Coyote Gulch outage: I’m on deadline at Colorado Central magazine, I’ll see you on Monday

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I’m on deadline at Colorado Central Magazine. I’ll see you on Monday morning.

Forecast news: Widespread scattered showers possible over the mountains and I-25 today, storm on the way Sunday #COdrought #COwx

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

An upper level disturbance will push across the state this afternoon. This system will bring isolated to scattered rain and snow showers across the mountains and Interstate 25 corridor. The best chances for precipitation will be over the central mountains where moderate snow accumulations are expected. Persons planning travel through this area should stay abreast of the latest advisories for this area and visit our web page at http://www.weather.gov/pub. Area temperatures will continue a warming trend today, with highs in the mid 50s to mid 60s expected over the eastern plains, with 40s and 50s over the high country.

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

A disturbance in northwest flow will push across the region today, bringing mountain snow and a good chance of rain/snow showers for the northern/central valleys. Southern valleys may see a few showers but the northern 2/3rds of the forecast area will be favored for precipitation. Snow levels will generally range from 5500-6500 feet, with the highest amounts across the northern mountains where 4-8 inches will fall. Precipitation will diminish this evening, with fairly pleasant conditions on Sunday. Another storm system will bring unsettled conditions to mainly the northern mountains/valleys Sunday night into early Tuesday, with fair conditions elsewhere.

Snowpack/drought news: Colorado River snowpack = 99% of avg (highest %), Rio Grande = 67% (lowest %) #COdrought

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From the Associated Press via ABC15.com:

Dust blown in from the Southwest settled on snow over many of Colorado’s mountains during this week’s storm and will eventually affect how fast the snowpack melts and possibly how much water the state can hold onto. Researchers say the dust kicked up from Arizona, New Mexico and Utah by southwesterly winds fell in Steamboat Springs, Summit County, Vail, Aspen and the San Juan mountains. Dust was also scattered in the snow that fell along the Front Range but it’s likely that dust could have been carried by southeasterly winds from other areas too, including parched southeastern Colorado, the San Luis Valley and the Arkansas River Basin, state climatologist Nolan Doesken said.

Jeffrey Deems, a research scientist for NOAA in Boulder, said dust on top of snow can absorb up to twice as much sunlight as clean snow, speeding up melting. He compares the effect to wearing a dark T-shirt on sunny day.

This week’s dust storm was the second widespread one in Colorado’s mountains this season. Another storm on April 8th left a thick layer of dust in the state’s snowpack, which has now been boosted to 79 percent of the peak average thanks to this week’s storm. “It’s kind of a mixed blessing now,” Deems said of the new, dusty snow.

More snow is in the forecast but whenever the dust layers from this week and earlier this month are eventually exposed, there will be a significant speed up in the melting of the snow at that time, said Chris Landry of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton.

Here’s an article about the April 8 dust storm written by Chase Olivarius-Mcallister for the The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

Monday’s gusts rained red mud from Arizona and New Mexico dust onto Durango, making the sky an ominous shade of mottled pink and reducing visibility. Wind speeds were as high as 30 mph at the airport, and anyone in a car should drive at prudent speeds, Aleksa said. Drivers traversing mountain roads, where winds were fiercest, should take particular care, he said.

Click here for a Modis satellite photo of a dust storm out of northeast Arizona moving toward four corners, and the San Juans.

From the Windsor Beacon (Sam Noblett):

“At least now we have enough to get it started rather than germinating by irrigation,” said Harold Stromberger, who operates his farm in Windsor near Colorado Highway 392 and Weld County Road 21. Still, Stromberger has had to adjust his practices to plan for the reduced water allocation by switching to a few barley crops, which are more resistant to drought than his normal corn crops. He made the choice to switch to barley instead of allowing his land to sit idle. He planted the barley in mid-March and hopes to plant corn crops this weekend, depending on weather.

“You do a lot of hoping in agriculture,” said Stromberger. “Hoping for storms like this and rain.”

From the Boulder Daily Camera (John Aguilar):

“Things were looking pretty dire here,” Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said Wednesday. “These are the first storms that have given the snowpack a real boost.” And a significant boost, at that. On April 8, the snowpack level in the South Platte River watershed was 70 percent of normal for that date. On Wednesday, it was measured at 83 percent of normal. Statewide, the snowpack was at 67 percent of normal 10 days ago, and on Wednesday it hit 83 percent of normal, Hultstrand said.

As of Wednesday evening, Boulder had received 34.9 inches of April snow. The record for the month is 44 inches, set in 1957. This month’s snowfall follows nearly 23 inches in March…

“We’re playing catch-up with our snowpack, and we’re also playing catch-up with our reservoir storage,” Hultstrand said. “Things can dry up really fast around here.”

So far, Broomfield and cities and towns in Boulder County are holding their ground with water restrictions. Louisville, which imposed the strictest limits in the county earlier this month — with a mandatory twice-a-week outdoor watering schedule starting May 1 — doesn’t plan to back off its restrictions for now.

“Things are looking better, and all this moisture means that no one needs to do any irrigating until at least early or perhaps even mid-May,” City Manager Malcolm Fleming wrote in an email. “However, the snow pack is still down and it will take more than this to fill the reservoirs that are very low.”

Lafayette Public Works Director Doug Short said officials aren’t going to consider easing Lafayette’s restrictions, which limit outdoor watering to between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., until they see the state’s May 1 snowpack and runoff projections. That means the paddleboat and canoe program at Waneka Lake remains dry-docked for now.

Jody Jacobson, spokeswoman for the Boulder Public Works Department, said the city is also awaiting next month’s hydrological data before making a final decision on whether to impose water restrictions…

According to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the snowpack in the Boulder Creek watershed on April 1 was at 69 percent of normal for that date, while the levels in the St. Vrain and Big Thompson watersheds were 55 percent and 59 percent of normal, respectively. The service wasn’t able to provide updated numbers for mid-April.

Like much of Boulder County, Broomfield partly relies on supplies from the Colorado Big Thompson project, which transports water from the west side of the Continental Divide to the Front Range. Broomfield Public Works Director David Allen said Wednesday that he plans to recommend to the City Council next week that it stick with a voluntary twice-a-week watering schedule across the city.

Here’s a report about the second dust storm of the month on April 16 from Shane Benjamin writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

The dust storm was the result of a low-pressure system centered over Utah and Nevada that contributed to a strong southwest flow over this part of the state, said Joe Ramey, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. The dirt was rising out of New Mexico, he said. Some residents said they could feel and taste the grit in their teeth. “Even up here in Grand Junction our skies are hazy with dust,” he said…

A dust storm April 8, combined with light rain, coated cars and dirtied windows in the Durango area. Some of the dirt gets deposited on the snowpack in the San Juan Mountains, which turns the snow a dark color and increases the rate of the melt…

The average snowpack as of Tuesday in Southwest Colorado was 71 percent of normal, he said – second lowest in the state. The lowest was in the Rio Grande basin, east of Wolf Creek Pass. The average snowpack across the state was 77 percent, he said.

From The Wet Mountain Tribune (Nora Drenner):

Watering restrictions have been imposed on Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District bulk water users. Such action took place at the RMW board of directors meeting held April 11.

RMW manager Tracey Garcia said the district was forced to enact the restrictions due to drought and the less than average snowpack. Primarily affected by the restrictions are the Custer County Road and Bridge Department that uses the water for road grading, Custer County School for its ball fields, and the towns of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe for its municipal parks. The restrictions limit the amount of water bulk users can purchase and use by one-third to one-half.

Not affected, said Garcia, are those residential users who rely on bulk water for cisterns, as well as other residential customers. She also noted that RMW hopes to only limit the watering restrictions to large bulk users, however, she encourages all customers to conserve. “The district is hoping to only limit those users and not pass along the restrictions to residential users,” said Garcia…

“Green lawns, unfortunately, should not be anyone’s priority this year,” said Garcia. “Instead, only water newly planted trees as necessary. “

Garcia said Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District currently has 355 acre feet of storage in the Lake DeWeese reservoir, however, the current total of water in the storage vessel is around 115 acre feet. Additionally, RMW secured an additional 75 acre feet of water last year through the Pueblo Board of Water Works, however, it is unknown if that source of water will be available again this year.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Mike Wiggins):

The biggest snowstorm of the season Wednesday layered the Grand Valley with a thick, wet blanket of flakes that triggered accidents across the region, the closure of the school in De Beque and anxiety among peach farmers whose trees have already flowered.

The storm dumped as much as 7 inches of snow in some areas of the valley and more in the higher elevations, according to the National Weather Service. Officially, 4.6 inches accumulated at Grand Junction Regional Airport between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The 3.8 inches of snow that fell Wednesday made it the third-snowiest April day on record in Grand Junction and accounted for the most snow on a single day this season, coming in just ahead of the 3.6 inches that fell in the city on Dec. 19, 2012, according to the National Weather Service…

The owners of Red Barn Farm & Gardens, 3419 U.S. Highway 6, posted on their Facebook page that the forecast was not looking promising for their fruit. “The apricots are all gone, cherries in the valley will be slim pickings, if any, and peaches are heading out very quickly with this snow and cold temperatures. Pray for a warm weather change and some tasty fruit this summer! I hope you all love pears, tomatoes, and the regular garden veggies, because that’s about all we might have!” the post said.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Double-digit jumps in snowpack figures this month have left Randy Schwalm and other local farmers using a facial expression seldom seen in the ag world during recent months. “We’re actually smiling today,” said Schwalm, a Windsor-area crop grower.

Snowpack in the South Platte River basin had hovered around 65-70 percent of average through the end of March, but, as of Wednesday, had jumped up to 85 percent of average, thanks to recent snowstorms.

Snowpack is needed to provide runoff that fills the region’s reservoirs, rivers and irrigation ditches.

Snowpack in the Colorado River basin, from which the northern Front Range also diverts much of its water, saw snowpack increase from 74 percent of average on April 1 all the way up to 95 percent of average on Wednesday.

Along with the snowpack upswings, there’s been plenty of moisture in Weld County. The National Weather Service said 4-5 inches had fallen on areas along the Larimer-Weld County line on Wednesday. The Greeley area didn’t receive nearly that much snow Wednesday, but had gotten plenty in recent days. As of Tuesday, the city had received 43 percent more precipitation than normal in 2013, and area farmers are elated.

Schwalm said the recent moisture means farmers won’t have to irrigate immediately after planting their crops during the upcoming weeks. While the local moisture will save a round of irrigation, the additional snowpack in the mountains, too, will help extend the irrigating season. “Those seeds in the shed are starting to look a lot better,” Schwalm said.

Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, said the sharp increase in snowpack recently doesn’t mean the Northern Water board of directors will increase its water quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which is the largest water supplier in the region. The Northern Water board of directors set a below-average quota of 60 percent earlier this month, based on low snowpack at the time and low reservoir levels. The board sets a quota each April to determine how much water can be released from the C-BT’s system, and how much water needs to remain in its 12 reservoirs. Werner said the board will take another look at its quota during its meeting in May, and consider increasing it. “There’s no guarantee, though” Werner said of the board increasing the quota based on recent snowpack increases. “The recent snow has been a big boost, but our reservoirs are awfully low. We need to get those filled back up.”

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

Natural Resources Conservation Service snowpack telemetry data for Thursday indicate the Arkansas River basin snowpack stands at 76 percent of average. However, SNOTel data from upper basin sites indicate significant snowpack gains during April. Fremont Pass snowpack reached 68 inches Thursday, up from 49 inches April 2. The Brumley SNOTel site southwest of Leadville shows a snow depth of 35 inches Thursday, compared to 26 inches April 2.

Late-season snowstorms also increase the possibility of a successful flow program for the multi-agency Voluntary Flow Management Program, White said. The program maintains minimum flows for the fishery throughout the year and provides enhanced flows for rafting and kayaking from July 1 through mid-August.

2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1130, sans the thirty year term, passes the Senate Ag committee #COleg

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A watered-down version of a controversial bill that would expand state authority to approve water leases is making its way through the Legislature. The legislation, HB1130, was approved this week by the Senate agriculture committee. It would alter the state’s interruptible water supply statute. The statute now allows temporary transfers of water from farms to cities with approval from the state engineer for three years in a 10-year period.

Aurora, supported by farmers on the High Line Canal, is backing the legislation. Aurora leased water from the High Line Canal in 2004-05. Numerous water interests, particularly in the South Platte basin, opposed the original legislation as an end-run around water court. Originally, the bill allowed the state Division of Water Resources to approve water transfers for up to 30 years without going to water court.

The legislation, as amended by the ag committee, now limits renewal to just one 10-year period, and only in the Lower Arkansas Valley (water districts 14, 17 and 67 in water division 2). Aurora argued for two renewal periods in order to give cities more certainty of supply.

The bill also strengthens water court appeals and state engineer notification procedures, while giving opponents 126 days, rather than 30, to respond to notifications.

The bill also prohibits transfer of water across the Continental Divide, at the request of Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, who chairs the Senate ag committee. It does not prohibit transfers from the Rio Grande or Arkansas River basins using interruptible supply.

The bill was sent to the Senate floor on Wednesday, and could be approved by the Senate as soon as Monday. The House would then have to reconsider the legislation, since substantial changes were made.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Arkansas River: Late season snowfall expected to give rafting revenue a shot in the arm #COdrought

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to see the big spike in late season snow water equivalent in the Arkansas River Basin. Whitewater sports are a big business along the Arkansas River mainstem above Lake Pueblo so the snowfall translates to economic activity this summer.

Here’s a release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

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.

The Arkansas River is the most commercially rafted river in the United States and an abundant supply of whitewater and gorgeous scenery are just two of the reasons why the river is so popular. “Browns Canyon and the Royal Gorge provide two of the most spectacular stretches of scenery and whitewater that you can find. Also, with the spring snowpack increasing every day, we are very excited about this year’s whitewater season,” said White.

Not only will there be a good spring run-off, but the late season snowstorms also increase the possibility of a successful flow program for the multi-agency Voluntary Flow Management Program (VFMP). The VFMP maintains minimum flows for the fishery throughout the year and provides enhanced flows for rafting and kayaking from July 1 through mid-August.

“In a year like this, we potentially have the best of both worlds; the fishery on the Arkansas River is the best it’s been in years due to low flows last season, while the late season addition to the snowpack promises to provide an abundance of whitewater,” said White.

The AHRA is managed through a cooperative effort between the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. In addition to AHRA, Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages 42 other state parks, more than 300 state wildlife areas, all of Colorado’s wildlife and a variety of outdoor recreation.

Here’s a report from Tracy Harmon writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Rafters are rejoicing at the late winter snowstorms that are bringing more water to the Arkansas River for rafting and kayaking this summer. The steady stream of snowstorms in the high country have extended through March and April, boosting snowpack totals to double what they were this time last year, said Rob White, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area park manager.

There is more than twice as much snow as at the same time last year, White said. “The spring snowstorms that the Arkansas River Valley have been receiving are of tremendous benefit to the agricultural, municipal and recreational communities,” he said. “We are looking forward to a great spring and summer season for whitewater boating.”

The Arkansas River is the most commercially rafted river in the United States, so an abundant supply of whitewater is just what rafters have been hoping for. That’s because not only will there be a good spring runoff, but the late season snowstorms also increase the possibility of a successful flow program through mid-August.

Last year, rafting outfitters experienced a nearly 19 percent dive in visitor numbers, making it the worst year since droughtand fire-stricken 2002. Arkansas River rafting customers went from 208,329 in 2011 to 169,486 in 2012, resulting in a nearly 16 percent drop in economic impact to the region.

Last summer, the rafting industry brought in $20.5 million in direct expenditures to the Arkansas River corridor and a total economic impact of $52.5 million when factors such as meals, lodging and gasoline are considered.

More whitewater coverage here and here.