Drought news: The latest Monthly Briefing from the Western Water Assessment is now available #COdrought

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Click here to to the dashboard. Here’s an excerpt:

Highlights

Short-term drought conditions have eased considerably over the region after a wet July, with lesser improvements in long-term drought conditions.

July precipitation was above average over most of the region; Colorado and Utah were wetter overall than Wyoming.

Observed April through July runoff was boosted only marginally by the monsoon moisture, and still ended up well below average in most basins.

At the end of July, reservoirs across the region were generally lower than at this time last year, and almost all were below the long-term average.

The NOAA CPC seasonal climate outlooks show equal chances for wet or dry conditions for the region through November, except for a wet tilt for far northern Wyoming for August.

Drought news: Rural New Mexico water suppliers are on the ropes in some locations #NMdrought #COdrought

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From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Denver Post:

State officials have been fielding a steady stream of phone calls and emails from the managers of community drinking water systems around the state as drought refuses to give up its grip on New Mexico. The managers are looking to the state for help as they work to avert a crisis. Water levels are still dropping, aging infrastructure is being pushed to its limits and federal funding is growing more scarce. In all, the state has identified nearly 300 drinking water systems that are considered vulnerable. Many of them depend on a single source of water and have no backup plan if conditions worsen.

“We really have been experiencing calls for assistance and notifications of water shortages and outages throughout the state in a way that we haven’t seen in recent drought years,” Danielle Shuryn of the New Mexico Environment Department said during a conference call.

Just last month, tens of thousands of gallons of water had to be trucked to the town of Magdalena after the community’s sole operating well failed, leaving about 1,000 residents and several businesses without water.

A coalition of government agencies and nonprofit organizations is now trying to help water system operators prepare so they don’t become the next Magdalena. The groups have teamed up to help communities with engineering work to identify backup water sources, monitor existing sources and develop emergency plans in the event of a water outage.

An initial round of letters will be sent to 290 community water systems determined to be at the greatest risk, but Shuryn said the state plans to make the program open to any interested water system.

With drought putting pressure on supplies, small communities around New Mexico are seeing wells filling with silt and failing, said Matt Holmes, executive director of the New Mexico Rural Water Association, a partner in the project.

“There are a lot of factors and I think the drought is sort a stressor. That adds an additional stress, and it might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Holmes said. “In many of these communities where we see these water shortages, it’s really infrastructure problems that are the core failure.”

Another goal of the collaboration is public education. Despite a heavy dose of monsoonal rains in July, state officials said the drought is far from over. New Mexico still leads the nation when it comes to the worst and most widespread drought conditions.

“A larger view of this work is to encourage mindful use of water, water conservation and how we can be more efficient with this limited resource,” said Morgan Nelson, a policy analyst with the department.

Colorado River Basin: ‘You can’t go to court…you don’t have time to go to court’ — Pat Mulroy #ColoradoRiver

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From the Las Vegas Review Journal (Henry Brean):

“This is as much an extreme weather event as Sandy was on the East Coast,” she said, referring to the deadly and destructive storm that hit the United States in fall 2012. “Does a drought not rise to the same level as a storm? The potential damage is just as bad.”

Mulroy’s comments come as the Colorado wraps up another disappointing water year and approaches another grim milestone: By the end of August, the total amount of water stored on the river is expected to reach its lowest point since Glen Canyon Dam was finished and Lake Powell began to fill in 1966.

In the coming days, federal regulators are expected to announce plans to slash the annual release of water from Powell, a move that will accelerate the decline of Lake Mead.

The reservoir east of Las Vegas is now expected to shrink almost 25 feet over the next year to a record low, with Lake Powell not far behind. By fall 2014, the surface of Lake Mead could drop to 1,075 feet above sea level, triggering the first federal shortage declaration on the river and prompting water supply cuts for Nevada and Arizona.

At this point, Mulroy said, it will take “a major, Noah’s Ark-type event in the next week” to change the upcoming announcement by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the coordinated operation of the two reservoirs. “I’m very worried. I’m expecting the worst,” she said…

Under normal conditions, Lake Powell releases at least 8.23 million acre-feet of water a year downstream to Lake Mead for use by Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico. This year’s release is almost sure to be cut to 7.48 million acre-feet to slow the decline of the upstream reservoir.

“This is the first time ever that has happened,” Mulroy said…

The Las Vegas Valley depends on the river for 90 percent of its drinking water supply. That water is drawn from Lake Mead using two intake pipes that could stop working if the reservoir drops far enough.

The surface of Lake Mead already has fallen more than 100 feet since the current drought descended on the Colorado River in 2000.

But even in an average year, the river does not carry enough water to fill the allocations parceled out decades ago to the seven states and Mexico.

The expected cut to Lake Powell’s release for the coming year creates a 1.5 million acre-foot math problem for Mead, which is supposed to deliver 9 million acre-feet of water each year to Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico.

The dire situation is forcing Mulroy and other water managers along the river to consider entirely new strategies to protect lake levels and squeeze more water out of the stricken river.

One short-term option is to pay farms in Arizona and California to temporarily fallow fields and use water that would normally go for irrigation to prop up Lake Mead.

Already, California, Nevada and Mexico are banking as much unused water as they can in Mead, adding about 10 vertical feet to the reservoir so far that wouldn’t otherwise be there…

Almost anything they do will require money, and that’s where the federal government can lend a hand, Mulroy said. After all, the Colorado supplies water to more than 30 million people across a region that produces roughly a quarter of the nation’s gross domestic product, she said. “This isn’t just a Las Vegas problem.”[…]

Meanwhile, the authority is rushing to complete a new third intake capable of drawing water from one of the deepest parts of the lake. Mulroy said she expects the $817 million project to be finished and online by the end of 2014 — because it has to be. If conditions on the river worsen, Intake No. 1 could be out of commission by spring of 2015…

One thing is clear, Mulroy said: It will take the creativity, cooperation and shared sacrifice of all Colorado River water users to make it through this crisis. All the old divisions must be set aside.

“You can’t go to court. You don’t have time to go to court. You’ll be sucking air (through your intakes) before that gets done,” she said. “Now is not the time to rattle sabers. It’s a time to roll up your sleeves and work as collaboratively as you can.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Colorado Water Trust: ‘The instream flow water rights on the Fraser River are often water-short’ — Christine Hartman

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Christine Hartman):

Summer is flying by, and the Colorado Water Trust’s “Request for Water” projects are sailing ahead along with it.

After CWT made our Request for Water this spring, asking water rights owners to offer their water for lease to benefit streams, our projects team went to work screening the 19 official offers we received. Below you can see details of three projects that are in place, adding water to their local stream systems.

CITY OF ASPEN/ROARING FORK RIVER

For decades, large water diversions have reduced the amount of water flowing in the upper Roaring Fork River; only a fraction of the native flow reaches the City of Aspen.

To begin exploring long-term streamflow solutions for the Roaring Fork, the City of Aspen is leading local efforts this year by using one of its senior water rights to benefit flows through a critical reach of the Roaring Fork River. On June 10, the Aspen City Council authorized a nondiversion agreement with the Colorado Water Trust to bypass some water that Aspen would otherwise divert from this reach of the Roaring Fork.

STAGECOACH RESERVOIR/YAMPA RIVER

On July 16, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District signed a contract to lease 4,000 acre feet of water in Stagecoach Reservoir to CWT for the second year in a row. CWT is working with Upper Yampa; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; Catamount Development, Inc.; and the Colorado Water Conservation Board on planning releases to provide environmental benefits to the Yampa River. In coordination with CWT, Upper Yampa began releasing water from Stagecoach Reservoir at a rate of 30 cfs on Tuesday, July 23, to bolster streamflows in the Yampa.

WINTER PARK RANCH W&S/FRASER RIVER

The amount of water flowing in the heavily negotiated Fraser River has long been a topic of statewide concern. The instream flow water rights on the Fraser River are often water-short because they are junior to other rights on the stream.

After hearing about CWT’s pilot Request for Water program in 2012, the board of directors for Winter Park Ranch Water and Sanitation District saw an opportunity to lease some of the District’s water rights to supplement streamflows in St. Louis Creek and the Fraser River and pursued a local project to benefit their home river. This short-term lease was approved by the State Engineer’s Office on June 6, 2013, accepted by CWCB Assistant Director Tom Browning on June 11, and ratified by the CWCB Board of Directors on July 16 at their meeting in Alamosa.

To learn more about the Colorado Water Trust’s work to use market approaches to benefit streams, visit http://www.coloradowatertrust.org.

More instream flow coverage here.