Drought news: Northern Colorado mountains are faring well #COdrought

US Drought Monitor November 12, 2013
US Drought Monitor November 12, 2013

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

The Plains

The Plains were generally dry during the past week with the exception of about an inch of precipitation in southeastern Nebraska and southeastern Kansas. In Oklahoma, light rainfall (one-to-two inches) led to minor improvements in areas of Moderate Drought (D1) and Abnormally Dry (D0) in south-central and western regions while conditions deteriorated in north-central Oklahoma as continued dryness degraded soil moisture conditions leading to the slight expansion of areas of Severe Drought (D2) and Moderate Drought (D1). During the past week, temperatures were below normal, especially in the northern tier.

The West

During the past week, most of the active weather in the West occurred across the Pacific Northwest where several storm systems made landfall off the Pacific Ocean delivering rain to the coastal lowlands of Oregon and Washington and snow showers to higher elevations of the northern Cascades as well as portions of northern Idaho, north-central Montana, and northwestern Wyoming. The rest of the West was unseasonably warm and dry during the past week. Through the weekend, daily high temperature records were broken or tied at South Lake Tahoe, California (62°F), Stanley, Idaho (55°F), and Klamath Falls, Oregon (63°F). According to the Natural Resource Conservation Service SNOTEL network, above-average precipitation has been observed across the river basins of south-central Montana, Wyoming, northern Colorado, and north-central New Mexico while the Sierras, southern Cascades, and most of the Intermountain West have been experiencing below-normal precipitation since the beginning of the Water Year, October 1st. For the past week, conditions on the map remained unchanged around the West.

Looking Ahead

The NWS HPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for moderate precipitation across the Pacific Northwest, Northern Rockies of Idaho and Montana, and the mountains of western Colorado. Precipitation accumulations of approximately one inch are expected along a north-south corridor extending from the lower Mississippi River Valley to the Upper Great Lakes. The 6-10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above-normal temperatures across most of the West and the Eastern tier, while below-normal temperatures are expected across the Southern Plains and South. Below-normal precipitation is expected across most of the West and central Great Plains while there is a high probability of above-normal precipitation across the eastern third of the Lower 48. With exception of the Aleutians, the rest of Alaska is expected to have below-normal temperatures and a high probability of above average precipitation in the eastern half of the Interior and Southeast Alaska.

The November 2013 issue of Northern Water Water News is hot off the presses

nov2013northernwaterwaternewscover

Click here to read the newsletter.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

‘I do not want the federal government to have anything to do with our water plan’ — J. Paul Brown

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

As a rancher, Brown said, water rights and conservation are of particular importance to him. If re-elected, he said he would fight to keep the Western Slope’s water on the Western Slope.

“The Front Range wants our Western Slope water,” he alleged, advocating for more storage capacity, both on the Western Slope and Front Range. Referring to the record-breaking floods in Colorado this fall, he pointed out, “If we could store that water on the Front Range, that would relieve demand for a transcontinental diversion of Western Slope water.

Brown added that he will be watching the formation of the new Colorado Water Plan mandated by Gov. Hickenlooper “very carefully; I do not want the federal government to have anything to do with our water plan,” he said. “I have heard they want to be involved; we have Colorado water and I don’t want the feds messing with it.”

More 2014 Colorado November Election coverage here.

New study: Dust, warming portend dry future for the #ColoradoRiver

Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS
Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

Here’s the release from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES):

Reducing the amount of desert dust swept onto snowy Rocky Mountain peaks could help Western water managers deal with the challenges of a warmer future, according to a new study led by researchers at NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

With support from the CIRES Western Water Assessment (WWA) and NASA’s Interdisciplinary Science program, CIRES’ Jeffrey Deems and his colleagues examined the combined effects of regional warming and dust on the Colorado River, which is fed primarily by snowmelt.

During recent years, desert dust has been settling thick and dark on the snowpack in the northern Rocky Mountain headwaters of the Colorado River, and snowpack is melting out as many as six weeks earlier than it did in the 1800s, according to the new assessment, published last week in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. Snow dusted with dark particles absorbs more of the Sun’s rays and melts faster than clean snow.

Add the regional warming expected in the future, and the situation seems likely to grow more dire for the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River for water. The river’s flow falls by more than 20 percent by 2100 in some of the future climate scenarios Deems and his colleagues investigated. Moreover, warming could make dust problems worse, by increasing the risk of drought.

“But we may be able to do something about dust,” said Deems, who works with WWA and CIRES’ National Snow and Ice Data Center. “If the future normal is this extreme dust scenario and we can push that scenario back to lower dust levels with land restoration or management, we could keep the snow in the mountains longer, and maybe even get some of that water back.”

Since the mid-1800s, human land use activities have disturbed Southwestern desert soils and broken up the soil crust that curbs wind erosion, leading to increased dust. In previous research, Deems and his colleagues showed that increasing dustiness leads to accelerated snowpack melt.

That earlier work was based on the moderately dusty years of 2005­–2008, with about five times as much dust than in the 1800s. But during 2009, 2010 and 2013, unprecedented amounts of desert dust fell on Colorado snowpacks, about five times more than observed from 2005–2008. Moreover, other researchers have reported that climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of drought in the Southwest, which could increase dust problems further by harming the grasses and shrubs that reduce surface wind speeds.

For the new work, the researchers used climate and hydrology models to investigate the effect of that “extreme dust” on the Colorado River’s flow now and in the future, as the Southwest continues to warm. Snowmelt in the extreme dust scenario shifted even earlier in the season, by another three weeks, pulling peak water levels in the Colorado River to earlier in the spring and leaving less water for later in the year.

“In the Upper Colorado River Basin, the snowpack is our most important reservoir,” said co-author Thomas Painter of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “With continued dusty years and greater warming, water managers will have to make their decisions very early in the season. No longer will they have the nice long snowmelt season, shortened as it already has been, to see how snowmelt runoff is going.”

The research team also found a subtle shift on the total water loss in the Colorado River, from a loss of 5 percent estimated during the moderate dust years of 2005–2008, to a total loss of about 6 percent lost during extremely dusty years. This relatively small change is due primarily to the fact that as snowmelt creeps earlier and earlier in the year, the Sun’s angle in the sky is shallower and provides less energy for evaporation than it does later in the spring.

“Our results suggest that if we can adopt dust-reducing land management strategies and rehabilitate major dust sources, we can keep our snow on the mountains longer, and perhaps offset some of the emerging climate impacts,” said co-author Brad Udall, director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at CU-Boulder. “Dust reduction could be a very powerful strategy to help us adapt to the growing impacts of climate change on our precious water supplies in the American Southwest.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

H.R. 3189: Water Rights Protection Act (NSAA vs. USFS) — Green groups mobilize in opposition

Copper Mountain snowmaking via ColoradoSki.com
Copper Mountain snowmaking via ColoradoSki.com

From the Aspen Business Journal (Brent Gardner-Smith):

“While House Resolution 1389’s stated intent (to help resolve a narrow conflict over water rights between the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado’s ski industry) may be legitimate, the bill is written very broadly and will have serious implications for water management across the country,” American Rivers wrote in a one-page document urging opposition to the bill…

On Wednesday, both the the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department issued testimony against the bill. Additionally, American Whitewater, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and Defenders of Wildlife, and a list of other watershed and river protection organizations are now opposing the bill.

A letter signed by 39 such organizations and submitted to the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday stated the bill could “prevent federal agencies from requiring protections for fish and other in-stream resources” and that, if passed, “agencies could be unable to implement reasonable requirements intended to keep water in rivers.”

On Monday, Corbin said Skico’s interest in the bill is confined to protecting water rights held by ski areas, including the four mountains operated by Skico, which together use 200 to 250 million gallons of water each winter for snowmaking.

He said American Rivers’ opposition to the bill has not altered Skico’s support of it.

“We don’t share their apprehension,” said Corbin, after reviewing materials from American Rivers expressing its opposition to the bill. “I understand their concerns, but I think they are probably overreacting.”[…]

The Forest Service released testimony Wednesday in advance of Thursday’s markup session for the bill. The agency said it doesn’t think HR 3189 is necessary, as it is working on a new version of its rule concerning water rights that will “address the concerns associated with the previous ski area water rights clause.”

“We believe these changes will provide assurances to the public and communities that depend on economic activities from ski areas that they will continue to provide recreation opportunities,” the Forest Service stated. “Further, we believe that these objectives can be met without requiring the transfer of privately owned water rights to the government.”

The written testimony from the Forest Service further states “it is not in our interest or policy to take private water rights. Our interest is in sustaining skiing as a recreation opportunity on National Forest System lands now and in the future.”

The Forest Service also raises concerns about its ability to effectively transfer grazing permits if the bill is passed as is.

The Interior Department, which includes the BLM, also released testimony on Wednesday, stating that “the legislation is overly broad and could have numerous unintended consequences.”

The National Ski Areas Association welcomed the Forest Service’s conciliatory language regarding the issue of ski area water rights, but still wants to see the Water Rights Protection Act passed.

“HR 3189 would not hinder the agency’s new approach to water policy,” said Geraldine Link, the director of public policy for the NSAA, in an email. “The new (Forest Service) policy is expected to require ski areas to offer an option to purchase water rights at fair market value to the successor owner of a ski area. (And) the bill prohibits a forced transfer of property to the US.”

Groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council also support HR 3189, and view it as a way to protect their industry’s water rights…

American Rivers says the hydropower industry and “big western agriculture” are driving the bill, ostensibly written to protect the ski industry, in an effort to “handcuff” the Interior and Agricultural departments and “prevent them from protecting rivers and public lands,” according to a memo on the bill.

Matt Rice, the director of conservation in Colorado for American Rivers, said the group’s opposition to HR 3189 is based on language in the bill that would prohibit “impairment of any water right” by federal agencies under the jurisdiction of either the Interior or Agriculture departments.

Rice said such agencies sometimes require mitigation for hydropower projects that are ultimately licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. The mitigation, for example, might require that hydropower developers leave some water in a river or in a fish passage structure.

Such a requirement, or mandate, from FERC or an associated federal or state agency, could be considered an “impairment” of a water right by the hydropower industry, according to Rice.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said Wednesday that he welcomed the U.S. Forest Service’s stated intention to not pursue the transfer of water rights from ski areas in exchange for permits to use public lands. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell issued the statement to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee as a result of a compromise that Udall helped to broker…

“We believe that these changes will provide assurances to the public and communities that depend on economic activities from ski areas that they will continue to provide recreation opportunities,” Tidwell said in the Forest Service statement. “We believe that these objectives can be met without requiring the transfer of privately owned water rights to the government.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the agreement “ensures Colorado’s job-creating ski industry and outdoor recreation businesses can continue to thrive, while protecting the long term availability of activities such as skiing on public land.”

“The Forest Service’s statement on these water rights is a victory for our state and our resort communities that depend on outdoor recreation,” he said…

The Garfield County Board of Commissioners and Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado have both lent their support to the Tipton bill, not only because of the potential impacts on ski areas but on agriculture and energy development in the region.

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

Eagle County’s two U.S. congressmen successfully snuffed a Forest Service move to take water rights without paying for them. Jared Polis and Scott Tipton have been battling a U.S. Forest Service policy that would force ski areas and other stakeholders to turn over the private water rights before the Forest Service would renew their permit to do business…

“While I welcome the indication of the Forest Service that there may be a change of direction from the previous ski area water clause, we need to ensure that all water users are protected from uncompensated federal takings in the long term, not just for one group of water users, in one region, for a limited time,” Tipton said.

Lawmakers are going ahead with a bipartisan bill to protect water rights, Tipton said. HR 3189 is before the House Natural Resources committee this morning.

The feds have already done it to the owners of the Powderhorn ski area on Western Colorado’s Grand Mesa.

Vail local Andy Daly is part of the group that bought Powderhorn.

Vail Resorts would have had to deal with the Forest Service policy as it renews its operating permit for Breckenridge. The feds have already done it to California’s Alpine Meadows and Washington’s Stevens Pass ski areas…

The reversal came in a statement Wednesday delivered to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“We will be proposing changes to the ski area water clause that address the concerns associated with the previous ski area water rights clause,” Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell said in the statement. “We believe that these changes will provide assurances to the public and communities that depend on economic activities from ski areas that they will continue to provide recreation opportunities. Further, we believe that these objectives can be met without requiring the transfer of privately owned water rights to the government.”

More NSAA vs. USFS coverage here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable recap: Hands off our agricultural water?

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

If the Arkansas Basin Roundtable is successful in inserting one sentence in the upcoming state water plan, it would probably read: “Hands off our agricultural water.” Going around the room Wednesday, members voiced their concerns about the goals and objectives section of the basin water plan, which will be folded into a more sweeping document being pushed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“The biggest problem I have is all the water that’s been sold,” said John Schweizer, a Rocky Ford farmer who heads both the Catlin Canal and the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch. “The land where the water’s been sold is worthless weeds and junk. We need to stop taking water from agriculture and lease-fallowing is the first decent way I’ve seen to slow it down.”

Others took a harder line.

Crowley County’s representative Rick Kidd pointed out that farmers who are left on large canals where water has been sold, such as the Colorado Canal, can’t run water to their fields during dry years like this one.

In Huerfano County, which is seeing its water resources tighten, there is an even deeper feeling.

“We need to put some demands on our own water staying in our own place,” said Kent Mace, chairman of the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District. “Is there a farmer or rancher who cannot grow a crop every year and stay in business?”

“I think a measurable outcome should be a zero net loss of agriculture production in the Lower Arkansas Valley,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

A majority of the roundtable members and visitors at the meeting voiced the need for more collaboration or efficiency in using water. Others wanted more emphasis on watershed management, recreation and environmental issues.

Nearly everyone agreed that storage should play a major role in the valley’s water future.

“I think the Lower Ark Valley found out that when reservoirs are gone, there was an economic impact,” said SeEtta Moss of the Audubon Society. “They lost a lot of fishermen and birders from the cities spending money in the rural areas.”

Coyote Gulch outage: Browser/connectivity problems this morning

Coyote Gulch on Trail Ridge Road July 2013, Longs Peak in the background.
Coyote Gulch on Trail Ridge Road July 2013, Longs Peak in the background.

Update: I reset my router and all seems well now.

I’m having browser or connectivity problems this morning. Wish me luck.