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


Click on the thumbnail graphic for the July 2013 precipitation as a percent of normal map for the Upper Colorado River Basin. Click here to go to the current webpage from the Colorado Climate Center.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Sepia-tinted pictures from Timothy O’Sullivan show the western landscape as it was charted for the very first time


Click here to view a gallery of Timothy O’Sullivan’s photographs from the Wheeler Survey and a few side trips of his own.

Loveland: ‘Fueling the Future’ summit recap


From The Greeley Tribune (David Persons):

Colorado’s snowy peaks produce an abundance of water that is among the most managed, scrutinized and carefully used water in the United States. No drop goes unaccounted for. That’s good news for the state’s agricultural industry, regional oil and gas companies, industrial users, municipalities and even out-of-state entities with water rights. Everyone can count on Colorado for its fair share of water.

But a day of reckoning is coming — and it’s not too far off, said members of a panel of water and energy officials who took part recently in an energy summit at The Ranch in Loveland sponsored by the Northern Colorado Business Report. And, that’s an issue that needs to be dealt with now. “Water is a big deal right now,” said Jerd Smith, NCBR editor. Smith moderated the panel during the “Fueling the Future” energy summit on July 16. “It’s a big deal because Colorado is a headwater state,” Smith added. “We have eight river basins. That’s a lot of water … but that water doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to various states, farmers, oil and gas companies and other various entities.”

Smith said ownership is going to cause some serious water problems very shortly as will other related issues. She pointed out the state’s population, which will jump from 5 million to 7 million in the next 15 years or so, will create a water shortage in Colorado by 2030. Experts say the shortage will be about 400,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot of water can supply three homes with water for a year.

Smith said the state’s oil and gas operations and their need for water will increase, too, and that will impact the price of water, which has already increased dramatically in the past four years. That, in turn, will induce farmers to sell their water rights and shift to dryland farming — a very unreliable way to grow crops given Colorado’s unpredictable weather and propensity for droughts.

Tom Cech, the director for the One World One Water Center at Metro State University in Denver, believes 133,000 to 226,000 acres of irrigated farmland will dry up by 2030. That’s problematic, he says, for the state and the country.

Weld County is the eighth most productive agricultural county in the U.S. “It’s a lush, garden area,” Cech said. But, he pointed out, without fresh water for agriculture, the amount of crops (corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, etc.) will drop significantly at a time when demand will be growing.

So, what can be done to conserve water and/or lessen the upcoming shortage?

Two panelists, David Stewart and Doug White, believe recycling and reusing water produced by oil and gas drilling operations, could lighten the load on the amount of fresh water needed for hydraulic fracturing — the technology used today to drill into deep, difficult formations. Recycling and reuse will, in turn, will leave more fresh water for use, they say. “The amount of water used in Colorado for fracking and energy production is about 0.14 percent of the water available (less than one-tenth of 1 percent),” said Stewart, the president of Stewart Environmental Consultants. “That’s not much. But, it’s important. “We get about 20 percent of the water back with each frack and it’s difficult to treat (for reuse). But, it’s significant when you’re in a drought.”

Stewart said more oil and gas companies need to consider recycling produced water so that the process becomes the “standard operating procedure of the future.”

White, the vice president of High Sierra Water Services, said his company treats produced water primarily for Noble Energy. He said his company has about seven treatment facilities that service 10 wells in Weld County. White said his company is recycling about 33 million barrels of water each year. He said some water is recycled for reuse in drilling operations and some is cleaned to the point that it can be put back in the water system. White praised Noble Energy for being “a big, big driver for recycled water.” He said other companies need to follow Noble’s lead. “(Oil companies) need to understand that 50 cents a barrel for fresh water isn’t going to last long,” White said.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project operations update: 47,000 acre-feet across the Great Divide this season #ColoradoRiver


From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

An estimated 47,000 acre-feet of water will be diverted from the upper Fryingpan River basin this year to municipalities and farmers on the Front Range, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The diversion is significantly above the paltry 14,000 acre-feet that could be diverted last year but still 13 percent below the average annual diversion of 54,000 acre-feet, according to bureau records.

The diversion season from the upper Fryingpan is just about finished, according to Kara Lamb, a spokeswoman for the agency, which manages Ruedi Reservoir’s water…

The snowpack melted quickly, so the diversion season is coming to an end. Sailers and anglers might be disappointed to know the water level in Ruedi Reservoir peaked earlier this week. Even though diversions are easing, less water is flowing into Ruedi Reservoir than must be released, according to Lamb. Her email said the bureau increased the release of water by 60 cfs recently to satisfy owners of superior water rights on the Colorado River near Cameo. An additional 50 cfs was released as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Plan. Ruedi Reservoir is under contract to supply more than 10,000 acre-feet of water for that federal program.

The total release from the reservoir combined with Rocky Fork Creek is producing a flow of about 268 cfs in the lower Fryingpan River below the dam, a level that generally pleases trout fishermen.

Ruedi Reservoir peaked around 95,500 acre-feet, or 93 percent of capacity, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. The water level started dropping this week because the inflow fell off so drastically. About 120 cfs was flowing into the reservoir Wednesday.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here.

Eagle River Watershed Council — 2013 Colorado Riverfest: Discover your Rivers, August 17 #ColoradoRiver


Click here for the details.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Farming news: Tour of trial underground drip irrigation project tomorrow in Hooper


From the Valley Courier (Laura Krizansky):

See what happens when potatoes are watered from underground.

On Monday, Beiriger and Christensen Farms welcome the public for a Drip Irrigation Field Day starting at Coors Farm, Saguache County Roads 50 and E, at 9 a.m.

The tour bus will stop at both farms participating in the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee (CPAC) sub-surface drip irrigation trial that could lend to the way crops are irrigated in the future. In March, the Rio Grande Roundtable unanimously approved $40,000 from local basin funds to support the $146,395 endeavor based on successful Colorado State University area drip irrigation experiments.

The trial is located within the Subdistrict No. 1 boundary, covers 40 plus acres and utilizes two different system layouts. Similar to a home-based lawn system, each zone is pressured up and watered in sequence for a few hours before moving on to the next section. In a 24-hour period, the whole farm is watered and the system starts over again.

Roger Christensen installed both permanent and temporary drip lines on 15 acres, half of which is in permanent drip, buried 13 inches underground, and the other temporary, buried two to three inches under the soil. He is growing five acres of Norkotah potatoes, five acres of Yukon Gold, four acres of CO99 100s and one acre of Classics. The Norkotah and Yukon Gold varieties are preforming the best; and he has salvaged 20 percent of his water, applied only one fungicidal treatment versus three or four and applied only 105 units of nitrogen versus upwards of 200.

What is most interesting, Christensen said in an interview on Thursday, is the way the water moves through his clay heavy soil.

“It’s funny,” he said about the permanent drip lines that he is finding to outperform the temporary system. “It just rises up.”

The trial has encountered a few problems, he said, but none that have hindered the potato crop.

“It’s growing very well,” Christensen said. “I will do it again next year.”

For five years, Dennis Beiriger and his brothers dreamed of turning their fourth-generation family farm in Hooper into such a demonstration project to prove the benefits of a drip system over a pivot system in a drought-stricken environment. The system is deliberately over-sized at their location to send the water across the road to the center-pivot sprinkler system to compare the amount of water the drip tape uses versus what the center pivot uses to water the crop. He is growing 35 acres divided between the Norkotah Selection 3 and Tabena varieties, and favors the temporary drip line in his sandy soil.

“It has been a learning experience,” said Beiriger, who is looking to use the system for barley next year. “It’s a better deal. You aren’t going to hurt the aquifer.”

The trial also includes moisture monitoring, plant nutrition monitoring and pest monitoring with help from Agro Engineering.

In addition to the tour, attendees will have the opportunity to ask the growers questions about the trial. Diversity D. Inc. drip irrigation specialist Ross Roberts, Maya Ter-Kuile-Miller, Cactus Hill Ag Consulting, Jason Lorenz, Agro Engineering, and Danny Sosebee, Netafim USA agronomist, will also join the panel.

Coors Farm will provide lunch at 1 p.m. when the tour concludes. RSVP to Judy Jolly at 852-2402 ASAP for lunch.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

Raton: Partnership nourishes Rio Grande cutthroat habitat


Here’s the release from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (Rachel Shockley):

Thanks to a collaboration between the Department of Game and Fish, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, Vermejo Park Ranch and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout will have protected habitat long into the future.

A Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for Vermejo Park Ranch, recently approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will help conserve and restore the New Mexico State Fish and other native fish in the Costilla watershed.

The Department works closely with private landowners, states and federal agencies to recover sensitive species and their habitat. By proactively agreeing to conservation activities within a project area, a CCAA can protect existing uses such as agriculture, recreation or commercial activities if a covered species becomes federally protected.

“We have been working together for 10 years to make sure we can address the needs of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and other native fish living in the watershed, while ensuring private landowners continue to be able to manage their own lands. This agreement does that,” said Department Fisheries Chief Mike Sloane.

The Rio Grande cutthroat is easy to recognize with its red throat slashes, rosy belly and spotted sides. Anglers have long enjoyed the colorful fish and have contributed millions of dollars to conservation and habitat restoration for the species through the purchase of fishing licenses and fishing equipment. At Vermejo Park Ranch, non-native trout were removed and Rio Grande cutthroat were stocked. Non-native trout will continue to be removed from the waterways until the restoration is complete. Because of the CCAA, the Costilla basin is set to provide important habitat for New Mexico’s native trout for many years to come.

“The CCAA is a no brainer for us,” said Carter Kruse, aquatic resource coordinator for Turner Enterprises. “If the Rio Grande cutthroat trout is listed under the Endangered Species Act, it provides us the protection and flexibility to design the activities on the ranch, and as private landowners, to manage the property to the best of our abilities for conservation and for economic sustainability. We hope we can be an example for other private landowners that you can still do your ranching activities and participate in conservation. We’ve done it, it works, here’s how.”

Although not listed as endangered, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout is a candidate species for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Department is working hard to keep the fish off the endangered species list by increasing the subspecies’ range and the number of populations through habitat restoration and stocking. Currently, Rio Grande cutthroats are found in about 10 percent of the species’ historic habitat, which encompassed the Rio Grande, Pecos River and Canadian River basins in New Mexico and Colorado. The species faces many challenges, including non-native fish, fragmented populations, drought and poor habitat.

From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

Wildlife officials in New Mexico and Colorado have teamed up with the Vermejo Park Ranch near Raton to protect habitat for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says federal officials have approved a conservation agreement for the northern New Mexico ranch that is aimed at conserving and restoring the trout along with other native fish in the Costilla watershed. The agreement gives the ranch flexibility in managing its private lands while working to meet the needs of the fish if it’s ever listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The trout are found in about 10 percent of their historic habitat, which encompassed the Rio Grande, Pecos River and Canadian River basins in New Mexico and Colorado. Threats facing the species include non-native fish, fragmented populations, drought and poor habitat.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.