Drought news: Telluride nets just 3 hundredths so far in July, monsoon on the way? #COdrought

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

As of Thursday morning, only three one hundredths of an inch of rain had been recorded in Telluride, according to Thom Carnevale, who keeps local weather records. (An afternoon cloudburst, which brought one of the heaviest rainfalls of the summer, certainly bumped that number up.) The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is also reporting that for the past 30 days most of San Miguel County is between 1 to 2 inches below normal rain levels. Though the forecast for the coming week is calling for more rain, it will take a lot of storms like the one on Thursday to get to normal.

“The monsoon is really late, normally it begins around the 28th of June or the first few days of July,” Carnevale said. “Here we are — it’s the 11th, and we still haven’t seen any appreciable precipitation at all.”

Normally, Carnevale records around 2.5 inches of rain for the month of July, but he said this year will likely be below average.

Monsoons result from a seasonal change in the wind and they are dependent on a number of factors. Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with NOAA in Grand Junction, said the region’s monsoonal winds typically blow up from the south through Arizona and New Mexico, and they depend greatly on weather patterns over Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. He said a change in the direction of the winds brings monsoons to the region. Though the patterns have not been good for rain in southwest Colorado recently, they are changing, he said…

Though the heavy rains of mid summer can bring soaking showers, mudslides and ground-shaking thunderstorms, the moisture is badly needed this year. With the lack of precipitation this spring and summer, drought conditions have been upgraded. On Tuesday the U.S. drought monitor reported the majority of San Miguel County is in extreme drought up from severe drought, which had been observed since last summer. Southwestern Colorado is in better shape than the southeastern part of the state, but it will take a lot of rain for the area to see normal conditions.

Since the beginning of June most of San Miguel County has received less than half an inch of rain, according to NOAA. Carnevale recorded just .2 inches of precipitation in Telluride during June; the month’s average precipitation is 1.22 inches, according to his records.

From the US Drought Monitor:

Southwest and West: Some monsoon moisture streamed northward over the Southwest, making it as far north as the Great Salt Lake, bringing isolated rains to Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. The heaviest rains (1.0 – 2.6 inches) were confined to southeastern Arizona and the highest of terrain in central New Mexico, therefore the rains had little impact on the drought in New Mexico. Some small reductions in drought intensity were noted in Arizona where SPI values rebounded slightly in response to the rains. Likewise, the same plume of moisture brought rains to the Salt Lake City area, prompting the removal of some moderate drought (D1) from that region.

From Reuters (Christine Stebbins):

U.S. drought conditions expanded for the fourth week in a row as dryness persisted in the western half of the country, including key crop states of Kansas and Nebraska, while conditions in the South reached their driest in two months, according to a weekly drought report…

“Farther north and west, across Oklahoma and southeastern Colorado, reports indicate sage brush and large trees dying and even some cacti turning brown,” the Drought Monitor said. “Some drought expansion was also introduced across Kansas, where topsoil moisture reports indicated an increase of 38 percentage points for the portion of reports indicating short or very short moisture amounts.”

In Kansas, the top wheat producer, 75.73 percent of the state is rated moderate to exceptional drought, up from 74.56 percent a week ago. But that is much improved from a year ago, when nearly 98 percent was in moderate to exceptional drought.

Nebraska, the fourth-largest corn state and a big producer of cattle, sorghum, wheat and ethanol, is the driest of the big crop states, with 88.41 percent in moderate to exceptional drought. That is unchanged from last week but far worse than a year ago at 77.22 percent.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Council member Joel Miller has asked Colorado Springs Utilities water experts to give an update how much water is now in the city’s reservoirs. The report is expected at the July 17 utilities board meeting. If the reservoirs are up to 1.75 years of storage then Miller would want to consider easing watering restrictions for the remaining summer months. As of July 1, the city had 1.7 years of water in storage.

No doubt, it is a controversial question to pose. Council members, who are also the utilities board members, have been getting pummeled with phone calls and emails about the summer’s lawn watering restrictions and the higher water rates for use of more than 2,000 cubic feet of water per month. Miller said he might be the only board member who wants to consider lifting the ban, but he said it’s worth asking the question. “What’ I’m hearing, is people are doing the best they can and getting hammered regardless,” he said.

Click here to read the latest information from the Western Water Assessment special drought issue. Here’s an excerpt:

Overview of the 2012 drought

Under the influence of a second year of La Niña conditions, drought conditions emerged midway through the 2012 water year as below-average late-winter snowpacks were compounded by a very dry and warm spring. Spring and early summer runoff over most of the region was well below average, and in many basins worse than 2002 or other benchmark dry years (1977, 1992). In June, continued dry and hot conditions dried out vegetation and led to very large and intense wildfires in all three states, along with widespread range, pasture, and dryland crop losses. The US Drought Monitor as of July 10 showed severe or worse drought conditions covering all of Colorado, most of Utah, and about half of Wyoming (Figure DM-1).

A strong moisture surge into the region from July 5–9 saw up to 5″ of rain in eastern Colorado, with most parts of the state receiving the first significant moisture (>0.5″) in at least a month. Precipitation amounts were much less in Utah and Wyoming. This moisture has reduced fire danger, but only partially alleviates the long-term deficits in soil moisture and water supply in the region. The outlook for the drought shows some tentative indications for wetter conditions over the next several months. Conditions in the tropical Pacific are tipping towards El Niño, which tends to produce more moisture for the region for summer through the fall.

Since the onset of drought and the impacts so far have been similar to 2002, the comparison has been raised in many circles, particularly in Colorado. This issue will explore the different dimensions of the 2012 drought, and place most of them in the context of the 2002 drought.

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

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the June precipitation map. Click here to read the summaries from the Colorado Climate Center. Click here to go to the webpage for the assessments.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Voluntary Flow Program in full swing on the Arkansas River

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife:

Outdoor enthusiasts looking to beat the heat of the summer season can enjoy rafting, kayaking, fishing, camping and other outdoor recreation activities at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA).

The AHRA will have more than 10,000 acre-feet of water available for the Voluntary Flow Management Program (VFMP) this summer as a result of a joint effort between the Bureau of Reclamation, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Pueblo Board of Water Works, according to Rob White, AHRA park manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“This helps ensure the Upper Arkansas River will have great flows for rafting and kayaking at least through mid-August, and the fishing should continue to be stellar well into the fall,” White said.

The VFMP is a cooperative program crafted in the 1990’s with help from Trout Unlimited and the Arkansas Rivers Outfitters Association. Administered by the Bureau of Reclamation, in cooperation with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the VFMP provides water management guidelines that provide for whitewater flows in the Arkansas River for recreation users in the summer months, while also protecting and enhancing the fishery by establishing minimum flow guidelines throughout the rest of the year.

To take advantage of floating, fishing and other recreational experiences along the headwaters recreation area, check out http://www.aroa.org.

Additional information on the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area is available at http://www.parks.state.co.us/Parks/ArkansasHeadwaters.

From The Mountain Mail (Casey Kelly):

Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area Park Manager Rob White said Thursday he was doubtful a target flow of 600 cubic feet per second of Voluntary Flow Management Program water could be maintained through Aug. 15. White made the comment during the AHRA Citizens Task Force meeting. White said Voluntary Flow Management Program water began running July 1. He said VMFP water totals about 11,000 acre-feet this year.

He said 10,000 acre-feet of water was provided by the Bureau of Reclamation, 700 acre-feet from Colorado Parks and Wildlife water and 191 acre-feet from the Pueblo Board of Water Works. He said AHRA initially ran Parks and Wildlife’s water out of Clear Creek Reservoir. “We emptied that account, which was about 695 acre-feet of water, (July 10),” White said. “We began running the Pueblo Board of Water Works water, which is about 191 acre-feet, and that will end today at 3:15 (p.m.)”

White said AHRA started out maintaining flows of 700 cfs. Later the target was lowered to 650 cfs, then lowered to 600 cfs, where it stands now. “The reason we’re lowering the target is because, if you look at (the amount of) water that we have, and then project using that water through Aug. 15, if we try to maintain 700 cfs now, we just won’t have anything left for August.”

White said 70 cfs had been released into the river at the time of the meeting, and it would run out at about 3:15 p.m., at which time the Bureau of Reclamation would begin to use its 10,000 acre-feet of water, “and we’ll begin that release at 1 (p.m.).” He said there is a “2-hour lag” between Twin Lakes and Clear Creek, and to avoid “a hole in the river,” the water would need to be released at Twin Lakes 2 hours before the release stops at Clear Creek. White also said the water gauge at Wellsville was reading 15 cfs too high prior to Monday.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Parachute Creek spill: ‘The cleanup is going very well’ — Walter Avramenko #ColoradoRiver

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From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

All but one of the latest tests of Parachute Creek in western Colorado, near where an estimated 241 barrels of natural gas liquids spilled after a valve malfunctioned, detected no carcinogenic benzene, according to an update from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…

Test results from nine out of 10 locations on Parachute Creek failed to detect benzene, a cancer-causing agent, according to the health department’s update, issued Friday.

The one location that tested positive, identified as CS-6, has repeatedly tested positive for relatively low levels of benzene since tests started, according to Walter Avramenko, the public health department’s hazardous waste corrective action unit leader. The health department is overseeing the cleanup of the spill. On July 8, the CS-6 location had 3.9 parts per billion of benzene, up from 2.8 parts per billion detected on July 5 and nearly double the 1.9 parts per billion detected on July 1, according to the department’s update.
“That location has had benzene levels fluctuate up and down, between non-detectable and 5 or 6 parts per billion,” Avramenko said. “In my opinion, it’s not significant to see this kind of change.”[…]

“The cleanup is going very well,” Avramenko said.

From The Denver Post:

Benzene levels at a point in Parachute Creek near the Williams Co. gas plant spill doubled in a week to 3.9 parts per billion Monday, just short of the 5 ppb considered safe for drinking water.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said new sparging systems at the sample point and upstream are being installed to stop contaminated groundwater from reaching the creek north of Parachute. The new systems will be turned on the week of July 22.

Benzene contamination has not been detected at any other test points, including where the town of Parachute diverts creek water, typically for irrigation, a health department news release said.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 250 cfs in the Blue River below the dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Just a quick note to let you know that today [Friday] we bumped up releases to the Lower Blue to 250 cfs.

More Green Mountain Reservoir coverage here.

The Rio Grande Roundtable approves $237,000 streamflow forecasting pilot project

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

The state water board, Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), is so interested in how the project will affect stream flow forecasts in the future it is willing to put $215,000 into it.

The local basin-wide water group, the Rio Grande Roundtable, on Tuesday unanimously approved the Conejos Water Conservancy’s $237,000 request for basin and statewide funding: $200,000 from statewide funds and $37,000 from basin-allocated funds. The conservancy district is taking the lead in sponsoring the project.

The total project cost is about half a million dollars with funds coming from state and local water grants, the CWCB match, local match and other grant funds.

Conejos Water Conservancy Manager Nathan Coombs and Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson said this project would provide more information to the Colorado Division of Water Resources and others to more accurately predict stream flows. The project will ultimately assist area irrigators as well because it will improve management of the Valley’s river systems. If the project is successful here, it will likely be installed in other parts of the state.

Joe Busto, with the CWCB Watershed Protection & Flood Mitigation Program, said improved forecasting translates to real dollars for irrigators. Improved forecasts assist the state in better managing water resources, which is even more critical in times of drought. Busto said this type of project is a high priority for the state.

Currently there are gaps in this basin and others where snowfall data is lacking…

The project would use radar mounted by Red Mountain west of La Jara Reservoir to collect more information about snowfall and snowmelt. Busto said SNODAS (Snow Data Assimilation System) spatial modeling provides 100,000 data points in Colorado, with 4,000 of those in the Rio Grande Basin. The radar data will enhance those data points, he explained…

The pilot project will focus on the watershed in Conejos and integrate radar data with other forms of snowfall measurements and modeling systems. Complete coverage for the basin would require radar on the top of Bristol Head and in Center, Busto explained. That could be a long-term goal but would be more complicated to install. Busto said the Conejos watershed is simpler, so it is a good place to test this out.

The pilot will run seven months, he added, with the radar installed in November…

David Gochis, National Center for Atmospheric Research, said additional measurements are needed on the ground to verify how well the radar is working. If the radar is validated, it would prompt more confidence in applying the radar precipitation estimates elsewhere, Gochis said.

He said a SNOTEL site is currently located at Lily Pond, and the state has survey sites at Platoro and a couple more sites further west, but additional measurement instruments are needed to verify that the information the radar is providing is correct. One obstacle to installing more measurement instruments is the wilderness boundary, Gochis said, because instruments cannot be placed in the wilderness area. They could be clustered around Platoro, however, he said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

More than two dozen Colorado craft brewers appeal to Governor Hickenlooper better regulate hydraulic fracturing

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From The Colorado Statesman (Peter Marcus):

Twenty-six craft brewers have sent a letter to the governor and launched a campaign expressing their fears over impacts of oil and gas development to air, water, land, communities and — especially — their own craft beer industry. The industry relies heavily on crisp, clean Rocky Mountain water.

The conflict for Hickenlooper is real. For one, he is a brother of the craft brew industry, having co-founded Wynkoop Brewing Co. in 1988. Brewers have always been some of his best friends and biggest supporters. Then add into the mash the governor’s career prior to Wynkoop, when he worked as a geologist for the oil and gas industry.

Much of the brewers’ concerns revolve around hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Because fracking employs the pressure of a fluid to increase extraction rates — often times including chemicals, sand and water — fears have grown that groundwater can become contaminated.

“As a former brewer, you know that the most important ingredient in good beer is good clean water!” states the letter from the brewers to Hickenlooper dated June 26.

Glenwood Canyon Brewery’s head brewer Chip Holland joins the group at Hogshead Brewery in Denver to review Colorado environmental conditions in relation to its microbrewing industry.
Photos by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
The message goes on to highlight the importance of the industry, pointing to a contribution last year of $446 million to the state’s economy and nearly 6,000 jobs.

“We ask you, as our governor and a craft beer enthusiast, to protect what we all value — clean water, clear skies and Colorado’s great outdoors,” the letter continues. “We urge you to support stronger standards for oil and gas industry operations. The quality of life we all enjoy and the integrity of communities where craft brewing thrives are depending on this.”

From the Denver Business Journal (Ed Sealover):

Twenty-six brewery officials gathered two weeks ago at Denver’s Hogshead Brewery to hold a “beer summit” about oil and gas standards. They crafted a letter to the Democratic governor — himself the founder and former co-owner of Wynkoop Brewing Co. — asking him to support stronger standards for oil and gas industry operations in Colorado.

“Our success depends on Colorado’s unique brand and the outdoor lifestyle that attracts new residents, businesses, entrepreneurs and millions of tourists annually,” wrote the group, which has a mix of Western Slope and Front Range breweries, in a June 26 letter to Hickenlooper. “That is why we must strike a better balance between energy development and conservation of our state’s natural beauty.”

Others have lobbied Hickenlooper on this issue. Environmental advocates worked with legislative Democrats last year to introduce nine bills that would have taken steps such as increasing groundwater testing in the oil-rich Greater Wattenberg Area, increasing permitting fees to fund local government oversight of drilling, and removing promotion of the oil industry from the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

But seven of the nine bills died as Hickenlooper — who worked as a geologist before getting into the brewing industry — insisted several undermined the COGCC and its recent decisions. And that lack of success in increasing regulation is what inspired brewers to act. They rely heavily on the state’s water supply and are concerned, having seen several instances of Western Slope groundwater contamination this year that haven’t threatened their products yet but could one day, said Chip Holland, head brewer at Glenwood Canyon Brewery in Glenwood Springs.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Denver Basin Aquifer System: Well contamination a concern for officials in the wake of the Black Forest Fire

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From KOAA (Maddie Garrett):

A new concern is surfacing in the wake of the Black Forest Fire. The El Paso County Health Department is surveying about 500 water wells for possible contamination. While some wells are unscathed by the fire, others are destroyed and left open on the surface. But all water wells reach down into the same aquifer that the people of Black Forest depend on.

“These wells are like a straw that goes into the aquifer. We want that straw capped because whatever is on the surface here, gets into the well, that could cause contamination. So it’s a risk when those wells are open,” said Health Department Director, Tom Gonzales.

The damaged wells are open to ash, dirt debris and rain water. That’s why the Health Department wants to get all of the exposed wells covered up. They are providing people with thick plastic and zip ties to temporarily protect the open wells until the homeowner can get them capped.

More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here and here.