Snowpack news (% of average): South Platte = 147%, best in state #COdrought

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A better water supply outlook should make more water available for Arkansas Valley farmers this year, but the details still are being worked out. The Pueblo Board of Water Works, which generally leases the most water on the spot market, heard a favorable snowpack report Tuesday, but still is weighing its options.

“We will be looking at those options in the next 30 days,” said Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo water board.

Specifically, the water board wants to find out how many of those who have asked for long-term contracts (more than one year) are serious. That will determine how much of this year’s pool of water could be leased, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.

Pueblo’s water supply should be ample this year because snowpack is expected to easily reach average peak levels this year. Right now, snowpack in the Arkansas River basin is 110 percent of median, and 182 percent of last year. In the Colorado River basin, from which much of Pueblo’s water is imported, levels are at 131 percent of median. Even better news, for Pueblo at least, is that in the headwaters of the Arkansas River and in the Upper Colorado snow levels are at 150 percent of average.

“It’s looking good for us, as well as for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project,” Ward said.

Snowpack in the southern mountains which feed the Purgatoire River and Rio Grande are much lower, as recent storms have tracked mainly through the northern part of the state.

The water board typically leased 10,000-20,000 acre-feet of water on the spot market, but held off in 2013 because of continuing drought conditions. The long-term contracts are typically more than three times the rate for the spot market and provide more certainty of revenue for the water board. The downside is that when water is not available, long-term contracts might have to be suspended. The water board had nearly 37,000 acre-feet of water in storage at the end of January, up by about 10,000 acre-feet from last year at the same time.

From the Summit Business Journal (Robin Smith):

Shades of 2008 and 1980’s Big Wednesday – for once, weather forecasts corresponded with the snow amount smothering Aspen/Snowmass residents’ walkways and balconies, as over 30 inches accumulated in the last two days [January 29-30].

The initial 15-30 inch prediction was originally viewed as a jinx against any significant snowfall, particularly when Thursday morning dawned with only 2-6 inches on the slopes. However, the storm hunkered down and by twilight, 15 inches were verified. Out came the shovels and snow blowers – and out they came again today, as another 18 inches greeted the sunrise.

SB14-103: ‘I don’t believe it [government] belongs in the bathroom’ — Sen. Larry Crowder #COleg

Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman
Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

From the Associated Press (Kristen Wyatt) via

Water-chugging faucets, toilets and showerheads could become illegal in Colorado under a bill that won preliminary approval in the state Senate Tuesday.

A bill to prohibit the sale of low-efficiency plumbing fixtures by 2016 won approval on an initial unrecorded voice vote.

The measure would make it illegal to sell new faucets, shower heads and toilets that aren’t certified by the federal government as efficient “WaterSense” fixtures.

“Every little bit that we can do to conserve water is important,” said Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver and sponsor of the bill. Guzman and other Democrats pointed out that most fixtures sold today are already compliant.

The measure would not require anyone to change existing plumbing. Current law requires builders to offer water-efficient indoor plumbing fixtures in new homes, but homeowners aren’t required to choose them.

Republicans tried unsuccessfully to stop the measure by arguing that water-efficient plumbing fixtures should sell themselves.

“I don’t believe the government needs to come in and say, ‘This is what you have to do,’ ” said Sen. George Rivera, R-Pueblo.

The debate got a little punchy, with senators debating the relative merits of low-flush toilets and weak shower heads. One Republican even showed a clip from a 1996 episode of the sitcom “Seinfeld,” in which characters look for black-market fixtures after their apartment converts to low-water models.

Lawmakers couldn’t avoid a little potty humor as they debated the measure.

“I don’t believe government belongs in the bedroom, and I don’t believe it belongs in the bathroom,” said bill opponent Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa.

One more Senate vote is required before the plumbing measure heads to the House.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

US House votes to reauthorize national drought information system #COdrought

Snowpack news

From the Salida Citizen (Christopher Kolomitz):

We all know that during the past two weeks a pineapple express of moisture has been slamming into the Rockies and it has done magical things to the snowpack, especially compared to the past two years. But as our memories fade, one winter blends into the next and it’s hard to recall specifics. Luckily, a series of weather stations in the Colorado mountains record climate data.

By looking at that data which goes back to 1979, we can determine what level of “epicness” the past two weeks puts us on. And, it appears we are on track with the legendary winters of the early 1980s, the snowy mid-90s and a much needed wet year of 2008. We seem to be a little ahead of the big year of 2011…

Here in the Arkansas Basin we sit at 115 percent of average snowpack. Nine different SNOWTEL stations are in the basin and seven are used to figure that percentage. Of the nine, Brumley, Fremont Pass, St. Elmo and Porphyry Creek are especially important for us in the Upper Arkansas Valley because the other six (Apishapa, Glen Cove, Hayden Pass, South Colony and Whiskey Creek) are located in drainages below and southeast of Salida. Because the St. Elmo and Hayden Pass sites were installed in 2007, they are not used when developing historical averages.

On Feb. 12, I looked at the SWE for Fremont Pass and Porphyry Creek, which is at Monarch Pass, just west of the summit in Gunnison County. Yes, it’s technically on the Western Slope but it is being used to calculate Arkansas Basin figures because of its strategic location. And, because most of us want to compare the skiing, I dialed a little more into the numbers at this site.

Monarch has been blasted since the early part of the month and the ski area is reporting 11 feet in the past two weeks. As of Feb. 12 the SWE at Brumley was at 15 inches, so I compared that with the historical SNOTEL data.

In the last 14 years only once (2008) has it been that depth at this point in the season. During the past 35 years 15 inches of SWE this early has been reached only four times – 1984, 1996, 1997 and 2008.

In 10 winters (1980, 82, 84, 86, 93, 96, 97, 2005 and 08) the 15 inch SWE mark was achieved by the end of February. On the flip side, another 10 winters (1981, 89, 90, 91, 99, 2000, 04, 07, 12 and 13) failed to reach the 15 inches of SWE at all.

In 2011 when it seemed as if it would never stop snowing in the spring, Porphyry reached 15 inches of SWE on March 1. It hit 18.2 inches in April that year and then maxed out at 19.7 in May.

Since 1979 the highest SWE for Porphyry was in May of 1984 when it reached 27.4 inches. The 15 inches of SWE was eclipsed in early January that year.

In the winter of 1995 the site reached SWE levels equal with this year on March 10. That year the maximum SWE was 24 inches. A year after, in 1996, 15 inches of SWE was hit Feb. 2.

Further north on Fremont Pass, at the headwaters of the Arkansas, the SNOWTEL site Feb. 12 was measuring 13.3 inches of SWE and a depth of snow of 64 inches. The winters of 1996, 2006 and 2011 all had SWE greater and sooner. In 1996, the SWE reached today’s levels on Jan. 25 and by May it was above 27 inches.

Looking at the most recent winters of 2011-2013, it’s clear that at Fremont Pass, things are in much better shape than the past few years. Last year the SWE didn’t reach current levels until April 5, although it maxed out later in May at 19.1 inches and helped save runoff.

Drought in 2012 was evident when the SWE made it only to 12.4 inches for the entire year. But, the snowy year of 2011 was better than all when the SWE passed today’s levels on Jan. 31 and reached 26.7 inches May 5.

The South Platte Roundtable is holding a series of input and information sessions for the #COWaterPlan

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

From The Greeley Tribune:

The South Platte Roundtable will be hosting a serious of input and information sessions around the region during the upcoming weeks, as it continues piecing together its comprehensive, long-term water plan for northeast Colorado.

Each of the basins in Colorado are putting together individual water plans, which will help make up the collective Colorado Water Plan — an effort put in motion by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

All meetings will be from 3:30-7 p.m., and will include an overview of the South Platte River Basin’s water supplies and needs, and will also feature Q and A sessions and information displays.

The meetings will take place on:

• Feb. 26, Clarion Inn in Fort Morgan, 14378 U.S. 34.

• March 3, Metro State College in Denver, 900 Auraria Parkway, Suite No. 250.

• March 5, Southwest Weld County Complex in Longmont, 4209 Weld County Road 24 1⁄2.

• March 19, the Fair Barn in Fairplay, 880 Bogue St.

• April 10 in Yuma (held in conjunction with the Republican River Water Conservancy District’s regular quarterly meeting).

For more information, contact or

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

SB14-115: Update from Sen. Gail Schwartz #COleg #COWaterPlan

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.