The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) will be diverting an additional 100 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel tomorrow morning Tuesday, April 8th. At the same time, releases from Crystal Dam will also be increased by 100 cfs, from 750 cfs to 850 cfs. After this change, the total flow through the Gunnison Tunnel should be about 400 cfs, which should leave about 450 to 500 cfs in the Gunnison River downstream of the tunnel.
…Gov. John Hickenlooper has ordered the state to create a water plan; he wants a draft of it by December 2014, to be finalized in 2015. The plan will be based on what local groups organized around watersheds, called basin roundtables, come up with over the next several months. The basin roundtables will meet throughout the spring and will deliver their wish lists to the state over the summer.
To lead the massive effort, Gov. Hickenlooper has chosen James Eklund to direct the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“We have water where we don’t have people, and we have to make sure we address that problem as best we can,” Eklund says.
That also means there are people where there isn’t much water. Eklund says you can draw a line down the middle of Colorado.
“If you think of Colorado as a rectangle…and you draw a line right down the middle of that rectangle…80 percent of the water falls on the left side of that line and 80-87 percent of the people are on the right side of that line,” Eklund says.
In addition to the looming gap between how much water Colorado has and how much it needs, Eklund says he’s worried about a trend known as “buy and dry,” where cities, mostly on the Front Range, buy water rights from farmers, leaving the farms to dry up.
“The challenge that we face as a state when that happens is a ripple effect that spreads through the local economy, the community,” Eklund notes. “If you’re not farming, you’re not paying into the tax base. You’re not sending your kids to school. You’re not going to the grocery store, the cafe. And that is a challenge for the entire community.”
Eklund is careful to point out that he doesn’t want to stop arrangements between willing sellers and willing buyers.
“But we want to give people options,” he says.
That includes encouraging rotational fallowing, a method that allows farmers to let parts of land go dry for a year or more and sell the water rights for only that period of time, restarting production on that land later.
Ultimately, Eklund says, the solution to Colorado’s water crisis will include more conservation – and that could mean sacrifices.
“We’re all going to have to bear some pain,” Eklund says. “And how we bear that pain, and who bears what percentage of it, who bears what risk – that’s the conversation that’s going on right now in Colorado in shaping this water plan.”
Eklund says that could mean rules about how much water people can use. It could mean water providers will start using aggressive tiered pricing schemes to make it expensive to use water. For farmers, Eklund says, continued buyouts of their land would be very painful.
As the basin roundtables go on, some conservation groups worry that not enough attention will be paid to keeping the rivers flowing. Those rivers are important to Colorado’s natural habitats and to the state’s recreation industry. Eklund says he’s listening to those concerns.
“We have been aggressive in reaching out to the conservation and environmental community to make sure their voice is heard in all of this,” he says, “and that our water plan doesn’t become some glossy report that sits on a shelf somewhere.”
Eklund is encouraging citizens to participate in the planning process. A schedule of the basin roundtable meetings and a link to give input to the plan are at the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s website.
Click here to read the report from the Natural Resources Conservation Services. Here’s an excerpt:
SUMMARY OF WATER SUPPLY CONDITIONS
Snow surveys conducted on April 1 reported the snowpack in the Colorado River basin to be at 130 percent of median. The basin received above normal snow accumulation for the third consecutive month. March precipitation was 116 percent of average in the basin and total precipitation for the water year remains at 118 percent of average this month.
Reservoir storage has greatly improved over the past year in this basin. End of March reports had storage volumes at 93 percent of average compared with 65 percent of average reported last year at this time.
Streamflow forecasts improved again this month thanks to continued snow accumulation in the basin. April to July forecasts currently range from 153 percent of average for the Inflow to Dillon Reservoir to 109 percent
of average for the Roaring Fork at Glenwood Springs.
Snowpack in any given year is compared to a 30-year median of measurements. The 2012 snow year was a historic low. The 30-year part of the chart shows the “snow water equivalent” — the amount of water in the snowpack peaking in late April, before runoff hits.
On average, the snowpack at the Vail measurement site is melted off about June 7. In the 2012 snow year, the snowpack peaked before March 20 at a paltry 12.5 inches of water, and was melted off before the end of April.
This year, as of Friday, the measurement site at Vail was already above the 30-year peak of 22.5 inches. More snow would likely drive the snowpack higher, although this week’s forecast calls for clear, warm weather…
Across the Colorado River basin, of which the Vail Valley is a part, snowpack was 31 percent higher than the 30-year average…
What the runoff season will be like is anyone’s guess, of course. We could have a cool, moist spring that slows the runoff to a relative dribble, leaving rivers rising but clear enough to fish, or we could see a string of warm days in April and May that quickly evaporates the snow and muddies the streams…
Given how quickly snow and water can ebb and flow, [Steve Visosky] thinks the valley is probably in good shape for its water supply for the coming summer. But, he said, things could be better.
“I really think we should have more water storage,” he said. “You hate to see all that water just go down the river and not have it when you need it.”
Meanwhile dust on snow is trending upward, according to this report from John Peel writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:
“The notable thing is that we are still on that same pace,” Chris Landry, director of the center, said Friday afternoon just after posting the most recent report on http://www.codos.org. “That is a pace where the frequency of dust events is much higher than it was 10 years ago.
“We’re not retreating back to the 20th century, when the frequency of these events was much lower,” he said.
What it means in terms of how it affects humans is, first of all, very possibly the snowpack will melt sooner than normal.
Weather to come will still have a large effect, but the bottom line is that when dust settles on the snow’s surface it “dramatically advances” the rate at which snow melts. White snow reflects much of the sun’s energy, but darker-colored dust particles absorb that energy, heat up and contribute to the melting of the snow. That means spring runoffs occur sooner, affecting everyone from farmers and ranchers to river runners.
Another, perhaps less-obvious effect, is that dust in the snowpack can cause a destabilizing effect in the snowpack, making spring avalanches more likely in the backcountry. There’s little that skiers can do to combat that – even skiing earlier in the day may not help, Landry said.
And large dust deposits have a more obvious effect.
“Dust is miserable to ski on,” Landry said. “Essentially, you’re skiing on mud.”
Since 2003, the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies has kept track of dust events in Senator Beck Basin just to the northwest of Red Mountain Pass. This snow season, five such events have been catalogued in the basin…
Studies show that most of the dust comes from the greater Colorado Plateau, an area that includes all the Four Corners states. Dust storms are exacerbated by soil conditions (drought, for example) and soil disturbance, Landry said.
Although 10-plus years of study was not in itself enough to convince Landry of the certainty of a continuing trend toward dustier snowpack, a paper by Janice Brahney of the University of British Columbia did. Brahney’s study “very clearly verified” a 200 percent increase in dust deposited in western Colorado since the mid-1990s.
“Her paper really validated what was sort of glaring, obvious, but not statistically sound trend in our own dust log,” Landry said. “Now, I do say that this frequency and intensity of these dust storms has definitely increased in the last decades and maybe most dramatically in the last eight to 10 years.”
Overall so far this season, the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies categorizes dust deposits as “moderate to heavy” and snowpack as “average” for the Senator Beck Basin.
Snowpack in the basin that includes the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel rivers was 82 percent as of Friday, putting it below average.