Drought news: Much improvement in Colorado over last year

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website for the current skinny on drought. Here’s an excerpt:

The Plains
Precipitation in northwest Kansas allowed for improvements to the D3 conditions. In South Dakota, D1 was pushed out of eastern portions of the state as well as along the southern border with Nebraska. D0 conditions were also improved along the border with Nebraska. In Nebraska, the D0 and D1 conditions were pushed to the south along the entire northern border. A full category improvement was made in the panhandle of Nebraska as a further of assessment of recent precipitation events has the area recovering on multiple time scales.

The West
The wet pattern continued with upper elevation snows and lower elevation rains in both Colorado and Wyoming. In Colorado, D1 was improved in the northwest and southern portions of the state and into northern New Mexico. Wyoming had widespread improvements as a reassessment of the last few months of precipitation prompted improvements to the D1 and D2 in the southwest portion of the state and a full category improvement in the northeast.

Looking Ahead
Over the next five days (October 24-28) temperatures are expected to be below normal over the eastern half of the United States and above normal over the West. With a trough setting up over the East, temperatures will be 6-9 degrees Fahrenheit below normal over the Ohio River Valley and 3-6 degrees above normal over the Southwest. Precipitation over the next 5 days is projected to be greatest over the Great Lakes and east Texas as most of the country will remain dry.

The CPC 6-10 day forecast (October 29-November 3) has the continued chance of below-normal temperatures centered over the central Plains and extending over much of the central United States. Temperatures are expected to be above normal over Alaska and in the Southeast. The best chances for above-normal precipitation are over the Ohio River Valley and covering much of the eastern two-thirds of the country as well as Alaska. Precipitation chances are trending below normal in the Pacific Northwest.

Rising temperatures cause snow to melt earlier, which alters flows in rivers w/sources in the mountains

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

Click here for the current assessment.

NRCS: Wet September across Colorarado Basin helps with soil moisture deficits

H.R. 3080: Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 passes the US House now on to the US Senate

Boustead Tunnel Construction via The Aspen Times
Boustead Tunnel Construction via The Aspen Times

Click here to go to GovTrack.us’ web page for the bill.

From the Associated Press (Henry C. Jackson) via Northern Colorado 5:

Bucking some of the same conservative groups that encouraged the government shutdown, Republicans and Democrats united Wednesday to overwhelmingly pass an $8.2 billion House bill mapping out plans for dams, harbor, river navigation and other water projects for the coming decade…

The water bill’s sponsors attracted support from members of both parties by including projects from coast to coast and labeling the measure an engine for job creation. To attract conservatives, sponsors emphasized the measure’s lack of earmarks, or projects for lawmakers’ home districts, and changes including an accelerating of required environmental reviews that have dragged out many projects for years…

Congress last enacted a bill approving water projects in 2007, a lapse that created pent-up demand among lawmakers for such work…

Added Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., “Repairing our nation’s aging infrastructure, including our water infrastructure, is the best jobs creator out there.”[…]

The legislation would allow work to proceed on 23 shipping channel, flood management and other water projects that the Corps of Engineers has started studying. Actual money for the work would have to be provided in future legislation [ed. emphasis mine].

The bill gives the go-ahead to a slew of projects, including a more than $800 million flood protection project in Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn.; a $461 million on expansion of the Savannah, Ga., port; and up to $43 million for the San Clemente, Calif., shoreline. The measure increases the share of federal dollars for the Olmsted Lock and Dam project on the border between Illinois and Kentucky.

It also would shelve at least $12 billion of old, inactive projects approved in the last water resources bill while accelerating environmental reviews, which Republicans said had slowed many projects almost to a halt…

Some Democrats and environmental groups objected to the speedier reviews, saying they would weaken environmental protections. Many Democrats said they would back the bill anyway and try to change the language when House and Senate bargainers try to put a compromise version together later. The Senate passed its version of the water bill in May with a broad, bipartisan vote.

“The real problem is lack of money, not environmental reviews,” said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.

More infrastructure coverage here.

CWCB bumps flood relief funds to $40 million, 77% of damaged roadways now back in service #COflood

Surfing Boulder Creek September 2013 via @lauras
Surfing Boulder Creek September 2013 via @lauras

Here’s the release from the CWCB (Todd Harman):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board this week increased to $40 million the funds available for low-interest loans to help irrigators and other water users start repairing flood damaged systems, an increase from the $15 million it had designated earlier this month.

The CWCB has also approved the first round of loans, for a total of $12 million. The loans carry a 30-year term with no interest and no payments the first three years. The loans were distributed to 10 irrigation and ditch companies for emergency repairs of diversion structures and ditch systems and ranged in amount from $202,000 to the Boulder and Larimer County Irrigating and Manufacturing Ditch Company to $3.3 million for the Left Hand Ditch Company.

“These repairs are a critical part of recovery from the September floods and the CWCB will continue providing loans and taking other proactive steps to get irrigators, farmers and water suppliers back on their feet,” said CWCB director James Eklund. “We thank the board for its far-sighted and quick action in directing these loans to these important projects.”

Other loans approved as part of the $12 million package include: Highland Ditch Company ($2 million); Rough and Ready Irrigating Ditch Company ($1.8 million); Oligarchy Irrigation Company ($1.3 million); Big Thompson and Platte River Ditch Company ($800,000); Ish Reservoir Company ($207,000); Consolidated Home Supply Ditch and Reservoir Company ($1.6 million); Church Ditch Water Authority ($606,000); and North Poudre Irrigation Company ($482,000). For more information about the CWCB 2013 Flood Event Emergency Loan program, including eligible projects, go here.

The increase in loan funds for affected water providers follows a grant of $1.8 million to the South Platte Basin Roundtable for flood-impacted infrastructure recovery. More information on that grant is available here.

Board actions this week included approval to repurpose the remaining balance of the watershed restoration program (at least $400,000) to address flood-damaged streams needing restoration. The Board also adopted a policy supporting wise rebuilding practices and reinforcing previous Board-approved higher floodplain management standards. This will help Colorado to become more flood resilient for present and future generations. Many flood stricken communities have contacted staff for assistance with adopting higher standards. Other communities have expressed a strong interest in joining the National Flood Insurance Program.

In related action, the CWCB is partnering with FEMA and local governments to obtain 4,600 square miles of digital imagery and topographic mapping in the flood-impacted areas of the South Platte basin. This information can be used to assess or generate updated flood hazard mapping.

From the Boulder iJournal:

Roughly 77 percent of Colorado roadways damaged by the historic September floods are now open, Gov. John Hickenlooper said today.

In a news release, the governor noted that 491 of the state’s flood-impacted bridges have been inspected, only 120 need repair; FEMA has approved $43.9 million in individual assistance; The Small Business Administration has approved $29 million low-interest disaster loans; The Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief Program cap was raised to $450 million; The Colorado Water Conservation Board increased to $40 million the funds available to help repair water systems and approved $12 million in loans this week.

Another accomplishment the governor highlighted is The Office of Vital Statistics and local vital records offices have issued 254 free birth certificates and waived the correction fee for 12 certificates — meaning families affected by the floods saved a total of $4,800 in fees.

Residents of Fremont and Morgan counties whose homes or businesses were damaged in the floods now are eligible for individual assistance from FEMA. Also, eight additional counties are eligible for FEMA public assistance: Arapahoe, Crowley, Denver, Fremont, Gilpin, Lake, Lincoln and Sedgwick.

Government workers have been busy.

More than 1,600 people in Colorado — comprised of members from FEMA, the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, the National Guard from Colorado, Kansas, Montana and Utah, the Army Corp of Engineers, IHS and other technical and service providers — are working on recovery efforts across the state.

The Colorado Department of Transportation facilitated two telephone town halls to discuss progress on repairs, access to personal property and county roads. The U.S. 34 call on Oct. 10 had more than 3,600 participants and on Oct. 22 there were 650 participants on a Coal Creek Canyon call.

Additionally, in its first week, officials said more than 8,0000 people accessed the ColoradoUnited.com website to get information and resources related to the flood recovery. The ColoradoUnited team has provided the promised 24-hour response to 57 inquiries received via the Contact Us page.

More flooding coverage from Jessica Maher writing for the Loveland Reporter-Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

At the annual Colorado Municipal League District 2 meeting that focused largely on the Northern Colorado flood, its impacts and how communities have worked together since, [Governor Hickenlooper] praised local officials for the speed and ease with which recovery has progressed. When he speaks to other governors who have experienced disasters in their states, Hickenlooper said they are amazed by the progress that has been made in just more than six weeks…

In an unprecedented move, the state has committed to covering half of a local government’s share for rebuilding damaged infrastructure. The federal government usually covers 75 percent of costs, which for the city of Loveland are expected to exceed $20 million.

Hickenlooper said that the state’s large reserves have enabled the state to pay the share of the local match, and the governor has made another pledge to small communities who may struggle with the local match for infrastructure rebuilding. For communities that use TABOR reserves for the local match and then find that reserve depleted, the state will help out, he said.

“At that point the state will step in and pay 100 percent,” Hickenlooper said. “They’re going to be way over their head, we’re going to find a way to get them through.”

Denver Water’s system is at 96% of capacity after the very wet September

Denver Water Collection System via Denver Water
Denver Water Collection System via Denver Water

From the Summit Daily News (Joe Moylan):

On Tuesday, Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water, met with the Summit Board of County Commissioners during a workshop in Frisco. Lochhead provided the commissioners with an update on Denver Water’s service system following September’s historic flooding on the Front Range.

Although Lochhead said the system worked “perfectly” in the sense that service to customers was not interrupted and no dams were breached during the flood, Denver Water sustained $15 million to $20 million in damage to roads, exposed conduits and one of its gravel pits located near the South Platte River.

Despite the damage, and Denver Water’s commitment to assist its partner communities in recovering from flood damage, Lochhead said there is a silver lining to take away from the event. According to the most recent reports, Denver Water’s reserves, which consist of 15 fully or partially owned reservoirs across more than 4,000 square miles of watershed in eight counties, is at 96 percent capacity.

Update: Stacy Chesney sent a correction via email:

The story states: “Gross Reservoir near Boulder, for example, increased in capacity by 26 acre-feet as a result of the flooding, Lochhead said.” As a result of the storms, Gross Reservoir gained 7,600 acre-feet of water and went up in elevation by 19.6 feet. This equates to an increase in storage of about 26 percent.

Gross Reservoir near Boulder, for example, increased in capacity by 26 acre-feet as a result of the flooding, Lochhead said. Gross Reservoir’s capacity is 41,811 acre-feet, according to Denver Water’s website.

Lake Dillon, Denver Water’s largest reservoir at 257,304 acre-feet, also is reporting some of its highest seasonal levels in history, Lochhead said.

But the increased water capacity presents a handful of short-term challenges, Lochhead said, including spring water management should the High Country receive dense snowpack this winter. All of its water comes from mountain snowmelt, according to the Denver Water website.

More important, however, is the fact that the recent increase in capacity does little to ease future water shortage concerns as Denver, the Front Range and the rest of Colorado continue to grow in population…

Lochhead’s idea is fairly simple — encourage upward, rather than outward growth along the Front Range and the challenges surrounding water conservation will begin to remedy themselves.

For example, a single-family home with a garden in Denver uses the same amount of water as a four-unit building constructed on a similar-sized lot, he said. However, much of the growth on the Front Range is sprawling away from urban centers; meeting growing water needs is only exacerbated by the current trend of purchasing or building single-family homes on quarter-acre lots.

It’s a type of growth that is unsustainable not only in terms of water use, Lochhead said, but also in terms of providing services, such as transportation and energy delivery, because property tax revenue cannot meet the needs that come with a sprawling population.

More Denver Water coverage here.

Net Zero Cities conference recap: ‘We’re beginning to bump right up against true scarcity’ — Steve Maxwell


From the Northern Colorado Business Report:

Both locally and globally, water is going to become an increasingly large concern as it is a limited resource with ever-growing consumption, said [Steve Maxwell], who spoke at the second annual Net Zero Cities conference, an event sponsored by the city of Fort Collins and BizWest Media, publisher of the Northern Colorado Business Report.

Water must be viewed as a “factor of production,” such as energy, labor or capital, Maxwell said. As it becomes more expensive it needs to be thought of as an economic factor rather than simply a basic human right.

Americans must also learn to take a more holistic view of water consumption, he said, looking not just at what comes out of the tap, but looking at what our larger water footprints contain.

On average, Americans use 100 to 150 gallons of water per person, per day, he said. But our actual water footprint is much larger. For example, Maxwell said, most people don’t think about the amount of water it takes to grow the beans that are ground up to grow the beans that are ground up to make our morning coffee, but that water contributes to a person’s water footprint.

Similarly, Maxwell said policy makers and consumers need to think about water as “one water,” including all types, even waste water and storm water, when considering use and reuse.

“People won’t do a whole lot until it impacts their wallets,” Maxwell said. “For many, water is ‘out of sight, out of mind.'”

But the time is coming when the issue can no longer be ignored, he said.

“We’re beginning to bump right up against true scarcity,” he said.

More coverage from the Northern Colorado Business Report:

New Belgium Brewing made an on-the-spot pledge of $10,000 to a new initiative that will help determine an organization’s water footprint and identify strategies to reduce water consumption and impacts on water quality.

The pledge was made during the second-annual Net Zero Cities conference, according to Judy Dorsey, executive director of the Colorado Clean Energy and Colorado Water Innovation clusters, two Fort Collins-based organizations dedicated to finding solutions to energy and water challenges.

Earlier this year, the Colorado Water Innovation Cluster began fundraising for a project called the Net Zero Water Planning Template aimed at making companies aware of their water footprints and helping find ways to reduce that footprint…

The Colorado Water Innovation Cluster has presented the idea to several groups, including the Water Smart Innovations Conference in Las Vegas, and is working to garner pledges and bring together experts to refine the process.

The project’s official kick-off is schedule for winter 2013 and spring 2014.

During one of the sessions at the Net Zero conference, Jenn Vervier, director of strategy and sustainability at New Belgium, decided to pledge $10,000 to the project, making the brewery a platinum sponsor of the Net Zero Water Template, Dorsey said. New Belgium officials could not be reached for comment.

More infrastructure coverage here.