Snowpack news: Reclamation’s current forecast for Fry-Ark deliveries = 63,000 acre-feet #ColoradoRiver

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Bureau of Reclamation has estimated a banner year for Fryingpan-Arkansas flows — with a disclaimer.

“The forecast is based on average conditions for the rest of the spring,” said Roy Vaughan, Reclamation’s manager for the Fry-Ark Project. “We’ve seen it continue to snow and rain, and we’ve seen everything stop in March.”

Vaughan spoke at Wednesday’s meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Based on snowpack of 140 percent of median in the Fry-Ark collection area on the other side of the Continental Divide on Feb. 1, Reclamation predicts 63,800 acre-feet of water could be imported this year. If it holds, that would be about 20 percent higher than normal. But that number could be influenced by when and how quickly the snow melts in May and June. It also depends on whether snows continue during March and April, when the mountains typically get the largest accumulation of snow.

While the Arkansas River basin is reporting storage levels of 64 percent of average, Fry-Ark reservoirs are 85-105 percent of average for this time of year, Vaughan said. Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, is at 105 percent, while Twin Lakes and Pueblo are about 85 percent of average.

Reclamation wants to move about 30,000 acre-feet of water out of Turquoise Lake, but can’t because it is making repairs on the turbines at the Mount Elbert hydroelectric plant. Most of the water moved between Turquoise and Twin Lakes goes through a large tunnel that feeds the Mount Elbert forebay. Repairs should be completed in early March, Vaughan said.

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District will allocate water from the Fry-Ark Project in May. About 53 percent goes to cities and 47 percent to farms under the district’s allocation principles.

From the USDA:

Limited water supplies are predicted in many areas west of the Continental Divide, according to this year’s second forecast by the National Water and Climate Center of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Right now, snow measuring stations in California, Nevada and Oregon that currently don’t have any snow, and a full recovery isn’t likely, the center’s staff said.

USDA is partnering with states, including those in the West, to help mitigate the severe effects of drought on agriculture.

USDA announced last week that $15 million was available for conservation assistance to farmers and ranchers in affected areas in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico. As part of the announcement, $5 million was also made available to California communities through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. Earlier this month, USDA made another $20 million available to farmers and ranchers in California. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack joined President Obama in California on February 14th to announce those and other drought relief measures.

Parts of eastern California are now in a state of emergency because of drought. This area is suffering one of the lowest snow years on record. Meanwhile, in Oregon, mountain snowpack is far below normal.

“The chances of making up this deficit are so small that at this point we’re just hoping for a mediocre snowpack,” said NRCS Hydrologist Melissa Webb for Oregon. “We’d need months of record-breaking storms to return to normal. There’s a strong chance we’ll have water supply shortages across most of Oregon this summer.”

Most Oregonians don’t have access to water from other states and depend on local sources for water supply.

Across the Continental Divide, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado are mostly near normal. The one exception is New Mexico, which is extremely dry.

Although NRCS’ streamflow forecasts do not predict drought, they provide information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal runoff.

NRCS has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts since 1935 and operates SNOTEL, a high-elevation automated system that collects snowpack and related climatic data in the western United States and Alaska. These data help farmers, ranchers, water managers, hydroelectric companies, communities and recreational users make informed, science-based decisions about future water availability.

View February’s Snow Survey Water Supply Forecasts map or view information by state.

Webinar: Colorado River Myths and Realities — The Coming Conflict (Brad Udall) #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

Click here to go to the Interior website to register. Here’s the pitch:

Colorado River Myths and Realities: The Coming Conflict
FEBRUARY 27; 12pm Mountain
Brad Udall, University of Colorado and SW CSC Investigator

The Colorado River is currently in the midst of a 14-year drought nearly unrivaled in over 1250 years. The river’s two massive reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, are now less than half full. Due to the drought, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation projects that the first delivery shortages are likely to occur in two years. Further, scientists believe that climate change will reduce Colorado River runoff by 2050. Water managers also believe that water demand will increase because of increased population and warmer temperatures. The current legal system for operating this critical system is not tenable in the face of these pressures. Given that the entire American Southwest including all of its major population centers are dependent on the reliable supply of Colorado River water, what solutions in basin are likely in the near and distant future?

HB14-1030 passes House 63-2 #COleg

Barker Meadows Dam Construction
Barker Meadows Dam Construction

From The Denver Post (Hugh Johnson):

House Bill 14-1030 mitigates the complexities of the permitting process for hydroelectric facilities that produce 10 megawatts of energy or less. Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, believe their bill will create more jobs in rural communities.

Mitsch Bush said she knows a rancher living in Meeker who lowered his utility bill $10,000 a year by using hydroelectric systems.

“It creates jobs, it increases renewables and it enables rural households to lower their electric bill,” Mitsch Bush said of the measure.

Mitsch Bush believes the bill will make it easier for rural communities to harness the power of hydroelectric facilities by cutting some of the red tape that hinders their creation. She also said in a news release that the bill came about as a result of an inclusive stakeholder process between utilities, small hydroelectric producers, electric contractors and conservation groups.

House Bill 1030, which passed 63-2, now goes to the Senate.

More 2014 Colorado Legislation coverage here.

CDOT will be working on Fountain Creek flood mitigation for a month or so #COflood

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

Travelers using U.S. 24 west of Manitou Springs will face some severe delays over the next month as the Colorado Department of Transportation upgrades a culvert under the highway near the mouth of Waldo Canyon.

According to CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson, the $1.4 million flood mitigation work began Wednesday. Wilson said one lane in each direction will be closed until 6 p.m. daily through Friday. Crews will work full force beginning Saturday, when CDOT will shut down both eastbound lanes around the clock. The westbound side of the divided highway will have one lane open in each direction.

“People will have to add a little extra time for their travels,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson, the eastbound lanes will be closed for about two weeks. Once the culvert is installed under that side of the highway, the project will shift and the westbound lanes will be closed.

Wilson said CDOT will install a 24-foot wide and 10-foot high culvert that will be “10 times larger than the pipe that’s under the highway right now.” He said the current 72-inch pipe is a choke point when heavy rains hit the more than 18,000 acre Waldo Canyon burn area. The fire that began June 23, 2012, destroyed 347 homes in western Colorado Springs and killed two people.

CDOT estimates the culvert project will be finished by the end of April.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Eighteen Conservation Groups Give Gov. Hickenlooper Input on State Water Plan #COWaterPlan

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

Here’s the release from Earth Justice:

Today, eighteen Colorado conservation and citizen groups sent a letter to Governor John Hickenlooper with recommendations for the Colorado Water Plan. The local, regional, and statewide groups pointed out that the Governor’s Executive Order creating the Water Plan called for “Healthy Watersheds, Rivers and Streams, and Wildlife,” and asked the Governor to prioritize these values in the Plan…

The groups’ recommendations include three “actions” for the Plan to implement:

  • Focus on “Healthy Alternative Water Supplies” including conservation and other measures that are cheaper, faster, and easier to implement.
  • Do not support any new diversions from Colorado’s rivers.
  • Prioritize river restoration.
  • “This is the time to act,” said McCrystie Adams, staff attorney at Earthjustice. “River flows are expected to plunge in the coming years as our climate grows warmer and the mountain snowpack is disrupted. What will happen to our rivers and the life they support if we are already diverting all of the flows that we physically can?”

    The groups’ letter highlights that seven extremely controversial projects are going through state and federal permitting processes, including the Halligan Project, Seaman Project, Bellvue Pipeline, Northern Integrated Supply Project, Windy Gap Firming Project, Moffat Project, and Chatfield Project.

    The groups recommend that these projects be put “on hold” and that “Healthy Alternatives” be prepared that don’t divert more water out of Colorado’s rivers. The groups also point out that some of the participants in these projects are selling increasing amounts of water for fracking which is further degrading Colorado’s rivers.

    One of the projects, Denver Water’s “Moffat Collection System Project,” is scheduled to have its “Final Environmental Impact Statement” released in April. The groups are especially concerned about the Moffat Project.

    “With so much of our clean, treated, drinking water being sprayed on non-native grass in a semi-arid climate, the opportunity for tremendous advances in meeting future supply needs through simple conservation seems a no-brainer,” said Chris Garre of The Environmental Group which is addressing the threat of the Moffat Project. “Nevertheless, Denver Water is proposing to divert still more water off the Fraser River—85% of its natural flows—effectively killing the river.”

    The groups are responding to a call for input by the Governor, Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Interbasin Compact Committee. The Water Plan is supposed to be “grassroots” and “bottom up.” By focusing on these citizen groups’ recommendations, which represent tens-of-thousands of Coloradans, the State Water Plan can protect and restore Colorado’s rivers and meet the needs of local communities.

    Groups signing the letter include Citizens for a Healthy Fort Collins, Clean Energy Action, Clean Water Action, Earthjustice, Earth Works Action, Environment Colorado, Frack Free Colorado,, Plains Alliance for Clean Air and Water, Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Save Chatfield, Save The Colorado River Campaign, Save The Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, Sheep Mountain Alliance, Sierra Club – Poudre Canyon Group, The Environmental Group of Colorado, and WildEarth Guardians.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    AWRA: Water Policy is No Longer a Luxury for the United States

    Projected supply gap for 2030 via the Colorado Water Conservation Board
    Projected supply gap for 2030 via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Here’s the release from the American Water Resources Association via PRWeb:

    In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) is offering free downloads of the January issue of Water Resources IMPACT Magazine featuring articles on The Future of Water Resources in the United States.

    “Water policy is no longer a luxury for the United States; we cannot continue the theatrical spectacle in which academics and water professionals bemoan our lack of progress to be met by the stony silence of political leaders,” writes Denise Fort, Environmental Lawyer and Research Professor of Law, University of New Mexico.

    With cries of a looming U.S. water crisis grabbing headlines daily, Fort gets right to the point in her article ‘The Future is Here: The Nation Can No Longer Avoid Its Water Challenges.’ While her fellow authors may not be so blunt, they don’t disagree.

    “The challenge is to move governments away from simply responding to crises to a more proactive approach that identifies the populations, sectors, and regions most at risk and targets programs to those areas with the goal of reducing the risk,” writes Donald A. Wilhite, Founder, National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska, in his article ‘Changing the Paradigm for Drought Management: Can We Break the Hydro-Illogical Cycle?’

    Already being lauded for its integrated approach and national relevance, the January 2014 issue of Water Resources IMPACT addresses many of the challenges currently facing U.S. water resources managers, including climate change, population shifts, drought, flooding, law, infrastructure, contaminants, agricultural use and economics.

    “Nineteen prominent non-federal water resources professionals from across the United States…were invited to provide essays,” writes Richard Engberg, Guest Editor, in his introduction of the issue. “These writers responded with a remarkable group of essays [that] contain much food for thought, and I believe they will influence the course of water resources over the rest of the first half of the 21st century.”

    While approaching water resources management issues from vastly different backgrounds and with varied approaches, all seem to, again, come to the conclusion reached by Fort in the final lines of her article, “We…actually seem to be in broad agreement about what good water policies are, perhaps with the luxury of so many out years to contemplate them. When policy makers are ready to engage, they will find a wealth of ideas awaiting them.”

    We at AWRA agree, which is why we are providing this issue of Water Resources IMPACT as a free download for anyone with an interest in the successful management of our nation’s water resources. Read it. Circulate it. Discuss it. Then, share your thoughts and ideas with us at #USWaterFuture.

    Tipton: Vital Water Storage Projects Impeded by Federal Red Tape

    Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post
    Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

    Here’s the release from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

    Today [February 5, 2014], in a House Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee hearing, Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) stressed that federal red tape is blocking needed water storage projects, impeding prudent supply management, and jeopardizing agriculture production, environmental protection and flood control.

    “The importance of prudent water supply management in Colorado for economic and environmental benefits cannot be overstated,” said Tipton. “The ability to store water—the most precious resource in the Western U.S.—enables communities to meet environmental protection needs, support jobs that depend on the availability of water, ensure our food supply, control flooding, afford continued recreational opportunities, and provide water for the development of clean, renewable hydropower. The onerous and duplicative federal permitting process is blocking the construction of needed storage projects and creating unnecessary threats to our water supplies. The Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act would clear up some of these duplicative regulatory hurdles by establishing a coordinated permitting process, significantly reducing the time and cost of building these needed projects.”

    In an October 2013 hearing on water storage, Tipton underscored that with the exception of the Animas-La Plata project in Southwestern Colorado, the Bureau of Reclamation has not built any large multi-purpose dams or reservoirs over the last generation. Without new water storage and continued conservation as many as 700,000 acres of agriculture land could dry up in Colorado by 2050 due to urbanization and urban water transfers.

    During today’s hearing, Patrick O’Toole, president of Family Farm Alliance, with farming operations in the 3rd District, testified on the extreme length of the federal permitting process for water storage projects.

    “As you are all aware, actually developing new storage projects is much easier said than done. I testified before this Subcommittee two years ago about the permitting challenges I encountered in building the Little Snake Supplemental Irrigation Supply Project (High Savery Project) in Wyoming. That project was built in less than two years, but took more than 14 years to permit,” said O’Toole. “My experience with the High Savery Project showed me that cooperative efforts are important for moving projects through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other permitting processes. On the High Savery Project, the lead federal agency wasted a great deal of time making decisions on the project and at times seemed unable to make decisions. These delays not only postponed the project, they resulted in wasted time and money.”

    Read O’Toole’s full testimony here.

    H.R. 3980, The Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act, would establish a “one-stop-shop” permitting process through the Bureau of Reclamation, rather than requiring projects to undergo numerous duplicative and lengthy environmental reviews separately. The idea of a coordinated permitting process has received bipartisan support. By coordinating the permitting process, H.R. 3980 would expedite needed water storage projects without sacrificing responsible environmental review of those projects.

    “The administration has already acknowledged the benefit of coordinated agency review in several contexts including large scale transmission projects,” said Tipton. “It’s time we move forward in a bipartisan way to implement coordinated review for the development of increased water supplies for American farms, communities and families.”