Drought news #COdrought

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Here’s an excerpt from the summary from the US Drought Monitor website:

Weather Summary: The week commenced with high pressure over the Southeast and storm systems traversing across the northern U.S. As the week progressed, the high pressure system traveled westward, settling over the south-central Plains while a trough of low pressure and associated cold front brought scattered showers and thunderstorms to the eastern third of the Nation. A weak frontal system generated scattered showers in the Pacific Northwest. In the Southwest, tropical moisture from Tropical Storm Juliette (which dissipated off central Baja California) helped to fuel the southwest monsoon in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and southern Idaho. Decent showers also fell on parts of New Mexico and Colorado. Hit and miss showers also fell on parts of the northern Plains and upper Midwest, the central Great Plains, and south-central Texas. Unsettled weather and decent precipitation also affected most of Alaska, with many stations reporting weekly totals exceeding 2 inches in southwestern and south-central sections of the state. In contrast, little or no rain fell on most of California, Oregon, and eastern Washington, parts of the Plains, most of the Mississippi Valley, and much of Hawaii. Weekly temperatures averaged well above normal (6 to 10 degF) across much of the contiguous U.S., with the exception of seasonable readings in the desert Southwest and Southeast. Highs topped triple-digits in the southern two-thirds of the Plains, southern Iowa and northern Missouri…

Northern and Central Great Plains: Most of the Dakotas reported light to moderate (0.5 to 1.5 inches) of rain, with a few spots in southern North Dakota and northern South Dakota measuring over 2 inches. The rains were enough to keep conditions status-quo, except where the heavier rains fell. In the latter case, D0 was alleviated along most of the western D0 edge of the Dakotas, with D1 to D0 in south-central North Dakota. A slight increase in D0 was made in extreme southeastern South Dakota where many days in the 90’sF have started to prematurely brown the crops. USGS stream flows are still near or above normal at most sites in the Dakotas. No changes were made in Nebraska and Kansas, except for a small 1-category improvement (D1 to D0; D0 to nothing) in extreme sections of southeast Nebraska, northeast Kansas, southwest Iowa, and northwest Missouri, where 1.5 to 3.2 inches fell.

Southern Great Plains: In Oklahoma and Texas, several weeks of mostly dry and warm weather (highs in the 100sF) have diminished the surplus rains from a wet and cool July (in both states) and a wet and cool early August (in Oklahoma). As a result, D0 returned across northern Oklahoma, while a 1-category downgrade occurred across southern Oklahoma as August was a no-show in the southern third of the state. In Texas, a band of light to moderate, with some locally heavy (>2 inches) rain, fell from near Del Rio northeastward into southeastern Oklahoma, and along the Gulf Coast. Some slight improvements were made where the heaviest totals occurred. In eastern Texas, little or no rain fell, and some deterioration was made.

The Southwest: A continued robust summer monsoon, aided by a northward fetch of moisture from former Tropical Storms Juliette and Kiko (both dissipated west of central Baja California), produced widespread showers and thundershowers to much of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and northward into parts of the West (Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado). Numerous locations in southern Nevada and Arizona measured over 2 inches of rain, while 1 to 2 inches were common in central Nevada, western and central New Mexico, central Utah, and most of Arizona. Although short-term shortages have been greatly eased or eliminated, long-term deficits still lingered. To accommodate the long-term impacts, only slight improvements were made where the greatest rains fell and the long-term deficits (180-days) were noticeably reduced. For example, enough rain has fallen during the past 6-months in western New Mexico and southwestern Texas that surpluses have accumulated, hence the D2 to D1 and D0 to nothing upgrade, respectively. Similarly in south-central Nevada, D3 and D2 was improved where there was heavy weekly rains and the 180-day deficits were noticeably diminished. The same holds true in western and central Arizona where D2 and D1 were decreased. On Sep. 2, even many USGS stream flow gauges in western New Mexico, central Arizona, southern Nevada, and southwestern Utah flowed at the 90th percentile at 1- and 7-days. The Impacts line was redrawn to depict improved short-term conditions from the robust monsoon, making the long-term (hydrologic) effects causing most of the negative impacts.

The West: Moderate to heavy (1 to 3 inches) rains fell on the Pacific Northwest Coast, effectively eliminating the D0(S) in western Washington. Southwest monsoonal showers also spread northward into southeastern Idaho, central Colorado, and southeastern Wyoming, dropping enough rain (1 to 2.5 inches) to improve D2 to D1 in southeastern Idaho, and 1-category improvement of parts of the D3 and D2 areas in southeastern Wyoming. In addition, 180-day surpluses were present, justifying an upgrade from D1 to D0. Elsewhere, little or no rain fell, and conditions were kept status-quo. An exception was made in north-central Oregon (D0 and D1) where a re-assessment of 90- to 180-day deficiencies were made. The data and products yielded a surplus at those time periods, hence the D1 was improved to D0 (eastern Wheeler county) and D0 removed (from Wasco, Jefferson, Sherman, and western Wheeler counties).

Windy Gap Firming Project update: Analysis paralysis #ColoradoRiver

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Joshua Zaffos):

Begun in 2003 and scheduled to be up and running by 2011, the project, known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, like many others across the state, still is mired in regulatory delays. Whether or when Windy Gap will be built is still unclear 10 years after the first regulatory review took place.

Three other major water projects face similar delays and uncertainty…

Northern is working with 13 Northern Colorado water providers to develop the latest phase of Windy Gap, which is designed to serve 60,000 households.

Northern Water initially submitted the project for environmental he project for environmental review to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 2003. Through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a project’s environmental impacts are reviewed during several stages of technical analysis and public comment. A 2005 Northern Water fact sheet projected a final “record of decision” could come by the end of that year, meaning construction could start soon after and the reservoir would be ready by 2011.

That forecast was wildly optimistic. The bureau didn’t issue a final environmental impact statement, a key step in NEPA, until late 2011. Reviews by federal and state scientists, environmental groups and western Colorado interests each triggered calls for mitigation and changes that added months and then years of delay…

Project partners have spent $12 million to date just on permitting, agreed to pay millions more than expected for environmental mitigation and watched the cost estimate jump nearly 28 percent, from $223 million to $285 million. That’s roughly $1,033 per household.

Similar delays and cost overruns have plagued nearly every other major Colorado water-development project that has sought regulatory approval since the 1990 defeat of Two Forks Dam. Proposed by Denver Water, the $1 billion Two Forks project passed through NEPA with government approval before the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the decision because of study inadequacies and unresolved water-quality impacts.

After more than a decade of drought and a new wave of growth, water utility planners believe the project review system is broken and must be fixed. Legal experts and environmental watchdogs say the projects themselves are outdated in concept and that utilities need to rethink how they obtain, store and deliver water…

Drager has had to ask Windy Gap Firming Project partners for an extra $1 million four separate times in the past five years to pay for unexpected mitigation. Consideration of the upper Colorado River as a federally designated wild and scenic river triggered additional analysis. State fish and wildlife managers required further mitigation plans, including a study for a fish bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir. Northern Water also had to agree to enhance river habitat and operate water diversions to support endangered fish in the Colorado River. The EPA filed comments that led to further changes. When an end seemed near in June 2012, Grand County exercised its “1041 powers,” requiring a new permit and an agreement from partners to improve clarity for Grand Lake, which has deteriorated in part because of Northern’s water diversions. Now mostly settled, the Grand Lake revision marked the fifth major project stoppage.

“It’s not just NEPA,” Drager said. “There are a whole bunch of federal requirements – the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act – and then you’ve got a group of state laws which don’t always work well with the federal laws. So, it’s very hard to know when is the last step. When are you done?”

Communities and water districts that are footing the bill have weathered the delays and tacked-on costs so far. The Little Thompson Water District in Berthoud has avoided charging existing customers extra, said district manager Jim Hibbard, because one developer is shouldering the district’s share of the costs and adding those dollars to the cost of new homes he is building. “Probably the most significant impact is the costs of the project keep going up,” Hibbard said.

The city and county of Broomfield, another project partner, has used money from water tap fees for its share of the project and paid the additional costs with reserve funds stashed away for such purposes, said public works director David Allen. But even with the added mitigation and expenses, both managers say the project remains an inexpensive and preferred alternative to purchasing shares in existing water projects, such as the Colorado-Big Thompson system or buying out farmers’ water rights and drying up local agriculture…

Since Two Forks, federal agencies involved with NEPA reviews are “gun shy,” said Dave Little, planning director for Denver Water, which also has spent more than 10 years seeking approval for its own major water project, the Moffat Collection System…

Cost overruns may look excessive, but initial estimates often come in low to ease early acceptance of a project, [Western Resource Advocates Drew Beckwith] said, adding that some delays are squarely on the shoulders of project managers who haven’t adequately analyzed certain impacts or mitigation actions. “I don’t think anyone is really happy with the way the process works right now,” Beckwith said. “Utilities think it takes too long. Conservationists would say there’s not enough good input.”

He said he would like to see a more open-ended, upfront approach to water-supply challenges instead of a water agency selecting a preferred solution and then following a “decide and defend” strategy.

The changing pressures from environmental organizations also have factored into delays. The proposed $140 million Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation southwest of Denver, another storage expansion project under consideration, has received support from several conservation groups, including Western Resource Advocates, because it avoids building an entirely new reservoir, but the Audubon Society of Greater Denver opposes the development because it would flood wetlands and other bird habitat…

The plodding pace of regulatory review may remain an annoying reality – unless a water utility can devise ways to provide water without massive new storage or delivery pipelines.

Aurora did just that. A decade ago, facing water shortages and drought, Aurora Water planners recognized the need for swift action to protect system reliability and service for existing customers. The utility decided to build its Prairie Waters Project, an $854 million pipeline and treatment facility that would allow the city to reuse 50,000 acre-feet of water annually and meet its water demands through 2030. Since the project didn’t include new storage, managers avoided prolonged federal review, said Darrell Hogan, the project manager, and Aurora Water further expedited its work by tunneling under waterways. To have disturbed the waterways otherwise would have required Clean Water Act 404 permits. Hogan said the project didn’t evade environmental protections; planners still consulted with government scientists and conservationists, and had to acquire more than 400 permits for local construction and operations. However, working around the federal system facilitated progress. Prairie Waters went from concept to completion in less than six years, delivering water in October 2010 on time and under budget.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

Drought news: Colorado Springs meets conservation goal for the water year #COdrought

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Residents, watering their lawns only two days a week and helped by summer rain, used 5.8 billion gallons less than last summer and as of Thursday have met the city’s water-savings goal. That leaves 1.8 years of water in storage, “meaning if we never got another drop into the system, there is enough water in storage to protect residents’ health and safety for 1.8 years,” said Patrice Lehermeier, Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman…

It was likely a combination of watering restrictions, higher water rates and lots of rain that helped the city meet its goal three weeks early, Lehermeier said.

Now the city will wait on Mother Nature to deliver snow this winter – the melted snowpack is what fills the city’s reservoirs, Lehermeier said. But Colorado Springs Utilities water planners already are working on next summer’s water plan, which is likely to include watering restrictions and a new water savings goal.

More Colorado Springs Utilities coverage here.