Arkansas Basin Roundtable recap: Identifying critical watersheds should be part of the #COWaterPlan

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Fires and floods have emphasized the need to protect watersheds in Colorado and should be incorporated into state water planning. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which is drafting its piece of the state water plan, discussed how to evaluate which watersheds are most critical and how to prevent damage from drought, insects and fire at its meeting Wednesday.

“The question we’re trying to answer is how do you expedite permitting and how do you come up with a common technical platform,” said Gary Barber, chairman of the roundtable.

Forest fires in the last two years have damaged critical watersheds in the Colorado Springs, Canon City and Walsenburg areas. Grassland fires have created other problems in the Lower Arkansas Valley as well. Fires increase the severity of flooding and increase levels of contaminants in the water.

Some watersheds may deserve higher priority because cities and farms rely on them for water supply, he said. Barber suggested the roundtable use the same sort of method it employed for recreation and environmental uses by breaking the watershed into small units and analyzing each. By having priorities in place, it will be easier to “invite” federal and state agencies to participate in programs to improve watershed health, Barber said. Using watershed models also would help in protecting from threats that arise in other basins, such as fires that top a ridge or spruce beetles that are blown by winds from one area to another.

“All of these ecological processes don’t care about which basin they’re in,” said SeEtta Moss, of the Arkansas Valley Audubon Society.

Manual collection of snowpack data
Manual collection of snowpack data

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

State water interests are chipping in to keep federal snow surveys in operation, but say the measurements should remain a federal responsibility. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday agreed to ask the state to fund this year’s snow course measurements by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the Arkansas River watershed, about $8,500. Funds come through the portion of the Water Supply Reserve Account dedicated to the Arkansas River basin. Other roundtables and water agencies such as Denver Water are providing similar funding, about $80,000 statewide.

The snow course measurements have been made since the 1930s in some places and pre-date more technological methods such as Snotel. They rely on physical measurement of snow depth to provide ground truth to automated methods. Because they are labor-intensive, the federal government has indicated they would be phased out.

“Basically, they hike in and measure the snow,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. “I think these snow courses are important to our basin.”

Other roundtable members supported funding the snow course readings this year, but said they should remain a federal responsibility. They agreed to back efforts to restore funding to the program.

“This is a statewide problem caused by Congress,” said Reed Dils, of Buena Vista and a former member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “The value of Snotel readings far exceeds the cost…These long-term programs where the federal government is a partner are important.”

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and U.S. Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., last month wrote a letter to the Agriculture Department urging continuation of snow measurement programs. Such programs help water suppliers plan for spring runoff.

More IBCC — Basin Roundtables coverage here and here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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