Snowpack news (% of avg): South Platte = 145%, Upper Colorado = 128%, Upper Rio Grande = 78% #COdrought

Click on the thumbnail for your favorite basin to view the gallery of Basin High/Low graphs and the statewide map for February 25, 2014. Thanks Mage (NRCS).

From (Belen De Leon):

The statewide snowpack in the last two weeks has jumped up 7 percent from 108 percent of average to 115 percent of average. Just this weekend, we were able to pick up about a foot of snow in in some areas in the high country and up to 9 inches in parts of northeast Colorado.

The South Platte and the North Platte reservoirs, which are the drainage basins that most affect the water resources for the Front Range, are at 133 percent and 145 percent of average which is extremely good. According to Denver Water our reservoirs are more than 90 percent full this time of year. Just to put it into context, last year when we were in drought conditions we were 70 percent full.

And on average at this time of year it’s usually around 80 percent. Even though these numbers are looking really good, our friends at Denver Water say that being water efficient is still very important for future seasons.

“As far as the snowpack goes, it really is more on a year to year basis. So right now we are looking like we are in a good spot to handle next year’s irrigation season.

It’s like a savings account. What if next year becomes dry? The more ahead we can be in our reservoirs the more water we have in it, the better we are for that next dry period,” said Travis Thompson of Denver Water.

Storage key to weathering prolonged drought? #COWaterPlan

From the Vail Daily (Hannah Holm):

According to Louis Meyer, of the consulting firm SGM, most water providers that serve households in communities from the Colorado River’s headwaters in Grand and Summit counties on down to Grand Junction have done a pretty good job of planning for the range of climate conditions that have been seen over the past several decades. However, most are not prepared for the more extreme droughts that both climate change models and ancient tree ring studies indicate could occur in the future.

SGM is working with the Colorado Basin Roundtable to assess water needs and potential projects for a Basin Implementation Plan that will help inform the Colorado Water Plan that Gov. John Hickenlooper wants drafted by the end of this year. The Colorado Basin Roundtable, like its counterparts in other major river basins around the state, is a group of water managers and stakeholders charged by the state legislature with doing “bottom-up” water planning. Meyer and his team have been interviewing domestic water providers throughout the river basin to determine what their needs are and what kinds of projects would help them be more prepared for the future.

One factor making communities vulnerable to prolonged or extreme droughts is the fact that many lack sufficient reservoir storage upstream from their water treatment plants. These communities rely largely on water in streams to serve their customers while releasing water from reservoirs in other drainages to satisfy any downstream senior calls on the river. This is more of an issue in headwaters communities in the upper Fraser, Eagle, Blue and Roaring Fork than in the Grand Junction area, where water providers enjoy access to reservoirs that are physically, as well as legally, upstream.

Today’s regulatory and permitting requirements for reservoirs have resulted in planning horizons which can take longer than 20 years. Permitting costs can exceed many millions of dollars with no assurance that reservoirs can even be permitted. Both in order to ease permitting and to respond to increasing competition for water between different user groups, Meyer argues that, “Reservoirs of the future must provide multiple benefits to provide water for safe drinking water, agricultural irrigation and water to provide in-stream flows to protect environmental and recreational needs.”[…]

Another challenge for water providers attempting to plan for the future is the wild card of population growth. This region is expected to grow at the fastest rate in the state, and much of that growth could occur outside of established municipalities. In unincorporated areas, water supplies tend to be less developed and secure. Increasing conservation is one way to reduce the impact of population growth, and many water providers have strong conservation programs, but there is a lack of consistency in these efforts across the basin…

Increasing reservoir storage, promoting conservation and addressing forest health all require money, and increasing storage requires permits as well. The small size of many water providers in the basin limits their capacity to take on big projects, so Meyer and his team have suggested more regional cooperation may make projects to increase the reliability of community water supplies more feasible.

Water customers also have a role to play in determining the capacity of their water utility to plan and prepare for the future. If customers are not willing to help pay the necessary costs through their rates, then it limits a utility’s capacity to act. Water providers are not only faced with providing safe drinking water to customers at prices that are often less than 1/10th of one penny per gallon, but now customers are much more aware of water demand impacts on local stream health.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Is the Grand Canyon older that the #ColoradoRiver?

Via the USGS
Via the USGS

From the Provo Daily Herald (Duane Jeffery)

A related question — though it has no direct application to the present water usage — has to do with the geological origins and ages of both the Colorado River and its best-known production, the Grand Canyon. John Wesley Powell, the first person of European descent to navigate through the canyon, pondered on its age. Clearly it was the work of “rains and rivers,” said he, and though the present area is dry, he knew it had taken a long time — “centuries of centuries” — to make. But how long?

Historically, there has been a general consensus that the Grand Canyon itself has been being cut for about 6 million years. But it’s also clear that data are not definitive. So many of the overlying sediments that were likely present are now gone. A recent estimate indicates that the river has transported about 81,000 cubic miles of rock and earth to the ocean, and that took a lot of critical evidence with it. Researchers must worry about uplift and downdropping of geological strata which affect the direction of river flow and the intensity of down-cutting, about possible ancient rivers that may have done part of the job before the Colorado assumed the major role, and about climate variations which would also alter the amount of water coursing down the river. The river itself seems to have begun in western Colorado about 11 million years ago, but its course is unclear for its “early” years. But several good reasons existed to suggest that it began cutting the present canyon about 6 million years ago.

But then, a few months ago, a research team from the University of Colorado suggested that the canyon has really been in process of formation for some 70 million years! The argument was based on so-called thermochronology, measuring the amount of helium found in crystals of apatite in the canyon walls. We’ll skip the details of the method — the Jan. 25 issue of Science News pursues those for readers interested. This claim understandably created quite a sensation!

Other data using the apatite crystals validated the younger date. And now a group from the University of New Mexico has produced a persuasive integrated analysis.

Some parts of the canyon are indeed much older than others, and were cut by ancient rivers now long gone. Differential geological uplift exposed some portions of the present canyon to cutting, and a variety of “paleocanyons” formed. One section of today’s canyon is indeed about 70 million years old, another (the portion that most tourists see) dates to 15 to 25 million years old. The present Colorado River then formed, carving across all this eroded landscape and began cutting the present canyon about 6 million years ago. This synthesizes the previous disparate data.

Governor joins environmental community, energy industry to highlight new rules for oil and gas activities

Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont
Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper was joined today by representatives from the environmental community, the energy industry and state agencies to discuss the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission’s recent approval of comprehensive changes to rules governing oil and gas activities in the state.

The new rules include the nation’s first-ever regulations designed to detect and reduce methane emissions.

“All Coloradans deserve a healthy economy and a healthy environment, and we’ve taken yet another critical move to help make sure that Colorado will continue to have both. The new rules approved by Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission, after taking input from varied and often conflicting interests, will ensure Colorado has the cleanest and safest oil and gas industry in the country and help preserve jobs,” Hickenlooper said. “We want to thank the environmental community, the energy industry and our state agencies for working together so hard to take this significant step forward.

“We’re fortunate to live in this beautiful, vibrant state. We enjoy it every day, and we don’t for one second take it for granted. It’s collaborative efforts like this, the result of everyone working together, that will help ensure Colorado’s tomorrow is even brighter than today.”

Representatives from the environmental community, the energy industry and state agencies at the press conference today included: Fred Krupp from the Environmental Defense Fund; Pete Maysmith from Conservation Colorado; Ted Brown from Noble Energy; Craig Walters from Anadarko; Angie Binder from Encana; Dr. Larry Wolk from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE); and Gerald Nelson, an economist from Grand Junction.

The new Oil and Gas Emission Rules were adopted by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. The regulations resulted from the governor’s calls for further action to minimize potential negative air quality impacts associated with oil and gas development.

The rules continue Colorado’s leadership in ensuring responsible development under the most stringent and protective standards in the country. A coalition of environmental and industry interests worked with the administration on the rules. Highlights of the rules include:

  • The most comprehensive leak detection and repair program for oil and gas facilities in the country.
  • Regulation of a range of hydrocarbon emissions that can contribute to harmful ozone formation as well as climate change. The rules include first-in-the-nation provisions to reduce methane emissions.
  • Implementation of the rules will reduce more than 92,000 tons per year of volatile organic compound emissions. VOC emissions contribute to ground level ozone that has adverse impacts upon public health and environment, including increased asthma and other respiratory ailments.
  • Implementation of the rules also will reduce of more than 60,000 tons per year of methane emissions. As a natural gas, methane provides a clean and affordable domestic energy source. But when it leaks or vents to the atmosphere, it is a potent greenhouse gas.
  • Expanded control and inspection requirements for storage, including a first-in-the-nation standard to ensure emissions from tanks are captured and routed to the required control devices.
  • Expands ozone non-attainment area requirements for auto-igniters and low bleed pneumatics to the rest of the state
  • Require no-bleed (zero emission) pneumatics where electricity is available (in lieu of using gas to actuate pneumatic)
  • Require gas stream at well production facilities either be connected to a pipeline or routed to a control device from the date of first production.
  • Require more stringent control requirements for glycol dehydrators.
  • Require use of best management practices to minimize the need for – and emissions from – well maintenance.
  • Many operators will use infrared (IR) cameras, which allow people to see emissions that otherwise would be invisible to the naked eye. Colorado obtained IR cameras for CDPHE and the Department of Natural Resources inspectors last year. They are an effective tool in identifying leaking equipment and reducing pollution.
  • Comprehensive recordkeeping and reporting requirements to help ensure transparent and accurate information.
  • Adoption of federal oil and gas standards that complement the state-specific rules.
  • The unofficial draft of the rules now will be sent to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office for publication, prior to the rules becoming effective in the spring. Click on the highlighted “Regulations 3, 6 & 7” to view the complete regulations.

    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper knows that Colorado’s new air quality rules for oil and gas operations, lauded as the strictest in the nation, won’t please everyone…

    At a press conference Tuesday at the state Capitol, Hickenlooper said Colorado’s new air quality rules were the result of the collaborative efforts of some of the state’s biggest oil and gas companies, a national environmental group and state regulators. But he said he knows that others want more.

    “There’s a group that wants to ban hydrocarbons, to ban hydraulic fracturing, and today’s not going to satisfy people who are against all hydrocarbons and want to have all renewable fuels,” Hickenlooper said. “Natural gas will be a transition fuel, and our efforts today are focused on how we do that as cleanly as possible.”[…]

    State officials have pegged compliance costs at about $42.5 million a year, or less than $500 per ton of pollution eliminated.

    Executives at some of Colorado’s biggest oil and gas companies have said the state’s estimate is in line with their estimates and a cost they consider acceptable.

    Here’s a release from Earth Justice (Michael Freeman):

    Today, Governor Hickenlooper held a press conference to celebrate the Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission’s adoption of groundbreaking revisions to rules that govern the oil and gas industry. The new rules include measures to help protect Coloradans from air pollution caused by the industry’s fracking-fueled boom and make Colorado the first state in the nation to regulate emissions of methane—a powerful greenhouse gas—from the oil and gas industry.
    The Commission’s resounding 8–1 vote came Sunday after a contentious five-day hearing in which powerful industry trade associations opposed the Governor’s proposed revisions. In the end, the Commission stood with Coloradans from across the state who spoke out in favor of accepting and strengthening the Governor’s proposal.

    Earthjustice Rocky Mountain Office staff attorneys Michael Freeman and Robin Cooley represented a coalition of conservation groups—the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, WildEarth Guardians and Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project—in the just completed rulemaking process.

    Following the Governor’s press conference, Michael Freeman stated: “Today, we join many other Coloradans in celebrating the new rules. While these rules won’t be enough to bring Colorado into compliance with federal air quality standards, they’re a good first step. We look forward to finishing the job and ensuring that all Coloradans can breathe clean air.”

    Robin Cooley added: “Getting a handle on methane emissions from the fracking industry will be necessary for the United States to address climate change. These rules make Colorado a leader in that effort.”

    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    Colorado’s new air quality regulations for oil and gas operations are the strictest in the nation, says Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, which participated in meetings that led to the proposed rules…

    “There is more work to be done of course — whether it is addressing carbon pollution from power plants or making sure we are using energy as efficiently as possible. But let’s take a moment today to say, “job well done.” If we can replicate the cooperation and collaboration represented here today – we can provide a cleaner, safer environment for our children and grandchildren. — Pete Maysmith, executive director Conservation Colorado.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.

    Boulder County preps for what could be a hard to manage runoff season

    South Platte Basin High/Low graph February 20, 2014 via the NRCS
    South Platte Basin High/Low graph February 20, 2014 via the NRCS

    From the Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

    While it could cost as much as $14 million to remove debris from public and privately owned properties and stabilize stream banks to reduce spring and summer flooding risks, the county has only about $3.5 million in its 2014 budget, officials said Tuesday.

    “The bottom line is, we need a bunch of money in order to accomplish this mitigation,” Sheriff Joe Pelle told Boulder County commissioners. “We need that funding and we need it badly.”

    The commissioners and their staff have been striving to get financial help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other sources.

    Boulder County is “obviously trying to shake the tree for all possible sources of funding,” said Commissioner Elise Jones…

    The ground near the streams is saturated and likely to remain so through 2015, reducing its ability to absorb some of the water from the streams, [Mike Chard] said. The mountain snowpack is at about 150 percent of normal, with March and April — typically the snowiest months — still ahead, he added. The region’s reservoirs are at capacity and will spill over their dams earlier than usual this year, causing higher stream flow during spring runoff and thunderstorms, he said. The floods left behind deposits of sand, gravel, trees and brush that could create mini-dams and cause flooding behind them during spring runoffs or even during heavy thunderstorms; further damage could occur downstream, as well, when those mini-dams burst. In some locations, the floods also eroded and weakened creek and river banks.

    Officials are now prioritizing which streams to target with whatever money turns out to be available.

    Boulder County has assigned “threat levels” to 208 sites it’s identified as flood risks. Level 1 locations, about 90 of the total, are those with a high risk unless work is done on them. Level 4 sites can await further evaluation after the spring runoff.

    The county assessments have found 43 locations where bank stabilization is needed; 94 where debris removal would reduce risks; and three where berms should be built to hold back water.

    Spring runoff is about 30 to 60 days away, Chard noted.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

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

    Upper Colorado River Basin February 2014 month to date precipitation map via the Colorado Climate Center
    Upper Colorado River Basin February 2014 month to date precipitation map 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.