Drought news: It’s been hot across the southwestern US, monsoon on the way? #COdrought



Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current US Drought Monitor map and the June 30, 2013 seven day precipitation forecast map from NOAA.

From USA Today (Doug Stanglin):

Temperatures in Las Vegas shot up to 115 degrees on Saturday afternoon, just two degrees shy of an all-time record, as the Desert Southwest continued to stagger under a relentless heat wave…

In Southern California, Palm Springs peaked at 122 while the mercury in Lancaster set a record at 111, according to the L.A. Times. The forecast for Death Valley in California called for 128, but it was a few degrees shy of that, according to unofficial reports from the National Weather Service. Death Valley’s record high of 134, set a century ago, stands as the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth. Phoenix hit 119 by mid-afternoon, breaking the record for June 29 that was set in 1994.

From the Associated Press via the Christian Science Monitor:


The desert valley in California will see temperatures approach 130 degrees. The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth occurred in Death Valley with a reading of 134 degrees, almost 100 years ago to the day in 1913. The park is dotted with locations such as Furnace Creek and Dante’s View, and officials are urging people to exercise extreme caution. But sweltering heatis often a big draw for visitors to Death Valley National Park — especially tourists from Europe — with hotels already booked solid during the hotter months of July and August.

From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

The cause of the heat wave is a “massive and unusually strong high-pressure system” over the region, the weather service reports.

‘Now *that* looks like a monsoon’ — John Fleck #NMdrought #COdrought

Click here for the 7 day precipitation outlook from NOAA.

‘If you have the whole river for three days, you can accomplish a lot more’ — Larry Mondragòn #NMdrought #COdrought


From The Taos News (J. R. Logan) via the Taos Valley Acequia Association:

The extremely low flows have prompted four acequias that use the river to enter into a water-sharing agreement that some say hasn’t been implemented since the devastating droughts of the ’30s. Following a special meeting June 16, the acequias have agreed to take turns using the full flow of the river on a rotating schedule. Per the sharing agreement, Ledoux’s ditch — the Acequia Madre del Rio Grande del Rancho — will have the water for three days. The Acequia del Finado Francisco Martinez ditch will then have three days, followed by two days for the Acequia Abajo de la Loma and Acequia en Medio de Los Rios.

On Tuesday (June 25), the Rio Grande del Rancho was trickling at 2.3 cubic feet per second (cfs) — less than 10 percent of normal — according to the U.S. Geological Survey stream flow gauge near Talpa. Since 1952, the only other June with a lower flow was in 2002 when the river averaged a meager 1.7 cfs.

Given its current flow, none of the acequias would be able to do much if they all pulled from the river at once.

Acequias — dug in the Ranchos Valley by Hispano settlers starting in the 1700s — are engineered to use the
momentum of the river to push water down the ditches. Every turn and slight rise in the landscape slows that water, and it can be impossible to get it from the river to the fields when there isn’t enough oomph. Diverting the river into a single ditch maximizes the water’s push and gets it to as many properties as possible.

“If you have the whole river for three days, you can accomplish a lot more,” said Larry Mondragòn, chairman of the Francisco Martinez ditch commission.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

The latest Water Center at CMU newsletter is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COdrought


Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:


While the Colorado River headwaters enjoyed some easing of drought conditions this spring, this year’s Lake Powell inflows are forecast to be a mere 44% of the 30-year average. Combined Lake Mead & Powell reservoir levels are approaching the lowest levels since Powell was filling in the late 1960’s. If the reservoirs continue to drop, the lower basin could face its first ever shortage declaration as early as 2015, with the first impacts felt by AZ farmers. For a discussion and graphic on the reservoir level forecast, see NM journalist John Fleck’s blog post here.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

There’s a lot of beach at Dillon Reservoir #COdrought


Here’s an in-depth look the economics around Dillon Reservoir from Nathan Heffel writing for KUNC. Denver sells the water to its customers, Frisco depends on wet water in the reservoir for 30% of its tourism. Here’s an excerpt:

After back to back drought years, Dillon Reservoir is about nine to ten feet below average for this time of year. That’s where the interests of Denver Water and the town of Frisco play out.

Dillon is both the largest reservoir in the Denver Water system and a major economic driver for Frisco. During the summer, the marina provides a substantial boost to Frisco’s economy, accounting for a third of the town’s tourism.

A stylized sailboat adorns each street sign in downtown Frisco. It’s a relationship that’s part of their identity; a sail boat is etched on the town logo.

The issue? Frisco doesn’t own any of the water they rely on so much. It belongs to Denver Water and the on-going demands of Front Range water users.

More Blue River Watershed coverage here and here.

Drought news: Add Montrose County to the list of Colorado counties eligible for drought assistance #COdrought


From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

Montrose County qualifies because it is adjacent to counties where a natural disaster has been declared because of drought. Those counties include Dolores, La Plata, Ouray, Hinsdale, Montezuma and San Miguel. More farmers and ranchers are eligible for assistance for similar proximity reasons in Archuleta, Mineral, Saguache, Gunnison and San Juan counties.

Several Colorado craft brewers appeal to Governor Hickenlooper better regulate hydraulic fracturing


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Colorado’s brewers — including two Summit County based operations — are flexing a little political muscle and calling on Gov. John Hickenlooper to strike a better balance between energy development and conservation.

Rick Tork, manager of Frisco’s Backcountry Brewery, and Pug Ryan’s Steakhouse and Brewery owner Annie Holton, signed on to represent Summit County.

In a letter to Hickenlooper, the brewers, 26 in all, cited the importance of Colorado’s image and marketability for craft brewing and the important economic impact of keeping Colorado’s skies and waters clear and clean, saying that the state’s brand and high quality of life “attracts new residents, businesses, entrepreneurs and millions of tourists annually.”

A spokesman at the governor’s office said Hickenlooper recognizes the value of the craft-brewing industry.
“The craft brewing industry is a great economic driver for Colorado and we value our relationship with brewers across the state. We will review the letter and respond appropriately,” said communications director Eric Brown…

Revolution Brewing owner, Gretchen King, of Paonia, CO, said, “I think there is a natural concern from brewers about the oil and gas industry since good clean Colorado water is our most important ingredient in beer.”[…]

The brewers have asked for a meeting with the Governor this summer to discuss the issue. Gov. Hickenlooper and his staff were also invited to have a beer with the brewers to discuss the letter on Friday at Hogshead Brewery in Denver, but the Governor was unable to attend.

Click here to read the letter.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District votes to ask members to pony up dough for solvency


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed to protect Fountain Creek is asking its members to contribute $50,000 in 2014 to keep itself afloat. The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District voted Friday to seek contributions from El Paso and Pueblo County, as well as incorporated cities in the two counties in order to stay solvent. The district will run out of money at the end of this year and has no prospect of reliable revenue until 2017, when Southern Delivery System is scheduled to go online. “We’re trying to figure out ways and perspectives about how we can hold the district together for the next few years,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart. “We have to have a short-term plan for the ability to fund projects.”

The Fountain Creek board also voted to ask Pueblo County and Colorado Springs Utilities to pay off an estimated $2.2 million in index funds early in another attempt at funding. The index funds are a form of interest that accrues on the $50 million Colorado Springs pledged to pay the district under Pueblo County 1041 conditions for the Southern Delivery System. Under the March 2009 1041 agreement, Colorado Springs would begin accruing the interest on any payments not made during the first 42 months.

Mark Pifher, a Utilities executive, said Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are still negotiating the formula, and timing for payments and the district’s request could unravel some of those talks.

“Nowhere do we say we’ll take the money right now,” said Fountain Mayor Pro-Tem Gabe Ortega, who chairs the Fountain Creek board.

Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, criticized the plan, saying the district had failed to take full advantage of grant management fees and other potential sources of revenue. He said the Lower Ark has helped fund the district in the past and offered payments from its 2009 court settlement with Aurora that have been underutilized Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek district, dismissed Winner’s comments, saying those options were explored but not adequate to fund the routine operations of the district.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed to fix Fountain Creek likely will wait several years before asking voters for property tax revenues. That’s partly because of an effort in El Paso County to address stormwater that may lead to a 2014 election to fund a solution. Other reasons include a lingering weak economy and the need to show voters accomplishments in the form of successful projects.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District last week evaluated its long-term strategy following a retreat earlier in the month. “It’s likely the stormwater task force will ask for money in 2014,” said Larry Small, executive director, in his review of the retreat. “We have to look at what’s needed until 2017.” That’s the year the district will begin receiving payments totaling $50 million over a five-year period from Colorado Springs Utilities under its 2009 agreement on 1041 permit conditions with Pueblo County.

The district’s interim strategy is to pass the hat among its member governments to collect $50,000 for administration next year. It also wants an agreement between Pueblo County and Utilities to allow it to collect an estimated $2.2 million in index payments — essentially interest on the $50 million — early from Colorado Springs.

Under the 2009 state law that formed the Fountain Creek District, it can collect up to 5 mills in property tax if voters approve it in Pueblo and El Paso counties. Each mill would generate about $8 million annually in the two counties.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Basalt: Annual Ruedi Reservoir operations meeting will be on Wednesday, July 17

Students Help Farmers through the Acequia Project


Here’s the release from Colorado Law (Blake Busse):

My first year of law school was simultaneously the longest and shortest nine months of my life. When I, with more than 25 of my fellow law students, helped farmers in southern Colorado through the Acequia Project, it reminded me why I came to Colorado Law in the first place.

The Acequia Project provides low or no-cost legal assistance and educational materials to acequia farmers. Located in four of Colorado’s poorest counties in and around the San Luis Valley, acequias, put simply, are physical irrigation systems (a.k.a. ditches). But more importantly, the term also encompasses a philosophy about water and community that includes the cooperation and the sharing of water in times of scarcity. Many of the small-scale, acequia farmers of southern Colorado can trace their family’s roots to a time before Colorado was a territory, let alone a state.

Through the Getches-Wilkinson Center and Colorado Open Lands, the Acequia Project coordinates a group of about 25 law students to draft a legal handbook for the Colorado acequias; assist those acequias that wish to incorporate, amend, or draft bylaws; and assist acequias and individual irrigators to document their water rights.

When I heard that background, I immediately realized that this was the extracurricular for me. Here was a meaningful opportunity to engage in water-related issues, my primary area of legal interest. Additionally, it provided relevant experience in transactional work. The project was intriguing due to its connection to the unique history of southern Colorado, an area I previously knew very little about.

After several organizational meetings during the spring semester, an April trip was planned to the town of San Luis with two goals in mind. Our first and primary objective was to meet with the irrigators that we would be representing through the project and to gain an initial understanding of the legal issues we would be helping them to address. For nearly all of the students in San Luis that day, this was our first experience sitting across from real clients with real issues. Law school immediately became real. Our second objective was to get our hands dirty by assisting with the spring cleaning of our clients’ ditches. Digging red willows out of the muddy ditch bottom with the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains offset by a bluebird Colorado sky was a great way to spend a morning.

After the meetings and ditch cleaning had concluded, we were invited to the home of Juanita and Jose for lunch. Sitting on their porch, eating menudo and bologna sandwiches, we were treated with incredible hospitality. Professor Sarah Krakoff and Sarah Parmar from Colorado Open Lands observed that not all visitors receive as warm a reception as we experienced. Because our goal was to assist residents of the community (rather than to study them, as often happens due to the region’s unique history and culture) we were met with incredible warmth, openness, and gratitude.

As a result of the trip to San Luis, my legal studies were placed in a completely new perspective. The innumerable hours spent in the classroom and library were a means to an end. The end was the ability to provide high quality legal services to help people resolve their legal problems. Sitting in the living room of another client, Ernest, discussing the challenges he faced for the upcoming irrigation season, introduced a human element to my legal education that had previously been indistinct.

Luckily, the Acequia Project received recent grant awards from the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation and the University of Colorado’s Outreach Committee to support students in the upcoming year.

The most common refrain heard from my fellow students in the valley that day was “this is the best day of law school yet!” and I could not agree more.

“Blake is one of the more than two dozen students, mostly first years, who dove into this project with enthusiasm. Not only are they helping their clients, but they are getting top-notch mentoring from Peter Nichols, a Colorado Law alumnus and one of the best water lawyers in the state,” Krakoff said. “In addition to Sarah Parmar from Colorado Open Lands, the Project also benefits tremendously from the pro bono efforts of Allan Beezley, Karl Kumli, and Ryan Golten.”

More education coverage here.

Denver: The Children’s Museum Just Add Water playscape is now open


Click here to go to the website. Here’s the pitch:

Just Add Water is NOW open!

Our splish-splashing summer science Playscape will run until August 22, 2013.

Warning: You will get wet!! Drip, splash, splosh, woosh! With elements that are both simple and wildly unpredictable, there are many ways to get wet, to play and to learn in this outdoor summer exhibit filled with swirling, whirling, geyser-filled adventures. Guests can pump, channel, pour, sprinkle, divert and paint with this extraordinary substance. The Geysers, the Water Wheel, Whirlpools and Fountains and the Blank Slate Gallery will provide the means to direct, divert and contain water.

More education coverage here.

Fort Collins: Water/Energy Nexus workshop July 10


Click here for all the skinny on the event. Here’s the pitch:

This workshop will go beyond discussing the issues at the intersection of Colorado’s energy and water supply to developing actionable demonstration and economic development projects in this space. This OUTCOME FOCUSED event is aimed to accelerate the implementation of Water|Energy innovations in Colorado for replication globally.

Drought news: Golf courses learned drought coping mechanisms during 2002


From The Denver Post (Caitlin Swieca):

Tom Woodard, now director of golf for the Foothills Park and Recreation District, was the director of golf for Denver in 2002. During that drought, the city mandated that courses water only tee boxes and greens, ignoring the pleas of golf officials to give them an inventory to work with. As a result, the city had to close three courses when they became too dry.

“I think even the water utilities learned a lot from that drought,” Woodard said this week. “The water board was under a lot of pressure because they didn’t want residents to see a lot of open space that was green while homeowners’ lawns were brown and burning up.” Since then, the city of Denver has given courses a water quota and has allowed course managers to decide where to water on their own.

Pam Smith, director of agronomy for the city of Denver, said the city’s courses have been operating under a 20 percent reduction in allocation, which was eased to 10 percent Wednesday. Greens, fairways and tee areas had not been affected by the reduction, she said. Watering in rough areas was reduced, and Smith said the areas were browned but not dead…

The 2002 drought also brought about a policy change in Aurora, according to Doug McNeil, the city’s golf manager. In 2002, area government officials placed the same restrictions on the city’s seven golf courses as they did on residents. McNeil said it was hampering the courses’ golf operations, and the next year, Aurora also switched to an allotment system. McNeil said the courses stay well under their water quota, having cut back on watering nonessential areas such as driving ranges and rough areas. Aurora’s Stage 1 drought has reduced the quota by 10 percent, but the allowance is still larger than what the courses normally use.

“I think, just in general, golf courses are allowed to be a little bit browner than they used to be,” McNeil said. “People like to have the manicured turf, but in reality, you can still have a very good playing surface with it being slightly drier.”

Foothills and The Meadows Golf Club operate from unregulated private water sources but still try to keep water usage low. Woodard estimated the district eliminated 15 percent of its irrigation, and the courses operate under a three-stage drought plan as conditions worsen.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Denver Water’s board of directors on Wednesday declared a “Stage 1” drought, down from the Stage 2 drought it had declared on March 27. Wednesday’s decision removes the restriction that customers water lawns only two days a week, on assigned days, the agency said. A Stage 1 drought asks customers to conserve water, and limits lawn watering to three days a week if needed. Customers have the flexibility to choose which three days to water in response to weather patterns…

Aurora’s water department is discussing what to do about its existing water restrictions, which limit lawn watering to two days a week, said spokesman Greg Baker. Aurora’s water reservoirs are 65 percent full, compared to average, Baker said. Denver Water’s reservoirs are 92 percent full, compared to average, according to that agency…

Spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said the board didn’t move too quickly when it voted March 27 to institute Stage 2 drought restrictions limiting lawn watering to two days a week. “Stage 2 was appropriate based on the reservoir and snow pack at that point,” Chesney said. “We’re fortunate that this anomaly happened and we had a huge wet spring,” Chesney said. In late March, the snowpack that feeds Denver Water’s reservoirs and supply system was at 60 percent of normal and the state was undergoing extremely dry conditions and lower-than-normal reservoirs after a dry winter. Reservoir levels currently are at 92 percent of the average peak levels, and most of this year’s snowpack has melted — meaning not much more water is expected to fill the reservoirs this season, Denver Water said.

Crystal River: River District and West Divide remain committed to meeting human and environmental water needs


Here’s a release from the Colorado River District:

The Colorado River District yesterday joined the West Divide Water Conservancy District in approving a settlement ending litigation regarding water rights in the Crystal River. Both the River District and West Divide are pleased to avoid the costs of litigation as well as the inevitable animosity with their mutual constituents over protecting water rights for present and future use in the Crystal River valley. The water rights in question were storage and direct flow rights associated with the planned West Divide Project, which is decreed for uses in Garfield, Mesa, Gunnison, and Pitkin Counties.

Under the settlement, the West Divide Project water rights will be preserved, except for the majority of project water rights within the Crystal River basin that will be abandoned. The decision to settle and abandon the conditional Crystal River rights was largely driven by cost concerns and a desire for efficient allocation of resources, as well as localized opposition to the Crystal River basin components of the project.

The need for water remains in the Crystal River valley, both for human and environmental purposes, and the River District and West Divide remain committed to meeting that demand. The River District and West Divide still believe small, strategically located water storage is the best and most effective means of addressing needs in the critically water-short Crystal River basin. Current demands in the Crystal River basin, while relatively small, have been identified by all parties. Administration of the Crystal River (i.e., curtailment of junior rights during times of shortage) likely will occur in the foreseeable future, which may leave numerous current and future Crystal River basin residents and businesses without a legal water supply.

Garfield County’s representative to the Colorado River District, Dave Merritt, commented, “This is a sad commentary on the narrow view of water development in the area. Simply put, this will result in residents being left without water.” West Divide’s President, Sam Potter, commented “This is an unfortunate conclusion in trying to accomplish an even handed settlement. It’s very shortsighted of the objectors and some of their constituents to ignore the water needs of others in the Crystal River Valley now and in the future.”

While both Districts are satisfied with the resolution, they regret that the proposed settlement forecloses an opportunity for a win-win solution to water storage needs and late-summer environmental and recreational shortages in the Crystal basin. However, the settlement preserves the opportunity for the Districts to file new, junior water rights (both storage and direct flow rights) in the future to meet the needs of their constituents.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday signed off on a legal settlement bringing to an end conceptual plans for two reservoirs in the Crystal River Valley.

The Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District also have consented to the settlement of a state water court case. At issue has been a downsized version of the West Divide Project, which was intended for possible agricultural, oil-shale-related and other uses in Garfield, Mesa, Pitkin and Gunnison counties.

Two years ago, the river district agreed to abandon conditional water rights for a 129,000-acre-foot reservoir, which would have drowned the former coal-mining village of Redstone. Under the action, it also backed off further pursuit of a 62,000-acre-foot reservoir higher upstream on the Crystal in the area of the former Placita mining settlement, and a 14,000-acre-foot reservoir up Yank Creek in the Crystal watershed.

The river district acquired conditional water rights for those projects in 1958 during the era of big-dam-building, but the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation withdrew its support for the proposals in 1982, citing the cost and lack of adequate benefit.

After the river district’s 2011 decision, it continued to seek to hold on to conditional water rights for reservoirs of 4,000 and 5,000 acre-feet, respectively, at Placita and up Yank Creek. And it continued to face opposition from Pitkin County, residents up the Crystal River Valley, and conservation groups. The county objected to the proposed reservoirs’ locations and potential environmental impacts.

Under the new deal, the river district will abandon the Placita and Yank Creek projects. In return, Pitkin County will not oppose aspects of the West Divide Project involving potential 45,000-, 15,450- and 6,500-acre-foot reservoirs in the Divide and Mamm creek drainages of Garfield County.

Those projects are still in the conceptual stages.

Pitkin County attorney John Ely said the river district and West Divide proposed the settlement.

“It was pretty straightforward and exactly what we were looking for,” he said.

“… We didn’t have any interest in what was going on in Garfield County but what we did care about was what they were doing in our county.”

In a news release, the river district and West Divide said the settlement decision was driven partly by a desire to avoid litigation costs.

The river district long has said reservoirs up the Crystal could help maintain flows later in the year when it now can almost go dry. It predicts that curtailment of junior rights will leave many Crystal Basin residents and businesses without water in times of shortages.

“The Crystal still needs to be solved. … The problems did not go away,” river district spokesman Jim Pokrandt said Wednesday.

Garfield County’s representative to the river district, Dave Merritt, said in its release, “This is a sad commentary on the narrow view of water development in the area.”

More Crystal River coverage here and here.

Runoff news: The Yampa River is flowing at 213 cfs, well below normal #COdrought


From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Tubers and fly-fishermen were coexisting nicely and making the most of ideal conditions Thursday as the Yampa River was flowing at 230 cubic feet per second in Steamboat Springs. But that couldn’t disguise the fact that the river level is well below norms for this time of year and headed lower. The median flow for this date is 775 cfs…

After falling steeply for the last week, the Yampa appears to be settling into more stable flows, or at least declining more gradually. Yet, the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City reports current flows here are below the 25th percentile in terms of typical flows for this date.

At this time last year, the Yampa in the Steamboat town stretch was flowing at an all-time low for the date of 44 cfs. It was on June 25, 2012, that the Steamboat Today reported the Colorado Water Trust had signed a groundbreaking agreement with the Upper Yampa Water Conservation District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to lease water from Stagecoach Reservoir to bolster flows through Steamboat…

The Forecast Center is predicting that the river flows will remain above 150 cfs through July 5. However, in addition to the high-country snow that continues to feed the river’s tributaries this time of year, crop irrigation also is a factor in river levels.

Denver: Governor Hickenlooper Proclaims August 5-9 as Water Educator Week

Ouray: The city is trying to bolster its water rights to protect against a downstream call


From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

Thus the City of Ouray has been forever saddled with junior water rights compared to thirsty downstream irrigators, who are more and more likely to place a call on the city’s water supply as that water becomes ever scarcer in future years. This is the basic problem which the city seeks to resolve.

CDWR conducts tabulations of water rights throughout its various districts every two years. Water rights holders have one year from the time of the tabulation to object to a particular determination. The last tabulation of water rights affecting the City of Ouray took place in 2012, and the next one occurs in 2014.

The City of Ouray, through [City Attorney Kathryn Sellars], intends to file an official objection to the CDWR’s 2012 tabulation which enabled the M&D Canal to make a call on the city’s water supply last year.

In a position paper sent to to Division 4 Water Engineer Bob Hurford on June 13 outlining this objection, Sellars related the complicated history of water adjudication in Colorado and exposed special circumstances which, she argued, underline several flaws in the system when applied to Ouray.

Central to her argument is the so-called “subordination clause” in the first general adjudication decree in Division 4 in 1888 which “subordinates” agricultural water uses to so-called domestic water use but has been interpreted narrowly so as not to equate “domestic” with modern-day municipal water use…

“We don’t have the authority to tabulate a water right in the way the City of Ouray is asking,” [Jason Ullman, Assistant Division Engineer for CDWR’s Division 4] argued. “We have told them we would not oppose them if they filed with the water court to request that the seniority of water rights be clarified, and see what the water court judge says. They really need to take the matter to someone who has the authority to direct us to retabulate.”

CDWR’s research has not produced any other examples of other Colorado municipalities in the same situation as Ouray.

“It’s just the way the priority system was developed in Colorado,” Ullman said. “They couldn’t foresee this problem back then. It’s worked well for over 100 years, but there are some quirks in the system. The point is, we would not file an opposition to their request for retabulation, but the court needs to give its blessing to that. Because there is no other municipality in this situation.”

More Uncompahgre River Watershed coverage here and here.

Parker signs on to the WISE project for future supplies


From the Parker Chronicle (Chris Michlewicz):

Parker Water joins nine other members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority that have signed on to WISE, or the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency agreement. The June 13 approval by the PWSD board of directors adds another source of water for the area’s long-term needs, said district manager Ron Redd.

Parker Water pulls much of its water supply from the Denver Basin Aquifer, but it also captures an average of 5,000 acre-feet annually off Cherry Creek. The WISE agreement will have Parker piping 12,000 acre-feet of recycled water from Aurora and Denver every 10 years for an indefinite period of time.

Water rates will likely go up 1 percent to 2 percent incrementally because of WISE, although any increases will not occur until a thorough rate analysis is conducted, Redd said. The results of the analysis will be released in mid-2014.

The PWSD will start receiving the first trickles of water in 2016 and get full delivery of 1,200 acre-feet starting in 2021. The district hopes to use an existing pipeline along the E-470 corridor to transport the water and is in the process of negotiating with the East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District. If an agreement is not reached, the district would have to build its own infrastructure at a steep cost…

The supply coming from Denver and Aurora is water that has been used and treated. The district will again reclaim the water, meaning the average of 1,200 acre-feet coming in each year will actually measure close to 2,400 acre-feet, Redd said, adding there is a possibility that Parker Water might purchase more WISE water in the future…

Rueter-Hess Reservoir, which the PWSD built for storage, contains around 6,000 acre-feet. By the time the new water treatment plant off Hess Road opens in 2015, the reservoir will contain 15,000 to 20,000 acre-feet. It has the capacity for 72,000 acre-feet.

More Parker coverage here and here.

American Meteorological Society: Understanding Uncertainties in Future Colorado River Streamflow #ColoradoRiver


Click here to go to the AMS website for the publication. Click here to read the early online release.

Here’s the abstract:

The Colorado River is the primary water source for more than 30 million people in the U.S. and Mexico. Recent studies that project streamflow changes in the Colorado River all project annual declines, but the magnitude of the projected decreases range from less than 10% to 45% by the mid-21st century. To understand these differences, we address the question the management community has raised: “why is there such a wide range of projections of impacts of future climate change on Colorado River streamflow, and how should this uncertainty be interpreted?” We identify four major sources of disparities among studies that arise from both methodological and model differences. In order of importance, these are differences in: Global Climate Models (GCMs) and emission scenarios used; ability of land surface and atmospheric models to simulate properly the high elevation runoff source areas; sensitivities of land surface hydrology models to precipitation and temperature changes; and methods used to statistically downscale GCM scenarios. In accounting for these differences, there is substantial evidence across studies that future Colorado River streamflow will be reduced under the current trajectories of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, due to a combination of strong temperature-induced runoff curtailment and reduced annual precipitation. Reconstructions of pre-instrumental streamflows provide additional insights; the greatest risk to Colorado River streamflows is a multi-decadal drought, like those observed in paleo reconstructions, exacerbated by a steady reduction in flows due to climate change. This could result in decades of sustained streamflows much lower than have been observed in the ~100 years of instrumental record.

Here’s a release from one of the sponsoring organizations, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences:

The Colorado River provides water for more than 30 million people in the U.S. West, so water managers have been eager to understand how climate change will affect the river’s flow. But scientific studies have produced an unsettling range of estimates, from a modest decrease of 6 percent by 2050 to a steep drop of 45 percent by then.

A new paper by researchers at the University of Washington (UW), CIRES, NOAA and other institutions across the West investigates and explains why those estimates differ and summarizes what is known about the future of this iconic Western river—key information for decision makers.

“We know, for example, that warmer temperatures will lead to more evaporation and less flow,” said co-author Bradley Udall, who contributed to the study as director of the CIRES Western Water Assessment, a NOAA-funded program at the University of Colorado Boulder. Udall is now director of CU-Boulder’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and Environment at Colorado Law. “Although projections of future precipitation aren’t as clear, it’s likely that we’re going to see a reduction in overall flow in the Colorado,” Udall said.

The study is published this week in theBulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

While the paper does not narrow the existing range of estimates, it provides context for evaluating the current numbers. The 6 percent reduction estimate, for example, did not include some newer climate model runs, which tend to predict a drier West. And the 45 percent decrease estimate relied on models with a coarse spatial resolution that could not capture the effects of topography in the headwater regions. The new analysis, thus, supports more moderate estimates of changes in future flows.

“The different estimates have led to a lot of frustration,” said lead author Julie Vano, who recently earned a UW doctorate in civil and environmental engineering. “This paper puts all the studies in a single framework and identifies how they are connected.”

In evaluating recent scientific papers that estimate future flow of the Colorado River, she and her co-authors identified several reasons for different flow estimates. Among them are differences in:

  • Climate models and future-emissions scenarios used. Models run with higher future greenhouse gas emissions, for example, typically produce warmer and often drier climates, and smaller Colorado River flows.
  • The models’ spatial resolution, which is important for capturing topography and its effects on snow distribution in the Colorado River’s mountainous headwaters. Models with coarser resolution tend to overestimate the sensitivity of runoff to climate change.
  • Representation of land surface hydrology, which determines how precipitation and temperature changes will affect the land’s ability to absorb, evaporate or transport water.
  • Methods used to downscale from the roughly 200-kilometer resolution used by global climate models to the 10- to 20-kilometer resolution used by regional hydrology models.
  • The new paper also highlights several important realities faced by Western water managers reliant on Colorado River flows. The early 20th century, for example, is the basis for water allocation in the basin, but was a period of unusually high flow, so Colorado River water is already overallocated. Moreover, tree ring records suggest that the Colorado has experienced severe droughts in the past and will do so again, even without any human-caused climate change. If exacerbated by steadily decreasing flows due to climate change, such a “megadrought” could result in decades of extremely low streamflow, much lower than observed in the last century.

    – See more at: http://cires.colorado.edu/news/press/2013/coloradoriver.html#sthash.EGBPC9pg.dpuf

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    …the river’s flows are likely to greatly decline, according to an American Meteorological Society paper co-authored by Bradley Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado Boulder…

    Studies have long shown that flows in the river will decline, but projected decreases have ranged from 10 percent to 45 percent.

    The wide range in projected flow decreases occurred because of differing climate models scientists used and how they accounted for the vulnerability of mountain snowpack to climate change, according to the paper.

    Regardless of previous streamflow projections, it’s clear that the Colorado River’s flow will likely decline significantly in the coming years, according to the paper…

    Tree ring records show severe droughts have been common in the past and will come again, according to the paper. If climate change makes those droughts worse, already-low flows in the river will decline even further. “Such a ‘megadrought’ could result in decades of extremely low streamflow, much lower than observed in the last century,” the paper says.

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    A new study by an interdisciplinary team of scientists from around the West doesn’t provide a definitive answer [ed. to the question of how far streamflow may drop] — but it does help explain why the estimates are so different and may help narrow the range in the next generation of climate models.

    “We tried to tease apart all the reasons for this broad range,” said Brad Udall, who contributed to the paper as director of the CIRES Western Water Assessment, a NOAA-funded program at the University of Colorado Boulder. When you include all the elements, including natural climate variability and the challenges of downscaling models, the biggest message is continuing uncertainty, Udall said.

    “We really don’t know, but we have pretty good handle that it’s negative. It ranges from, we can handle this, to, Oh my God, it’s really off the charts and we need to rethink water management in the basin,” he said. “This paper puts people on notice that you’re going to live with this uncertainty.”

    The paper also assesses what scientists do know, including that future emissions of greenhouse gases really matter. Regardless of the other variables, climate models agree that, the warmer it gets, the drier it gets, Udall said, outlining some of the key points of the study.

    As they surveyed various Colorado River studies, the team found that the models are all over the map, so it matters which one is used for projections — but 70 percent of the models indicate that flows will decrease.

    One of the challenges is related to the scale of the models. Udall said it’s important to remember that 85 percent of the water in the Colorado River Basin comes from 15 percent of the basin’s geographic span, a relatively small mountain region (the Colorado River headwaters) where climate models have a hard time projecting global warming impacts based in part on the complex topography.

    On the other hand, the study was able to make some conclusions about the relationships between temperatures, precipitation and flows, showing, for example, that if precipitation holds steady, runoff decreases by about 2 to 5 percent for every 1.8 degrees Celsius of warming.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Drought news: The June Drought Update is hot off the presses from the CWCB #COdrought



    Here’s the update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Taryn Finnessey):

    Following a near average May, with regard to temperature and precipitation (93%), June has brought increased temperatures and below average precipitation for much of the state. While storms have brought some moisture relief to the southeastern plains which have been faced with exceptional drought conditions for two years, soils are so dry in this region that some fields have become hydrophobic. Rolling dust storms have been reported on multiple occasions and many more storms will be needed to alleviate dry conditions. Areas of the state that saw beneficial springtime moisture have now begun to dry out; and the southwest has seen recent changes in their drought classification from “severe” to “extreme.” Fires have broken out statewide and many communities have implemented fire bans.

  • As of the June 18, 2013 US Drought Monitor, 100% of Colorado continues to experience some level of drought classification. Conditions across the state have either remained constant or declined since May. D1 (moderate) conditions cover 25% of the State; while D2 (severe) covers 40% and D3 (extreme) accounts for an additional 18%. 18% of the state is now experiencing exceptional drought (D4).
  • Fires have broken out across many parts of the state and the fire situation rating for the Rocky Mountain Area has increased to Preparedness Level 4. This rating indicates highly complex large fire activity is occurring, with multiple large fires in the zone. Fire severity is extreme as reported in multiple areas, and fires are escaping initial attack, as evident by the number of large fires. Multiple regional dispatch centers are experiencing an incident requiring type-1 or type-2 teams, and a majority of zone resources are committed.
  • Thus far in June the Yampa/White, South Platte and Gunnison River Basins have received 0% of their average June precipitation. The Rio Grande has receive 13% of average while the southwestern basins have gotten 14% of their average monthly rainfall. All of these basins, with the exception of the South Platte, were also below average for May.
  • As of the first of June,statewide reservoir storage is at 78% of average. The highest storage levels are in the Yampa/ White River Basin, at 111% of average, while the lowest storage in the state is the Rio Grande basin at 40% of average. All other basins range from 50% to 92% of average. Last year at this time the state was at 98% of average reservoir storage.
  • Despite runoff that has filled some reservoirs, most municipalities and water providers have maintained watering restrictions implemented earlier this spring. 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%.
  • Streamflow forecasts indicate below average streamflow across much ofthe state, although improvements have been made in the forecasts since May. The Colorado and South Platte have the highest streamflow forecasts ranging from 62-111% of normal. The lowest forecasts in the state are in the Upper Rio Grande, with flows ranging 14% to 52% of normal. The Southwestern, Arkansas and Gunnison also have low forecasts ranging from 26-71% of normal.
  • Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values represent near normal surface water conditionsin parts of the Colorado and South Platte, but remain negative elsewhere in the state.Below average reservoir storage and low streamflow forecasts contribute to these values and data reflect conditions on June 1, 2013.
  • More coverage from the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    June is living up to its history as one of the driest months in the Colorado high country, with very little precipitation in the state’s key river basins.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

    Two members of the Colorado Springs City Council are concerned that the city’s watering restrictions are too hard on residents with big yards.

    Some homeowners have to choose between letting a lawn die and paying a premium to water it, council member Joel Miller said.

    The drought, coupled with the watering restrictions and the higher price tag on water usage over 2,000 cubic feet per month, is forcing some people to decide what is more important – saving the grass or saving money, he said last week in his role as Colorado Springs Utilities board member.

    “People are saying, ‘I have to choose – is it going to cost me $5,000 to put in a new lawn,'” Miller said. “People are doing the math. I wish we didn’t have to do that. There are lawns that are dying.”

    It’s the 2,000-cubic-foot threshold triggering higher water rates that troubles Miller and council member Don Knight.

    If water restrictions are needed next summer, there should be some consideration for residents who have yards larger than 3,000 square feet, which was the figure used to calculate typical usage, Knight said. Even if homeowners with yards larger than 3,000 square feet follow the two-day-a-week watering restrictions, they find themselves going over 2,000 cubic feet of water per month, he said.

    Denver Water has relaxed watering restrictions. Here’s the release (Stacy Chesney):

    Denver Water’s supply situation has greatly improved since Stage 2 drought restrictions were put in place April 1, thanks to an unexpectedly wet spring and citizens’ reduced water use. As a result, at its meeting today, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring a Stage 1 drought — which removes the two-day-per-week assigned watering schedule — effective immediately. Customers may water no more than three days per week and must follow Denver Water’s annual watering rules.

    “Our customers have responded very well to the call to use even less water, and we can finally be confident that enough water from the late-season snows has reached our reservoirs to bring them to reasonable levels,” said Greg Austin, president of the Denver Board of Water Commissioners. “While the drought is not over, conditions have improved enough that customers may water a third day, if their lawns need it. We all still need to do our part to protect against the possibility of another dry winter, and we ask everyone to continue to use even less.”

    On March 27, 2013, the board declared a Stage 2 drought, based on 60 percent snowpack, extremely dry conditions and lower-than-normal reservoirs. Late-season weather improved conditions significantly, and the snowpack in both of Denver Water’s watersheds ended up above 90 percent of the average peak. More important, much of the snow made its way into Denver Water’s reservoirs, which are currently 92 percent full on average. Runoff is ending, and Denver Water doesn’t expect reservoirs to fill much more. The utility’s reservoirs were about 91 percent full this time last year.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Denver water commissioners on Wednesday decided to let customers water their lawns and gardens three days a week, instead of two. Denver Water’s mountain reservoirs are 92 percent full, and since restrictions took effect April 1, the utility’s 1.3 million customers have used 3.4 billion gallons less than average, spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said.

    The conservation has reduced Denver Water revenues by $12 million, Chesney said. That sum could climb to $30 million by year end, so Denver Water has trimmed its budget by $22 million, she said. “There’s a delicate balance between protecting water supplies and investing in the maintenance and repair our system needs, especially in times of drought,” she said.

    Thornton, too, lifted its two-day-a-week restriction as reservoirs reached 80 percent full.

    However, because Aurora Water’s reservoirs are still only 67 percent full, the utility is sticking with its two-day-a-week lawn rule, even though residents have used 4,000 acre-feet less water — 1.3 billion gallons — this year spokesman Greg Baker said.”We’re not as fortunate as Denver. They were lucky to get the snow where they needed it.”

    Colorado Springs officials continue to charge extra for water. As a result, lawns once green are turning brown…

    In Denver, residents cut overall average daily usage to 85 gallons, down from 104 gallons in 2001, utility data show.

    Yet south suburban Parker residents still use 123 gallons a day. Beyond metro Denver, water use remained elevated in Scottsdale, Ariz. (219), Salt Lake City (117), Phoenix (110), San Diego (136) and Los Angeles (123). Only in one major city, Albuquerque, did people use less than in Denver — 70 gallons a day.

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


    Click on the thumbnail for the month-to-date precipitation map for the Upper Colorado River Basin. Click here to read the current assessment from Tuesday’s webinar.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Dana Strongin: A Front Range perspective on Grand Valley water #ColoradoRiver


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Dana Strongin):

    During the tour it became clear that even though our facilities, politics and environmental issues are at times very different, Colorado River water users on both sides of the Continental Divide share some significant commonalities.

    Consider agriculture, the founding force behind Northern Water’s post-Dust Bowl creation and the corresponding movement to build the C-BT Project to supplement Northeastern Colorado farmers’ and ranchers’ water supplies.

    In my job I hear plenty about Eastern Plains agricultural issues, yet the tour was a reminder that no matter what slope a farmer sits on, crop irrigation is a complex process, and creative irrigation management practices deserve kudos.

    West Slope irrigators, for example, sometimes get flak for running canals at levels exceeding what’s considered physically necessary to meet current demands. Seeing irrigation facilities and the land’s layout on the tour greatly increased my understanding of how much this can come down to a matter of the long distances between some West Slope river diversion facilities and farmers’ individual diversion sites.

    Irrigators with C-BT Project water are less likely to face the same issue. Northern Water asks water users to order the afternoon before their desired delivery, but the travel time from the diversion point to the farmer’s headgate is often much shorter. Because of this, C-BT Project canals often fluctuate daily based on demand.

    In contrast, tour attendees saw areas where, depending on geography and other circumstances, an order that could be fulfilled within a few hours in Northeastern Colorado could take two days to reach a farm near Grand Junction. This comparative lag time makes steadier canal flows necessary.

    We learned that, just as eastern-side farmers and ranchers are continuing to investigate options to increase efficiencies and reduce salinity, the West Slope ag industry is doing the same.

    The Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, for example, is seeking new ways to operate its not-so-new infrastructure near Palisade. The tour group learned how the district now controls the hydropower plant connected to its system, offering new flexibility in canal flows.

    The visit to Orchard Mesa also gave the group the opportunity to see a literal milestone associated with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, which in part requires Colorado River water users to provide flows through 15 miles of critical habitat from Palisade to the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers.

    Seeing the start of the 15-mile reach, along with the recovery program’s fish ladder benefitting endangered fish at the roller dam east of Palisade, provided context on recent years’ work that East Slope water users have done to provide a permanent source of some of the program’s flows out of Lake Granby, upstream of the required area.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Arkansas Valley Super Ditch asks for a two-year delay in change case


    The Super Ditch is asking for a time-out in what the Upper Ark’s Terry Scanga called, “The Mother of all change cases.” Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch has been years in the making and needs time to get established, its lawyers argued in a Division 2 water court filing last week. The Super Ditch, along with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, filed a motion for a two-year stay in an exchange case that would allow Super Ditch to move water upstream for storage in Lake Pueblo. From there, the water could be leased either to cities or to other farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley.

    The motion, filed Friday, was accompanied by a response to a motion to dismiss that had been filed earlier by opponents of the Super Ditch — Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and farming groups east of John Martin Reservoir.

    Super Ditch attorneys argued in the motion that the two-year period is needed to develop pilot programs that will identify issues of moving water.

    The Super Ditch was formed in 2008 to lease water gained from rotational fallowing of fields. Opponents of Super Ditch have argued that the practice will create the need to police hundreds of farms to make sure downstream water users are not being injured. But the Colorado Water Conservation Board already has provided funding to study various aspects of lease-fallowing in the Arkansas River Basin.

    One bill signed into state law this year, HB1248, allows the CWCB to operate pilot programs in all areas of the state in order to determine whether other water rights would be injured in water transfer agreements.

    Tri-State and its allies are arguing for full review in water court of the change of use as well as exchange applications. Colorado Springs and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District also filed responses Friday, backing the Lower Ark on some factual points in the case.

    In its response to Tri-State, the Lower Ark district chronicled its efforts to establish the Super Ditch since 2006 as a way to prevent further permanent dry-up of farmland in the Lower Ark Valley.

    More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

    Northern Colorado secession proposed plans mucked up by water rights


    I’ve been avoiding a post about the proposed secession of several northeastern Colorado counties and the creation of a new state of North Colorado. The effort would be a giant waste of taxpayer dollars in response to the childish reaction from the Weld County Commissioners to the recent legislative session. Upon hearing the news my first reaction was that the new state — whose primary industries are agriculture and oil and gas — would not get any water in the deal. Who would write the compact, which state’s engineer would administer the South Platte River, would Colorado deliver any water at the Weld County border past what is required for the South Platte River Compact?

    The idea has attracted attention despite being unworkable. Here’s a report from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:

    Weld County commissioners want to create a new state to allow northeast Colorado’s robust agriculture and oil and gas industries to thrive under regulations of their own design — rules different than those created through the influence of the state’s urban lawmakers. But they also say serious discussions have yet to take place as to how Colorado and the nation’s 51st state —­ the proposed North Colorado, made up of Colorado’s six northeast counties — would share water, the resource needed most by farmers, ranchers and petroleum companies, and virtually everyone. “It’s early in the process, and we’re not to a point yet where we’re discussing those issues, but it could be an interesting dilemma,” said Doug Rademacher, a member of the Board of Weld County Commissioners, which announced this month its desire to join the other northeastern Colorado counties in forming a new state.

    Commissioners have said a collective mass of issues have cumulated during the past several years that isolate rural Colorado from the rest of the state and put those counties at a disadvantage. They’ve specifically made reference to state regulations affecting agriculture and oil and gas.

    Those two industries, though, depend heavily on water, and water users in the six potentially seceding counties use the resource under a water court system in Colorado — a state they would no longer be a part of, if North Colorado came to fruition. “A water right is the livelihood of many, many people in northeast Colorado … and if you put the security of that right at risk at all — as starting a brand new state might do — that could be enough to convince people they don’t want to go forward with this (new state),” said James Witwer, a water attorney in Denver, who represents various municipalities and agricultural water users in northeast Colorado. “It would be problematic and risky.”

    Eight major U.S. rivers flow from Colorado’s mountains and into surrounding states and, because of that, Colorado has agreements in place with its neighbors — compacts that require certain amounts of water to flow across state lines. Such an agreement would have to be made between Colorado and North Colorado. Although it would be the 42nd-largest state in the U.S., North Colorado’s water demands could likely be substantial for its size.

    In oil and gas production, every completed horizontal well requires about 2.8 million gallons of water, and every vertical well uses about 400,000 gallons, according to numbers from the Colorado Energy Water Consortium at Colorado State University. More than 75 percent of Colorado’s oil and gas activity takes place in Weld County.

    Agriculture uses about 85 percent of Colorado’s water, and four of the top five ag-producing counties in the state, in terms of dollar value, are among those interested in creating North Colorado. Weld County alone accounts for 25 percent of the state’s ag industry. “To say that it would be a ‘big task’ would be an understatement,” Witwer said of creating a water compact that both Colorado and North Colorado could agree on, adding that the legalities of doing so would likely take several years to sort out.

    While agriculture uses the majority of the state’s water, farmers and ranchers don’t own all of the water they use.

    For years, when there was limited money to be made in ag, growing cities along the northern Front Range bought water rights from farming and ranching families that were getting out of the business. 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, which 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.

    Now a lot of producers, while owning some of their water, depend on renting water from cities, some of which — like Fort Collins, Loveland and Longmont — wouldn’t be included in the new state. Transferring rental water across state lines from Colorado to North Colorado could make things more complicated for farmers than they are now, experts say.

    Water is only going to become more precious to northeast Coloradans in the future, and water issues are only expected to become more complex. According to the 2010 Statewide Water Initiative Study, the South Platte River basin in northeast Colorado could lose as much as 190,000 acres of irrigated farmland by 2050 due to water shortages.

    Weld County commissioners say Morgan, Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips, Washington, Yuma and Kit Carson counties have all expressed interest in the idea of forming their own state.

    They said the entire Weld County board is in agreement about the initiative, which they said has been suggested by numerous Weld County residents.

    Commissioners said they plan to hold several public meetings to gather input from the community on whether creating the new state is a good idea before crafting a ballot initiative by Aug. 1. Under guidelines in the U.S. Constitution, North Colorado would have to get the consent of the Colorado General Assembly and the U.S. Congress to move forward with forming its own state. But many, including John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s adviser on water, say they hope talks of North Colorado don’t go forward much more, since creating the new state would require getting over a number of “very complex” hurdles — including the water issues. “When it comes to water, nothing is simple,” Stulp said. “This certainly wouldn’t be simple. Rather than going this route, we’d like to see everyone work together to sort out what’s needed.”

    Meanwhile the editorial board of The Greeley Tribune doesn’t think the idea of secession holds water. Here’s their editorial extolling the virtues of cooperation:

    Since the Weld County commissioners first publicly proposed the idea of joining with several other northeastern counties to secede from Colorado and form the nation’s 51st state, there have been plenty of unanswered questions about how the effort would work.

    That’s to be expected. The project still is little more than a proposal at this point. The commissioners contend a host of disagreements with a Denver-centric Legislature and governor’s office led them to propose the split. They say the “collective mass” of issues has accumulated during the past several years and have isolated rural Colorado from the rest of the state, and put those counties at a disadvantage. Weld’s main economic drivers — agriculture and energy — are under attack from the Legislature and governor’s office, even though they fill Colorado coffers, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said when commissioners proposed the new state earlier this month.

    Still, they acknowledge they haven’t yet delved into the details.

    One such detail is water, much of which would have to come from sources that reside outside the potential boundaries of the new state.

    “A water right is the livelihood of many, many people in northeast Colorado … and if you put the security of that right at risk at all, as starting a brand new state might do, that could be enough to convince people they don’t want to go forward with this (new state),” said James Witwer, a water attorney in Denver, who represents various municipalities and agricultural water users in northeast Colorado. “It would be problematic and risky.”

    Although North Colorado would be the 42nd-largest state in the United States, its water demands would be substantial.

    In oil and gas production, every completed horizontal well requires about 2.8 million gallons of water, and every vertical well uses about 400,000 gallons, according to numbers from the Colorado Energy Water Consortium at Colorado State University. More than 75 percent of Colorado’s oil and gas activity takes place in Weld County.

    Agriculture uses about 85 percent of Colorado’s water, and four of the top five ag-producing counties in the state — in terms of dollar value — are inside the potential boundaries of North Colorado. Weld alone accounts for 25 percent of the state’s ag industry.

    However, much of the water on which this industry depends comes from parts of Colorado that would remain outside the new state. In fact, many farmers lease water from some of Colorado’s urban areas, such as Fort Collins, Loveland and Longmont.

    To provide water for North Colorado’s farmers, ranchers and oil and gas drillers, the new state would need to agree on a water compact with its southern neighbor, a task that would at best take years to accomplish.

    “To say that it would be a ‘big task’ would be an understatement,” Witwer said.

    Of course, these questions about water rights aren’t likely to ever really demand answers. Because neither the Colorado Legislature nor the U.S. Congress — both of which would have to approve North Colorado — have little to gain by allowing a 51st state, the prospects that the commissioners’ venture will become a reality are slim at best. Still, it’s worth examining the water problems the hypothetical state would face, because doing so can teach us valuable lessons. The story of water in North Colorado shows clearly just how easily unintended consequences can unravel even the best plans. But more importantly, the story illustrates how intertwined we all are in this state.

    Geography has left us with no choice. Whether we’re negotiating a complex and uncertain intrastate water compact or simply working together in Colorado to resolve our differences, rural residents and urban residents must work together.

    Clearly, Colorado is stronger united than divided.

    More North Colorado Secession coverage here.

    Colorado Springs briefs the Lower Ark about their stormwater program in 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs is moving on multiple fronts to address how Fountain Creek will be protected from damaging floods and how water quality will be improved. Some feel more could have been done all along, however.

    Mark Pifher, an executive with Colorado Springs Utilities, updated the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District last week on the efforts to address stormwater needs. A regional stormwater task force will finish its second phase this fall. The group determined there are $900 million in stormwater needs in El Paso County, with $680 million of that in Colorado Springs. The next phase will determine how much funding is available and what strategies are needed to secure funds for the remainder. “We have been busy in the last few months, looking at Waldo Canyon and now the Black Forest Fire,” Pifher said. “We will be looking at a longterm solution in Phase 2.”

    The task force is looking at different structures for funding, including property tax assessments and a regional authority of a fifth utility — on top of gas, electric, water and wastewater — to fund stormwater projects.

    There are other efforts:

    Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach also has hired a consultant to review and prioritize stormwater needs.

    El Paso County has adopted its own 1041 regulations that address stormwater control in new development.

    Colorado Springs is nearing completion of a drainage criteria manual that regulates new construction.

    “Whatever happens, there will be a need for an election, even if there is a fee,” Pifher said.

    The Lower Ark District has been critical of Colorado Springs for eliminating its stormwater enterprise in 2009. The enterprise would have provided a steady stream of funding toward stormwater projects that would protect Fountain Creek. “I applaud your efforts, but it’s two or three years too long,” said Reeves Brown, a Pueblo County board member.

    More stormwater coverage here and here.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: 700 cfs in the Black Canyon


    Even with the recent increase in releases from the Aspinall Unit, the forecast for flows on the lower Gunnison River continues to decline. Without additional water, flows at the Whitewater gage are again expected to approach the 900 cfs baseflow target by this weekend.

    In order to meet the environmental commitments set forth in the Aspinall ROD, releases from Crystal Dam shall be increased again, starting at 8:00 am on Wednesday, June 26, by 100 cfs (from 1,600 cfs to 1,700 cfs). This will increase flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon to around 700 cfs. At this level, flows in the canyon will be above the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow target of 685 cfs. Flows through the canyon are expected to remain at this level for the foreseeable future.

    More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

    Parachute Creek Spill: Amount of contaminated groundwater siphoned from the spill has surpassed 369,000 gallons #ColoradoRiver


    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    The amount of contaminated groundwater siphoned from the spill, revealed in March, also is growing and has surpassed 369,000 gallons. While 155,000 gallons already was buried in a disposal well, 214,000 gallons currently in storage tanks will be treated on site and pumped back into groundwater along the creek, Colorado health officials said in response to queries last week.

    Six months after the spill by Williams energy companies, which tainted the creek with cancer-causing benzene, the continuing cleanup and looming restoration work show a widening impact on resources. An underground plume created by the spill covers 10.6 acres and is still contaminating groundwater…

    Along Parachute Creek, “all remaining petroleum-contaminated soil associated with the pipeline release will be removed from the site by the end of July,” said Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokesman Mark Salley. “The cleanup of hydrocarbons will continue until recoverable hydrocarbon is no longer present in the groundwater and the hydrocarbon is no longer contaminating the groundwater.”

    An additional 280 cubic yards of contaminated soil has already been sent to the East Carbon Development Co. landfill, located 150 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. It handles heavy-duty waste such as New York harbor dredgings and Los Angeles sludge. Williams and CDPHE worked out the plan for removal of excavated soil. No deadline for completion of the overall cleanup and restoration has been set. Neither the CDPHE nor the COGCC has imposed penalties on Williams…

    Williams officials contend 80 percent of spilled liquids evaporated and that 10,122 gallons entered soil.

    Chemicals in the liquids include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, hexanes and heptanes, CDPHE officials said. Other chemicals found in recovery trenches — tetrachloroethene and bromoform — are not from natural gas liquids.

    Oil and gas industry response crews dug trenches and have been collecting the concentrated hydrocarbon liquids — an effort to stop the contamination of groundwater. Those liquids — about 7,490 gallons collected so far — can be cycled back into Williams’ plant.

    A system for treating contaminated groundwater on-site, tested last weekend, must remove contaminants so that water can be discharged under a permit through a filtration system into groundwater along the creek, Salley said. The contaminated groundwater “will be treated to meet standards before being returned to the water table,” he said, “and does not pose a risk to public health.”

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.

    Maroon Creek: Pitkin County is first with instream pact with the Colorado Water Conservation Board


    From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    It has cost $200,000 and taken four years, but Pitkin County is poised to become the first county in Colorado to sign a long-term lease with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to leave water in a river for environmental purposes and also have the deal sanctified in state water court. The deal will allow Pitkin County to legally let up to 3.83 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water run freely past the Stapleton Brothers ditch headgate on Maroon Creek near Iselin Field. The water, part of a senior water right the county holds on Stapleton Ditch, will be protected for the benefit of the riparian ecosystem as it flows to lower Maroon Creek and into the Roaring Fork River as far as Owl Creek.

    Pitkin County Attorney John Ely has been pioneering this two-step approach since early 2009 and now says the county has reached consensus with opposing water rights owners in water court. The proposed decree “has been accepted in principal by all the opposers and is currently being circulated for execution,” Ely wrote in a June 20 memo…

    In practice, the county has not been diverting about half of the 8 cfs of water it owns in the Stapleton Ditch for years. It initially pursued protection for 4.3 cfs of the Stapleton ditch water, which has a senior water right dating to 1904. Ely said the county’s water was not legally protected as an environmental flow right and the county was potentially vulnerable to abandonment claims in water court since it was not using the water as decreed for irrigation.

    The county’s efforts started in 2008 after the passage of Colorado House Bill 1280, which reduced the long-term financial downside to using water for environmental purposes. In November 2009, the county approved a long-term trust agreement with the CWCB, becoming the first, and still the only, county to do so after the passage of HB 1280. The CWCB is the state entity in charge of overseeing environmental instream-flow rights in Colorado streams, rivers and lakes. “This is the first county that we’ve entered into this type of relationship with and we hope it is a template for other counties to follow,” said Linda Bassi, the section chief of the CWCB’s stream and lake protection division…

    The county wanted to help protect the rivers’ ecosystems, but it also wanted to establish a new process under Colorado law, retain its water rights, and have the option to terminate the lease — after an initial 10-year period — and take back its water rights, Ely said…

    The most water the county will be able legally leave in lower in Maroon Creek is 3.83 cfs and the average amount is 1.22 cfs from May to October. The CWCB has a 1976 instream-flow right of 14 cfs on Maroon Creek, which due to its relatively young age has a lower priority than many other rights. And between the confluence of Maroon Creek and the confluence of Owl Creek, the county can leave up to 3.54 cfs water (1.13 cfs on average) in the Roaring Fork River, where the CWCB has a summer flow right of 55 cfs and a winter flow right of 30 cfs. Those protective rights date to 1985. “It still can have meaningful benefits by helping with temperature issues,” Bassi said about the water in the Fork just below Maroon Creek. “And it provides an incremental level of usable habitat for fish and other organisms. It is definitely going to be a benefit.”

    Ely said the county also showed that securing both a long-term lease and a change decree in water court is possible, since it has never been done before in this manner…

    …overall, Bassi said Pitkin County’s procedural efforts have been productive and bode well for additional efforts to protect river ecosystems. “It always helps to have an example of how these tools work in the real world, that the sky didn’t fall when they did it, and that it really can work,” Bassi said. “We’re really happy that we’re finally close to a decree.”

    More instream flow coverage here.

    Colorado River: ‘You have to talk about governance, you have to talk about agriculture’ — Doug Kenney #ColoradoRiver


    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Water managers in the Southwest are considering all sorts of options to address what is expected to become a huge shortage of water in the Colorado River Basin. But one path they haven’t explored in detail is a fundamental re-allocation of water between the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states.

    That reluctance is understandable. Since 1922, the Colorado River Compact has functioned to the satisfaction of all the states using Colorado River Water. But persistently lower-than-average flows, the looming threat of an overall shortage and the uncertainties of climate change may require a new way of thinking, said Doug Kenney, head of the Colorado River Governance Initiative…

    “Any proposals like mine that talks about the law of the river and delivery obligations, were all lumped in together and set aside, They don’t fit in,” Kenney said, referring to the basin study. “The Bureau of Reclamation would have done a lot more left to their own devices. But states didn’t want to talk about it … But with every passing year, you have to talk about governance, you have to talk about agriculture,” he said.
    The demand-cap option is designed to avoid a fight over the question of whether the Upper Basin has a legal obligation to deliver a certain amount of water downstream to the Lower Basin in a year when there’s just not enough water to go around.

    Some language in the compact suggests the answer is yes, but there’s also an overall theme of equity, and enough murkiness to leave room for a legal challenge, which would almost certainly be triggered by a compact call.

    Kenney said it might better to address the question ahead of time within the framework of a negotiation that would lower the amount the Upper Basin is obligated to deliver, while helping ensure certain storage levels in Lake Powell and providing a guarantee that there would be no call from the Lower Basin that would put some Upper Basin users at risk.

    “There is no way to allocate water differently between the two basins that results in a net basinwide gain in water availability; it is a zero sum effort. But there are ways to allocate water that balances the risk of climate-related shortages more equitably between basins, and which have the benefit of replacing uncertainty with certainty.” Kenney and his co-authors wrote in the demand-cap analysis.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Yampa River: Floating one of the last wild rivers, Yampa Journal — National Geographic


    Click here for Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4 from Amy Kober’s float trip earlier this month.

    More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

    Colorado Foundation for Water Education: Platte River Tour


    Click here to register. From email from the Foundation:

    Join us July 10-12 for CFWE’s first interstate tour – we will travel along the Platte River through northeastern Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to meet water colleagues from downstream states!

    Whether or not you work directly with the Platte River, the tour is a great opportunity to broaden your understanding of Colorado’s role in the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program and learn how other states manage this critical resource. Highlights will include the opportunity to:

    Network with water professionals, state legislators, educators, and other decision-makers

    See first-hand irrigation efficiencies and creative arrangements in agricultural water use
    Learn about the relationship between water users and habitat recovery along the Platte River system

    Download the itinerary here to see all the exclusive sites and expert speakers and register before the tour sells out!

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

    More North Platte River Basin coverage here.

    The July — August 2013 Barr Lake Oasis Newsletter is hot off the presses


    Click here to read a copy.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

    Fort Collins begins using new water quality presedimentation basin


    Here’s the release from Fort Collins Utilities via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    Fort Collins Utilities officials on Tuesday began using a new basin that will help remove sediment from Poudre River water before it hits the city’s water treatment facility.

    The Pleasant Valley Presedimentation Basin was fast-tracked to address wildfire-related water quality issues that began last summer, according to a city release. While the Poudre River is experiencing normal runoff water quality, it’s expected that summer rainstorms in the High Park Fire burn area will cause increased sediment levels in the river water.

    The basin was built adjacent to the Munroe Canal, north of the mouth of the Poudre Canyon.

    Information: www.fcgov.com/water-quality.

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site: Baby steps towards decommissioning


    From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

    The pause is officially being lifted.

    Monica Sheets, of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told the Lincoln Park/Cotter Community Advisory Group on Thursday that the lifting of the pause does not mean the work will resume immediately, but that the department will start getting plans and documents consistent with the roadmap for decommissioning the Cotter site.

    The original letter setting the pause, issued in March 2012, said the CAG would be reformed and the roadmap would be formulated during the time off of operations.

    “I was under the impression that since those two things were done, we could lift the pause,” Sheets said.

    Sheets said she will send a letter to Cotter informing them that the pause was lifted and what the process will be moving forward.

    “I would just hope that that letter would be very specific,” said CAG member and Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste co-president Sharyn Cunningham.

    More nuclear coverage here and here.

    Pavillion field: The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the WOGCC are taking over for the EPA


    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    A controversial draft report from the EPA in December 2011 linked the contamination near Pavilion, Wyo., to nearby oil and gas wells where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, had been used.

    Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead on Thursday said that two of that state’s agencies — the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission — will lead the investigation and evaluate water concerns related to domestic water wells, the integrity of oil and gas wells and historic pits in the Pavilion area.

    Encana said it will make a $1.5 million grant to the Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation to help pay for the investigation, and for a statewide information program on best practices and guidelines to protect rural water supplies. Encana also said it would continue to pay for water supplies to some Pavilion residents via funding for Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems.

    “We’re pleased EPA has agreed to discontinue its investigation,” said Encana spokesman Doug Hock. “And, we applaud the fact that further efforts in Pavilion will focus on a few specific complaints about perceived changes in domestic water well quality,” Hock said.

    Wyoming said it retains the discretion to use Encana’s money for the investigation.

    “It is in everyone’s best interest — particularly the citizens who live outside of Pavilion — that Wyoming and the EPA reach an unbiased, scientifically supportable conclusion,” Mead said.

    From the Associated Press (Mead Gruver and Ben Neary) via Yahoo! News:

    The Northern Arapaho Tribe raised concerns after the agreement was announced Thursday between the EPA, Wyoming and Encana Corp., owner of the Pavillion gas field. The Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe both live on the Wind River Reservation, which surrounds the drilling area.

    The EPA theorized in 2011 that the petroleum industry practice of hydraulic fracturing may have contaminated the groundwater near the town of Pavillion. The EPA now says it won’t issue a final report or have outside experts review the research as originally planned. Instead, Wyoming will take over the study in Encana’s field of about 125 gas wells, with help from $1.5 million from Encana.

    “We went to EPA for help after the state of Wyoming and Encana refused to address the public health impacts of unbridled development in the Pavillion area,” said John Fenton, chairman of the group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens. “Now Encana has bought their way back in and is working with the state on a strategy to cover up the mess they’ve created. Our government’s priority is clearly to protect industry rather than Wyoming citizens, our health and our property values.”

    Gov. Matt Mead said Friday he has been talking with affected residents and understands their suspicion. But he said the EPA has recognized that Wyoming is best positioned to act. “I think it’s right that they are concerned, and I think it’s even appropriate that they are skeptical,” Mead said in a phone interview. “And I think it’s up to the state in leading this investigation to do it in a way that addresses their concerns.”

    Here’s the release from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s office (Renny MacKay):

    Wyoming to Lead Further Investigation of Water Quality Concerns Outside of Pavillion with Support of EPA

    CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The State of Wyoming is announcing that it will further investigate drinking water quality in the rural area east of Pavillion, Wyoming. This will be done with the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) will lead the scientific investigation and will seek to address water quality concerns by evaluating the water quality of certain domestic water wells, the integrity of certain oil and gas wells, and historic pits in the Pavillion area. The State of Wyoming intends to conclude its investigation and release a final report by September 30, 2014. The State’s investigation seeks to clarify water quality concerns and assess the need for any further action to protect drinking water resources. Wyoming will continue its work to assure residents have a clean source of drinking water available.

    “It is in everyone’s best interest – particularly the citizens who live outside of Pavillion – that Wyoming and the EPA reach an unbiased, scientifically supportable conclusion,” Governor Matt Mead said. “I commend the EPA and Encana for working with me to chart a positive course for this investigation. I commit that Wyoming will work in a thoughtful and productive manner as further investigation is initiated.”

    In 2009, at the request of citizens living outside of Pavillion who reported objectionable taste and odor in their well water, EPA began working with the State of Wyoming and the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes to identify the source and extent of impacts on domestic well water quality. To date, after five phases of sampling, EPA’s domestic water well sampling results have documented constituents of concern; however a source of those constituents has not been determined. EPA efforts to evaluate potential migration pathways from deeper gas production zones to shallower domestic water wells in the Pavillion gas field are inconclusive.

    Wyoming, through the WOGCC and the WDEQ will conduct a comprehensive review of all relevant data and initiate an additional science-based investigation. The sampling data obtained throughout EPA’s groundwater investigation will be considered in Wyoming’s further investigation. The WOGCC and WDEQ will retain the services of an independent expert or experts to assist staff with the reviews, investigations, analyses and preparation of final reports. EPA and Encana Oil and Gas (USA) Inc. will have the opportunity to provide input to the State of Wyoming and recommend third-party experts for the State’s consideration.

    While EPA stands behind its work and data, the agency recognizes the State of Wyoming’s commitment for further investigation and efforts to provide clean water and does not plan to finalize or seek peer review of its draft Pavillion groundwater report released in December, 2011. Nor does the agency plan to rely upon the conclusions in the draft report. EPA is conducting a major research program on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water in different areas of the country and will release a draft report in late 2014. EPA will look to the results of that national program as the basis for its scientific conclusions and recommendations on hydraulic fracturing.

    “In light of this announcement, we believe that EPA’s focus going forward should be on using our resources to support Wyoming’s efforts, which will build on EPA’s monitoring results,” said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “We applaud the leadership of Wyoming in conducting further investigation and assuring safe water and look forward to partnering with the State as it conducts its investigation.”

    “Encana has chosen to make a grant in the amount of $1.5 million to the Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation to be used for further investigation by the State of Wyoming and for a statewide education and awareness program through the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts related to best practices and permitting guidelines for the benefit of Wyoming’s citizens and industries in conjunction with initiatives that support and protect rural water supplies,” stated Jeff Wojahn, President of Encana Oil and Gas (USA) Inc. “The Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, among other things, provides leadership for the conservation of Wyoming’s soil and water resources and also promotes the wise use of Wyoming’s water. Additionally, Encana will continue to provide interim funding to the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems, an independent entity that has been providing water for certain Pavillion residents.”

    Wyoming retains the discretion to allocate the grant from Encana to the Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation to support the State’s efforts as the next phase of this investigation is initiated. “Wyoming and Encana understand the importance of water in this state and I am pleased to see their continued commitment to the scientific investigation and to provide interim funding for water to the residents while that investigation progresses,” Governor Mead said.

    In 2012 Governor Mead and the Wyoming Legislature appropriated $750,000 for the design, construction and installation of residential cistern systems and a water loading station in the Town of Pavillion. Installation of 20 cisterns and the water loading station should be finished soon. There will be other opportunities for residents who live outside of Pavillion and have not yet requested a cistern to do so. Wyoming will work with residents to identify acceptable means of providing water to their rural homes for years to come. Wyoming will continue to strive to meet one of its highest priorities – finding solutions to drinking water concerns.

    As part of the State’s investigation, fourteen domestic water wells located in the Pavillion oil and natural gas field will be further evaluated for water quality and palatability concerns. The WOGCC will also prepare a report concerning the status and reclamation of historic production pits in the Pavillion Field. In addition, WOGCC will prepare a report concerning the integrity of all oil and natural gas exploration and production wells within 1320 feet of the fourteen domestic water wells identified for further investigation.

    The WDEQ will evaluate the data, conclusions and recommendations contained in the WOGCC’s well bore integrity and pits final reports. In its review the WDEQ will consider all relevant data for each of the fourteen domestic water wells. The WDEQ will then conduct two rounds of sampling of some or all of the fourteen domestic water wells. The WDEQ will determine if further investigation, including additional sampling, is necessary using exceedances of EPA primary and secondary contaminant levels and WDEQ Water Quality Rules and Regulations as a trigger.

    Activities in the Pavillion gas field highlight several considerations including the importance of collecting baseline water quality data and proper water quality information and education. Wyoming has initiated a process for establishing a uniform regulation for the collection of baseline water quality data prior to and after oil and natural gas development.

    Additional Pavillion Analysis and Testing – Investigation Document

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.

    Fountain Creek: There is potential for damage to water quality from the Black Forest Fire


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Damage to water quality in the Fountain Creek watershed from the Black Forest Fire is not expected to be as great as from last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire. ”There are going to be some water quality issues, but what they are, we don’t know yet,” said Carol Ekarius, executive director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte. “At this point in time, we would not expect the same level of issues. Right now, it’s too soon to tell.”

    CUSP earlier this year finished an assessment of the Waldo Canyon Fire damage for El Paso County and Colorado Springs.

    The Black Forest Fire, now 100 percent contained, burned about 16,000 acres, killed two people and destroyed more than 500 structures. Like other large fires, it could have lingering impacts on water quality.

    Burned areas are more susceptible to increased flooding because vegetation has been removed, and in some cases because the soil structure has been disrupted. Debris from the fires and more sediment could flow into streams.

    The Black Forest Fire straddled the Fountain Creek watershed, which flows south through Pueblo, and the Cherry Creek watershed, which flows north into the Denver area.

    But the terrain of the Black Forest Fire consists of plains or rolling hills, while Waldo Canyon burned in steep canyons that are more prone to serious erosion problems, Ekarius said. A preliminary report also shows that damage was less severe in the southern part of the Black Forest burn area because of previous fire mitigation efforts.

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service will spend the next two weeks evaluating the level of damage by the Black Forest Fire.

    Waldo Canyon was of more concern to Colorado Springs Utilities because it threatened infrastructure, reservoirs and pipelines, while there are no water lines serving the Black Forest area, said Gary Bostrom, chief of water services for Utilities. Colorado Springs is spending more than half of its $46 million budget for stormwater projects this year in the Waldo Canyon burn area.

    More Fountain Creek Watershed coverage here and here.

    Lightning awareness week June 23 — 29 #COwx

    Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases from Crystal Dam bumping up 100 cfs to


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for project background.

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The forecast for flows on the lower Gunnison River continues to decline as the last remaining snow melts away. Even with the additional water released from the Aspinall Unit yesterday, it appears that flows on the Gunnison River as measured at the Whitewater gage will again recede towards the 900 cfs baseflow target by next week.

    In order to meet the environmental commitments set forth in the Aspinall ROD, releases from Crystal Dam shall be increased again, starting at 8:00 am on Sunday, June 23, by 100 cfs (from 1,500 cfs to 1,600 cfs). This will increase flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon to around 600 cfs

    More Aspinall Unit coverage here and here.

    Nevada Public Radio: The Future of the Colorado River (Pat Mulroy, John Fleck, Robert Glennon) #Colorado River

    The US House puts the kibosh on this year’s farm bill


    From The Denver Post (Allison Sherry):

    Republican Reps. Cory Gardner of Yuma and Scott Tipton of Cortez were the only Colorado House members who supported the legislation. Democratic Reps. Ed Perlmutter, Diana DeGette and Jared Polis and Republican Reps. Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman all voted to support dozens of amendments in the bill, but all voted against it.

    The farm bill would have chopped $20 billion from the food stamp program and reformed direct payments for farmers. It would have delivered wildfire aid to places hardest hit and would have offered assistance to Colorado farmers suffering in the drought get federal help.

    The Senate passed a compromise bill earlier this month that cut $4 billion from food stamps and reformed the way agricultural subsidies are doled out…

    Kathy Underhill, executive director for Hunger Free Colorado, urged members to vote against the bill because of the food stamp cuts, which could have kicked 55,710 out of 510,441 Coloradans on food assistance off the program.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    The House’s rejection of the 2013 Farm Bill was a disappointment, U.S. Rep Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said. The bill died with 195 yeas and 234 nays with Tipton, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, voting for it.

    “This was not a perfect bill, but a good first step toward reform that would have eliminated or consolidated more than 100 government programs, and saved $40 billion,” Tipton said in a statement.

    The savings included $20 billion in reforms to the food-stamps program. The bill also included a provision that would have allowed the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to lease new air tankers without additional cost to taxpayers, to fight wildfires.

    Tipton said he was disappointed with “this missed opportunity to implement needed reforms, as well as the missed opportunity to provide certainty for the agriculture community by continuing vital programs including crop insurance, research, investments in production and regulatory relief.”

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    The House rejected a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill Thursday that would have cut $2 billion annually from food stamps and let states impose broad new work requirements on those who receive them. Those cuts weren’t deep enough for many Republicans, who objected to the cost of the nearly $80 billion-a-year food stamp program, which has doubled in the past five years.

    The vote was 234-195 against the bill, with 62 Republicans voting against it.

    The bill also suffered from lack of Democratic support necessary for the traditionally bipartisan farm bill to pass. Only 24 Democrats voted in favor of the legislation after many said the food stamp cuts could remove as many as 2 million needy recipients from the rolls. The addition of the optional state work requirements by a Republican amendment just before final passage turned away many remaining Democratic votes.

    Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in a phone interview Thursday that he voted in favor of the farm bill, and was disappointed that more of his colleagues in Congress didn’t join him in doing so. “It’s absolutely frustrating,” Gardner said. “We had in front of us a bill that would reduce the deficit, included needed reform, and cut entitlement spending … but we just didn’t have the votes to get it through. You hate to see us take this step back.”

    If the House and Senate cannot come together on a bill, farm-state lawmakers could push for an extension of the 2008 farm bill that expires in September. However, many farmers, ranchers and agriculture organizations describe some of the programs in the 2008 farm bill as outdated, and are ready to part ways with them.

    The House could also choose to negotiate a new bill with the Senate and try again.

    Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and No. 2 Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland, both of whom voted for the bill, immediately took to the House floor and blamed the other’s party for the defeat. Cantor said it was a “disappointing day” and that Democrats had been a “disappointing player.” Hoyer suggested that Republicans voted for the food stamp work requirements to tank the bill.

    The Senate overwhelmingly passed its version of the farm bill last week, with about $2.4 billion a year in overall cuts and a $400 million annual decrease in food stamps — one-fifth of the House bill’s food stamp cuts.

    The White House was supportive of the Senate version but had issued a veto threat of the House bill.

    Some conservatives have suggested separating the farm programs and the food stamps into separate bills. Farm-state lawmakers have for decades added food stamps to farm bills to garner urban votes for the rural bill. But that marriage has made passage harder this year.

    House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said Thursday that the committee is assessing all its options and will continue its work in the “near future.” Just before the vote, Lucas pleaded with his colleagues for support, saying that if the measure didn’t pass people would use it as an example of a dysfunctional Congress.

    Crystal River: Pitkin County settles in water court case over proposed dams in the watershed


    From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    The agreement removes the prospect of a dam being built across the Crystal River at Placita — below McClure Pass and before the road to Marble — as well as a dam on Yank Creek, a tributary of Thompson Creek, which flows into the Crystal near Carbondale.

    The agreement also removes Pitkin County’s opposition to potential new dams and reservoirs on Mamm and Divide creeks in Garfield County on land south of I-70 between New Castle and Parachute.

    “The agreement basically says to the West Divide District, ‘You get out of our county and we’ll get out of the rest of your jurisdiction,’” said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely…

    The West Divide board is set to meet today in Rifle to discuss the agreement, according to Samuel Potter, the chairman of the West Divide Conservancy District.

    Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director for the Colorado River District, said the district’s litigation committee is set to meet on June 25 and has the authority to approve the settlement without a vote by its full board.

    The Pitkin County commissioners have been discussing the case with Ely in executive session and he is confident the board will approve the settlement.

    Bill Jochems, the chair of the healthy rivers and streams board, said he expects his board to approve the settlement at a meeting today…

    The lawsuit, in water court, stemmed from a diligence filing by West Divide and the Colorado River District in May 2011. Opposition filings came from Pitkin County, the Crystal River Caucus, CVEPA, the nonprofit organization, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and Paul Durrett of Redstone.

    More Crystal River Watershed coverage here and here.

    Drought news: May inflow at Lake Powell was about 48 percent of average #COdrought



    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    …the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is projecting that total reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin will dip to about 29.3 million acre feet. That’s just 49 percent of storage capacity and the lowest level since the peak of the early 2000s drought, when the 2005 water year started with storage at 29.8 million acre feet (50 percent of capacity).

    May’s inflow into Lake Powell was 1,121 thousand acre-feet, about 48 percent of average — a stark reminder that winter and spring precipitation was well below average in large parts of the Colorado River Basin, despite a surge of late-season moisture in the headwaters region of north-central Colorado. But at least the May inflow was an improvement from April, when inflow was only about a third of average.

    After releasing about 602,000 acre-feet downstream, Lake Powell’s elevation at the end of May was at about 3,599 feet, which is about 100 feet below full. According to BuRec, the reservoir elevation is expected to remain within several feet of the current elevation throughout spring and summer as inflow from runoff roughly matches reservoir releases. In late summer, the reservoir elevation will begin to decline again.

    For the April to July runoff season, water managers are now projecint that total inflow will be about 3 million acre feet, which is about 42 percent of the average inflow for the 1981 to 2010 period, with the overall water supply outlook remaining significantly below average. Lake Powell will probably end the current water year at just 44 percent of capacity.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit: Reclamation is expected to complete an environmental impact statement by this fall


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit would swing south of Pueblo, crossing to the north side of the Arkansas River at Avondale in a preferred option identified by the Bureau of Reclamation. Reclamation is expected to complete an environmental impact statement on the conduit, a master storage contract and a cross-connection of outlets at Pueblo Dam by this fall. The pipeline route takes parts of several alternatives that have been considered for the past two years in the EIS.

    “By studying all of the elements separately, we were able to take a piece of each to create a new alternative,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsors of all three projects. “This project alternative addresses the concerns that have been raised.”

    More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

    ‘The CFAA is a sweeping Internet regulation that criminalizes many forms of common Internet use’ — Tim Berners-Lee

    This is important stuff. The open Internet is essential for commerce and as a means for us to push back against our government and oppressive regimes worldwide. Berners-Lee is considered the inventor of the World Wide Web. Take the time to click through and read his article, then get involved.

    Drought news: Colorado is still drought country #COdrought



    Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current US Drought Monitor map and the current drought forecast from the Climate Prediction Center.

    Sadly, wildfire is directly associated with drought. From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    Santa Fe’s water department is one of several urban utilities – including those in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Flagstaff, Arizona – that are putting ratepayer dollars to work in the forests. The U.S. Forest Service, for its part, helps the utilities with the technical aspects of forest restoration and some of the physical work while using most of the money in its budget to focus on other high-risk forests in the state…

    Recent forest fires, including the High Park fire outside of Fort Collins, Colorado last year, have water utilities on edge. Yet the most destructive blaze for drinking water infrastructure happened more than a decade ago near Denver.

    The 2002 Hayman fire, still the largest in Colorado’s history, burned 55,800 hectares (138,000 acres) southwest of the city. Subsequent rainstorms swamped Strontia Springs reservoir with enough sediment – 765,000 cubic meters – to fill Denver’s basketball arena five times. Combined with the damage from a 1996 fire in the same area, Denver Water, the public utility, spent $US 26 million dredging and restoring two of its reservoirs.

    In 2010, Denver Water entered into a five-year partnership with the U.S. Forest Service with the goal of reducing the risk of catastrophic fire. The two agencies will each spend $US 16.5 million on forest restoration, with Denver’s share coming from ratepayers.

    This type of investment is called a payment for ecosystem services, a financial model that protects the natural processes that benefit people. Forests filter water, and their soil helps to slow down the surge of runoff after a storm, calming potential floods. Fires eliminate these benefits for some time. Erosion, poor water quality and higher flood risks persist long after the flames have been snuffed out.

    Earth Economics, a research group, has charted at least 17 instances in the U.S. in which money from city or utility budgets is being put toward watershed management, most in areas other than wildfire risk.

    Spending money on fire prevention is tricky, said Rowan Schmidt, an analyst at Earth Economics, because there is no rule of thumb for how much investment in a watershed will pay off.

    Here’s a video about sustaining your lawn during drought, from Colorado Springs Utilities:

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    After imposing watering restrictions in April, it appears the public is doing its part to hold water usage down. Of course, there are higher charges for water if you exceed certain levels of usage, so that discourages over-watering.

    Click through for the usage graph from Colorado Springs Utilities.

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Western Colorado and eastern Utah have warmed in the last century, and it appears that precipitation in the region has also increased, according to a new analysis of historic climate data compiled by Grand Junction-based National Weather Service forecaster Joe Ramey.

    General long-term trends include cooling from the 1940s through the 1960s, towards warmer and wetter conditions since the 1970s, on par with many other parts of the country and the world.

    Specifically, maximum temperatures have risen 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit and minimum temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit during during the study period going back to 1911, when several towns and cities in the region started to maintain detailed climate data.

    According to an abstract of Ramey’s study, posted on the Grand Junction NWS website, there are eleven sites within eastern Utah and western Colorado that have mostly unbroken climate records back to 1911. In eastern Utah these sites include Vernal, Moab, Blanding, and Bluff. Western Colorado sites are Steamboat Springs, Grand Junction, Crested Butte, Gunnison, Montrose, Telluride, and Silverton. This study is an analysis of the trends in those data.