Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal January 2014
Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal January 2014

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Salida: Wastewater treatment plant earns Waste Water System of the Year from the Colorado Rural Water Association

Salida Colorado early 1900s
Salida Colorado early 1900s

From The Mountain Mail:

The Salida Wastewater Treatment Facility received the 2013 Colorado Waste Water System of the Year Award from the Colorado Rural Water Association Feb. 5 at the Colorado Rural Water Association’s annual conference. The award follows the completion of the city’s wastewater plant overhaul and construction project, which was completed in 2013 and was the largest capital project to date for the city of Salida.

Randy Sack, plant manager, said about winning the award, “We really appreciate this award. It makes us proud that our hard work has been recognized. The crew really deserves this recognition.”

More wastewater coverage here.

Snowpack news (SWE % of normal): South Platte = 142% (best in state), Upper #ColoradoRiver = 134%

Snow Water Equivalent as a percent of normal February 11, 2014 via the NRCS
Snow Water Equivalent as a percent of normal February 11, 2014 via the NRCS

The storms over the weekend really bumped things up. Unlike the last 3 seasons the South Platte headwaters are doing well.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Tulley):

Brian Burden, who operates a small snow-removal business out of Granby, says business is booming right now, though he wouldn’t mind having some time to get caught up on moving the piles of snow. While Burden says “everyone is making money right now,” he also said he wouldn’t mind a break from the early mornings and 10-hour days he has been working due to the recent snowstorm…

While the movers of the snow will appreciate the break in the weather on Tuesday and Wednesday, Winter Park Resort is rejoicing in the recent snowfall and looking forward to more snow over the weekend. So far for the month of February, the resort has received 38.5 inches of snow, which is 15 inches ahead of the average snowfall for this time of the month, according to Steven Hurlbert, communications and public relations manager for the resort…

And folks at Ski Granby Ranch also appreciated the 19 inches that resort received. “It was super busy this weekend in the midst of all of the snow dumping,” said Amy Buzhardt, sales coordinator for Ski Granby Ranch.

Snowpack news: Breckenridge reports 3rd snowiest January on record

Snow Water Equivalent as a percent of normal February 11, 2014 via the NRCS
Snow Water Equivalent as a percent of normal February 11, 2014 via the NRCS

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Last month really helped bolster the totals, as Breckenridge weather-watcher Rick Bly reported the third-snowiest January on record, dating back to the late 1800s. Bly tallied 60.5 inches at his weather station, where he tracks precipitation for the National Weather Service. According to Bly, only January 1899 (80.4 inches) and 1996 (71.8 inches) were snowier.

For the year to-date, Bly has already measured more than 10 feet of snow in Breckenridge — 128.4 inches, to be exact, making it the eighth snowiest on record. But there have been a couple of recent seasons with more snow through January, for exacmple 2005-2006, when 148.9 inches piled up through January, as well as 1983-1984, with 145.1 inches.
All that snow also bodes well for summer water supplies, with the year to-date snow-water equivalent at 8.72 inches, more than three inches above the average for the year to-date (5.81 inches).

And February snowfall is all but certain to surpass the average for the month, which is 23.5 inches. Bly said he was expecting to reach that total by Feb. 9, and there’s more moisture in the forecast for the coming week. But we have quite a way to go to break the all-time February record, set in 1893 with 84.5 inches.

Snowfall totals at the NWS observation site in Dillon were equally impressive for January, with a total snowfall of 43.5 inches, more than double the long-term average of 18.4 inches. The snowiest day of the month was Jan. 31, when the Dillon station picked up 16 inches of snow in a 24-hour period.

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Arkansas River basin is at 114 percent of the seasonal median. The Upper Colorado River basin, which provides supplemental water for the Arkansas Valley, is even better off, reporting snowpack at 121 percent. The Rio Grande basin, on the other hand, remains the driest in the state with just 82 percent of average.

Ski areas report some of the best snow totals they’ve experienced in some years. There’s a 100-inch base at Wolf Creek, 82-inch base at Monarch and 72-inch base at Ski Cooper.

Evans: Weld county needs help removing trailer homes contaminated by the September #COflood

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com
Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Evans officials on Tuesday said time is running out before two mobile home parks ravaged in the September flood turn into a health hazard, calling on state and federal officials to help before the issue turns into a “second disaster.”

Last week, the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment confirmed what Evans officials said they have been worried about — that, as soon as the weather warms, the piles of trash, old food, household hazardous waste, construction debris and mold left at Eastwood Village and Bella Vista mobile home parks will putrefy.

Soon, rodents and other animals will be attracted to the waste, and the threat of disease will be imminent, city and county officials say.

“Every day that goes by, spring gets closer,” said Evans Mayor Lyle Achziger from outside of the fenced-in Eastwood Village park, where Evans officials held a news conference on Tuesday.

They estimate removal of the 208 destroyed units between the two parks will cost about $1 million. They say the responsibility to remove the debris lies with the park owners.

But Keith Cowan, the owner of Eastwood Village, said he can’t legally remove the trailers because all of the people living in that park owned their own units.

He said he is also facing a stark financial situation, as he still owes a mortgage on Eastwood Village and won’t be able to rebuild the park because of revised floodplain regulations.

Sheryl Trent, Evans’ director of community and economic development, said there is a legal method the park owners can go through so that they have the right to remove the destroyed units, which is what the owner of Bella Vista has done.

Evans officials applied for a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to remove the private debris, but the city’s application was denied.

“Now we’ve hit a brick wall, because we’ve been denied at every turn,” Achziger said.

He said Evans has appealed the denial.

FEMA very rarely approves of money to be used for debris removal from private property, said FEMA spokesman John Mills.

The private debris removal grant is awarded only in instances where enormous amounts of debris are spread across a great area, causing a widespread threat to public health and safety, Mills said.

Trent said another FEMA program would allow Evans to purchase the mobile home parks to mitigate the hazards, but nothing can be built on that land, and the city must still pay a 25 percent match to purchase the land at pre-flood prices.

Moreover, the city can’t apply for that program for another four to six months, which is too late to address the health hazards, which will worsen as soon as the weather warms, Trent said.

She said that has been the issue with most of the solutions the city is exploring.

Achziger and Weld County commissioners last week sent a letter to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Reeves Brown, executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, requesting a meeting to find a solution to the mobile home park issue.

Stephanie Donner, executive director and general counsel for the Governor’s Recovery Office, responded on Monday, saying she and the Department of Local Affairs are “keenly aware” of health and demolition issues at the two mobile home parks and specifically raised those issues at recent meetings in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We are hopeful our advocacy will provide additional support for Evans’ appeal to FEMA for assistance under the Private Property Debris Removal Grant,” she said.

Donner said the state is also waiting for approval from HUD to implement a plan that would allow Evans to apply for money from a community development grant specifically geared toward disaster recovery.

The plan would allow communities that sustained localized flood damage to get aid in removing debris and structures to avoid slum and blight in those areas, she said in the letter.

State officials will be in Evans for a public meeting on that plan on Thursday.

The Weld health department last week sent letters to the owners of Eastwood Village and Bella Vista notifying them that surrounding neighbors have complained of odor and other issues in the parks, and the department has deemed it a public nuisance.

If the nuisance isn’t removed, the property owners must go before the county’s Board of Health, at which point the legal issues surrounding the units’ ownership could be brought up, said Mark Wallace, executive director of Weld County’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

He said a very last resort would be for the county to contract a company for the debris removal and then try to recover the costs from the property owners.

Arkansas Valley: 10th Annual Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium recap #COdrought #COWaterPlan

US Drought Monitor February 4, 2014
US Drought Monitor February 4, 2014

From the Fowler Tribune (Bette McFarren):

The 10th Annual Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium once again proved its usefulness with a full house of participants on a cold and wintry day. The meeting was held on Thursday at the Gobin Building and Baggage Room at the Rocky Ford Depot. Not as many tradespeople were in evidence this year, but the crowd of participants appeared undiminished by frigid weather.

[Grady Grissom], who operates his own working cattle ranch, experimented with varying intensity of grazing and the addition of winter-tolerant grasses to maintain a vegetation cover on pastures. The latter practice was found to greatly enhance water retention in the soil and resilience of the pasture land. He gave four principles for the ranchers to take away: “1. Plant diversity provides economic and ecological resilience in a drought. 2. Total residuals over 800# per acre ensure effective water capture (2″ blue gramma mixed with 8-10″ mid-grasses). 3. Blue gramma residuals over 1.5″ prevent mortality in a drought. 4. Alternate-year grazing may be economically effective in a drought.” He once again, as he did last year, quoted his older mentor, “It takes grass to make grass.”

Barriers to successful revegetation were the subject of scholarly research by Benjamin and Mikha of the USDA Agriculture Research Service. They found that badly compacted land is extremely difficult to revegetate and bare ground blows away, a factor with which Matt Heimerich of Crowley County is only too familiar. The practice of chiseling the earth to stop blowing dirt is effective only a short time and will produce no long-term benefit to the ground. Crowley County had a limey soil and has become progressively more degraded since 1982. Even dried vegetation helps. It should not be removed.

In James Eklund’s report on the Colorado Water Plan, he revealed that the basic implementation plan will be finalized in July 2014. Dale Mauch, farmer from the eastern part of the Arkansas River Basin, questioned Eklund about the efficacy of continuing to rely on western water sources, which are progressively severely affected by the drought. Why not import water from the East by pipeline? Eklund said that such a method had been tried previously, the object being to import water from Lake Michigan. The surrounding states formed compacts forbidding the exporting of water. He said that our methods may not be as effective as we wish, but doing nothing would be much worse. He added that in conditions of extreme drought similar to ours, Australia finally resorted to taking control of water resources nationally.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

2014 Colorado legislation, HB14-026 (Flex marketing): ‘We still believe this is a trojan horse’ — Jay Winner #COleg

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state House approved legislation that creates a new type of water right called flex marketing last week and sent it to the Senate.

“We still believe this is a Trojan horse,” said Jay Winner of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “It allows speculation, and the cities could take water off the land 80 percent of the time.”

The bill, [HB14-1026], backed by water interests in the South Platte River basin, would allow farmers to designate their water for any beneficial use without identifying an end user. It would quantify consumptive use and allow that portion to be moved off fields in traditional fallowing programs and untested methods such as deficit irrigation or reduced cropping. While it requires action in water court to prevent damage to other water rights and requires that water stay in the basin of origin, it does contain enough safeguards to make sure agriculture remains the primary use, Winner said.

The Lower Ark district’s water attorney, Peter Nichols, suggested changes to the bill last month that would have restricted how often water could be removed from fields. The Lower Ark also objects to a bill that would put the primarily financial burden of water court on the farmers.

“We’re being ignored,” Winner said.

The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board opposes the bill because it would obliterate the anti-speculation doctrine, which has been key in stopping past attempted water grabs in the Arkansas Valley.

The House voted 47-13 to pass the measure. Rural lawmakers voted against the bill. Voting against the bill were state Reps. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, and Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo.

It is awaiting hearing in the Senate agriculture committee.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.