Scarce and vital: History Colorado showcases water in the West

Mile High Water Talk

Each ancestral Pueblo person used about 2 1/2 gallons of water a day for various activities, including:

  • Quenching their thirst
  • Cooking
  • Mixing clay and pigments for pottery
  • Softening yucca to make baskets and sandals
  • Washing

Today, we use more than that with just two flushes of a low-flow toilet.

History Colorado Center’s second exhibition phase — Living West — is a groundbreaking new 7,000-square-foot exhibit that explores the living dynamics between the people of Colorado and our state’s extraordinary environment.

Explore life in Mesa Verde and see History Colorado’s renowned collections of ceramics, basketry and other archaeological finds. Experience the epic “Black Sunday” of the Dust Bowl. And discover why we can only make Colorado our home today if we know how to keep our mountain ecosystems healthy for tomorrow.

Denver Water is a proud partner of the exhibit, housed at the History Colorado Center, 1200 Broadway in Denver.

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Meterologist Brian Bledsoe goes out on a limb and predicts normal weather for northern Colorado

Statewide Snowpack Map December 10, 2013 via the NRCS
Statewide Snowpack Map December 10, 2013 via the NRCS

From The Greeley Tribune (Whitney Phillips):

For the first time in years, a weatherman had good news for local farmers and ranchers, telling them on Thursday that they’ll likely see normal amounts of moisture over the next year. Brian Bledsoe, chief meteorologist with KKTV in Colorado Springs, told attendees of the 2013 Colorado Ag Classic in Loveland that weather patterns show no signs of drought in the coming year. He said without the presence of El Niño or La Niña patterns that mess with normal weather, most of Colorado will likely see reasonable amounts of moisture — something Bledsoe said he hasn’t predicted in years.

“It’s gonna snow,” he said. “(We’re) much, much more optimistic about the weather patterns than we were a year ago.”

Snow, not rain, will be most crucial in getting moisture levels back up, he said. Bledsoe said most of the state, with the exception of portions of the state south of Interstate 70, has come out of devastating droughts that have plagued Colorado. Bledsoe said wet weather has helped immensely in getting farmers and ranchers back on track.

“To say that we’ve erased a large part of the drought I think is an understatement,” he said.

A full recovery, though, may take a decade, he said.

Bledsoe cautioned those in the agricultural community, especially those in the southern part of Colorado, to go forward with plans in mind to combat a lack of water.

“Most farmers and ranchers, especially the younger ones, do not even have a drought plan,” he said. “This drought problem is not going to go way just because it rains for a few months.”

Bledsoe said he predicts colder-than-normal weather to stick around for the next month and a half, bringing little precipitation. But there are indicators that helpful spring moisture will arrive right on time.

“I’m actually a little more optimistic as far as moisture in the spring time,” he said.

He added that monsoon season, which normally arrives in July, should bring normal to slightly above-normal precipitation.

“I think most people would settle for normal, whatever that is anymore,” Bledsoe said.

Overall, Bledsoe said the weather systems he monitors across the globe are all indicating there will be good news here in Colorado.

“The trend there is no monster drought signals are reappearing over our state,” he said.

Bledsoe said, though, his confidence level in his prediction is “a little bit lower than normal.

“I would caution you to say my standards (for predicting weather) are pretty high,” he said. “I’m feeling OK about seeing some moisture this year.”

Colorado Springs: Stormwater, the need is there, opposing ideas about financing models

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Colorado Springs City Council says Mayor Steve Bach may have jumped the gun calling his stormwater plan “the most sensible.”

Hold on, Council says in a letter sent to the mayor. The task force has not solidified its proposal and likely won’t do so until after the New Year. It’s too early to say which solution is the most sensible, said Val Snider, council member and task force member.

“It’s important to note that the Regional Stormwater Task Force has not made a recommendation about the best structure for governance or funding of the program, and does not anticipate making that decision for at least a couple of months,” the task force said in a Dec. 10 letter to Bach.

The Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force still is doing research on the laws and finances of various scenarios, Snider said.

Bach issued a press release Dec. 9 outlining his proposal on how to pay for the millions in backlogged drainage and flood control projects. He was reacting to a community survey the task force had done to gauge public interest in stormwater issues and funding. Respondents of the survey said they favored a regional approach, a dedicated funding source and they wanted some say in the list of projects to be built.

The task force may not have settled on a proposal, but it has narrowed down its discussion to two options: one models the Pike Peak Rural Transportation Authority, created by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls and collects 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements.

The other option is modeled after the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority, which includes Centennial, Arapahoe County, and three water districts. The authority sets and collects fees, has a staff and oversees the projects for the region.

More stormwater coverage here.

Pueblo plans $1.08 million addition to wastewater plant to meet stricter discharge standards

Blue-Green algae bloom
Blue-Green algae bloom

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The city plans to build a $1.08 million addition at the wastewater treatment plant next year to meet long-term changes in water quality rules. The new enclosed concrete plant is being completely funded by a state grant through a $15 million appropriation designed to help small municipalities meet new state requirements which were adopted to comply with federal regulations.

“We’re not cutting any corners with this plant,” said Gene Michael, Pueblo wastewater director.

He said $80,000 will go toward design and engineering, and the plant will have to meet all criteria for new construction. The plant is expected to be complete next summer in order to comply with state requirements to use the grant money prior to 2016.

The regulations concern the concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus — both of which are found in human waste — that are in water released from the city’s treatment plant. Standards adopted this year require less than 15 parts per million nitrogen and 1 ppm phosphorus. The city completed ammonia removal facilities this year that meet those standards, Michael said. By 2022, the standards tighten to 1 ppm nitrogen and 0.17 ppm phosphorus.

Biological processes are at odds in reaching those levels, Michael explained, calling it the “zen of wastewater treatment.”

To meet the nitrogen standard, a fermentation process will be used. Further chemical treatment and filtration, similar to a drinking water plant, will be needed to bring phosphorus to the lower level, he said. The state grant is sufficient to provide fermentation and chemical treatment, but the estimated cost of filtration, about $9.3 million, will have to be dealt with later.

More wastewater coverage here.

Upper Rio Grande Impact Assessment Reveals Potential Growing Gap in Water Supply and Demand

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Increasing temperatures and changes in the timing of snowmelt runoff could impact the amount of water available on the upper Rio Grande in the future. These are some of the results of the Upper Rio Grande Impact Assessment released by Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle.

“This report uses the most current information and state of the art scientific methodology to project a range of future supply scenarios in the upper Rio Grande basin,” Castle said. “It is a great first step and a call to action for water managers and users in the basin and the partner federal agencies to move forward and develop adaptation to the challenges this study brings to light.”

The study was conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It includes a detailed evaluation of the climate, hydrology and water operations of the upper Rio Grande basin of Colorado and New Mexico. Also included is an evaluation of the potential impacts associated with climate change on streamflow, water demand and water operations in the basin.

Temperatures will increase four to six degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the 21st century, according to the climate modeling used in the study. Although the modeling projects that total annual average precipitation in the basin will not change considerably, we are likely to see a decreasing snowpack, an earlier and smaller spring snowmelt runoff and an increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of both droughts and floods.

The models used for the study consistently project an overall decrease in water availability in the basin. Rio Grande supplies are projected to decrease by an average of one-third from current supplies. The water supply from the San Juan-Chama Project, which is imported to the Rio Grande, is projected to decrease by an average of one-quarter.

All of these impacts would contribute to a larger gap between water supply and demand and lead to future water management challenges for the Bureau of Reclamation and other water managers within the upper Rio Grande basin.

The URGIA is the first impact assessment to be completed by Reclamation as part of the Westwide Climate Risk Assessments through the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART Program. Impact assessments are reconnaissance-level investigations of the potential hydrologic impacts of climate change in the major river basins of the Western United States. Through WaterSMART, Reclamation is also able to conduct a more in-depth basin study in conjunction with state and local partners that would develop options and strategies to address supply and demand imbalances.

The WaterSMART Program focuses on improving water conservation, sustainability and helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. It identifies strategies to ensure that this and future generations will have sufficient supplies of clean water for drinking, economic activities, recreation and ecosystem health. The program also identifies adaptive measures to address climate change and its impact on future water supply and demand.

To read the report or learn more about WaterSMART please visit http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/.

More Rio Grande Basin coverage here and here.

WRA Filling the Gap Report Series: Meeting Future Urban Water Needs in the Platte Basin, Wyoming

Platte River Basin
Platte River Basin

Click here to read the report. From email from Western Resource Advocates (Courtney Morrissey):

As advocates for the protection of Wyoming’s rivers and natural heritage, Western Resource Advocates and Trout Unlimited believe it is imperative for water planning to ensure healthy rivers and to minimize the adverse environmental impacts of water supply strategies.

Sustaining Wyoming’s rivers and streams is critical to Wyoming’s economy and exceptional quality of life. The report Filling the Gap: Meeting Future Urban Water Needs in the Platte Basin, Wyoming (Western Resource Advocates and Trout Unlimited, 2013) documents how Wyoming can more than meet the future water needs of the urban subbasins in the Platte Basin while minimizing impacts to the state’s rivers and streams. Specifically, the smart structural projects, conservation, reuse, and agriculture-urban sharing strategies analyzed in the report would produce 25,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2035, which is 19,600 acre-feet (6.4 billion gallons) of water in excess of the urban subbasin’s 2035 demands.

Our integrated portfolio approach more than fills the projected needs of the urban communities of the Platte Basin, Wyo. while protecting the state’s rivers, economy, and quality of life. Importantly, this water portfolio meets future needs more cheaply and without the need for the types of new, large, environmentally -damaging transbasin diversions that have been a hallmark of traditional water supply planning.

More North Platte River Basin coverage here.

Report card: Rapid changes continue in Arctic

Summit County Citizens Voice

What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Global warming continues to spur changes in the Arctic at an unprecedented rate, scientists said this week, warning that the impacts will be felt around the world.

“The Arctic is not like Vegas,” said University of Virginia environmental scientist Howard Epstein. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic,” he said, explaining that the rapid warming in the polar region may already be affecting weather in the mid-latitudes.

A panel of researchers presented the results of the 2013 Arctic report card during the annual American Geophysical Union conference this week, stating with more certainty than ever that the loss of Arctic sea ice is linked with more extreme weather events across the U.S. and Europe. Read the full report here.

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