Click on the thumbnail graphic for the streamflow graph from the Animas River at Durango since April 1. Here’s a report from Jim Haug writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:
However you do it, the city of Durango would like you to cut back your water usage by 10 percent…
The city’s terminal reservoir is currently about a foot below the level it should be. Officials would like to maintain it at maximum capacity so the city can respond to crises such as wildfires or a sudden loss of water.
For most of the year, the Florida River is sufficient to meet the city’s needs with a daily supply of 5.7 million gallons, but in summertime, the city’s average of daily water usage is 9.5 millions gallons. The reservoir must be supplemented with water from the Animas River.
The city has three water pumps at Santa Rita Park. Since the peak water usage day of June 22 when the demand reached almost 14 million gallons, the city has been able to use only one pump because the water level in the river has gotten so low.
Because of the drought, water from Florida River is expected to diminish to 5.2 million gallons a day…
City officials think voluntary measures might be sufficient to get through the season. Asking people to voluntarily decrease their water by 10 percent is “thought to be a first good step,” said Steve Salka, director of utilities. “These are all small changes, but they will help us maintain the water level in the reservoir.”
More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):
We are still in a drought, despite the brief easing of conditions we enjoyed during our cool, relatively wet spring. Some parts of Colorado didn’t get any relief even then — the southeastern corner has been solidly in the dark red, “exceptional” drought category (that’s the worst one) on the US Drought Monitor maps since the end of last summer.
Meanwhile, the bright red, second-worst “extreme” category has crept back into southwestern Colorado, after a brief window where all of western Colorado enjoyed the milder yellow and orange categories of drought. No portion of Colorado is in anything less than “moderate” drought at the moment — that’s pale orange.
Zooming out, the picture doesn’t improve much. New Mexico is almost entirely in bright or dark red, and has been for some time. The rest of the Colorado River Basin, and the out-of-basin areas that depend on it (like Denver and Los Angeles), are also all in drought to some extent. And this is the second year in a row…
Reservoirs are also dropping, and the bigger the reservoir, the more it tells the story of long-term trends. The Gunnison River has reclaimed the upper end of Blue Mesa Reservoir, and the reservoir is expected to fall further before the year is out — though still not reaching the lows experienced in 2002. The giant reservoirs of Lakes Powell and Mead are expected to reach their lowest combined levels seen since 1968 this year. For reference, Glenn Canyon Dam, which created Lake Powell, was completed in 1969…
The US Bureau of Reclamation recently announced a process to follow up on their recent study that forecasts worsening long-term imbalances between water supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin as a whole. Work groups of water managers and stakeholders throughout the basin have been formed to address agricultural water conservation and transfers, municipal conservation and re-use, and how to achieve healthy streamflows in the face of these supply challenges.
Within Colorado, the governor’s Executive Order to develop a statewide water plan has now been supplemented by guidance to roundtables of stakeholders in each of the state’s river basins on how to develop their own plans to meet their own needs — which are then supposed to feed into a single, unified plan sometime in 2015.
The current drought and its consequences demonstrate vividly that these are not academic exercises. It’s simply not possible for water use to continue as it has in the past. The future will be different than the present, but how?
So how does all this affect fish and wildlife? I am not a lawyer and can only carry on a limited discussion regarding the legal issues, but being a conservationist I can relay the impact and change in our state’s wildlife and fishing resources, particularly in the southeast [Colorado].
My first experience in seeing the impact of water for wildlife was in 1962, when, as a boy, I watched the complete draining of the prominent southeast Colorado water impoundment, John Martin Reservoir. What a dismal sight to see tens of thousands of fish, half dead and half alive, being dumped into the spillway of the dam and watch as folks sorted out the more desirable fish with unlimited creel limits. My dad and I spent time going through dying fish in small pockets of water along the Amity Canal to either save the good fish for the freezer or move them to one of the two Verhoeff Lakes located within a mile of the dam and owned by the family of my friend Lance Verhoeff.
Those lakes held an abundance of fish and annually hosted up to 30,000 wintering geese and a higher number of ducks. These lakes were so supportive of waterfowl that they were used in the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s frequent aerial waterfowl counts in the fall and often served as a banding site for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, these lakes were a premier nesting area for the endangered least tern and piping plover, neither of which has successfully nested in the former lakes area since they were ordered drained in 2002. When Lance fought the draining based on its refuge for hundreds of species of birds and wildlife, he learned the legal truth: Fish and wildlife have no rights, nor do they impact water-rights issues.
Over the ensuing decades Coloradans and nonresidents hunted and fished popular southeast areas such as Turks Pond, Two Buttes, Queens State Wildlife Area, Nee Noshe Reservoir, Timber Lake, Purgatory Wildlife Area, Verhoeff Lakes and, to the north, Bonny Reservoir. During this time, fall aerial waterfowl counts by the Colorado Division of Wildlife would routinely show astonishing numbers of birds, such as 150,000 geese, in the southeast area. Each of these bodies of water held sufficient water to provide our state and visiting sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts with excellent hunting, fishing and camping recreation.
Now only a few of those remain, the others drained at the direction of the state to stop the holding of water and/or to honor higher priority water rights, including with neighboring states.
Two years ago we witnessed the destruction (actually draining) of Bonny Reservoir, and with it all the fish and wildlife it supported — victims of water issues with neighboring states. And as recently as this spring, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced unlimited creel limits at Lake Henry and Antero Reservoir because of draining caused by drought conditions.
The Montezuma County sheriff’s office is reporting an increase in the number of disputes over irrigation water this spring and summer. Police scanners crackle with calls from irate landowners frustrated with neighbors taking more than their share from communal ditches.
As water supplies dwindle, there has been more theft and misuse of water, causing tempers to flare and raising the specter of violence. “It is a lot of mitigation work, a lot of calls,” said Deputy Dave Huhn, a water law specialist handling irrigation issues for the sheriff’s office.
“The lack of water has escalated the tension and fright. People’s livelihood is dependent on water.” In normal years Huhn fields four to eight calls per day. These days the volume is more like 20-30 per day, “so I’m responding every day, including weekends.”
McPhee Reservoir is at historic lows, and project users will get just 20 percent of a normal year’s amount, with complete cutoff expected for August. The other major water source, Montezuma Valley Irrigation District (with its senior water rights) is reporting a drop in availability of 25 percent. MVI has not announced a cutoff date yet…
It’s an issue of denial for some, Deputy Huhn says, and he has a unique prop to educate water hoggers. “I bring a simple yard sprinkler and a garden hose, and set it up to demonstrate the amount of water they actually have rights to, versus what they are using,” he says. One MVI share equals 5.61 gallons per minute, and a garden hose and simple lawn sprinkler is about 4-5 gallons per minute.
“If they have two shares, they can have two small sprinklers going for a certain amount of time,” Huhn said. “It’s a fraction of the water they’re pushing through the large-nozzle water cannons. They’re using someone else’s water.” Armed with individual water-rights data, water law documents, a calm but firm demeanor, a badge and a ticket book, Huhn makes the rounds…
Huhn said there is a statewide trend to more aggressively enforce laws regulating adequate measuring devices for irrigators. Replacing ditches with pipe is the ultimate solution. Metered pipe is the most ideal, and is used for Dolores Project users. “We have had a smooth year considering,” said Ken Curtis, DWCD engineer. “The meters show users exactly the amount they are getting.”
Rural water districts have less pipe and less metered technology, which can lead to problems. “You and I might stand on a ditch. You say it is your three shares, and I say it is five — over the limit. Proper measuring provides the real answer,” said Less Nunn, general manager for MVIC.
“Other times people don’t realize they have been getting extra for years, and now the actual owners are diverting that amount.”
Scary: June precip in Utah 8% of normal, 26 streams, rivers flowing below 10 percent of normal. "No real optimism at this point." @NRCS_Utah
One reason for last year’s devastation was last year’s massive drought. The Southwest has been consistently dry for several years, but last year — and into this year — the drought reached levels not seen since the Dust Bowl era.
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):
The next Water Availability Task Force meeting is scheduled for Thursday, July 18 from 9:30-11:30am & will be held at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.