Snowpack/drought news: Northern Water sets a 60% quota, others pray for rain #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Water officials say they did their best Friday to find middle ground in the differing requests of city representatives and farmers and ranchers. But in the end, it’s “a situation where we don’t have any water,” Jerry Winters said after he and the rest of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board of directors set a 60 percent quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Northern Water board members said they set the quota at that mark to help meet the water demands of the region but also keep at least some of its limited water in storage for the future. The 60 percent quota struck a balance between the 50-60 percent quota some city officials had asked for and the 70 percent quota many farmers and ranchers had requested during Thursday’s water users meeting in Loveland. After hearing those suggestions from water users, the 12-member Northern Water board set its C-BT quota Friday morning to determine how much water will be released this year from the system — which, with its 12 reservoirs, is the largest water supply project in the region.

Since the C-BT project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota every year in April to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent, according to Northern Water officials. A 60 percent quota means that for every acre-foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they’ll get 60 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water.

The C-BT Project collects water on the West Slope and delivers it to the East Slope through a 13-mile tunnel that runs underneath Rocky Mountain National Park. Northern Water’s boundaries encompass portions of eight counties, 640,000 irrigated acres and a population of about 860,000 people.

LaSalle-area farmer Frank Eckhardt said he had heard earlier in the week that the C-BT quota could be set as low as 50 percent, so he was relieved to hear it was set at 60 percent. “We’re going to need every bit we can get,” said Eckhardt, who sits on the board of directors for the Western Mutual and Farmers Independent ditch companies.

Eckhardt said his two ditch companies don’t own C-BT water, but like many other ag-water providers, depend heavily on leasing C-BT water from cities who own it. In last year’s drought, Eckhardt said, C-BT water “provided great relief” for his family’s farm.

Last spring, the Northern Water board puts its C-BT quota to 100 percent to help farmers, and could do so at the time because there was plenty of water in storage. But even with the C-BT quota set at 100 percent, the Eckhardts still had to leave about 500 acres of farm ground fallow due to water shortages, and diverted water away from about another 500 acres of planted acres to save other crops.

With the C-BT quota set at just 60 percent this year, Eckhardt said he and his family will likely leave even more acres unplanted this year. “Hopefully we can find some water to rent somewhere else,” Eckhardt said. “But I’m not sure where that’s going to come from. There’s just not much water out there.” For only the second time in 56 years, the quota set for the C-BT Project was limited this year by how little water is available, rather than based on the demands of the region.

In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent — although it rarely does — and still have at least some water in storage for the following years. But this year, a quota of 87 percent would have depleted everything in the C-BT Project’s reservoirs, according to Brian Werner, a spokesman and historian with Northern Water. And the limited runoff from this year’s meager snowpack in the mountains isn’t going help much, Werner added.

The only other year the board has been so limited in the quota it could set was 2003 — following the historic drought year of 2002, said Werner, who’s been with Northern Water for more than 30 years.

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It was a different approach to “irrigation.”

Bishop Fernando Isern, accompanied by an entourage of more than 100 people, sprinkled holy water on a field near Blende on Friday as a symbolic way to bless all Pueblo County farms. And he prayed for rain. “We have to come back to basics,” said Isern, the leader of the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo. “Our forefathers for generations worked the land and did not have as much technology. But they had their faith.”

With the Arkansas Valley in the third year of drought, the event was staged at Milberger Farms on the kind of bright sunny morning that has become too typical lately. Statues of St. Isidore, the patron saint of farmers, graced a table on the patio at Milberger’s as the bishop addressed the crowd. “We can give thanks to God for meteorologists and all of our technology, but all of that is useless if we don’t have rain,” Isern said. “It’s about giving all to the Lord and trusting in God.”

His prayer for rain was brief: “We seek God’s blessing on our land, seed and crops that it will produce. Unless the seed is planted, it will not yield fruit.”

His comments later were more informal: “In the three years I have been here, I have learned that moisture is an important issue.”

The Rev. Joseph Vigil, pastor at St. Joseph’s Church, and the Rev. Matthew Wertin, pastor at Sacred Heart in Avondale, along with altar boy Antonio Valdez, assisted in the ceremony. “St. Isidore ore was born in 1070 and died in 1130. He was the patron saint of farmers, and he was married to Maria, who is also a saint,” Vigil said. “People said that when he worked in the fields, they would see angels by his side.”

Those who attended pledged to be faithful, or at least willing to believe prayers for rain can work. “It’s so true, what the bishop said about getting back to basics,” said Lucille Corsentino. “Intervention does happen, although sometimes we are too proud or arrogant to see it.”

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District decided in a board meeting Friday morning that they will distribute only 60 percent of water shares from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in response to a second year of drought. Local farmers had pleaded at a meeting earlier this week for 70 percent of their share. Farmers contend that the 60 percent quota will mean planting fewer fields with crops that use more water, such as corn. That will have consequences for Weld County’s dairy industry, they say…

The decision to distribute 60 percent of shares this year should keep the city of Fort Collins from having to pass further water restrictions, according to Donnie Dustin, the city’s water resource manager. A quota of 50 percent or less would have overextended the city’s resource.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecasted the drought will persist or intensify in most of the state through June.

From The Mountain Mail (Lonnie Oversole):

Water restrictions for the 2013 irrigation season will again be on a voluntary basis. Salidans are encouraged to follow the same restrictions that have been in place in past years: Even-address numbers water on even calendar days, odd-address numbers water on odd calendar days. Also, the city recommends no watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and no one watering on the 31st day of the month. Should you choose not to follow voluntary water restrictions, there will be no enforcement or penalty.

Keep in mind if you water during the heat of the day, you will lose 50 percent of the water you apply to evaporation, which is the reasoning behind not watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The even/odd-day system has half the city watering on one day and the other half on the next day. This provides better water pressure for all customers and firefighting personnel.

The snowpack throughout Colorado is well below the normal average for this time of year, at 74 percent of average statewide on April 1. The Arkansas basin also was at 74 percent of normal April 1. In terms of snow totals, it would take an additional 6 feet of snow on average in Colorado to catch up to normal snowpack levels.

If the hot summer days yield little moisture in the form of afternoon showers, there is a good possibility that mandatory water restrictions could be implemented by summer’s end.

At their April 2 work session, city council decided to leave water restrictions voluntary with the ability to change to mandatory if conditions worsen. Water restrictions have been voluntary for the last 2 years. When comparing water totals to years prior when water restrictions were mandatory, there is little difference in water usage.

Buena Vista has implemented voluntary watering restrictions as well. Many Front Range towns and cities have instituted mandatory watering restrictions, with Lafayette allowing no outdoor watering until April 16 and after that only between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. After May 1, the city of Louisville will limit watering to only 2 days a week with no watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. In addition, the cities of Denver and Aurora have instituted similar mandatory restrictions, citing the worst drought in Colorado since 2002.

I would also like to take this opportunity to talk about routine bacteria sampling that occurs within the water distribution system. We are required, based on population, to take seven bacteria samples per month.
The samples are taken at sites predetermined by a sampling plan. The plan contains 21 routine sampling sites with seven alternate sites. If for some reason the routine site is not accessible, then an alternate site is used. The sampling each month is spread throughout the system rather than being concentrated in a certain area. Each site by year’s end will have been tested four different times.

The water distribution system contains many miles of piping to get the treated water to our customers. Chlorine residual is maintained throughout the distribution system to assure a level of water quality.
Chlorine levels are tested every time a bacteria sample is collected. Chlorine levels are also measured at every treatment point daily and at the surface water plant continuously. A predetermined site within the distribution system is also tested daily.

Another important aspect to good water quality is maintenance of the distribution or piping system. The key element is a good flushing program. This part of system maintenance is often mistaken by the public as a waste of water. Flushing rids the system of accumulated sediment and discolored water. Flushing also gets rid of old water or water that’s been in the system for periods longer than normal. This can occur in areas with lower usage or dead-end lines. Getting old water out of the system reduces the potential associated with the formation of disinfection byproducts. The city is currently flushing hydrants twice per year, in the spring prior to peak water usage, and again in fall when usage begins to drop off. Based on data recorded during flushing in past years, less water is being used to flush twice per year than was used when hydrants were flushed annually. Due to the current conditions we will not be flushing this spring. Last month, several hydrants were flowed and data collected to create a water model for the distribution system. Once a working model is in place, one of the many benefits will be to fine-tune the city’s flushing program.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan, an article titled “Northern Water gives Fort Collins the water it asked for,” written by Bobby Magill. Here’s an excerpt:

With below-average snowpack in the mountains and ongoing drought conditions in Northern Colorado, the board voted to give farmers and cities obtaining water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project 10 percent more water than the board previously said it would provide for 2013.

Last year, the board agreed to give C-BT water users 50 percent of the available water in the system. On Friday, the board increased that amount to 60 percent.

Fort Collins water resources manager Donnie Dustin said Thursday that if the amount of C-BT water, or quota, the city would receive stayed at 50 percent, the city might have to go to Level 2 water restrictions, which would mean Fort Collins residents would be allowed to water their lawn only once each week.

Dustin said the city was advocating for the 60 percent quota the board decided to provide, which would likely prevent Level 2 restrictions from going into effect.

Fort Collins gets nearly half of its water supply from the C-BT system, which pipes Colorado River water from Grand Lake on the Western Slope to Front Range reservoirs, including Horsetooth and Carter Lake. The C-BT system supplements the water supplies for 30 Front Range cities and towns and 120 irrigation companies.

At a meeting of Northern Water water users on Thursday, farmers asked to get more water than cities, but the board decided to give everyone the same amount.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

Board members of Northern Water, the agency that sells the water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project, made their decision Friday, a day after hearing from Eastern Colorado farmers they needed more, and from utility managers in Front Range cities they should hold the line…

The 60 percent quota declaration reflects concern from city water providers about low reservoir storage levels in this, the second year of Northern Colorado drought. At the same time it grants farmers an additional slice of the C-BT pie to get crops of corn, beets, onions and other water-intensive crops through the summer.

Members of the Northern Water board said their decision was not as simple as balancing city and agricultural needs. “It’s not as much of an agricultural versus municipal issue, it’s a situation where we don’t have any water,” Weld County board member Jerry Winters said. “If I spend my money and I’m broke that’s not good financial management. It’s the same with water.”

From The North Forty News:

Directors said they approved the 10 percent increase because it offers additional supplies and flexibility for all types of water users, but will still help keep water in reservoirs for next year. Although many farmers and ranchers asked for higher quotas than municipal water providers, this year’s quota decision comes to a simple formula, said Director Jerry Winters from Weld County. “It’s not as much of an agricultural versus municipal issue, it’s a situation where we don’t have any water. If I spend my money and I’m broke that’s not good financial management. It’s the same with water,” Winters said.

Director Bill Emslie from Larimer County also stressed that prudent quota-setting includes a range of considerations. “This is a decision that needs to have balance between demand and availability, as well as a consideration of the facts,” Emslie said. “We are all in this together, and we need to find middle ground.”

Directors have the option to increase the 2013 quota in subsequent meetings.

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

An April 9 blog post by Denver Water was headlined, “It’s raining, it’s snowing, the drought is still going.” The post notes that it would take about 6 feet of new snow over the next couple of weeks in the mountain watersheds Denver relies on to have a normal snowpack — and even if the snowpack were normal, they would still be in drought because of low reservoir levels left over from last year.

So … what did this past storm bring us? Practically nothing in the Grand Valley. 14.5 inches in Boulder. Over a foot in some mountain locations, but way less than six feet. Statewide, the storm bumped the total snowpack from 69% of the average for this time of year to 71%. So it’s safe to say that Denver’s drought is still on.

Why do we on the Western Slope care about Denver’s water supply situation? We share a reliance on the Colorado River and its tributaries — their water supply situation mirrors our own. Also, the implementation of an agreement over how to share Colorado River water has already affected management of the river.

In March, dismal snowpack data and low reservoir storage levels triggered an agreement between Western Slope interests, Denver Water and Xcel Energy to “relax” the senior water rights call on the river exercised by the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon. This will reduce water demanded by the power plant in order to allow junior rights upstream to fill 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.

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The Northern Water board decided Friday to provide water users with a 60 percent quota, about 10 percent less than is usually allotted. Board members said the amount of water being given out from the Colorado-Big Thompson project is meant to strike a balance between cities that want to remain conservative in their water use and farmers who say they need a higher amount to keep from fallowing acres of farm land this growing season.

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