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US Drought Monitor November 19, 2013
US Drought Monitor November 19, 2013

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

The Plains

The frontal system dropped half an inch of moisture across parts of the northern Plains this week, but the southern parts were dry. D0 expanded across central to eastern Kansas to reflect the meteorological dryness of the last 3 weeks (low humidity, high winds and limited precipitation) to 90 days (below-normal precipitation) and developing hydrological/agricultural impacts (stock ponds are losing ground and winter wheat is beginning to be negatively affected). In Oklahoma, D1 expanded in the northwest and D2-D4 in the southwest to reflect continued dryness and low soil moisture.

The West

According to November 19 SNOTEL station observations, snow water content in the Washington Cascades to northern and central Rockies was above normal, but this is the start of the wet season when normals are low. In spite of this week’s precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, water year-to-date (October 1 to present) precipitation remained below normal for much of the West, except for parts of northwestern Montana to Colorado where it was near to above normal. The Southwest (and California) has been especially dry since the summer monsoon ended. In California’s San Joaquin Valley, the city of Bakersfield has moved completely to ground water supplies due to the dry conditions and lack of surface water. Reservoirs are approaching 70% of average capacity. According to local National Weather Service experts, this level has historically been one of the measures of statewide drought, especially with precipitation being historically low for the calendar year. Some of those reservoirs should be near operational thresholds for low water. Consequently, D3 expanded into the San Joaquin Valley to reflect these impacts. In New Mexico, D0-D1 expanded in the south to reflect recent dryness, and D3 expanded in the northeast to reflect persistent dryness from the year to date. In Arizona, D0 and D1 expanded to reflect recent dryness, and the SL impacts boundary was shifted east to cover much of California and Arizona.

Looking Ahead

The NWS HPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for a frontal system to bring an inch or more of precipitation across much of the Southwest, and from the southern Plains (east Texas and southeast Oklahoma), across the Southeast, and to the Mid-Atlantic through November 27. Little to no precipitation is forecast for the Pacific Northwest to northern Plains. Temperatures will be below normal as the front moves across the country. The 6-10 day and 8-14 day outlooks project above-normal temperatures across much of the West and Alaska, and below-normal temperatures in the Southwest and most of the country east of the Rockies, as a circulation pattern sets up consisting of a warm ridge in the west and cold trough in the east. Drier-than-normal conditions are expected for much of the West to the Ohio Valley, west-central Alaska, and the western Aleutians, with wetter-than-normal conditions across the Gulf of Mexico coast, Atlantic seaboard, and the rest of Alaska.

U.S. 34 opens, flood damage still apparent #COflood

The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post
The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

From KUNC (Grace Hood):

Johnny Olsen oversaw much of the repairs for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“When you think about it and you drive it, you won’t see it because they did such an amazing job. But about 60 percent of our roadway was lost,” he said.

In some ways the repaired road looks better than it did before—both lanes completely accessible and fully paved. But alongside the road you can see just how destructive the floodwaters were. Homes like this one are still severely damaged…

In Estes Park, Mayor Bill Pinkham says business has been slow at his end of the canyon, too. That’s despite the state paying to keep Rocky Mountain National Park open during the government shut down. For now, Pinkham is focusing on the positive—and the future.

“The restaurants are open, the stores are open, and we’re ready to celebrate the holidays,” he said.

During this morning’s ceremony Hickenlooper and other local leaders painted part of a yellow stripe on the road. The highway reopening is especially welcome news for Estes Park, which is hoping to boost visitations during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Whitney Bryen):

About a dozen town administrators and a few volunteers packed up the maps that covered the library bookshelves and moved them back to [Lyons] Town Hall, which underwent extensive cleanup and repairs following flooding in September.

“It feels like a little normalcy to us, or at least a baby step toward that,” said Arianne Powell, who is in charge of accounts payable and customer service for the town of Lyons.

During the past two months, the original Town Hall building, 432 Fifth Ave., got new carpet and tile, Sheetrock and paint. Construction was being completed when employees arrived with boxes at 8 a.m. Thursday.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Craig Young):

In a symbolic gesture during a day full of symbolism, the mayors of Loveland and Estes Park hugged at Thursday’s ceremony celebrating the opening of the vital U.S. 34 link between the cities.

Despite the bitter cold and falling snow, the mood was upbeat for the event outside the Big Thompson Canyon Volunteer Fire Department station in Drake.

With “Love Don’t Die” by Colorado band The Fray providing the soundtrack, scores of highway workers celebrated, officials gave speeches and Gov. John Hickenlooper helped paint the final stripes down the middle of the highway that was rebuilt after September’s flood…

With U.S. 34 running through Loveland up to Estes Park, Loveland mayor Gutierrez said his city considers itself the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. He thanked everyone responsible for reopening that gateway.

“When people start driving this road, they are not going to be impressed,” he said, “because they will not have seen what you started with.”

What the Colorado Department of Transportation, contractor Kiewit Infrastructure and many local subcontractors started with was an 18-mile stretch of canyon roadway that needed repair or rebuilding on 70 percent of its length.

To drivers getting their first look at the rebuilt road, the new temporary U.S. 34 looks much like the old highway – paved the entire way, with passing lanes and shoulders in places.

“To get this done in 10 weeks is amazing,” said [Governor Hickenlooper], who pledged in the first days after the flood that the state would build temporary roads on every destroyed highway route.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Alex Burness):

Big Thompson Canyon Fire Department Chief Bill Lundquist, one of the last canyon residents to be evacuated by helicopter, said those who braved the snow to drive on U.S. 34 Thursday will never really know what it looked like. To him, that’s a testament to the swift and high-quality work performed by road construction crews.

We flew out up over Drake and through the canyon, and we really thought it was going to be a year before we got back here,” said Lundquist, 54. “But they put this highway back together in two months. It’s so important to have it back. What it really means to most people in this community is that they can go home. That’s big.”

Lundquist added that, before the highway reopened, his department had trouble responding to even the smallest of incidents.

“We’ve got to cover our district, and this highway is essential to that. Even if we had a house fire, the only way we could fight it would be with buckets from a helicopter,” he said.

The highway’s reopening is equally vital to local businesses. Many of the ones lucky enough to have survived the flood have still been on life support for the last two months.

H.R. 3189 — Water Rights Protection Act: ‘…is a disaster for rivers and public lands’ — Matt Rice (NSAA vs USFS)

Copper Mountain snowmaking via
Copper Mountain snowmaking via

Here’s a guest column blasting the bill from Matt Rice writing for Steamboat Today:

Last month, Representatives Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., introduced H.R. 3189, the so called “Water Rights Protection Act.” While the bill was disguised as a minor “fix” for a narrow water rights conflict between Colorado’s ski industry and the U.S. Forest Service, it is in fact a sweeping attempt to stop federal agencies from protecting fish, wildlife and recreation on our public lands.

If passed, the bill would allow private water users across the country to dry up rivers on public lands with impunity. It would prevent federal agencies within the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior from protecting fish, wildlife and river recreation.

For instance, in Colorado, this could prohibit the Forest Service from requiring water diverters to leave some water in streams on National Forests to keep native cutthroat trout alive. It could also stop the Fish and Wildlife Service from requiring flows that help salmon find fish ladders so that they can safely pass over dams. It would potentially destroy broadly supported multi-year and multi-million dollar settlement agreements to restore American shad, salmon and steelhead fisheries at hydropower facilities. It even undermines fundamental principles of states’ rights by creating a new federal definition of a water right. At the very least, it would create mountains and mountains of litigation.

The House Natural Resources Committee held the only hearing on this bill during the government shutdown, preventing agencies from providing input on how it would affect public lands. When the Departments of Interior and Agriculture did weigh in, they strongly opposed the bill. They were joined by leading Democrats on the House Natural Resource Committee and more than 60 conservation and recreation groups, including American Rivers, American Whitewater, Trout Unlimited, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association.

We understand that the ski industry has a legitimate need for certainty about their water rights for snowmaking. But they don’t need this bill to provide that certainty. Last week, thanks to the leadership of Senator Mark Udall, the U.S. Forest Service pledged to quickly resolve the dispute over water rights on national forest land in Colorado, protecting rivers on public lands and upholding important principles of water law. This bill is not necessary, and the ski industry has conceded as much. Yet this supposedly “green” industry has inexplicably doubled down and reaffirmed their support for an agenda of preventing federal agencies from protecting our rivers and public lands.

As the list of the bill’s supporters makes clear, this effort is being driven primarily by the farm lobby. We are puzzled why the ski industry — which goes to such great lengths to tout its environmental sustainability bona fides — would continue to give cover to big ag by supporting a bill that would do so much damage to our nation’s rivers, particularly when the problem the bill purports to address has already been solved.

We encourage your readers to call Steamboat Ski Area and ask them why they support this attack on fish, wildlife and river recreation.

More water law coverage here. More NSAA vs USFS coverage here.

Two Rivers Water & Farming Company halts plans for reservoir east of Pueblo

Stonewall Springs Reservoir site via The Pueblo Chieftain
Stonewall Springs Reservoir site via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A plan by a private water developer to build a reservoir east of Pueblo has been put on hold.

“We’re not building a reservoir at this time,” said John McKowen, CEO of the Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. “Our immediate need right now is augmentation water. It’s primary to the support of our farms.”

Two Rivers has a lease for water from the Pueblo Board of Water Works. McKowen did not specify which other sources of water he would pursue.

“We plan to work with all of the partners we can,” he said.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board this week deauthorized a $10 million loan it granted to Two Rivers on May 14. Two Rivers requested the action Oct. 2.

“We are writing to inform you that due to timing issues outside of our control, it is in Two Rivers’ best interest to deauthorize this loan,” Two Rivers CFO Wayne Harding wrote in a letter to the CWCB.

Two Rivers has not completely given up on a plan to build the reservoir on Southwest Farms property, but will put off the plan for several years. The reservoir site is on the Excelsior Ditch. In August, Two Rivers broke off negotiations with the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association to purchase its majority interest in the ditch. Earlier this year, Two Rivers partnered with AGUA by making some of its leased water available for well augmentation plans.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is pursuing plans to develop a reservoir on a site just east of Southwest Farms, also on the Excelsior Ditch.

Stonewall Springs LLC owns the other reservoir site, and is the only other shareholder on the Excelsior Ditch. Reservoirs on the Excelsior Ditch would be useful to Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo to recapture water bypassed to support the Pueblo flow program. The location is ideal because there are existing headgates and a system could be operated with gravity flow.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.