‘Most states don’t do a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative analysis on vulnerability’ — Taryn Finnessey

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From the High Country News (Tay Wiles):

“(That summer, 2002,) was hellacious,” remembers Reagan Waskom, co-chair of the state’s drought task force agricultural team. “So hot, so windy, so dry. It was all just kind of exploding.” The 2002 drought, scientists later reported in the state drought plan, was, “based on studies of tree rings and archaeological evidence from aboriginal cultures… arguably the most severe in the recorded history of the state.” And the state was caught off-guard, scrambling to respond to a severe emergency.

Since then, Waskom says, Colorado has learned some lessons. This month, the state’s drought task force will finish revising its Drought Mitigation and Response Plan, which aims to reduce short- and long-term impacts of water shortages by planning ahead in all sectors. Beginning with the first major overhaul, which was in 2010, the massive plan has increasingly focused on proactive mitigation rather than just response. That means more weather forecasting and assessing which state assets and which counties are most vulnerable to future drought. Though there’s still plenty of work to be done, Colorado’s plan has become a model for other states in the region.

“Most states don’t do a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative analysis on vulnerability. They focus on the response plan, but they don’t tie all the pieces together,” says Taryn Finnessy, climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and lead coordinator of the plan. Filling gaps in climate data for various regions in the state, partnering with NOAA to create new tools to measure precipitation, and plans to name a drought “impact czar” are just a few examples of how Colorado has distinguished itself in the drought planning world. The state now also has a “toolbox” of guidelines and resources for municipalities and local water providers to draft their own plans, and a website where individuals can monitor water restrictions in their area.

NWS Pueblo: Some Relief in the Drought with the Active Monsoon #COdrought

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From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

SYNOPSIS…

THE ACTIVE SUMMER MONSOON OF 2013 BROUGHT MUCH NEEDED RAINFALL TO MUCH OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…PROVIDING SOME SHORT TERM RELIEF TO THE DROUGHT ACROSS THE AREA. HOWEVER…MUCH MORE PRECIPITATION WILL BE NEEDED…ESPECIALLY OVER THE SOUTHEAST PLAINS…TO ERASE PRECIPITATION DEFICITS ACCUMULATED OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS OF DROUGHT.

THE CURRENT US DROUGHT MONITOR CONTINUES TO SHOW IMPROVEMENT IN THE DROUGHT ACROSS SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…ESPECIALLY FOR THE PIKES PEAK REGION AND PORTIONS OF EASTERN MOUNTAINS AND ADJACENT PLAINS…WHICH SAW SUMMER PRECIPITATION TOTALS OF 150 TO 200 PERCENT OF NORMAL.

WITH THIS IN MIND…MODERATE (D1) DROUGHT CONDITIONS ARE NOW INDICATED ACROSS MUCH OF EL PASO COUNTY.

EXCEPTIONAL (D4) DROUGHT CONDITIONS ARE NOW LIMITED TO CROWLEY AND OTERO COUNTIES…AS WELL AS WESTERN KIOWA COUNTY AND EXTREME WESTERN PORTIONS OF BENT COUNTY.

EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS ARE NOW INDICATED ACROSS EXTREME SOUTHEASTERN EL PASO COUNTY…CENTRAL PORTIONS AND EXTREME EASTERN PUEBLO COUNTY…THE EASTERN TWO THIRDS OF LAS ANIMAS COUNTY…AS WELL AS BACA COUNTY…PROWERS COUNTY AND THE REST OF KIOWA AND BENT COUNTIES. EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS ALSO REMAIN DEPICTED ACROSS EXTREME SOUTHWESTERN MINERAL COUNTY.

SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS ARE NOW INDICATED ACROSS WESTERN AND EASTERN PORTIONS OF PUEBLO COUNTY…AS WELL AS EXTREME SOUTHERN AND EXTREME WESTERN PORTIONS OF EL PASO COUNTY. SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS REMAIN ACROSS TELLER COUNTY…FREMONT COUNTY…CUSTER COUNTY…HUERFANO COUNTY AND THE REST OF LAS ANIMAS COUNTY. SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS ALSO REMAIN DEPICTED ACROSS THE REST OF MINERAL COUNTY AND MOST OF SAGUACHE COUNTY…AS WELL AS ALL OF RIO GRANDE…CONEJOS…ALAMOSA AND COSTILLA COUNTIES.

MODERATE DROUGHT (D1) CONDITIONS REMAIN INDICATED ACROSS EXTREME NORTHERN SAGUACHE COUNTY…CHAFFEE COUNTY AND EXTREME WESTERN LAKE COUNTY…WITH ABNORMALLY DRY (D0) CONDITIONS REMAINING ACROSS THE REST OF LAKE COUNTY.

MORE INFORMATION ON THE US DROUGHT MONITOR CLASSIFICATION SCHEME CAN BE FOUND AT: WWW.DROUGHTMONITOR.UNL.EDU/CLASSIFY.HTM

SUMMARY OF IMPACTS…

THE BENEFICIAL MONSOONAL RAINS OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS HAVE PROVIDED SOME SHORT TERM RELIEF IN THE DROUGHT TO MUCH OF THE AREA…INCLUDING IMPROVEMENT IN CROPS AND VEGETATION…DECREASING THE FIRE DANGER AND THE LIFTING OR EASING OF WATER RESTRICTIONS.

THE SUMMER MONSOON…HOWEVER…HAS ALSO CREATED ITS OWN IMPACT WITH INCREASED FLASH FLOODING DANGERS FOR AREAS IN AND AROUND RECENT BURN SCARS. SEVERAL DESTRUCTIVE FLASH FLOODS HAVE BEEN RECORDED SINCE JULY 1ST…ESPECIALLY ACROSS TELLER AND EL PASO COUNTIES…DUE TO THE LOSS OF VEGETATION AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF HYDROPHOBIC SOILS CAUSED BY THE RECENT WILDFIRES.

Dillon Reservoir: Happy fiftieth birthday #ColoradoRiver

Denver Water employees Rick Geise and Nate Hurlbut assisted in setting the plug, which helps prevent chunks of ice and snow from falling into the spillway. Photo credit: Denver Water

Here’s the announcement from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

Summit County residents and visitors are invited to the Dillon Reservoir 50th Anniversary celebration this weekend. This free event will feature Dillon Reservoir’s high-quality recreation activities, including pontoon boat tours, canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, as well as a preview of the 2014 air and water show, a free performance by the band Eyes Wide Open, balloon sculptures and tasty treats from local vendors.

The event is sponsored by the Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee, an interagency committee comprised of Denver Water, Summit County government, Town of Dillon, Town of Frisco and the U.S. Forest Service.

Dillon Reservoir was completed in 1963 and is Denver Water’s largest reservoir. With 3,300 acres of surface and 27 miles of shoreline, it also is an important recreational amenity, with two marinas and countless activities for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Here’s an guest commentary about the reservoir written by Allen Best that is running in The Denver Post:

Recreational activities on Sunday will be the lion’s share of activities on Sunday when the 50th anniversary of the completion of Dillon Reservoir is marked. That’s proper, in that locals long ago took to calling it “Lake Dillon,” emphasizing its role as a tourism amenity rather than as a vital storage vessel for metropolitan Denver.

But if history were to be properly commemorated, there should be a shouting match as well.

As recent books by both George Sibley and Patty Limerick make clear, there was no small amount of arguing about the water to store behind the dam.

Denver representatives began studying Summit County as a future source for water in 1907. Several other loosely sketched proposals were assembled for tunnels under the Continental Divide to export water. Instead of pursing them, Denver made use of the Moffat Tunnel, which opened for railroad traffic in 1928. After modifying the pioneer bore, Denver in 1936 used it to deliver water from the Fraser Valley and, a few years later, the Williams Fork Valley. The latter is located just north of today’s Eisenhower Tunnel. That water gave Denver and its suburbs the ability to sustain rapid growth after World War II.

But the drought of the mid-1950s demanded additional supply. Denver set out to develop its water rights in Summit County.

Summit County after World War II was “receding into the wilderness,” in the words of the late Ed Quillen, who remembered visiting Breckenridge in the 1950s. Arapahoe Basin started skiing operations in 1946, but Breckenridge didn’t come until 1961, and Keystone and Copper much later yet.

The Western Slope, however, remained wary of water heists. That first significant protest came in the 1930s, when northern Colorado farmers proposed the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. The project, built between 1938 and 1957, was later described by historian David Lavender as a “massive violation of geography.” He referred to the staggering scope of the diversion of waters naturally headed west, but instead steered through a tunnel under Rocky Mountain National Park to the Boulder, Greeley and Fort Collins area.

But in the congressional horse-trading before federal authorization, the Western Slope did get a major benefit: construction by the federal government of Green Mountain Reservoir. This impoundment on the Blue River hold water for late-summer use on farms and orchards in the Grand Junction area and, more recently, for ski area snowmaking.

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District commissioned Sibley to write a history of the district’s 75th anniversary. In researching his 2012 book, “Water Wranglers,” Sibley arrived at a low opinion what was then called the Denver Water Board. “There was not a sense of rational to what Denver did in those years,” says Sibley, mirroring criticism from the Grand Junction Sentinel and other Western Slope opinion leaders of the time.

Central to Denver’s efforts was Glenn Saunders, who refused to accept the senior of the Green Mountain water rights of 1935. Denver could do no better at Dillon than a 1948 decree. It angered Saunders so much, Sibley says, that “he could not be rational about it.”

Denver’s investment at Dillon was instead salvaged by another of its lawyers, Harold Roberts. The 23.3-mile tunnel that delivers water from Dillon to the North Fork of the South Platte River near Grant, 40 miles southwest of Denver, carries Roberts’ name. As for Saunders, very likely Denver’s most forceful and colorful water figure of the 20th century, his name is absent from maps.

In her book, “A Ditch in Time,” which was commissioned by Denver Water, Limerick devotes a full chapter to Saunders, finding him a “fluent speaker of the language of 19th century westward expansion.” In this language, Denver had a right to carve up available natural resources, and in the context of water, had no need to consult the Western Slope.

Denver Water, under the late Chips Barry and now continued by Jim Lochhead, a long-time resident of the Western Slope, have taken a very different tack, seeking collaboration instead of defiance. This attitude is evident in the city’s willingness for lengthy negotiation outside the courtrooms. Lochhead, speaking at a Colorado Oil & Gas Association conference, advised drilling companies to adopt a similar process of up-front community collaboration.

Will the result be any different? Vulnerabilities of the existing water supply in places like Arvada, where I live, became evident in the 2002 drought. Denver, as the water provider for 1.3 million in the metropolitan area, is seeking to haul yet more water from the Fraser Valley. But the trout fishermen I know in Fraser and Granby say there’s just not much water left to take, and warmer, longer summers just may make the problem worse.

More Denver Water coverage here and here.

Havey Productions plans documentary revealing how the destiny of the west is written in the headwaters of Colorado

Diagram depicting average streamflow leaving Colorado -- graphic/State Engineer
Diagram depicting average streamflow leaving Colorado — Graphic/State Engineer

Here’s the release from Havey Productions via the Sterling Journal Advocate:

Emmy Award winning Havey Productions, a Colorado historical documentary film house, announces its next documentary film project: “The Great Divide,” revealing how the destiny of the west is written in the headwaters of Colorado.

“The Great Divide” will take on one of the most pressing and critical issues of our time in order to raise public understanding and appreciation of Colorado’s water heritage while inspiring informed discussion about this vital resource critical to a sustainable future.

“Tens of millions of people, billions of dollars of agricultural production, and an enormous amount of economic activity across a vast swath of America from California to the Mississippi River are all dependent on rivers born in the mountains of Colorado. We hope to help the public better understand the issues impacting water use and policy in the arid west in order to encourage a more informed approach to the subject, moving from a past of conflict to a future of cooperation,” said Producer and Director Jim Havey.

In association with Managing Sponsor Colorado Humanities, The Great Divide will be a feature length documentary film that illustrates the timeless influence of water in both connecting and dividing an arid state and region.

Colorado Humanities Executive Director Maggie Coval says “Having partnered with Havey Productions in bringing a wide range of historical subjects to the screen, I have experienced first hand the impact of these films in raising the level of discussion and debate throughout the state. The Great Divide comes to us at a critical time in planning for our water future in the West.”

In addition to Colorado Humanities, The Great Divide has earned early support from top influencers in the worlds of public policy, conservation, education, law, and science including the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, the One World One Water Center, the Colorado Water Institute and the Center of the American West.

“I have worked in the field of water resources in Colorado for more than 30 years, and now is a perfect time for this film project,” says Tom Cech, Director, One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Coloradoans generally are aware that we live in a semi-arid environment, but are typically unaware of where their water comes from, why we have a rigid system of water allocation law, or why the Western Slope and the Eastern Slope water interests often have conflict over limited water supplies.

Patty Limerick, Faculty Director and Chair of the Board for the Center of the American West added, “This film offers a very promising way to restore or create an appropriate sense of wonder over the arrangements that support human settlement in this state.”

Colorado Humanities is currently seeking sponsorships and grants from business and nonprofit organizations with an interest in Colorado and western water issues. For more information about Colorado Humanities contact Maggie Coval, Executive Director at (303) 894-7951, Ext. 14, or visit coloradohumanities.org.

Distribution plans for The Great Divide include local and regional PBS, municipal and cable channels. DVDs will be distributed to 2,000 schools and libraries throughout the state for class curriculum and public viewing. Sponsors and interest groups will have the opportunity to screen the film for education and discussion among their networks and constituents. Additional outreach will seek distribution on the regional and national level.

The target completion date for the film is March of 2015.