CMU: 2013 Upper Colorado River Basin Water Conference November 6-7, 2013 #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

Click here for the pitch. From the website:

Sharing Experiences Across Borders

Topics will include:

  • Understanding and Using Water Suppy and Streamflow Information
  • Following up on the Colorado River Basin Supply & Demand Study: Report from Work Groups
  • Agricultural Experiences and Challenges Across the Upper Basin
    The Navajo Water Rights Settlement
  • Should changes be made in inter-state water administration?
  • Bonus: “Water Law in a Nutshell” class by Atty Aaron Clay on Nov. 8

    The latest climate briefing from the Western Water Assessment is hot off the presses

    US Drought Monitor October 8, 2013
    US Drought Monitor October 8, 2013

    Click here to go to the climate dashboard. Scroll down for the new stuff. Here’s an excerpt:

    September Precipitation and Temperatures, and Current Drought

    September ended the 2013 water year on a very wet note across the region, with most of the region receiving at least 200% of normal precipitation, and only a few small areas seeing drier-than-normal conditions Western US Seasonal Precipitation. The last month with comparable wet anomalies across the region was December 2007. A persistent rain event from September 9th–17th, caused by a late monsoonal surge from the south reinforced in eastern Colorado by very moist upslope flow, brought most of the month’s precipitation, including extraordinary totals for Boulder, Colorado (9″ in 24 hours; 17” in seven days) and the surrounding area. (See the WWA’s preliminary assessment of the Front Range rain event and the severe flooding it caused.)

    Other areas with over 5” of precipitation for the month included far southeastern Wyoming, south-central Utah, the Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah, the southeastern Yellowstone Plateau, and the San Juans in southwestern Colorado.

    With this late surge, the final HPRCC Water Year Precipitation map Western US Seasonal Precipitation for 2013 showed that the previously scattered areas with above-average precipitation since October 1 have enlarged and merged, covering perhaps one-third of the three-state region, with the wettest areas in northeastern Colorado, southern Utah, and northern Wyoming. But, as in the 2012 water year, most of the region still ended up drier than normal.

    Despite all the precipitation, the temperatures in SeptemberWestern US Seasonal Precipitation were warmer than average across the region, except in parts of western Utah and western Colorado. Most areas were 1–6°F above monthly average temperatures for September.

    The latest US Drought Monitor, representing conditions as of October 1 Modeled Soil Saturation Index, shows significant and widespread improvement in the persistent drought conditions, by one to three categories, compared to one month ago. The most dramatic improvements were in northeastern Colorado, where up to D2 drought conditions were brought to normal, and in southwestern Colorado, where D3 drought improved to D0 Modeled Soil Saturation Index. The proportion of Colorado in D2 or worse drought dropped from 60% on September 3 down to 12% on October 1; in Utah, 54% down to 16%; and in Wyoming, 48% to 22%. Region-wide, the overall drought extent and severity is now lower than it has been since April 2012.

    Valuing ag water workshop: ‘Rural communities are at stake here. We’re making progress’ — Dan Keppen

    Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture
    Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

    From the Ag Journal Online (Candace Krebs):

    At the event, economic experts from across the West met with water users and planners to discuss ways to compute the full benefit derived from agricultural use of water and to avoid the “buy and dry” scenario under which water rights are permanently transferred from struggling farms to deeper-pocketed cities, industries and environmental groups. Many of the ideas that flowed during the interactive conference were obvious and already much discussed. Others were more futuristic and ambitious.

    Frank Ward, an agricultural economist and water policy expert at New Mexico State University, said that on a trip to Israel he learned government officials there are avoiding taking water from agriculture by investing in desalination plants.

    New Mexico is in the process of looking at similar ways to treat more of the state’s highly saline groundwater and make it available for use, he said.

    In Ward’s opinion, water transferred out of agriculture is often “grossly under-priced.” If the cost of water more accurately reflected the true value, urban centers would have more incentive to adopt conservation measures, and potential sources like desalination that “look quite expensive” now might appear cheaper and become preferable to drying up farmland, he said.

    Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance who lives in Oregon’s Klamath Valley, said reducing burdensome regulation so that water storage projects and other infrastructure improvements were less daunting and costly to pursue could expand the water supply.

    Short of expanding the size of the pie, however, the challenge that remained was how to better divvy up what’s left.

    Agricultural interests and municipalities both stand to benefit from a push already under way to create more tools to allow water rights holders to derive value from the water they own in times of scarcity without having to sell off those rights permanently.
    Colorado leads the nation in exploring alternative transfer methods for sharing water between agriculture and other users. With funding allocated by the state legislature, the Colorado Water Conservation Board operates a grant program for projects that explore rotational fallowing, partial irrigation, water banking, alternative water supply agreements and more.

    One grant is currently being used to study rotational fallowing of crop production along the Super Ditch in the lower Arkansas Valley. Another study on the lower South Platte is looking at ways to minimize the economic impact of reduced irrigation use…

    One suggestion often made is that irrigated farmers switch from growing lower value crops like commodity grains to higher value ones like fruit and vegetables.

    But during a breakout discussion, Brighton grower and session moderator Robert Sakata had a chance to explain the downsides, which include high risk due to high input costs, narrow harvesting windows, lack of labor and increased auditing requirements. Despite the reputation his family has built up over multiple generations, he said they were feeling pressured to switch from growing sweet corn to feed corn, because consumer-ready produce is difficult to raise consistently when water supplies are marginal…

    Another big challenge that was addressed from various angles was how to convey to the general public the full range of benefits derived from keeping water in agricultural use.

    Tom Binnings, founder and senior partner at Summit Economics, a private consulting firm in Colorado Springs, said he was uncertain that freeing up farm labor to move into other industries was strictly a negative, but added that agriculture’s most compelling story was the aging farm population and what it would mean to lose the next generation of farmers.

    “What you lose is a very specialized knowledge base,” he said. “What happens when that is lost is one of only two alternatives: you import more or you move toward corporate farming.”

    More water law coverage here.

    Wiggins: Raw water system improvements overcome nitrate problems

    Drilling a water well
    Drilling a water well

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

    Interim Town Administrator Jon Richardson said he had taken samples of water from all over the town, and the water has much lower levels of nitrates. That means residues of nitrates from years of contaminated well water have washed away in the new water the town brought on line in mid-September, he said.

    Also the hardness of the water is down, Richardson said during the Wiggins Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday. The town plans to send out a notice to residents, said Town Clerk Jessica Warden-Leon. Richardson said he wanted to encourage people to stop using water softeners, since they are not needed and the water treatment plant has to deal with them…

    He noted that the sprinkler system built for the town park is hooked into the old wells, and so it does not take any of the new water. The same holds for the Wiggins School District’s football field.

    More Wiggins coverage here and here.

    Massive spruce beetle outbreak in Colorado tied to drought, according to new CU study #COdrought

    Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Sara Hart/Thomas Veblen/Jim Scott):

    A new University of Colorado Boulder study indicates drought high in the northern Colorado mountains is the primary trigger of a massive spruce beetle outbreak that is tied to long-term changes in sea-surface temperatures from the Northern Atlantic Ocean, a trend that is expected to continue for decades.

    The new study is important because it shows that drought is a better predictor of spruce beetle outbreaks in northern Colorado than temperature alone, said lead study author Sarah Hart, a CU-Boulder doctoral student in geography. Drought conditions appear to decrease host tree defenses against spruce beetles, which attack the inner layers of bark, feeding and breeding in the phloem, a soft inner bark tissue, which impedes tree growth and eventually kills vast swaths of forest.

    Spruce beetles, like their close relatives, mountain pine beetles, are attacking large areas of coniferous forests across the West. While the mountain pine beetle outbreak in the Southern Rocky Mountains is the best known and appears to be the worst in the historical record, the lesser known spruce beetle infestation has the potential to be equally or even more devastating in Colorado, said Hart, lead author on the new study.

    “It was interesting that drought was a better predictor for spruce beetle outbreaks than temperature,” said Hart of the geography department. “The study suggests that spruce beetle outbreaks occur when warm and dry conditions cause stress in the host trees.”

    A paper on the subject was published online in the journal Ecology. Co-authors include CU-Boulder geography Professor Thomas Veblen; former CU-Boulder graduate student Karen Eisenhart, now at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania; and former CU-Boulder students Daniel Jarvis and Dominik Kulakowski, now at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. The National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society funded the study.

    The new study also puts to rest false claims that fire suppression in the West is the trigger for spruce beetle outbreaks, said Veblen.

    Spruce beetles range from Alaska to Arizona and live in forests of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir trees in Colorado. The CU-Boulder study area included sites in the White River, Routt, Arapaho, Roosevelt and Grand Mesa national forests as well as in Rocky Mountain National Park.

    The CU-Boulder team assembled a long-term record of spruce beetle outbreaks from the northern Front Range to the Grand Mesa in western Colorado using a combination of historical documents and tree ring data from 1650 to 2011. Broad-scale outbreaks were charted by the team from 1843-1860, 1882-1889, 1931-1957 and 2004 to 2010.

    The researchers used a variety of statistical methods to tease out causes for variations in the dataset at 18 sites in Colorado. “The extent to which we could distinguish between the warming signals and the drought signals was surprising,” said Veblen. “These are two things that easily can get mixed together in most tree ring analyses.”

    There are several lines of evidence that drought is the main driver of the spruce beetle outbreak. The new study showed when northwest Colorado was in a warm, wet climate period from 1976 to 1998, for example, both spruce beetle reproduction and tree defenses like “pitching” beetles out of tree interiors with resin were likely high. But during that period of warming, outbreak was minimal.

    The strongest climate correlation to spruce beetle outbreaks was above average annual values for the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation, or AMO, a long-term phenomenon that changes sea-surface temperatures in the North Atlantic. Believed to shift from cool to warm phases roughly every 60 years, positive AMO conditions are linked to warmer and drier conditions over much of North America, including the West.

    Veblen said the AMO shifted from its cool to warm phase in the 1990s, meaning the climate phenomenon could be contributing to drought conditions in the West into the middle of this century. A 2006 tree-ring study involving Veblen, his former student, Thomas Kitzberger and researchers from several other institutions concluded that the warm phase of AMO also was correlated to increased wildfires in the West.

    In addition to AMO, the researchers looked at two other ocean-atmosphere oscillations — the El Nino Southern Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation — as well as past temperatures, precipitation and aridity to better understand the spruce beetle outbreaks. The team found that another effective predictor of drought conditions was summer “vapor pressure deficit,” a measurement of atmospheric dryness, said Veblen.

    In the new study, the researchers were particularly interested in “radial growth” rates of tree rings from sub-canopy trees of various species in the study areas that thrived following outbreaks. One hallmark of spruce beetle outbreaks is that slow radial growth rates in such areas are followed by extremely rapid radial growth rates, an indication smaller trees flourish in the absence of the larger spruce trees because of decreased competition for water and increased opportunities for photosynthesis, said Hart.

    The area of high-elevation forests affected by spruce beetles is growing in the West, Hart said. “In 2012, U.S. Forest Service surveys indicated that more area was under attack by spruce beetles than mountain pine beetles in the Southern Rocky Mountains, which includes southern Wyoming, Colorado and northern New Mexico,” she said. “The drought conditions that promote spruce beetle outbreak are expected to continue.”

    One big concern about spruce beetle outbreaks is their effects on headwater streams that are important for water resources, said Veblen. “In the short term, trees killed by spruce beetles will lead to less water use by trees and more water discharge into streams. But in the long term, the absence of the trees killed by beetles may lead to less persistence of snow and earlier runoff.”

    Veblen said it might seem counterintuitive to some that spruce-fir subalpine forests in Colorado are larger by area than lodgepole/ponderosa pine forests. “It is probably because spruce and subalpine forests are found in more remote areas not as visible to most people,” he said. “But potentially, the current spruce beetle outbreak could affect a larger area than the mountain pine beetle outbreak.”

    The study had its beginnings in 1986, when Veblen and his students began compiling spruce and subalpine fir tree rings from various study sites in the Colorado mountains. Tree rings from individual trees — which carry information about weather, climate and even events like volcanic eruptions — can be matched up and read with rings from other trees, much like the pages of a book, from year to year and even from season to season.

    FEMA has distributed over $40 million in flood relief so far #COflood

    New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call
    New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

    From KDVR (Sara Morris):

    According to FEMA, in the last 30 days they’ve supplied more than $41 million in individual assistance to Colorado flood victims to help them make repairs to their homes.
    Boulder County received the most assistance with over $24 million, followed by Weld and Arapahoe Counties.

    From The Denver Post (Emilie Rusch)

    More than 100 homeowners along Clear Creek in Wheat Ridge are facing the prospect of having to get flood insurance next year. New maps for the National Flood Insurance Program were officially approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency this summer and go into effect Feb. 5. A total of 267 parcels of land in Wheat Ridge will be added to the floodplain under the maps, while 82 are removed, according to city documents.

    Not all parcels are homes — roughly 55 percent of the current map is open space — but an estimated 100 to 200 residences will fall under the flood-insurance program starting next year, said Mark Westberg, engineering design supervisor for the city.

    “It’s a big impact on people,” Westberg said. “If you have a mortgage, your mortgage company is required by federal law to get flood insurance.”

    Wheat Ridge officials are working on policy changes that could lower the cost of flood insurance across the city, Westberg said.

    Wheat Ridge residents are eligible for a 20 percent discount on insurance policies based on the city’s flood-protection rating. That brings the cost of insurance in Wheat Ridge down to about $1,100.

    ‘…we don’t yet know all that Colorado’s Water Plan will include’ — Russ George

    Arkansas Valley cantaloupe planting April 2012 photo via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Arkansas Valley cantaloupe planting April 2012 photo via The Pueblo Chieftain

    Here’s an opinion piece written by Russ George running in the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

    Water is in short supply. In the coming decades, there could be a gap between water supply and demand of as much as half a million acre-feet or more per year. The entire state is put at risk by this scenario, but it is particularly threatening to Colorado’s rural communities. Unless we do something to manage our water future differently than we do today, more and more agricultural water will be bought to supply our growing cities, thereby drying up hundreds of thousands of acres of productive farm land and jeopardizing the economy and livelihoods of rural Colorado. Northeastern Colorado alone is expected to lose approximately 20 percent of agricultural land currently under production from purchase agreements already in place.

    This water supply future is unacceptable. We must have a plan that uses our best thinking and problem solving to provide an adequate and secure water future for all Coloradans. In May of this year, the governor issued an executive order directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to develop Colorado’s Water Plan. This is an unprecedented undertaking for Colorado, but fortunately much of the work that is needed to develop the plan is already done…

    The CWCB, IBCC, and Basin Roundtables have reached consensus on a variety of actions that will lead to a better water future, including support for alternatives to permanent “buy-and-dry” of agriculture, conservation, projects that meet certain criteria, and more. Colorado’s Water Plan will not be a top-down plan full of state mandates and requirements. Instead, it will be built on the foundation of the work of the CWCB, the IBCC and the Basin Roundtables. And that is a strong foundation.

    The citizens in each basin are in the process of developing a water plan for their region. Because this effort is under way, we don’t yet know all that Colorado’s Water Plan will include. What we do know is Colorado’s Water Plan will be balanced and will reflect Colorado’s best values. The governor’s executive order specifies that Colorado’s Water Plan must promote a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable businesses and cities, viable and productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry. The plan must further efficient and effective water infrastructure promoting smart land use and a strong environment that includes healthy watersheds, rivers and streams, and wildlife.

    Colorado’s Water Plan will reaffirm the Colorado Constitution’s recognition of priority of appropriation while offering recommendations to the governor for legislation that will improve coordination, streamline processes and align state interests.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.