Colorado Avalanche Information Center Publishes Final Report April 20th Avalanche Accident near Loveland Pass

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Here’s the release from the CAIC. Here’s an excerpt:

Boulder, CO – April 24, 2013, The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) has published the results of their investigation into the avalanche accident that killed five people in a backcountry touring group near Loveland Pass, Colorado, on April 20, 2013.

The CAIC staff would like to extend its deepest condolences to the friends and families of the victims and everyone that has been affected by this tragedy. The people involved in this accident were active in backcountry recreation and avalanche safety.

From the Clear Creek Courant (Ian Neligh):

An event benefiting the Colorado Avalanche Information Center turned deadly on Saturday when a massive snow slide along U.S. 6 near the summit of Loveland Pass killed four experienced backcountry snowboarders and a skier. One man survived. The victims were ski veterans, guides and industry professionals, and the event’s organizer, Joseph Timlin, was among the dead. The victims are Ryan Novack, 33, of Boulder; Christopher Peters, 32, of Lakewood; Rick Gaukel, 33, of Estes Park; Ian Lamphere, 36, of Crested Butte; and Timlin, 32, of Gypsum.

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

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation maps from yesterday’s webinar. Click here for all the summaries.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Snow totals for this week from the NWS Boulder office #COdrought #COwx

Will Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann be the beginning of the end for river compacts? (probably not)

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From the Associated Press (Mark Sherman) via the Washintgon Post:

The Supreme Court appeared skeptical Tuesday of a claim by Texas that it has a right under a 30-year-old agreement to cross the border with Oklahoma for water to serve the fast-growing Fort Worth area. The justices heard arguments in a dispute over access to southeastern Oklahoma tributaries of the Red River that separates Oklahoma and Texas. The Tarrant Regional Water District serving an 11-county area in north-central Texas including Fort Worth and Arlington wants to buy 150 billion gallons of water and says the four-state Red River Compact gives it the right to do so. Arkansas and Louisiana are the other participating states and they are siding with Oklahoma.

Several justices pointed to the absence of an explicit approval for cross-border water sales in the agreement. “This clause, the one that you rely on, is kind of sketchy, isn’t it? Doesn’t say how they’re going to get it, if they’re going to pay for it. There’s a lot to be filled in,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said to Charles Rothfeld, the lawyer representing the Texas district.

To the contrary, Rothfeld said, “it is quite clear” that the four states have equal rights to the water in the stretch of the Red River at issue before the Supreme Court.

Justice Samuel Alito called Texas’ aggressive language “very striking. I mean, it sounds like they are going to send in the National Guard or the Texas Rangers.”

Rothfeld sought to assure Alito on that point. “Oklahoma’s brief suggests that the Texas Rangers are going to descend on Tulsa and seize the water. That is not what is contemplated,” Rothfeld said…

…the water district’s plans have been blocked by Oklahoma laws that govern the use of water within its borders, including a moratorium on out-of-state water sales. Lisa Blatt, Oklahoma’s lawyer, took issue with virtually every aspect of the district’s argument, including the claim that water drawn directly from the river is too salty…

Lower courts have ruled for Oklahoma, including the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It found that the Red River Compact protects Oklahoma’s water statutes from the legal challenge.

Legislation adopted by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2009 said no out-of-state water permit can prevent Oklahoma from meeting its obligations under compacts with other states. It also requires the Water Resources Board to consider in-state water shortages or needs when considering applications for out-of-state water sales.

The Obama administration is backing the Texas district at the Supreme Court, saying Oklahoma may not categorically prohibit Texas water users from obtaining water in Oklahoma. But the administration takes no position on whether the Texans ultimately should get the water they are seeking in this case.

A decision is expected by late June.

From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Utah joined six other states that weighed in together on the Tarrant Regional Water District vs Hermann case that pits the water supplier for much of the Fort Worth-Dallas area against the state of Oklahoma. At issue is an interstate compact governing the division of excess runoff water that is to be shared equally by four states: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana…

The Texas district wants to dip into its share of Red River water by taking its fourth of the flow in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has responded that the district has no authority or right to cross the border to meet Texas water needs.

Oklahoma lawmakers, acting to protect their water resources, passed a moratorium on any water exports from the state, unless those exports have their express approval.

[Tim Bishop, an attorney representing the water district] said the state’s actions fly in the face of the compact’s provisions, shunning a congressionally mandated binding agreement…

The legal team points to areas like Denver and the Salt Lake City metro area as regions that depend on water supplies governed by interstate compacts — such as the Colorado River compact of 1922 that allocates that water among seven recipient basin states, including Utah. But Utah actually joined with Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Indiana and Michigan in urging the high court to refrain from unraveling the 10th Circuit decision. “We have a very strong interest” that Oklahoma’s position be upheld, said Norm Johnson, the natural resources attorney for the Utah Attorney General’s Office. “A compact does not equal permission to disregard the water laws of equal sovereign (states).”

Johnson said it should be telling that both lower courts have sided with Oklahoma and respected the right of states to govern what happens to the water within their boundaries.

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

At the heart of the lawsuit is whether the language of the Red River Compact — signed in 1978 by the basin states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, and ratified two years later by Congress — gives entities in Texas the right to water that originates in a particular river basin in Oklahoma…

Tarrant’s legal team argues that if the Supreme Court upholds the federal appeals court ruling, which supported Oklahoma’s restrictions on out-of-state water sales, the justices would throw existing water compacts into chaos and would encourage protectionist policies from states wanting to guard water resources on their soil. The problem is that almost no one outside of Texas shares that view…

Tarrant has not found much sympathy in this case. Nearly all of the amicus briefs — filings from parties interested in the outcome but not directly involved — have sided with Oklahoma. Arkansas and Louisiana, the two other states bound by the Red River Compact, filed on behalf of Oklahoma, as did a group of water law professors and a pair of water districts in Colorado that draw from interstate rivers. Even states that are part of other interstate compacts — a diverse group including Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah — share Oklahoma’s position.

Seemingly the only groups supporting Tarrant are Texas-based organizations and the city of Hugo, Oklahoma, which would like to sell water to Texas. The U.S. Solicitor General also backs Texas.

Mark Davis, director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy in New Orleans, told Circle of Blue that this case is mostly a compact issue and is not about the Commerce Clause.

“If you have water, you read the compact one way. If you don’t, you read it another,” said Davis, who co-signed an amicus brief supporting the Tenth Circuit’s ruling in favor of Oklahoma. “The fact that Texas has a growing need for water means it’s going to read as many rights into the compact as it can.”

Arkansas and Louisiana, in their amicus brief, wrote that the provision about the equal rights in sub-basin 5 “simply does not constitute a clear expression by the signatory states or Congress that this one phrase was added for the purpose of overriding the regulatory authority of the States over intrastate waters that was otherwise maintained throughout the Compact.”

The compact also makes clear that the states have the power to regulate water within their boundaries. And Arkansas and Louisiana — two wet states that use riparian law that differs from the rights-based system in the American West — have different legal traditions for water than their fellow Red River states.

More water law coverage here.

Snowpack/drought: ‘It’s continuing to snow, but we’re not showing huge accumulations’ — Roy Vaughan #COdrought

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Snowpack in Colorado’s mountains continues to build slowly, but the state isn’t out of a drought yet. “It’s continuing to snow, but we’re not showing huge accumulations,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “Even though we may not see significant snowfall, as long as it remains overcast and we have flurries, it prolongs the snowpack.”

Statewide, snowpack has improved to 90 percent of average statewide, with normal levels in the Colorado River basin, but lower levels across the southern part of the state, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel sites. Those numbers can be deceptive, because snowpack normally has begun melting off by this time of year. Snow moisture is only at 90 percent of peak in the Colorado River basin. [ed. emphasis mine]

Drought conditions remain severe for Colorado and the Arkansas Valley in particular. Reduced soil moisture will soak up more water than usual during runoff.

Temperatures are expected to be above average through the summer, while most models are showing below-average rainfall through the summer, according to information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Reservoir storage is at about 70 percent of average statewide, compared with more than 100 percent at the same time last year.

A drought task force last week determined the state once again will be vulnerable to wildfires from May to July, both because of the drought and mountain pine beetle damage on more than 4 million acres of trees.

Precipitation for the year in Pueblo through Tuesday morning was only 1.07 inches, less than half of average and even less than Pueblo had received by this time last year. After light snow Tuesday, high temperatures are expected to climb into the 70s by the end of the week.

Here’s a post from Colorado Springs Utilities Re:Sources blog:

Lately, I’m feeling like a parent on a long road trip with an entire community in the back seat. You know the trip I’m talking about. It’s the one where the kids in the back seat ask “Are we there yet?” every five minutes. The difference is that the questions are “How’s our water supply with the recent snow; and is it enough to move out of restrictions?”

Yes, the snow is great; however we all need to be realistic about our expectations here. We didn’t get into this situation by simply missing a couple of good mountain storms. We got here with a couple of years of severely below average precipitation. While the recent snow fall is welcome relief from hot and dry conditions, we are not out of the drought yet. Even with all the recent snow, our watersheds are seeing a peak snowpack of about 85% of average. That means we still haven’t even reached an average winter yet, let alone a surplus of snow that will replenish our reservoirs.

There are 3 other key factors to consider.

1. Soil moisture. The ground has been extremely deprived of moisture for quite some time, meaning a lot of the snow is going to melt and sink into the ground.
2. Evaporation. When the temperatures do warm up and the snow begins to melt, a portion of that snow is lost to evaporation too.
3. Water rights. Not all of the water that makes its way into a lake or stream can be diverted to Colorado Springs. We can only harvest the water for which we have rights. The rest of it must be passed downstream to other users with senior water rights.
Not to be a negative Nellie, but we are in Stage 2 restrictions and expect to remain there throughout 2013. It’s a harsh reality, but we all need to come to grips with it.

On the bright side, we’re all doing a great job of conserving and we are currently meeting our savings goal! And, the snow and colder conditions locally mean customers will save even more because they will not need to water their landscapes.

So, don’t make me turn this car around. Let’s all appreciate the recent snow for what it is: an opportunity to make a few snowballs, a few snowmen (or women if you prefer) and a few trips down a hill on a sled. Let’s enjoy a brief winter wonderland, even if it is spring!

From the Parker Chronicle (Chris Michlewicz):

The release of a voluntary watering schedule is a departure from some communities, which have implemented mandatory restrictions on irrigation, but Parker Water’s district manager, Ron Redd, is hoping that widespread cooperation will avoid the need for such drastic measures.

Recent snowfall has made for near-normal snowpacks and happy plants across Colorado, tempering drought conditions for now. But Parker Water is not affected by snowmelt like other communities because it relies on groundwater, and the inevitable Colorado dry spell could turn the tables on local vegetation.

First and foremost, customers are being asked to avoid watering their lawns until May, as the ground retains much of its moisture in the early spring months. Those with an address ending in an even number are instructed to water on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Property owners with addresses ending in odd numbers, as well as commercial properties, homeowners associations and multi-family residences, are being asked to water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. There should be no watering on Fridays so the wells can recharge.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

This week’s spring snowstorm is causing minor flooding around Fort Collins after heavy, wet snow last week caused a roof collapse.

Businesses along Pinon Street off North College Avenue have been struggling for several days with melting snow filling their parking lots and, in some cases, their stores. Wool Hat Furniture co-owner Danelle Britt said she discovered water pouring into the store at 104 Pinon St. last week and had to shut down on Thursday and Friday to deal with it. On Saturday, she said, she spent half her time helping customers buy handmade furniture made from recycled wood and half her time rolling up her pants and wading around trying to fix the sump pump that was helping keep her year-old store dry.

The snow last week collapsed the roof of Discount Tire at 1751 S. College Ave.

From Denver Water:

As a majority of Colorado begins to see some much-needed relief from two years of hot and dry conditions, we all are talking about the many numbers associated with drought, with hope that the snow this spring will get us out of it. But, what numbers matter?

Here’s what the experts at Denver Water are looking at:

The big one is snowpack. We get our water from the Colorado River and South Platte River watersheds. But, it isn’t as easy as pulling up the latest report from the National Water and Climate Center to see what the snowpack levels are for those watersheds. Why? Because we need the snowpack levels above our diversion points within these watersheds, not the entire watershed.

…the snowpack that feeds our reservoirs in the Colorado River watershed is at 87 percent and the South Platte watershed is at 78 percent of average. So, while the complete watershed numbers are higher — Colorado River watershed is at 103 percent of average and the South Platte River watershed is at 90 percent of average — the areas within those watersheds that feed into our reservoirs are much lower.

Obviously, we are very excited to see these numbers increasing each week, but the snowpack levels that feed our reservoirs are still well below the normal peak.

What else are the experts tracking? Because of the past two dry winters, our reservoirs haven’t been full since July of 2011. So as we move out of April, we will look closely at our reservoir levels, the temperature, and the amount of rain or snow we get.

We will also monitor the conditions that determine how much of this snowpack will become water in our reservoirs because:

• Some will soak into the ground, depending on how dry it is and what plants need
• Some will evaporate
• Some may be passed downstream to senior water rights

As we continue to evaluate the conditions and crunch the numbers, we will continue to manage our water supply carefully. At this point, we are still in Stage 2 mandatory watering restrictions. The good news is you don’t even need to think about watering your landscape right now, because Mother Nature is taking care of that for all of us.

From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krivonen):

Recent snow showers have boosted local snowpack levels much higher than at this time last year. Yesterday the snowpack in the Roaring Fork Watershed registered 107 percent of normal. It’s good news for anglers who dealt with warm and dry conditions last year…

The snowpack that feeds the Frying Pan River has increased too. The Frying Pan, along with the Roaring Fork River, are what make Basalt an internationally known fly-fishing destination. It’s an important sport for Colorado. In 2011, anglers spent $857 million in the state and supported more than 10,000 jobs. That’s according to a report by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation…

Typically the snowpack in Colorado’s high country peaks in mid-April. Last year, snowmelt was more than a month early. This year is still a question mark. Meanwhile, parts of Western Colorado continue to experience severe and extreme drought, despite the added moisture this month.

‘We should be encouraging density’ — Jim Lochhead

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Reforming laws to provide more flexibility in how water is used and shared in Colorado will be critical in meeting demands as the state’s population rapidly grows, according to agriculture, environmental and municipal water experts who spoke Tuesday in Denver. Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar, Western Resources Advocates Director Bart Miller and Denver Water CEO and Manager Jim Lochhead said the complexity of Colorado water law and the immense court costs associated with it have deterred some users from sharing the resource and taking other measures that would improve efficiencies. That needs to change, they told an audience at the University of Denver’s Sturm School of Law.

Other aspects of the state’s water law — like its “use it or lose it” language, which discourages conservation, Miller said — must be altered if Colorado is going to maximize its beneficial use of the resource and meet its rapidly growing demands.

According to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Statewide Water Supply Initiative Study in 2010, the state could need as much as 630,000 acre feet of water annually (or 205.4 gallons) to meet the demands it will have by 2050.

Along with more flexibility in water laws, the trio of experts said urban areas need to grow within their existing boundaries, instead of sprawling outward, which takes up more arable land and forces municipal water providers to expand water infrastructure. Salazar said group housing can save anywhere from 40-70 percent in water consumption compared to individual homes. “We should be encouraging density,” said Lochhead, explaining that Denver’s current population density is about 4,000 people per square mile — much less than other major U.S. cities, particularly New York City, which has a population density of 27,000 people per square mile.

Across the board, the trio of experts said, Colorado residents, who consume 121 gallons of water per day, need to more closely resemble residents in countries such as Australia, who only consume 36 gallons of water per day.

Cities using less water will be critical in keeping water on the state’s farms and ranches, Salazar said, and also in protecting Colorado’s wildlife and recreation industries, which generate 80,000 jobs in the state and $6.4 billion in spending annually, Miller added.

Of the state’s eight major river basins, the Colorado River is most at risk, they said. According to stats shared by Miller, the Colorado River’s water demands began exceeding its supply in the mid 1990s. Weld County and much of the northern Front Range divert much of their water from the Colorado River basin.

More water law coverage here

Parachute Creek spill: ‘The actual benzene standard on the creek is 5,300 ppb to protect aquatic life’ — Todd Hartman #ColoradoRiver

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Weekend tests continue to show the presence of benzene in Parachute Creek downstream of a natural gas liquids leak, but at what the state Department of Natural Resources said are trace amounts. In fact, while the detections were somewhat below the standard of 5 parts per billion for drinking water, they are far under what’s allowable for the creek, agency spokesman Todd Hartman said in a press release. “Since Parachute Creek has not been designated as a drinking water supply by the state Water Quality Control Commission, the actual benzene standard on the creek is 5,300 ppb to protect aquatic life,” he said.

The creek does supply the irrigation system for the town of Parachute and its residents. However, there continue to be no benzene detections at the diversion point for that system, 2.7 miles downstream from where the leak is believed to have occurred.

Thousands of gallons of hydrocarbons leaked in a pipeline corridor near Williams’ gas processing plant up the creek valley. Williams says the source was a faulty pressure gauge on a natural gas liquids pipeline leaving the plant. High benzene levels have been found in groundwater since early in an investigation that started in March, but the first detection of benzene in the creek wasn’t until last Thursday.

On Saturday, benzene was detected 1,800 feet downstream from the pipeline corridor at 3.1 parts per billion, a level slightly higher than previous readings. That detection site is where groundwater is believed to be introducing benzene into the creek. No benzene was found at that location Sunday, and 3 ppb was detected Monday. Saturday and Sunday readings at monitoring points 2,500 and 3,700 feet from the pipeline area ranged from 1.5 to 1.1 ppb, with no results available for Monday.

Work continues on installation of an interceptor trench to strip benzene from groundwater above the creek contamination point, and to remove benzene at two locations in the creek. “Operators have drilled several additional monitoring wells to determine the extent of impacted groundwater. These new monitoring wells are not detecting benzene, an indication that delineation of the affected groundwater continues to improve,” Hartman said.

Also over the weekend, Bob Arrington, a retired engineer in Battlement Mesa and member of Garfield County’s Energy Advisory Board, wrote Gov. John Hickenlooper, urging him to have the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment rather than Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission lead the leak investigation. Arrington wrote that Williams has struggled with its own leak response, initially even doubting that the burst pressure gauge could leak that much fluid, and he argued that the commission doesn’t have the staff or training to oversee remediation.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

According to a report on Monday from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, benzene was detected during last weekend at the same three sites where it was first found on April 18. The water sampling and analysis is being conducted by personnel working for Williams Midstream, the company that owns a natural gas processing plant and some of the pipelines running underground in the area of the leak. The sampling sites, according to COGCC spokesman Todd Hartman, are at locations 1,800 feet, 2,500 feet and 3,700 feet, respectively, downstream from an above-ground valve set believed to be the source of leaking natural-gas liquids first discovered on March 8.

According to Hartman’s report on Monday, the concentration of benzene at the closest point to the valve set, 1,800 feet away, on Saturday was three parts benzene per billion parts water. In the subsequent two days, according to Hartman’s report, no benzene was detected at that location on Sunday, and 3 ppb was reported by Williams on Monday.

Analysis of samples taken at the more distant sites showed the concentration of benzene decreasing at each site and decreasing as samples were taken farther from the supposed source of the leak. At the 2,500-foot distance, according to results supplied to the COGCC by Williams, analysis detected 1.5 ppb on Saturday, and 1.4 ppb on Sunday. Results from Monday’s sampling were not available on Monday. At the site furthest from the leak, 3,700 feet downstream, samples tested out at 1.1 ppb on Saturday, and 1.2 ppb on Sunday. No results were available from Monday’s sampling…

Hartman’s report stated that Williams is working to build an “interceptor trench to strip benzene from the ground water prior to the point where it’s believed ground water enters the stream,” along with other efforts to clear the toxic chemical from the water.

From the Associated Press via KGWN.tv:

Aerators have been set up on Parachute Creek to flush out cancer-causing benzene that has been detected downstream from a hydrocarbon spill in western Colorado. Williams energy company crews also expanded their pumping of hydrocarbons from trenches dug along the creek.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.