Northern Water plan in conjunction with NISP could restore streamflow in a section of the Cache la Poudre


From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Northern is discussing raising flows in the stretch that runs from the mouth of Poudre Canyon to an area near Gateway Park. The river normally runs at a trickle in that section, but Northern Water says it could increase flows 30 to 40 cubic feet per second from June to September. That would amount to10,000 to 20,000 acre feet running through the five-mile section…

Northern Water is exploring the possibility as part of its $490 million Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP)…

As part of the reservoir project, Northern Water has proposed that the irrigation company leave the water in the stream through the five-mile stretch and allow Northern to divert it farther down and pump it back up to the proposed Glade Reservoir, where it would be stored for the irrigation company’s use.

Under this scenario, Northern Water would receive credit from the Corps of Engineers for adding water to the river as it draws from the river during spring runoff to fill Glade.

However, the irrigation company believes it would lose out on credit from the Corps of Engineers if Northern Water moved the diversion downstream. It wants credit for its Halligan-Seaman Water Management Project, which involves expanding Fort Collins’ Halligan Reservoir and Greeley’s Milton Seaman Reservoir.

Northern Water and North Poudre Irrigation Co. value those credits because they give the water companies standing to remove water from other places of the river at various times for storage in reservoirs.

“We’re not going to give up potential mitigation credits on our project,” said Steve Smith, operations manager for the irrigation company. “They actually would be in competition with ours.”

Both the irrigation company and Northern Water said they intend to keep negotiating to see if mutually acceptable terms can be reached.

More Cache la Poudre River Watershed coverage here and here.

Colorado River ‘Most Endangered,’ but not lost — Hannah Holm #ColoradoRiver


Here’s a look at the current state of the Colorado River from Hannah Holm writing for the Grand Junction Free Press. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

This week brought a mix of gloom and sunshine to the water picture for the Colorado River Basin.

Gloom came in the form of a report by the conservation group American Rivers, which declared the Colorado to be the “Most Endangered River in America.” The report highlights the fact that the river no longer meets the sea, as well as information from last fall’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which showed that the river is already over-tapped, and imbalances between supply and demand are likely to get worse in the future.

The figurative sunshine came, first of all, in the form of literal gloom: The skies darkened, and rain began to fall, then snow, and more snow (even in Grand Junction), and a slight uptick in the snowpack trend-line turned into a real spike, bringing snowpack levels in Colorado’s part of the Colorado River Basin up above 90% of the average for this time of year, and double what it was at this time in 2012.

Of course, 90% is still below average, but considering that one month ago the snowpack was just barely catching up to where it was at the beginning of last year’s historic drought, this counts as very good news. It means our wildfire danger will be lower, more crops can grow, and water managers won’t pull out quite so many hairs. Mandatory water restrictions are less likely (here anyway — Denver’s are still on), and rafting may be more fun.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Drought/snowpack news: Dust accompanying the recent storm may hasten melt out #COdrought




Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current snowpack map from the NRCS, the current U.S. Drought Monitor map and the current drought forecast map from the Climate Prediction Center.

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

Little specks of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah rode in on the potentially record-setting 61-hour storm and promise to hasten snowmelt. And then, below that fresh layer of sun-absorbing, snow-melting dust is an uncommonly dense layer from an April 8 dust storm — the sixth of the season, or “D6” — that will send the snowmelt down in surging torrents, drowning hope for a sustained release deep into summer. “None of the dust events we had last year were comparable to the April 8 event we had this year,” said Chris Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, who has studied dust events and the impact on snowpack in southern Colorado for the last decade…

Water managers across Colorado, many of whom fund Landry’s research, lament the late-season dirt. That dark layer covering even the deepest snowpack prevents the slow and steady runoff that keeps rivers rolling and reservoirs replenished. Instead, the runoff comes down at once, forcing precious water that could irrigate fields in July and float rafts in August to run through the state months early. “Snowpack above 9,000 feet is our biggest water storage, and our best reservoir, and we want to keep water in that reservoir as long as possible,” said Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “The worse these dust layers are, you get the snow (disappearing) quicker and that affects late-season base flows in streams. The effects are felt from high elevation down to where we use the water for irrigation.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Agricultural irrigators who use wells are likely to pump only one-fourth as much water as last year in the Arkansas Valley, and officials are worried about drought conditions even as snow piles up in the mountains. The three largest well associations in the valley anticipate pumping 30,000 acre-feet of water this year, down from 110,000 acrefeet in 2012, according to augmentation plans submitted to the Colorado Department of Water Resources.

Already austere pumping plans by the big well groups were cut back further by Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte, after it was determined they still owed water to the Arkansas River from 2012 pumping.

But even smaller wells are having trouble finding replacement water.

Analysis of last year’s plans showed that 30 of the 590 well augmentation plans in the Arkansas River basin failed to provide sufficient replacement water. “We’re looking at plans that don’t have replacement water and will have to take some sort of action,” Witte told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday. “Many plans rely on the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project allocation.”

The well groups rely on Fry-Ark return flows — water imported into the basin that can be reused until it’s gone — for replacement water. The problem is that there is less water available because of extremely low imports last year. The Fort Lyon Canal is looking at its first right of refusal on those return flows, which means it could purchase the water, meaning less would be available for well pumpers.

More from the Chieftain:

Last year, the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project yielded 13,400 acre-feet of water, the second-lowest year on record.

● This year, the Fry-Ark Project could produce more water, but it’s too soon to get hopes up. The April 1 projection by the Bureau of Reclamation was 24,700 acre-feet, but the amount available for allocation would be reduced because of evaporation and transit loss.

● Several feet of snow, with several inches of moisture content, have been added since then. Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River basin is now at 97 percent of average, while in the Upper Arkansas, it has climbed about 80 percent. But the averages are beginning to get skewed because melt-off begins in mid-April in most years. At a few sites, moisture content is above average.

● While the snowpack is climbing, three years of drought have reduced soil moisture levels and water storage. Storage this year is 47 percent of average in Turquoise Lake, 80 percent in Twin Lakes and 88 percent in Lake Pueblo. Transit losses and evaporation rates increase as stream and lake levels drop.

● Complicating the picture are minimum streamflow requirements for the Fryingpan River and at diversion sites for the Fry-Ark Project. Water can’t be brought over through the Boustead Tunnel unless those needs are met.

● The Boustead Tunnel has a limited capacity. If the snow begins to melt too fast, some of the water that could have been imported might be left on the other side. Because water freezes, the flow is inconsistent as well.

● The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District makes allocations in May based on Reclamation’s final May 1 forecast. Any water brought over can be reused until it’s gone, but competition for that water is increasing.

From Science Daily:

The area of the contiguous United States in moderate drought or worse fell below 50 percent for the first time since June 19, 2012, according to the latest edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday. Heavy precipitation across the Plains and the upper Midwest continued to ease drought. The area of the lower 48 states in moderate drought or worse declined to 47.82 percent, from 50.82 percent a week ago. “We’ve been on a steady but slow recovery path from drought since the peak in September 2012,” said Mark Svoboda, University of Nebraska-Lincoln climatologist and a founding author of the Monitor. “We’ve seen a much more active weather pattern lately across the midsection of the country, which has been eroding the intensity of drought as we head into spring. This is exactly what we needed.”

From KRDO (Rachel Plath):

Spring storms have brought plenty of snow to the region, and the recent snows have prompted several ski resorts to extend their seasons. Colorado Springs Utilities said the snow is badly needed, but said it would not be enough to overcome the current drought. “This feels really good today. It’s nice to see the snow but it’s just not making a huge dent in our overall system,” said Patrice Lehermeier, CSU spokesperson.

The additional snowfall has increased statewide snowpack to 82 percent of average, up 10 percent from last month, but it is still below average…

Lehermeier said the benefit to the colder temperatures and the snow is that during the month of March and April, Colorado Springs residents have not needed to water their lawns. She said this has already saved 500 million gallons of water.

From Reuters via the Hartford Courant:

Last week’s storms brought more than 2 inches of precipitation to parts of the central Plains and western Corn Belt, the report said. But it was dry from west Texas to eastern Colorado into western Kansas and southwestern Nebraska. Big improvements were noted in the Dakotas and minor easing in Kansas, Wyoming and Colorado. But Nebraska, the most drought-stricken state and a key producer of corn and livestock, saw little improvement in the week. The entire state remains under severe to exceptional drought. The western Corn Belt, another area of concern given depleted soil moisture, also improved in the past week, especially Minnesota and Iowa. In Minnesota, just 21 percent of the state was in severe to extreme drought, down from 67 percent the week before.

From the Chaffee County Times:

A steady stream of March and April snowstorms in the high country have managers at Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) anticipating a good run-off this spring and steady flows for rafting throughout the summer. “The snowpack in the Upper Arkansas River Basin is much better this year than at the same time last year,” said Rob White, AHRA Park Manager. “We are looking forward to a great spring and summer season for whitewater boating.”

White said that as of April 18, the snow levels in the upper Arkansas basin are more than double what they were at this time last year. “Last year we received very little if any precipitation in March and April, while this year we have been more fortunate. The mountains that surround the Arkansas River Valley are continuing to receive snow,” he said.

Click here for the snowfall totals from this week’s storm for northern Colorado from the National Weather Service Boulder office.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

Loveland’s total snowfall from a three-day storm that moved in Monday was a hair over 19 inches. That figure shows in data collected from home-based stations of the Colorado Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network…

This month is on track to compete as the coolest and wettest April in local weather history, with low temperatures setting daily records on several occasions during the first half of the month. For the first 17 days of April, Knoetgen’s station has recorded 20.7 inches of snow and 2.54 inches of total moisture. Normal numbers for the entire month are 3.8 inches of snow, and 2.16 inches of moisture.

From the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (James Chilton):

Cheyenne relies primarily on mountain snowpack for its municipal water as spring snowmelt helps to recharge the city’s five reservoirs. And while those reservoirs were in decent shape prior to the storm n at about 72.4 percent capacity n the new mountain snowpack should ensure they are all at or near 100 percent in time for summer, officials say…

According to Al Dutcher, a climatologist with High Plains Regional Climate Center in Nebraska, they are not out of the woods yet. He said that while the snows have contributed much-needed moisture to the topsoil in Wyoming, it isn’t enough to reach some of the deeper soil that crops need to grow best. “If we can break this cold weather and get seeds in the ground over the next few weeks, we’ve got enough moisture to at least get the crops established,” Dutcher said. “We just don’t have any deep subsoil profile moisture. So if we do get crops established, how aggressive will their rooting system grow into this soil?”[…]

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Drought Monitor website, this week is the first time in more than seven months that no part of the state is in “exceptional” drought. That is the worst of four categories that the site monitors. And only about 40 percent of the state is in “extreme” drought, compared to 64 percent on Jan. 1.

NSAA vs. USFS: ‘There is a fundamental difference of opinion that will be hard to overcome’ — Jim Pena


From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

The Forest Service on this week launched the first of several public meetings and forums as it outlines a contentious push to secure water rights used by ski areas on public land. “There is a fundamental difference of opinion that will be hard to overcome,” said Jim Pena, the Forest Service’s acting deputy chief, acknowledging ski area opposition to the agency plan to revamp permits with new regulations addressing the ownership of water rights.

The public meeting on Tuesday was sparsely attended at the Forest Service headquarters in Lakewood. Ski area officials huddled together while leading agency officials — the landlords of 122 U.S. ski areas, including 22 in Colorado — stood ready to answer questions that didn’t come.

It’s a complex issue, as is any that deals with Colorado’s byzantine water right laws. And probably not something that stirs the public. But for ski areas, the Forest Service push to secure water rights owned by resorts operating on public land is a critical issue.

The National Ski Areas Association, which successfully sued to overturn early versions of the water clause, met with the agency before the public hearing and offered two options that would deflect the Forest Service need to take ownership of water rights used on public land. (That invite-only forum is one of several the agency is holding with resort communities, ranchers, conservation groups and other stakeholders as it scripts the new ski area permit water clause.)

The association’s options would require ski areas to prove sufficient water is available for every new project and any ski area sale would include options to sell ski-operation water rights to the buyer, the local community or the Forest Service. “We are excited about having ideas and offering something new,” said the association’s public policy director Geraldine Link, who led the industry’s lawsuit to overturn the water clause. “We are staying let’s start over. We think there is a way to address Forest Service concerns without the seizure of assets.”[…]

Pena said federal ownership may not be the only answer, hence the public meetings. The agency owns roughly 21 percent of the country’s ski area water rights, shares ownership of 4 percent and the remaining 75 percent is owned by ski area operators. Regulations that require water rights remain connected to public lands would prevent ski area operators from selling water rights as a commodity that eventually may be worth more than skiing.
“Without long-term assurances for water, we feel we could be the public’s interest at risk,” he said. “The whole idea of sustainability is about preserving resources for future generations. We are seeing more of the ski industry being managed by corporate interests. They are no longer mom-and-pop operations. We have to be prepared for people making different business decisions than what is best for the public.”[…]

Davey Pitcher, the owner of southern Colorado’s Wolf Creek ski area, allowed the Forest Service to share ownership of his water rights when he renewed his permit in 2000.
“We don’t see a problem with,” Pitcher said, noting how the agency allows intensive ski infrastructure on public land, like trails and chairlifts, so it makes sense for the Forest Service to want to protect the water needed for skiing. “We see it as a reasonable request.”

More water law coverage here.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund de-commissioning could take 10-15 years


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Members of a Community Advisory Group took their first look at a road map defining the course of action for decommissioning of the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill Thursday. The now defunct mill and a portion of the neighboring Lincoln Park community have been a Superfund site since 1988 due to uranium and molybdenum contamination in groundwater and soils.

Jennifer Opila, a state health department radioactive materials unit leader, told the group that the road map will likely be updated and changed as the decommissioning goes forward. Basically it outlines what cleanup has been done and what plans are already in place. “We will need to update the plans to make sure they meet the needs as we go forward and the community will be involved,” Opila said. “Some information has been developed but in almost every case, we think more info needs to be gathered as we develop a remedial investigation.”

The very next step is uncertain, she said. “We are in new territory with a new team for both the state and the EPA so a lot of things we still are trying to figure out,” Opila said. “We might start with Operable Unit 1 (the Lincoln Park community) or what makes sense — maybe it is the mill site itself or all the units at the same time.” As the cleanup plan progresses, “We will start to compare potential different remedies to see if each meets all the nine criteria and is protective of human health and environment,” said Peggy Linn, EPA community involvement coordinator. “I hate to say it but we might look at the cost a little bit. We will discuss the findings all along the way with the group,” Linn said.

Once a proposed remedy or cleanup plan is selected, the public will again have a chance to comment. A remedial design will be followed by the remedial action plan during which, “We start actually building it,” Linn said. Even after the cleanup is complete, health authorities will continue five-year reviews to, “Check to see that everything is working,” Linn said. Decommissioning could take 10 to 15 years.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Conduit funding at risk


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The funding pipeline for the Arkansas Valley Conduit has sprung a leak. Federal funding pressures could reduce conduit funding to one-third of its current levels and far less than Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials had hoped for in next year’s budget. “The conduit is not the only project affected. There are projects under construction that got cut,” Southeastern lobbyist Christine Arbogast told the board Thursday. “Delays cost money, so it’s going to make it more difficult as we move forward.”

The district discussed a figure of $14 million to begin design and construction of the conduit in 2014. However, the budget President Barack Obama submitted to Congress last week included only $1 million for the conduit. The Bureau of Reclamation is on pace to complete an environmental impact statement for the conduit by the end of this year. But several other water projects already being built saw cuts of 75 percent or more in the president’s budget.

If Congress adopts another continuing resolution, rather than a budget, the conduit might retain its current level of funding, $3 million, in 2014, said Executive Director Jim Broderick. Otherwise, the district appears to be out of options to increase funding. “It’s clear the game is different than it used to be,” Broderick said, recounting last week’s visit to Washington, D.C. “This doesn’t stop the project, but it will move at a different pace.”

A federal law in 2009 provided a way to repay the federal government for conduit costs through storage contract payments to Reclamation for use of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. But payments would not start until after the project is completed.

The conduit could cost up to $500 million to build and would deliver fresh drinking water from Pueblo Dam to 50,000 people in 40 communities along the Arkansas River. “We’re concerned about the drop in funding, but we’re still in the pre-construction phase,” Broderick said.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.