RMNP plans to restore the Lulu City wetland

Grand Ditch
Grand Ditch

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

According to National Park Service officials, the 47,600 cubic-yard debris flow changed the river channel, deposited a large debris fan, increased sedimentation in the Colorado River, degraded ecosystems and damaged the aesthetics of a wilderness area. Because the area now contains more sediment and debris that it would under natural conditions, had the man-made canal never existed and never breached its bank, the Park began exploring solutions for restoration.

On Feb. 12, Park representatives announced the availability of their “Record of Decision,” which selected the referred alternative from the Environmental Impact Statement guiding the restoration process. Plans are to remove large debris deposits from the alluvial fan in the Lulu City wetland, stabilizing slopes and banks and restoring the Lulu City wetland by removing debris piles. Some small-scale motorized equipment will be used in the stabilization and revegetation efforts, and large equipment will be used to remove debris deposits and reconfigure the Colorado River through the Lulu City wetland.

According to a Park statement, there will be “short-term, adverse impacts on natural soundscape, wilderness, water resources, weltands, visitor use and experience, and wildlife from restoration activities and the use of mechanized equipment.” The long-term benefits, however, will be the high-level restoration to the area. At this time, he Park does not have any information regarding when restoration activities will begin.

A copy of the Record of Decision is available online at http://www.parkplanning.nps.gov/romo or by calling 970-586-1206.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin February 16, 2014 month to date precipitation via the Colorado Climate Center
Upper Colorado River Basin February 16, 2014 month to date precipitation via the Colorado Climate Center

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

Drought news

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

Summary

During the past week, a persistent pattern of ridging (high pressure) over the Southwest and troughing (low pressure) over the East prevailed. Unfortunately, the ample moisture that finally visited drought-ravaged California (especially north-central sections) last week was shunted northward by the southwestern ridge into the Pacific Northwest this period, dumping widespread precipitation totals of 4-8 inches, locally 12-18 inches, from extreme northwestern California into western Washington. Additionally, the precipitation was accompanied by mild air, producing mainly rain instead of snow in southern sections of the Cascades in Oregon and limiting any snow pack increase for those mountains. Farther north, however, the precipitation fell as snow in the northern Cascades (Washington) and northern Rockies, increasing the average basin SNOTEL snow water content by 10-20 percentage points in six days (from Feb. 12 to 18). Farther east, a series of winter storms brought wintry precipitation to the Midwest (light to moderate snow), Southeast (severe icing in Georgia and South Carolina), and the Northeast (heavy snow) as cold air remained entrenched in those regions. In contrast, dry and mild weather continued in the southwestern quarter of the Nation, further degrading conditions there. In Hawaii, scattered showers continued, with Kauai and Oahu receiving the greatest totals, while Puerto Rico and most of Alaska saw light precipitation, except for moderate amounts (more than 2 inches) in the southeastern Alaskan Panhandle…

Southern and Central Plains

Mostly dry weather and a west to east warming trend occurred in the central and southern Plains, with precipitation (0.2-0.8 inches) limited to eastern Texas. With significant precipitation (0.5-1 inch liquid equivalent) falling the past 30 days across the central Plains, plus relatively low normal precipitation amounts for this time of year, no changes were made in the central Plains. Farther south, however, growing short-term dryness interlaced with long-term drought (out to 2 years) led to a slight degradation of conditions in Texas, particularly in south-central and southeastern, sections and in the northern Panhandle. Similarly, D0 was slightly expanded eastward in southeastern and central Oklahoma where the 30-day precipitation missed…

Southwest

The Water Year to Date (WYTD; since October 1) continued to be dismal as little to no precipitation and unseasonable warmth (temperatures averaging 8 to 12oF above normal, highs in the 70’s and 80’s) were observed this week. With the exception of copious and flooding rains back in early to mid-September, especially in New Mexico and Colorado, most southwestern locations have measured well below normal precipitation since then. The few exceptions to this were small WYTD surpluses in southwestern and northeastern Arizona, northern New Mexico, and most of western and central Colorado, the latter state faring the best this season. Elsewhere, WYTD SNOTEL basin average precipitation ranged from 50-63% of normal in central Arizona, 30-46% in southern New Mexico, 52-73% in northern New Mexico, 51-90% in southern Utah, and 81-102% in southern Colorado. Values generally rose to above normal in more northward basins. The Feb. 18 basin average snow water content ranged from 0-83% in central Arizona, 10-19% in southern New Mexico, 8-60% in northern New Mexico, and close to normal in southern sections of Utah and Colorado. With such poor values, a 1-category degradation was made in southwestern Arizona (D0 expanded); southern Nevada (D1 expanded, only 0.05” of precipitation at Las Vegas McCarron Airport since Dec. 1 and non-irrigated, drought-tolerant landscaping plants starting to dry out); D2 expansion across central and southern Arizona and into western New Mexico; D3 development in southeastern Arizona (where 6-month totals less than 50%); and slight D2 and D3 increases in central New Mexico – after their driest January on record. As of Feb. 1, average state reservoir capacities were 23% (normal=44%) for New Mexico and 13% (normal=47%) for Nevada. Colorado and Utah were close to normal, and Arizona data was unavailable (on Jan. 1, 44% vs normal=51%)…

The West

Unfortunately, last week’s overdue and welcome moisture was short-lived for most of California as the weather pattern shifted and brought moderate to heavy precipitation (4 to 8 inches, locally 12-18 inches) northward to the Pacific Northwest. Extreme northern California did benefit from this week’s moisture, including Del Norte County in extreme northwestern California, where 10-15 inches of precipitation fell as the Smith River rose 20 feet and passed monitoring stage, and has since receded to a flow 6 feet higher than before the rain started. In addition, along coastal Oregon and Washington and in the Cascades, widespread heavy precipitation was enough to make a general 1-category improvement in the drought, especially since the dryness was more short-term than compared to California’s multi-year drought. Unfortunately, the moisture was accompanied by mild air, and most of the precipitation that fell on the southern Cascades was rain and not snow. As a result, southern Oregon’s basin average snow water content remained low, between 30-39% of normal on Feb. 18, and no changes were made here. Farther north, however, temperatures were lower, and much of the precipitation fell as snow in the higher elevations. In northern Oregon, the average basin snow water contents for the central Cascades increased to 51-63% of normal, while the northern Cascades in Washington rose to between 71-87% of normal. Short and medium-term deficits, however, still remain, and additional moisture will be needed to bring the WYTD precipitation to normal. Weekly totals (about an inch) were lower in northeastern Washington, and the D2 area remained. Additional moderate to heavy snows fell on the northern and central Rockies, boosting WYTD average basin precipitation and Feb. 18 snow water contents to near or above normal, justifying a 1-category improvement where the heaviest precipitation fell and deficits were greatly reduced.

In contrast, southern California missed out on both week’s precipitation while unseasonable warmth persisted, further degrading conditions similar to the Southwest. With WYTD precipitation running at a meager 10-30% of normal across coastal southern California and deficits of 4-12 inches the past 6-months, D3 was extended southward into the San Diego area, and D4 was expanded southward into Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. In Santa Barbara County, Lake Cachuma, currently at 39% capacity and 90% of the water supply for the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta, the water level is nearing the lowest intake on the outlet works. To remedy this, the water district is working on installing a floating barge and pipes to get lake water to the outlet portal. The city is also contemplating the re-establishment of a desalination plant built in the late 1980s that was shut down in the early 1990s. And the Twitchell Reservoir, along the Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo County line, is at less than 1% capacity. Ranchers are reducing their herds due to the lack of water and food sources. As of Feb. 18, the Sierra Nevada basin average snow water content ranged from 32 to 53% of normal. Widespread heavy precipitation is badly needed in this state as the normal wet season nears its end by early to mid-spring (e.g. in April)…

Looking Ahead

During February 20-24, a drier weather pattern is expected for the Northwest, while significant precipitation is expected across the eastern half of the Nation, particularly in the Midwest, Southeast, and New England. Unfortunately, dry weather should persist across the southwestern quarter of the U.S., including California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, and most of Texas. Temperatures will also average above normal for much of the lower 48 States, except for another blast of Arctic air entering the northern Rockies and Plains and upper Midwest later in the period.

For the ensuing 5-day period, February 25-March 1, the odds favor subnormal readings east of the Rockies and above-normal temperatures in the Southwest. Chances are favorable for above-median precipitation in the West, especially along the California-Oregon border and northern Sierra Nevada. To the east, precipitation is likely along the Gulf Coast States. In contrast, the odds for below median precipitation are forecast for the southern Rockies northeastward into the northern Plains, upper Midwest, and Great Lakes region, with slight chances of below-median precipitation in the Northeast.

SB14-103 passes out of the state Senate

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

From the Associated Press via KJCT8.com:

A mandatory phase-out of toilets, faucets and shower heads that use too much water has cleared the Colorado Senate. Senators voted 19-16 in favor of a bill to prohibit the sale of low-efficiency plumbing fixtures by 2016. The measure would make it illegal to sell new faucets, showerheads and toilets that aren’t certified by the federal government as efficient “WaterSense” fixtures.

Only one Republican voted for the change, Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango. She called the bill a needed effort to conserve water in a drought-plagued state.

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.

The bill now heads to the House.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Dolores River: Instream flow right below confluence with the San Miguel River?

Dolores River Canyon near Paradox
Dolores River Canyon near Paradox

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Durango Herald:

A spirited debate before the Colorado Water Conservation Board in Denver in January featured local officials expressing their opinions about a plan to increase flows on the lower Dolores River.

A live Internet broadcast of the hearing presented views for and against appropriating new minimum in-stream flows on a 34-mile section of the river below the confluence of the San Miguel River.

Representatives from the Dolores Water Conservancy District, in Cortez, and the Southwestern Water Conservation District, in Durango, attended the meeting and urged the state board to delay the matter. Local officials say new in-stream flows could threaten agricultural users who depend on McPhee Reservoir, and they want more time for negotiations with local federal agencies about newly implemented river regulations.

But they were rebuffed by the state board and state officials who argued the in-stream flows were a good way to protect struggling native fish and avoid intervention by the federal government moving to list them under the Endangered Species Act…

The proposed in-stream flow on the Dolores is for 900 cfs to flow for 61 days in the summer to aid the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub below the San Miguel confluence.

Eleven organizations commented on the proposed in-stream flow, some for and some against.

Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores district, urged the state board to delay its intent to appropriate the new Dolores in-stream flow.

“These ISFs are intertwined with recent federal actions that add up to create considerable uncertainty and risk for the Dolores Project,” he said. “We ask for the delay to straighten out these issues with federal land agencies.”

The in-stream flow proposal comes on top of recent federal action on the Dolores that elevates two additional native fish, the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers, to a category called Outstanding Remarkable Values.

The values are used to categorize special aspects of rivers like the Dolores that are designated “suitable” for National Wild and Scenic River status.

Creating that official high level of protection would require an act of Congress. But reservoir managers oppose even a hint of Wild and Scenic because if ever designated, those rivers come with a federally reserved water right that could force water from McPhee to be released downstream for the benefit of native fish.

State water board director John McClow said that the in-stream flow was a good solution and questioned why it had so much resistance.

“I’m having a difficult time connecting the dots here,” he said. “We have argued to federal agencies that in-stream flows are a better option than suitability. If we declare intent to appropriate, it lets the federal agencies know that we are serious and are going to do this and provide the protection for these fish.”

After the testimony, the state water board voted unanimously to declare its intent for appropriating the proposed in-stream flows on the Lower Dolores River.

However, to give time for stakeholders to negotiate with the Bureau of Land Management about the possibility of dropping Wild and Scenic suitability, the hearing about the matter was delayed until January 2015.

Here’s a guest column about the proposed instream right and the Dolores Project, written by Mike Preston that’s running in the Cortez Journal:

There is a lot going on these days that could affect the Dolores Project and many recent events have received newspaper coverage. This column is intended to put these events into a broader context that will help those who are interested understand what is going on as this story continues to unfold.

Let’s start with the biggest long term risk to Dolores Project water supplies: A listing of any of the three sensitive native fish species on the Dolores River as Threatened and Endangered. This would put the US Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of the Dolores River resulting in a loss of control by everyone else. What is being done? Local partners including water managers, fishery managers, conservation groups, boaters and county commissioners are working together to put together a science based Native Fish Implementation Plan to evaluate opportunities to address the needs of native fish without putting water supplies as risk.

The next level of risk is the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as a result of additions to the recently released BLM and Forest Service resource management plans which list the two sensitive native fish as Outstandingly Remarkable Values which Implementation Plan monitoring show to be uncommon and rare above the confluence with the San Miguel River. The federal plans also added flow standards that are unachievable below McPhee Reservoir. What is being done? DWCD and Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWWCD) are actively protesting and appealing these plans with the support of the State of Colorado, Colorado Water Congress, local counties and west slope water entities.

There is also a large instream flow proposed on the Dolores River below the San Miguel confluence. Representatives of DWCD and SWWCD recently appeared before the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and asked that the instream flow proceeding be delayed until risks associated with the federal plans are addressed. The CWCB granted a delay until January of 2015 and pledged State of Colorado support in resolving the federal issues described above. The one year delay also gives local water boards the opportunity to negotiate protections to insure that the instream flow will pose no risks to water stored in McPhee and other water rights within the basin.

Given the need to manage these multiple risks, what can be done to create stability and certainty going into the future? There is a Legislative Subcommittee made up of County Commissioners, Water Managers, and Conservation Groups, grazers and OHV users that is crafting legislation that will eliminate the Wild and Scenic River designation from McPhee Dam to Bedrock, protect water rights and Dolores Project allocations, recognize the Native Fish Implementation Plan as the means of taking care of the fish, while protecting water rights, mineral rights, private property rights and access.

Are we going to be able to succeed in all of these activities designed to protect community water supplies? These efforts are grounded in community level cooperation by representatives of the full range of Dolores Project purposes: irrigation, community water providers, boating, the fishery and the health of the downstream environment. If we all stick together, we will find a way to do what’s right by our community. As this story unfolds we will make every effort to keep you informed.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

‘Colorado Supreme Court rules against holders of vested water rights inside and outside of an Indian reservation’ — Lexology

Non-Tributary coalbed methane SW Colorado via the Division of Water Resources
Non-Tributary coalbed methane SW Colorado via the Division of Water Resources

From Lexology (Daniel C. Wennogle):

In 2010 a group of water rights holders in Colorado raised a constitutional challenge to certain rules promulgated by the Colorado State Engineer’s Office regarding the designation of certain ground water resources as “nontributary.” The particular groundwater resources were located, in part on an Indian reservation, and the State Engineer’s determination was a part of an effort to promulgate rules regarding the permitting and regulation of oil and gas wells that extract groundwater in Colorado.**

The rule in dispute, referred to as the “Fruitland Rule,” was part of a set of “Final Rules” promulgated by the State Engineer under its authority granted by HB 09-1303, codified at C.R.S. § § 37-90137, 37-90-138(2), and 37-92- 308(11) (C.R.S. 2009). The Fruitland Rule related to underground water in a geologic formation called the Fruitland Formation, which extends into the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. The Final Rules, which included the Fruitland Rule, contained a provision stating:

These rules and regulations shall not be construed to establish the jurisdiction of either the State of Colorado or the Southern Ute Indian Tribe over nontributary ground water within the boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation as recognized in Pub. L. No 98-290, § 3, 98 Stat. 201 (1984).

The Plaintiffs argued that the above-quoted provision in the Final Rules effectively divested the State Engineer from having jurisdiction to, among other things, designate water as nontributary in its rulemaking process. The trial court had agreed with this position, and stated that the State Engineer did not prove its authority. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed and held that the State Engineer’s authority came from HB 09-1303, which “authorized the State Engineer to promulgate the Final Rules to delineate nontributory groundwater extracted in oil and gas production throughout the state” of Colorado.

The Court of Appeals held that nothing about the above- quoted statement in the Final Rules did or could divest the State Engineer of this authority.

The Court of Appeals noted that its decision would not prevent a constitutional challenge to the Fruitland Rule based upon discriminatory application, if facts warranted.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

El Paso Couny: ‘The stormwater task force is leaning toward a new regional authority’ — Mark Pifher

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

El Paso County is moving toward a regional stormwater authority that could be formed in an election this November. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard that news Wednesday from Mark Pifher, Colorado Springs Utilities permit manager for the Southern Delivery System.

“The stormwater task force is leaning toward a new regional authority that would be funded by a fee rather than a sales tax or property tax,” Pifher said.

The fee would be based on square footage of impervious surfaces, such as other cities throughout the state, including Pueblo. While no public vote is required for a fee, El Paso County officials recognize that a vote would be prudent to form the authority that would assess the fee, Pifher said.

The latest estimate of stormwater needs in El Paso County is at $724 million, with $192 million in critical needs. Of that, $534 million is needed for Colorado Springs, with $161 million in critical projects. An additional $40 million is estimated so far to deal with impacts from the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires.

The Lower Ark board still is looking at a possible federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation for its refusal to reopen an environmental impact study for SDS that calculates impacts without a stormwater system in place. The district is concerned that increased flows from SDS development will worsen conditions on Fountain Creek. Reclamation issued a record of decision for SDS in early 2009, which became the basis for contracts issued the following year. Later in 2009, the Colorado Springs City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise it had formed in 2005 based on its interpretation of a ballot question sponsored by Doug Bruce, who referred to the fee then in place as a “rain tax.”

The stormwater task force formed in 2012 in response to a city attorney’s opinion that the city was obligated to deal with stormwater in order to operate SDS.

More stormwater coverage here and here.