— Richard Justice (@richardjustice) January 15, 2014
The editor of the Valley Courier believes the WildEarth Guardians potential lawsuit is unwarranted and that the Rio Grande Compact is the law of the river. Click here to read the editorial from Ruth Heide Still Waters: Of minnows and men:
That’s the best word I can think of to describe the recent intent by the WildEarth Guardians to sue Colorado for not providing enough water downstream to keep the silvery minnow afloat.
What about the Rio Grande Compact do these folks not understand? We’re not hoarding our water up here at the headwaters just to dry up minnow habitat, for crying out loud. Colorado is keeping its part of the bargain of the longstanding interstate compact governing how the Rio Grande is managed from the headwaters in Colorado through New Mexico to Texas. We as a state have been complying with the terms of that compact for years. This past year we even sent more water downstream than we were required to, so we have a “credit” with our downstream neighbors.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Already stressed by a five-year drought, water use in the Rio Grande basin could be affected by legal action from downstream states. The U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed to hear a lawsuit brought by Texas against New Mexico and Colorado over groundwater pumping, primarily in New Mexico.
“Colorado’s belief is that this is not a compact issue,” said Craig Cotten, Water Division 3 engineer.
That decision came just days after Wild Earth Guardians filed its 60-day notice of intent to sue the state of Colorado in federal court over depletions of water in reaches of the Rio Grande in New Mexico considered critical to endangered species. The group charges that Colorado water administration has endangered habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board met with the attorney general’s office and other state agencies in executive session this week to discuss a state response.
The actions come at a time of advanced drought in the Upper Rio Grande in Colorado, Cotten said. Water supply for ditches and wells has suffered through 12 years of drought, including the last five where moisture has been less than 70 percent of normal.
About 75 percent of the 6,000 high-capacity wells in the San Luis Valley are active, but farmers are voluntarily cutting back production in hopes of reaching sustainable groundwater levels in 20 years, Cotten said. The state is attempting to draft groundwater rules for the Rio Grande after efforts failed during the 1980s. For farmers there is little choice.
“They can obtain groundwater augmentation plans, join a groundwater management subdistrict or shut off the wells,” Cotten explained.
From the Fowler Tribune (Bette McFarren):
The grand opening of the new Rattler’s Den was packed on Wednesday morning for the appearance of Gov. John Hickenlooper. If the participants were looking for a meaningful discussion of the Colorado Blueprint Bottom Up program, they were not disappointed. Gov. Hickenlooper started with compliments for the small town atmosphere (more oxygen here) and the progress at Fort Lyon, which he feels may be a pattern for repurposing facilities nationwide…
The big question the governor had been waiting for was posed by Otero County Commissioner Kevin Karney. What is being done about a water plan for Colorado? Hickenlooper believes the state should be divided into regions corresponding with large drainage areas, such as the Platte and the Arkansas. He thinks conservation is the tool for water management, helping the people in Denver realize the water they spend on lawns is better utilized growing crops to feed them. “The farmers are conserving, too,” he said, “finding more efficient ways to water the crops and make better use of the water. Water is precious.” He thinks a comprehensive water plan developed in Colorado could serve as a model for other water-challenged states.
When speaking of energy, the governor was enthusiastic about the Creative Energy program which would enable energy to be produced from waste tires. He is eager to see the way cleared for this development, which has been discussed in Otero County. The Creative Energy plant would produce no emissions, but export the gas produced…
The students present were thoughtful and engrossed in the discussion. Small Business Development Director Bill Dutro was present with his intern, Malika Hussan, a college graduate from Pakistan who is studying business at OJC to help her work with women to create their own businesses in Pakistan. The meeting went a long way toward validating the governor’s theory that in order to improve the economy, he needs go to the grassroots to find out what needs to be done and to construct useful programs.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):
People in Northwest Colorado — business owners, people who recreate on rivers, farmers, ranchers and anyone who drinks water — are being encouraged to attend one of four upcoming meetings kicking off efforts to plan for future water needs in the combined Yampa, White and Green river basins and across the state.
More from Steamboat Today:
Why should people care? The Statewide Water Supply Initiative predicts that the gap between water supply and demand could exceed 500,000 acre feet by 2050. The capacity of Elkhead Reservoir between Hayden and and Craig is 25,550 acre feet.
Former Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray, who continues to serve on the Roundtable, said this is an important opportunity but not the last chance for people who have a stake in water management to be heard.
“We’re just one of seven basins in Colorado, and this is a chance for each of the basins to have input on identifying their needs and to identify the projects that could help meet those needs,” Gray said. “We’ve got to make sure the public has a chance to participate in all this work that we’ve been doing before it goes out so that it doesn’t appear all of this came from a small group.”[…]
Longtime Roundtable member Geoff Blakeslee said part of the original mission of the statewide roundtables when they were formed in 2005 was to encourage dialogue between the basins but typically, they are protective of the water within their boundaries.
“The Front Range water providers are pushing for dialogue about inter-basin compacts,” Blakeslee said. “Obviously, they are the ones in need. They’ve tapped into West Slope water in the past and they’d like to tap into it some more.”
Gray emphasized that the Yampa-White-Green Round-table is not starting this year’s planning process from scratch. All of the work during the past seven years that has gone into its Basin Implementation Plan will contribute to the draft that is sent to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in December.
“It’s important to understand this plan will be a dynamic plan,” Gray said. “This is not your one last chance to have a say. But it’s important. It’s going to be on the record.”[…]
“Some people don’t relate to the river at all. Some people’s lives depend upon the river, some use it for inspiration,” Blakeslee said. “I think that’s what we need to think about as we go through this planning process. How do we want to leave things for the next generation?”
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):
The water stored in the snow in the combined White/Yampa basins Friday was 117 percent of average and on Rabbit Ears Pass it was 138 percent of average, suggesting the Yampa might see a robust spring runoff.
— ColoClimateCenter (@ColoradoClimate) February 1, 2014
From the Fairplay Flume (Mike Perrault/Tom Locke):
Bailey received 3.5-3.6 more inches of new snow for the 24-hour period ended around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. on Feb. 1, depending on the location reporting to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS (see http://www.cocorahs.org/ViewData/ListDailyPrecipReports.aspx). That added to 7.8-8.0 inches the previous 24 hours ended at 7 a.m. on Jan. 31, to bring the total to about 11.5 inches of new snow for the two-day period ended at about 7 a.m. on Feb. 1.
Fairplay receive an additional 1-1.2 inches for the 24-hour period ended at about 7 a.m. on Feb. 1, bringing its two-day total to 7.5-10.1 inches. Lake George got another 1.6 inches, bringing its two-day total to 7.2 inches. Shawnee got another 2.8 inches, bringing its two-day total to 9.6 inches.
New Feb. 1 data from CoCoRAHS was not available for Alma. But it got 20.1 inches of new snow for the 24-hour period ended at 7 a.m. on Jan. 31.
From The Denver Post (Alison Noon):
After 3 more inches arrived overnight Friday, parts of Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties have seen as much as 9 inches of snow since Thursday. It’s the same amount that has fallen in Granby, 60 miles northwest.
Officially, the total for Denver itself is about 3 inches, as recorded at Denver International Airport.
The mountains have received considerably more snow south of Granby — beginning at Breckenridge, totals surpass 30 inches. Three feet of snow in Monarch and Silverton have been reported to the National Weather Service and Colorado Ski Country USA.
Kari Bowen, a meteorologist with the weather service in Boulder, said that northeastern Colorado got the brunt of the storm when it first arrived on Thursday. An upslope in Weld, Morgan, Washington and Yuma counties yielded anywhere from 5 to10 inches before the weekend. Yuma got as much as 13 inches by Saturday morning.
In 7 days we've gotten 47" of snow — the most we've seen this century. See photos of today's "calm after the storm." http://t.co/8baCoJcLuj
— Breckenridge Resort (@breckenridgemtn) February 1, 2014
From the Associated Press (Juliet Williams/Jason Dearen) via The Pueblo Chieftain:
Amid severe drought conditions, California officials announced Friday they won’t send any water from the state’s vast reservoir system to local agencies beginning this spring, an unprecedented move that affects drinking water supplies for 25 million people and irrigation for 1 million acres of farmland.
The announcement marks the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project that such an action has been taken, but it does not mean that every farm field will turn to dust and every city tap will run dry.
The 29 agencies that draw from the state’s water-delivery system have other sources, although those also have been hard-hit by the drought. Many farmers in California’s Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country, also draw water from a separate system of federally run reservoirs and canals, but that system also will deliver just a fraction of its normal water allotment this year.
The announcement affects water deliveries planned to begin this spring, and the allotment could increase if weather patterns change and send more storms into the state.
Nevertheless, Friday’s announcement puts an exclamation point on California’s water shortage, which has been building during three years of below-normal rain and snow.
“This is the most serious drought we’ve faced in modern times,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board. “We need to conserve what little we have to use later in the year, or even in future years.”
State Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said there simply is not enough water in the system to meet the needs of farmers, cities and the conservation efforts that are intended to save dwindling populations of salmon and other fish throughout Northern California.
For perspective, California would have to experience heavy rain and snowfall every other day from now until May to get the state back to its average annual precipitation totals, according to the Department of Water Resources.
“These actions will protect us all in the long run,” Cowin said during a news conference that included numerous state and federal officials, including those from wildlife and agricultural agencies.
Friday’s announcement came after Gov. Jerry Brown’s official drought declaration in mid-January, a decision that cleared the way for state and federal agencies to coordinate efforts to preserve water and send it where it is needed most. The governor urged Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent.
It also reflects the severity of the dry conditions in the nation’s most populous state. Officials say 2013 was the state’s driest calendar year since records started being kept, and this year is heading in the same direction.
A snow survey on Thursday in the Sierra Nevada, one of the state’s key water sources, found the water content in the meager snowpack is just 12 percent of normal. Reservoirs are lower than they were at the same time in 1977, which is one of the two previous driest water years on record.
State officials say 17 rural communities are in danger of a severe water shortage within four months. Wells are running dry or reservoirs are nearly empty in some communities. Others have long-running problems that predate the drought.
The timing for of Friday’s historic announcement was important: State water officials typically announce they are raising the water allotment on Feb. 1, but this year’s winter has been so dry they wanted to ensure they could keep the remaining water behind the dams. The announcement also will give farmers more time to determine what crops they will plant this year and in what quantities.
Farmers and ranchers throughout the state already have felt the drought’s impact, tearing out orchards, fallowing fields and trucking in alfalfa to feed cattle on withered range land. Without deliveries of surface water, farmers and other water users often turn to pumping from underground aquifers. The state has no role in regulating such pumping. [ed. emphasis mine]
“A zero allocation is catastrophic and woefully inadequate for Kern County residents, farms and businesses,” Ted Page, president the Kern County Water Agency’s board, said in a statement. “While many areas of the county will continue to rely on ground water to make up at least part of the difference, some areas have exhausted their supply.”
Groundwater levels already have been stressed, after pumping accelerated during the dry winter in 2008 and 2009.
“The challenge is that in last drought we drew down groundwater resources and never allowed them to recover,” said Heather Cooley, water program co-director for the Pacific Institute, a water policy think tank in Oakland. “We’re seeing long term, ongoing declining groundwater levels, and that’s a major problem.”
Many towns and cities already have ordered severe cutbacks in water use.
With some rivers reduced to a trickle, fish populations also are being affected. Eggs in salmon-spawning beds of the American River near Sacramento were sacrificed after upstream releases from Folsom Dam were severely cut back.
The drought is highlighting the traditional tensions between groups that claim the state’s limited water for their own priorities — farmers, city residents and conservationists.
Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, urged everyone to come together during the crisis.
“This is not about picking between delta smelt and long-fin smelt and chinook salmon, and it’s not about picking between fish and farms or people and the environment,” he said. “It is about really hard decisions on a real-time basis where we may have to accept some impact now to avoid much greater impact later.”