The Ridgway Town Council approves bumping storage in Lake Otonowanda to 600 acre-feet

Lake Otonowanda -- photo / Applegate Group
Lake Otonowanda — photo / Applegate Group

From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

Located in Ouray County, about three miles south of Ridgway off of County Road 5, Lake O has been the Town of Ridgway’s primary municipal water source for nearly 100 years. The man-made lake is filled with water diverted into a natural basin via the Ridgway Ditch.

The Lake Otonowanda Rehabilitation Project will allow the town to exercise its full decreed storage right there by improving the lake’s capacity sixfold, from 100 to 600 acre feet, while restoring historic tunnel outlet works, which collapsed decades ago, to allow water to flow from the lake to town without having to be pumped.

The project is split into two phases, addressing tunnel restoration and lake excavation. Town officials had hoped to get started on the tunnel restoration phase last fall, but received only one response to a Request for Proposals issued in September 2013.

Hoping to attract more bidders, council and town staff agreed to broaden the scope of the contract to encompass both the tunnel restoration phase and lake excavation phase in a single package, and put the project out to bid in January.

This time around, there was a healthy response from contractors, with Town Manager Jen Coates reporting that over 30 people attended the project’s pre-bid meeting on Jan. 30; five of those companies went on to actually bid on the contract, with bids ranging from $1.4 to $1.9 million. The town budgeted up to $2 million for the construction project (bonding requirements put many smaller-scale local contractors out of the running, Coates said).

The Colorado Water Conservation Board awarded a $1.2 million grant/loan package to the Town of Ridgway last fall to help finance the Lake O project. In late January, the town applied to the Colorado River District for additional grant funds to cover a portion of the project construction.

More Uncompahgre River Watershed coverage here and here.

Aspinall Unit update: 400 cfs through the Black Canyon

Black Canyon via the National Park Service
Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Due to the increasing forecasts for spring runoff into Blue Mesa Reservoir, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are now set at 400 cfs.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

CWCB: February #COdrought update

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

Click here to read the drought Update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

Late January and early February precipitation across the state improved the statewide snowpack from 107% on February 1 to 117% as of February 12. The snowpack in every basin in the northern portion of the state is well above average with the highest being the South Platte basin at 141% of average. The southern portion of the state continues to see below average precipitation overall for the current water year. Moderate to exceptional drought conditions remain on the eastern plains, with D0 reintroduced in the southwest portion of the state where no classification was indicated in the January report. Storage levels in all basins are better than they were this time last year; however the northern half of the state is doing better than the southern basins.

 January statewide temperatures were near normal with the foothills slightly above normal for the month. Temperatures statewide from February 1-11 are near normal to 10 degrees below however, the Eastern Slope has experienced temperatures varying from 10 to 25 degrees below normal.

 Currently, 74% of the state is in some level of classification according to the US drought monitor slightly up from January. 52% of that is characterized as “abnormally dry” or D0, while an additional 9% is experiencing D1 or moderate drought conditions. 9% is classified as severe, 2.5% as extreme and only 1.47% of the state remains in exceptional drought. In comparison, this time last year 100% of the state was classified as experiencing severe to exceptional drought conditions.

 Snowpack has risen statewide due to storms in late January and early February. As of February 12, the highest snowpack was in the South Platte Basin at 141% of average. The Rio Grande, has the lowest snowpack at 79% of average, a decrease from 82% as of February 1. NRCS is ground-truthing snotel stations in the Rio Grande basin as there are indications they may be providing erroneously low readings due to snow pillow bridging and rain gage capping.

 For the current water year, starting on Oct 1, 2013, precipitation statewide is at 108% of average as of February 12. The Rio Grande and San Juan/Dolores basins are the lowest at 85% and 90% respectively, although so far in the current month both basins are receiving above average precipitation.

 The streamflow forecasts statewide range from 67-125% percent of average. The highest streamflow averages are in the Yampa/White and Colorado basins. Streamflow forecasts have decreased in the southwest part of the state since January 1.

 Reservoir Storage is at 90% of average which is an increase from 87% at the end of December 2013. At this same time last year, reservoir storage was at 69% of average. The lowest reservoir storage is in the Arkansas & Rio Grande basins, with 64% and 65% of average respectively.

 Parts of Crowley County have experienced problems with an abundance of tumbleweeds due to the extensive drought in the southeastern part of the state. The tumbleweeds have clogged ditches and roads and some citizens have been rescued from their homes due to massive pile ups of tumbleweeds. Financial assistance is being sought after to deal with the ongoing issue.

 The water providers in attendance reported their respective systems and storage levels are in good shape and they continue to closely monitor conditions to determine if additional actions need to be taken.

More CWCB coverage here.

Draft #COWaterPlan emphasizes the importance of ag

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

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

More irrigated farmland will no doubt go out of production, but the economic impact of agriculture in Colorado must maintain its current levels in the future. That was put in writing by the Interbasin Compact Committee on Tuesday, as the group continued piecing together the language that could make up the official Colorado Water Plan.

T. Wright Dickinson of Maybell was among the most adamant about protecting ag.

“There’s the assumption … that to meet the water needs of everyone else, ag will crumble,” said Dickinson, an IBCC member and former president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “I won’t be any part of it. There has to be language (in the Water Plan) that says Colorado will do everything it can.”

The long-term Colorado Water Plan is expected to consist largely of input from the 27-member IBCC — made up of water experts, lawmakers, engineers, farmers and others from throughout the state.

The group on Tuesday agreed on language that stressed ag’s economic importance, along with other language saying that new water projects in the future must consider any negative impacts on the state’s ag industry.

Tuesday’s discussions focused solely on new-supply issues.

Months ago, members of the IBCC agreed on “low risk” and “no risk” water solutions regarding conservation, water reuse and other issues. They didn’t agree on their “low risk” and “no risk” solutions for new supply until Tuesday.

Now with “conceptual agreements” on the new-supply language in the Colorado Water Plan draft, IBCC members will take that draft to their respective basin roundtables for further discussion. Gov. John Hickenlooper wants a draft report of the Colorado Water Plan by the end of next year, but there’s still a long way to go, with the “high risk” solutions still needing to be discussed and agreed upon down the road.

Compromising on some aspects is difficult, because each of the basin’s issues vary from one another and require different solutions. Even the discussions on “low risk” and “no risk” solutions have been contentious at times.

Agriculture has been at the heart of the discussions.

As Colorado cities have grown quickly in recent decades, those expanding municipalities have bought water supplies from farming and ranching families leaving the land, because comparatively it’s an inexpensive way to acquire needed supplies. But, according to the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, the state was on pace to see about 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farmland dry up by 2050, an outcome that would hurt the local food supply, diminish ag’s estimated $40 billion impact on the state’s economy, and place hardships on Colorado’s rural communities.

Because water supplies are already tight in Colorado, and because agriculture uses the bulk of the state’s water supplies — about 85 percent, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources — water experts say it’s inevitable that cities down the road will buy out more water from agriculture to meet their needs.

Members of the IBCC said Tuesday that with improved efficiencies in ag production — technology and methods that have farmers now growing 200-bushel-per-acre corn, as opposed to 20-bushel-per-acre corn decades ago — farmers should be able to produce more food on less acres down the road. Perhaps farmers could also grow more high-value crops on fewer acres, some suggested.

But advancements in the industry and different farming practices alone won’t cut it.

Whatever the specifics may be, IBCC members said that farmers and ranchers must work more closely with cities and recreational and environmental interests — creating water banks, or using alternative transfer methods, rather than selling off their water — to slow down the current rate of “buy and dry” of irrigated ground in the state.

Members of the IBCC said Tuesday they felt strongly enough about the issue that they wanted it down in writing in the Colorado Water Plan.

“We have to do anything we can not to exacerbate ‘buy and dry,’” said Eric Wilkinson, the general manager of Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which oversees the largest water-supply project in the region — the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. “We can’t keep doing what we’re doing.”

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

At a Grand County town hall meeting in Granby on Feb. 12, most of those stakeholders included ranchers, water engineers and representatives from the county’s municipalities. They came to learn more about the Colorado state water plan, find out what is means for the Colorado River basin and express their concerns…

Louis Meyer, a civil engineer with the company SGM, was contracted to help prepare the Colorado water plan. He said that while the governor’s timeline is aggressive, preparing a water plan is both timely and necessary. Most states in the Western U.S. have water plans. Only Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado lack one…

According to Meyer’s town-hall presentation, municipal and industrial consumption account for 9 percent of the state’s water use. Recreation, fisheries, augmentation and recharge take 5 percent. The majority of the state’s water use, 86 percent, goes to agriculture. To close the future water gap, at least some of the state’s conservation efforts might have to come from agriculture.

But local ranchers took issue with that figure. While most of the state’s agriculture is concentrated on the Front Range, east and southwest regions of the state, it’s still a significant part of Grand County’s economy. As meeting attendees pointed out, many ranchers in the Kremmling area use flood irrigation in the spring for their hay, making their fields look like lakes by the summer.

“You’d assume the water was used and gone forever if you didn’t know any better,” said Chris Sammons, whose family has ranched in the area for over 100 years. “But the ground is a sponge, soaking up water, recharging it back into the basin and downstream.”

Sammons figures her hay only consumes a tiny portion of the actual irrigation water she uses. Sending the rest of that irrigation water back downstream helps Colorado meet its water rights obligations to other Western states and the nation of Mexico. That’s not the case with water piped to the East Slope.

Other suggestions coming from Grand County locals included stronger leadership among government officials managing water and lands, with lower turnover in these roles. They also suggested changes to the state’s land uses and development, and stronger educational campaigns on the true cost of water in the state.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

What Does the Return of El Niño Mean for Colorado? — Matt Makens #COdrought #COwx

Jet Stream patterns El Nińo /La Nińa via NWS Boulder
Jet Stream patterns El Nińo/La Nińa via NWS Boulder

Here’s a primer of sorts about El Nińo and the possible effect on Colorado weather from Matt Makens writing for Weather5280.com. Click through and read the whole post and check out the great graphics. Here’s an excerpt:

The fact is, where we live, an El Niño or La Niña pattern doesn’t change our temperatures or moisture outlook. It may shift where heavier precipitation will fall, but it doesn’t do much for the state as a whole. There are seasonal changes for some regions that can be of benefit/detriment, but the scale of a year and only looking at the state yields little excitement.

In general terms, the ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) is yet another ocean-atmosphere connection that affects the storm track and speed over Colorado. During La Niña (as in this winter) heavier snows hit the northwestern mountains and more frequent cold snaps occur for the plains with periods of strong wind. However, in El Niño the heavier snowfall shifts to the southwestern mountains and the temperatures remain a bit warmer…

Notice how there isn’t a correlation between ENSO and Colorado’s temperatures and precipitation? I did a quick analysis for Denver and there are not any correlation there either. Just because the headlines tout a change on the way and you may want to throw an El Niño welcome party, there’s little to get worked up about here in Colorado from the state’s perspective. Okay, yes if you are in the southwestern mountains and wanting a good winter snowfall you want El Niño, but don’t get your hopes up too soon, the El Niño indicator is a weak one and may not hold on for next winter…

We are in a long lasting drought (most severe over the southeast), and what the entire state needs right now is moisture. Aside from the singular flooding event for northern Colorado back in September, we too would still be in a drought. The state’s agricultural community needs a multi-decadal pattern switch that simply the ENSO pattern itself can’t fix. However, a quick transition from La Niña to El Niño this spring and early summer would be nice…in that change, climatologically the southeastern plains have the best chance for above normal precipitation. However, a bigger pattern change with El Niñ0 and other factors coming together is what it will take to make major state climate changes.

There are so many more important influencing factors from other patterns, like MJO, AMO, and PDO that do have a direct correlation to our hotter/drier versus cooler/wetter patterns.

The latest newsletter from the Greeley Water is hot off the presses