We’ll be scaling back releases from Green Mountain over the weekend and then plan to maintain the lower release rate through next week. By Monday, April 21, we should be releasing about 550 cfs to the Lower Blue. The reduction in releases is due to some regularly scheduled maintenance. Property owners downstream of the dam have planned some channel work to correspond with the maintenance.
Releases will begin stepping back tomorrow, Saturday. We will go from 750 to 700 cfs around 8 p.m tomorrow evening. On Sunday, we will do two changes: the first at 4 p.m. from 700 to 650 cfs. The second around 10 p.m. from 650 to 600 cfs. On Monday, we will drop down one more time around 6 a.m. from 600 to 550 cfs.
Releases will go back up the following weekend of April 26.
During the weekly climate webinar Tuesday hosted by the Colorado Climate Center, snowpack in the South Platte basin was reported at 138 percent of normal for this time of year.
What’s more, the South Platte’s tributary rivers – including the Big Thompson, the St. Vrain and the Cache la Poudre – have been reporting base flows of as much as 300 percent above normal. Base flows this time of year are measured before snowmelt. Those high flows are still attributable to the September floods.
“The groundwater contribution from the flooding is still working its way to the river,” assistant State Climatologist Wendy Ryan told I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS. “It’s a rule of thumb that there’s quite a lag time before all the water makes its way to the stream.”
Many irrigation districts along the South Platte sustained heavy damage in September to headgates and other infrastructure. In some places, the river changed course sufficiently for intake structures to be left high and dry.
“There are places where headgates were scoured away,” Ryan said. “Longmont is still trying to figure out what they need to do on the St. Vrain – leave it where it is or restore it to where it was.”
Many irrigation companies have made essential repairs with FEMA money and other resources, Ryan said, and they can play a valuable role in removing water from the river if flooding occurs. Some of the smaller ditch companies have not made repairs.
Meanwhile, she said, everyone is hoping that the spring warmup in the Rockies will be mellow enough to produce “a nice, well-behaved runoff.”
There are parts of the state, of course, that would like to have those kinds of worries. As of now, drought conditions are persisting into the fourth year in the southeast quadrant of the state, with the driest areas for March centered over the already drought devastated areas in Lincoln, Cheyenne and Kiowa counties, according to the climate center.
Las Animas and Baca counties are reporting less than 50 percent of average precipitation for the water year, which began last October.
The current level of Lake Powell is 3,574 feet above sea level. When full the level is 3,700 feet. Because of an above normal snowpack in Colorado this winter, which feeds the lake, the level is expected to reach 3,620 this summer. Which is, forecasters admitted, much better than was expected earlier in the winter.
The current level is not the lowest on record. Back in 2005 the lake’s level dropped to 3,555 feet. In 2011, the lake rose to within 40 feet of “full pool’’ and likely would have hit the full mark had not water releases not been increased into the Colorado River from the Glen Canyon Dam…
As far as the invasive quagga mussel, adult mussels have been found in Lake Powell. Officials knew that once the mussels established a foothold in Lake Mead, 300 miles downstream fron Lake Powell, it would be only a matter of time before they made their way into Lake Powell.
A report in February said “thousands’’ of the tiny bivalves were located in Lake Powell. The mussels cause damage, are a nuisance to lake visitors and are a serious danger to fishing. Each mussel can produce millions of offspring and biologists have been unable to find a way to control the mussels, which fall in the same family as clams, oysters and scallops.
The first quagga mussel was found in Lake Powell in 2007. They were not discovered again until this year.
he overall snowpack stands at 115 percent of average for this time of the year in the Rockies. But, is it time to break out the red cups and toast an imminent reprieve in the drought and the dire predictions of cutbacks in regional allotments for water supplies from the 1,450-mile-long Colorado? Not so fast.
“It may be a better-than-average snowpack, but depending on what the weather does it could not snow any more or get hot very quickly and evaporate the water instead of having it flow into the Colorado River basin,” said Mitch Basefsky, a spokesman for the Central Arizona Project, the agency that manages Colorado River flow into Pinal, Maricopa and Pima counties.
There are other factors that will contribute to this winter’s snowpack impact on the Colorado River, said Bob Barrett, another CAP spokesman.
“The concern is that it’s been pretty mild the last month. We’ve had pretty good precipitation, but it was warm,” said Greg Smith, the senior hydrologist at the Colorado River Basin forecast center.
Smith said much of the debate about snowpack is rooted in the differences in the snowpack at different heights. According to Smith, lower elevations have seen very little snow this year…
The Green River Basin area in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado has a significant snowpack, the third-highest on record for this time of the year, said Smith. While that may be advantageous for some places, Arizona is a different story.
“Arizona is kind of a disaster,” Smith said.
Many winter storms skirted northern Arizona and the snow sites in the Verde and Salt River basins are nearly bereft of snow. The snow that did fall in that area disappeared quickly. Since the area doesn’t see many storms after mid-March, there isn’t much chance for a rebound, Smith said.
Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has been experiencing the worst drought of the century. So far, Colorado River water users have not faced decreases in the amount of water they receiving because of reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which were full when the drought began. Today they are about half full.
The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water projects in the 17 western states, makes predictions about the state of water every two years. It currently projects that less water will be released from Lake Powell and Lake Mead this year and perhaps next year if the levels in the lake are still low.
“Right now they’re looking at the potential for shortage in either 2015 or 2016,” said Basefsky. “A shortage is pretty significant for CAP because we have the junior priority for the Colorado River Basin. We would forego importing about 20 percent of our water supply.”
Levels at Lake Pueblo have returned to average levels as the Bureau of Reclamation continues to move water from reservoirs near to headwaters to make room for spring imports. The content of the reservoir is approaching 200,000 acre-feet, or about 80 percent of its limit during flood season.
Meanwhile, Turquoise and Twin Lakes near Leadville are 80-85 percent full, as Reclamation prepares for a banner runoff this year.
“This is the fourth highest snowpack level since 1991,” said Terry Dawson of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Snowpack is 123-143 percent of average in the Upper Arkansas River basin, and 130-150 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River basin.
The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Twin Lakes, Homestake Project and Pueblo Board of Water Works diversions all bring water from the Upper Colorado River basin into the Arkansas basin. The Fry-Ark Project was projected to bring in 73,900 acre-feet as of April 1, but snowpack has continued to build and the May 1 projection should increase, Dawson said.
Weather forecasts are calling for a warmer, wetter spring, meaning that runoff may begin sooner than usual and will be heavy.
“Things are going to start happening fast,” Dawson said.
Early summer is expected to be drier than usual, with heavier rains predicted toward the end of summer.
The San Juan Mountains often feel the brunt of the dust events, but a recent surge of desert air brought a thick layer as far north as Summit County at the end of March. If you’ve been skiing in the high country lately and noticed the pinkish snow, no need to check your goggles. It’s red-rock dust from your favorite mountain bike trail in Moab, and the strongest storms can drop up to 419 pounds of dust per acre atop the mountain snow…
Last year brought record amounts of dust to Colorado. A single 16-hour dust storm on April 8, 2013 dropped more dust on the San Juans than the annual total from any previous winter since the start of detailed measurements, says Chris Landry, director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, which tracks the dust-on-snow events via a statewide network of observation sites.
The April 8 storm deposited about 419 pounds of dust per acre, or about 47 grams per square meter, Landry says, explaining that the melt-out equation also has to include year-to-year weather variations…
Real-time observations of dust-on-snow events just started recently, but scientists have other ways to track dust deposition back through the ages. Long sediment cores from alpine lakes with distinct annual layers show that dust in the mountains didn’t increase during known historic megadroughts in the Southwest.
But dust did increase starting in the mid-1800s, when settlement and grazing started in the Southwest. The findings suggest that human disturbance to desert soils are driving the increase. The depositions decreased in the late 1800s then leveled off at about five times the natural background levels due to continued disturbance.
The most recent spike starting in the late 1990s appears to be due to increasing aridity in the Four Corners source area and increasing human disturbance of the soils.
Physical and biogenic soil crusts make the deserts naturally resistant to wind erosion — but only if they are left in place. The crusts are easily disturbed by grazing, oil and gas exploration and drilling, agriculture, and off road vehicle use. Once disturbed, soil particles can be picked up by strong winds and transported hundreds of miles from the source.
While it still is too early to tell what will come from the current above-average snowpack in the Yampa River Basin, it could mean many things for the Routt National Forest’s resources and visitors in the coming months. “Record-breaking” is how the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service described the 175 percent of average snowpack in the Yampa River Basin on May 1, 2011. Such heavy late-season snowpack resulted in delayed openings of forest roads and campgrounds as well as an essentially absent fire season.
Conditions were a stark contrast just one year later, with only 17 percent of average snowpack on May 1, 2012. This, of course, was the year that Colorado and Wyoming experienced significant fire seasons, including four large fires in the Medicine Bow National Forest.
Although above-average spring snowpack is favorable for the Routt National Forest’s 2014 fire season, it still is early and conditions can change rapidly between now and the start of the season, which typically begins in late June.
As of April 2, the NRCS was reporting snowpack in the Yampa and White River Basins at 127 percent of average.
By comparison, these basins were at 78 percent of average on April 1, 2013, before recovering with above average April snowfall to about 99 percent of average by May 1.
Last year turned out to be a below-average fire season in the Routt National Forest…
Fire managers and meteorologists at this point are saying that snowpack has minimized any concern for an early start to the fire season and that a repeat of a season like we experienced in 2012 is unlikely. Based on early indicators, projections are for 2014 to be an average to slightly below average fire season across the Rocky Mountain Area. Visit http://gacc.nifc.gov/rmcc/predictive/outlooks.html for more predictive information about the coming fire season.
Spring runoff in the Estes Valley and surrounding area is slowly beginning to take off, according to officials who are monitoring it closely.
The Bureau of Reclamation sent out an email notification on Wednesday which was picked up and posted on the Town of Estes Park’s Facebook page.
The notification essentially said it had noticed an increase in water flow in the Big Thompson River coming into Lake Estes in the past couple days.
“It isn’t much water, just a few more cubic-feet-per second, depending on which guage you check, but late last night (Tuesday), we saw flows in the Big Thompson coming into Lake Estes inch up a bit,” said Kara Lamb, the public information officer for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office in Loveland. “We usually see runoff start to come on in mid-April; and, the slight flow increase has been happening the past few nights as the warmer weather during the day has melted snow in the high country.
“This morning (Wednesday), around 7 a.m., water through Olympus Dam out of Lake Estes bumped up from 26 to around 35 cfs.
“The full reason for this slight increase is two-fold: higher rising inflows and a required change via the state to meet a seasonal minimum flow below Olympus Dam. The state required minimum out of Olympus corresponds with typical seasonal changes in river flow. In spring, we see three such changes: one in mid-April, one on May 1 and another in mid-May.
“This spring, Big Thompson River ebb and flow above Lake Estes will correspond with warmer or cooler weather and snow melt as usual. However, below Lake Estes and Olympus Dam this spring, we will continue coordinating with the state and CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) contractors currently working on U.S. Highway 34 to follow the minimum flows as closely as possible while they finish work in the Narrows section of the canyon.”
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
A record 180 people registered for the Wednesday, April 16 webinar, “Adapting the Law of the Colorado River.” John McClow, Colorado’s Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission and CWC Board President, provided a brief summary of the Law of the Colorado River: the Colorado River Compact, the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, and the Mexican Treaty of 1944. This was followed by a description of collaborative efforts among the seven Colorado River Basin states, the Department of the Interior, and Mexico to adapt the law to changing conditions on the river.
Read an overview of the presentation on the CWC blog and view the presentation on the CWC website.
He was coy about specifics except to say he’s built up solid relationships with federal officials during Colorado’s series of disasters, including having cooked dinner at his house for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.
“They aren’t going to bend any rules for you, but they’ll do everything they can possibly do to help us,” Hickenlooper told the editorial board of the Coloradoan on Thursday.
He predicted accelerated approval of recovery plans, which allows $62 million from HUD recovery money to start flowing. The plan dictates how it will be spent.
“I think we’re going to get some very encouraging news in the next week,” he said.
Hickenlooper added the federal government has pledged tens of millions more for disaster recovery above original predictions. HUD pledged almost $200 million in March, on top of the original grant.
The Colorado Department of Transportation’s plans call for rebuilding roads to better withstand the floods that devastated Northern Colorado in September, he said. It could even include a 6-foot-wide bike path up the Big Thompson Canyon, though it doesn’t have set money yet.
“We’re not just going to build it back to what you had before, we’re going to build it back better than before,” he said.