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

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation March 1-16, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation March 1-16, 2014 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.

NRCS: The spring issue of ‘SnowNews’ is hot off the presses

Drought news

US Drought monitor March 18, 2014
US Drought monitor March 18, 2014

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

Summary

During the drought-monitoring period, precipitation was mainly confined to the drought-free areas of the eastern U.S, although localized drought relief was noted across south-central portions of the nation. Meanwhile, drought persisted or intensified across the west, where alarmingly low water-year precipitation and meager mountain snowpacks continued…

Central Plains

Warm, dry weather prevailed on the central Plains, intensifying drought while accelerating winter crops out of dormancy. The unseasonably warm conditions (weekly average temperatures up to 11°F above normal) rapidly increased crop-water demands, while strong, occasionally severe winds rapidly dried topsoils and caused blowing dust. Consequently, Extreme Drought (D3) was expanded from southeastern Colorado into western Kansas, while the drought-impact type was changed from “L” (Long-Term) to “SL” (Both Short- and Long-Term) to account for greening winter crops as well as blowing dust and increased fire danger…

Southern Plains and Texas

Intensifying drought across the southern Plains and western Texas contrasted with localized drought relief in eastern portions of the region. A developing late winter storm generated widespread rain from northeastern Texas into eastern Oklahoma, with totals topping 2 to 3 inches in the wettest locations. Consequently, some drought reduction was noted, particularly where rain was heaviest. On the back side of the storm, strong, gusty winds coupled with parched soils maintained or worsened drought from western Oklahoma into central and western Texas. Several large dust storms heightened the drought’s impacts, with notable increases in Extreme Drought (D3) and Exceptional Drought (D4) over the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. Soil moisture in these locales is virtually non-existent, with rainfall over the past 90 days locally less than 10 percent of normal…

Western U.S.

Unsettled conditions in the north contrasted with intensifying drought elsewhere. The benefits of the February and early-March precipitation rapidly diminished across California and the Southwest as unseasonable warmth and dryness increased water demands and depleted snowpacks.

In northern portions of the region, an influx of Pacific moisture generated rain and mountain snow from the Cascades into the northern Rockies. Precipitation totals were highly variable, with 2- to 5-inch totals (liquid equivalent) in the northern Cascades contrasting with amounts generally less than 1 inch over southern portions of the range. Most of the heavy precipitation fell outside of the region’s drought areas, with totals in southwestern Oregon averaging up to 2 inches below the weekly norm. Farther east, however, recent heavy snow eased Moderate Drought (D1) in southern Idaho and eliminated Abnormal Dryness (D0) in southeastern Wyoming and the northwestern tip of Nebraska.

Farther south, a disappointing water year continued, with warm, dry weather quickly negating the benefits of the precipitation from February and early March across California and the Great Basin. Most notably, Extreme Drought (D3) returned to coastal areas north of San Francisco as well as the Sierra Nevada; over the past two weeks, precipitation deficits in these areas have averaged two inches or more. Water-year (Since October 1, 2013) precipitation has averaged less than half of normal over most of California, and locally less than 30 percent of normal in the state’s D4 (Exceptional Drought) area. Severe Drought (D2) expanded across southern Nevada, where water-year precipitation has averaged 40 to 60 percent of normal.

In the Four Corners region, changes to this week’s drought depiction were confined to western portions of the region. Across western Arizona, Severe Drought (D2) expanded as water-year precipitation totals continued to drop well below half of normal (locally less than 30 percent of normal). In northern Arizona, precipitation over the past 90 days has averaged less than 25 percent of normal. Meanwhile, SNOTEL data from southwestern Utah indicated the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) is currently in the 12th percentile or lower, with water-year precipitation totals averaging 25 to 40 percent of normal; this data was used to depict the newly-expanded D2 in the southwestern quarter of the state…

Looking Ahead

Little — if any — drought relief is expected from the Pacific Coast to the Great Plains, with precipitation during the upcoming monitoring period mostly confined to the Northeast and Gulf Coast. An area of low pressure will produce snow in northern New England on Thursday, while warmer conditions briefly develop in the storm’s wake from the middle Mississippi Valley to the central and southern Atlantic Coast. Toward week’s end, another disturbance will produce some additional snow across the nation’s northern tier. Over the weekend, cold air will surge into the Midwest and Northeast, while rain will develop across the South. Dry weather will persist, however, from California to the southern High Plains. In addition, unusually warm weather will continue to plague California. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for March 25-29 calls for below-normal temperatures from the Plains to the East Coast, while warmer-than-normal weather will prevail in the West. Meanwhile, near- to above-normal precipitation across the majority of the U.S. will contrast with drier-than-normal conditions from southern California to the southern High Plains.

Arkansas Valley Conduit: Seeking adequate appropriations from the feds

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Sponsors are working to increase funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit in next year’s federal budget. The conduit recently received the green light to proceed from the Bureau of Reclamation, which released a record of decision on Feb. 27 for it, a master storage contract and an interconnect on Pueblo Dam. But the approval did not translate into funding when President Barack Obama released his budget one week later and included only $500,000 for the conduit.

“We were disappointed in the dollars,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor of all three projects. He spoke at Thursday’s monthly board meeting.

The conduit has $3.1 million in funding this year, which includes $2.1 million that was not spent in past years. To keep it on pace for construction sometime in the next decade would require at least $7 million to $10 million, Broderick said. Last year Reclamation internally shifted $44 million for projects, but it’s too soon to tell how much could be available this year.

“There is a lot of activity, particularly because of the drought in California,” Broderick said. “We have to keep the pressure on.”

To do that, officials will again travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby Department of Interior and Bureau of Reclamation officials as well as Congress. Last week, Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, and Reps. Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, Republicans, called for more funding to support the conduit.

“We have to realize this is the president’s budget. Congress sees it a different way,” said lobbyist Ray Kogovsek, a former congressman. “I would say we can certainly get more than $500,000.”

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here.

#COflood relief money headed to where it is needed?

Flooding St. Vrain River September, 2013 via Voice of America
Flooding St. Vrain River September, 2013 via Voice of America

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

So far, FEMA has obligated $3.4 million of flood money to rebuild Longmont. So far, Longmont has seen $143,000. Why? Because when you try to do that much with a handful of state officials, it only goes so far.

“In September, before the flood, we had three finance people,” said Micki Trost, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “We staffed for our normal operations, our steady-state operations. We would not (normally) have the amount of requests coming through our finance office that we had following the flood.”

That’s changing. Not only has the division ramped up to six finance people and borrowed another three from its grant department, but last week, the state contracted with Deloitte — one of the “Big Four” accounting and audit firms — to provide another six. On Thursday, Longmont emergency manager Dan Eamon had his first meeting with a Deloitte representative. Eamon said he hoped that things were looking up from here.

“The biggest thing is that the state wasn’t ready for a $1 billion disaster,” he said. “It’s larger than we’ve ever experienced. … We’re all learning as we go.”

Why is Denver involved at all? Because of the way reimbursement works through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It goes roughly like this:

• Cities and counties submit estimates for work that they consider to be FEMA-eligible. This gets a quick sign-off from the state.

• FEMA considers the request and decides how much to obligate. If an estimate is deemed to be eligible, FEMA can reimburse up to 75 percent of the project’s expense.

• At that point, the city or county has to submit a different set of paperwork to the state on the actual costs as the work gets done. This is reimbursement money, not an up-front grant, so the state has to verify that the work was done, who did it, and several other details before the money can be released.

So it’s FEMA’s dollars — but it’s the state who has to oversee and verify. And until recently, there just weren’t enough people to do that, Trost said.