Drought/runoff news: ‘We [Rio Grande Basin] are in trouble’ — Pat McDermott #COdrought



From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Current water conditions in the Rio Grande Basin are not the worst they’ve ever been — but close. “We are in trouble,” Colorado Division of Water Resources Staff Engineer Pat McDermott told members of the Rio Grande Roundtable yesterday.

He said runoff peaks in other parts of the state were about the third week of May. The Rio Grande Basin peaked in March. Of 10 SNOTEL (SNOwpack TELemetry) basin sites only one still had snow at the end of May, he said…

The June 1st forecast for the Rio Grande is only 300,000 acre feet, or 46 percent of the long-term average. Last year’s streamflow on the Rio Grande was 406,000 acre feet, and that was not a stellar year. A normal year would run 620,000 acre feet. That 300,000-acre-foot forecast puts 2013 as the fourth worst year on record, as long as records have been kept since 1890. The drought year of 2002 was the worst year with only 154,000 acre feet on the Rio Grande, 1902 the second worst year with 210,000 acre feet and 1977 the third worst year with 215,000 acre feet, “and now here we are on the Rio Grande with the fourth worst year ever,” McDermott said.

The only positive thing about not having much water is the obligation to downstream states is practically nil. McDermott said of the predicted 300,000 acre feet on the Rio Grande, only 75,000 acre feet will be required by the Rio Grande Compact to be sent downstream to New Mexico and Texas. That translates to a mere 4-percent delivery obligation during the irrigation season…

The forecast for the Conejos River system is currently 130,000 acre feet or 40 percent of the long-term average. Last year’s annual flow was 175,000 acre feet. Of the 130,000 acre feet, the Conejos system owes 12,000 acre feet to downstream states through the Rio Grande Compact. That requires zero curtailments during the irrigation season, and Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten will likely extend the irrigation season on the Conejos well into December because no additional water will be required to go downstream in the winter months, McDermott explained.

Not that the downstream states couldn’t use additional water. The Elephant Butte Reservoir, the Rio Grande Compact’s main storage reservoir in New Mexico, has less than one-tenth its total capacity in storage right now. The reservoir can hold about 2 million acre feet and currently has 187,000 acre feet in storage…

Not able to create more moisture but hopefully make better use of the Valley’s water was a proposal for future funding to help improve snowpack and streamflow forecasting. The Conejos Water Conservancy District is taking the lead on a pilot project to improve forecasting in the Rio Grande Basin. The Colorado Water Conservation Board believes so much in its potential it has preapproved $215,000 towards the $544,000 project. Conejos Water Conservancy District Manager Nathan Coombs said his district would also be seeking $237,000 from state and basin water supply reserve accounts that along with some other funding will pay for this project.

From the Associated Press via the Carlsbad Current-Argus:

[New Mexico] Legislators were told Monday by the State Engineers Office that the precipitation outlook for June to August is likely below normal for the eastern two-thirds of New Mexico and the odds favor above normal temperatures for most of New Mexico. That’s based on the latest long-term forecast from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, which says drought is expected to continue or intensify in New Mexico through the end of August.

The State Engineers Office said precipitation was 47 percent of normal statewide from January to April.

From 9News.com (Kevin Torres):

Nearly 50,000 acres of land in Colorado have failed due to dry conditions, according to the State Department of Agriculture. Last year, that number was around 27,000. While the Department of Agriculture can’t pinpoint where all of that land has failed, the department does say it’s likely all along the eastern plains.

Colorado State Representative Don Coram plans to shutter and restore four uranium mines


From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

The action follows several years of legal pressure by activists on the state and federal government to shut down the old uranium mines that dot the landscape of San Miguel and Montrose counties.A 2008 state law required all uranium mines to meet a higher level of regulatory scrutiny. State mining regulators are now demanding that all mine operators either submit a detailed environmental-protection plan or shut down their mines and reclaim the land.“Economically, it seemed to be more feasible to me to do a reclamation plan. It was strictly a matter of economics,” said Coram, a Montrose Republican whose district includes Montezuma County. Coram’s company, Gold Eagle Mining Inc., bought the mines in 1998. Three are close to the Dolores River at Slick Rock. The fourth overlooks the Paradox Valley in Montrose County. They have been out of operation almost constantly since the early 1980s. The state has given him until May 2014 to finish reclamation of the sites.

But even as they enter the cleanup stage, the mines remain as controversial as ever. A mining watchdog group called Information Network for Responsible Mining, or INFORM, has been hounding Coram and other mine operators, and the group submitted a harsh objection to Coram’s request earlier this year for an extension of his permit to leave the mines idle.“We will not mince words in criticizing the condition of the Slick Rock mines: They are dangerous to public health, to the Dolores River, to wildlife, and to the ecosystem they actively pollute. These mines represent egregious examples of neglect and mismanagement and have been allowed, for many years, to erode their toxic and radioactive contaminants directly into the Dolores,” INFORM’s objection stated.Coram sharply disputes the charges…

Tony Waldron of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety said Coram’s mines are not polluting the Dolores River…

Radiometric readings near the mines show nothing above the natural background levels of radiation.However, stormwater does run off some of the mining waste piles, Waldron said. As part of the reclamation work, Gold Eagle will have to flatten the piles to reduce the risk of tainted water spilling off the site.Other reclamation work includes closing portals, replanting vegetation and removing old buildings.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Nominations for the 2014 Wayne N. Aspinall Water Leader of the Year Award are now being taken


From email from the Colorado Water Congress:

Nominations are open for the 2014 Wayne N. Aspinall Water Leader of the Year Award to be presented at the 2014 CWC Annual Convention.

Nominations are due by August 31.

Please see the following forms:
Aspinall Award Guidelines
Aspinall Award Nomination Form

Please send to Mary M. Stirling at mmstirling@cowatercongress.org, or fax to (303) 837-1607, or mail to CWC, 1580 Logan St., #700, Denver, CO 80203.

More often than not, nominations are submitted several times before being selected. Please submit again if you have done so in past years and your candidate has not yet been selected.

Questions, contact Mary Stirling at mmstirling@cowatercongress.org or at (303) 837-0812.

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


Click on the thumbnail graphic for the June 3 thru June 9 precipitation map. Click here for the current briefing (June 11).

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Twin Lakes operations update: 1370 cfs in Lake Creek


From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Today [June 11] we continue the wrap up of native exchanges. As a result, we bumped up releases from Twin Lakes Dam to Lake Creek (Lake Creek flows into the Arkansas) in several stages:

  • This morning, June 11, 11 a.m. releases bumped up by 250 cfs to around 1160 cfs.
  • This afternoon, around 4 p.m. we will bump up approximately another 200 cfs to about 1370 cfs.
  • For both increases, releases stage up in roughly 15 minute increases starting at the top of the hour.
  • Shareholders on the Excelsior Ditch are considering Two Rivers’ offer for a controlling interest


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Shareholders want more time to consider a deal that would give a water and farming company controlling interest in the Excelsior Ditch east of Pueblo. A meeting of the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association scheduled for next week likely will be postponed in order to give members more time to consider the sale of the Excelsior Ditch to Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. Details of the sale were explained at three separate meetings Tuesday.

    “Over the past month, it’s become clear we need more time to see the final product,” said Scott Lorenz, AGUA manager. “There’s a big list of things to take care of and no guarantee they’ll do any of the things they say they will.”

    Shareholders who attended the meetings expressed concerns that Two Rivers might sell the assets, take water out of agriculture or fail to build promised storage. Lorenz and attorney Jeff Kahn assured them the contract would prevent damage to AGUA and provide off-ramps for AGUA to exit the contract. “There are substantial benefits to AGUA if Two Rivers can pull this off,” Kahn said.

    Still, there are benefits to AGUA if Two Rivers purchases the Excelsior for $3.5 million, he said. The sale would pay off a $1.5 million loan AGUA obtained from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. More importantly, it could give AGUA guaranteed storage space, the opportunity to lease the water back cheaply and additional water from a “toll” charged by Two Rivers to use its proposed reservoir.

    Two Rivers wants to build reservoirs on sites it is purchasing from Southwest Farms. The contract under consideration would give AGUA 10 percent of storage space, up to a maximum of 2,500 acre-feet. It also would give the group some of the water Two Rivers plans to charge outside clients such as cities that would use the reservoirs. “That’s the jewel,” said shareholder Ron Fillmore. “But on the other side, this is not something we couldn’t have all for ourselves.” “But this accelerates it,” Lorenz said, adding that Two Rivers can raise money to build reservoirs sooner rather than later.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain:


    Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. is proposing to buy about 53 percent of the Excelsior Ditch from the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association.

    ● The other 47 percent is owned by the Stonewall Springs Quarry LLC, Colorado Springs developers represented by Mark Morley.

    ● As many as five separate reservoir sites have been identified. The Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Springs and Aurora were interested in obtaining the Stonewall Springs site in 2005 as a possible place to store flows bypassed through Pueblo in the recovery of yield program.

    ● The ditch annually yields about 700 acre-feet of water, on average. This year, the total will be much less. That’s a small part of AGUA’s total need for 6,000 acre-feet, on average, most of which is leased. AGUA will use only about 30 percent this year, and sources of water are getting harder to find.

    ● The ditch also is used to move AGUA water to recharge ponds that help the well group meet augmentation requirements.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    An entrepreneur who plans to grow high-dollar crops in Pueblo County said his plans to develop reservoirs on the Excelsior Ditch will benefit agriculture first. “We’re only going to contract with interests that would support agriculture and help in our goal to develop higher value vegetable crops,” John McKowen, CEO of Two Rivers Water & Farming Co., said Tuesday.

    Shareholders of the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association will vote in coming weeks on a proposal by Two Rivers to buy controlling interest in the Excelsior Ditch, one of AGUA’s assets in providing water for wellaugmentation plans, for $3.5 million. The plan also would give AGUA some storage space in a 4,110 acre-foot reservoir Two Rivers is planning to build on the Excelsior Ditch, located east of Pueblo. Two Rivers last month secured a $10 million Colorado Water Conservation Board loan toward the $12.5 million project. AGUA’s board of directors approved the sale of its Excelsior Ditch shares — 53.77 percent of the total — last month. Two Rivers benefits from AGUA as well, using its shares in order to operate wells on farms it has purchased on the Bessemer Ditch. Two Rivers also made some water it has leased from the Pueblo Board of Water Works to AGUA this year.

    This year, the company will plant about 250 acres on the Bessemer Ditch in cabbage and pumpkins. It also is farming about 150 acres in Huerfano County under its Orlando Reservoir system.

    While McKowen is in discussion with the Pueblo water board about storage partnerships, he said his main interest will be to get more water to crops. “We need to store water to have an effective augmentation plan,” McKowen said. “We think we’re going to succeed. I’ve got the funding to build the reservoir without the participation of the cities.”

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.