The #ColoradoRiver delta to benefit from the Minute 319 agreement between the US and Mexico

Jonathan Waterman paddling the ooze in the Colorado River Delta
Jonathan Waterman paddling the ooze in the Colorado River Delta

Here’s a report from Sandra Postel writing for the National Geographic. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado Delta was once one of the planet’s great desert aquatic ecosystems, boasting 2 million acres of lush wetland habitat. For millions of years, it received a huge spring flood as the winter snows melted in the Rocky Mountains and the resulting flows coursed south. The flood waters spread across the delta before emptying into the upper Gulf of California.

That yearly flood cleansed the river channel and floodplain, recharged groundwater, aided the reproduction of native cottonwoods and willows, and sustained the overall delta ecosystem and its extraordinary bird and wildlife habitat. It also connected the Colorado River to the sea, where fisheries depend on the mixing of saltwater with fresh water for their spawning and rearing grounds…

The last time the delta enjoyed a significant influx of fresh water was in the late 1990s, a period of unusually high precipitation in the Colorado watershed that resulted in “surplus” water passing through the basin’s dams, across the international border, and on to the thirsty delta in northwestern Mexico…

Minute 319 calls for a flood pulse of 105,392 acre-feet (130 million cubic meters). The water will be released from Lake Mead at Hoover Dam, and then, mimicking the historic natural flood, will flow south to the delta.

Compared with the pre-dam spring flood of some 15 million acre-feet, this pulse appears paltry. But the delta scientists expect it to be sufficient to flood low terraces and backwaters, move channel sediments, recharge groundwater, and promote the germination of native cottonwoods and willows, which create prime habitat for birds…

To learn more, click here to see our National Geographic videos, blog posts and photo galleries of the Colorado Delta..

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

#COdrought news: Winter wheat gets a good start from September rains

US Drought Monitor December 10, 2013
US Drought Monitor December 10, 2013

Here’s an excerpt from the US Drought Monitor website:

The Central and Northern Plains and Midwest

Snow that feel this week in northwest Nebraska alleviated some Severe Drought (D2) there. Nearby in southern South Dakota, the snow alleviated some Abnormal Dryness (D0). Large amounts of snow fell in select areas around the Midwest. This led to removal of Moderate Drought (D1) in northern Minnesota and improvements in Abnormal Dryness (D0) in the same areas and carrying over into North Dakota. Lingering drought impacts in northern Minnesota have been changed to “L” to represent their longer timescale impact given the short-term precipitation abundance…

The West

Abnormal Dryness (D0) expanded again this week in the northern Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington as well as on the Oregon Coast. These areas continue to miss most of the recent precipitation that has fallen around the Northwest and have significant deficits for the year. Beneficial precipitation has continued to accumulate in Utah. Severe (D2) and Moderate Drought (D1) improved in the central, southern, and eastern part of the state. Further improvements may be necessary in coming weeks through this area and in northern Arizona should precipitation continue. Southeast Montana also saw a decrease in

Looking Ahead
During the December 12-16, 2013 time period, the probability of precipitation is above-normal for nearly the entire eastern U.S. and in the Northwest early in the period. A below-normal chance of precipitation is expected in the rest of the West and spreads to the entire country by the end of this time period. Below-normal temperatures are expected across most of the eastern U.S. with the exception of Florida. Above-normal temperatures are expected for from the Southern Plains extending into New England. An above normal chance of precipitation is also present across areas of the West, particularly in the Southwest.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Due to a variety of factors, Colorado wheat growers might have planted their largest crop this fall since 1997. That’s according to estimates this week from Darrell Hanavan, the president of the Colorado Wheat Growers Association for 32 years, who said he’s expecting the state to collectively plant about 3 million acres this year — although a U.S. Department of Agriculture report with official numbers will be released in January, he added.

Hanavan also said this week he believes Colorado’s large crop remains in great condition, despite the recent streak of days with temperatures below zero. A year ago, cold spells not nearly as severe caused widespread winterkill — but last year’s crop didn’t go into its winter dormancy in nearly as good of shape as this year’s.

Some areas of Colorado received as much as five times, or more, its normal rainfall in September, the month when winter wheat is planted. That abundance of moisture, Hanavan and farmers said, has the state’s wheat crop off to its best start in a long time. Continue reading “#COdrought news: Winter wheat gets a good start from September rains”

COGCC expects to look at riparian setbacks in the wake of September flooding and Parachute Creek spill

Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 -- Photo/The Denver Post
Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 — Photo/The Denver Post

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said Thursday that no firm decisions have been made about how to deal with the question of riparian setbacks following contamination problems in Parachute and on the Front Range. But in response to a question from Rifle citizen activist Leslie Robinson at the quarterly Northwest Colorado Oil & Gas Forum, commission director Matt Lepore promised some kind of action soon.

“We will sit down in the not-too-distant future in a little more formal way and look certainly at the flooding in September and certainly Parachute Creek as well, as sort of a lessons-learned — what in light of those incidents seems appropriate to change or require or what have you,” he said.

Lepore was speaking in reference to massive floods that caused damage including the leaking of tens of thousands of gallons of oil and produced water from production facilities, and to last winter’s leak of natural gas liquids from a pipeline leaving Williams’ gas processing plant near Parachute Creek.

During a major rules rewrite in 2008, the COGCC set aside action on the question of riparian setbacks, except for requirements it imposed to protect municipal water supplies. Some activists consider it to be unfinished business that recent events have shown needs revisiting.

In an interview, Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said she hopes the COGCC isn’t going to consider lessons learned just on its own. “I hope that they ask for input from environmental and conservation groups like the GVCA,” she said. She said while the Front Range probably has been more impacted by problems related to oil and gas infrastructure near rivers, she’s worried about the proximity of wells to the Colorado River in the Parachute area and potential vulnerability to flooding.

The leak up Parachute Creek resulted in an estimated 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids getting into groundwater, with benzene ultimately reaching the creek. Williams spokeswoman Donna Gray said Thursday no benzene has been detected in the creek since August.

Results are pending on a quarterly round of water testing in November that involved hundreds of sampling points.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Arkansas River Basin: “We’re getting screwed here. Does Kansas owe me water?” — Dale Mauch

Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.
Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Farmers are still not happy with the state’s accounting of the impact of surface irrigation improvements on return flows to the Arkansas River.

“We’ve got to change the formula,” Lamar farmer Dale Mauch told officials Friday after learning of preliminary results from a two-year pond study at a meeting hosted by the Prowers County Soil Conservation District. “We’re getting screwed here. Does Kansas owe me water?”

The pond study is being conducted under a state grant through the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and won’t be finished until next year. But results from 2013 show that ponds leak about twice as much as assumed under a state formula adopted in 2010 surface irrigation rules.

The rules are meant to assure that Colorado does not take more of its share than it is entitled to under the Arkansas River Compact with Kansas, said Assistant Division Engineer Bill Tyner.

The Lower Ark district provided 1,160 acre-feet of replacement water to make up for calculated deficits caused by sprinklers on 107 farms under Rule 10 plans this year. Most of the sprinklers are located on the Fort Lyon Canal. Those included 81 ponds, which were presumed to leak at a rate of about 10 percent under the state formula.

But a study of 20 ponds by engineers Jerry Knudsen and Brian Lauritsen shows they leaked anywhere from 3-45 percent, averaging about 18 percent. Those numbers were used in the state calculations, but only for ponds that were measured.

Ponds with higher leakage tend to crack as they dry up between irrigation runs, Knudsen said. Because of the drought, irrigation runs were less frequent this year, and most of the 50 farmers who attended the meeting expressed doubts that a water-short ditch like the Fort Lyon Canal owed any water to the river under those conditions.

Cutting back the amount of augmentation water needed for the Rule 10 plans is critical to making irrigation affordable. The price of augmentation water is expected to increase, especially in years such as this one when it is not readily available. Water used for this year’s Rule 10 plans ranged in cost from Fry-Ark water, which costs $7.50 per acre-foot, to water leased from the Pueblo Board of Water Works, at a cost of $250 per acre-foot (including storage). Other sources included the Larkspur Ditch and Twin Lakes water owned by the Lower Ark district.

While the cost is going up, water leasing also competes with well groups, said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Ark district.

“Buying water on the spot market in the future is not promising,” Winner said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.