Drought news #COdrought

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

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

The Plains

After good rains last week across parts of the northern Plains, dryness followed this week across most of eastern South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. Unseasonably cool weather continues to delay impacts thus far as 30-90 day deficits (25-75% of normal across the region) are starting to mount considerably for many parts of these states heading into summer. This has led to some changes this week in the form of expanding D1-D2 in eastern Nebraska as well as in the southern Panhandle out west. D1 also expanded in southeastern South Dakota, although some trimming of D0 on the northernmost flank of D0 in eastern South Dakota is also noted this week as they have been wetter than those counties in the southeast. Kansas continues to set the southern edge of the intense drought that seems to be waking up and pushing rapidly north along with warmer temperatures. A large expansion of D3 now covers nearly the entire southern half of Kansas and D4 is slowly pushing north out of Oklahoma. Soil moisture and groundwater levels are hurting well in front of the peak demand season as the cumulative impacts of such an intense multi-year drought are already glaringly evident, and it’s only early May. Precipitation totals on the year are running just 25-50% of normal, or worse, for many locales across southern Kansas.

The story is even bleaker in the southern Plains, where the heat and drought described above for Kansas are even more pronounced and entrenched across western Oklahoma and much of Texas as well. Expansion has begun to happen in earnest now that Mother Nature has turned up the furnace, which will do the landscape no favors with summer not here yet. Expansion of D2-D4 is noted across western Oklahoma and all changes in Texas are for the worse this week as well, with expansion of D0-D4 found statewide and D3 and D4 covering large portions of southern, central, north-central and the Panhandle of Texas. Streamflow and groundwater levels are hurting given the long duration and sustained intensity of this drought, which is now going on close to four years. Winter wheat has also been hard hit by hard freezes and the more recent triple-digit heat. Lack of range and pasture land, as well as fire, are the other main impacts already being reported early this year.

The West

Most of the West remains in status quo after a relatively dry but warmer than normal week. For the drought-affected regions, the general lack of snow pack and water equivalent totals (as reported by USDA-NRCS) leaves a lot to be desired, with many locations falling at, or below, 50% of normal, and many areas have already melted out that shouldn’t have at this time of year. As the dry season settles in and demand peaks, water supplies will quickly follow suit as many in the region have already turned their attention to what the monsoon or potential El Niño may bring, knowing that the tap is about to go dry.

Some minor changes were made this week, with some slight expansion of D1 in extreme northeastern Colorado, where the drought in the Plains continues to slowly push westward toward the Front Range of the Rockies. Farther west and north, a late-season push of moisture brought some recovery to year-to-date totals in western Idaho, leading to some minor improvement of D0-D2 there.

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5 days (May 8-13), the National Weather Service is calling for a system to potentially bring some relief to the Pacific Northwest along with parts of the central Rockies and Front Range. Heavy precipitation is possible in northeastern Colorado and in the Nebraska Panhandle along with heavier, but spottier, totals expected in a band running north to south from Minnesota, western Iowa, western Missouri, eastern Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas and parts of north-central and southern Texas along with southern Louisiana as well. In addition, above-normal rains appear to be likely for Mississippi and northern Alabama along with the western reaches of the Tennessee Valley, northern Georgia and the extreme western counties in the Carolinas. As for temperatures, below-normal readings (5 to 10 degrees) are expected over roughly this same time period for the northern Plains, central/northern Rocky Mountain states, Idaho and parts of the Intermountain Basin region. The opposite is forecast for parts of all states east of the Mississippi River, except for Florida, with readings expected to run 3 to 9 degrees above normal.

The 6-10 day (May 13-17) and 8-14 (May 15-21) day outlooks are both consistent in showing a greater likelihood of above-normal temperatures across the West and below-normal temperatures east of the Mississippi River valley as well as the Great Lakes and Gulf Coast region, including coastal Texas. As for precipitation, below-normal rainfall is more likely across western Alaska, much of the West (not as likely in the Pacific NW), the central and southern Great Plains and the Mississippi Valley and over into the Southeast as well. Above-normal precipitation is likely only in the Northeast and New England regions, with lower chances stretching south into the northern Mid-Atlantic region.

Snowpack/runoff news #COdrought

2014 Colorado legislation: SB14-023 — West Slope instream use, irrigation efficiency #COleg

Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board
Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

Here’s the first of a two-part series about the bill from Michael Schrantz writing for Steamboat Today. Here’s an excerpt:

Senate Bill 23 is on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk thanks to some legislative maneuvering, but the bill dealing with changes to water law on the Western Slope has divided interested organizations and prompted warnings that its consequences could be much broader than intended.

The bill aims to provide incentives for Western Slope agricultural water users and irrigators to make their operations more efficient while also increasing instream flows.

Organizations opposed to Senate Bill 23 warn that while its intent is laudable, the bill also has the potential to harm existing water rights.

Under current water law, not using a water right in its full, decreed amount for the intended beneficial use can put the right in jeopardy. The Division Engineer’s office tracks historic consumptive use, and whatever water has not been used in a 10-year period (either the full right or a partial amount) gets put on the decennial abandonment list. Water that’s considered abandoned flows through the stream or creek like it had been during the previous 10 years or longer that it wasn’t being used or it’s put to use by other rights holders.

Senate Bill 23 would allow those who have rights for agricultural, irrigation or stock watering uses in water divisions 4, 5, 6 (that’s us) or 7 to implement efficiency measures, such as a sprinkler system, and transfer that savings as an instream right to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The water rights holders could structure the agreement so that they could get the transferred amount back from the CWCB in the future, allowing them to implement more efficient irrigation measures without risking the loss of part of their decreed water.

The CWCB would get an instream flow between the point the rights holder diverts water and the point of the historical return flows.

Critics of Senate Bill 23 generally have two major issues with the legislation: that a transfer for instream use has the potential to harm intervening water rights and that it also could injure upstream junior rights holders…

“The intent of bill is providing incentives for ag water to use efficiencies without harm to others,” Colorado River Water Conservation District spokesman Chris Treese said.

That’s a goal the district supports and has funded itself in the past, Treese said, but there are a number of concerns with Senate Bill 23.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District, which represents Western Slope counties including Routt, opposes Senate Bill 23.

The principal concern, Treese said, is that the process could represent a cost to surrounding water users who take it upon themselves to investigate whether the change would harm their rights.

“There’s definitely a potential for injury for those rights in between,” Colorado Farm Bureau President Don Shawcroft said about the intervening rights between the point of diversion and point of historical return flows.

The Colorado Farm Bureau also opposed Senate Bill 23.

“It’s an interesting dilemma,” Shawcroft said. “Colorado water law says the state and anyone changing a water right has to prove they’re not injuring anyone else.

“Anyone who believes they’re injured has to lawyer up and engineer up and has to prove their point.”[…]

The Colorado Water Congress worked on the bill with legislators and other interested parties for eight to 10 months, Executive Director Doug Kemper said, and it is satisfied that the processes included in the bill will protect surrounding water rights holders.

“We finally got to the point where we felt like major concerns were addressed,” Kemper said. “We ultimately ended up taking the position to support” the bill.

Requiring a water court process to ensure that other water rights are not injured was a big part of that, he said.

“It’s not creating water right out of thin air or, of more concern, creating water right out of someone else’s water,” Kemper said…

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

The latest Middle Colorado Watershed Council newsletter is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver


Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Annual State of the Rivers Meeting

“Our Water – This Year and Beyond” is the theme for this year’s report on the state of the Middle Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers. Co-hosted by the Colorado River District and the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, the event will be held on Wednesday, May 14th, at the Garfield County Public Library in Glenwood Springs, from 6:00 to 7:45 pm. Water managers will present information on current and expected reservoir operations and in-stream flows in our basin with an eye towards short- and long-term water supply forecasts. Click here to view a press release and the evening’s agenda.

Federal report links Colorado fires to climate change — Fort Collins Coloradoan


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Colorado residents have seen the affects of climate change scar their mountains in the form of wildfires and massive bark beetle outbreaks, according to the U.S. Climate Assessment released Tuesday by the White House.

Considered to be a part of the Southwest Region, which encompasses drought-stricken states such as New Mexico and California, Colorado is likely to see the impacts of climate change in things ranging from annual snowpack, to water, to agriculture and to weather…

Colorado is heavily dependent on its winter snowpack — it provides water to farmers and cities, is often a good indicator for drought, and also fuels the ski-tourism industry. Colorado’s mountains are also the headwaters for rivers and streams that feed 18 other states, making the state an epicenter for water availability issues in the Midwest and West.

The climate change assessment predicts that the Southwest Region’s population of 56 million will increase to 94 million by 2050.

The report relied on local scientists for input on their regions. Dennis Ojima, a Colorado State University professor of Ecosystem Science, wrote a chapter on the Great Plains, and Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Center, helped author the Southwest Region chapter. There were also several other CSU political scientists, epidemiologists and fire experts who contributed to the report.

Aurora Water embarks on expansion of Prairie Waters


From The Denver Post (Megan Mitchell):

Aurora Water has begun construction to expand the city’s Prairie Waters Project for the first time since the natural water filtration and collection system opened in 2010. Projects nixed from the original construction plan kept the $659 million project about $100 million below its initial budget. Now, those projects are being called back up to make sure Prairie Waters stays on track for exponential growth over the next 40 years.

“The expansion part of the project has been planned from the very beginning,” said Marshall Brown, executive director for Aurora Water. “This year, we’re at a place where we can prioritize the growth and look toward the future of system capacity.”
Crews have begun digging six new collection wells in between the existing 17 wells that collect water from a basin near the South Platte River in Weld County, downstream from the Denver Metro Wastewater Reclamation District’s plant. From there, the water is piped through wells 44 miles south to treatment and storage facilities in Aurora for residential use.

Along the way, the water is pulled through 100 feet of gravel and sand. This 30-day, natural process helps pull large contaminants out of the water.

Two new filter beds will also be installed at the Peter D. Binney Water Purification Facility near the Aurora Reservoir this year. At the Binney facility, water is treated with chemicals and ultraviolet lights to make it potable.

The cost of the expansion projects is $2.9 million, said Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. He said water tap fees will not be affected by the new wells and filters this year.

“We plan our capital projects (which are predominantly paid for by development or tap fees) well in advance,” Baker said. “We plan for these expenses so that our rates don’t roller coaster based on immediate projects.”

Right now, Prairie Waters is spread over 250 acres in Weld County and is only built out to about 20 percent of its total potential capacity. Baker said the system currently provides 10 million gallons of water per day. At full build-out, Prairie Waters will able to provide 50 million gallons of water per day.

The project itself was conceived in response to extreme drought conditions in 2003.

“Ideally, we would like to have two years’ worth of supply stored in the system at all times,” Brown said. “Aurora’s system varies between one and two years’ worth of storage now.”

The long-term vision for the project involves well development all the way down the South Platte River to Fort Lupton, as well as adding more physical storage components. Aurora Water has already started to acquire additional property for capacity expansion in the future.

Baker added: “As Aurora’s population grows, we will expand into the system to support that growth.”

More Prairie Waters coverage here and here.

CU-Boulder researchers confirm leaks from Front Range oil and gas operations

DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal
DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Gabrielle Petron/Katy Human):

During two days of intensive airborne measurements, oil and gas operations in Colorado’s Front Range leaked nearly three times as much methane, a greenhouse gas, as predicted based on inventory estimates, and seven times as much benzene, a regulated air toxic. Emissions of other chemicals that contribute to summertime ozone pollution were about twice as high as estimates, according to the new paper, accepted for publication in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

“These discrepancies are substantial,” said lead author Gabrielle Petron, an atmospheric scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint institute of the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Emission estimates or ‘inventories’ are the primary tool that policy makers and regulators use to evaluate air quality and climate impacts of various sources, including oil and gas sources. If they’re off, it’s important to know.”

The new paper provides independent confirmation of findings from research performed from 2008-2010, also by Petron and her colleagues, on the magnitude of air pollutant emissions from oil and gas activities in northeastern Colorado. In the earlier study, the team used a mobile laboratory—sophisticated chemical detection instruments packed into a car—and an instrumented NOAA tall tower near Erie, Colorado, to measure atmospheric concentrations of several chemicals downwind of various sources, including oil and gas equipment, landfills and animal feedlots.

Back then, the scientists determined that methane emissions from oil and gas activities in the region were likely about twice as high as estimates from state and federal agencies, and benzene emissions were several times higher. In 2008, northeastern Colorado’s Weld County had about 14,000 operating oil and gas wells, all located in a geological formation called the Denver-Julesburg Basin.

In May 2012, when measurements for the new analysis were collected, there were about 24,000 active oil and gas wells in Weld County. The new work relied on a different technique, too, called mass-balance. In 2012, Petron and her colleagues contracted with a small aircraft to measure the concentrations of methane and other chemicals in the air downwind and upwind of the Denver-Julesburg Basin. On the ground, NOAA wind profilers near Platteville and Greeley tracked around-the-clock wind speed and wind direction.

On two days in May 2012, conditions were ideal for mass-balance work. Petron and her team calculated that 26 metric tons of methane were emitted hourly in a region centered on Weld County. To estimate the fraction from oil and gas activities, the authors subtracted inventory estimates of methane emissions from other sources, including animal feedlots, landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Petron and her team found that during those two days, oil and gas operations in the Denver-Julesburg Basin emitted about 19 metric tons of methane per hour, 75 percent of the total methane emissions. That’s about three times as large as an hourly average estimate for oil and gas operations based on Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (itself based on industry-reported emissions).

Petron and her colleagues combined information from the mass-balance technique and detailed chemical analysis of air samples in the laboratory to come up with emissions estimates for volatile organic compounds, a class of chemicals that contributes to ozone pollution; and benzene, an air toxic.

Benzene emissions from oil and gas activities reported in the paper are significantly higher than state estimates: about 380 pounds (173 kilograms) per hour, compared with a state estimate of about 50 pounds (25 kilograms) per hour. Car and truck tailpipes are a known source of the toxic chemical; the new results suggest that oil and gas operations may also be a significant source.

Oil-and-gas-related emissions for a subset of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can contribute to ground-level ozone pollution, were about 25 metric tons per hour, compared to the state inventory, which amounts to 13.1 tons. Ozone at high levels can harm people’s lungs and damage crops and other plants; the northern Front Range of Colorado has been out of compliance with federal health-based 8-hour ozone standards since 2007, according to the EPA. Another CIRES- and NOAA-led paper published last year showed that oil and natural gas activities were responsible for about half of the contributions of VOCs to ozone formation in northeastern Colorado.

This summer, dozens of atmospheric scientists from NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NOAA, CIRES and other will gather in the Front Range, to participate in an intensive study of the region’s atmosphere, said NCAR scientist Gabriele Pfister. With research aircraft, balloon-borne measurements, mobile laboratories and other ground-based equipment, the scientists plan to further characterize the emissions of many possible sources, including motor vehicles, power plants, industrial activities, agriculture, wildfires and transported pollution.

“This summer’s field experiment will provide us the information we need to understand all the key processes that contribute to air pollution in the Front Range,” Pfister said.

More oil and gas coverage here.

2014 Colorado Legislation: SB14-192 is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk

Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site
Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Christy Steadman):

“The passage of the Uranium Groundwater Protection bill today will help restore our use and rights to our wells,” Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident, said.

John Hamrick, facility manager at Cotter Corp., said SB 192 ceases “a year-and-a-half of progress in the negotiation process” with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to abide by the federal rules regarding “what is the best way” concerning clean-up. He said the negotiations were a measure to clean up what would eventually “go away” naturally.

Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said the area’s community members and activists “deserve a hearty congratulations for turning their passion into a legislative victory.”

“No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corp.,” he said.

Hamrick said he wanted to remind people that “to the best of Cotter’s knowledge, nobody is drinking ground water (contaminated) above any health limits or ground water protection standards.”[…]

Another issue with SB 192, said Hamrick, is the requirement to use the most expedited and best available technology for the clean-up. He said there will be only one technology that could reach both those requirements, and as of yet, nobody knows what it is nor an idea of its cost.

“Water quality is improving in Lincoln Park naturally,” Hamrick said. “(SB 192) adds a lot of unknown costs without a lot of public benefits.”

More nuclear coverage here.

‘Discover Water in Pueblo’ children’s water festival recap

Colorado State University at Pueblo
Colorado State University at Pueblo

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The sky overhead was slightly overcast, but weather on the campus of Colorado State University-Pueblo was truly tenacious Tuesday at the 17th annual Discover Water in Pueblo children’s water festival. Nearly 1,900 fourth-graders from Pueblo City Schools (D60), District 70 and four private schools attended the daylong event.

Thunderstorms deposited 0.29 and 0.17 inches in rain gauges just inches apart. A young girl gasped as a piece of fence washed downstream in a flood. A pile of snow slowly melted.

Board of Water Works employees repaired broken water mains as crowds looked on.

Inside it wasn’t much calmer, as fourth-graders were grilled about things like how many gallons of water are in an acre-foot (325,851). Meanwhile, Detective Di, a mad scientist, concocted chemical creations.

The Thunderstorms were a pair of Nerf Super Soakers, of course. The flood occurred on a trailer-top model of a watershed. The snow was actually made from shavings from the Pueblo Ice Arena hauled in by the U.S. Forest Service.

The water mains were life-size demonstration models trucked in by the water board.

The grilling of students was part of Water Wizards, sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation.

And, Di works for Mad Science of Colorado.

“I would say learning is more fun,” one boy said, defying his classmates when asked whether it was more rewarding to learn how to read a rain gauge or to fire the Thunderstorm.

The flood-simulation trailer was sponsored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and included a demonstration of how much more dangerous paved surfaces make a downpour.

“Colorado Springs is one giant parking lot. When it floods, it all goes into Fountain Creek,” explained Carl Beeman, who was manning the booth.

Even with all the learning activities, one activity was clearly the favorite: Getting wet. Between fire hoses, irrigation siphons and leaky taps into a water line, there were plenty of opportunities to make a splash.

Primary sponsors of the event are the Pueblo water board, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, St. Charles Mesa Water District, Reclamation, Pueblo West and CSU-Pueblo.

More education coverage here.