Potential snow accumulation map from the NWS Boulder office #cowx #codrought

Grand Junction: Aspinall Unit operations meeting April 25

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users began diversions through the Gunnison Tunnel [last] week. Consequently, releases from Crystal Dam are about 750 cfs, the Tunnel is currently diverting about 400 cfs, with the balance through the Canyon/Gorge. Reclamation plans to continue to operate in accordance with the Aspinall Operations Record of Decision and to allow the Black Canyon Water Right to be met. As the Tunnel increases diversions over the next few weeks, mild fluctuations in the Gunnison River in the Canyon/Gorge may occur.

The April 1 Blue Mesa forecast for unregulated April through July runoff is 315,000 ac-ft which is 47% of average. The April Operations Meeting will be held on April 25th in Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office, 2764 Compass Drive Suite 106, beginning at 1:00 p.m.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here and here.

The latest ENSO discussion is hot off the press #codrought @cowx

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

Synopsis: ENSO-neutral is favored into the Northern Hemisphere summer 2013.

During March 2013, ENSO-neutral continued, with slightly above average SSTs in the eastern portion of the basin. Weekly values of all the Nino indices were between -0.5°C and +0.5°C during the month. The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) increased to near-average during the month as an area of above-average temperatures at depth moved eastward into portions of the eastern basin. The Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) again contributed to increased atmospheric variability over the tropical Pacific. Low-level winds were near average, and upper-level winds were anomalously westerly across the equatorial Pacific. Convection was enhanced over the western equatorial Pacific and suppressed in the central basin. Collectively, these features indicate the continuation of ENSO-neutral.

2013 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs SB13-041 and SB13-074 #coleg

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From email from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

SB13-074: Irrigation Water Right Historical Use Acreage — Hodge/Sonnenberg. Concerning the resolution of ambiguities in old water right decrees regarding the place of use of irrigation water.

SB13-041: Protect Water Storage Long-term Use — Hodge & Roberts/Fischer & Sonnenberg. Concerning the protection of stored water and preserving supplies for drought and long-term needs.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Forecast news: Major winter storm to bring widespread moisture to Colorado starting tonight #codrought #cowx

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

Mid to high level clouds are moving across the area this morning ahead of a low pressure center that is currently centered over central Nevada. The yellow lines are isobars or lines of equal pressure. They also indicate the strength of the pressure gradient. When the lines are far apart the pressure gradient is low, when they are close together or ‘tight’ the pressure gradient is high. As you can see in the while circle, the yellow lines are very close together indicating a tight pressure gradient which will cause strong surface winds. Today, the forecast area will see strong winds for much of the day as this gradient approaches and moves over Utah and Colorado. Snow is also expected and with strong winds, blizzard conditions are likely. As such, a blizzard warning has been issued for northeastern Utah and the valleys of northern Colorado. In addition to the blizzard warning, winter storm warnings and advisories have been issued, wind advisories and high wind watche! s have been issued, a Red Flag Warning has been issued and a Freeze Warning has been issued for Wednesday morning.

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

A potent spring storm system is expected to bring a variety of active weather to most of southern Colorado today through Tuesday. In the immediate future…strong winds will develop across the region…with Red Flag Warnings in effect in the San Luis Valley and most of the southeast plains. The combination of strong winds…low humidity and already dry conditions will create explosive fire growth potential. Strong to severe thunderstorms could develop over the extreme eastern plains by late afternoon. As the system marches into the state tonight…a variety of winter conditions are expected…including a Blizzard Watch along the Palmer Divide…and Warnings…Watches and Advisories over the southern mountains and along the I-25 corridor…as well as a good chance of snow from the mountains eastward.

From the National Weather Service Boulder office:

Very complex spring storm taking aim on Colorado. Potential for heavy snow & severe wx including tornado threat.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

A winter storm watch has been issued for Larimer County as a spring storm bears down on Fort Collins. After a high near 60 degrees Monday, temperatures will drop sharply, turning evening rain into snow around 9 p.m. according to the National Weather Service. Overnight Monday, temperatures will continue to drop to around 19 degrees, with snow accumulation from three to seven inches and winds in the mid-20 m.p.h range according to the weather service. Tuesday, cold, wind and snow are expected to continue with another three to five inches possible according to the weather service. Snow is forecast to taper off Tuesday evening with cold lingering throughout the week.

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch) via The Greeley Tribune:

The National Weather Service gives the Greeley area a 90 percent chance of snow — up to 7 inches — Monday night, after a forecast high of 63 degrees this afternoon. Rain and thunderstorms are expected to roll into the region in the afternoon with a southwest wind gusting up to 31 mph, forecasters said Sunday afternoon. Rain is expected to turn to snow about 9 p.m. with the heaviest snow after midnight.

Northern, central and western portions of the state are under a winter storm watch from late tonight through Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service said. An area east of Sterling to Limon on the Eastern Plains could pick up nearly a foot of snow from the storm, forecasters said. “A strong spring storm system will bring very strong winds and heavy snowfall to the region late Monday night through Tuesday,” forecasters stated Sunday, adding that snow drifts could range from a few inches to a few feet. Visibility could fall to zero at times, the agency stated.

The Greeley area has a 90 percent chance of additional snow Tuesday morning, but the afternoon threat is blowing snow with a north wind delivering gusts up to 28 mph. The high temperature in the city Tuesday could reach only 24 degrees. Partly sunny skies return to the metro region Wednesday with a forecast high of 36 degrees — which is 24 degrees colder than the 30-year average of 60, according to weather records.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Paul Shockley):

Hold off on the shorts, at least for a few days. A significant storm system packing potential for rain late Monday and trace amounts of snow in the Grand Valley after midnight is on the way, bringing with it potential freezing temperatures in its wake, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “There’s a good chance of seeing below freezing temperatures (by Wednesday morning) and those apricots and cheery trees blooming are going to be at risk,” said Ellen Heffernan, meteorologist with the local Weather Service office. “It’s something we’re looking at closely.”

Overnight on Monday could bring minimal amounts of snow in the valley but potentially a foot of snow in the mountains, she said.

Separately, the Weather Service released data this week suggesting a chilly start for the Grand Valley for 2013. For the period of Jan. 1 to March 31, the average temperature was 29.9 degrees, the 14th coldest year on record dating back to 1893. The three-month stretch this year was the coldest for Jan. 1 to March 31 since 1988. The coldest temperatures over that three-month period came in 1933, which recorded an average of 27.1 degrees. Blame January’s inversion for this year’s colder-than-normal data for Jan. 1 to March 31, meteorologist Jim Daniels said. “We were running on the coldest January on record right up until the end of the month,” Daniels said.

Drought/snowpack news: Residents of Zinno Subdivision in Pueblo County opine the severity of water restrictions #codrought

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From KRDO (Dana Molina):

Residents of the Zinno Subdivision in Pueblo County said they recently received a letter stating their new water restrictions. According to the letter, each household can use only 62 gallons of water a day. Exceeding that limit results in fines. Outdoor watering results in a $1,000 fine. A second violation of outdoor watering restrictions results in a customer’s service being shut off. Residents said these are too strict to follow. “There’s no way I can live in fear every day,” [Melinda Ingo] said. “I have four children. I have to do laundry, I have to do dishes.”

The Joseph Corporation gets its water rights from the Colorado Water Protective and Development Association. In its letter to residents, it says the water restrictions come from the CWPDA.

But according to residents, the problem is how their neighborhood is being treated. A letter from the CWPDA refers to it as a farm unit.

David Stanford, utilities manager at the Joseph Corporation, said the area once was a farm unit. And that tapping into another water source would result in extremely high rates.

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

March snowfall increased snowpack in the Arkansas River basin to 74 percent of average, up from 71 percent March 1. Natural Resources Conservation Service data indicate snowpack percentages in the upper Arkansas basin ranging from 66 percent at Twin Lakes Tunnel to 88 percent at Porphyry Creek. While the numbers remain below average, snowpack stands at 122 percent of 2012 levels in the basin.

Reservoir storage in the basin stands at 55 percent of average and 64 percent of 2012 levels.

Phyllis Ann Philipps, state conservationist with the NRCS, said March snowfall “produced a nominal increase” in statewide snowpack, from 73 percent of average March 1 to 74 percent on April 1. Most major basins saw slight improvements to snowpack percentages during March, she said. “While the state snowpack remains well below normal, the good news is that most basins continue to accumulate snow and have yet to reach their peaks for the year.”

However, the southwest portion of the state saw significant decreases in snowpack percentages this month. The Gunnison and Upper Rio Grande basins saw declines of 3 and 11 percent, respectively. The combined San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan basins lost 12 percentage points. These basins have likely reached their peak snowpack for the year and are headed into the melt phase, Philipps said.

Colorado River basin snowpack, which supplies transbasin diversions into the Arkansas basin, increased from 70 percent to 74 percent of average. The South Platte and North Platte basin snowpacks increased by 6 percent.

The NRCS reports that Colorado receives approximately 20 percent of seasonal snow accumulation during March, but this year’s March snowfall was well below normal. April 8 is the average date of peak snowpack in Colorado, leaving “almost no chance that the snowpack will reach normal conditions before beginning to melt.”

Reservoir storage remains well below average statewide, and all major basins in Colorado are expected to see below-average streamflow runoff this spring and summer.

From The Denver Post (Jordan Steffen):

Heavy snowstorms and cooler temperatures helped boost Colorado’s statewide snowpack to 74 percent of average in March — almost double the levels at this time last year. Snow surveys showed that Colorado’s snowpack increased 1 percentage point from March 1 to April 1, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. That marks the third consecutive month that Colorado’s snowpack jumped by a percentage point…

All major basins in Colorado are expected to see below average runoff this spring and summer, according to the conservation service.

Reservoir levels in the state also remain below normal. As of April 1, average reservoir levels are at 71 percent of normal, 5 percentage points higher than this time last year.

Downlisting of Colorado pikeminnow delayed until 2018 #ColoradoRiver

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Officials who had hoped to downlist the Colorado pikeminnow this year — a preliminary step toward removing it from the list of endangered species — are putting off the process until 2018.

The Colorado pikeminnow is one of four endangered fish species in the Colorado River. The forebears of the current population swarmed up and down the river in numbers so great that they were dubbed “white salmon.” Today, though, the pikeminnow is less the top predator and more often the food for non-native predators like the northern pike and smallmouth bass. That’s particularly true in the Yampa and White rivers, both northern Colorado tributaries that feed into the Green River and then into the Colorado River in Utah.

Colorado pikeminnow, once known as squawfish, are now most common in the Green and Yampa rivers, though the 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River through the Grand Valley is considered critical to survival of the fish. “We were hoping we were seeing a rebound” in the pikeminnow population of the Yampa River, said Tom Chart, Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program director.

The recent information. however, is that predators have feasted on pikeminnow, holding down the population and putting a damper on plans to downlist the species to threatened for five years to determine whether the species indeed has recovered.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collects data in three-year “bundles” and the next bundle is due to be complete in 2018, setting that year as a possible marker for downlisting. The pikeminnow population in the Green River has fluctuated between 2,200 and 4,500 and most recently has been on the increase, said Chart, a fisheries biologist. “But we’re not seeing that positive response on the Yampa.”

Deciding whether to downlist the pikeminnow, or other species, will require significant amounts of data, Chart said. “As biologists, we need long-term data sets to ensure populations are recovered,” he said. “We know populations will fluctuate naturally through time.”

A case in point is the Colorado River pikeminnow population, which now is between 600 and 800, Chart said. There has been a recent decline in the Colorado River population, but a data set that goes back to 1992 indicates a “fairly stable population,” Chart said.

The Upper Colorado River Recovery Program is a joint effort among the Fish and Wildlife Service, the states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, tribes, conservation organizations and other groups that works to manage the river to recover four species of endangered fish while allowing development of the river. In addition to the Colorado pikeminnow, the razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail are endangered.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Permitting water projects: ‘…maybe we’re having the federal government check too many boxes’ — Randy Ray

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

New water-supply projects could come to fruition much faster if a Colorado congressman has his way in Washington. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., is piecing together a bill aimed at speeding up the federal permitting process for new water endeavors, if they are endorsed by the governor of that state.

Many regional water projects have been in the federal permitting stages for years, with participants having spent millions of dollars along the way, and they still have no guarantee the projects will be built.

Brian Werner — a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which is overseeing efforts to build the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP — said the project has been in its federal permitting phase since 2004, with the 15 participating cities and water districts having already spent about $12 million. He suspects the process will go on for yet another year. Gardner said it’s taking “way too long.”

The details of his bill aren’t finalized, but Gardner said it could call for federal agencies to say “yay” or “nay” on a proposed water project within six to nine months after a governor puts his support behind it.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has yet to endorse NISP, which would supply its partners with 40,000 acre feet of new water supplies annually, if ever built.

Opponents say water-storage projects like NISP could interfere with river flows and impact wildlife, fisheries, forests and recreational use.

Gardner and others say that — with future water shortages expected for a number of regions — new water-supply projects must get a “yay” or “nay” quicker, so those projects can get built or participants can go back to the drawing board. Agriculture, the biggest user of water, will suffer the most if these lulls continue, Gardner added.

Participants of large-scale, water-supply projects must work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and others to make sure all needed wildlife-, habitat- and environmental-protection measures are taken before dirt is moved. “No doubt; mitigation efforts need to be taken,” said Randy Ray, executive director with the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley. “But maybe we’re having the federal government check too many boxes.

“I’d like to see the federal government have more faith in the state, the local water districts and the engineers who are working on these projects.”

Without new water-supply projects in the region, farmers and some water experts worry that growing cities will continue buying up farmland and agricultural water rights in the future to meet their growing needs.

The Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest water project in northern Colorado, has seen its water go from 85 percent owned by agricultural users, to now 34 percent owned by agricultural users. Many farmers have sold rights in times when farming wasn’t profitable. Farmers who need water today now depend on leasing it from the cities who own it. But in dry times, like this year, cities say they don’t have enough water in storage to lease to agriculture.

If Colorado had NISP-like projects in place already, Werner and others say, the above-average snowpacks of recent years would have filled those reservoirs, local cities and farmers would have more water in storage now and they would be in much better shape to endure the ongoing drought. Instead, during 2009, 2010 and 2011, a total of about 1.4 million acre-feet of water above what’s legally required flowed from Colorado into Nebraska, according to Werner. “Even if we could have captured just some of that in new reservoirs, how much better off would we be right now?” Werner asked.

Colorado’s ag industry has a $40 billion impact on the state, the second-largest contributor to Colorado’s economy, behind oil and gas.

But according to the 2010 Statewide Water Initiative Study, the South Platte River basin in northeast Colorado could lose as much as 190,000 acres of irrigated farmland by 2050 due to water shortages. Farmers and water experts agree that conservation and water-sharing projects could help Colorado meet its growing water needs, but they say new water-storage projects will also be needed.

Ray didn’t want to comment specifically on Gardner’s bill, but he stressed the need to speed up the federal permitting process for new water projects. He explained that the Central Water and others have been discussing the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project since the 1980s, but are still working with the federal government to get all permitting in order. “It needs to change,” he said “Because we’re not getting anywhere.

“And we really need to get somewhere.”

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

Greeley: NWS Weather Spotter training April 22 #cowx

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From The Greeley Tribune:

A weather spotter training class, presented by the National Weather Service, will take place at 7 p.m. April 22 at the Weld County Administration Building, 1150 O St. in Greeley. The training is free and open to the public and hosted by the Weld County Office of Emergency Management and the City of Greeley Office of Emergency Management. Attendees will learn about different types of tornados and thunderstorms, how to spot and report severe weather and how to stay safe in the event of tornados, floods and lightning.

To make a reservation, call Gracie Marquez at (970) 304-6540 or email gmarquez@weldgov.com.

‘As long as there is water in the river, Florence would have water’ — Craig Lis

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From the Cañon City Daily Record (Charlotte Burrous):

“We’ve got enormous issues,” said City Manager Mike Patterson. “We also have a lot issues that we’ll always have, capital and improving our system. Storage is another huge issue. The city’s water right is very substantial. We could put a call on just about anybody on the river. As long as there is water in the river, Florence would have water.”

During the meeting, Lis responded to criticisms made about annexation.

“He really addressed the city’s growth potential and assured everybody, we are actually in very good shape in terms of Florence’s water rights,” Patterson said. “(Lis also) addressed the shortages that are occurring already.”

Rockvale is already on water restrictions, but Patterson said he did not know what those were.

“It would take a significantly worse situation from where we’re at now (to affect Florence),” he said. “There would have to be no water in the river for Florence to be in that situation because Florence does have a very significant water right and a very senior water right (1861).”[…]

“(The meeting) was filled with caution, but it was really very optimistic about the city’s future,” Patterson said. “There were some strong cautions there. One of the things Florence has to be aware of is every year, there are potential amendments (that could go) to the people and there are some things that could go through the legislature. Although

Florence has done a great job in protecting its water and its senior water rights, there are things that are out of our control that could dramatically impact our water future. There’s an element of ‘use it or lose it’ so we have to be very careful with our water.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Chaffee County releases 1041 geothermal regulations

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From The Mountain Mail (James Redmond):

Chaffee County officials released the draft version of their geothermal 1041 regulations and posted them on their website Thursday, in response to the release of draft regulations from partner Ouray County. To develop geothermal 1041 regulations, Chaffee County partnered with Archuleta and Ouray counties and Pagosa Springs to hire a consultant for the process, Jenny Davis, Chaffee County attorney, said.

With Ouray County releasing its draft regulations, which Davis said she presumes “are similar” to Chaffee County’s, “we’ve decided to just go ahead and release what we have.” The draft regulations “are subject to change,” and she said she thinks the consultant, Barb Green, will give the county a revised draft soon.

After the partners received a grant, Chaffee County’s portion of the contract for the consultant comes to $2,937.50, Don Reimer, Chaffee County development director, said.
County staff gave Green a list of concerns the county wanted to be included in its regulations, Reimer said. The county asked that the regulations contain clear language for development criteria; not conflict with state and federal regulations; protect the land use on adjacent and nearby properties; and protect water quality and rights.

Chaffee County currently has 1041 regulations for “Efficient Utilization of Municipal and Industrial Water Projects,” “Site Selection of New Domestic Water and Sewage Treatment Systems” and “Extension of Existing Domestic Water and Sewage Treatment Systems,” which the county adopted in 1991 and revised in 2003.

In 2003 the county also adopted 1041 regulations for “Site Selection and Development of New Communities” and “Regulations for Development in Areas Containing or Having a Significant Impact Upon Natural Resources of Statewide Importance.”

Reimer said, in his 10 years working at the county, only two 1041 applications did not get a statement of “no impact,” the Nestlé Waters application and the Pueblo West application for Hill Ranch, both of which went through the full process.

The draft regulations would prevent commercial electricity production using geothermal resources without first obtaining either a permit or statement of no impact. The regulations would apply to commercial electricity production on public and private land in unincorporated Chaffee County. The draft regulations would define and establish general regulatory provisions, designate of commercial geothermal energy production as a matter of state interest, and establish an application and review process.

The application process would consist of a pre-application conference; application submittal, determination of completeness, determination of eligibility for a statement of no impact and a permit review process.

The review process would include the Planning Commission and county staff.

Chaffee County officials also changed the date of the work session at which regulations will be discussed to 1:30 p.m. May 7 because the consultant could not make the original April 25 meeting, Davis said. The county will have the most current version of its geothermal 1041 draft regulations on its website, chaffeecounty.org.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

‘I’ve had a glorious and joyful run’ — Ken Salazar

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From The New York Times (John M. Broder):

“I’ve had a glorious and joyful run,” he reflected on Thursday about his four years at the top of the Department of the Interior and, before that, his four years in the Senate. “Coming to work, I’ve just been living the dream every day.”

Mr. Salazar, 58, took over an agency that had been the scene of rampant financial scandal and political malpractice in the Bush administration and succeeded in restoring a measure of ethics and morale. He had the good fortune of suffering his greatest setback — the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that laid bare persistent flaws in the agency’s regulation of offshore oil and gas operations — relatively early in his tenure.

He hired an experienced former federal prosecutor, Michael R. Bromwich, to revamp the discredited Minerals Management Service, whose mission was to prevent such drilling disasters. Its successor agencies, although still short on money and staff, have tightened oil and gas permitting and regulation and have managed, so far, to remain scandal-free.

Mr. Salazar also escaped without serious harm from a second serious miscalculation — allowing the Shell Oil Company to begin exploring for oil and gas off the North Slope of Alaska before it had the equipment, personnel or management skill to handle the challenges of working in the Arctic environment.

Though Shell had repeated accidents and delays, no one was injured and no oil spilled, in part because the regulators at the Interior Department blocked them from drilling into oil-bearing zones.

“We told Shell that we were proceeding with the utmost caution and would be watching them every step of the way,” Mr. Salazar said in a farewell interview in his expansive corner office. “The 2012 season was one in which much was learned but where we also stuck to the bright line of their meeting the requirements of their permits.”[…]

Mr. Salazar said that among the unfinished items on his agenda was an effort to expand the public lands under permanent protection. Bruce Babbitt, interior secretary under President Bill Clinton, criticized President Obama in February for lagging behind his predecessors in setting aside lands for conservation. Last month, the president designated five sites to be protected as national monuments, including parts of the San Juan Islands in Washington State and 240,000 acres of the Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico.