USFS scientists project a possible fivefold increase for wildfire risk in Colorado due to Climate Change

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Some regions, including western Colorado, are expected to face up to a fivefold increase in acres burned if climate change continues on the current trajectory. Floods, droughts and heat waves, driven by changing weather patterns, also are expected to spur bug infestations of the sort seen across 4 million acres of Colorado pine forests. “We’re going to have to figure out some more effective and efficient ways for adapting rather than just pouring more and more resources and money at it,” Forest Service climate change advisor Dave Cleaves said.

“We’re going to have to have a lot more partnerships with states and communities to look at fires and forest health problems.”

The Forest Service scientists this week attended a “National Adaptation” forum in Denver, where experts explored responses to climate change. They’ve synthesized 25 years of federal climate science as part of the National Climate Assessment — now being finalized for the president and Congress — as the basis for navigating changes.

Colorado River Basin: Denver Water, et al., are operating under the Shoshone Outage Protocol

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

Two back-to-back, drought-plagued winters in Western Colorado have triggered an agreement to “relax” a senior water rights call on the Colorado River at the Shoshone Hydro Plant to allow water providers to store more water this spring, a move that benefits Denver Water and the West Slope.

The Shoshone Hydro Plant is owned by Xcel Energy and is located in Glenwood Canyon. Its senior 1902 water right of 1,250 cubic feet a second (cfs), when called, is administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources against junior water storage rights upstream that include Denver Water’s Dillon and Williams Fork Reservoirs, the Colorado River District’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Green Mountain Reservoir.

The agreement “relaxes” the call to 704 cfs when river flows are low, or takes a Shoshone call totally off the river when flows are rising, which is the current situation. This practice gives the upstream juniors water rights holders the ability to store water once the spring runoff begins in earnest. Currently, the Colorado River is flowing through Glenwood Canyon at about 825 cfs. (The long-term historical average for this date is about 1,150 cfs.)

Two tripping points activate the agreement: when Denver Water forecasts its July 1 reservoir storage to be 80 percent of full or less, and when the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts spring runoff flows at Kremmling in Grand County will be less than or equal to 85 percent of average. Currently, the reservoir forecast is 74 percent full on July 1 and the Kremmling forecast is 60 percent of average.

Denver Water has already enacted its Stage 2 Drought Restrictions to limit outdoor water use and enact other conservation measures.

The winter of 2012 was the fourth worst on record in the Colorado River Basin and 2013 has been tracking just as poorly. The only improvement between the two winters occurred in March 2013 as storms continued to build snowpack. By this time in 2012, runoff was already under way.
The relaxation period is between March 14 and May 20, in deference to boating season on the river and irrigation needs in the basin.

As for the water that Denver Water gains by the relaxation, 15 percent of the net gain is saved for Xcel Energy power plant uses in the Denver Metro Area and 10 percent is delivered to West Slope entities yet to be determined by agreement between Denver Water and the Colorado River District.

“This is a statewide drought, and we all need to work together to manage water resources for the health and safety of our residents, our economic vitality and the environment,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Shoshone Outage Protocol are great examples of the partnership between Denver Water and the West Slope to do just that. Last year, even though the CRCA was not yet in effect, Denver Water released water to the river even though the Shoshone Power Plant was not operating and the call was not on. This year, under the Denver Water-Xcel Energy agreement, the Shoshone call will be relaxed.”

“Relaxing the Shoshone water right in this limited way benefits the West Slope as well,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “It might make the difference between having a full supply at Green Mountain Reservoir and not having a full supply. In a year like this every extra drop of water we can store now will help us later.”

Drought/snowpack news: Western Resource Advocates touts conservation over storage in these dry times #codrought

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While water in storage reduced the impact of the 2012 statewide drought, permanent conservation measures are needed to head off future problems, a conservation group said Wednesday. “Conservation every year can help us in a drought year,” said Drew Beckwith, water policy manager for Western Resource Advocates.

The group hosted a conference call with journalists to explain its position on drought measures being implemented around the state. Many cities already have announced water restrictions, farmers have to cut back on irrigation and storage supplies are being drawn down.

While the group credited high storage levels last year for blunting impacts throughout Colorado, more storage is not the answer, Beckwith said. “Just because you build a reservoir doesn’t mean you’ll have water to store,” he said.

More storage is a key component in statewide water planning discussions by the Colorado Water Conservation While water in storage reduced the impact of the 2012 statewide drought, permanent conservation measures are needed to head off future problems, a conservation group said Wednesday. “Conservation every year can help us in a drought year,” said Drew Beckwith, water policy manager for Western Resource Advocates.

The group hosted a conference call with journalists to explain its position on drought measures being implemented around the state. Many cities already have announced water restrictions, farmers have to cut back on irrigation and storage supplies are being drawn down.

While the group credited high storage levels last year for blunting impacts throughout Colorado, more storage is not the answer, Board and Interbasin Compact Committee. They also have recommended conservation, reuse and water sharing between farms and cities, all strategies embraced by Western Resource Advocates. The group condones some storage projects that are sustainable, but the state should adopt permanent conservation measures such as low-use appliances, drought-tolerant landscapes and prohibition of outside watering from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Beckwith said. Bart Miller, water program director for Western Resource Advocates, said municipal water providers and the public are more aware of drought than in 2002. “This year looks a lot like 2002, with snowpacks topping out in the first week of April,” Miller said. “Utilities are better prepared and moving more quickly.”

But in 2002, most cities didn’t start putting restrictions in place until May.

In 2012, when snowpack started melting in March, few cities adopted any restrictions because storage levels still were high from near-record snow levels the previous year…

Colorado snowpack as of Wednesday was 73 percent of average, and just 68 percent of average in the Arkansas River basin. It’s 66 percent in the Colorado River basin, which provides supplemental water to cities and farms in this basin. Snowpack provides 80 percent of the state’s water.

● Reservoir storage in the state is about 71 percent of average, and 39 percent of capacity. It was 105 percent of average at the same time last year. Storage in the Arkansas River basin is at 55 percent of average, compared with 89 percent last year. Storage is at just 19 percent of capacity.

● Rio Grande snowpack is 66 percent of average, while reservoir storage is 53 percent of average and 16 percent of capacity.

● The entire state of Colorado is in some stage of drought, with the most extreme area over the Eastern Plains. The Arkansas River basin has been in drought since August 2010. During that 31-month period, precipitation has been half of normal in the Pueblo area.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Snowpack and streamflow figures in the Rio Grande Basin are approaching the drought conditions of a decade ago, the division engineer for the basin said Tuesday. “It’s ugly,” Craig Cotten said. “We’re getting close to what it was in 2003.”

He said snowpack for the basin was at 73 percent of the average peak.

And preliminary forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service for the San Luis Valley’s two biggest rivers are just as grim.

The Rio Grande is expected to have 335,000 acre-feet, which is down by roughly 70,000 acre-feet from last year.

Forecasters predict the Conejos River will have 107,000 acre-feet, down from 215,000 acre-feet last year.

Irrigators on the Rio Grande will be allowed to open their ditches Monday, but they’ll see a river that’s well below normal flows. “The Rio Grande right now is about 300 (cubic-feet per second) when it should be about 500 or 600 cfs,” he said.

The low flow numbers likely will reduce the burden irrigators face under the Rio Grande Compact, the requirements for which vary depending on the level of snowpack and streamflow.
Cotten said curtailments of diversions on the Rio Grande would start at 8 percent.

From the Westminster Window (Ashley Reimers):

Westminster City Council unanimously approved the city’s water conservation plan at its March 25 meeting. The plan will provide a roadmap for the city to reach conservation goals in the Comprehensive Water Supply Plan.

Since 2010 city staff has been updating the city’s water conservation plan and staff also encouraged the community to make comments on the plan before the plan was finalized and approved during the meeting.

The plan has also been reviewed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and if approved by CWCB, the city will qualify for future funding from the state board.

“The plan develops long-term strategies for water conservation programs, implementing and tracking water savings to assure attainment of the water conservation goals required to meet the city’s future build-out water needs,” said Stu Feinglas, city water resources analyst.

According to the staff report, the city has a goal of conserving another 2,200 acre-feet of water by build-out, which represents a 6 percent reduction in build-out water demand due to future conservation savings. Feinglas said the city has been doing water conservation for a long time, and in turn, the city has saved quite a bit of water.

Most of the city’s conservation needs will be met through passive conservation, like customers purchasing efficient washers and toilets and following the city’s landscape regulations, he added.

“Our customers are already using water at a very efficient level,” Feinglas said. “People are buying efficient appliances and using the city’s free irrigation audit to learn how to effectively irrigate their yards with the appropriate amount of water.”

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

April 1 is the day Colorado’s water watchers face the truth about the state’s snowpack, which generally peaks around that date. On that day, they begin predicting how much water is going to flow into mountain streams and reservoirs and how high the Poudre River’s rollicking rapids are going to be during the spring runoff. This is the truth they face now: Snowpack in Northern Colorado is 30 percent below normal, except in the Laramie and North Platte river basins, where it’s 20 percent below normal. Statewide, the average snowpack is 28 percent below normal…

The good news is that Northern Colorado’s snowpack often peaks later than the rest of the state, so there’s hope that new snow in the coming weeks could improve its levels, Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said. The bad news is that this dry year comes on the heels of one of the driest years on record…

Streamflow on the Poudre River during runoff season this year is expected to be about 35 percent below normal and 49 percent below normal on the Big Thompson River, Doesken said. It’ll take three or four major spring rain and snowstorms to recover from the current drought. “Probability is we’ll have one or two,” he said.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The good news is that the snowpack hasn’t quite peaked yet, according to the April 1 compilation of statistics from automated SNOTEL sites and manual survey results. The bad news is that soil moisture in many parts of the state is still at drought levels, and reservoir levels are well below average and lagging behind last year. While March snowfall was above average in some parts of Colorado, the statewide snowpack increased by only one percent during the month, from 73 percent of median on March 1, to 74 percent of median on April 1.

Water utilities are booking big revenue from selling water to oil and gas companies

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Maggie Shafer):

The explosion of hydraulic fracturing in the oil and gas business in Weld County is proving to be an economic boon to water utilities, allowing them to keep rates level and invest in new infrastructure…

Last year, the Greeley Water and Sewer Department sold $4.1 million worth of its surplus water to haulers through hydrant purchases, the majority of which went to oil rigs in the area, said Jon Monson, the department’s director. The treated water is sold for $3,700 per acre-foot, many times higher than the $30 per-acre foot the agricultural community pays. All of that new revenue is put to use in a number of ways. The city designated $1 million of the added income to pay for its share in wildfire water damage mitigation in the Poudre Watershed, and invested much of the rest into its long-range plans for a new reservoir and a new transmission main to bring water from the mountains. Additionally, the department purchased needed supplies and performed general maintenance, costs of which have historically been paid for by the residents of the city via their water bill. “The oil and gas drilling throughout Northern Colorado has benefited Greeley because it is a new revenue stream,” said Monson…

The city of Fort Lupton, meanwhile, made more than $360,000 from sales related to the oil and gas industry in 2012. City Administrator Claud Hanes said the income goes straight to its utility fund, where it is used to pay off debt incurred when the community switched from well water to Big Thompson water from the Northern Water Conservancy District in the mid-1990s. The process necessitated the construction of a new pipeline, which Fort Lupton has been slowly paying off through residential fees…

The town of Eaton, which sold about 14 million gallons of water to haulers last year, netted about $58,000 from the sales. Town Administrator Gary Carsten said the money was used to build a new water station “big enough for a semi” that self-regulates, shutting off like a gas pump after the user has drained what was paid for…

While the amount of water being used to drill may sound like a lot, when compared with total water usage, it only added up to 10 percent of Greeley’s surplus water last year. Statewide, the oil and gas industry’s water consumption counts for less than 1 percent of total use, Monson said.

“We (Northern Colorado) use a lot more in any number of other industries,” said [Brian] Werner. “We’ve always used our water. For crops to eat, to brewing beer, the uses of water have kept evolving. Just because this is different doesn’t make it bad. The big-picture take-home is that there is generally enough water to go around.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

‘The unpredictable nature of snowpack and rainfall…underscores the need for more water storage’ — Cory Gardner

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From the Denver iJournal (J.D. Thomas):

With Colorado cities facing austere watering restrictions and farmers unable to plant crops this year, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, believes the wait for a decision on the Northern Integrated Supply Project has gone on too long.

“The unpredictable nature of snowpack and rainfall in Colorado underscores the need for more water storage in good years, so we are better prepared for the bad ones,” said Garner who is hoping to hurry along a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision regarding the project. “NISP would provide the water storage we need to support northern Colorado’s growing communities and provide protection to farmers and families when the weather turns dry.”

An Environmental Impact Study process conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the project has already taken nine years and cost the participants about $11 million. The congressman is currently drafting water-storage legislation to streamline the approval process for projects like NISP, according to a statement from his office.

“This will ensure that these projects don’t drag on for decades and waste millions of dollars,” said Rachael Boxer-George, Gardner’s spokeswoman. “We are going to set a deadline on when the initial application needs to be approved or denied. The length of the EIS process is being discussed as we draft this bill, but so far we’re focusing on just the permits.”

Ten-year waits on an EIS are certainly not unprecedented, for instance the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District has gone through a similar wait on the Windy Gap firming project. But as growing municipalities on the Front Range seek new quality water sources, the undammed Cache-La Poudre is a natural place to look, and participants in NISP includes not only Weld and Larimer county water districts and municipalities, but also Erie, Lafayette and the Left Hand water district in Boulder County.

Though the two project elements will not actually dam the Poudre, the project has also attracted substantial opposition, including Western Resource Advocates of Boulder. That organization has suggested a program of water conservation, reuse of municipal water and transfer and coordinated use of agricultural water could provide the same amount of water while maintaining the riparian ecosystem of the Poudre.

“I certainly hope the congressman doesn’t believe that he can cut out public input on this process,” said Laura Belanger, the water resources engineer with the Boulder environmental organization.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here. More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here.

FIBArk Festival seeking sponsors and advertisers

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From The Mountain Mail:

FIBArk organizers are seeking sponsors and advertisers for the festival’s program guide before its April 1 sponsorship deadline. The 65th annual whitewater festival will take place June 13-16. “Many local businesses are back for this year’s festival, and we thank them,” Shaun Matusewicz, FIBArk event coordinator, said. “FIBArk is a huge undertaking and couldn’t happen without their support.”

The FIBArk board plans to print about 3,000 copies of the collectible program guide, which is distributed free around town during the festival. It features a schedule of events, historical information, band bios, maps and event descriptions. No format or pricing changes from last year are planned this year for the guide, board members said. “The guide is a must-have for anyone coming to the festival,” Matusewicz said. “It’s a very popular piece of information for out-of-town visitors and locals.”

Businesses interested in advertising in the guide may email FIBArk at fibark@gmail.com for information.

FIBArk is also planning two events in April and May. The FIBArk Youth Paddling program will host the second stop of the Rocky Mountain Whitewater Cup April 13-14 in Salida. The event will feature a wildwater race from Salida to Salida East, a slalom competition and a freestyle competition.

On May 18 FIBArk will host the 11th annual Cruiser Crit, which raises funds to provide music during the whitewater festival. The event draws costumed participants of all ages to race cruiser bicycles along downtown streets, alleys and paths.

More whitewater coverage here and here.

Cañon City: The Arkansas River Coalition and the Friends of the Arkansas River to meet Saturday

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Arkansas River Coalition and the Friends of the Arkansas River are scheduled to meet at the Royal Gorge Brewing Company and Brew Pub, 413 N. Main St., at noon Saturday. On the agenda are discussions of U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s proposal for a national monument in the Browns Canyon area.

For information, call Tom Pelikan at 720-219-3279.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update: De-commissioning plan winding its way to the EPA

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A road map defining the course of action for cleanup and decommissioning of the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill has been finalized. The plan has been prepared by state and federal health authorities after public input. It will be discussed during the Community Advisory Group meeting from 2 to 5 p.m. April 18 at the Fremont County administration building, Sixth and Macon streets, Room 207.

The mill and a portion of the neighboring Lincoln Park community have been a Superfund site since 1988 because uranium and molybdenum contamination seeped into groundwater and soils.

After state and federal health officials conduct a review of documentation, the site characterization will be the first step in the decommissioning process, which could take 10 to 15 years to complete. Public comment will be accepted at each stage of the process.

The site characterization will detail any problem areas and also will include a final public health assessment for Lincoln Park.

Final studies will be amassed in a remedial investigation report that will outline prior cleanup and current cleanup work.

From the remedial investigation report, a proposed cleanup remedy will be outlined and health officials also will screen possible alternative actions. Among decisions that will be made along the way will be whether to seal the primary lined impoundment — which already contains tailings and demolished buildings — or move all the waste to an offsite repository.

A final remedy will be selected followed by an EPA Superfund Record of Decision.

The final cleanup then will take place.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley: The Division 2 engineer further curtails groundwater pumping #codrought

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Further reductions for more than 1,000 wells in the Lower Arkansas Valley were ordered this week by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. The reductions come after accounting of last year’s pumping showed almost 6,000 acre-feet of water still is owed to the Arkansas River from last year’s pumping to satisfy in-state demand, said Steve Witte, Division 2 engineer. The Arkansas Valley has been in drought since August 2010. “The unreplaced deficits through the end of January have to be taken into consideration for the new year’s plan,” Witte said.

Three major well users groups operate plans under 1996 rules that were implemented primarily to make sure Colorado complied with the Arkansas River Compact during a federal lawsuit with Kansas. However, the depletions at issue this year reflect shortages to senior water rights holders within Colorado, he explained. The groups submitted annual operating plans that go into effect April 1. Of the three, only the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association had water available to make up last year’s depletions. The group calculated its plan based on the 2012 deficit and does not face any state-ordered changes.

The Colorado Water Protective and Development Association told irrigators in February that there would be no water available for well augmentation unless farmers had their own supplies.

Domestic water supplies, including those for towns and cities, have not been curtailed. Leases of Twin Lakes water will cover some of those replacement needs. CWPDA also is seeking an emergency allocation of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water to cover losses, but the allocation won’t be finalized until May.

Engineering showed a 3,000 acre-foot in-state deficit owed by CWPDA at the end of January, Witte said.

The Lower Arkansas Water Management Association was ordered to cut pumping to 10 percent of normal, rather than 30 percent as planned. The group serves farmers east of John Martin Reservoir and its in-state shortfall was calculated at 2,800 acre-feet. The 10 percent figure will be re-evaluated in May, because the state wants LAWMA to recalculate the yield of its replacement sources on dry years such as 2002, 2003 and 2012, rather than average years…

● Arkansas Groundwater Users Association will pump at 30 percent of its normal level on the Arkansas River mainstem and 48 percent on Fountain Creek. About 250 wells are affected.

● Colorado Water Protective and Development Association members will be able to pump only if they have their own sources of water. About 500 wells could be affected.

● Lower Arkansas Water Management Association members will be able to pump only 10 percent of normal under a temporary plan that could be changed in May. About 400 wells are affected.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.