Drought/runoff news: ‘I’m worried that the dirt is going to catch fire’ — Adrian Oglesby #COdrought #NMdrought

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The city now has enough water supplies to lift the restrictions following big snows in April and early May, said Fort Collins Water Resources Manager Donnie Dustin. The city wants residents to conserve water, but a balance must be struck between mandatory water restrictions and voluntary water conservation measures, said Lisa Rosintoski, customer connections manager for Fort Collins Utilities.

“Restrictions are mandatory for when we’re in a shortage situation, so it’s a short-term thing,” Dustin said. “Conservation is long-term, working towards reducing that use so it’s reduced every year.”

“This by no means advocates guilt-free water use,” Dustin said. The city is recommending residents water lawns no more than one or two days each week, but it’s no longer mandatory, he said.

The lifting of the water restrictions will not affect water rates, he said. Lost revenue due to mandatory water conservation measures was not a factor in the city’s decision to lift the restrictions, Dustin said.

Meanwhile conditions are terrible in southeastern Colorado and New Mexico. Here’s a report from John Fleck writing for the Albuquerque Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

In the eight months since Oct. 1, just 0.91 of an inch of rain has fallen at the Weather Service’s Albuquerque station, less than a quarter of average and the third-driest start to the city’s “water year” since record-keeping began in Albuquerque in the late 1800s. “I’m worried that the dirt’s gonna catch fire,” said Adrian Oglesby, a member of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s board of directors…

While Albuquerque is one of the drier spots in the state, all of New Mexico is suffering, said Deirdre Kann at the National Weather Service’s Albuquerque office, who provided the latest numbers Thursday. “No part of the state has been spared,” Kann said. According to the weekly federal Drought Monitor, 98 percent of New Mexico is in “severe” drought, the worst conditions in the country.

“It’s forgotten how to rain down here,” said Phil King, a hydrologist at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and water management consultant to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. The Rio Grande through Las Cruces has been dry since last autumn. The district, which provides Rio Grande water to southern New Mexico farmers, normally starts irrigation deliveries in February or March. King and his colleagues will finally begin releasing water from Caballo Reservoir into the Rio Grande, beginning Saturday, with farmers in the famous chile-growing region of Hatch seeing their first Rio Grande water of the season, beginning Sunday or early next week, King said…

Upstream, water managers are scrambling to find enough water for farmers in the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, as well as supplies to keep enough flow in the Rio Grande to avoid problems for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. The district has already cut off water deliveries to some low-priority water users, and might have to curtail deliveries to other farmers as early as the middle of June as supplies run low, according to David Gensler, the agency’s water manager…

While there is a slight chance of scattered showers over southern and eastern New Mexico on Sunday, the real hope for a break in the long term pattern comes with the arrival of the summer rainy season, usually in late June or July. In that regard, the long range outlook is not encouraging. Odds favor dry conditions and persistent drought at least through the end of August, according to federal forecasters.

Denver Water: Western water agencies respond to federal efforts to protect Colorado River #ColoradoRiver

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Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

Officials from several of the West’s largest municipal water agencies today joined forces with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) to find a long-term, systematic solution to the potential long-term imbalance between the Colorado River’s future supply and projected demands.

In the Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study released last December, Reclamation demonstrated through modeling efforts a possible long-term resource imbalance that could seriously affect both the region’s economy and the more than 30 million people who rely upon the Colorado River. Reclamation’s latest effort outlined three major areas — agricultural conservation and transfers, municipal/industrial conservation and reuse, and environmental flows — that will be the subjects of immediate focus. Municipal agencies throughout the Colorado River system have already taken steps in that direction, collaborating on several water efficiency and conservation projects to increase the river’s reliability both now and into the future, but have vowed to do more.

“The study underscores the importance of working together to meet our collective future water supply needs,” said Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) General Manager Patricia Mulroy. “While the solutions won’t be easy for anyone involved, the consequences of failure are too dire to ignore. All of us who depend upon the Colorado River — from the suburbs of Denver to the California coast — need to step up and meet this challenge.”

Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead stressed that while cities alone cannot alleviate the river’s projected shortfall — municipal use of the Colorado River accounts for less than 15 percent of its depletions, while agriculture uses more than 75 percent — they must be involved in helping find solutions. As the study shows, the biggest driver of the potential imbalance is not increased use but rather reduced Colorado River inflows due to a warmer, drier climate.

“While everybody knows that this problem can’t be solved solely by the cities because we use a relatively small percentage of Colorado River water, that fact does not absolve us from our duty to use this resource responsibly and do our part,” Lochhead said. “We have already made great strides in water efficiency, and our work will continue. We want the agricultural and environmental interests to know that we’re in this with them, and we’re going to hold up our end.”

During the past decade, major cities throughout the Colorado River Basin have slashed their water use and found creative ways to extend their supplies through reuse and augmentation projects. Denver, for instance, decreased its consumption by 20 percent. In Las Vegas, virtually all indoor water is captured and directly or indirectly recycled, while community-wide conservation efforts have included the removal of more than 150 million square feet of grass. These efforts, combined with strict water use policies, reduced the desert city’s annual water consumption by 29 billion gallons during the past decade despite the addition of 400,000 new residents during that span.

All Central Arizona Project (CAP)-supplied municipal customers, including Phoenix and Tucson, have been successful in reducing per capita consumption by making significant investments in conservation, reuse and infrastructure. For example, average residential water use in the City of Phoenix has dropped by more than 26 percent over the past 15 years, while approximately 97 percent of Scottsdale’s reclaimed water is reused for turf irrigation or recharge efforts. At the same time, CAP, along with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan) and SNWA, has invested extensively in large-scale water efficiency projects such as the Brock (Drop 2) Reservoir, which has already saved more than 250,000 acre-feet of water.

In California, urban agencies have funded agricultural conservation measures to reduce the state’s use of Colorado River water by 20 percent over the last decade. In addition, through investments in water conservation and local supply management, including recycling, urban Southern California imports less water today than it did 20 years ago, despite the region having added more than 4 million people.

“Southern California has long been a leader in water conservation, having invested more than $300 million on water-saving projects and programs over the past two decades,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of Metropolitan. “Water-use efficiency remains a core element of our long-term water management strategy, placing equal weight on local and imported resource development.”

While conservation measures and investments have been effective, urban agencies acknowledge more must be done to reduce the anticipated Colorado River imbalance, which is largely driven by a decrease in Colorado River flows rather than increased demand but is projected to dwarf the total combined consumption of all of these cities. Still, CAP General Manager David Modeer said a continued commitment to conservation and coordination between the water agencies is critical to a cohesive basin-wide demand management strategy.

Solutions that offer the greatest potential to yield additional water supplies are also important.

“Augmentation projects and water conservation can restore the reliability and sustainability of the Colorado River to meet current and future water needs,” said Modeer. “These efforts are needed immediately and include feasibility studies and, potentially, legislation and policy development.”

The economic stakes involved are difficult to overstate. According to data compiled by the United States Conference of Mayors, the combined metropolitan areas utilizing Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product a year and supporting millions of jobs. [ed. emphasis mine]

“While people east of the Mississippi might look at this as a Western problem, the reality is that our national economy is integrated,” said Mulroy. “If these cities’ economies are curtailed by water shortages, the shockwave is going to be felt throughout the country.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Reclamation allocates $40 million for water projects

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From the American Water Works Association:

Water and energy management projects in the western United States will share nearly $40 million in funds provided by the Bureau of Reclamation.

As announced by Reclamation:

  • Five authorized water reuse projects in California and New Mexico will receive $15.6 million through the WaterSMART porgram. They include the Albuquerque Metropolitan Area Water Reclamation and Reuse Project ($1.89 million), the North Bay Water Reuse Program ($4 million), the Long Beach Area Water Reclamation Project ($1.7 million), the San Jose Area Water Reclamation and Reuse Program ($4 million) and the Watsonville Area Water Recycling Project ($4 million).
  • 44 projects in 11 states will receive $20.8 million in WaterSMART and Energy Efficiency Grants. Reclamation estimates that together the 44 projects could save more than 100,000 acre-feet of water and 10.8 million kilowatt-hours annually.
  • $2.1 million will be made available under the WaterSMART Basin Study program to enable Reclamation to partner with local entities to conduct comprehensive studies of river basins in Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada and Oregon.
  • More conservation coverage here.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: The Black Canyon Water Right one day peak flow target is 685 cfs #COdrought

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    From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree)

    Based on the May 1st April-through-July runoff forecast of 335,000 ac-ft for Blue Mesa Reservoir, the Black Canyon Water Right one day peak flow target is 685 cfs. Today’s flow through the Black Canyon is 300 cfs.

    Due to the dry conditions and low Blue Mesa Reservoir content, the Whitewater baseflow target for June and July is 900 cfs. Current flows at Whitewater are around 1600 cfs. As tributary flows to the Gunnison diminish, and Whitewater flows approach 900 cfs, Reclamation will increase releases to attempt to maintain the target at Whitewater. We will provide as much advanced notice as possible regarding these release changes. We anticipate this operation will allow the Black Canyon one day peak target to be met sometime in the latter part of June, however, if insufficient, we intend to supplement releases with additional power releases as necessary to meet the target. We will keep you updated as things progress.

    More Aspinall Unit coverage here and here.

    Northern Water ponies up dough to keep NISP on schedule

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    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    Keeping the Glade Reservoir environmental review on schedule is worth $139,254.95 to Northern Water. That’s how much the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is giving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to pay for a project manager who will help complete the supplemental environmental review for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP.

    A draft of the review, part of the yearslong permitting process for NISP, had been expected to be released to the public sometime this year, but now the Army Corps is saying it’ll be sometime in early 2014, said Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner. Northern Water and the Army Corps signed an agreement May 17 for the Army Corps to take Northern Water’s money to pay for a part-time project manager for two years. The money is coming from all the cities and water and irrigation districts that are participating in NISP…

    In the Army Corps’ May 23 announcement that it had decided to take the money, the agency said it would take numerous steps to prevent the permitting process from being biased toward the approval of NISP. Northern Water’s money will not pay for any work done by people high up in the Army Corps’ chain of command who will be making final decisions on NISP, the announcement said. Franklin said the Army Corps will be unbiased in its decision-making process regardless who pays for the NISP permitting process.

    Environmentalists opposing NISP said the money creates the appearance that the Army Corps will have a conflict of interest when decideing whether to give final approval to Glade Reservoir and NISP.

    More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

    San Luis Valley: The BLM proposes expanding the Blanca Wetlands from 9,714 acres to 122,762 acres

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to expand the boundaries of the Blanca Wetlands in the hope of qualifying for federal conservation dollars.

    The proposal would expand the area, which is managed as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, from 9,714 acres to 122,762 acres.

    But the boundary expansion would not give the agency control over either land or water rights in the area that now sit in private hands. The agency does, however, hope to approach willing sellers within the boundary. The BLM hopes to use Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to make any such purchases in the future and doing so requires the land be inside an ACEC boundary, said Andrew Archuleta, who oversees the agency’s San Luis Valley office.

    Money from the fund is issued at Congress’ discretion.

    The end goal of the expansion and any potential land or water purchases is to partially restore what was once a string of wetlands that stretched along the east side of the valley.

    The agency has issued a preliminary environmental assessment on the expansion that includes alternatives to its preferred proposal.

    The Blanca Wetlands initially were designated for its playa and marsh habitats that host large populations of water birds, amphibians and macroinvertebrates.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area handed out $65,400 in grants for preservation projects in a three-county area of the San Luis Valley, area officials announced May 20.

    The heritage area, which was authorized by Congress in 2009 to preserve and promote the cultural and historic heritage of Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla counties, gave awards toward seven projects.

    Recipients include the SW Conservation Corps for summer youth employment on conservation projects and the Costilla County Economic Development Council for construction documents for the Sangre de Cristo Cultural Heritage Center.

    The Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association also earned an award for a handbook and the hosting of the 2013 Acequia Congresso, as did the Rio Grande Headwaters for a conservation easement on the Conejos River. The heritage area also awarded the Adams State University Archaeology Field School for work at Fort Massachusetts, the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition for the Healthy Habits program at farmers markets and for the stable restoration of the Trujillo Homestead, a recently designated national historic landmark.

    The heritage area is administered by a nonprofit board of volunteers who represent the three counties.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

    Cities along the river asked to help fund the water conservation plan for the Roaring Fork River

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    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

    The Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) is seeking a Colorado Water Conservation Board planning grant to develop a regional water conservation plan for the watershed.

    In addition to the $75,000 grant, CORE is asking for between $5,000 and $7,500 each from the cities of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt and Aspen and the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District to cover the estimated $100,000 to develop the plan.

    A watershed conservation plan would encourage water conservation measures on a regional basis. It would be in addition to local water efficiency and management plans, which include suggestions for consumers to reduce water usage as well as restrictions on water use during periods of drought.

    Although Glenwood Springs’ primary municipal water source is from No Name Creek in the Flat Tops north of the Colorado River, and thus outside the Roaring Fork watershed, the Roaring Fork River does provide a backup supply for the city…

    To date, the city of Aspen, the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, and the towns of Carbondale and Basalt have agreed to join the regional planning effort, Haber said.

    Two smaller water providers in the Roaring Fork Valley, the Mid-Valley Metropolitan District and Roaring Fork Water and Sanitation District may also be asked to participate, he said.

    The city of Glenwood Springs is already ahead of other jurisdictions in establishing its own water management plan. Such plans are required of municipal providers that sell more than 2,000 acre-feet of water per year, under the 2004 Colorado Water Conservation Act…

    As part of the watershed planning effort, CORE has already arranged with the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment to have graduate students assist with the project. Among their research activities will be to:

    • Assess the Roaring Fork Watershed resources and community characteristics, identify planning partners and document historic and existing water conservation policies and processes.

    • Analyze current and future ecological and hydrologic conditions of the Crystal River near Carbondale, including a determination of the causes and implications of stream dewatering and resulting changes in river flows.

    • Review existing Colorado regional water conservation plan models, to help determine what to include in the local watershed plan.

    • Analyze public outreach and education strategies about water conservation, including successful and unsuccessful efforts already be used locally.

    More Roaring Fork River Watershed coverage here and here.

    Drought/runoff news: Turquoise Lake up 10 feet in the last month #COdrought

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A rising river lifts all spirits.

    “My cellphone exploded Saturday morning with guys from all over the state calling me to ask if the gauge readings in Pueblo were right,” said Bob Walker, who owns The Edge, a kayak supply store in Pueblo. “There were a lot more people in the Whitewater Park who changed their other plans for the Memorial Day weekend.” In the middle of a drought, a big river is a big deal.

    Not to dampen anyone’s glee, the river is only at about 75 percent of the average for this time of year and is likely to fluctuate over the next few weeks as temperatures rise and fall in the mountains. The river levels typically rise as the snowpack begins to melt, and also depend on the needs of water users, reservoir levels and legal demands on how cities store water.

    Pueblo’s flows reached about 1,800 cubic feet per second over the Memorial Day weekend, and were boosted by the natural surge from runoff as well as releases from Pueblo Dam by Colorado Springs and Aurora, which are exchanging and storing water higher up in Turquoise and Twin Lakes, said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation.

    The project brings water across the Continental Divide into Turquoise Lake and officials project about 87 percent of average yield. That, coupled with storage constructed by Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo, should help bring up lake levels in Lake County. Turquoise is now at 30 percent of capacity, while Twin Lakes is at 60 percent, Vaughan said. The water level at Turquoise has risen almost 10 feet in the last month from Fryingpan-Arkansas.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    Thanks to April’s big snows affecting mostly Northern Colorado, Fort Collins soon might lift its water restrictions because it will have an ample water supply not just for this year, but for 2014, too.

    “The snows that we got have improved our (water) supply situation, and it’s getting to the point where we can go off restrictions,” Fort Collins Water Resources Manager Donnie Dustin said Tuesday.

    The Level 1 water restrictions that remain in place within the city limit lawn watering to twice each week and only between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.

    Dustin said he expects the water restrictions to be lifted. A final decision is expected later this week, with a formal announcement expected Friday.

    Colorado River Basin: Reclamation’s ‘Next Steps’ conference recap #ColoradoRiver

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

    “The river has been described as the most litigated and fought for resource in the United States” he said, noting that has changed in the past 15 years with the onset of multiple collaborative agreements among the states.

    Connor was among the speakers featured at the bureau’s “next steps” conference Tuesday in San Diego as the agency begins another phase of the Colorado River Supply and Demand study.

    “The challenges are very real and daunting,” [Mike Connor] said.

    The bureau announced that solutions will be crafted going forward that address three main areas: municipal water conservation and reuse, agricultural conservation and transfers, and maintaining flows for a healthy environment and recreation industry.

    The conference was attended by representatives from the seven basin states, including Utah, as well as groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund…

    The conference noted there had already been conservation success stories in places like Nevada and Southern California, but more work needs to be done.

    “With another winter of low snowpack, the basin is facing another summer of drought conditions,” said Molly Mugglestone, co-director of Protect the Flows. “We need to put these common-sense solutions into action in order to protect the water that we all depend on. Now that the study has concluded, it is time for action.”

    From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

    The San Juan River, one of the Colorado’s largest tributaries, is a major source of water in New Mexico. In addition to serving the Navajo Nation and other communities in northwest New Mexico, San Juan water is transferred through tunnels to the Rio Grande Valley, where it is used for drinking water in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

    With the Colorado in drought since the late 1990s, major water users have continued to get full supplies by slowly draining the river’s major reservoirs, which were built for just that purpose. But Lake Mead, the reservoir near Las Vegas, Nev., that provides water for Arizona, Nevada and California, is dropping fast. This year alone, the big storage reservoir’s surface level is projected to drop 11 feet, enough water to serve some 2 million typical households.

    By 2016, there is a one in three chance of it dropping so low that the federal government will reduce the amount of water it delivers to Arizona and Nevada, according to Connor.

    While that will not affect New Mexico in the short run, shortfalls projected in the long run could force New Mexico and other states in the Colorado’s upper basin – Wyoming, Colorado and Utah – to also grapple with shortages, Connor said…

    In December, the Bureau of Reclamation released a massive study documenting the long-term risk to Colorado Basin water supplies, along with a long list of possible options to deal with the problem. The San Diego meeting launched a review of those options, including a search for those that can be realistically implemented in the near term, said Estevan López, head of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. “If it’s real, let’s make it happen,” López said in a telephone interview from San Diego, where he was representing New Mexico at the meeting…

    In New Mexico, the effect of a Colorado Basin shortage would be felt by users of water from the San Juan River, where the state of New Mexico, the Navajo Nation and the federal government are close to culminating a major deal settling the Navajos’ water rights.

    There is a great deal of legal uncertainty about who might see their water deliveries reduced, and by how much, if Lake Mead and the other Colorado Basin reservoirs keep dropping beyond 2016. But under the state-federal-Navajo agreement, if a shortfall forces water use cutbacks on the San Juan River, the Navajo Nation’s large agricultural operation, which uses water stored behind the Bureau of Reclamation’s Navajo Dam, would be among the first to be curtailed, according to López.

    The state-federal-Navajo agreement also sets aside a large pool of water for Albuquerque and Santa Fe in an effort to ensure their use of Colorado Basin water would not be curtailed in a shortage.

    From the Water and Power Report:

    “The study underscores the importance of working together to meet our collective future water supply needs,” said Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) General Manager Patricia Mulroy. “While the solutions won’t be easy for anyone involved, the consequences of failure are too dire to ignore. All of us who depend upon the Colorado River—from the suburbs of Denver to the California coast—need to step up and meet this challenge.”

    Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead stressed that while cities alone cannot alleviate the river’s projected shortfall—municipal use of the Colorado River accounts for less than 15 percent of its depletions, while agriculture uses more than 75 percent—they must be involved in helping find solutions. As the study shows, the biggest driver of the potential imbalance is not increased use but rather reduced Colorado River inflows due to a warmer, drier climate.

    “While everybody knows that this problem can’t be solved solely by the cities because we use a relatively small percentage of Colorado River water, that fact does not absolve us from our duty to use this resource responsibly and do our part,” Lochhead said. “We have already made great strides in water efficiency, and our work will continue. We want the agricultural and environmental interests to know that we’re in this with them, and we’re going to hold up our end.”

    During the past decade, major cities throughout the Colorado River Basin have slashed their water use and found creative ways to extend their supplies through reuse and augmentation projects. Denver, for instance, decreased its consumption by 20 percent. In Las Vegas, virtually all indoor water is captured and directly or indirectly recycled, while community-wide conservation efforts have included the removal of more than 150 million square feet of grass. These efforts, combined with strict water use policies, reduced the desert city’s annual water consumption by 29 billion gallons during the past decade despite the addition of 400,000 new residents during that span…

    While conservation measures and investments have been effective, urban agencies acknowledge more must be done to reduce the anticipated Colorado River imbalance, which is largely driven by a decrease in Colorado River flows rather than increased demand but is projected to dwarf the total combined consumption of all of these cities. Still, CAP General Manager David Modeer said a continued commitment to conservation and coordination between the water agencies is critical to a cohesive basin-wide demand management strategy.

    Solutions that offer the greatest potential to yield additional water supplies are also important.

    “Augmentation projects and water conservation can restore the reliability and sustainability of the Colorado River to meet current and future water needs,” said Modeer. ” These efforts are needed immediately and include feasibility studies and, potentially, legislation and policy development.”

    The economic stakes involved are difficult to overstate. According to data compiled by the United States Conference of Mayors, the combined metropolitan areas utilizing Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product a year and supporting millions of jobs.

    “While people east of the Mississippi might look at this as a Western problem, the reality is that our national economy is integrated,” said Mulroy. “If these cities’ economies are curtailed by water shortages, the shockwave is going to be felt throughout the country.”

    From The Desert Sun (Ian James):

    A study prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation has projected a large gap between the river’s flows and demands for water, and the meeting in San Diego was intended to provide a forum for stakeholders from throughout the region to start planning their steps in response. Officials launched three working groups that are to come up with plans for conservation and other measures this year…

    The three working groups, which will hold initial meetings in San Diego on Wednesday, focus on municipal and industrial conservation and reuse, ensuring flows for a healthy environment, and agricultural conservation and water transfers…

    “What we want to get out of these three work groups are specific action plan items,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor said in a telephone interview. “We want to understand, based on their expertise and sense of prior accomplishments, what really we can achieve and get down to some specific, on-the-ground actions where we can focus our resources.”

    Connor said during the meeting that he is optimistic that collaborative efforts can help bridge the gap. “Certainly, the challenges we face are very real and they’re daunting to say the least. We’re sitting here in the middle of what is the fourth driest year on record in 2013, coming off the heels of the fifth driest year on record,” Connor said.

    From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krivonen):

    Jim Pokrandt with the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District says Tuesday’s meeting was meant to lay the groundwork for a path forward: “As with any study, does it sit on the shelf and gather dust, and everybody says, ‘atta boy,’ and we move on? Or, does something actually happen? In this case, something may actually happen.” The report lays out “next steps” for the seven states that rely on the River. It’s their job to understand what’s working and what’s not, and find solutions. Anne Castle is the U.S. Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. She spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in San Diego. She was joined by dozens of stakeholders including representatives for the seven Colorado Basin States and Indian tribal leaders. Castle says the steps forward include a set of committees. “What we’re doing is setting up three different work groups that will look at first, municipal conservation and reuse, second, agricultural conservation and transfers, and the third will look at flows for a healthy environment,” she says.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    The Palmer Land Trust is seeking nominees for conservation awards

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain:

    The Palmer Land Trust is seeking nominations for the 2013 Southern Colorado Conservation Awards.

    The event, honoring conservation achievements that advance the future well-being of local communities, people, ecologies and economies, will be Oct. 9.

    Awards are presented in four categories:

    ● The Stuart P. Dodge Award, honoring an individual or organization for a lifetime record of conservation achievement.

    ● The Friends of Open Space Award, honoring an individual or organization for recent efforts contributing to the protection of a significant property or important landscape in Southern Colorado.

    ● The Stewardship Award, honoring an organization or individual who has positively impacted the land and the way members of our communities understand and respect their relationship to the land.

    ● The Innovation in Conservation Award, honoring an individual, group, project or program that has advanced the cause of conservation by developing new conservation models, creating new conservation funding mechanisms, or implementing unique conservation partnerships that protect our natural heritage.

    Nominations are open through Friday at Palmer Land Trust, 102 S. Tejon St., Suite 360, Colorado Springs, CO 80903. Fax 719-434-3666 or email beth@palmerlandtrust.org.

    More conservation coverage here.

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

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    It’s a complicated message. Yes, Southern Colorado is in a drought, with less precipitation than 2012. However, no outdoor water restrictions are planned in Pueblo.

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works adopted a policy this week to include four stages of drought response, which will be triggered by storage levels and weather conditions. That said, Pueblo has not implemented any of the stages, but is encouraging wise use of water among its customers. “The revision will put the board in a better position to deal with drought in the future,” said Executive Director Terry Book.

    Only 1.92 inches of precipitation have been measured in Pueblo this year, less than 2.25 inches at the same time last year, and less than half of the 3.94 inches normally seen by this time of year. In the mountains, Arkansas River basin precipitation has reached 15 inches so far, which is less than 2012, but more than 2002. That’s about 75 percent of average. The outlook is better in the Colorado River basin, where precipitation has measured about 90 percent of average so far this year.

    The Pueblo water board is banking on its relatively senior direct-flow rights and nearly average imports from the Colorado River basin to meet its needs this year. But it is still urging customers to be careful with water. “The ground is dry from drought, and these few little showers we’ve seen are less than we’d usually see in April or May,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager.

    Customers are using less water so far this year. Through the end of April, consumption had totalled 1.4 billion gallons, about 200 million gallons less than 2012 and 7.85 percent below the 5-year average. The number of accounts, 39,512, is at an all-time high, but temperatures in 2013 have been significantly cooler.

    Pueblo has more than 26,000 acre-feet in storage, just 60 percent of the amount stored last year, but twice as much as in 2002, the last time the city was under water restrictions.

    ‘We’re looking at a very significant chance of declaring a shortage in the Colorado River basin in 2016’ — Michael Connor #ColoradoRiver

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    From the Associated Press via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

    Top water decision-makers from seven Western states plan to join conservation groups and Indian tribes in San Diego on Tuesday to begin devising rules for squeezing every usable drop from the overtaxed Colorado River. The work meeting hosted by federal water managers will occur amid dire predictions for the waterway. The Interior secretary five months ago issued a call to arms and declared that the river, described as the most plumbed and regulated in the world, would be unable to meet demands of a growing regional population during the next 50 years. “We’re looking at a very significant chance of declaring a shortage in the Colorado River basin in 2016,” Michael Connor, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, said.

    “We really need to get to specifics, technical liabilities and the political feasibility of projects,” he said.

    Connor heads the federal agency responsible for what he called the most litigated and fought-over resource in the country. He said data project 2013 will be the fourth-driest year in the Colorado River basin during the past 100 years. Last year was the fifth-driest year on record…

    Anne Castle, assistant Interior secretary for water and science, called the conference at a U.S. Geological Survey office near San Diego International Airport the start of a “next steps” process. Castle said she hopes more ideas and practical solutions will surface to deal with shortages predicted by a study released by the bureau in December.

    From the Los Angeles Times (Tony Perry):

    Last year was dry; this year is even worse, officials said. If the trend continues, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the Colorado River’s two giant reservoirs, will be at 45% capacity by year’s end, their lowest since 1968. Shortage looms. “Hydrologically, we’re not going in the right direction,” Michael Connor, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, said in advance of Tuesday’s meeting…

    An official from the Imperial Irrigation District, the largest user of Colorado River in the nation, has agreed to serve as co-chair of the agriculture committee, along with a professor and a Bureau of Reclamation official. But that does not signal that the district, which is already selling water to San Diego in the largest sale of farm water in the nation, is eager to sell more water or see more acreage left fallow. Imperial district farmers are fallowing 36,000 acres, soon to increase to 40,000, in order to save enough water to sell to the San Diego County Water Authority and to replenish the imperiled Salton Sea. “I tell people: We gave at the office,” said Tina Shields, Colorado River resources manager for the irrigation district. “We like to farm. I don’t think anybody down here is going to volunteer for more transfers” [sales].

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Drought/runoff news: Dillon Reservoir is ice-free as of May 24 #COdrought

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    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    It took a little longer than normal, but Denver Water’s water managers said Dillon Reservoir finally became fully ice-free on Friday, May 24, exactly the same date as two years ago, in 2011, after one of the snowiest winters on record. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1984 to find a later date (May 28)…

    The earliest ever full-thaw date was last year, when all the ice was gone by April 18 following all-time record March warmth. 2012 was one of only two years on record when the ice melted in April. The other April melt-off was in 2002, following another severe drought winter.

    From the Chaffee County Times:

    The Buena Vista board of trustees has approved voluntary water restrictions for the upcoming summer months. You are asked to abide by the following outside watering schedule: Odd number addresses: Tue., Thur., Sat. Even number addresses: Wed., Fri., Sun. No watering on Mondays. Please limit watering time to midnight-9 a.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight.

    ‘March against Monsanto’ takes place in 52 countries and 436 cities

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    From the Washington Post:

    Organizers said “March Against Monsanto” protests were held in 52 countries and 436 cities, including Washington and Los Angeles, where demonstrators waved signs that read “Real Food 4 Real People” and “Label GMOs, It’s Our Right to Know.”

    Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields and increase the global food supply.

    Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States today have been genetically modified. But critics say genetically modified organisms can lead to serious health conditions and harm the environment. The use of GMOs has been a growing issue of contention in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labeling of genetically modified products even though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe.

    The March Against Monsanto movement began when founder and organizer Tami Canal created a Facebook page on Feb. 28 calling for a rally against the company’s practices.

    “If I had gotten 3,000 people to join me, I would have considered that a success,” she said Saturday. Instead, she said an “incredible” number of people responded to her message and turned out to rally.

    “It was empowering and inspiring to see so many people, from different walks of life, put aside their differences and come together today,” Canal said. The group plans to harness the success of the event to continue its anti-GMO cause.

    “We will continue until Monsanto complies with consumer demand. They are poisoning our children, poisoning our planet,” she said. “If we don’t act, who’s going to?”

    Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, said that it respects people’s rights to express their opinion on the topic but that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.

    The Food and Drug Administration does not require genetically modified foods to carry a label, but organic food companies and some consumer groups have intensified their push for labels, arguing that the modified seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating traditional crops. Those groups have been bolstered by a growing number of consumers who are wary of processed and modified foods.

    Drought news: Winter wheat — with its lower water requirements — is supplanting other crops in the South Platte Basin #COdrought

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    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    A somewhat lighter workload during this year’s spring planting could be a sign of changing times for Weld County agriculture, local farmers say. Many acres typically devoted to crops planted in April and May — corn, sugar beets, onions — were already occupied this year by a less water-dependant crop planted back in the fall: winter wheat. Local crop growers say the presence of the drought-tolerant crop has increased during the present time of weather and water uncertainty — and say this could be the “new normal” going forward.

    According to figures from Colorado State University Extension, winter wheat through the entirety of its growing season requires about 30 percent less water than corn for grain, about 20 percent less water than corn for silage and about 45 percent less water than sugar beets. That being the case, Lynn Fagerberg near Eaton said he doubled up on his wheat acres — going from about 350 acres in previous years to about 700 acres now — and planted less corn.

    The plethora of moisture in recent weeks now has Greeley sitting about 25 percent ahead of normal for precipitation and snowpack. In the South Platte River basin, where Weld County resides, is 31 percent above average. However, reservoirs are still low after water users in the region depleted them during last year’s drought.

    Farmers say the moisture in April will get their recently planted crops off to a good start, and the runoff water they’ll receive from an above-average snowpack in the mountains will help keep their crops watered through July or maybe even August. But many are uncertain as to whether there will be enough water available to finish off their crops in late August and September. If timely rains don’t arrive in the late summer weeks and there’s still limited water in reservoirs to fall back on, farmers won’t have what they need to raise the crops they normally grow.

    So, in many cases they’re planting wheat — a lot more than they normally do, they say.

    Frank Eckhardt, whose family is one of the larger corn, onion and sugar beet growers in the LaSalle area, said he also doubled his wheat acres last fall compared to previous years.

    Marc Arnusch, a Keenesburg-area farmer who typically grows only about 100 acres of wheat or less, planted about 300 acres of wheat in the fall. Additionally, Arnusch this year said he’s still looking to plant about 200 acres of dry beans — something he hasn’t grown in about a decade, he said — because that crop, too, requires less water than corn, sugar beets and onions. He added that he plans to later rotate in wheat on those acres. “We might be seeing a new way of agriculture around here,” Arnusch said. “We have water concerns that aren’t going to go away, and this year could be the turning point.”

    “This could be the new normal.”

    Statistics showing how many winter wheat acres were planted last fall aren’t yet available. But farmers say there’s no doubt they’re seeing more wheat acres all around them.

    Weld County agriculture was founded on growing crops that require hefty loads of water — potatoes, sugar beets and onions. Local farmers of the past and present have diverted snowmelt from the mountains into irrigation ditches and onto their fields to grow high-dollar crops that couldn’t survive in the northern Front Range’s semi-arid climate. But, in recent years, rapidly growing cities along the Front Range have competed with farmers for that water — and often can pay a high price that the farmers can’t.

    For example, in 1957, when the Colorado-Big Thompson Project first went into operation, 85 percent of the water in the project was owned by agricultural users, according to numbers from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, that oversees operations of the C-BT Project. But today, only 34 percent of the water in the C-BT — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado — is owned by agricultural users.

    Many farmers now depend on leasing that water back from cities, but in dry times like the present, there’s no guarantee it will be available. So less water-dependent crops might become a necessity. “Things are certainly changing,” Fagerberg said. “And these changes might be here to stay.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    April showers will bring August thrills to the Arkansas River. Last month’s rain and snow helped Arkansas River managers account for enough water to guarantee flows in support of the late-summer rafting season, industry leaders say. That means a boost for the commercial rafting industry, which draws as much as 64 percent of its customers from July 1 to Aug. 15, a period when river flows typically start to slow. Thanks to the Volunteer Flow Management Program, at least 10,000 acre-feet of water will be available to boost flows to the minimum rafting flow of 700 cubic feet per second.

    This spring, flows are running at their highest levels in nine months — about average for the time period — due to late-season snow in the mountains.

    Rafting outfitters are reveling in the good news. Last summer, there was not enough water available to augment late summer flows. The resulting low water levels, along with summertime wildfires, contributed to a 19 percent decline in customers. This summer, the flows will more closely resemble bigger water years like 2010 and 2011. “We are pleasantly surprised we will have supplemental water flow that guarantees a great rafting season through mid-August,” said Bob Hamel, an Arkansas River Outfitter Association member. “This unprecedented turnaround (of heavy moisture) in April puts us in good shape for the season.”

    Mike Kissack, president of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, also cheered the extra water. “The flow program is one of the things that makes the Arkansas River so unique and so special. It allows outfitters the opportunity to show their guests a world-class whitewater experience during the busiest time of the summer,” Kissack said. “It helps to draw visitors from all over who wish to experience the thrill of whitewater rafting. Oftentimes these visitors are drawn here for the rafting, but end up staying for longer periods of time contributing significantly to the overall economy of our communities,” Kissack said.

    Last year, Arkansas River rafting drew 169,486 visitors, down 19 percent from the prior year’s 208,329 customers, and spending also fell by double-digits. In busy years for rafting, direct spending can exceed $24 million and the industry’s overall economic impact on the region can top $60 million.

    The flow program is unique to the state and has been a cornerstone of the boating industry for more than 20 years. It is a cooperative effort among water users designed to improve whitewater boating conditions in the summer and safe trout fishery levels in the winter.

    USFWS: Spring Releases for Endangered Fish a ‘No Go’ This Year #ColoradoRiver

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    Here’s the release from the Fish and Wildlife Service (Kara Lamb) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Michelle Garrison):

    A voluntary river flow program to provide enhanced spring peak flows for endangered fish will not take effect this year. Operators of Dillon, Green Mountain, Williams Fork, Wolford and Ruedi reservoirs cannot implement the Coordinated Reservoirs Operations program this spring because river flows in western Colorado will not approach levels where increased flows would benefit the endangered fishes. Extremely dry conditions throughout 2012 combined with below average conditions in 2013 have resulted in low reservoir storage and below average spring runoff. The current forecast for the water supply for the Colorado River at Cameo near Grand Junction, Colo., is 52 to 65 percent of average.

    The Coordinated Reservoir Operations Program was established in 1995 as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. Its purpose is to enhance spring peak flows to a section of the Colorado River upstream of Grand Junction without causing flooding. In years when snowpack is above average, surplus inflows to the upstream reservoirs can be passed on downstream to benefit two species of endangered fish in the Colorado River: the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker.

    This spring, most of the basin reservoir operators expect to approach, but not achieve, their goals of filling the reservoirs. Streamflows are predicted to remain significantly below the Coordinated Reservoir Operations target threshold of 12,900 cubic-feet-per-second in the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

    From the Associated Press via The San Francisco Chronicle:

    Under a voluntary program, when mountain snowpack is above average, the operators of Dillon, Green Mountain, Williams Fork, Wolford and Ruedi reservoirs release water to enhance spring peak Colorado River flows for the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. The Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday that this year, river flows won’t be high enough to trigger the releases.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

    ‘We don’t have the solutions yet…We are still defining the problem’ — Robert King #ColoradoRiver

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

    A massive probe of the challenges to the Colorado River system enters another phase with a Tuesday meeting in San Diego, where multiple state representatives, the federal government and a 10-tribe Native American partnership look to “what’s next” for the struggling river. At issue is a river system already serving 30 million people that is being sapped by drought, overuse and conservation practices in need of an overhaul — and how that system can be saved to support booming Southwest population growth in the five decades to come.

    “We don’t have the solutions yet,” said Utah’s Robert King, who is the state’s Interstate Streams section chief with the Division of Water Resources. “We are still defining the problem. This next phase will help us understand what potential solutions will look like.”

    King will join others at the event being held by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at the U.S. Geological Survey’s California Water Science Center…

    Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said Utah would be well-advised to shirk massive river-draining projects in favor of implementing greater conservation strategies. He pointed to the proposed diversion of water from the system in support of the Lake Powell Pipeline project, supported by proponents as a way to meet growth but to also capture Utah’s share of the water that slips into neighboring states. “One of the most important things to think about for the future management of the Colorado is whether Utah will build unnecessary water projects just to keep other states from using the water, or if we are willing to lease our unused waters to other players in the basin and make money,” he said.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Western Resource Advocates: Historic Protection Approved for San Miguel River

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    Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):

    A major portion of the San Miguel River will be permanently protected under a precedent-setting water right after a Colorado Water Court ruling this week. In a ruling signed on May 20, the Water Court for Division 4 ruled in favor of an application for “in-stream flow” (ISF) protection that permanently safeguards a large section of the San Miguel River west of Montrose, Colo. The protection was sought by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), and Western Resource Advocates and The Wilderness Society intervened in support of the Board’s application.

    “The San Miguel River is one of the last relatively free-flowing rivers in Colorado, and this water right will help ensure that it stays that way for generations to come,” said Rob Harris, Senior Water Attorney with Western Resource Advocates (WRA) and the lead counsel representing WRA and The Wilderness Society. “The Colorado Water Conservation Board recognized early on that this is an incredibly significant protection, and the Board did a great job of working with a diverse community to negotiate an outcome that is truly in the best interests of both the surrounding area and the entire state.”

    The Water Court for Division 4 approved the dedication of an in-stream flow protection of up to 325 cfs (cubic feet per second), which amounts to one of the largest river protections in the history of the state—exceeded only by similar protections afforded the much-larger Colorado River (A typical ISF protection accounts for less than 10 cfs). The San Miguel ISF recognizes the importance of keeping water ‘in the stream’ to benefit the natural environment. Healthy rivers also benefit recreation, local communities, and the economy.

    “We’re pleased to secure permanent protection for this scenic river in Colorado’s Red Rock Canyon country,” said Harris. “This really is a tremendous accomplishment, and we are incredibly proud to have played a part in the process.”

    The CWCB and the Colorado Attorney General’s office amicably concluded negotiations that satisfied nearly every interested party to the case, including the Board of County Commissioners of Montrose County and Tri- State Generation and Transmission Association. Barring an appeal of the Water Court ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, the May 20th decision concludes a process that began with an ISF application on Oct. 31, 2011.

    The location of the San Miguel River protection is west of Montrose, near the town of Nucla.

    More San Miguel Watershed coverage here and here.

    Conservation Colorado: State Water Plan Taking Shape

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    Click here for the discussion from Conservation Colorado. Here’s an excerpt:

    We believe the plan shows the potential to shape Colorado’s water future. Having a single focused plan will put all Coloradans on the same page and foster better collaboration and coordination between the state, local communities, and other water users.

    More CWCB coverage here.

    Low streamflows are endangering the survival of the Rio Grande River cutthroat trout #COdrought

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    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Some of southern Colorado’s Rio Grande cutthroat trout are likely living on the edge of the climate cliff and will have a hard time surviving as global temperatures rise.

    Flows are already very low in many streams where the rare fish live, so even a small change in flow could push some populations into the abyss. The long-term global warming forecast by most climate models could render many mainstem, connecting habitats unsuitable for the fish, which survive best in a narrow temperature range, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists.

    Rio Grande cutthroat trout now live in only about 12 percent of its historical habitat, as non-native fish introductions, water diversions and other impacts degraded the species’ habitat in the past few decades. Most of the sampled streams with Rio Grande cutthroat trout have base flows of less than 1 cubic foot per second, making them vulnerable to drought.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

    Say hello to the ‘Our Colorado River’ website from Colorado Trout Unlimited #ColoradoRiver

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    Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Richard van Gytenbeek/Stephanie Scott):

    Trout Unlimited launches “Our Colorado River” to unite water users on river health

    TU encourages West Slope river stakeholders to collaborate on conservation, water management

    (Grand Junction)— For the overtapped Colorado River to meet a variety of needs, from agriculture to recreation, West Slope water users need to start rowing in the same direction.

    That’s the message of a new outreach effort—“Our Colorado River”—launched today by sportsmen’s group Trout Unlimited, which is encouraging Colorado River stakeholders to work together to find innovative water planning and river conservation solutions.

    The upper Colorado River is the lifeblood of the West Slope of Colorado. The Colorado River mainstem, along with major tributaries such as the Yampa, White, Dolores and Gunnison, nourish everything that happens on the West slope: agriculture, recreation, tourism, and related businesses. But the Colorado River faces a host of increasing pressures, from drought and diversions to industrial and municipal growth. Many experts believe that Colorado will face serious challenges in meeting water needs, while preserving river habitat and wildlife.

    “West Slope water users need to realize our common stake in preserving the river’s health and vitality,” said Richard Van Gytenbeek, Colorado River basin coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “From farms and ranches, to recreation and tourism and towns and cities—the West Slope economy depends on a healthy Colorado River.”

    In western Colorado, noted Van Gytenbeek, water from the Colorado River basin irrigates pasture on about 9,000 farms and ranches—operations that produce animals and crops with an economic impact of $1 billion annually. Similarly, West Slope recreation and tourism industries depend heavily on the Colorado and its tributaries to support rafting, fishing, kayaking, camping and other activities. Recreation is a huge and growing business in Colorado, generating in excess of $9 billion per year to the West Slope economy.

    “Together, the agriculture and recreation sectors comprise western Colorado’s largest economic engine—an engine that runs on water. Without healthy rivers, the economic future of the West Slope looks bleak,” said Van Gytenbeek, who is taking this conservation message on the road with a series of presentations to West Slope communities and groups.

    As part of the “Our Colorado River” effort, Trout Unlimited also unveiled a new website, http://www.OurCoRiver.com, which highlights the need for collaboration and features a gallery of “Voices of the Colorado River”—multimedia profiles of diverse West Slope water users, from fishing guides to ranchers to vineyard owners, who talk about their personal connection to the Colorado River and the need to protect river health.

    TU is also asking West Slope residents to support a set of “core values and actions” needed to meet the river challenges ahead:

    1) Cooperation, Not Conflict: Work together to ensure the Colorado River is able to meet our diverse needs, from agriculture to recreation and tourism. Cooperation is the key to sustaining our present and growing our future.

    2) Protect Our Quality of Life: Maintain our open spaces through a vigorous agricultural sector and ensure that our rivers and streams are flowing and healthy.

    3) Modernize irrigation: Upgrade our aging irrigation infrastructure systems to make them more productive, economical, and habitat-friendly.

    4) Innovative Management: Explore new ways to meet our water supply needs through innovative conservation and management practices.

    5) Keep Our Rivers at Home: Leave water in its home basins and oppose new, river-damaging transbasin diversions of water from the Colorado River to the Front Range.

    TU is urging West Slope residents to endorse these principles at http://www.OurCoRiver.com to build support for common goals and actions to protect the Colorado River.

    “We think most West Slope residents will embrace these commonsense ideas as ways to meet our water needs,” said Stephanie Scott, outreach coordinator for Colorado TU. “The alternative—fighting and every water user for himself—is a prescription for disaster.”

    Scott stressed that West Slope users have a lot to gain by working cooperatively to meet water supplies and maintain healthy rivers and streams. She pointed to several recent TU projects with ranchers and irrigators in the Colorado River basin that benefit agriculture while ensuring healthy rivers. For example, TU recently completed several restoration projects in the Gunnison River, including an overhaul of the old Relief Ditch dam, an imposing diversion that posed a hazard for both boaters and fish. TU and partners worked with a local irrigation ditch company to modernize the Relief Ditch diversion to improve water management while enhancing boater safety and fish passage.

    “There are many of these pragmatic, win-win opportunities out there,” said Scott.

    As another example, TU and its partners worked with a landowner on the Yampa River to construct a fence that benefits both a fishery and cattle operation. “The ranch wants to run cows and maximize the trout fishery.

    So we helped build a riparian fence that gives the ranch manager more control over access to the river and streamside pasture,” said Brian Hodge, TU’s project coordinator for the Yampa-White Basin.

    “These kinds of pragmatic, collaborative projects will help keep the Colorado basin healthy and able to sustain our economy, amid a range of increasing demands and impacts,” said Van Gytenbeek. “We’re all in this boat together.”

    To learn more about TU’s “Our Colorado River” effort, contact Van Gytenbeek at (307) 690-1267, or go to http://www.OurCoRiver.com.

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Granby Reservoir is 50 feet from full #ColoradoRiver

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    It’s Memorial Day weekend and time to kick off my annual communications about run-off.

    Some of you might have noticed that we saw some peaking run-off at Willow Creek last week. Inflows to the reservoir were over 900 cfs. As a result, releases from the dam were bumped up to about 450 cfs on May 16th. They did not stay at that level for long.

    Going into Memorial Day weekend, inflows from snow melt are anticipated to peak at about 700 cfs. Releases have been adjusted to around 100 cfs as we continue to store behind the dam. We do not plan to increase releases until the reservoir fills or we see much larger peak inflows.

    Meanwhile at Granby Reservoir, we continue to release around 70 cfs. The reservoir is at a water level elevation of 8230.5–about 50 vertical feet down from full and the storage content is a little less than half full. The reservoir has started filling with some run-off flows already, bumping up ten feet in elevation over the past couple of weeks. We are anticipating seeing the reservoir water level rise another 20 feet as run-off continues.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    It’s Memorial Day weekend! That means it’s time for my annual kick-off e-mail for the run-off and recreation season across the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    We’re starting to see some run-off come from melting snow right on time for Memorial Day weekend. On the east slope of the C-BT that means we’re seeing snow that melts up in Rocky Mt. Natl. Park during the day run down the rivers, making it to Lake Estes late at night.

    To manage the inflows to Estes at night, tonight, May 24 around midnight, we’ll bump up our releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River to about 250 cfs. The 250 cfs will likely remain in place throughout the holiday weekend.

    Lake Estes is at typical water elevation levels for this time of year, fluctuating daily with power generation.

    Project water being brought through the Adams Tunnel to Estes moves on to the C-BT’s southern power arm where it is used to generate hydro-electric power at three power plants. Pinewood Reservoir, which sits between two of those plants, is also at typical water elevation levels for this time of year, fluctuating daily with power generation. Likewise, Flatiron Reservoir is also fluctuating daily, as is normal. Those visiting Pinewood and Flatiron for the holiday weekend should be mindful of the daily fluctuations in water levels and please remember that there is NO swimming or boating of any kind in Flatiron.

    The pump to Carter Lake has been turned off. Carter is ready for the weekend, sitting about 90% full with a water level elevation of 5748 feet.

    Because we are generating hydro-power, the Big Thompson power plant at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon by the Dam Store will be running this weekend. Visitors to the area and downstream will notice about 400 cfs being discharged from the plant to the Big Thompson River. To learn more about Reclamation’s hydro-power program, visit here or here.

    When the Big T plant goes on, flows to Horsetooth Reservoir will be cut back by about half. Beginning this weekend, around 175 cfs will continue to flow into Horsetooth. Currently, the reservoir is at an elevation of 5414, which is its average starting water level elevation for the recreation season and about 16 feet down from full. The water elevation is still rising.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here and here.

    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project operations update: There will be some water for the Voluntary Flow Program

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Just a quick Memorial Day weekend update on Ruedi Reservoir.

    Those of you who joined us for the State of the River meeting last night heard our projection that while we might get close, we do not anticipate filling Ruedi all the way to the top this year. However, we did catch up in portions of our snow pack in the upper reaches of the Fryingpan Basin with the late season snows.

    Currently, Ruedi is at a water level elevation of about 7729 feet and rising. We are releasing about 110 cfs from the reservoir to the lower Fryingpan River. The Rocky Fork creek is starting to see some run-off, also, and is contributing an additional 10 or so cfs to the ‘Pan.

    The Upper Colorado River Recovery Program and its reservoir operating partners announced today that they will not be employing the Coordinated Reservoirs Operations plan. That means, this run-off season we will not see by-passed inflows from Ruedi Reservoir for the endangered fish program.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Just a quick update about the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project reservoirs as we move into the Memorial Day weekend.

    We are starting to see some run-off come into the West Slope Collection System, up above Ruedi Reservoir and Basalt, Colo. As a result, we are diverting and sending water through the Boustead Tunnel to Turquoise Reservoir. The reservoir is currently only about 30% full, but it has started to rise. Today alone it has gained just over a foot in water level elevation. At this time, we are not running water from Turquoise down to the Mt. Elbert Power Plant.

    We have been generating power at the Mt. Elbert Power Plant and seeing some water come into Twin Lakes Reservoir. As a result, Twin is just over 60% full. Like Turquoise, we expect to see its water level rise with snow melt run-off.

    Further downstream on the Arkansas, Pueblo Reservoir is currently about half full. That is slightly below average for this time of year, but still plenty of water for weekend recreation.

    And, as most of you have probably already heard, there will be some water available for the Voluntary Flow Program this summer, thanks to the late season snows.

    Chaffee County continues hearing 1041 regulations for geothermal exploration and production efforts

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    From The Mountain Mail (James Redmond):

    Area residents expressed concerns during a public hearing Tuesday about the amount of regulation Chaffee County’s proposed geothermal 1041 regulations would impose.

    The draft 1041 regulations would create a special permit-driven process that gives the county some power to regulate use of geothermal resources for commercial production of electricity, Dennis Giese, Chaffee County commissioner, said. Some residents feared that too little regulation in parts of the draft would leave the county open to adverse situations. The county should protect itself, Melanie Roth, Buena Vista, said.

    One section of the draft regulations requires the applicant to submit “documentation of the applicant’s financial and technical capability to develop and operate the proposed project, including a description of the applicant’s experience developing and operating similar projects.”

    The commissioners discussed removing or changing the language. “Why is that our business?” Giese asked.

    The consultant the county hired to draft the regulations, Barbra Green, partner at Sullivan Green Seavy LLC, said a company may come in and start geothermal electricity production that it cannot finish. If the business then just leaves the county or goes bankrupt, the county could end up having to clean up the project and restore the land.

    “I would rather have a pool (of money) or bond to reclaim the land,” Commissioner Frank Holman said.

    Whether the county addresses the issue by requiring the applicant to prove feasibility or with a bond, the commissioners should work up front to protect the county, Roth said.

    Commissioners also discussed how the draft language could regulate geothermal exploration drilling. At a May 7 work session commissioners gave direction to explore language that would require, subject to some regulations, an activity notice from the county for exploration drilling, Green said. The state engineer’s office applies regulations to the drilling of exploration holes.
    Cheryl Brown-Kovacic, representing the League of Women Voters of Chaffee County, said the county should have regulations for all phases of geothermal development, including exploration.

    “I have some concerns with no permitting required for exploration,” Syd Schieren, Salida, said.

    The regulations should have clear language defining and separating exploration and exploration drilling from production drilling, Green said.

    However, during the public comment period, some speakers expressed concerns that the draft overregulated.

    “After having read (the) draft regulations, we don’t need them,” John “Hank” Held, principal of Mt. Princeton Geothermal LLC, said. The regulations proposed in the draft duplicate state and federal regulations and “are overly restrictive,” he said.
    Held said he thinks he has already missed the drilling season for this year, so the commissioners should take their time to make sure they get the regulations right.

    The commissioners made a motion to hold the next public hearing on the draft geothermal 1041 regulations during their July 2 meeting. Commissioner Dave Potts said he would like to have the Chaffee County Planning Commission review the draft before the next hearing. Green said she should have the next version of the draft finished by June 21.

    More geothermal coverage here and here.

    Drought/runoff news: Arkansas River Basin reservoirs are at the bottom of the storage pack #COdrought

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    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    While recent weather patterns have helped improve Colorado snowpack levels and streamflow forecasts, the entire state continues to experience some level of drought, and reservoir levels remain low. Information presented at the May 16 Governor’s Water Availability Task Force meeting shows improvement in northern Colorado.

    However, most of the state continues to experience severe drought conditions, and “the southern part of the state has seen conditions deteriorate over the last month.”

    Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, reported Arkansas River Basin reservoir levels are the lowest in the state: 52 percent of average and 17 percent of capacity. In neighboring basins, Hultstrand reported reservoir levels of 54 percent of average in the Rio Grande Basin and 88 percent of average in the Gunnison Basin. Statewide reservoir storage is at 74 percent of average, she said, compared to 112 percent of average in May 2012.

    Hultstrand said snowpack peaked in the Arkansas Basin at 73 percent of average while the Rio Grande Basin peaked at 68 percent and the Gunnison Basin at 76 percent. Hultstrand reported NRCS streamflow projections of 68 percent of average for the Arkansas River at Salida with lower percentages for other parts of the basin:

  • 60 percent for the Arkansas River at Pueblo Reservoir inflow.
  • 40 percent for the Huerfano River near Redwing.
  • 33 percent for the Cucharas River near La Veta.
  • 30 percent for Purgatoire River at Trinidad Lake inflow.
  • Streamflow forecasts indicate below-average spring streamflows across the state with the lowest forecasts in the Rio Grande Basin, ranging from 24 to 54 percent of normal, Hultstrand said.

    Given below-average reservoir storage and low streamflow forecasts, a report from the State Engineer’s Office reported negative Surface Water Supply Index values across the state.

    Additionally, Gov. John Hickenlooper activated the Municipal Impact Task Force in May in response to dry conditions and below-average reservoir storage.

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    Click here for the Colorado Reservoir Storage Graph for end of April 2013 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    Entities hope to coordinate restoration efforts for the High Park fire burn scar

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    From The Greeley Tribune (Dan England):

    The snows that fell again and again this spring did more than just annoy you. It saved this year’s rafting season on the Poudre River. In fact, outfitters and kayakers are looking forward to a normal year, whatever that is . The snowpack hovers around 100 percent of average, and the flows are pretty standard for this time of year. The river should peak around June 10, and it should be good for Memorial Day.

    No one’s taking those flows for granted after the last two years. In 2011, an historic snowpack turned the river into a monster, with high, fast flows, and last year’s barely-there snowpack not only killed the season early, it stopped it all together for a few weeks in May because of the wildfires. Outfitters lost a quarter of their business just from the closures, said David Costlow, executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

    Outfitters fretted this year before the spring because the snowpack was low and the reservoirs were almost empty. Outfitters need both for a good year. The cool spring not only saved the snowpack, it preserved it until rafting season opened on May 15. “The outlook’s really changed in the last six weeks,” Costlow said. “The river didn’t really start running until last week, and last year, it was March and April. We’ll enjoy it until August at least. It’ll be great.”

    Still, because of those fires, the Poudre Canyon as a recreation area and a water provider won’t be normal for quite some time, maybe a decade or more, despite the efforts of volunteers, city and county officials in northern Colorado and a nonprofit group that should start operating in June. The burn area is closed, and that includes some popular spots such as the Mount McConnel/Kruetzer and Young Gulch trails. But the closed area will shrink after July 1, when mulching operations are complete, said Reghan Cloudman, spokeswoman for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and the Pawnee National Grassland. All campgrounds are open and will close only for the season, not because of the burn. The area commonly referred to as the “Crystal Wall” climbing spot is open. The Old Flowers, West White Pine and Monument Gulch roads remain closed.

    Falling trees are a safety concern, both in burned and unburned areas that were hit by the pine beetle. Rolling and falling rocks can also become a hazard in the burned areas. Flash floods in the burn area are a great concern now, and those visiting the canyon should check the weather for potential rains that can trigger flooding.

    Crews are already doing preliminary work on the Young Gulch, and volunteers should help complete some rehabilitation during designated days this summer, Cloudman said. Additional road and trail work will also take place.

    If you do visit the canyon, you could see helicopters flying overhead. They are mulching approximately 4,700 acres of forest service land with agricultural straw to protect the soil from erosion, the water supply from runoff and the area from flash flooding. Larimer County hopes to use the $9 million expected from Emergency Watershed Protection funds to mulch about 4,000 more acres of private land, said Suzanne Bassinger, fire recovery manager, but that mulching, along with other projects, will have to wait until the money arrives. She hopes to start the work by mid-June.

    Bassinger said she’s the only fire recovery manager in the state and, because of that, she’s still learning on the job. She’s frustrated by the lack of resources, both in manpower and money, to get the work going. “It’s surprising how hard it’s been to get the recovery moving forward,” she said. “We all had jobs and responsibilities in the city and county and this came on top of it all. It’s a large amount of work that needs to be done.”

    Much of her work will help private landowners. About half of the burn was on forest service land and half was on private property. A lot of the immediate work includes the mulching and other projects to help with flood protection. Even then, the runoff means cities that draw water from the Poudre, including Greeley, will struggle with water quality for the next five years, Bassinger said.

    That’s why the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed will start work in June after the initial effort by non-profits and volunteer organizations who care about the river to monitor and coordinate recovery efforts. The mix of public and private land means “an alphabet soup” of agencies and private entities will be involved in restoration, and the coalition will help make sense of it all. “What if we did $30,000 worth of restoration, only to have a month later someone come along and rip up 300 yards of roadway?” asked Dick Jefferies, president of the Rocky Mountain Flycasters. “We hope to look at the big picture and coordinate all the efforts.”

    The efforts also meant putting aside personal agendas. As an angler, fire can bring more nutrients into the river, and that can bring more bugs and, therefore, not only healthier fish but more of them. “But this has to do with 300,000 or 400,000 and their drinking water,” Jefferies said. “I have a biased perspective, but anyone who opens a tap to take a drink of water should probably be concerned about this.”

    If sediment continues to run into the river, Greeley may have to stop using it again, as it did last summer, or clean it, which will be much more expensive, Jefferies said. There’s some speculation that it will cost a utility a million more dollars per year to treat it. But the restoration, such as mulching, could help with that, he said.

    The Coalition plans to host several volunteer days to help control flooding and erosion. When the group was called the High Park Restoration Committee, it hosted 14 events with 785 volunteers to treat 185 acres of land.

    It will take years for the Poudre Canyon to look the way it was before the fires. Bassinger visited the famous Hayman fire, which burned 138,000 acres 35 miles northwest of Colorado Springs 11 years ago, and the land still looks charred. The burned land up the Poudre looks the same, and it will for a decade, at least. But there’s hope, too. There were many areas licked, not consumed, by the flames. “With all the snow, it’s now green all over those areas,” she said. “It looks like Ireland.”

    More Cache la Poudre River coverage here and here.

    Parachute Creek spill: No benzene detected in creek on Tuesday and Wednesday #ColoradoRiver

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    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Tests showed no benzene in Parachute Creek Tuesday and Wednesday, in another sign that remediation efforts related to a natural gas liquids leak there are proving effective. Aeration treatment of the creek and groundwater “has done a good job,” Parachute town administrator Robert Knight said Thursday.

    Williams estimates that about 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids leaked this winter into soil and groundwater from a pipeline leaving its gas processing plant up the creek valley. It has been using air sparging and related methods to remove carcinogenic benzene in groundwater and the creek at a point 1,300 feet downstream where the benzene has been moving from the groundwater into the surface water.

    Benzene in surface water once barely topped the state drinking water standard of 5 parts per billion (although the standard doesn’t apply to the creek), and for a time showed up at lower levels at a few points downstream. However, Williams noted in a recent update at its http://www.answersforparachute.com website that those benzene levels have steadily declined since May 2, although trace levels at the one measurement site had continued to linger. “Surface water samples from Parachute Creek indicate that Williams continues to make progress in its remediation efforts to remove benzene from a defined area of Parachute Creek, as well as from groundwater,” the company said in that update.

    No benzene has ever been detected where Parachute diverts water for its town irrigation system farther downstream. Knight said diversions into that system began about two weeks ago. He said that with the success in efforts to clean up the creek, he’s not hearing any concerns from residents about the irrigation water.

    Of greater concern to him is the low level of the creek due to the lack of snowpack, he said. The leak situation has raised questions about how benzene conditions might change when spring runoff occurs, but Knight said he flew over the creek watershed and the snowpack that feeds it already was gone. “We’re down to August levels. We haven’t even seen the creek rise,” he said.

    As of last Friday, Williams had estimated that it had recovered about 6,766 gallons of the leaked natural gas liquids. It is projecting that a water treatment system it will use to remove and clean groundwater before returning it to the aquifer will be in service by June.

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

    Two ranchers who live and work downstream from a natural gas liquids spill near Parachute Creek said on Wednesday that they remain concerned, but not alarmed, about the cleanliness of the water that flows past their ranches. The ranch owners, Sidney Lindauer and Howard Orona, live along Parachute Creek about three miles north of the Town of Parachute, on opposite sides of the creek. Both have previously voiced concerns about the cleanup of a large spill of natural-gas liquids about one mile upstream from their properties. The two have said they worried about the potential contamination of their domestic and irrigation water supplies from the spill, which according to state and industry officials has dumped tens of thousands of gallons of potentially toxic chemicals into the soils and groundwater near a natural gas processing plant owned by the Williams Midstream company…

    Lindauer runs horses on a ranch that has been in his family for decades.

    “I’d like to say they’ve cleaned it up,” said Lindauer on Wednesday, referring to the combined efforts of Williams Midstream and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

    But he said he is skeptical about the wisdom of leaving the cleanup in the hands of the company that owns the facilities from which the liquids leaked. “We need an independent agency that isn’t associated with the industry, or any industry, to monitor that creek,” he said on Wednesday, lamenting that “they [the CDPHE] pretty much leave it up to Williams.”

    He said he has seen unexplained layers of dingy, brownish foam on the creek’s surface in recent weeks, something he has occasionally seen in the past but in masses that were less dense than those he has spotted recently.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.

    The very hot and dry 2012 helped change Nolan Doesken’s approach to discussing climate change #COdrought

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    Nolan is one of my favorite people. I noticed in the past that he was cautious about mentioning climate change in his public talks. That changed as the High Park fire raged west of his office at Colorado State University, according to this article from Bobby Magill that is running in the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    …after the High Park Fire swept the foothills in 2012, Doesken decided to talk more openly about the reasons behind Colorado’s changing weather when talking to the agriculture community. Doesken, Colorado’s state climatologist based at Colorado State University, said Tuesday that he never really feared talking about climate change, but it gave him pause…

    Before the 2012 drought, Doesken rarely included many of his thoughts on human-caused climate change in his drought and water reports to Colorado’s agriculture and water communities.

    “Some folks in my position have experienced certain amounts of persecution for speaking out boldly one way or the other,” Doesken said. “I have feared that at times in the past. I don’t fear it now.”

    The future, Doesken often says, is full of uncertainty — variability in the weather will trend to the more extremes, with drier dry years and wetter wet years, sometimes back-to-back.

    “What has come out of my mouth has never been driven by a fear of what somebody was going to say or do as a result,” he said. “It’s mostly been me thinking my way through a challenging subject, which is a polarizing topic that I want to communicate as clearly and understandably as possible without an agenda.”

    The High Park Fire began to change how he talks about climate change, a story he told to a national audience for last weekend’s “This American Life” episode, which aired on radio stations across the country…

    Climate data and nothing else strictly dictates what he reports, Doesken said. It’s hard to argue that carbon emissions are not behind climate change, he said, calling the science “very defendable.”

    “If we know what we as a human race is doing could be fouling our nest, then the sooner we figure it out and do something different, the better,” he said.

    Granby: State of the Colorado River meeting recap #ColoradoRiver #COdrought

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

    A panel of water experts spoke at the public State of the River Meeting on Wednesday at the SilverCreek Convention Center to discuss the quality and quantity of the Colorado River Basin and its relationship to Grand County. Among the discussion topics were Wolford Mountain Reservoir, background on the Windy Gap Firming Project and wildfire planning. But benefits to Colorado’s water supply following April’s precipitation events dominated much of the discussion…

    Current data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s SNOTEL sites places the Upper Colorado River Headwater Basin’s snow water equivalent at 106 percent of its median levels. Total precipitation is at 93 percent of average for the area. The recent influx of precipitation comes as a relief, especially after shortages in the 2012 season. According to [Don Meyer], last year’s water demands on Wolford Mountain Reservoir, located north of Kremmling, dropped its levels by 38 feet. But Meyer now feels optimistic. “We hope to fill the reservoir this year,” he said. “We had a ton of demands because of the drought, but this year is looking a lot better.”[…]

    Granby Reservoir is projected to be at 90 percent of average, according to Andrew Gilmore of the Bureau of Reclamation…

    Releases from Granby Reservoir to the Front Range will be at normal levels, Gilmore said. The water is transported via the Colorado-Big Thompson project…

    The Windy Gap Firming Project continues to move forward. The Bureau of Reclamation is deliberating modifications to the current Windy Gap carriage contract. The carriage contract specifies the procedures and fees for water moving through the Colorado Big Thompson Project. The Bureau of Reclamation’s next step will be to issue a Record of Decision, then Northern Water and its participants will begin hashing out design plans for the project. According to Northern Water’s Eric Wilkinson, the design process will take at least two years. Actual construction will take around three years. “So the earliest we would see the Windy Gap Firming Project placed into operation is 2018 or 2019,” Wilkinson said…

    While the recent influx of precipitation will provide relief to Grand County and the Front Range, especially after snowfall shortages last year, areas downstream remain in drought. SNOTEL data for the entire Colorado River Basin above Utah’s Lake Powell indicates that the year’s precipitation remains low, at 81 percent of average. Lower Colorado users below Lake Mead project mandatory shortages as early as 2015, said Eric Kuhn, general manager for the Colorado River District.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    An explanation of Colorado’s administration of the Rio Grande River Compact from Steve Vandiver

    Here’s a guest column running in the Taos News written by Steve Vandiver, the general manager of the Río Grande Water Conservation District, that is in response to this letter published on May 6. Vandiver explains the origins and administration of the compact. Click through and read both letters. Here’s an excerpt from Vandiver’s letter:

    The Río Grande Compact is a document that was approved by the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Texas in 1938 and then ratified by the Congress of the United States. Among other things, the compact sought to recognize and protect the then-existing uses of the waters of the Río Grande in each of the three states and to divide the waters of the Río Grande among the three states according to that use.

    Colorado’s apportionment or right to those waters, is set forth in Article III of the compact, which protects the water uses which were occurring in Colorado at that time, but also significantly limited any future development. The apportionment in the compact is to the state of Colorado for the benefit its citizens, just as the compact apportionment of the Río Grande is to the state of New Mexico for the benefit of New Mexico’s citizens.

    As a matter of comity, in the 1938 compact, the state of Colorado recognized existing plans of the United States government and the state of New Mexico to construct diversion works and tunnels to deliver water from the San Juan River into the Río Grande drainage for the sole benefit of citizens of New Mexico downstream from Española.

    Colorado’s acknowledgment of New Mexico’s plans for those diversion works on tributaries of the Colorado River was included in the Río Grande Compact in order to allow New Mexico to fully realize its benefits from the Colorado River Compact that had been signed in 1922. It had nothing to do with existing uses that were occurring within Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

    The Río Grande Compact, far from permitting the “dewatering of the mainstem of the Río Grande through Taos County” actually requires the State of Colorado to deliver water through that very reach of the river and limits the ability of Colorado’s water users, including farmers in the San Luis Valley, from consuming more water from the Río Grande than was used during the period prior to 1938.

    The economy that serves the writer’s interest, based upon river rafting, did not exist at the time of the compact and only came into being 100 years after Coloradans were making use of the Río Grande for the purposes to which it is put to this day.
    Colorado’s right to the waters of the Río Grande is no different than the rights claimed by irrigationists in New Mexico taking water through acequias which also reduce the flows in the river. Both states have historic uses that are entitled to respect and protection.

    Each state is entitled to the beneficial use of its share of the Río Grande in the manner that it may so choose. Taos County and its rafting industry has no right to suggest that uses within the state of Colorado are less valuable, nor less entitled to protection, than uses within Taos County. New Mexicans are fully entitled to make whatever economic decisions they wish about the water to which they are legally entitled under the Río Grande Compact but they are not entitled to make decisions about the water to which Colorado is entitled.

    Finally, the writer does not acknowledge the severe drought that the San Luis Valley and Northern New Mexico are currently experiencing. The May 1 NRCS forecast for 2013 for the Upper Río Grande in Colorado is only 44 percent of normal. That equates to flows that are the fourth lowest since the period of record started in 1890.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

    Drought news: Denver Water’s rate payers get a one month reprieve from drought surcharges #COdrought

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    From the Denver Water Blog:

    If you’ve been following our weekly posts, you’ve seen our snowpack and precipitation graphs jump upward after the April and May snowfall. This is great news for our water supply, which had been abysmal since July 2011.

    As you probably know by now, the snowpack above the diversion points in Denver Water’s watersheds ended up below the average peak at 91 percent in the Colorado River watershed and 92 percent in the South Platte River watershed. We’ve also stressed the importance of May and June weather as it will impact how much mountain snow will make its way into our reservoirs as water. The wetter the better!

    So what’s new? Today at its meeting, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners voted to delay drought pricing by one month. Why? Depending on how much water makes its way to our reservoirs, we may be in a position to change our drought response from Stage 2 to Stage 1, which would remove drought pricing entirely. But, we won’t make that decision until we have a better sense of our reservoir situation and summer conditions after runoff is over in late June or early July.

    The temporary drought pricing was scheduled to appear on bills beginning in June to encourage customers to use even less water and help reduce revenue loss to maintain our treatment and distribution system. We’ve seen customers use even less water, thanks to their savvy water-saving habits and letting Mother Nature take care of watering this spring. And, we believe that by delaying the pricing, the benefit to customers outweighs the revenue we may lose in June. The last thing we want to do is put drought pricing in place, just to remove it if we change direction.

    While it’s too soon to move to Stage 1 drought restrictions, we will continue to closely monitor conditions and remain flexible in our response.

    From The Denver Post (Nic Turiciano):

    Denver Water has some good news for customers worried about the cost of keeping their lawns green: The Denver Water Board of Commissioners voted at their meeting Wednesday to delay drought pricing by one month.

    Stage 2 drought pricing, which raises rates for watering and aims to encourage less usage, was supposed to go into effect June 1. Denver Water users remain under Stage 2 drought rules, which dictate that customers water their lawns no more than two times per week and adhere to a strict schedule.

    Denver Water may be able to eliminate all drought pricing and watering restrictions for the 2013 summer depending on precipitation during the month of June, according to spokeswoman Stacy Chesney.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    Warm and dry weather may be about to take hold again for the time being as severe and extreme drought conditions keep their grip on much of Colorado, according to a drought report issued this week from the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University.

    Northern Colorado is the only bright spot in the report. Eastern Larimer, western Weld and nearly all of Denver, Boulder, Clear Creek, Gilpin and Jefferson counties are merely “abnormally dry.”

    Western Larimer County is considered to be in a moderate drought.

    The quickly-melting mountain snowpack in the South Platte River Basin, which includes the Poudre River, is 125 percent of normal for this time of year, the best in the state, according to U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service data.

    Most of the snowpack in southwest Colorado has already melted, contributing to ongoing severe drought conditions in the San Juan Mountains and much of the Western Slope.

    Extreme and exceptional drought conditions continue to plague southeast Colorado.

    The National Weather Service is calling for the drought to all but disappear between Denver and Fort Collins while improving in northeast Colorado and persisting through most of the rest of the state.

    Nolan Doesken featured on This American Life

    Governor Hickenlooper orders work to begin on Colorado Water Plan — draft due December 2014

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    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Colorado water experts will try to figure out how to manage the state’s most precious resource in an era when all signs points to increasing shortages and the potential for growing conflicts within the state and the region over its allocation. Under an executive order issued this week by Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Colorado Water Conservation Board will lead the effort to address the growing gap between supply and demand. Especially worrisome is the gap in the South Platte Basin, the state’s most populous and at the same time, the most productive agricultural basin.

    Hickenlooper acknowledged that the recurring drought could hasten the impacts of the gap between supply and demand, noting that the past two decades have been Colorado’s warmest on record, dating back to the 1890s.

    More CWCB coverage here.

    New Belgium Brewery’s $100,000 donation to Fort Collins helps to secure water rights in the Coy Ditch

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    From the City of Fort Collins via the North Forty News:

    Using a $100,000 contribution from New Belgium Brewery, the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department recently acquired a 40 percent interest in the Coy Ditch, a move that will benefit habitats along the Cache la Poudre River Corridor.

    The City’s recent acquisition consists of water that formerly irrigated the Link-N-Greens golf course where Woodward Governor’s new corporate headquarters are to be located. The Natural Areas Department plans to use the acquired water to enhance environmental values in and near the Poudre River. New Belgium Brewery contributed $100,000 towards the $700,000 purchase price.

    “For New Belgium, this is a great way to invest in a healthy river and riparian corridor right where we live and work,” said New Belgium Director of Sustainability Jenn Vervier. “Much of our philanthropic efforts go toward supporting healthy watersheds, but it is especially meaningful when we can work on something this close to home.”

    The water rights acquisition brings the city’s total interest in the Coy Ditch to 50 percent. The remaining 50 percent is owned by a municipal water provider.

    Natural Areas Department Director John Stokes said, “This purchase will help the City pursue a minimum instream flow on the Poudre River and also to augment ponds and wetlands. Both of these objectives are critical to river health. In addition to these benefits, the water rights open up the possibility for modifications to Coy Ditch diversion dam (just east of College Avenue) to improve habitat connectivity, recreation and stormwater management. The City wishes to extend its sincere appreciated to New Belgium for its farsighted and generous donation.”

    Citizens are invited to an open house to learn more about over 25 projects in the Poudre River Corridor on June 26, 4-7 p.m. at the Lincoln Center, Canyon West Room, 417 West Magnolia Street.

    Topics include construction, trail closures, drought & fire, habitat restoration, flood mitigation and planning. Give input and enjoy kids’ activities and a cash bar. An overview of the projects and trail closures can be found at fcgov.com/riverprojects/

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    Eventually, the rights could translate to higher flows in the Poudre that would boost recreation and habitat along the river, said John Stokes, director of natural areas. “It’s not a huge water right, but it is significant,” Stokes said. “My hope is to put a little bit more water in the river and establish an in-stream flow program.”

    The ditch, which dates to 1865, has the No. 13 priority on the river. Its decree is for 31.5 cubic feet per second. For reference, the Poudre River’s flow on Wednesday was roughly 600 cfs.

    Fort Collins owns 50 percent of the water; the East Larimer County water district owns the rest.

    More Cache la Poudre River Watershed coverage here and here.

    Adams County stormwater fees: ‘We just want a chance to be heard’ — Gloria Rudden

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    From The Denver Post (Yesenia Robles):

    The 20-person task force — which includes representatives from municipalities where the fee does not apply — will be asked to deliver recommendations to the commissioners by Oct. 1.

    Members of the task force said Tuesday they are anxious to learn more about the program and voice their opinions. “We just want a chance to be heard,” said member Gloria Rudden, a resident of unincorporated Adams County. “This wasn’t well thought out and so I’m hoping to try to work on something that’s feasible.”[…]

    The fee, assessed based how much of a property doesn’t allow stormwater to soak into soil, was estimated at an average of $62.64 per year for a single-family home. Some residents, however, reported bills as high as $900. The county hired an outside consultant to review the bills and by the end of February, found a 34 percent error rate. Commissioners responded by temporarily capping the fee and creating the task force.

    While the task force prepares its recommendations, projects that were expected to be funded by the fee this year are on hold.
    Deputy county administrator Todd Leopold on Tuesday said that instead of collecting about $5 million this year, as was projected, the stormwater fee will bring in about $2.2 million. About $1 million is intended to fund a portion of the Utah-Junction-Clay Street outfall project near West 60th Avenue under Interstate 76. Bidding is still going on for that project…

    Andrew Been, another task force member, said he would like to see a plan to reduce or end the fee when projects are complete, but also wants a better explanation of why the fee was needed in the first place.

    More stormwater coverage here and here.

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

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the May month to date precipitation map. Click here to read all the summaries.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    CMU: Grand Valley Float — Palisade to Corn Lake May 29 #ColoradoRiver

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    From Colorado Mesa University:

    Float along the Colorado River between vineyards and orchards in a section of the 15-mile reach of critical habitat for 4 species of endangered fish.

    To Register, click here.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit scores and extra $4 million from Reclamation funds

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit will receive an additional $4 million in federal funds this year thanks to reallocation of unused or leftover funds within the Bureau of Reclamation. “It will allow us to start working on engineering and the drafting of a design,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsors of the project.

    Broderick learned of $3.79 million in additional funds being steered to the conduit during a visit with Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor in Washington, D.C., earlier this week. The money comes at a time when the district anticipated getting far less than it needed to keep the project moving. Last month, the district’s board received the grim news that under sequestration, only $1 million would be included in the 2014 budget. The district had sought $14 million.

    More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

    Long Hollow Reservoir should improve water rights administration on the La Plata River

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    The water collected in Long Hollow Reservoir from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw will supplement the often scant water from the La Plata River, half of which must be shared with New Mexico.

    “We’re happy to see the project moving along so well,” Brice Lee, president of the sponsoring La Plata Water Conservancy District, said last week. “It’s been a tough year because we haven’t gotten the monsoons yet.” Lee gets water from a ditch off the La Plata River for pasture and to irrigate hay. But he’s had only four days of water from his ditch so far this spring…

    Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw drain a basin of 43 square miles on the east side of Colorado Highway 140 about five miles north of the New Mexico line and about a half mile from the confluence of Long Hollow Creek and the La Plata River. The reservoir, expected to be completed this year, will have a capacity of 5,432 acre-feet and 160 surface acres…

    Colorado and New Mexico share the water of the La Plata River under a 1922 agreement. Each state has unrestricted use of water from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15. But from then to Dec. 1, if the river is flowing at less than 100 cubic feet per second at the state line, Colorado must deliver one-half the flow at Hesperus to New Mexico.

    Fulfilling the compact isn’t easy for several reasons:

    The La Plata, which rises in the mountains north of U.S. Highway 160, doesn’t have abundant water even in its best years.

    Water availability and the growing season don’t follow parallel paths. The bulk of the water – as 95 years of records show – is available from April 1 to July 1. Flow shoots from 50 cubic feet per second to 200 cfs then drops quickly to 50 cfs before trailing off. The growing season goes on much longer.

    A porous river bed and vegetation siphon off water in the 31 river miles from Hesperus to the state line.

    Lee said there are probably 15 major ditches off the La Plata River and many smaller ones. He estimated that 500 to 600 irrigators have a share of the flow, however small.

    The cost of the project must come in at $18.6 million or less because there’s no additional funding in sight, Lee said. The source is $15 million – plus accrued interest – from what the state contributed for irrigation in the Animas-La Plata Project. The irrigation component was removed from the A-LP – a settlement of Native American water right claims – in the 1990s.

    More La Plata River Watershed coverage here and here.

    Drought news: The CWCB May 2013 Drought Update is hot off the press #COdrought

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    Click here the read the update with graphics. Here’s an excerpt:

    Activation of Phase 2 &3 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan, and the activation of the Agricultural & Municipal Impact Task Force remain in effect to respond to ongoing drought conditions throughout Colorado.

    Late April and early May storms brought increased precipitation in the northern portion of the state and continued cool temperatures helped to maintain snowpack. However, storms largely missed the southern half of the state, which is experiencing increasingly severe drought conditions. Storage remains below average throughout most of the state and water providers are preparing for continued drought conditions throughout the spring and summer.

  • Governor Hickenlooper activated the Municipal Impact Task Force on May 10th in response to dry conditions is portions of the state, below average reservoir storage and continued water restrictions by municipal water providers.
  • As of the May 14, 2013 US Drought Monitor, 100% of Colorado continues to experience some level of drought classification. There have been improvements along the northern Front Range and northeastern plains while conditions have declined to the south. D0 (abnormally dry) and D1 (moderate) conditions cover 28% of the state; while D2 (severe) covers 47% and D3 (extreme) accounts for an additional 9%. 16% of the state is now experiencing exceptional drought (D4), a slight increase from last month.
  • Spring snow storms brought significant gains in the snowpack to the Colorado and South Platte River basins, which both achieved near normal peak accumulation with 94 and 105% of the average peak snowpack, respectively. The Yampa/ White basin also had a near normal peak at 91% of normal. All three basins experienced later than normal peaks, by nearly two weeks. All other basins had less than normal peak snow accumulation. The lowest peak snowpack, as a percent of normal, was in the Upper Rio Grande basin (68%) while the Southwest basin had 74% of average. The Arkansas and Gunnison had similar peak snowpack accumulations of 73 and 76% of average respectively.
  • Despite recent gains in snowpack, municipalities and water providers are still responding to drought conditions with watering restrictions. The CWCB drought response portal http://www.COH2O.co continues to help individuals determine the restrictions in their specific community. Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District continues to hold the C-BT quota at 60%.
  • As of the first of May, statewide reservoir storage is at 74% of average. The highest storage levels are in the Yampa/ White River Basin, at 107% of average, while the lowest storage in the state is the Arkansas River basin at 52% of average. All other basins range from 54% to 88% of average. Last year at this time the state was at 112% of average reservoir storage.
  • Streamflow forecasts for the spring indicate below average streamflow across the state. The Colorado and South Platte have the highest streamflow forecasts ranging from 70-100% of normal, with forecasts better in the headwaters than downstream. Forecasts in the Colorado downstream of Glenwood drop to 62-68% of average. The lowest forecasts in the state are in the Upper Rio Grande, with flows ranging 24 to 54% of normal. The Southwestern basins and the Arkansas also have low forecasts ranging from 30-68% of normal.
  • Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values remain negative despite improvements in the north. Below average reservoir storage and low streamflow forecasts contribute to these values and data reflect conditions on May 1, 2013.
  • Colorado Tornado History from Brian Bledsoe #COwx

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    Here’s a blog post from Brian Bledsoe posted on KKTV.com. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Strongest Tornado in Colorado History: This tornado occurred on November 4th, 1922. It started in southern Crowley County near Ordway and Sugar City before 5am. Yeah that’s right a big tornado that started in Colorado, in early November, before 5am. Crazy… Anyway, that tornado went on to move rapidly northward and struck the town of Holyoke around 9:30am. The distance as a crow flies between those two towns is about 180 miles and when you do the math, that twister was haulin’! It destroyed many farms/ranches along the way and when it struck Holyoke it killed one person. This is often a forgotten tornado when it comes to Colorado history. In typical Colorado fashion, a blizzard shut down Pueblo for that entire afternoon after the severe storms moved out that morning.

    Say hello to CoRiverBasin.org — interactive mapping application for the Colorado River basin from Western Resource Advocates #ColoradoRiver

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    Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):

    With the Memorial Day Weekend just a few days away, Western Resource Advocates is proud to announce a new interactive online map of the Colorado River that helps everyone— from outdoor enthusiasts to casual explorers—to learn and understand more about the river that is truly the lifeblood of the entire Southwest. CoRiverBasin.org presents scenic points of interest, snowpack and river flow data, recreation businesses and other useful information on two interactive maps intended to engage and inform people of all ages.

    “The helpful new interactive maps at CoRiverBasin.org illustrate our connection to the Colorado River and its importance in sustaining our outdoor recreation economy, irrigating our crops, and keeping our cities and towns running,” said U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.). “Wayne Aspinall once said, ‘When you touch water, you touch everything.’ Nowhere is this more true than the Colorado River.”

    The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States, according to the 2013 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, and it is the primary source of water for 36 million people. Western Resource Advocates created CoRiverBasin.org to provide a visual understanding of how water from the river is used, through diversions to urban areas, water for power plants, and regular updates on snowpack and river flows.

    “What I love about CoRiverBasin.org is that it lets the user determine how much information they want to see on the map,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “This is truly a 21st century tool for a new way of thinking, and learning, about water issues. After all, there may be no more important issue than having clean water to drink.”

    Western Resource Advocates has long advocated that water conservation and reuse should be the backbone of any plan for meeting future water demands in the Colorado River Basin. This is particularly critical in the face of climate change scenarios that experts agree will lead to increased frequency and severity of drought.

    “CoRiverBasin.org shows how important the Colorado River is to businesses across the basin and beyond,” said Molly Mugglestone, Co-Director of Protect the Flows, a network of more than 800 businesses that depend on the Colorado River. “The tools on the site allow visitors to see a big picture view of the entire Colorado River Basin and how it connects into a $26 billion recreation economy.”
    
    Added Senator Udall: “We need all the tools we can to better understand the demands we put on this precious resource and how to keep the Colorado River healthy and able to supply clean water to millions of Coloradans and Westerners.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Drought/snowpack news: The Western Governors’ Association supports reauthorization of NIDIS #COdrought

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    From You Colorado Water Blog (Carlee Brown):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper and other members of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) recently offered support for reauthorization of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). In letters to Senate sponsors of pending NIDIS legislation (S.376) and House Science, Space & Technology Committee leadership, the Western Governors emphasized the importance of this program for drought preparedness and response.

    NIDIS provides a single, authoritative portal for drought information on its website, drought.gov. It coordinates observations and research from various federal, state and academic experts while providing a “one-stop shop” for the agricultural community, state water resource managers, private sector, media and others affected by drought…

    Even with a wet spring, drought conditions still plague most of the state and will likely remain through the summer. Southern Colorado is particularly hard hit, where streamflow forecasts are at half of average levels.

    Drought preparedness and response remains a priority for Western Governors, who will continue to work with Congress to ensure that NIDIS is reauthorized and that decision makers continue to have access to the best drought information available.

    From The Durango Herald (Emery Cowan):

    Though April brought more than 20 inches of snow to Colorado’s Front Range, Southwest Colorado has seen little of that spring moisture. And with a drier-than-normal winter coming on the heels of one of the driest years on record, this season is shaping up to be as bad as last year and possibly even worse for the region’s ranching and agricultural operations. Initial indicators show reservoir storage, field crops and native plants are going into the growing season in worse shape than 2012…

    Large squares of supreme-quality alfalfa hay in Southwest Colorado are $230 to $245 per ton, according to the latest Colorado Hay Report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Two years ago, the prices ranged from $160 to $170 per ton. Prices increased dramatically as drought spread across the Southwest in 2012, but prices since have leveled out because hay consumers simply cannot afford to pay more than the current market price, said Randy Hammerstrom, officer in charge of USDA’s market news service. The tight hay market, combined with poor high-country and pasture grazing conditions has led many local ranchers to sell off part of their herds, said Chris Cugnini with Hi-Country Auction…

    Meanwhile, local hay farmers expect to produce even less than last year in large part because of bleak irrigation forecasts. The region’s major reservoirs entered the water year with 24 percent to 69 percent less water than 2012 and then were hit with a season of below-average snowpack. Now, warm spring winds combined with dry soils are greatly depleting runoff flows…

    Irrigators depending on McPhee, Lemon and Vallecito reservoirs are slated to receive a fraction of their allocated stored water – Vallecito Reservoir irrigators will get about 80 percent, McPhee Reservoir irrigators are expecting about 23 percent and Lemon Reservoir irrigators are expected to receive 35 percent. Florida Mesa farmers will receive irrigation water only through early to mid-July and will likely get just one cutting of hay, said Phillip Craig, a local hay farmer and president of the Florida Water Conservancy District’s board of directors. Eyeing current water forecasts, farmers have left fields fallow or planted crops such as oats that don’t take as much water as hay. Doug Thurston, a farmer on the Florida Mesa, said he will be able to irrigate about two-thirds of the number of hay acres that he was able to last year.

    It can take years for crop yields to return to normal after a season or two of drought, Craig said. “It took us five years to recover from (the) 2002 (drought),” he said. “We’ve never gotten back to production we had pre-2002.”[…]

    Researchers at Colorado State University have studied drought’s ripple effects. In a survey about last year’s drought conditions, 90 percent of respondents from Southwest Colorado reported below-average forage yields while 35 percent reported selling livestock in response to the drought. If the drought persists, 34 percent of Southwest Colorado respondents said there was a 50 percent or greater chance they will leave the industry in the next five years while a third suggested they sought additional off-farm employment in response to the drought.

    From Denver Water:

    Now that snow runoff season is well underway, we will continue to see the snowpack charts decline and the reservoir levels increase. But, we are always monitoring conditions, and even with the great late season snow storms we’ll need conditions to continue working in our favor to help our lagging reservoirs recover…

    We know that the soil is extremely dry in these areas and will soak up as much moisture as it needs. And, even though runoff will continue to flow into our reservoirs, we’ll need wetter than normal weather throughout June to help our water supply conditions get back to normal.

    There are also many benefits to the rain in our service area. Every gallon of water saved by not watering the lawn is another gallon saved in our reservoirs. Since the mandatory watering rules took place April 1, we’ve had enough snow or rain that there has been no need to water two days a week.

    USGS: Deficit in Nation’s Aquifers Accelerating

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    Here’s the release from the USGS (Jon Campbell/Leonard Konikow):

    A new U.S. Geological Survey study documents that the Nation’s aquifers are being drawn down at an accelerating rate.

    Groundwater Depletion in the United States (1900-2008) comprehensively evaluates long-term cumulative depletion volumes in 40 separate aquifers (distinct underground water storage areas) in the United States, bringing together reliable information from previous references and from new analyses.

    “Groundwater is one of the Nation’s most important natural resources. It provides drinking water in both rural and urban communities. It supports irrigation and industry, sustains the flow of streams and rivers, and maintains ecosystems,” said Suzette Kimball, acting USGS Director. “Because groundwater systems typically respond slowly to human actions, a long-term perspective is vital to manage this valuable resource in sustainable ways.”

    To outline the scale of groundwater depletion across the country, here are two startling facts drawn from the study’s wealth of statistics. First, from 1900 to 2008, the Nation’s aquifers, the natural stocks of water found under the land, decreased (were depleted) by more than twice the volume of water found in Lake Erie. Second, groundwater depletion in the U.S. in the years 2000-2008 can explain more than 2 percent of the observed global sea-level rise during that period.

    Since 1950, the use of groundwater resources for agricultural, industrial, and municipal purposes has greatly expanded in the United States. When groundwater is withdrawn from subsurface storage faster than it is recharged by precipitation or other water sources, the result is groundwater depletion. The depletion of groundwater has many negative consequences, including land subsidence, reduced well yields, and diminished spring and stream flows.

    While the rate of groundwater depletion across the country has increased markedly since about 1950, the maximum rates have occurred during the most recent period of the study (2000–2008), when the depletion rate averaged almost 25 cubic kilometers per year. For comparison, 9.2 cubic kilometers per year is the historical average calculated over the 1900–2008 timespan of the study.

    One of the best known and most investigated aquifers in the U.S. is the High Plains (or Ogallala) aquifer. It underlies more than 170,000 square miles of the Nation’s midsection and represents the principal source of water for irrigation and drinking in this major agricultural area. Substantial pumping of the High Plains aquifer for irrigation since the 1940s has resulted in large water-table declines that exceed 160 feet in places.

    The study shows that, since 2000, depletion of the High Plains aquifer appears to be continuing at a high rate. The depletion during the last 8 years of record (2001–2008, inclusive) is about 32 percent of the cumulative depletion in this aquifer during the entire 20th century. The annual rate of depletion during this recent period averaged about 10.2 cubic kilometers, roughly 2 percent of the volume of water in Lake Erie.

    More USGS coverage here.

    Florissant Water & Sanitation District board dissolves district temporarily

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    From the Pikes Peak Courier-View (Pat Hill):

    Caught in a vicious circle and a downpour of bad tidings, the Florissant Water & Sanitation District is treading water. Put on notice last week by the Department of Local Affairs, the board agreed to temporarily dissolve the district. “We don’t have any record that the district has held, or cancelled, an election since 2004,” said Jarrod Biggs, research analyst with DOLA.

    The second nail was the board’s failure to comply with audit mandates for 2011 and 2012. “A third issue is the enforcement order,” Biggs said. In a meeting May 14 with Biggs and Clay Brown, DOLA’s regional manager, in addition to engineers from Colorado’s public health department, the board heard possible solutions along with the bad news.

    The hurdles were high, however. Cited in 2010 with an enforcement order, the five-member board failed to submit the appropriate discharge-monitoring reports, or DMRs. “Some DMRs were turned in but there is still some question because they’re not meeting the necessity of enforcement orders,” said Bret Icenogle, engineer with the state’s water-quality control division. “You need to think about that in terms of how you can get your sampling done.”

    Restoration: Pennsylvania Mine cleanup to begin

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    From the Summit Daily News (Breeana Laughlin):

    Cleanup work at one of Summit County’s most polluted landscapes will begin this month — more than a century after toxic metals were released from the Pennsylvania Mine site. The mine operated from the late 1880s into the early 1930s. It produced more than $3 million in silver, lead and zinc. But the mine exposed a source of toxic heavy metals that drain into Peru Creek, choking fish from the stream and sending pollutants into the Snake River.

    Today, Peru Creek is devoid of aquatic life. The Snake River, which the creek drains into, supports a limited number of species only in its lower reaches.

    Individuals and groups have recognized the mine as a tainted site and have been trying to address the problem since the late 1980s. But until now, little has been done to terminate the source of the pollution. “There have been several smaller mine cleanups in that basin with state and grant funding. But everyone has recognized that the major issue remains the Pennsylvania Mine,” said Brian Lorch, a county official overseeing open space and trails.