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

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary. Click here for all the summaries.

Forecast news: Rain and snow possible across eastern Colorado, heavy snow possible in the mountains #COdrought #COwx

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

A low pressure system will push across Colorado on Wednesday, dragging a cold front through the region during the afternoon and early evening hours. Moisture will increase across the area behind this front, with scattered to numerous rain and snow showers developing across eastern Colorado. Gusty winds could bring white out conditions to some locations, making travel hazardous especially across the mountains and northern El Paso county late Wednesday. Persons planning travel across the state should remain weather alert and visit our web site at http://www.weather.gov/pub for the latest updates on any watches, advisories or warnings across eastern Colorado.

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

A wintry storm system will continue to sweep slowly eastward across the region today…lingering into the evening hours. Cold air associated with this system had brought snow to the lowest valleys early this morning and will continue to generate snow over much of the region through the day. A number of winter weather highlights are in place across eastern Utah and western Colorado today and this evening. Details are available at weather.gov/gjt. Temperatures will sink to near record values across the region tonight with a hard freeze expected in the lower valleys threatening tender vegetation and fruit trees. Temperatures will moderate going into the weekend, however a pair of weaker storms will impact the area Friday night through Saturday night and again Sunday night through Tuesday.

Drought/snowpack news: No watering restrictions for Pueblo #COdrought

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo is swimming against the tide in the current drought. No outdoor watering restrictions are planned because demand is decreased and snowpack improving to the point where the Pueblo Board of Water Works does not see its water rights being curtailed this year.

Many large water providers already have limited outdoor watering to 2 days per week. Pueblo continues to resist the trend. “Other Front Range cities rely on imported water, but our direct flow rights provide 90 percent of the water we use,” Executive Director Terry Book told the board Tuesday. Pueblo has transmountain water rights that could supply about half of its total water supply, but most of that usually is either stored or leased.

Demand is expected to increase as Pueblo grows. The demand for water on a typical winter day is about 11 million gallons, but it increases to more than 50 million gallons when the thermometer hits 100 degrees.

Water resources administrator Alan Ward and finance manager Seth Clayton expect the board will have enough water to cover that normal usage for several reasons:

● For the past 10 years, it has tripled its goal for water in storage to 45,000 acre-feet. Last year, about one-third of the water was pumped from June to October, and the board expects to recover some of that loss this year, improving storage to 32,000 acre-feet by this time next year, Ward said.

● Last year, the board leased 13,000 acre-feet of water to farmers. Those leases were discontinued this year, he added.

● Customer demand is 7 percent lower than at this time last year because of cooler weather, Clayton said.

● Pueblo will request its 10 percent share of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water this year. In most years, it has declined that water.

Snowstorms during the last week have improved snowpack in the mountains, and could mean a later runoff. In fact, the water board had been clearing its ditches that bring water from the Colorado River basin over the Continental Divide in anticipation of an early runoff such as 2012 before the latest round of storms, Ward said.

The water board is looking at a revised drought response plan that would be triggered if reservoir levels dip below certain triggers. It includes four stages designed to cut demand in order to manage the water supply.

Imposing restrictions now could mean unnecessary rate hikes in future years, Book added…

DROUGHT SCORECARD

Some indicators of what the ongoing drought means for the Pueblo area:

– Arkansas River levels are at near record lows for this time of year because of a dry winter and interrupted melt-off.

– Statewide snowpack remains low, at 77 percent of normal. However, it appears to be growing after storms this week. More may be on the way. Snowpack provides most of the water supply in Colorado.

– Precipitation since Jan. 1 has amounted to only 0.94 inches in Pueblo, less than half of the normal, 2.14 inches. It is below 2012, which was the second driest year since records began in the 1890s.

– Long-term weather forecasts by the National Weather Service are calling for above-average temperatures and below-normal precipitation through the summer months.

Click here for western Colorado and eastern Utah snowfall totals for yesterday from the National Weather Service Grand Junction office.

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Trevor Hughes):

The spring snowstorm that dropped more than 14 inches of snow on Fort Collins is officially the largest snowstorm this winter. The Colorado Climate Center at CSU confirmed this storm’s record of 14.9 inches at the university’s central campus. Higher elevation areas got significantly more snow, including 27 inches near Estes Park. Until this storm, the previous biggest storm of the year was March 23, when 6.7 inches fell…

“As nice as this is, and as much as this is helping with the drought, it’s not totally brought us out of the woods yet. But we’re in much better shape than we were last year,” said Noah Newman, a climate center research associate.

From the Canyon Courier (Sandy Barnes):

Residents in the Lookout Mountain Water District can anticipate dwindling water supplies in the coming months — a scenario created by extended drought conditions and low-priority rights. At the end of 2012, the reservoir on Squaw Pass Road was only 67 percent of capacity with 174 acre-feet of water, according to water district information. The 500 residents connected to the district system typically use 200 acre-feet of water a year collectively. “It’s a pretty sustained problem for us,” said Christina Shea, LMWD administrator. “This year is worse.”

In an effort to conserve the supply, the district is enacting surcharges for use over the standard amount, said Shea. The surcharges will begin with the May billing period and will continue through September. “We are desperate,” said Shea. “We are trying to help our customers understand.”

Shea said the upcoming charges will be added to water usage greater than 2,500 gallons a month per household. In a 60-day billing cycle, if a residence is over the 5,000-gallon limit, then surcharges are added to the standard fee of $42. Those who use greater amounts of water are subject to extra fees ranging from $1 to $200 per 1,000 gallons, depending on the total overage.

Adding to the problem of the ongoing drought, which has affected many area water supplies, is that the Lookout Mountain district has low priority water rights, said Shea. The water the district uses originally belonged to the city of Golden, she said. When Golden no longer needed this source of water, the Lookout Mountain Water District formed and acquired this supply, which has water rights dating from 1903. Whenever surrounding communities such as Arvada need water, they call the rights from the Lookout Mountain district, affecting its supply. Adding to this dilemma is that the state has become stricter in enforcing water priority usage, said Shea.

Because of this situation, the Lookout Mountain district will have to rely on its stored water in the coming months. The Beaver Brook watershed, which is the source of the Lookout Mountain water, is small in comparison to the one in Bear Creek that serves Evergreen, Shea noted. To get the message across to district residents about water shortages, they are penalized for using excessive amounts, Shea said. “I feel like our board has been very proactive,” she remarked. “It’s a severe situation.”

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

When Rocky Mountain National Park rangers plowed their way to the snowbound Bear Lake area Tuesday, they measured 29 inches of snow that had piled up there since the weekend. Fourteen inches of new snow had fallen since the last 15-inch measurement was taken Monday morning at the Bear Lake center at an elevation of 9,475 feet, park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said.

On the west side of the Continental Divide in the park, another 10 to 12 inches had fallen at the Colorado River Trailhead, bringing the total there to about 22 inches.

From Denver Water:

As of today, we would need 4 feet of snow in our mountain watersheds to get to a normal snowpack; however, even with a normal snowpack our reservoirs still would not completely fill this year. But, every little drop helps. Droughts are unpredictable. We don’t know what is in store for us next winter, or even the winter after that. We’ll continue to manage our supply and demand in case these drought conditions carry over into the next few years. So, even if the next couple of weeks bring us to our average snowpack levels, we still expect to have the Stage 2 mandatory drought restrictions in place to save as much water as possible this summer.

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

The snow season saved its best for last this year, boosting snowpack in the reservoir-rich Colorado River basin from a woeful 72 percent of average on Feb. 2 to a promising 93 percent Tuesday. From Saturday to Tuesday alone, the percentage against the 30-year average jumped by 7 percentage points. “It’s not done yet,” state climatologist Nolan Doesken said Tuesday afternoon. “What we got yesterday and last night was just sort of a precusor to a big system that should arrive in the mountains Wednesday.”

Areas that saw more than 2 feet of very wet snow Sunday and Monday could pick up as much as 18 more inches Wednesday, he said. “It’s made a super strong comeback in the last four days,” Doesken said of the state’s snow supply, which provides most of the water Colorado needs for household use, irrigation and recreation all year long…

Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Lakewood, said the high percentage of normal is a bit misleading but in a good way. Colorado’s snowpack typically begins to melt on April 10, but a week later this year, the snowpack is still mounting, so the percent of average looks higher measured against past numbers that typically are shrinking this time of year…

Denver Water’s 10 reservoirs haven’t been full since July 2011, so there is a lot of ground to make up for last year, said Bob Steger, the utility’s manager of raw water supply.

Douglas County Water Resource Authority video: Replace a toilet — Water Smart Tips #COdrought

From email from the Douglas County Water Resource Authority:

Did you know the biggest water waster in your house can be your toilet!?!

Sometimes all you need to do is replace the leaky flapper, but sometimes it might be a good idea to replace your old toilet with a more water efficient model.

Our new two-minute “replace a toilet” video takes the mystery out of exactly how to do that. Save water, save money. It’s easy!

The Colorado River tops American Rivers’ most endangered rivers list for 2013 #ColoradoRiver

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From American Rivers’ River Blog (Amy Souers Kober):

Today, American Rivers and our partners at Nuestro Rio, Protect the Flows, Save the Colorado and the National Young Farmers Coalition are calling on Congress to give cities and farmers across the basin the tools they need to build a future that includes healthy rivers and reliable, sustainable water supplies. We are asking Congress to fund the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSmart and Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse programs. These programs help stakeholders optimize existing water infrastructure, maximize available water supplies, and provide healthy river flows for communities and ecosystems.

While over-allocation of water is most pronounced on the Colorado River, it’s a problem we’re seeing on rivers nationwide. In fact, the top four rivers in America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2013 suffer from outdated water management. What’s clear for all of these rivers is that we all need to be part of the solution. It’s time to work together to ensure clean water supplies and healthy rivers for our children and grandchildren.

Click here for a map showing the 10 rivers on this year’s list.

From AZCentral.com (Brandon Loomis):

The Colorado, the lifeblood of the Southwest, is at a crucial moment in its history, American Rivers says, and Congress and the states that tap its waters must plan for better use — and re-use — of its water to meet a growing need. “The current trends are not sustainable,” said Matt Niemerski, western water-policy director for American Rivers…

American Rivers has published “America’s Most Endangered Rivers” every year since 1986, and the Colorado has made the 10-river cut seven times. It has topped the list twice before, most recently in 2010. The group reorders the list annually to draw attention to particular rivers when a related policy decision is looming. This year, the group wants Congress to boost a WaterSmart program that is slated to get about $30 million next fiscal year for grants to water-conservation programs, Niemerski said. Such grants could help water providers build desalination or other treatment plants, or plan for smarter management. “We need to start this work now,” he said…

Arizona is entitled to 2.8 million acre-feet of Colorado River water a year, and 1.5 million of it flows through the Central Arizona Project canal from the state’s western edge to Phoenix, Tucson and points in between.

A CAP official was puzzled by the group’s choice to elevate the river’s threat status based on a government report that actually could signal the start of better regional water planning. “We all recognize (the Reclamation report) as a call to action,” said Chuck Cullom, CAP’s Colorado River program manager. He also mentioned a new agreement with Mexico allowing for storage of some of that country’s allocation in Lake Mead to ease shortages in drought years. “We’ve taken aggressive steps in the past year to protect and enhance the river,” Cullom said.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The advocacy group American Rivers on Wednesday will declare the Colorado River “the No. 1 most endangered” in the nation.
Federal authorities warn that even if courts step in to reallocate shrinking river flows, 40 million people who rely on the Colorado still would face problems…

“We can only solve this problem by working together,” Anne Castle, the U.S. Department of the Interior assistant secretary for water and science, said at a University of Denver law school forum. Negotiating competing uses on an over-subscribed river “is not without pain, not without litigation,” Castle said. However, a judicial decision “doesn’t solve these problems.”

American Rivers ranked the Colorado River most endangered due to worsening water deficits…

…people are, indeed, draining the river. Front Range cities divert about 500,000 acre-feet a year from the basin to sustain 80 percent of today’s population. More diversions are planned here and in Utah. For example, Denver Water, which supplies 1.3 million metro residents, is pushing to divert 18,000 acre-feet from upper Colorado River tributaries. “But we’re not looking at developing additional water resources on the Western Slope after the Moffat project,” utility planning director David Little said, calling American Rivers’ 300,000 acre-feet estimate “overblown.”[…]

…Colorado and the upper states face a dilemma, said Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which represents 15 Western Slope counties. Are they still obligated to deliver 7.5 million acre-feet a year to lower states?
“Some of the Front Range folks take the view that Colorado is entitled to more water, and that the Lower Basin is using some of our water,” Kuhn said. “But how do you develop more water on a river that is already overused?”

If you are in Salida this evening check out the film Watershed:

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Colorado Water Trust leasing program hopes to shore up streamflow in the Yampa River again this season #COdrought

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From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

Last year, the nonprofit organization aimed at keeping waterways flowing leased 4,000 acre feet of water for the Yampa River. That translated into increasing flows by about 26 cubic feet per second for a large part of the summer…

Colorado Water Trust attorney Zach Smith said the spring weather and snowpack amounts will dictate how much water can be leased for the Yampa this year. The bigger the snowpack, the less the group can lease. On Monday, the snowpack in the Yampa/ White River basin was 81 percent of average.

Last year, 4,000 acre feet of water was leased from the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which owns Stagecoach Reservoir. The Colorado Water Trust paid about $140,000, or $35 per acre foot of water…

The Colorado Water Trust is reaching out to water right owners who might be interested in leasing their water this year. Smith will be in Steamboat from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library to explain how the Request for Water 2013 water leasing program works. He will discuss the legal authority and technical underpinnings of the program. He also will talk about how the various forms work, what a water user can expect if he or she offers water for lease, how the water valuation process works and approximate timelines.

More instream flow coverage here.