Snowpack news

Mage at the NRCS has been busy this week. Click on a thumbnail to view a gallery of snowpack graphics.

Fourth Custer County Water Forum, March 1

Wet Mountain Valley
Wet Mountain Valley

From The Wet Mountain Tribune (J.E. Ward):

The Fourth Custer County Water Forum will be held on Saturday, March 1 in the Multi-Purpose room at the high school. County extension agent Robin Young explained that the conference is important for everyone.

“We might have had a lot of moisture so far this year,” Young said, “but we are always in a water crisis. Colorado is in a longer drought cycle. Though the moisture now is helpful, it depends on the spring’s showers if we produce good crops this year or not.”

Not only is the Wet Mountain Valley waiting to see if those spring rains come, but the state is in a crisis because it gives water to 18 other states, including California. As of now, many cities in California are about to run out of water and still have not adopted any water regulations.

“It impacts us greatly,” Young said. “We have strict water regulations, but they don’t.”

Young explained that the state, and the Valley, have been in a drought since the early 2000s. Climatologists have said that snow levels must consistently be met to end the drought.

The water conference is free for people to attend, though lunch will cost $3.50 or $4. The conference will focus on “Water on the Land and in the Ground.”

There will be an Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District update, an update on water issues in Custer County, a balanced approach to tying water to the land, and the use of 1041 regulations by Huerfano County to protect water resources. Other lectures are also scheduled.

For pre-registration, contact the Custer County Conservation District office at 783-2481.

More Custer County coverage here and here.

Drought news

US Drought Monitor February 11, 2014
US Drought Monitor February 11, 2014

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


During the past 7-days, the first significant storm of the wet season (since October 1) inundated parts of central California and the northern Sierra Nevada with 6-12 inches of precipitation, with locally up to 15 inches. Although there were short-term local improvements from this week’s ample precipitation, the long stretch of subnormal precipitation dating back to 2011-12 wet season has accumulated large deficits, leaving rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and snow packs well below normal. Even though this storm was welcome, the central Sierra still needs 3-4 more copious storms to bring this wet season close to average. Farther north, lesser but welcome precipitation (2-4 inches) also fell on the southern Cascades, while unseasonably cold air dropped measurable snow from Portland, OR, to Seattle, WA. Unfortunately, little to no precipitation fell on southern California and the Southwest. Elsewhere, frigid conditions gripped much of the lower 48 States, with weekly temperatures averaging more than 10oF below normal from the Northwest into the Plains and Midwest. Decent precipitation from the Pacific storm also fell on parts of northern Nevada, southern Idaho, and the central Rockies. The central Plains into the Midwest saw light snow, while parts of the Southeast received 1-2 inches of rain. In the mid-Atlantic, sub-freezing air at the surface and mild air aloft generated a dangerous ice storm in parts of West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Alaska remained unseasonably mild, Hawaii saw additional showers in the northern and central islands, and eastern and western Puerto Rico reported light to moderate scattered showers…


Little or no precipitation was reported in the Southwest as several locations in this region have yet to receive any measurable precipitation during 2014. The lack of appreciable winter precipitation has accumulated short-term deficits as most locations from southern California eastward into New Mexico have measured less than 25% of normal precipitation the past 60-days. Fortunately there was a surplus of rain at 6-months in most of these eastern and western areas; however, with drier conditions at 6-months in central Arizona and near the Salton Sea of southeastern California, D1 and D2 were slightly expanded there. According to the NRCS SNOTEL sites, Feb. 12 basin average snow water content remained low in central Arizona (13-33%, one site at 91%) and New Mexico (19-40% in the west and south, 41-60% in the north)…

The West

As mentioned in the opening Weekly Weather Summary, beneficial and overdue precipitation finally fell on much of the Far West, but especially on drought-stricken northern and central California. This was the first big storm of this year’s wet season (Oct-Apr) for California, bringing 8-15 inches of precipitation from just north of San Francisco (Marin, Sonoma, Napa counties) and to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Although the amounts were large, the long-term drought in California since the 2011-12 wet season has accumulated huge deficits and brought severe hydrological, agricultural, and ecological impacts. Nevertheless, two small areas of improvement (D3 to D2) were made in locations where the greatest precipitation fell (8-15 inches). This caused localized stream and river flooding and did fill small water storages. On a larger scale, the Folsom Reservoir on the American River was the big winner in the recent event, doubling its storage; however, it would need to double again to get back to average. Oroville Reservoir was next best, going from 1.26 MAF (million acre-feet) to 1.33 MAF, with average for this time of year 2.37 MAF. Other large California reservoirs were not as fortunate. With respect to snowpack, the latest (2/12) NRCS Snotel average basin snow water content stood at 35-54% of normal for the Sierras (CA), 29-59% for the southern Cascades (OR), and 58-69% of normal for the northern Cascades (WA). Values were generally above-normal for the Rockies, and below normal to the west. So with this brief (1-week) glimmer of good news, the bad news is that California has a long, long way to go to get back to normal. To put this in historical perspective (which does NOT include the Feb. 4-10 storm), NCDC stated that except for January 2014 (3rd driest) and June 2013-January 2014 (2nd driest), all of the time periods from the last two months (Dec’13-Jan’14) through the last twelve months (Feb’13-Jan’14) ranked driest on record statewide for California since 1895. In addition, the last 24-months (Feb’12-Jan’14) was also the driest such 24-month period on record.

Elsewhere, from coastal Oregon southward to Sonoma County, 2-8 inches were measured. The northern Cascades generally saw 1.5 to 4 inches, while the southern Cascades 2 to 6 inches. Heavy precipitation (more than 2 inches) also spilled eastward into southern Idaho, northern Nevada, western Wyoming, northern Utah, and central Colorado. However, since the previous 3 months had been relatively dry in the West, only minor improvements were made where the greatest precipitation fell. This included: northeastern Nevada where 1.5 to 3 inches of precipitation diminished the D3 there; Idaho, a slight reduction of the northern D3 area and adjacent D2 area, and D2 to D1 improvement in the southeast; western Wyoming, D0 and D1 reduction; and northeastern Utah, D1 to D0 improvement. Elsewhere, the precipitation was enough to prevent any further deterioration, except in Washington.

In Washington, both short-term ACIS and AHPS precipitation amounts have been well below normal (<50%) at 30-, 60-, and 90-days, especially in the western and northeastern sections. In light of rapidly accumulating 90-day shortages of over 20 inches along the western coast and 4-8 inches in north-central sections, D2 was expanded northward from Oregon into the Seattle-Tacoma area, and introduced in north-central portions. D1 was also expanded eastward into northern Idaho while D0 slightly shifted into northwestern Montana…

Looking Ahead

During February 13-17, 2014, a departing Atlantic Coast storm (on Feb. 13) should drop moderate to heavy precipitation on the Northeast, while unsettled weather in the Northwest should bring heavy precipitation (4-12 inches) from the Cascades southward into northern California. Unfortunately, it appears as though the southern half of California will miss out on the precipitation. Decent precipitation should also fall on Idaho and the western parts of Montana and Wyoming. Light snows are expected for the northern Plains into the Great Lakes region and Ohio Valley. Dry weather is forecast for the southwestern quarter of the Nation. Much above-normal temperatures should envelop the western half of the U.S. while subnormal readings are expected in the northeastern quarter of the country.

For the ensuing 5-day period, February 18-22, 2014, the odds favor above-median precipitation across the northern half of the Nation, with the greatest probabilities in the Northwest and Great Lakes region. Below-median precipitation is favored across the southern third of the U.S., especially in the Southwest and Southeast. Above-median temperatures are likely east of the Rockies, while the odds for sub-median readings are probable in the Far West.

Colorado Water Bank Project: farmers & ranchers invited to discuss

Is This Winter’s Colorado Snowfall Setting Records? — @CopperCondos #COdrought

Map of snowfall totals from February 6, 2014 storm via @CopperCondos
Map of snowfall totals from February 6, 2014 storm via @CopperCondos

From @CopperCondos:

So far, seasonal totals are well above average, with 231 inches to-date at Copper Mountain, but still below all-time Summit County snowfall records. But January’s snowfall was nothing to sneeze at, according to veteran Breckenridge weather-watcher Rick Bly, who has been tracking precipitation for the National Weather Service in his backyard for several decades. According to Bly’s measurements, January 2014 was the third-snowiest on record, just behind 1899 and 1996. So far for the season, every month since October has delivered above-average snowfall, Bly said.

Along with Bly’s manual measurements, weather experts also track Colorado snowfall through a widespread network of automated sensors, called SNOTEL sites. From this year’s data, it appears that Copper precipitation is on par with the totals Bly reported from Breckenridge. For the season to-date, total snowfall ranks in the top five seasons.

The SNOTEL station at Copper Mountain sits at 10,550 feet and has been delivering data since 1978. You can get a wealth of information about snowfall in the area by clicking on the links within the site, including cool graphs showing how this year’s precipitation measures up to the average and to previous winters.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The Natural Resources Conservation Service reported Wednesday that the snowpack on Rabbit Ears Pass is 142 percent of the median for Feb. 12…

The automated measuring sites are useful, [Mage Hultstrand] said, but her agency ultimately relies on visits to each site to confirm the data, which is important to planning for the summer’s water supply…

Outside the scope of winter recreation, the snow on Buffalo Pass is significant to municipalities and irrigators all the way down the larger Colorado River Basin. The snow that melts from Buffalo Pass in June will flow into the Yampa River, which joins the Green River just east of Colorado’s border with Utah. The Green in turn flows into the Colorado in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, not far upstream from Lake Powell, which stores much of the water that is set aside for states such as California, Arizona and Nevada…

Anyone interested in the future of water supplies in the Colorado River Basin is invited to attend Thursday night’s public meeting of the Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Roundtable at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

Sens. Coram, Sonnenberg and Scott walk out of Senate Bill 14-115 hearing in protest #COleg

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Denver Post (Lynn Bartels):

Three Republican lawmakers walked out of an ag committee hearing Wednesday morning in protest over the handling of a water bill scheduled to be heard Thursday afternoon.

Senate Bill 115 would give the legislature a say in the “Colorado Water Plan,” an executive order Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper issued last year charging the state to address water needs in urban and rural areas. A draft of the plan is due in December.

Mike King, director of the Department of Natural Resources, and James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, met with the bill sponsors Tuesday to discuss their concerns about the bipartisan proposal, which gives the legislature veto power over the plan. Eklund admitted that during the meeting he got “a little hot, maybe too hot.”

“I don’t like being lectured or dictated to,” said Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who was at the Tuesday meeting.

King and Eklund’s concerns over the bill stems from earlier legislation passed in 2005 that attempted to depoliticize water talks by creating roundtables in each of the state’s nine water basins. Those basin roundtables have met almost 800 times since then.

“We need to respect the work they’ve done and continue to make sure that the people who live and use and recreate in these areas have the primary say in the future of Colorado’s water plan,” King said.

“I’m passionate about this because it’s important that we honor the work of these basin roundtables,” Eklund said.

Eklund was at a joint House and Senate ag committee Wednesday to talk about the water plan. Upset about their meeting earlier this week, Coram walked out and was joined by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, and Rep. Ray Scott of Grand Junction.

“I have the utmost respect for James Eklund, but I don’t have respect for the process,” Sonnenberg said. “We have three branches of government, and it’s important that the legislature be involved in a statewide water plan.”

SB 115 is sponsored by Coram and Sens. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins. It is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee at its 1:30 p.m. meeting Thursday.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

@SaveTheColorado details their issues with #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

North Poudre pulls out of the Halligan Reservoir expansion project, @fortcollinsgov last partner standing

Halligan Reservoir
Halligan Reservoir

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

City officials learned this week that North Poudre Irrigation Co., which owns the storage capacity of the existing reservoir, is backing out of the permitting process for the proposed enlargement of the reservoir northwest of the city. The move likely will increase Fort Collins’ costs for building the project, if it is approved by federal regulators, by about $1 million to an estimated $31 million, said Donnie Dustin, water resources manager with Fort Collin Utilities.

The irrigation company has seen little progress on the project during the nearly 10 years it has been going through an environmental review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre.

“For as much money as the company was putting into the project, the board came to the opinion that some of that money could be going to some of our infrastructure needs and upgrades,” Hummer said. “It was a business decision.”

The Fort Collins-Loveland, East Larimer County and North Weld County water districts, also known as the Tri-Districts, cited the same reasons when they withdrew from the project in 2009…

North Poudre has put $1.8 million toward the permitting process over the years, said Nels Nelson, president of the irrigation company’s board of directors.

Initially, the cost of the environmental review, which covers the proposed Halligan expansion and a proposal by Greeley to expand Seaman Reservoir, was expected to be $4 million. Costs related to the process have reached $7.3 million, with Fort Collins paying about $3.7 million, officials said…

Halligan Reservoir is on the North Fork of the Poudre River. The 6,500-acre foot reservoir is about 100 years old.

Originally, partners in the project were seeking to expand the reservoir to 40,000 acre feet. But the size of the project has been reduced to about half after the Tri-Districts withdrew and Fort Collins’ water use changed with increased conservation efforts.

With North Poudre out of the project, the expansion will be resized again to match the smaller requirement, said Kevin Gertig, city water resources and treatment operations manager.

How the change will affect the review process is not known, he said. A draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Halligan-Seaman project is expected to be released in fall 2015.

“Fort Collin Utilities is committed to moving ahead with the project unless, of course, the City Council directs us otherwise,” Gertig said.

The city needs to acquire 8,125 acre feet of water storage capacity to meet its needs and protect against drought, Gertig said.

More Halligan/Seaman expansion coverage here and here.