ENSO-neutral is expected into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014 — NOAA

ENSO Model plume September 2013
ENSO Model plume September 2013

Click here to read the discussion. Here’s the synopsis:

ENSO-neutral is expected into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014.

ENSO-neutral continued during September 2013, as sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies were near-average across much of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Except for the Niño-1+2 region, all of the latest weekly Niño index values were between 0°C and -0.5°C. The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean)weakened , as a consequence of an upwelling oceanic Kelvin wave contributing to below-average temperatures in the east-central Pacific Ocean. The strength of the tropical atmospheric circulation anomalies, as reflected by convection and winds, also weakened over the last month. Slightly enhanced convection remained over parts of Indonesia, with weakly suppressed convection evident near the Date Line. Low-level winds were near average, while anomalous westerly winds prevailed at upper-levels. Collectively, these atmospheric and oceanic conditions reflect ENSO-neutral.

51st State Initiative (Secession): Do Weld Commissioners have the authority to advocate for secession?

51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record
51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Three Greeley attorneys are questioning whether Weld County commissioners have the authority to initiate the 51st state movement, calling on the Weld County Council to investigate the issue. In a letter sent on Monday to Don Mueller, chairman of the Weld County Council, the three attorneys — Robert Ruyle, Stow Witwer and Chuck Dickson — say the Colorado Constitution gives citizens the authority to alter their form of government, but no such authority is granted to county commissioners.

“We have reviewed the Colorado Constitution, the statutes of Colorado and the Weld County Home Rule Charter,” the letter states. “We can find nothing in the law giving the Board of County Commissioners the power or authority to advocate, investigate or initiate the secession of Weld County from the state of Colorado.”

Weld County Commissioner Doug Rademacher said those claims are “totally baseless.”

“We obviously wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t have a legal basis to do it,” Rademacher said.

Witwer, one of the attorneys who signed off on the letter, said commissioners’ proposal to secede from Colorado is their most recent action in a number of instances that he said don’t necessarily fall under their authority. He said no state law or county charter outlines commissioners’ authority to focus on issues outside of county affairs.

Weld commissioners have said they were approached by a group of residents who asked them to start a secession movement. But Witwer said the fact that constituents approached them still doesn’t grant commissioners authority to start the movement.

Witwer said the November ballot question asking voters whether they would like to secede isn’t an official action, but more of a poll. He said that kind of initiative has no real legal base.

Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker acts as legal counsel for commissioners and the Weld County Council, so the letter asks the county council to seek a neutral attorney to investigate commissioners’ authority.

Mueller said on Tuesday he had not seen the letter and wished to comment after he had seen it. Barker also declined to comment until he has discussed the letter with county council members.

Witwer said he agrees with the sentiment that started the 51st state proposal, which is that state legislators are not tending to the concerns of rural Coloradans.

“It isn’t that I reject the idea that there is some dissidence among the rural community,” he said.

But Witwer said he feels there are a number of logistical issues, namely water rights, that pose too many difficulties to allow the creation of a new state.

He said the letter came about after he and Ruyle struck up a conversation about the 51st state movement, and the three attorneys decided a letter to the county council, which oversees commissioners, was the best way to express concern.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

COGCC is about 80% through their well site inspection list in the aftermath of the #COflood

Flooded well site September 2013 -- Denver Post
Flooded well site September 2013 — Denver Post

From The Denver Post:

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Tuesday said it has completed the inspection of about 1,355 oil and gas wells, or about 80 percent of facilities in a newly defined “flood-impact zone.”

Spokesman Todd Hartman described the expanded map as an “exercise designed to use an excess of caution in ensuring any location potentially affected receives an assessment and evaluation.”

The agency, charged with both regulating and promoting the oil and gas industry in Colorado, now is tracking 13 so-called notable releases of oil totalling 43,134 gallons. This is down two from the last report on Oct. 2 because the agency is continuing to assess two damaged facilities but has not confirmed spills.

The number of tracked releases of produced water — a product of oil extraction that contains some dissolved hydrocarbons — rose by two to 17 totalling 26,385 gallons.

The state health department on Tuesday said it has tested water in 29 locations in the flood zone, but found no evidence of oil and gas contamination.

Steve Gunderson, director of the state’s water quality control division, said his agency would typically categorize the spill of 40,000 gallons of crude into surface water as catastrophic. “But a lot of it was probably spilled at the height of the flood. A lot of it probably got diluted pretty quickly, or moved up into the air, was aerosolized.

“The volume of water is one reason we aren’t seeing it now,” he said. “We’ll continue to check it.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

‘…what gets published the first day gets remembered forever’ — Nolan Doesken #COflood

South Platte Flooding 1965 -- photo via the City of Denver
South Platte Flooding 1965 — photo via the City of Englewood

Allen Best does the math and science behind the phrase in this report running in The Denver Post:

Do you know how to make a meteorologist squirm? Ask for hard numbers immediately after a flood or a big rainfall, especially something like the September deluge that drenched many parts of Colorado’s Front Range with 10 inches of rain in just a few days. In some places, up to 18 inches of rain fell, most of it within the space of 36 hours.

Almost immediately there came a report that this was a 100-year flood in Boulder. Well, no, said a later report; it was more like a 50-year flood, and possibly less. Maybe it was a 100-year flood somewhere else. Check with us in a few months.

Others — including meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — announced that it was a 1,000-year rainfall. Really? A thousand years is an awful long time. What about the massive flooding of 1938, others wanted to know? Where does that rank in the scheme of things?

If the great deluge of 2013 in Colorado revealed anything, it was that the science of rainfall, flooding and even global warming is still imprecise. We all want clear answers and instant tabulations, the way that a website can report page visits and even the locations of viewers. Most of the time, however, the hard sciences can’t give us the hard numbers and precise explanations that we crave.

“Be very careful about historical frequencies, because what gets published the first day gets remembered forever,” said Nolan Doesken, Colorado state climatologist, at a recent forum organized by the government consortium, Western Water Assessment.

Doesken pointed to the Big Thompson flood of 1976, in which 12 to 14 inches of rain fell in just a few hours, creating a giant surge of about 32,000 cubic feet of water per second. Some 143 people died as a result. At the time, it was described as a 100-year flood. But an expert in evaluating flooding, who later methodically examined the canyon, concluded that nothing comparable had occurred since the Ice Age ended 10,000 years ago.

Historical records have been kept in Colorado for only a little more than 100 years. And yet we know that giant storms have occurred many times over the centuries. Every year, Colorado has remarkable deluges somewhere within its borders.

“Throughout history, we have had monsters pretty often somewhere in the state,” Doesken said. “I think there are 50 100-year floods each year somewhere in Colorado.”

Scientists would like something other than the simple description of “100-year” floods in favor of a more complicated evaluation that emphasizes the actual frequency of major incidents. Too often, a 50-year flood is assumed to mean that such an event happens every 50 years, almost like clockwork, though in fact two so-called 50-year floods can occur two years in a row.

“We’re trying to get away from all those aging atlases,” said Kelly Mahoney, a research scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, based at the University of Colorado. “But after a day or two of staying away from (the hard numbers), those numbers (still) flow to the top.”

Sometimes, floods occur in places that have never before been identified as floodplains. Such was the case in 1997, when a deluge swamped Fort Collins, killing several people. The water ran in “entirely new channels — very subtle channels — that had not been identified,” noted Doesken. The basement of Morgan Library at Colorado State University got swamped, for example, though it’s nowhere near a creek. “Flash floods can happen anywhere.”

Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist who specializes in climate dynamics at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, made the same point, in a more general way.

“Caveats can get in the way of sound bites,” he said. “As scientists, caveats is all we do.”

Mapping of flood plains is also imprecise, in part because the construction of buildings and other alterations over time have changed the flow of water. Mahoney said identified flood plains are “constructs, and not determinations of truths for all time.”

Can global warming explain at least part of this deluge? The answer seems to be a definite “maybe.” As Hoerling put it, “I am skeptical that you can include or exclude climate change. Our models just aren’t good enough.”

Globally, the atmosphere contains an estimated 5 percent more moisture than it did 50 years ago. In the Boulder area, just prior to the recent storm, there was a great deal of water vapor — 150 to 200 percent more than normal. But how much did that added water vapor contribute to making it a 1,000-year event, at least in some places?

“It is a factor, but still a very small factor,” said Hoerling. In other words, weird weather has been with us for a very long time.

Arizona Game and Fish executive selected to lead Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Roxborough State Park photo via Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Roxborough State Park photo via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Todd Hartman):

Robert Broscheid, a longtime part of the leadership team at the Arizona Game and Fish Department, has been selected as the new director for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Broscheid is currently the Special Assistant to the Director at Arizona Game and Fish. He was selected to lead CPW by Colorado Department of Natural Resources executive director Mike King after candidates were considered by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, as well as a stakeholder group organized to participate in the interview process.

Broscheid began at Arizona Game and Fish in 1997 and moved through a variety of positions of increasing responsibility over 17 years. He started as a Wildlife Specialist and went on to serve as Habitat Branch Chief and Assistant Director of the Wildlife Management Division. For the last six years he has served as Deputy Director for the agency and Executive Director of Arizona’s Natural Resource Review Council established by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to develop a comprehensive, statewide strategy for natural resource management and economic development.

“Bob Broscheid brings a rock solid foundation in natural resources management, a strong focus on serving the customer and remarkable energy and enthusiasm for parks and wildlife stewardship to this position,” King said. “We’ll also benefit from his long experience in working collaboratively across state and federal agencies, as well as with landowners and a wide variety of outdoor recreation, conservation and sporting organizations.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to lead an organization of such dedicated staff, and thank Governor Hickenlooper, the Department of Natural Resources and the Parks and Wildlife Commission for this opportunity,” Broscheid said. “I look forward to leading one of the top parks and wildlife organizations in the country in a place with the kind of natural resources that Colorado offers. It’s a dream come true.”


Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia
Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia

From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Congress hasn’t delegated authority to the Forest Service to seize private water rights, a Boulder water attorney told a congressional subcommittee Thursday. Glenn Porzak, who represents the National Ski Areas Association and Colorado water agencies, said a Forest Service water-rights policy cast a shadow on the water rights owned by ski areas and other public lands users. The policy required ski areas to surrender state water rights as a condition of obtaining federal operating permits.

Such a policy “creates great uncertainty and great uncertainty inhibits investment,” Porzak said. “That speaks to the urgency of Congress acting on behalf of private water rights.”

Porzak spoke at a hearing of a House Resources subcommittee, which was considering the Water Rights Protection Act by U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and Jared Polis, D-Colo. The measure, H.R. 3189, would prohibit federal agencies from demanding water rights through the use of permits, leases, and other land-management arrangements.

Porzak and Tipton said its important to move forward because a congressional task force concluded in 1997 that Forest Service efforts to “gain control over water rights are invalid because they exceed the Forest Service’s authority” and would result in unconstitutional takings of private property, Porzak said in his testimony.

No Forest Service officials attended the hearing, in part because of the federal shutdown. Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said also that Forest Service officials had notified him before the shutdown that they were reconsidering the policy and wouldn’t attend the hearing.

A federal judge found last year that the Forest Service had failed to follow public-review and comment guidelines and temporarily nullified the policy.

The policy was first used when the new owners of Powderhorn Mountain Resort near Grand Junction were required to surrender water rights to obtain their permit to operate in the Grand Mesa National Forest.

Differences over the water-rights policy have caused problems between ski areas and the Forest Service, which typically work closely together, Porzak said.

“It’s clear on this issue a wedge has been driven” between ski areas and the Forest Service, Porzak said.

From Colorado Copper Condos:

The two biggest ski industry trade associations are joining forces to leverage their lobbying clout with the federal government. In late September, board members from SnowSports Industries America and the National Ski Areas Association teamed up in Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers — and also to discuss how to grow participation in snow sports.

“Getting all of us to focus on the issue and share best practices is the best way to move the needle for the industry. The resorts and the equipment providers are symbiotically linked,” said Stephen Kircher of Boyne Resorts and the NSAA board. We agreed that we need to set our goals higher for conversion, and that we need to rely on data to set these goals.”

The meetings on Capitol Hill with Members of Congress and their key staff members focusing on five main issues: Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, Miscellaneous Tarriff Bill, TSA Policy for Avalanche Air Bag Canisters, Water Rights for Land Resorts and Immigration and Visas…

Water Rights for Land Resorts
Last year, NSAA successfully challenged in federal court a USFS water policy that would require ski areas to turn over ownership of valuable water rights to the U.S. without compensation. The policy also places restrictions on the transfer of water rights that originate off the National Forest System lands, reducing their value and hindering a ski area’s ability to transfer or sell such water rights in the future. These clauses substantially impair the value of these ski area assets and hinder a ski area’s ability to obtain access to capital for growth and expansion in the future by lowering the valuation of the ski area’s assets.

More water law coverage here.

‘…roundtable members determined there was no conflict with issuing the contracts to Barber’ — Chris Woodka

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week elected officers and hired its chairman as a consultant to finish its basin plan. Gary Barber was elected chairman of the roundtable, a position he has held since 2007. Betty Konarski of El Paso County and SeEtta Moss of the Arkansas Valley Audubon Society were elected as vice-presidents. Jay Winner and Jeris Danielson remain as representatives to the Interbasin Compact Committee with Jim Broderick as alternate.

Barber’s company, WestWater Research LLC, was chosen to finish the roundtable’s portion of the state water plan, which Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to see completed by the end of next year. Two contracts to WestWater will total $127,000, which will complement work already under contract to CDM.

During discussion, roundtable members determined there was no conflict with issuing the contracts to Barber, and voiced confidence in his leadership of the roundtable.

Barber has spearheaded compilation of most reports by the roundtable since its inception in 2005 in an unpaid position.

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Human safety is still the number one focus of the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Reaction Coordination Team (RWEACT ), and they are hoping today’s efforts will make a difference in the future. On Wednesday, RWEACT Executive Director Tom Spezze updated the Rio Grande Roundtable on the current condition of the $33 million West Fork Complex Fire (WFCF) aftermath.

“It is an enormous amount of ground we have covered,” Spezze said. “Now we are entering the long-term stewardship phase.”

The RWEACT hydrological team, he said, is working to install two additional stream gauges above the Little Squaw Creek Resort with audible alarms to notify the resort residents.

“That’s a big deal,” Spezze said. “It’s a black area waiting for a flash flood… It will come. We are banking on it.”

The gauges will monitor flow as well as flow stoppage, he said. The team is also working to install signage for the six rain gauges, and developing a model to predict potential spring run-off.

A debris flow study is nearly complete to guide RWEACT, which will allow further preparation efforts to develop, he said. Initial data shows Little Squaw Creek baseline water flow is 103 cubic square feet per second, which could jump to 732 cubic square feet per second in a flooding event.

The RWEACT emergency management team is working to install a 300-watt National Weather Radio Transmitter to improve weather forecasting in the Upper Rio Grande Valley, he said. The radio will use the existing State of Colorado 800 tower on the Pool Table Road. These tools replace the Doppler radar that was temporarily stationed on top of Bristol Head this summer to assist in weather tracking, he said.

“This will fill the gap,” Spezze said. “It is permanent and the public can tune in.” The RWEACT natural resources team has been working with the US Geologic Survey to map debris flow potential, he said. In coordination with the Division of Water Resources, the teams will install six water quality probes to monitor dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature , dissolved solids and dissolved sediments in strategic locations.

Plans continue for a debris flow management structure above the Little Squaw Re sort, he said. The team is also developing a seeding and hydro-mulching project for up to six test plots in the burn scar areas adjacent to Forest Service Road 520, below the Rio Grande Reservoir. Since the WFCF is still not 100 percent contained, access to the burn scar in the wilderness area is still permitted.

“It’s pretty cool that we can do that,” Spezze said. “This work will give a natural, environmentally-friendly appearance.”

In addition, RWEACT is partnering with the Brown Family, the owners of Lake Humphreys, to cost share sediment dredging, a debris trash rack and debris boom, he said. This project will preserve and protect the 482-acre-foot , pre-compact , on-channel reservoir from WFCF aftermath along Goose Creek and protect human life and structures on the lower Goose Creek corridor.

“It (the area) is very important to this basin,” Spezze said. “We are doing our part.”

The RWEACT economic recovery team is focusing on marketing and business recovery discussions, including the potential rebranding of the Silver Thread corridor, he said. A social media workshop is planned to help managers and business owners learn more about accessing and utilizing social media tools to spread information to the public and to consumers. Regional discussion are also taking place and include working with the lodging tax board of Rio Grande, Mineral and Hinsdale Counties and an increased emphasis on sustainability and resiliency of local businesses, he said.

Logging within the burned area is scheduled to continue , but will undergo some priority changes.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

‘State lawmakers today are not as connected to their farming roots’ — Rebecca Love Kourlis

Young farmers
Young farmers

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A former state Supreme Court justice who served as a water judge advocates more flexibility in water law as a way to preserve irrigated agriculture in Colorado. And some down-home schooling for water judges and justices.

“One of the challenges is to find a way to integrate the state engineer and water court into a framework that permits flexibility,” Rebecca Love Kourlis said during last week’s workshop on valuing agricultural water.

The workshop was hosted by the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. Its goal was to provide policy makers with an economic basis for finding the true value of water used in farm settings.

State lawmakers today are not as connected to their farming roots as those who re-codified Colorado Water Law in 1969, said Kourlis, the daughter of former Colorado Gov. John A. Love and executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.

At the same time, Colorado has 13 water court judges or alternates and seven Supreme Court justices — just 20 people — to interpret the laws. So it is imperative that the judicial branch has a firm understanding of the needs of farmers when making water decisions.

“You in this room need to talk to water judges about the system. They need to know your concerns and have grounding,” Kourlis said.

She sparked some debate when she said that farmers and ranchers are wary of the court system and “avoid it at all costs.” One farmer replied that he sees the courts as a “safe haven” to protect his water rights, while a rancher said the cost of going to court for individual farmers is prohibitive. Colorado water law basically prohibits injury to other water rights in any change of use case, but engineering studies are expensive. Kourlis said those viewpoints need to be conveyed to judges and justices.

“The value of Colorado agriculture and the pivotal nature of water rights cannot be underestimated,” she said.

More water law coverage here.