More drought planning needed by communities in the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COWaterPlan

Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs
Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (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 river watersheds than in the Grand Junction area, where water providers enjoy access to reservoirs that are physically, as well as legally, upstream…

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, 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.

@Amazing_Maps — Mean Elevation of each US State

H.R. 3189 passes the US House of Representatives

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that prohibits the transfer of private water rights to the federal government as a permit condition passed the U.S. House on Thursday. The bill was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., with support from U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. The Water Rights Protection Act, HR3189, passed 238-174, with 12 Democrats joining Republicans in an otherwise party-line vote. It is awaiting action by the Senate and could face a veto from President Barack Obama,

The bill is in response to U.S. Forest Service contracts with Colorado ski areas that required transfers of water rights as a condition. State water users feared the federal government would apply the same conditions to grazing contracts as well.

The bill protects Colorado water rights from federal encroachment.

The bill had widespread support from conservancy and conservation districts in both the Arkansas River and Rio Grande basins, as well as from numerous Western Slope groups.

“Water is the lifeblood of the Western United States and all water users including grazers, ski areas, businesses, tribes and municipalities need certainty that all federal land management agencies, not just the Forest Service, are prohibited from future attempts to take privately held water rights,” Tipton said.

“Water is everything to communities in Colorado,” Gardner said. “Our farmers and ranchers, our commerce, and our towns and municipalities can only thrive when there is certainty that they will have access to water.

From American Rivers (Matt Niemerski):

The House of Representatives voted today to approve a bill that could dry up countless stretches of rivers and harm river restoration efforts nationwide. H.R. 3189 – the so-called “Water Rights Protection Act” – passed by a 238-174 vote.

This bill is terrible news for rivers nationwide. It puts the interests of the oil and gas industry, corporate agriculture, and other private interests over the health of our rivers, fish and wildlife, and the millions of Americans who fish, boat, and enjoy river recreation. It is ultimately a broad swipe at federal natural resource agencies’ authority to protect public lands and recreation.

The bill, pushed by the National Ski Areas Association and Aspen’s SkiCo, as well as the Farm Bureau, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Colorado Petroleum Association, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, would strip away critical safeguards for rivers, fish and wildlife.

The bill was originally introduced to address a specific conflict between Colorado’s ski industry and the U.S. Forest Service. Even though the Forest Service has already acted to address the ski industry’s issue, the bill became a vehicle for the oil and gas industry, corporate agriculture, and other industries, putting their interests ahead of the public’s interest in healthy rivers and recreation.

This bill was so badly written, that in a last ditch effort to try to bring some sanity to the legislative process, House Democrats offered an amendment that would, at the very least, allow federal agencies to protect rivers enough to guarantee recreation jobs, fire suppression, and communities threatened by drought. But apparently those restrictions did not work for the ski industry, the CAFO operators, and the hydrofrackers. So their supporters in the House voted no.

In a rare and almost unprecedented move, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) took a bold step to protect rivers in Colorado and across the nation by removing his support for a bill of which he was an original sponsor. Rep. Polis introduced an amendment that would rectify the flaws in the bill by narrowing it to address the ski areas’ original concerns, but that was ultimately rejected by the House. Congressman Polis went down to the floor of the House to oppose the bill and offer a passionate defense for rivers and the outdoor recreation economy.

River advocates spoke up, and Congressman Polis listened. We should all applaud Congressman Polis for having the courage to stand up and do what is right. Jared Polis is a true champion for healthy rivers, and for everybody who fishes, boats, and enjoys the outdoors and he called this bill out for what it truly is: a job killing water grab. His leadership sets a great example, and we hope his colleagues follow this example in the future.Additionally Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Rep. Peter Defazio (D-OR), Rep Jared Huffman (D-CA), Rep Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) all engaged the fight on behalf of the America’s rivers on the floor of the House to fight a bill which Rep. DeFazio described as “just another attempt to undermine critical environmental protections and target federal agencies that manage our public lands for future generations.” They deserve our thanks.

Most importantly I thank you, our friends who care deeply about our nations rivers. Although this bill passed the House, your voice was heard. Passing legislation like this comes with a price for its supporters, and it took the full weight of some of the nation’s most powerful interests to get it through the House. River advocates and our allies in Congress landed the blows needed slow this legislation down.

Even though the President declared his strong opposition to the bill, the ski industry and their polluter allies don’t appear to be giving up. Well, neither will we.

The bill is now in the Senate’s hands, and we have to keep the pressure on. American Rivers and our partners across the country will continue to stand against this bill and we urge the Senate to oppose this sweeping attack on our rivers. But we are only as strong as our supporters. River advocates must also stand firm and keep the pressure on the National Ski Areas Association to break with big polluters like the hydrofrackers and the CAFOs, and instead work on a solution that addresses their concerns.

More water law coverage here.

Snowpack news: WWA Intermountain West Climate Dashboard — New Briefing Available #COdrought

Click here to read the latest briefing from Western Water Assessment. From the website:

As in January, precipitation in February was unevenly distributed across our region, with the storm tracks and dynamics generally favoring the high mountains as well as some adjacent areas to the east of the mountains. Areas with above-average to much-above-average precipitation included western and north-central Wyoming, southeastern Wyoming and portions of eastern Colorado, and the high mountains in Colorado and northern and central Utah Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Central and south-central Wyoming, most of the lower-elevation areas of Colorado, and southern and northeastern Utah were drier than average. Overall, an active and consistent weather pattern persisted through the month and into early March, with repeated shots of Pacific moisture in the same locations with each passing low-pressure trough.

There was a striking pattern in temperature anomalies across the region in February Western US Seasonal Precipitation. East of the Continental Divide in Wyoming and Colorado saw temperatures colder than average by 3–12°F, as repeated Arctic cold waves sloshed into those areas. West of the Divide, including all of Utah, temperatures were 3–9°F warmer than average. Worland, in central Wyoming, was 11.5°F below normal for the month, while about 300 miles away, Salt Lake City was 7.9°F above normal for the month, an almost 20-degree differential in the anomaly.

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

Six months after September flooding washed over homes, businesses and lives, residents and officials are scrambling to prepare for a spring runoff season that could be wildly unpredictable. That’s because the flooding that took 10 lives, closed 30 state highways and interstates and caused at least $1 billion in damages also drastically altered rivers and streams that carry melted snow to towns and cities, say officials. Some riverbeds were moved several football fields from where they had rested for generations. Floodwaters made some channels wider and deeper and able to carry more water, while others are now shallower and narrower and will funnel less water.

“It’s like your bathtub at home,” said George Gerstle, Boulder County’s transportation director. “If your bathtub is reshaped, it’s not going to hold water like it did before.”

This is causing unprecedented problems for those shoring up damaged canals and channels and rebuilding roads by early May. It’s hard to predict where all that water from the foothills and mountains will go when it starts barreling downhill.

“We’ve faced higher-than-normal snowmelts,” said Johnny Olson, incident commander with the Colorado Department of Transportation Infrastructure Recovery Force. “But we’ve never faced it when the roadways don’t have the right elevation or there is instability in the slope and banks of the river.

“Because of that, we’re not sure how the river is going to react.”

The signs are already there for a huge runoff. Snowpack in some areas is running almost 250 percent of normal. The ground is still saturated where floodwaters ran especially heavy, and unusually high water tables are forcing springs to pop up from under the ground in the foothills. A full-blown spring runoff event is likely to happen if temperatures in early May are unusually warm followed by heavy rainfall, said Mike Chard, director of the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.

“This will happen. This will be a reality,” Chard said.

To prepare, communities hit hardest by the September flooding began piecing together plans this winter to deal with the inevitable runoff.

In Lyons, which was split in half by the flooding, contractors and crews are stabilizing the banks of the North and South St. Vrain and building berms to protect homes and businesses, said Lyons Mayor Julie VanDomelen. So far, the town has spent $657,000 for immediate efforts to shore up stream beds, and another $571,000 is being earmarked to spend on private property through the Natural Resources Conservation Service program, VanDomelen said. She and other public officials in flood-damaged communities say they’ve been able to work with county, state and federal officials to make sure flood-prevention funds and resources are flowing.

There were some hard negotiations, however.

“With FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), they don’t usually work on future flood events,” said VanDomelen. “But we told them, ‘No, this is going to happen.’

“So now, we have a framework to work with.”

Colorado’s flood-ravaged communities got more federal help Friday, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it would provide an additional $199.3 million in recovery funds. The money comes through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Program to support long-term recovery efforts in areas of Colorado with a great extent of “unmet need,” primarily in Boulder, Weld and Larimer counties.

Debris removal and shore stabilization are ongoing in Estes Park, while farther east in Weld County, Evans is hosting Flood Preparedness Week on Monday through Saturday. Such an event probably wouldn’t have gotten much attention before the September floods, which totaled or severely damaged 200 mobile homes and 60 houses. Up to 2,500 people were displaced.

“In Colorado, flooding wasn’t really on the radar screen, and it certainly wasn’t here,” said Kristan Williams, city of Evans spokeswoman. “But this year, it is.”

Evans has spent nearly $1.7 million in its recovery efforts and is awaiting full reimbursements from FEMA and the state. The city is also working to get debris removed from two heavily damaged mobile-home parks.

Flood Preparedness Week, meanwhile, will focus on morale-boosting and practical ways to prevent flash flooding. Author Mark Hoog will speak on resiliency Wednesday. Then on March 22, residents can learn about financial programs for flood victims and the importance of tetanus shots, and view a sandbagging demonstration.

“It’s things people will need to know in case this happens again,” Williams said.

This winter, crews from Boulder County went through 3,000 flood-damage reports and walked 90 miles of creeks and drainages to pick the most likely problem areas during a spring flood. They found 200 hazardous spots that need the most attention. Those include streams that need realignments, debris removal and culverts replaced. In at least two areas, a home is either in a stream or jutting out over one, said Chard. Officials hope to get everything flood-ready by May 1. Meanwhile, they implored rural county residents in a series of public meetings this week to report any signs of early flood activity.

“I need your eyes on the mountain,” Chard said. “If you see something, let us know.”

Early May is also the deadline for CDOT crews to finish preparing flood-damaged state and federal roads for spring runoff in the foothills. On Monday, the first of 10 two-hour blasting operations is planned from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at mile maker 11.2, west of Pinewood Springs near Estes Park. The work is part of flood reconstruction between Lyons and Estes Park on U.S. 36. On average, the highway will be moved inland about 20 feet, away from the St. Vrain River.

“We are still in the process of getting that roadway on bedrock and making it more stable,” said CDOT’s Olson. “It’s all part of our efforts to protect the public as much as we can.”

Meanwhile, in the Boulder County foothills, Jamestown residents and crews have worked hard to stabilize and remove debris along the James and Little James creeks, said Mayor Tara Schoedinger. The town’s nearly 300 residents were forced to evacuate during September’s floods, and Schoedinger’s next-door neighbor, 72-year-old Joey Howlett, was killed.

“It was a horrible, bad day,” said Schoedinger, who praises the hard work of her constituents as spring flooding approaches.

“It’s certainly something we’re concerned about, but I don’t think anyone is panicking,” she said. “We all have a job to do, and we do it.”

She thinks they have done a good job clearing the streams that feed the town.

“We’re just more worried about what is coming for above us,” Schoedinger said.