for Denver Water. “While we are still in drought and need our customers to save water, the recent snow has helped our supply situation. Keeping Antero open will be a benefit to Park County and those who love to fish there. If we drained the reservoir, it would take about three years to refill.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages the fishery and says effective immediately, the regular bag and possession limit — two trout per angler — at Antero will be reinstated.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

At mid-April, the Upper Rio Grande Basin’s snowpack was only 66 percent of normal. “We are anticipating we are not going to have as much water this year as we did last year, unfortunately,” Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten reported to water leaders during the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s recent quarterly meeting.

Stream flow forecasts for this year’s irrigation season are as low as 26 percent of average for the San Antonio River at Ortiz and 29 percent on Sangre de Cristo Creek to only 64 percent of average as the highest prediction on the Rio Grande at the Thirty Mile Bridge and 56 percent on the Rio Grande at Del Norte. Trinchera Creek is only expected to run at 44 percent of average this year.

Forecasts for the annual index flows on the Rio Grande have decreased each month to a current prediction of about 335,000 acre feet. Last year, which was not a stellar water year, the Rio Grande produced 470,000 acre feet. Of the 335,000 predicted to run downriver this year, 82,700 acre feet will have to be delivered to the downstream states of New Mexico and Texas to meet Rio Grande Compact obligations. To get the necessary water downstream to meet that obligation, the water division will have to curtail irrigators about 6.5 percent during the irrigation season, Cotten explained.

Currently there is zero curtailment on the Conejos River system, and that is not expected to change, according to Cotten, because the winter deliveries and credit from last year will ensure the Conejos meets its annual compact obligation. Cotten said zero curtailment is both good and bad news because ditches will not have to be curtailed during the irrigation season, but they may not have any water either. “We do have a dry river at Los Sauces on the Conejos right now,” he said. “No water is making it to the Rio Grande right now, and it will be like that through the summertime.” He said rivers that normally run 750 cubic feet per second (cfs) are only running about 300 cfs and those that should be running about 300 cfs are at about 100 cfs…

Adding even more pressure to an already difficult situation are the urgent requests from downstream states to send more water their way to help keep endangered species like the silvery minnow afloat. “We have told them we don’t have any water to send down,” Cotten said.

One of the main water repositories for Rio Grande Compact water is Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico. Currently it contains only about one-tenth its total capacity…

Rio Grande Water Conservation District General Manager Steve Vandiver reported that San Luis Lake was still dry with not much promise of it filling this year, given the low run off expected from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains this year.

From The Mountain Mail (Mike Potter):

Antero Reservoir will remain open this summer. Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said enough snow fell in April to cause the company to reverse its early March decision to drain the reservoir. “The amount of snow that we received wasn’t projected in the forecast,” he said.

When Denver Water decided to drain Antero Reservoir, South Platte Basin snowpack was at 49 percent of average. Recent snowfall improved the snowpack to 88 percent of average as of Monday.

When the original decision was made, Colorado Parks and Wildlife suspended the bag limit for fish at the reservoir. Now that Antero will remain open, Parks and Wildlife reinstated the bag limit of two trout per angler. No decision has been made about when motorized boats will be allowed on the water.

Because Denver Water had decided to drain the reservoir, it did not begin hiring inspectors to check boats to make sure they weren’t harboring aquatic nuisance species. Thompson said Denver Water would work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to get inspectors in place before any motorized boats would be allowed on the water. “Hand-launched vessels such as kayaks, canoes and belly boats will be allowed, but no trailered or motorized boats will be permitted until details about aquatic nuisance species inspections can be determined,” he said.

Thompson cautioned that although the reservoir would be open during the summer, things could change, forcing the closure in the future. “We don’t expect to have to drain Antero this year, but if conditions change drastically, we are always prepared to reassess our situation,” he said. “We are still in drought conditions.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

Officials with Denver Water announced Wednesday that the reservoir, a popular spot for anglers, will remain filled and will not be drained into Eleven Mile and Cheeseman reservoirs as originally planned. The reservoir provides water to Denver, and is one of two drought reserves tapped by Denver Water when the area is in a severe dry period.

Eleven Mile, also in Park County, is the other drought reserve, and Denver started to tap into its flow last month.

In early March, after facing low snowpack and dismal prospects for a wet spring, the utility decided to drain Antero for the second time in its history, and store its water in neighboring reservoirs.

Greeley Children’s Water Festival recap: ‘In fifth grade you get to do’ — Armando Valladares


From The Greeley Tribune (Sherrie Peif):

It was clear walking around Island Grove Regional Park on Wednesday that most fourth-graders could survive on a very limited vocabulary. “Whoa,” one boy said as an employee of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District blew a giant bubble all around him. “Whoa,” another girl yelled out as water fell all around her in the 100-year flood exhibit. “Cool” and “Oh yeah,” could also be heard throughout the Island Grove Events Center, the Exhibition Building and the 4-H Building as more than 1,000 students from 15 schools across Adams, Morgan and Weld counties filled the buildings for the 23rd annual Children’s Water Festival.

The day long event is a collaboration among the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, the city of Greeley, the West Greeley Conservation District and the city of Evans, along with numerous sponsors. It is designed to teach young children about water conservation and its uses. The “Whoas,” “Oh yeahs” and “Cools” were for good reason; each activity was designed with kids in mind and meant to be hands-on and interactive. “We want to reach kids early to teach them that water is a limited resource and things can be done to take action,” said Kathy Parker, public information/education officer for the CCWCD.

The event consisted of dozens of booths that tested children’s awareness of water use and conservation.

At one booth, students spun a wheel to answer either a water knowledge question or a fun facts question such as at what temperature does water freeze? What saves more water, a shower or a bath? And what is the longest river in the United States? If they answered the question correctly, they won a bracelet.

Another “just for fun” activity, that attracted students more than most, was the bubblelogy booth, where giant bubbles were blown up around the student.

The bubbles were made from water, dish soap and cooking oil. Students stood on bricks in a plastic swimming pool while a large hula hoop type device was dunked in the mixture and stretched around them.

All the kids were given free T-shirts and schools that could not afford the transportation were given money for their busses to make the trip. Schools from as far away as Brush and Fort Morgan were in attendance.

Also helping with the event were students in the fifth-grade leadership class from Dos Rios Elementary School, who taught how to pan for gold and when and why it was done in Colorado history. “It was buried here and ended up in the rivers from when the mountains grew up,” said Kenia Morales, 11.

They all agreed that helping was just as much fun, and more, as participating. “In fourth grade all you got to do was watch,” said Armando Valladares, 10. “In fifth grade you get to do.”

More education coverage here.

The High Park Fire burn scar will likely be a pain in the water supply in the Poudre for years to come

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Trevor Hughes):

Last fall, mudslides and rockfalls repeatedly blocked Colorado Highway 14 west of Fort Collins in the weeks following the High Park Fire. The spring runoff is poised to cause even more trouble in the coming weeks and years…

The most recent problem in the canyon came April 21, when several rocks the size of recliners tumbled off a steep embankment and onto the road, blocking the eastbound lane. CDOT workers on Friday did some emergency work to reduce potential rockslides.

And next month, state and federal workers will begin a series of projects aimed at keeping traffic moving on the road and keeping the water clean for drinking. Two major efforts launch next month: The first will improve culverts along the highway and reduce the amount of debris that can slide down hillsides. The second involves spreading straw on thousands of burned acres to help stabilize hillsides and aid in revegetation.

Wildfires burn off grasses, bushes and trees that help stabilize the ground, which is especially important on steep, rocky hillsides of the kind that flank the Poudre Canyon. Without roots, branches and fronds, water, rocks and ash can cascade down the hillsides, covering the flat road below before dumping into the Poudre River.

The river, an internationally known fly-fishing destination, ran black several times last fall as rains carried ash into it. That sludge is still visible in many areas, and its presence worries water managers.

The Poudre River is an important source of drinking water for many Northern Colorado cities, including Fort Collins and Greeley. The High Park Fire forced Fort Collins to change how it treats Poudre River water, something that helped drive a 4 percent water rate increase that took effect earlier this year. Runoff from the burn area has also caused spikes in iron and manganese in the river, and because of those and other pollutants — and treatment for increased algae in the river water — there’s a risk the taste and smell of the city’s tap water could change, affecting the city’s numerous breweries.

To help protect the supply’s quality and taste, Fort Collins has been using water from Horsetooth Reservoir to dilute or outright replace Poudre River water during periods of ashy runoff.

“We will continue to have the uncertainty of the Poudre River water,” said Laurie D’Audney, a city water conservation specialist. “We just don’t know how much of it we’ll be able to treat.”

The federal government, recognizing the impact that the fire’s lingering effects have on the water, earlier this month allocated nearly $20 million to Colorado to repair watersheds and perform flood mitigation work in the Waldo Canyon and High Park fire burn areas.

That work will help stabilize hillsides, to reduce the amount of water and debris running downhill. And CDOT’s culvert replacements aim to ensure the water that does flow down crosses beneath Colorado 14, rather than pooling atop it.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

2013 Colorado legislation: ‘Water law doctrine in Colorado was developed in a much simpler time’ — Jim Lochhead


From TheDenverChannel.com (Ryan Budnick):

Slowly, the state legislature has been making minor changes in water accords and laws to reflect the current needs of the state. Senate Bill 41, which was signed into law earlier in April, is an example of those minor changes that can have major ramifications.

“Water law doctrine in Colorado was developed in a much simpler time,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “So this law is a very small step toward simplifying what has become an overly-complex and burdensome water law system.”

As the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Mary Hodge sees it, it was correcting an oversight. The new law designates that storing water for fighting wildfires and for drought are beneficial uses. How it is currently set up, water can not be stored unless it is for one of three purposes: irrigation, residential use and mining.

“People are concerned when you start storing water that you’re either hoarding water or you’re using it as a speculative purpose,” Hodge said.

Meaning that the resource could be monopolized and cause price gouging. That was how the state’s anti-speculation doctrine was created, said water attorney Joe Dischinger.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Arkansas River Basin Water Users Forum recap: ‘These are uncertain times for water financing’ — Mike Brod


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

All Colorado needs is a clear vision of where growth is heading, enough money to build the projects it needs and unconditional consent from neighboring states. Unfortunately, none of those things exist. A panel addressed the need for state water planning at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum last week and arrived at those conclusions. “While there are big issues of statewide importance, there are a lot of things that can be done at the basin level,” Todd Doherty of the Colorado Water Conservation Board told those in attendance.

Doherty reviewed the past eight years of water planning efforts that have been undertaken through the basin roundtable and interbasin compact committee legislation adopted in 2005. Those have developed alongside an evolving Statewide Water Supply Plan launched by the CWCB during the 2002 drought. Gov. John Hickenlooper has asked those groups to come up with a state water plan by 2016. The best the groups have come up with so far is a matrix that attempts to balance urban, agricultural and environmental needs through strategies. [ed. emphasis mine] There are triggers and signposts to indicate where water supply and demand are headed, but no manual that tells the state what to do when it arrives at any of those points.

Engineer Erin Wilson talked about the recently completed Colorado River basin study by the Bureau of Reclamation. Like Colorado’s water efforts, it does not provide any direction for any of the states. It has been widely misinterpreted so far, particularly by environmental groups that have focused on worst-case scenarios to grab headlines. While shortages on the Colorado River are predicted in many models, the main reason is that lower basin states already are using their full entitlements, she said.

Colorado should not see a shortage of water on the river in the next 35 years, and could still develop Colorado River projects, she said. “Can we conserve our way out of this problem?” she asked.

Mike Brod, executive director of the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, said cities are having a difficult time replacing aging infrastructure or building new systems because of uncertainty. Years of significant economic growth have been followed by severe economic contraction. Drought in recent years has added a cycle that means rationing, reduced water use and higher rates for urban users. “These are uncertain times for water financing,” Brod said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It’s probably not a good idea to try to digest an economics lecture about the price structure of Colorado water on top of a lunch that featured several kinds of pasta. Dick Brown — an economist and recovering Fountain city manager turned consultant — faced that daunting task at the Arkansas River Basin Water Users Forum last week, delivering the keynote address on his most recent paper: “Water Supply and Water Conservation: Implications of Economics on Public Policy for Colorado.” The title alone was heavier than the pasta dishes. But some parts of the report sat lightly on the tongue.

The appetizer was the author’s preface, in which Brown painted a surrealistic landscape of Colorado water policy. His grandson’s T-ball fields were bright green in the middle of the 2012 drought. He called us a nation of “canteen toters” because we carry bottles of water at all times, despite the abundance of cheap, safe public water supplies. He mocked the rigidity of Colorado water law that prohibits collecting water in rain barrels. He mused that the unemployment rate for water lawyers in this state is zero.

So, at least one member of the pasta-filled audience concluded, it might be worthwhile listening to some of Brown’s ideas during the keynote speech.

Water is scarce: “If water weren’t a scarce resource, you wouldn’t have to ration it.”

Storage is needed: “We are undervaluing water storage. You can’t use any water strategy without more storage.”

Water pricing won’t necessarily change usage: “To my knowledge, no one is out there advocating coin-operated fire hydrants.”

Economists might not know what they’re talking about: “Economics are a wonderful way of blaming your successors for things that aren’t working out well.”

And, finally, the main point: “Renewability is the key to water supply.”

Great. What’s for dessert?

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer, was given the top honor Wednesday at the Arkansas River Basin Water Users Forum. ‘‘I’m very honored to be recognized in this way, after all I’ve been involved with, to still be considered a ‘friend’ of the Arkansas,’’ Witte said after receiving the Bob Appel, Friend of the Arkansas award.

The award, named for one of the forum’s first organizers, recognizes lifetime achievements in service to the river. Past winners include Alan Hamel, Bud O’Hara, Allen Ringel, Carl Genova, Reed Dils, Paul Flack, Denzel Goodwin and Mike Conlin.

Witte joined the Division of Water Resources in 1979, and has been division engineer since 1988. During that time, he has dealt with some of the most vexing problems of water administration on the Arkansas River. Most defining his career has been the Kansas v. Colorado federal lawsuit, which was filed in 1985 and was finally settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009. Witte still serves as the secretary of the Arkansas River Compact Committee, which meets annually to work out differences and assure compliance between the two states.

During his tenure, the Arkansas Valley has seen new restrictions on wellpumping and in ensuring surface water improvements like sprinklers, drip irrigation and ditch lining do not increase water consumption.

He also has had to monitor changes in water rights after Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Aurora converted agricultural rights to municipal uses. Most recently, he has managed split river calls during an ongoing drought.

“He is well-respected in the Arkansas River basin for his honesty and integrity,” said Jean Van Pelt, project manager for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District. “He has always sought the best possible outcome for all water users.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Drought/snowpack news: Gore Creek may have started melting out #COdrought




From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Grand Valley residents will be asked to limit their water use, but no measures aimed at limiting use by high rates or rationing are on the horizon. The main suppliers of domestic water — Clifton Water, Grand Junction, Ute Water Conservancy District and Palisade — asked Friday, though, that residents water and wash with one eye on the state’s parched peaks.

The winter of 2012-2013 “makes for two years in a row of below-average snow and moisture levels,” said Dave Reinertsen, chairman of the Mesa County Drought Response Information Project, noting that snowpack statewide and its equivalent water content has been well below historical averages. “Grand Valley residents have always stepped up to volunteer for the various needs of the community,” Reinertsen said. “We’re asking for the community to once again step up and volunteer to help us all preserve our most valued and precious resource — our limited water supplies in our high-desert environment.”

A continued dry spring and summer could force a second look at the valley’s water supply, so it’s possible that conservation measures could be instituted, said Reinertsen, also the assistant manager of Clifton Water.

Among the steps residents can take is reducing watering from two or three times a week to one or two deep waterings per week.

Residents also can log on to http://www.thedripwebsite.com for links to water-conservation measures anyone can take to reduce water use through efficient practices.

Below is the snowpack graph from Vail Pass above Gore Creek, via Diane Johnson.

From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

The nation is seeing a sharp divide between dry and wet as summer approaches: While the eastern USA is almost entirely drought-free, drought continues to persist and intensify in much of the country to the west of the Mississippi River.

Many areas of the West are ending the wet season with “bleak spring runoff prospects and increasing drought concerns,” according to this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal website that tracks drought. Every state west of the Mississippi, except for Washington, is enduring some level of drought conditions. In all, 66% of the Western U.S. is in a drought, with the worst conditions in Texas, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico.

In the East, the only states where drought is occurring are small portions of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

Nationally, 47% of the contiguous U.S. is in a drought.

From from The Grand Junction Free Press (Caitlin Row):

Though the Western Slope of Colorado remains in drought, there’s one silver lining. Ute Water Conservancy spokesman Joe Burtard recently announced that Mesa County’s Drought Response Information Project (DRIP) decided universally to keep the area in a Stage 1 Drought, not bump up to Stage 2…

“The recent storm really boosted all our water sheds,” Burtard said. “With a colder spring, that’s a big player in preserving the snowpack we have. It’s (still) not the greatest, but we will maintain at Stage 1.”

Here’s the NWS Grand Junction April 26 2013 Dust/Snowpack Briefing:

The Western Colorado Conservation Corps scores $10,000 for restoration along the Colorado River mainstem


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The Western Colorado Conservation Corps will partner with the Bureau of Land Management to remove invasive tamarisk and Russian olive trees from the banks of the Colorado River. The introduced trees suck up water needed by native flora and fauna.

The funding is the result of a partnership between the Royal Bank of Canada and the Conservation Lands Foundation. The bank is is one of Canada’s largest corporate donors. “We are extremely grateful to RBC for helping us put ‘boots on the ground’ in Colorado,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation. “McInnis Canyons and the Colorado River are cornerstones of the National Conservation Lands and important to so many people. RBC’s gift has given this partnership and river an important boost.”

McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area is part of the National Conservation Lands. The National Conservation Lands are a 28-million-acre system of protected lands in the west known for their culturally, ecologically and scientifically significant landscapes managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The volunteers will also remove Russian knapweed, and plant and protect native Freemont cottonwoods and coyote willow. The re-introduction of these native species will enhance wildlife habitat, help rehabilitate the river corridor and improve water quality.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here and here.

Coalbed Methane: ‘The reason I go to meetings like this is so someone might listen to me’ — Brett Corsentino


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

For most of two days, Brett Corsentino sat quietly listening to theoretical discussions about the relationship of oil and gas drilling to water. For him, however, there is a much more direct and personal link. Toward the end of the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, he spoke up about how he believes gas drilling has brought tainted water from under the ground and to the surface, where it ruined his land. He also feels he has hit a brick wall trying to get the state to make things right. “The reason I go to meetings like this is so someone might listen to me,” Corsentino said.

Instead, he got into a public argument with Peter Gintautas, an environmental protection specialist from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “We have a difference of opinion over whether remediation on my land has failed,” Corsentino said. “Not a single representative from COGCC has come out to verify that remediation has taken place.”

“The agency has taken its final action, and offered other courses of action if you disagreed with staff,” Gintautas replied.

For Corsentino, it was another in a long string of disappointments. A fourth-generation dairy farmer, he milks about 400 head of cattle and employs 14 at his dairy east of Walsenburg. Over nearly a decade, beginning in 1998, Petroglyph Energy pumped about 100,000 acre-feet of highly saline water into the Cucharas River while exploring for gas. The company agreed to some remediation by supplying gypsum to reduce salinity, but Corsentino still is dealing with the damage. “They say it will take time and a lot of water to reverse the damage. I don’t have either,” Corsentino said, while giving a windshield tour of the 300 acres of fields that lie fallow.

A reservoir above the fields is dry, partly because of a three-year drought, but also — Corsentino believes — because the gas drillers took so much water out of the aquifer. He also blames poor water quality for low resistance to tuberculosis, which infected his entire herd a few years ago. He is now building a new herd. “This problem continues and I just want to know what a person is supposed to do,” Corsentino said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two tables side-by-side outside the meeting room at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum this week told the story. One table featured an array of handouts touting the benefits of produced water, monitoring programs by Norwest on behalf of Pioneer Natural Resources and pleas for science-based watershed protection. The other counteracted the display next door with informational handouts from groups that highlighted the dangers of fracking, warned about health concerns from produced water and expressed alarm at how much water could be used.

Inside the meeting room, proponents and opponents of gas drilling shared the stage. “There are issues of water quality and quantity,” said Alan Curtis, a partner in the White-Jankowski law firm, who highlighted the dangers of oil and gas drilling. Locally, those include wells that had exploded, caught fire or have caused pollution. The current practices of oil companies involve using large amounts of dangerous chemicals that companies try to downplay by talking about percentages, he said. White-Jankowski, in the 2009 Vance v. Wolfe case, obtained a Supreme Court ruling requiring the state engineer to administer oil and gas wells in the same way that water wells are regulated.

From other presentations, it became clear that state regulation is fragmented when it comes to water and gas drilling. In one session, staff members of the Division of Water Resources and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission were unable to answer some questions from local concerned citizens, because they involved the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission instead.

Industry spokeswoman Sarah Landry sought to dispel “myths” about fracking, saying hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells goes back to 1947. She said the chemicals used in the process are the same type as found in most households. While some opponents say there are hundreds of potentially harmful chemicals in use, less than a dozen might be employed at any given drilling operation, she explained.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1248 (Irrigation Water Leasing Municipal Pilot Projects) is backed by the CWCB


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board wants to develop strategies that would allow temporary transfers of water from farms to cities that allow farmers to maintain ownership of water rights, staffer Todd Doherty told the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum this week.

“Programs are being set up to reduce the costs of transactions to lease water,” he said. Much of that cost is legal fees by taking cases to water court, but some want to determine how to avoid injury to water rights without going to court.

The CWCB is backing legislation, [HB13-1248], to set up 10 pilot programs in Colorado to explore alternative transfer options under the supervision of the CWCB. The bill passed the House and is now moving in the Senate. The bill allows water to be leased by farmers to cities three years in 10 through rotational fallowing through programs such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch. The goal of the programs, along with other efforts already undertaken by the CWCB, is to streamline engineering questions to make sure engineering is correct while other water rights are not injured, Doherty said.

Among the current efforts is a cooperative project among the CWCB, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and farmers Wes and Brenda Herman on the High Line Canal. The idea is to use a conservation easement to ensure water stays in farming, but allows temporary leases to cities.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar: Flooding along Fountain Creek is a major concern


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A heavy rain over the area burned in last summer’s Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs could cause significant damage downstream on Fountain Creek. That’s because thousands of tons of sediment and debris could wash down in a severe storm, Carol Ekarius, executive director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday. “Unless we have a ’99 type flood this year, they wouldn’t see the effects immediately in Pueblo, but there are water quality impacts that show up later,” said Ekarius, who is also a professional engineer.

CUSP is working with the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Springs Utilities and other El Paso County groups to assess the damage from the Waldo Canyon Fire and develop a remediation plan. The group formed after the 11,000-acre Buffalo Creek Fire in 1996, which was the largest in the state at the time. Since then, fires have become larger in scope because of poor forest management. CUSP has been working to restore the 2002 Hayman Fire burn area for more than a decade. The group will unveil an action plan next week in Colorado Springs that will require $25 million-$50 million over several years to complete. About $10 million-$12 million from federal, state and local sources has been committed so far. There is also much remediation and flood prevention work to be done on private land.

The Fountain Creek district is considering whether to ask voters for a mill levy and decide purposes that would be included in a ballot question. “The question this board grapples with is could this be a part of our mission,” said Richard Skorman, who serves as liaison with a citizens advisory group of residents from both counties. “It’s hard to ask Pueblo County to pay for a disaster that happens in El Paso County.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Venetucci Farms scores enough augmentation water to grow food this season #COdrought


From the Colorado Springs Independent Indy Blog (Ralph Routon):

JV Ranches, which is owned by Sheila Venezia and her family, came to the rescue. Longtime residents of the Pikes Peak region, Sheila and her children, Dean, Kathleen, Rosemarie and other family members toured the Farm to learn what was needed. Almost immediately after the visit, they agreed to transfer some of their water to be converted to augmentation water and credited to Venetucci Farm.

Now, in 2013, the Farm will be able to grow healthy food for the community and lots of pumpkins for kids.

In addition, two other entities have since stepped up to lease additional water to the Farm. Special thanks are also in order for Al Testa and the Colorado Centre Metropolitan District, along with Perry Thompson of Osage Capital.

The proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill will be the first new plant in US in 30 years


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

With a major regulatory hurdle out of its way — again — Energy Fuels Resources Corp. is now looking to the uranium market for the signal to move ahead with construction of a mill. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reissued the radioactive-materials license Thursday after officials culled though six days’ worth of testimony, much of it under oath, taken in Nucla late last year.

The license comes, however, as uranium prices have tumbled to lows not seen since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, acknowledged Curtis Moore, director of communications and legal affairs for Energy Fuels. The $150 million project will go forward “when market conditions and our production requirements warrant it,” Moore said. The company remains bullish on the long-term prospects of the mill, Moore said, noting that the same number of reactors, if not more, are being planned now as before Fukushima.

The decision sparked a rebuke from the Sheep Mountain Alliance, which filed suit originally to have the license revoked, contending among other things that the state agency failed to conduct appropriate public hearings and that the weight of evidence showed the mill as an environmental threat. “We are extremely disappointed that the state opted to ignore the scientific and technical evidence against the mill,” Director Hilary Cooper said in an email. “And further we are shocked that the state, through this decision, is strongly encouraging Energy Fuels to build a radioactive waste dump on the Dolores River.”

By green-lighting the mill at a time when uranium prices are low, state officials “are operating well outside the mission of public health and safety,” Cooper said.

The mill, which would be built near Naturita, “is not on the Dolores River,” Montrose County Commissioner David White said. “It’s seven miles from the river and sitting on thousands and thousands of feet of collapsed salt dome and rock” that no leak from the mill would be able to permeate and travel through to the river. Montrose County supported the mill and issued a conditional-use permit for the project. Residents of the Nucla-Naturita-Norwood area are “excited, to say the least,” said White, whose commissioner district includes the three communities. “They’ve needed a good shot of optimism for a long time.”

In the decision, the Health Department noted at one point that radiation, while dangerous, is “what sustains life on Earth and is probably responsible for the evolution of life on the planet.”

Despite boom-and-bust economic cycles, facilities such as uranium mills tend to hold some level of employment, the department noted. It concluded, “The failure of the project is a risk that is borne primarily by Energy Fuels Resources Corp. and the potential benefits of the project appear to outweigh the costs across all segments of the larger community.”

If built, the mill would be the first uranium mill to be constructed in the United States in three decades. The last mill, White Mesa in Blanding, Utah, is owned by Energy Fuels, which obtained it in a merger with Denison Mines Corp. last year.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Energy Fuels Inc. is fulfilling contracts for uranium at well above the current spot price, but it’s waiting with the rest of the industry to see that price nearly double before investing in new projects. “Right now, we’re trying to hunker down a little bit and watch our pennies,” Curtis Moore, director of communications and legal affairs for Energy Fuels, said Wednesday.

Energy Fuels is fulfilling contracts with utilities for about $56 a pound, well over the current spot price of $40.90 a pound, according to U3O8.com. “We’re pretty well shielded from spot prices” with the company’s contracts, Moore told the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce energy briefing.

While the company is pursuing construction of the Pinyon Ridge uranium mill near Naturita, the price of uranium will likely have to clear the $70-per-pound threshold before construction begins, Moore said. That’s also the marker for reopening the eight mines the company owns on the Colorado Plateau, he said. That could take some time. “We see spot prices in the high 40s by the end of the year,” Moore said.

Once demand for uranium heats up, Energy Fuels will need the Pinyon Ridge mill when the company’s White Mesa mill in Blanding, Utah, can no longer keep up with demand, he said.

A decision is due this week from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Energy Fuels’ application for a radioactive materials-handling permit for Pinyon Ridge. A Denver district judge had invalidated the permit and ordered the Department of Public Health and Environment to reconsider it after seeking public comment and a recommendation from an administrative law judge. Energy Fuels is anticipating additional legal opposition to the Pinyon Ridge mill, Moore said.

It will cost about $150 million to construct the mill, he said.

Energy Fuels, which now bills itself as “America’s leading producer of conventional uranium,” now supplies about 1 million pounds of uranium oxide per year to utilities, or about a quarter of the 4 million pounds of domestic uranium used in the nation. In all, the United States uses about 50 million pounds of uranium per year to generate 20 percent of its electricity.

More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here and here.

Northern Water’s Conservation Gardens Fair May 18


Here’s the announcement from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

More conservation coverage here.

Say hello to the new Groundwater.org from the Groundwater Foundation


Click here to visit the website from The Groundwater Foundation.

More groundwater coverage here and here.

Colorado Watershed Assembly: Volunteer for River Watch


Here’s the link to the announcement. Here’s the pitch:

2013 River Watch Training Schedule

River Watch is a statewide volunteer water quality-monitoring program operated by the non profit 501©3 Colorado Watershed Assembly in cooperation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Our mission is to work with voluntary stewards to monitor water quality and other indicators of watershed health, and utilize this high quality data to educate citizens and inform decision makers about the condition of Colorado’s waters. This program is unique in its statewide focus and frequency of data collection. River Watch volunteers come in all shapes in sizes: Middle, Elementary and High School groups participate in our program to provide in-depth education and experience in real life science that extends beyond the classroom. Conservation groups and community organizations concerned with water quality issues in their areas participate to learn more about watershed health in their region. Interested volunteers must participate in a training before becoming part of our program. After the training, groups agree to sample at a designated station monthly for metals, nutrients and other parameters. As water quality data must be recorded over time to understand the baseline conditions and any changes that occur in the system, we are seeking volunteers that can make a several year commitment to the program.

The fee for new groups to become part of the River Watch program is a one time cost of $200. With this fee, groups will obtain over $1800 worth of water quality equipment and includes one person’s attendance cost to the training. Scholarships are available to those groups who demonstrate their inability to pay the fee.

We will have two trainings scheduled this calendar year. These events cover the same material and format and will allow participants the ability to broaden their knowledge on River Watch as we will be having sessions on data management and advanced stream ecology. Introduction to River Watch for new participants will focus on water quality sampling and analysis and the nuts and bolts of our program. Sessions in bringing River Watch home to your organization and exploring non traditional teaching methods to implement River Watch will also be covered. There will be a cost of $90 per person (returning or additional persons) to attend if the registration is completed before the stated deadlines. After the deadlines, the registration rate is $110 per person. All meals and lodging (3 nights) are included in the fee.

  • July 23- July 26, 2013 we will be meeting at Mountain Park Environmental Center in Beulah, just southwest of Pueblo. The deadline to register for this event is June 15th. Registration after this date will be $110 per person.
  • October 29 – November 1, 2013 we will be meeting at Camp Cedaredge, in the town of Cedaredge on the Western Slope. The deadline to register for this event is October 1st. Registration after this date will be $110 per person.
  • Additional information:

  • Students are welcome to attend if accompanied by an adult.
  • Continuing education credits will be available from the Colorado School of Mines (up to 3) at an additional cost.
  • To register online, click here.

    If you are interested in attending this training or learning more about our program, please contact Michaela Taylor at michaela@coloradowatershed.org or at (303) 291-7322.

    More education coverage here.

    Forecast news: Scattered thunderstorms possible over the San Juans #COdrought #COwx

    From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

    Scattered thunderstorms, with gusty winds to 35 mph but little rain or snow, will form over the San Juan mountains this afternoon, then dissipate around sunset. Dry northwest flow aloft with a steady warming trend will be in place until the middle of next week.

    From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

    A few rain showers will continue to move across parts of southern and eastern Colorado this morning as a weak weather system makes it way through the region. Another weak weather system will move through Colorado this afternoon…but moisture is expected to be limited to the high country…where rain and snow showers and a few thunderstorms will be possible starting early afternoon. The air is expected to be warm and stable across the San Luis valley and across the eastern plains…bringing a mostly sunny day to the region’s lower elevations. Temperatures should be only a few degrees cooler than Thursday highs…with the warming trend expected to continue through the weekend.

    Since March precip totals over the north and central mountains have ranged from 150% to 200% of avg #COdrought




    Click on the thumbnail graphics for the April 24 statewide snowpack map along with the current US Drought Monitor and current drought forecast maps.

    From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:










    From KRDO (Michelle San Miguel) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Farmers are beginning to plant Pueblo chiles, but they say they’re going to have to sacrifice other crops to make sure the water they do have is enough to grow the famous chile.

    Shane Milberger, owner of Milberger Farms, grows 50 types of vegetables. None, he says, is more important than Pueblo chile. “Just look around, I mean everything has to do with Pueblo and Pueblo chile. It’s like Rocky Ford and cantaloupe. They go hand in hand,” Milberger said.

    Milberger is making do with 60 percent less water than what he had last year. After the state pulled water from his wells, his only source is the Bessemer irrigation ditch. “We’ve been in the droughts before but this in my opinion, this is the worst one I’ve seen,” he said.

    Growing season is just getting started but restaurants, like Sunset Inn, are already preparing for prices to go up. Bill Chavez, a cook at Sunset Inn, says the owner orders more than 90 bushels of chiles every year. “Last year it went up $2 a bushel and since the drought was kinda bad last year and it’s worst this year,” Chavez added, “I’m sure it’s gotta go up.”

    If restaurants do have to raise their prices, that won’t stop customers, like John Walker, from paying more. “It’s so good,” he said.

    “If all of us farmers out here could raise a good crop and maybe get a bumper crop, I would think that the price would be the same as last year,” Milberger said. “If we get any bad weather on any one farmer out here, then expect for the prices to possibly go up.” As a result of the drought, Milberger is growing 30 acres of chiles this year, compared to the 50 acres he grew last year.

    From the Boulder Daily Camera (Mitchell Byars) via The Denver Post:

    Boulder has been hit with a record 47.6 inches of snow in April, and the snow hasn’t been limited to the Front Range. Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the state didn’t reach the peak snowpack level — when the snowpack is at its highest before snowmelt sets in — until Monday. That peak normally comes much earlier in the month. “It typically occurs in early April,” Hultstrand said. “It looked like we were going to have an early peak at the end of March, but the big storms the last few weeks really boosted this snow pack…

    The snowpack in the South Platte River basin — a major water supplier for the Front Range — is 95 percent of normal for this time of year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service website. As recently as April 7, it was 70 percent. The basin’s peak snowpack was 90 percent of the typical peak. The upper Colorado River basin snowpack level is now 109 percent of average for this time of year, up from 74 percent April 7. The peak snowpack was 95 percent of the typical peak.

    From The Fairplay Flume (Mike Potter):

    Travis Thompson, a spokesman for Denver Water, told The Flume Thursday morning that the decision came late Wednesday to halt the plan to remove fish from the reservoir and to move the water to Eleven Mile Reservoir and Cheesman Reservoir. That means Antero Reservoir, a popular fishing and recreation spot in Park County, will remain open this summer…

    Thompson said when the decision to close Antero was announced in early March, Denver Water’s weather predictions showed poor chances for additional snow to help boost a flagging snowpack that helps feed Antero Reservoir. “Even though these are usually wet months, the amount of snow that we received wasn’t projected in the forecast,” he said.

    Dave Bennett, a water resource manager for Denver Water, said it’s always difficult to project what kind of moisture will be available. “Managing water supplies through a drought is an ever-changing process,” he said in a press release. “While we are still in drought and need our customers to save water, the recent snow has helped our supply situation. Keeping Antero open will be a benefit to Park County and those who love to fish there. If we drained the reservoir, it would take about three years to refill.”

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    On average, Colorado gets only about 8 percent of its seasonal snowpack in April. This April, “we blew (that) out of the water, which is kind of what we needed to do,” said Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colorado.

    It wasn’t enough to end the drought. And it didn’t share the wealth equally across the state. But the recent moisture that fell in late-season storms in good parts of the state’s high country significantly improved conditions that continued to look dire as recently as the start of the month.

    “That’s been very welcome news,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs. As of late last week, the rain gauge at his Glenwood-area house had recorded about 4 inches of moisture for the month, more precipitation there than in all of October through March, he said. Recent storms have resulted in substantial snowpack improvement in the Upper Colorado River Basin and improved the outlook for Grand Valley irrigators. Unfortunately, conditions remain a fair amount drier in more southern basins within the state, he said. Some of those basins have snowpack levels that are about two-thirds of normal. Still, the statewide snowpack made a considerable comeback in a mere matter of weeks. Snow accumulations were abysmal last October and November. An above-average December improved things a little, but the statewide median was stuck in the low-70 percentiles from Jan. 1 through April 1.

    Today, it’s at 92 percent.

    “We received well above average snowfall and accumulation in April, which is what we needed, and which we thought was highly unlikely,” Hultstrand said.

    Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said he can’t emphasize enough how good it was to get the two major storms that hit the state this month. “I think everybody’s going to be pretty happy, but we’re still in drought conditions,” he added. “It takes a long time to get into a drought and it takes a long time to get out.”

    Water-watchers universally are welcoming the recent moisture in measured tones. “We’re still in the same wait-and-see mode,” said David Reinertsen, assistant manager of the Clifton Water District, which relies on Colorado River Water stored upstream in Green Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling. “These added snowstorms have definitely helped the upper mountain snowpack and water equivalency but we’re nowhere near where we are in a bumper year.”

    Colorado suffered through a low snowpack season a year ago, but that followed plentiful precipitation in the 2010-11 season that had left reservoirs full and able to ease the impact. With many reservoir levels more depleted now, that cushion no longer exists.

    Clifton Water and some other water utilities in the Grand Valley continue to ask customers for voluntary water conservation now, in hopes that mandatory restrictions can be avoided.

    Denver Water, a major user of Colorado River water, imposed twice-a-week watering and other restrictions at the start of April. “Obviously, we’re grateful for this snow, it’s been a huge help,” said Jim Lochhead, the agency’s manager and chief executive officer. “But we’re still planning on dry conditions for the summer. We really don’t know how this will all work out until we see how our reservoirs end up filling.”

    While the improved snowpack levels are encouraging, some caveats also need to be applied to the statistics. For one thing, Hultstrand notes that the NRCS switched this year to a new 30-year period against which it compares current levels. That period, from 1981-2010, was drier than the last comparative period, which included the wetter 1970s. So a snowpack that’s at 100 percent of the current median is less than 100 percent of the past measure. Also, current snowpack is being compared to levels that in most years already have begun to shrink by now, which Hultstrand said can be a little misleading. Another way to look at the current amounts is to compare them to median peak levels. By that measure, the Upper Colorado River Basin as of Wednesday was at 95 percent of the peak median, versus 109 percent of the median for April 24. The Gunnison basin is at 76 percent of peak, versus of 89 percent of median for April 24. Statewide, snowpack is at 80 percent of the median peak, Hultstrand said.

    Yet another complication involves some recent dust storms that have darkened snowpack in much of western Colorado. That can result in snowpack melting off much more quickly, Phillips noted. That’s due to dark-colored snow reflecting less sun and absorbing more. But the impact can at least be delayed if more snow has fallen on top of it.

    For now, anyway, the start of the runoff season has been delayed by cool temperatures, which also have minimized use of irrigation water to date. Temperatures are expected to go up in coming days, but Reinertsen said the delay in irrigating helps let reservoirs build up their storage. This year’s delayed runoff stands in stark contrast to last year, when the already-meager snowpack started melting in March. A year ago on Wednesday, the Upper Colorado River Basin snowpack was just 37 percent of median for that date. Phillips said last year the snow-water-equivalent in that basin probably peaked at around 11 inches and was down to five or six inches by this point in April. This year it’s above 14 inches and has yet to even start melting, he said.

    David Boyd, a local Bureau of Land Management spokesman, said the spring moisture “has helped quite a bit” in terms of moderating the fire danger this year. But he added, “Predictions now are for an average fire year in this area, but that is still several hundred fires with the potential for large fires. The lower-elevation desert areas received some moisture, which will lead to more green-up and growth of fine fuels like grasses. As the weather warms, those grasses will cure and be fuel for wildfires if there is an ignition source.”

    This winter’s snow pattern was unusual but not entirely unexpected by some. Back in November, meteorologist Joe Ramey, Phillips’ coworker, said the winter was shaping up to be a “No Niño” winter, as opposed to an El Niño or La Niña one. He was referring to varying climate patterns dictated by equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean water temperatures. No Niño winters, meaning ones that show either La Niña or El Niño tendencies, are tough ones in terms of predicting snowfall, he said. But he pointed out that the four previous No Niños in Colorado were characterized by stormy Decembers and Aprils with drier periods between them. It turns out, December 2012 and this month both produced above-average precipitation. Ramey “hit that one pretty well,” Phillips said.

    Told of Ramey’s November comments, Hultstrand said, “He should get a raise, I guess.”

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1316 (Oil Gas Commn Uniform Groundwater Sample Rule) passes out of committee #COleg


    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    A new measure to protect Colorado water quality from fracking impacts narrowly passed a House committee on a 6-5 vote. HB 1316 requires state regulators to adopt uniform statewide groundwater sampling rules and ends an exemption for the largest oil and gas field in Colorado in the Greater Wattenberg area. The measure would require sampling of all groundwater sources (up to a maximum of four wells) within a half-mile of proposed oil and gas wells, as well as follow-up sampling after the wells are drilled.

    Conservation groups who slammed Gov. Hickenlooper for creating the giant loophole for the Wattenberg Field said the committee vote is another step toward better protection of public health and the environment…

    Currently 25 percent of all drilling activity and the most intense growth of development and applications for new drilling occurs in the Greater Wattenberg Area. Of the twenty eight spills that have been reported to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this month, fifteen occurred in that area. The current testing regime requires sampling of only one water source in each quarter section. More widespread sampling will help with early detection of spills and contamination, according to conservation advocates.

    “In recent months, Adams County has seen increasing public concern about oil and gas development happening close to homes and neighborhoods. In our community, we see areas with very tight development across our entire county, yet the Greater Wattenberg Area is exempt from this rule,” said Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry. “Why should the wells be treated differently when it comes to monitoring groundwater just because they are on the wrong side of our county? We are relying on the state to create baseline monitoring, which is not possible with two different standards. all of Adams County deserves the same level of protection,” Henry said.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.

    Colorado ‘farmers today use 15 percent less water than in 1980, but grow 70 percent more food’ — Bob Sakata


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Water users have stopped talking solely about Colorado’s municipal gap and are beginning to focus on agriculture. “The demand for ag water is not just about growing crops,” said James Pritchett, economics professor at Colorado State University-Fort Collins. “There are a lot of spillover benefits of value to other sectors of the economy.”

    Pritchett was one of several speakers Wednesday at the annual Arkansas River Basin Water Forum. More than 100 attended. The theme of the conference is “Tributaries to Change.” Agriculture is no longer the prevalent economic driver for the Arkansas Valley, as it was a century ago, but still it provides more than $1 billion in direct sales, 10,000 jobs and $160 million in payroll for the valley, Pritchett said. In addition, the water used in irrigated agriculture also has secondary benefits to fishing, boating and wildlife habitat as it flows from the mountains to fields, he added.

    With challenges such as drought and increasing demand for municipal water, the challenge for Arkansas Valley farmers will be to grow more valuable crops. Pritchett said crops sold outside the basin benefit the valley more because they bring money into the area that can be reinvested in main street purchases.

    In the South Platte basin, the change of water rights ownership to municipalities has driven some farmers to grow more valuable crops, said Bob Sakata, a Brighton farmer and member of the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance. Sakata primarily grows onions, but decreasing water availability has decreased the variety of other produce crops once grown on the family farms. He pointed out that state farmers today use 15 percent less water than in 1980, but grow 70 percent more food. Other factors like the cost of fuel, equipment, labor and regulation also play a part in farm decisions. “It’s about more than just the water,” he said.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

    The proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill gets state license #ColoradoRiver


    Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Radiation Program today announced Energy Fuels Resources Corp. has met all the regulatory requirements for a radioactive materials license for the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in western Montrose County, Colo. State law requires the department to approve applications when such requirements are met.

    The license was required before Energy Fuels could construct its planned 500-tons-per day uranium/vanadium mill approximately 12 miles west of Naturita, Colo., in the Paradox Valley.

    The mill will process uranium ore from mines in the region to produce uranium oxide, which requires additional processing outside Colorado to become fuel for nuclear reactors. The mill also will recover vanadium, a metal used in steel alloys and high-tech batteries.

    The license imposes a number of conditions on Energy Fuels involving construction of the mill; the receipt, possession, use and transfer of radioactive materials; and procedures to minimize risks to property and public health and safety, and to prevent loss or theft of radioactive material. Notably, the license requires an enhanced groundwater monitoring plan, subject to annual review.

    A separate settlement agreement between Telluride and San Miguel County with Energy Fuels sets up additional protections related to the transportation of radioactive materials, blowing dust and water quality monitoring. In addition to the approximately $13 million financial surety established by the state, this agreement increases Energy Fuels’ total surety to an amount not less than $15 million.

    Dr. Chris Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer of the department, said, “With the approval of the license, our work is not done. We will continue to work with the community members and officials to keep them informed of progress.”

    During construction and operation of the Piñon Ridge facility, the department’s oversight will continue, including regular inspections and an annual review of the financial assurance. The department expects to have at least one staff member whose primary assignment will include monitoring and inspections of the facility.

    Ron Henderson, chairman of the Montrose Board of County Commissioners said, “An exhaustive process has been followed and validated with the approval of this license.”
    Montrose Commissioner David White said, “This validates the science behind the application, design and potential construction of the mill. It is a state-of-the-art facility and will benefit the citizens of Montrose County, the state of Colorado and the United States for decades to come.”

    The license application was submitted by Energy Fuels on Nov. 18, 2009, and has undergone a thorough technical and regulatory review. Prior to its approval of the license, the department and the applicant conducted eight public meetings in 2010 in Nucla, Naturita, Paradox, Montrose, Telluride and Ophir. And in November 2012, the department held a six-day hearing in Nucla to allow cross-examination of witnesses and to solicit additional public comment. All of the information was thoroughly reviewed by the state’s Radiation Program prior to the decision to grant the license.

    The administrative record includes comprehensive reports and comments by engineers, scientists, environmental and business groups, government officials from western Colorado counties and towns, and regulators. Anyone interested can view the department’s Decision Analysis and Environmental Impact Analysis, which includes a copy of the license and the department’s responses to public comments.

    Dr. Urbina said, “From the beginning, we have listened carefully to the public and worked with Energy Fuels to minimize risks to public health and the environment. Today’s engineering standards – and strict environmental regulations – far exceed those in place when the last such mill was constructed more than 25 years ago. We are confident these standards and regulations will ensure the safe construction and operation of the facility.”

    From the Associated Press (Alexandra Tilsley) The Denver Post:

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued Toronto-based Energy Fuels a radioactive materials license, clearing the way for the creation of the Pinon Ridge Mill in western Colorado’s Montrose County…

    That doesn’t mean construction is imminent. Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said the company is waiting for the price of uranium to rise. Currently, Moore said, uranium is priced at about $40 per pound, down from about $72 per pound before the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Plant in 2011. The spot price of uranium was more than $135 a pound when Energy Fuels announced plans for the mill in 2007…

    Energy Fuels also plans to open or reopen a number of Colorado mines, Moore said. Those mines are all small—perhaps a few hundred acres in size—and are mostly in areas that have been mined previously. “These are historic mines, historic mining districts. These are not pristine wilderness districts,” Moore said…

    Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of CDPHE, said importing radioactive waste is not allowed under the license. He notes that waste produced by the mill will be stored in underground cells designed to last at least 200 years. The license carries a number of other environmental safeguards, including requirements that Energy Fuels monitor groundwater for contamination and install fences and wires to keep wildlife away from areas that might have radiation…

    Montrose County Commission David White said that most area residents seem assured that the plan is environmentally sound and are excited about the economic possibilities. Once constructed, the mill is expected to create at least 85 jobs, with up to 400 jobs generated by opening additional mines and increasing economic activity, according to Moore.

    More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here and here.

    Forecast news: Scattered showers possible for the southern mountains, thunderstorms southeast #COdrought #COwx

    From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

    A weak weather disturbance is expected to ripple across Colorado today…bringing isolated to scattered rain and snow showers to the region this afternoon into tonight. Area temperatures are expected to continue their warming trend…with highs climbing to the 50s to low 60s over much of the high country and into the 60s to near 70 over the eastern plains.

    From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

    A weak system will move across the southern half of the area, with scattered afternoon and evening showers across mainly southwest Colorado and isolated showers over the central Colorado mountains. Isolated thunderstorms may occur as well with this system. Otherwise, skies will be partly sunny today with warmer temperatures than the previous few days, with high temperatures near normal. This warming trend will continue into the weekend and through the first half of next week, with well above normal temperatures and dry conditions.

    Snowpack/Drought news: Denver Water is breathing easier these days, they plan to keep Antero Reservoir open #COdrought




    Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

    Thanks to a snowy April, Denver Water will no longer need to close Antero Reservoir in order to move the water and store it in Cheesman and Eleven Mile reservoirs during the ongoing drought.

    “Managing water supplies through a drought is an ever-changing process,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager for Denver Water. “While we are still in drought and need our customers to save water, the recent snow has helped our supply situation. Keeping Antero open will be a benefit to Park County and those who love to fish there. If we drained the reservoir, it would take about three years to refill.”

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages the fishery and says effective immediately, the regular bag and possession limit — two trout per angler — at Antero will be reinstated.

    Antero Reservoir will be open for recreational use from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. Hand-launched vessels will be allowed, but no trailered boats will be permitted until details about aquatic nuisance species inspections can be determined.

    The reservoir was last taken out of service to assist with water management during the drought that began in 2002.

    From email from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Jennifer Churchill):

    Due to Denver Water’s decision not to drain Antero this year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is reinstating the bag and possession limit to two trout per angler immediately.

    For questions regarding Antero operations, contact Denver Water at 303-628-6117

    For more information on fishing hot spots in Colorado, see the new Colorado Fishing Atlas at:

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages 42 state parks, more than 300 state wildlife areas, all of Colorado’s wildlife, and a variety of outdoor recreation. For more information go to cpw.state.co.us

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    With a rebounding snowpack, Denver Water officials said this week they won’t drain Antero Reservoir, in Park County, as previously planned.

    More Denver Water coverage here.

    Record flooding in the midwest


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the map of streams in flood stage across the U.S. The midwest is getting pounded (depicted by the black triangles) as is the Red River along the Minnesota/North Dakota border.

    It’s the time of year when water suppliers, irrigators, emergency responders, state water agencies and water wonks start watching the streamflow gages across the US. Click here to visit the USGS Water Watch website. Be careful though, if you are a data and map junkie the visit could eat up all your extra time for a while.

    If you are in Colorado click here to visit the Division of Water Resources website. They have all the USGS streamflow gages along with those operated by the division.

    More USGS coverage here.

    Salida: Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas Wetlands Program and Field Trip, May 14 and 18


    From email from the Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas:

    Wetlands Program and Field Trip

    Program – May 14, 2013, 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm, Salida Community Center

    Field Trip – May 18, 2013, 8:30 am to 11:30 am, location close to Salida, details given the night of the program

    Join us for a exploration of wetlands. What are wetlands? Why are they so important? Why should we care? And, what types of wetlands are found in Central Colorado? Bill Goosmann will help us answer these questions. Bill has a Master’s of Science and is certified as a Professional Wetland Scientist. He managed the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado Division of Wildlife wetland programs. Bill has also designed and implemented wetland creation, restoration, and mitigation projects.

    We will start with a program on May 14th at the Salida Community Center (corner of Third and F Streets), 7:00 pm. The following Saturday (May 18th) we will go out into the field to a wetland site just west of Salida. In addition to Bill, joining us on the field trip will be the Raquel Wertsbaugh, Wildlife Conservation Biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Raquel manages all the non-game programs in the region Also, Land Trust Executive Director, Andrew Mackie will round out the trip leaders. He is an avid birder and wetland ecologist by training.

    The field trip will put into practice what we learned during the program. We will also search for and discuss the many species of wildlife that depend upon wetlands.

    You must attend the Tuesday program to attend the field trip on Saturday. The program and field trip are free and open to the public. Please email or call the Land Trust to register at info@ltua.org or 719-539-7700.

    More conservation coverage here.

    Denver: Water For People is presenting the Festival for Water at Civic Center Park on June 9


    From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

    As Colorado prepares for what’s expected to be another dry summer, water organizations are planning a free festival in Denver to raise awareness about what it takes to get clean water to people worldwide.

    The Denver-based nonprofit group Water For People is presenting the Festival for Water at Civic Center Park on June 9 in collaboration with sponsors, partners and the Denver-based American Water Works Association, whose annual conference kicks off that day in Denver.

    Festival spokesman Aaron Carlson said the event, which is both a fundraiser and awareness builder, will feature bands including The Motet, plus food trucks. The idea is to get the public more involved in worldwide water challenges and not just draw the estimated 12,000 engineers, water providers, consultants and other water professionals attending the association’s conference, Carlson said.

    “It’s important that people understand how lucky we are to turn on the faucet, and water magically comes out,” Carlson said. “There are people in parts of the world who have limited access to clean water. There are organizations in Denver that are working on the problem.”

    Costs of the festival, estimated at about $80,000, are being covered by sponsors, including Molson Coors Brewing Co., for whom water is a key ingredient.

    “Water supply is something you want to look at whether you’re expanding or going to developed or developing markets,” said Mike Glade, the brewer’s senior director of water resources and real estate.

    In Colorado, farms, ranches, cities, environmental interests and various businesses have competing interests for limited supplies of water. Coors Brewing Co. in the past has tussled in court with the city of Golden over water rights and with the state over a 2000 beer spill that killed thousands of fish in Clear Creek.

    Glade said Molson Coors, which is working to reduce its water use and protect watersheds, believes in the importance of collaboration to address water issues. “Reducing risk is a community effort. It can’t really be done alone,” Glade said.

    More education coverage here.

    Windsor first and second graders learn about wetlands in conjunction with the Jane Goodall Foundation


    From the Windsor Beacon/Greeley Tribune (T.M. Fasano) via The Denver Post:

    First- and second-grade students at Skyview Elementary School in Windsor are learning the importance of making the environment and the world they live in a better place.
    The students — 44 in all — are participating in a service-learning project sponsored by The Jane Goodall Foundation’s Roots & Shoots program.

    They’ll wrap up the project, which involves learning about their environment and rehabilitating the school’s wetlands, includes a field trip to the Ritchie Center on the campus of the University of Denver on May 4, where they will hear from Jane Goodall, who will reflect on her career as a conservationist and emphasize how young people can ensure a better future for the world.

    The students’ project won’t end on May 4, however. Second grade teacher Kendra Jacoby said it will be an on-going learning experience for the classes. “I am part of a test group doing projects all over the Denver Metro Area and Northern Colorado,” Jacoby said. “Our campaign will last at least through this spring, and we are hoping that it becomes a service-learning project that will last for years to come. Our objectives are to rehabilitate the wetlands that are on the east side of our school grounds, and learn more about recycling and why it’s so important for our environment.”

    The project started in February and has been extensive for the students, who also write in a reflection journal about what they’re learning for a language arts experience that also ties it to the state’s standards and curriculum. “It’s really important because when kids learn at this age they take that life lesson with them as they grow up, and they also go home and teach their parents,” Alexis Joens, outreach coordinator for Gallegos Sanitation in Fort Collins, said.

    Jane Goodall speaks

    Jane Goodall talks about inspiring and empowering young people. 9-10 a.m. May 4 at the Ritchie Center on the University of Denver campus, 2201 E. Asbury Ave. Event is free, but registration is required at stemosphere.org

    More education coverage here.

    Grand Valley water related events during May #ColoradoRiver


    From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

    Grand Junction will be a hub of water activity in May with both educational events and major policy meetings. Here’s a sampling:

    • May 13 — 5:30-7 p.m. Colorado Mesa University Ballroom: State of the River meeting

    This annual meeting, co-sponsored by the Colorado River District and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, provides an opportunity to learn about our current and projected water supply situation. This year, there will also be presentations on the achievements of salinity control programs in the Grand Valley and research on the feasibility of a “water bank,” which would compensate agricultural water users for voluntarily cutting back water use in order to maintain critical uses during times of shortage. This meeting is a free educational event for the public, and light refreshments will be provided.

    • May 14-15 — Colorado Water Conservation board meeting

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) is the state’s primary water policy and water project financing entity. The board will have its May meeting in Grand Junction, giving local residents the opportunity to watch the board at work and make comments on agenda items. Details on the location and agenda will be published on the CWCB website prior to the meeting.

    • May 16-17 — Colorado Basin Salinity Control Forum

    When water is applied to the soils in our region, the flows back to the river often contain high levels of naturally occurring salts. The trouble this causes to downstream farmers has led to many efforts to limit deep percolation through our soils through measures such as canal lining and irrigation efficiency. The Colorado Basin Salinity Control Forum meets regularly to assess the effectiveness of these efforts, and in May, they will hold their meeting in Grand Junction in the Courtyard by Marriott on Horizon Drive.

    • May 29-31 — Lower Colorado River Basin float and tour

    Not all the water events in May are inside, wonk-talk affairs. On May 30-31, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education will host a tour of key sites in the Grand Valley and uphill on the Grand Mesa. Discussions and sites on the tour will illuminate issues such as the purchase of agricultural water rights to serve the Grand Valley’s growing urban population, energy development in water supply watersheds, endangered fish recovery efforts, and tamarisk control. Prior to the tour, on May 29, the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University will host a float down the river from Palisade to Corn Lake.


    Details on all these events and many more can be found on the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University’s website, at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter/events.html

    More education coverage here.

    Colorado Avalanche Information Center Publishes Final Report April 20th Avalanche Accident near Loveland Pass


    Here’s the release from the CAIC. Here’s an excerpt:

    Boulder, CO – April 24, 2013, The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) has published the results of their investigation into the avalanche accident that killed five people in a backcountry touring group near Loveland Pass, Colorado, on April 20, 2013.

    The CAIC staff would like to extend its deepest condolences to the friends and families of the victims and everyone that has been affected by this tragedy. The people involved in this accident were active in backcountry recreation and avalanche safety.

    From the Clear Creek Courant (Ian Neligh):

    An event benefiting the Colorado Avalanche Information Center turned deadly on Saturday when a massive snow slide along U.S. 6 near the summit of Loveland Pass killed four experienced backcountry snowboarders and a skier. One man survived. The victims were ski veterans, guides and industry professionals, and the event’s organizer, Joseph Timlin, was among the dead. The victims are Ryan Novack, 33, of Boulder; Christopher Peters, 32, of Lakewood; Rick Gaukel, 33, of Estes Park; Ian Lamphere, 36, of Crested Butte; and Timlin, 32, of Gypsum.

    Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment for Colorado and the Upper Colorado River Region #ColoradoRiver


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation maps from yesterday’s webinar. Click here for all the summaries.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Snow totals for this week from the NWS Boulder office #COdrought #COwx

    Will Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann be the beginning of the end for river compacts? (probably not)


    From the Associated Press (Mark Sherman) via the Washintgon Post:

    The Supreme Court appeared skeptical Tuesday of a claim by Texas that it has a right under a 30-year-old agreement to cross the border with Oklahoma for water to serve the fast-growing Fort Worth area. The justices heard arguments in a dispute over access to southeastern Oklahoma tributaries of the Red River that separates Oklahoma and Texas. The Tarrant Regional Water District serving an 11-county area in north-central Texas including Fort Worth and Arlington wants to buy 150 billion gallons of water and says the four-state Red River Compact gives it the right to do so. Arkansas and Louisiana are the other participating states and they are siding with Oklahoma.

    Several justices pointed to the absence of an explicit approval for cross-border water sales in the agreement. “This clause, the one that you rely on, is kind of sketchy, isn’t it? Doesn’t say how they’re going to get it, if they’re going to pay for it. There’s a lot to be filled in,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said to Charles Rothfeld, the lawyer representing the Texas district.

    To the contrary, Rothfeld said, “it is quite clear” that the four states have equal rights to the water in the stretch of the Red River at issue before the Supreme Court.

    Justice Samuel Alito called Texas’ aggressive language “very striking. I mean, it sounds like they are going to send in the National Guard or the Texas Rangers.”

    Rothfeld sought to assure Alito on that point. “Oklahoma’s brief suggests that the Texas Rangers are going to descend on Tulsa and seize the water. That is not what is contemplated,” Rothfeld said…

    …the water district’s plans have been blocked by Oklahoma laws that govern the use of water within its borders, including a moratorium on out-of-state water sales. Lisa Blatt, Oklahoma’s lawyer, took issue with virtually every aspect of the district’s argument, including the claim that water drawn directly from the river is too salty…

    Lower courts have ruled for Oklahoma, including the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It found that the Red River Compact protects Oklahoma’s water statutes from the legal challenge.

    Legislation adopted by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2009 said no out-of-state water permit can prevent Oklahoma from meeting its obligations under compacts with other states. It also requires the Water Resources Board to consider in-state water shortages or needs when considering applications for out-of-state water sales.

    The Obama administration is backing the Texas district at the Supreme Court, saying Oklahoma may not categorically prohibit Texas water users from obtaining water in Oklahoma. But the administration takes no position on whether the Texans ultimately should get the water they are seeking in this case.

    A decision is expected by late June.

    From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

    Utah joined six other states that weighed in together on the Tarrant Regional Water District vs Hermann case that pits the water supplier for much of the Fort Worth-Dallas area against the state of Oklahoma. At issue is an interstate compact governing the division of excess runoff water that is to be shared equally by four states: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana…

    The Texas district wants to dip into its share of Red River water by taking its fourth of the flow in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has responded that the district has no authority or right to cross the border to meet Texas water needs.

    Oklahoma lawmakers, acting to protect their water resources, passed a moratorium on any water exports from the state, unless those exports have their express approval.

    [Tim Bishop, an attorney representing the water district] said the state’s actions fly in the face of the compact’s provisions, shunning a congressionally mandated binding agreement…

    The legal team points to areas like Denver and the Salt Lake City metro area as regions that depend on water supplies governed by interstate compacts — such as the Colorado River compact of 1922 that allocates that water among seven recipient basin states, including Utah. But Utah actually joined with Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Indiana and Michigan in urging the high court to refrain from unraveling the 10th Circuit decision. “We have a very strong interest” that Oklahoma’s position be upheld, said Norm Johnson, the natural resources attorney for the Utah Attorney General’s Office. “A compact does not equal permission to disregard the water laws of equal sovereign (states).”

    Johnson said it should be telling that both lower courts have sided with Oklahoma and respected the right of states to govern what happens to the water within their boundaries.

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    At the heart of the lawsuit is whether the language of the Red River Compact — signed in 1978 by the basin states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, and ratified two years later by Congress — gives entities in Texas the right to water that originates in a particular river basin in Oklahoma…

    Tarrant’s legal team argues that if the Supreme Court upholds the federal appeals court ruling, which supported Oklahoma’s restrictions on out-of-state water sales, the justices would throw existing water compacts into chaos and would encourage protectionist policies from states wanting to guard water resources on their soil. The problem is that almost no one outside of Texas shares that view…

    Tarrant has not found much sympathy in this case. Nearly all of the amicus briefs — filings from parties interested in the outcome but not directly involved — have sided with Oklahoma. Arkansas and Louisiana, the two other states bound by the Red River Compact, filed on behalf of Oklahoma, as did a group of water law professors and a pair of water districts in Colorado that draw from interstate rivers. Even states that are part of other interstate compacts — a diverse group including Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah — share Oklahoma’s position.

    Seemingly the only groups supporting Tarrant are Texas-based organizations and the city of Hugo, Oklahoma, which would like to sell water to Texas. The U.S. Solicitor General also backs Texas.

    Mark Davis, director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy in New Orleans, told Circle of Blue that this case is mostly a compact issue and is not about the Commerce Clause.

    “If you have water, you read the compact one way. If you don’t, you read it another,” said Davis, who co-signed an amicus brief supporting the Tenth Circuit’s ruling in favor of Oklahoma. “The fact that Texas has a growing need for water means it’s going to read as many rights into the compact as it can.”

    Arkansas and Louisiana, in their amicus brief, wrote that the provision about the equal rights in sub-basin 5 “simply does not constitute a clear expression by the signatory states or Congress that this one phrase was added for the purpose of overriding the regulatory authority of the States over intrastate waters that was otherwise maintained throughout the Compact.”

    The compact also makes clear that the states have the power to regulate water within their boundaries. And Arkansas and Louisiana — two wet states that use riparian law that differs from the rights-based system in the American West — have different legal traditions for water than their fellow Red River states.

    More water law coverage here.

    Snowpack/drought: ‘It’s continuing to snow, but we’re not showing huge accumulations’ — Roy Vaughan #COdrought

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Snowpack in Colorado’s mountains continues to build slowly, but the state isn’t out of a drought yet. “It’s continuing to snow, but we’re not showing huge accumulations,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “Even though we may not see significant snowfall, as long as it remains overcast and we have flurries, it prolongs the snowpack.”

    Statewide, snowpack has improved to 90 percent of average statewide, with normal levels in the Colorado River basin, but lower levels across the southern part of the state, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel sites. Those numbers can be deceptive, because snowpack normally has begun melting off by this time of year. Snow moisture is only at 90 percent of peak in the Colorado River basin. [ed. emphasis mine]

    Drought conditions remain severe for Colorado and the Arkansas Valley in particular. Reduced soil moisture will soak up more water than usual during runoff.

    Temperatures are expected to be above average through the summer, while most models are showing below-average rainfall through the summer, according to information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Reservoir storage is at about 70 percent of average statewide, compared with more than 100 percent at the same time last year.

    A drought task force last week determined the state once again will be vulnerable to wildfires from May to July, both because of the drought and mountain pine beetle damage on more than 4 million acres of trees.

    Precipitation for the year in Pueblo through Tuesday morning was only 1.07 inches, less than half of average and even less than Pueblo had received by this time last year. After light snow Tuesday, high temperatures are expected to climb into the 70s by the end of the week.

    Here’s a post from Colorado Springs Utilities Re:Sources blog:

    Lately, I’m feeling like a parent on a long road trip with an entire community in the back seat. You know the trip I’m talking about. It’s the one where the kids in the back seat ask “Are we there yet?” every five minutes. The difference is that the questions are “How’s our water supply with the recent snow; and is it enough to move out of restrictions?”

    Yes, the snow is great; however we all need to be realistic about our expectations here. We didn’t get into this situation by simply missing a couple of good mountain storms. We got here with a couple of years of severely below average precipitation. While the recent snow fall is welcome relief from hot and dry conditions, we are not out of the drought yet. Even with all the recent snow, our watersheds are seeing a peak snowpack of about 85% of average. That means we still haven’t even reached an average winter yet, let alone a surplus of snow that will replenish our reservoirs.

    There are 3 other key factors to consider.

    1. Soil moisture. The ground has been extremely deprived of moisture for quite some time, meaning a lot of the snow is going to melt and sink into the ground.
    2. Evaporation. When the temperatures do warm up and the snow begins to melt, a portion of that snow is lost to evaporation too.
    3. Water rights. Not all of the water that makes its way into a lake or stream can be diverted to Colorado Springs. We can only harvest the water for which we have rights. The rest of it must be passed downstream to other users with senior water rights.
    Not to be a negative Nellie, but we are in Stage 2 restrictions and expect to remain there throughout 2013. It’s a harsh reality, but we all need to come to grips with it.

    On the bright side, we’re all doing a great job of conserving and we are currently meeting our savings goal! And, the snow and colder conditions locally mean customers will save even more because they will not need to water their landscapes.

    So, don’t make me turn this car around. Let’s all appreciate the recent snow for what it is: an opportunity to make a few snowballs, a few snowmen (or women if you prefer) and a few trips down a hill on a sled. Let’s enjoy a brief winter wonderland, even if it is spring!

    From the Parker Chronicle (Chris Michlewicz):

    The release of a voluntary watering schedule is a departure from some communities, which have implemented mandatory restrictions on irrigation, but Parker Water’s district manager, Ron Redd, is hoping that widespread cooperation will avoid the need for such drastic measures.

    Recent snowfall has made for near-normal snowpacks and happy plants across Colorado, tempering drought conditions for now. But Parker Water is not affected by snowmelt like other communities because it relies on groundwater, and the inevitable Colorado dry spell could turn the tables on local vegetation.

    First and foremost, customers are being asked to avoid watering their lawns until May, as the ground retains much of its moisture in the early spring months. Those with an address ending in an even number are instructed to water on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Property owners with addresses ending in odd numbers, as well as commercial properties, homeowners associations and multi-family residences, are being asked to water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. There should be no watering on Fridays so the wells can recharge.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    This week’s spring snowstorm is causing minor flooding around Fort Collins after heavy, wet snow last week caused a roof collapse.

    Businesses along Pinon Street off North College Avenue have been struggling for several days with melting snow filling their parking lots and, in some cases, their stores. Wool Hat Furniture co-owner Danelle Britt said she discovered water pouring into the store at 104 Pinon St. last week and had to shut down on Thursday and Friday to deal with it. On Saturday, she said, she spent half her time helping customers buy handmade furniture made from recycled wood and half her time rolling up her pants and wading around trying to fix the sump pump that was helping keep her year-old store dry.

    The snow last week collapsed the roof of Discount Tire at 1751 S. College Ave.

    From Denver Water:

    As a majority of Colorado begins to see some much-needed relief from two years of hot and dry conditions, we all are talking about the many numbers associated with drought, with hope that the snow this spring will get us out of it. But, what numbers matter?

    Here’s what the experts at Denver Water are looking at:

    The big one is snowpack. We get our water from the Colorado River and South Platte River watersheds. But, it isn’t as easy as pulling up the latest report from the National Water and Climate Center to see what the snowpack levels are for those watersheds. Why? Because we need the snowpack levels above our diversion points within these watersheds, not the entire watershed.

    …the snowpack that feeds our reservoirs in the Colorado River watershed is at 87 percent and the South Platte watershed is at 78 percent of average. So, while the complete watershed numbers are higher — Colorado River watershed is at 103 percent of average and the South Platte River watershed is at 90 percent of average — the areas within those watersheds that feed into our reservoirs are much lower.

    Obviously, we are very excited to see these numbers increasing each week, but the snowpack levels that feed our reservoirs are still well below the normal peak.

    What else are the experts tracking? Because of the past two dry winters, our reservoirs haven’t been full since July of 2011. So as we move out of April, we will look closely at our reservoir levels, the temperature, and the amount of rain or snow we get.

    We will also monitor the conditions that determine how much of this snowpack will become water in our reservoirs because:

    • Some will soak into the ground, depending on how dry it is and what plants need
    • Some will evaporate
    • Some may be passed downstream to senior water rights

    As we continue to evaluate the conditions and crunch the numbers, we will continue to manage our water supply carefully. At this point, we are still in Stage 2 mandatory watering restrictions. The good news is you don’t even need to think about watering your landscape right now, because Mother Nature is taking care of that for all of us.

    From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krivonen):

    Recent snow showers have boosted local snowpack levels much higher than at this time last year. Yesterday the snowpack in the Roaring Fork Watershed registered 107 percent of normal. It’s good news for anglers who dealt with warm and dry conditions last year…

    The snowpack that feeds the Frying Pan River has increased too. The Frying Pan, along with the Roaring Fork River, are what make Basalt an internationally known fly-fishing destination. It’s an important sport for Colorado. In 2011, anglers spent $857 million in the state and supported more than 10,000 jobs. That’s according to a report by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation…

    Typically the snowpack in Colorado’s high country peaks in mid-April. Last year, snowmelt was more than a month early. This year is still a question mark. Meanwhile, parts of Western Colorado continue to experience severe and extreme drought, despite the added moisture this month.

    ‘We should be encouraging density’ — Jim Lochhead


    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    Reforming laws to provide more flexibility in how water is used and shared in Colorado will be critical in meeting demands as the state’s population rapidly grows, according to agriculture, environmental and municipal water experts who spoke Tuesday in Denver. Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar, Western Resources Advocates Director Bart Miller and Denver Water CEO and Manager Jim Lochhead said the complexity of Colorado water law and the immense court costs associated with it have deterred some users from sharing the resource and taking other measures that would improve efficiencies. That needs to change, they told an audience at the University of Denver’s Sturm School of Law.

    Other aspects of the state’s water law — like its “use it or lose it” language, which discourages conservation, Miller said — must be altered if Colorado is going to maximize its beneficial use of the resource and meet its rapidly growing demands.

    According to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Statewide Water Supply Initiative Study in 2010, the state could need as much as 630,000 acre feet of water annually (or 205.4 gallons) to meet the demands it will have by 2050.

    Along with more flexibility in water laws, the trio of experts said urban areas need to grow within their existing boundaries, instead of sprawling outward, which takes up more arable land and forces municipal water providers to expand water infrastructure. Salazar said group housing can save anywhere from 40-70 percent in water consumption compared to individual homes. “We should be encouraging density,” said Lochhead, explaining that Denver’s current population density is about 4,000 people per square mile — much less than other major U.S. cities, particularly New York City, which has a population density of 27,000 people per square mile.

    Across the board, the trio of experts said, Colorado residents, who consume 121 gallons of water per day, need to more closely resemble residents in countries such as Australia, who only consume 36 gallons of water per day.

    Cities using less water will be critical in keeping water on the state’s farms and ranches, Salazar said, and also in protecting Colorado’s wildlife and recreation industries, which generate 80,000 jobs in the state and $6.4 billion in spending annually, Miller added.

    Of the state’s eight major river basins, the Colorado River is most at risk, they said. According to stats shared by Miller, the Colorado River’s water demands began exceeding its supply in the mid 1990s. Weld County and much of the northern Front Range divert much of their water from the Colorado River basin.

    More water law coverage here

    Parachute Creek spill: ‘The actual benzene standard on the creek is 5,300 ppb to protect aquatic life’ — Todd Hartman #ColoradoRiver


    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Weekend tests continue to show the presence of benzene in Parachute Creek downstream of a natural gas liquids leak, but at what the state Department of Natural Resources said are trace amounts. In fact, while the detections were somewhat below the standard of 5 parts per billion for drinking water, they are far under what’s allowable for the creek, agency spokesman Todd Hartman said in a press release. “Since Parachute Creek has not been designated as a drinking water supply by the state Water Quality Control Commission, the actual benzene standard on the creek is 5,300 ppb to protect aquatic life,” he said.

    The creek does supply the irrigation system for the town of Parachute and its residents. However, there continue to be no benzene detections at the diversion point for that system, 2.7 miles downstream from where the leak is believed to have occurred.

    Thousands of gallons of hydrocarbons leaked in a pipeline corridor near Williams’ gas processing plant up the creek valley. Williams says the source was a faulty pressure gauge on a natural gas liquids pipeline leaving the plant. High benzene levels have been found in groundwater since early in an investigation that started in March, but the first detection of benzene in the creek wasn’t until last Thursday.

    On Saturday, benzene was detected 1,800 feet downstream from the pipeline corridor at 3.1 parts per billion, a level slightly higher than previous readings. That detection site is where groundwater is believed to be introducing benzene into the creek. No benzene was found at that location Sunday, and 3 ppb was detected Monday. Saturday and Sunday readings at monitoring points 2,500 and 3,700 feet from the pipeline area ranged from 1.5 to 1.1 ppb, with no results available for Monday.

    Work continues on installation of an interceptor trench to strip benzene from groundwater above the creek contamination point, and to remove benzene at two locations in the creek. “Operators have drilled several additional monitoring wells to determine the extent of impacted groundwater. These new monitoring wells are not detecting benzene, an indication that delineation of the affected groundwater continues to improve,” Hartman said.

    Also over the weekend, Bob Arrington, a retired engineer in Battlement Mesa and member of Garfield County’s Energy Advisory Board, wrote Gov. John Hickenlooper, urging him to have the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment rather than Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission lead the leak investigation. Arrington wrote that Williams has struggled with its own leak response, initially even doubting that the burst pressure gauge could leak that much fluid, and he argued that the commission doesn’t have the staff or training to oversee remediation.

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

    According to a report on Monday from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, benzene was detected during last weekend at the same three sites where it was first found on April 18. The water sampling and analysis is being conducted by personnel working for Williams Midstream, the company that owns a natural gas processing plant and some of the pipelines running underground in the area of the leak. The sampling sites, according to COGCC spokesman Todd Hartman, are at locations 1,800 feet, 2,500 feet and 3,700 feet, respectively, downstream from an above-ground valve set believed to be the source of leaking natural-gas liquids first discovered on March 8.

    According to Hartman’s report on Monday, the concentration of benzene at the closest point to the valve set, 1,800 feet away, on Saturday was three parts benzene per billion parts water. In the subsequent two days, according to Hartman’s report, no benzene was detected at that location on Sunday, and 3 ppb was reported by Williams on Monday.

    Analysis of samples taken at the more distant sites showed the concentration of benzene decreasing at each site and decreasing as samples were taken farther from the supposed source of the leak. At the 2,500-foot distance, according to results supplied to the COGCC by Williams, analysis detected 1.5 ppb on Saturday, and 1.4 ppb on Sunday. Results from Monday’s sampling were not available on Monday. At the site furthest from the leak, 3,700 feet downstream, samples tested out at 1.1 ppb on Saturday, and 1.2 ppb on Sunday. No results were available from Monday’s sampling…

    Hartman’s report stated that Williams is working to build an “interceptor trench to strip benzene from the ground water prior to the point where it’s believed ground water enters the stream,” along with other efforts to clear the toxic chemical from the water.

    From the Associated Press via KGWN.tv:

    Aerators have been set up on Parachute Creek to flush out cancer-causing benzene that has been detected downstream from a hydrocarbon spill in western Colorado. Williams energy company crews also expanded their pumping of hydrocarbons from trenches dug along the creek.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.

    CWCB Drought Update for April #COdrought



    Click here to read the update. Here’s an excerpt:

    Recent weeks have brought increased precipitation in the northern portion of the state and cooler temperatures have helped to maintain snowpack; levels in the northwest corner have reached near normal conditions and statewide snowpack has increased to 90% of normal. However, the southern portions of the state is experiencing rapid deterioration of conditions and the eastern plains have seen devastating dust storms. Storage remains below average and water providers are preparing for continued drought conditions throughout the spring and summer. CWCB is maintaining a new drought response portal, www.COH2O.co, with additional information on restrictions that have been implemented in specific communities.

     As of the April 16, 2013 US Drought Monitor, 100% of Colorado is experiencing some level of drought classification. D1 (moderate) and D2 (severe) cover 69% of the state, while D3 (extreme) accounts for an additional 25%. 14% of the state is now experiencing exceptional drought (D4), a decrease from last month.

     Spring snow storms have brought significant gains in the snowpack of the northern portions of the state; with the Yampa/ White, North Platte and Colorado basins all near normal at 98, 102 and 103% respectively. The lowest snowpack in the state is in the Upper Rio Grande basin (70%) while the Southwest basins is experiencing 71% and the Arkansas is at 79% of normal for the water year. The Gunnison and the South Platte have also seen increases and are now both at 88 % of average. *

     Despite recent gains in snowpack municipalities and water providers are still responding to drought conditions with both mandatory and voluntary watering restrictions throughout the spring and summer demand season. The CWCB drought response portal http://www.COH2O.co continues to help individuals determine the restrictions in their specific community.

     As of the first of April statewide reservoir storage is at 71% of average. The highest storage levels are in the Yampa/ White River Basin, at 105% of average while the lowest storage in the state is the Rio Grande River basin at 54% of average. All other basins range from 55% to 84% of average. Last year this time the state was at 108% of average reservoir storage.*

     Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values have largely decreased across the state over the last month and all values remain negative. Below average reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts contribute to these values and data reflect conditions on April 1, 2013. Recent storms have helped to increase streamflow forecasts by as much as 10% in portions of northern and central Colorado, a component of the SWSI, however despite the increase they remain well below average.

     The long term experimental forecast for April through June of this year is projecting above normal moisture for the eastern plains of the state. Additionally, the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA is forecasting above average temperatures statewide and persistent drought conditions across western portions of the state, with some relief possible on the eastern plains.

     The National Interagency Fire Center Predictive services outlook indicates normal wildland fire potential is expected across most of Colorado from May into July.

     A report from the USFS on Bark Beetles in the Rocky Mountain Region indicates that 4.2 Million acres of land in Colorado and adjacent lands in southern Wyoming have been affected by Mountain Pine Beetle, but the outbreak of the last decade is largely on the decline. However, Spruce beetle is on the rise and is expanding from southern Colorado north toward the Gunnison region.

    More CWCB coverage here.

    Snowpack/drought news: Statewide snowpack = 90% of avg, Upper Colorado = 103% #CODrought




    From 9News.com (Nick McGurk):

    “Snow equates to water, and that’s good, so in the water business we’re happy. We’re smiling, and the farmers are smiling,” said Brian Werner with Northern Colorado Water.

    Snowpack levels along the Colorado River are above average and the South Platte is at about 90 percent. Werner cautions that reservoir levels are still below capacity. “The caution here is that we had a lot of large holes going into 2013 that we’re not gonna get full. So, this is good. We like Mother Nature for this. As we like to say, there’s a lot of holes in there and no matter what happens we’re not going to get those full this year,” Werner said. Werner says Horsetooth Reservoir, a vital source of water for Fort Collins and Greeley, is about 18 feet below capacity but could rise roughly 5 feet more this spring.

    One problem for reservoirs in Northern Colorado is that Lake Granby, the second largest reservoir in the state, won’t come close to filling this year because there isn’t enough snowpack in that area along the Western Slope.

    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    When the dust layers deposited on mountain snow April 8, April 14 and the 61-hour monster of April 15-17 come under a scorching sun, the already measly snowpack could melt into nothing in no time, the director of the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies in Silverton said Thursday.

    The albedo, the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface – dirt, sand, snow, ice – is key, Chris Landry said. Clean snow absorbs 5 to 20 percent of solar energy, but dust-covered snow absorbs 70 percent, Chris Landry said. The more energy absorbed, the faster the melt, he said. “Direct solar energy is bad news,” Landry said. “Air temperature is a relatively minor factor.”

    The major dust event of the season so far – the sixth – occurred April 8, Landry said. The seventh occurred April 14. A break followed, then came the 61-hour assault. The dust arrives from northwest New Mexico and the Little Colorado River basin in Arizona, borne by wind from the south, southwest and west. “We’re retaining snow longer this year than last because of March and April storms,” Landry said. “But the water equivalent is no greater than last year.”

    Runoff will surge when the three dust layers merge,” Landry said…

    In a report to Montezuma County commissioners, John Porter, president of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, said mountain precipitation in the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel basins in March was 56 percent of average. Stream flow in the basins from April to July is expect to range from 46 to 61 percent of average, Porter said…

    “There’s a potential that it’s going to be a less than average year,” Sterling Moss, director of the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Durango, said Friday. “Soil moisture – 18 to 20 inches of depth – is half to two-thirds of what we should have after a normal winter.”[…]

    Tom O’Keeffe from the Durango Rafting Co. isn’t sweating it yet. “The snowpack is 72 percent of normal, and it was 44 percent this time last year,” O’Keeffe said, “The current cold is not pleasant, but it holds off the melt.”

    From TheDenverChannel.com (Alan Gathright):

    The snowpack in Denver Water’s watersheds is 87 percent of average in the Colorado River watershed and it is 78 percent of average in the South Platte River watershed, said Stacy Chesney of Denver Water, Colorado’s largest water utility. Chesney cautioned that, as spring warms up, it can be hard to use snowpack depths to accurately gauge the percent of average normal snowpack. The problem is that snow normally starts melting by mid-April. This means that the average snowpack level starts to decrease, while the percent of average normal snowpack begins increasing even in the absence of additional snow, she said. [ed. emphasis mine]

    Even if this year’s snowpack reaches normal peak levels, Denver Water reservoirs remain below normal after two years of drought. At this point, Chesney said, “It is too early to say how full our reservoirs are going to get.”

    From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

    Greeley will not impose additional watering restrictions for residents this year, Greeley Water and Sewer Board members decided on Wednesday. Sufficient storage, recent water purchases and past conservation practices led water board members to declare this year an “adequate water year,” meaning residents can count on watering their lawns three times per week with the city’s regular schedule. Greeley will continue its long-term rental agreements, which include about 4,500 acre-feet for agricultural users, but the board said the city will not lease any additional water this year.

    Jim Hall, Greeley water resources manager, said officials are still waiting to hear a projection for Greeley’s shares from the Greeley-Loveland Irrigation Co. Depending on how much precipitation the area gets over the next few months, Hall said those shares could prompt the water board to come back in July to implement some drought restrictions or, if snow and rain continue to fall like the last few days, to allow farmers and ranchers to lease some water.

    The past few weeks of heavy snow across Colorado have boosted snowpack significantly, Hall said, pointing to a 10 percent increase in the South Platte River basin, which is now at 85 percent of the state historic average. “What really hurt us was we didn’t get any early snow,” Hall said, adding that the rest of the year followed a fairly normal pattern.

    Snowpack this year is 162 percent of what it was last year, “so we’re in much better shape,” Hall said.

    The water board’s decision comes less than a week after the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s board of directors set a 60 percent quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, from which Greeley gets a hefty portion of its water shares. Northern Water cited low reservoir levels and lack of mountain snowpack for reducing the quota this year.

    If the city implemented mild drought restrictions, residents would conserve an additional 2,000 acre-feet that could be leased to agriculture, said Jon Monson, director of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department. He said that would equate to about 800 acres of additional irrigated land — a blip of farmland on a map of the Greeley and Loveland farming areas. Monson said the drop in revenue due to a decline in water use would likely translate to a 0.75 percent increase in water rates for residents, and hiring “water cops” to ensure residents followed the additional watering restrictions would cost about $80,000. He said the total economic impact from leasing the water, including farmers buying seed and fertilizer and selling crops, would total about $900,000. While other communities implement watering restrictions, Greeley can enjoy a regular year because it has kept to a strict watering schedule since the 1900s, even during wet years, board members said. “I think the citizens of Greeley are going to benefit from that this year,” said Roy Otto, Greeley city manager.