April Montgomery elected chair of CWCB

April Montgomery via Southwestern Water
April Montgomery via Southwestern Water

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

San Miguel County resident April Montgomery is the newest chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a 77-year-old agency that provides policy direction on water in Colorado.

Montgomery, a longtime Telluride and Norwood resident, was elected to the position in March. She will serve one term. She has served on the board since 2009, helping to protect the state’s water resources by working on watershed protection, stream restoration, drought planning and water project financing.

Montgomery also served as the San Miguel County representative on the Southwestern Water Conservation District for more than 12 years before becoming the representative for the Southwest Basin Roundtable on the CWCB. Though the chair position will only last for one year, Montgomery’s board position is a three-year term, and she said there are many water issues that need to be addressed.

“The Dolores River is something that I think is of interest to people in our region,” Montgomery said. “There’s a lot of work right now trying to figure out how to provide enough water to protect threatened species that are in the Dolores River, and we are looking at in-stream flows for that protection.”[…]

Montgomery said a number of issues will be facing the board this year, including water distribution across the state and developing a draft Colorado Water Plan — part of the state’s effort to create its first-ever comprehensive water strategy.

“The draft plan is due by the end of November, and the full plan will be completed in 2015,” Montgomery said. “This is an unprecedented effort and it requires a lot of effort, from the ground up, on what’s going to be incorporated in the plan with each of the basin roundtables.”

She said everything from future water needs to where the state’s populations are expected to grow will all need to be studied for the plan.

“The plan will provide a road map for Coloradans to use and protect limited water supplies, as well as balance Colorado’s water priorities, including healthy watersheds and the environment, recreation and tourism, municipal water supplies and drinking water, as well as productive agriculture,” she said.

Montgomery was first appointed to the CWCB by former governor Bill Ritter, and later reappointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. She currently lives on Wright’s Mesa and she has lived in the Telluride area for 23 years.

Montgomery works as programs director for the Telluride Foundation. She has a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Virginia and received her law degree from the University of Virginia in 1989, and she is currently a member of the Colorado Bar.

More CWCB coverage here.

I had never heard of Idaho Stop Law — John Fleck

Estimated 6,500 gal of Niobrara oil spilled from train into S Platte — Josh Zaffos

CWCB: The next Water Availability Task Force May 16 #COdrought


From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

The next Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Friday, May 16, 2014 from 9:30-11:30a at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

More CWCB coverage here.

Grand County “State of the Rivers” meeting May 13 #ColoradoRiver

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

From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Many claim that we are now living in a “new normal.” In fact, there is no “normal” when it comes to our rivers. In the last 12 months we have gone from heavy autumn rains, enjoyed abundant late-season snow and are now faced with earlier record river flows.

How are water managers reacting to this incredible variability? And what might we anticipate in the near future? There may seem to be plenty of water to satisfy for now, but how does this year’s supply affect longer-term needs? These questions will be the subject of a public outreach and education meeting sponsored by Grand County and the Colorado River District.

The public can learn more about this season’s outlook for river flows, reservoir levels, overall water yields and the status of the longer-term drought at this annual “State of the River” meeting set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13, at Mountain Parks Electric, 321 W. Agate Ave., Granby.

Water experts from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water, Denver Water and the Colorado River District will present detailed information related to operations of area reservoirs and how they may affect river flows.

Lastly, Eric Kuhn, General Manager of the Colorado River District, will talk about Colorado’s effort to create a statewide water plan and western Colorado’s perspective on the questions of supply versus demand, the future of the Colorado River basin and other regional river basin issues.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

2014 Colorado legislation: Sharp divisions over what the potential effects of SB14-023

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Depending on who’s doing the talking, a bill that won final approval in the Colorado Legislature on Monday either could take away some people’s water rights or do nothing of the kind.

The debate was over SB23, which was introduced by Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Snowmass Village Democrat whose district includes Delta County.

The bill is designed to allow ranchers to implement water conservation measures on nonconsumptive water and donate that water for in-stream flow use without losing rights to the water they still own.

Supporters of the measure, all Democrats, say it is entirely voluntary and is intended to increase stream flows to benefit aquatic life and the environment.

Republicans, however, said it will have the unintended consequence of stealing junior water rights from people downstream from those ranchers who implement such water-saving measures as lining their ditches.

They argued that the bill creates a new water right — a saved water right — and could lead to junior water users having no water in a stream, saying that once water is designated for in-stream flow, it can’t be used for anything else.

As a result, those junior water rights owners will have to go to court to protect their water rights, Republicans said.

“The argument that this has not created a new water right is just absolutely wrong,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. “We’re creating a conserved water right, and the future of that conserved water right may be to absolutely eventually sell that conserved water right, which is somebody else’s water.”

The House Democratic sponsor of the measure, Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, said opponents are completely wrong about what it will do.

“There’s a lot that has been said about this bill that isn’t at all true,” Becker said. “This bill simply gives irrigators incentive to conserve water without running the risk of abandoning that water. It is a purely voluntary bill. It does not steal anyone’s water. It doesn’t do that.”

Still, some lawmakers had hoped to persuade the House to kill the bill and send the measure back to draft because not everyone in the water community agrees it is the right thing to do.

The Colorado Water Congress and the Colorado ranchers association, for example, supported the measure. Several other water users, such as Aurora Water and several water conservation groups, opposed it.

The bill, however, passed on a narrow 35-30 vote, with only two Democrats joining Republicans opposing it. The measure cleared the Senate in March on a 25-9 vote.

“The water community came to us and the environmental community also had their say, and they just didn’t agree,” said Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Glenwood Springs. “We tried to divert water 30 years ago and had these same problems of upstream juniors and downstream juniors and in-stream flow have been with us for a long time.”

The bill heads to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature. It is unknown if he will sign or veto it.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

#COWaterPlan: “We’ve gotten awfully good at taking water away from agriculture” — Eric Wilkinson #ColoradoRiver

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A northern Colorado water official expressed concern this week that talks of bringing more Western Slope water across the Continental Divide might take a backseat to other aspects of the long-term, comprehensive Colorado Water Plan.

The statewide water plan — put in motion by Gov. John Hickenlooper and expected to be complete in 2015 — takes into account all aspects of water use in the state, such as further conservation efforts and new water-sharing arrangements between cities and agriculture, among many other efforts aimed at avoiding the large water shortages the state is forecast to face by 2050.

A number of things have been agreed upon in the talks, but building new water-supply projects has long been a hot-button issue — particularly projects that would bring water from the Western Slope to Eastern Slope users.

Discussions Tuesday and Wednesday between representatives of all of Colorado’s river basins made limited progress on the topic.

During the meeting, Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, expressed concern Tuesday that, because of its controversial nature, trans-mountain water diversions seem to be taking a backseat to other aspects of the long-term water plan.

Wilkinson stressed that without more water going to Eastern Slope users, agriculture in particular will suffer.

“We’ve gotten awfully good at taking water away from agriculture,” said Wilkinson, referring to the ongoing buy-and-dry issue taking place in Colorado, particularly on the Eastern Slope.

The purchasing of water rights from ag producers leaving the land is a comparatively inexpensive way for cities to acquire needed water.

Because of that, however, Colorado is on pace to see as many as 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farmland dry up by 2050, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, released in 2010.

With much of Colorado’s ag production taking place in northeast Colorado — particularly in Weld County, which ranks in eighth in the nation for its production — it’s the region that could be hit the hardest.

“If we investigate the possibility of bringing more water over here from the West Slope, and we’re told ‘it can’t be done,’ that’s fine,” Wilkinson said in an interview after the meeting. “But we at least need to be looking into it … and putting as much effort into that as we are other things, like conservation, and every other leg of the stool in these water talks.”

A commitment in the Colorado Water Plan to at least explore trans-mountain water diversions could help such projects, if feasible, get off the ground quicker, which is vital, Wilkinson said, considering that those projects — when factoring in planning, permitting and actual construction — take decades to complete.

The disagreement over trans-mountain water diversions between Eastern Slope and Western Slope water officials and users goes way back.

About 80 percent of the state’s population lives on the Eastern Slope but about 80 percent of the state’s water supplies — primarily snowmelt in the mountains — sits on the West Slope.

To meet the needs of the growing Front Range and northeast Colorado’s robust ag industry, Eastern Slope water providers have long built projects that bring water across the Continental Divide.

There are now more than 30 such projects bringing about 450,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water each year from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope, Wilkinson noted.

Many on the Western Slope have expressed concern and want the Eastern Slope to stop diverting more of its water.

While only about 20 percent of the population lives on the Western Slope, the Western Slope has its own water demands to meet, mainly its legal obligation to make sure several states downstream from Colorado receive certain amounts of water.

Meeting those needs, while also contributing to those of Colorado’s Eastern Slope, is stretching the Western Slope thin, water officials from that part of the state say.

At the same time, though, many northeast Colorado water officials stress they’re set to face their own water crises, and more trans-mountain diversions, if feasible, would make a huge dent in solving the problem.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A representative of Front Range water providers told a Western Slope contingent Monday that Colorado can’t close its future supply gap through conservation alone, and other efforts need to include working on a potential new transmountain diversion project. But several participants at a meeting of the Colorado River Roundtable remained leery of any such idea, including what’s being called a breakthrough proposal that would limit such a project to diverting water only in wet years. The roundtable, covering the six-county mainstem of the Colorado River Basin, was meeting as it continues to prepare final recommendations for what it wants to see in a state water plan to meet future needs.

Much of the debate in that planning process has centered on the potential for further Front Range diversions of Western Slope water. Early this month, the Front Range Water Council told the Colorado Water Conservation Board that plan needs to contain an assurance rather than just the hope that a new Colorado River diversion project would be part of the plan.

Mark Pifher of Colorado Springs Utilities told those attending Monday’s meeting that the concern stemmed from an idea discussed by basin roundtable leaders that water supply might be put at the bottom of a sequential list starting first with conservation, then transfers of agricultural water, then completion of already-planned projects, with no assured pursuit of new supply. Instead, all four concepts should be worked at simultaneously so Front Range utilities can know that “there’s some certainty that new supply will be there when you need it, if you need it,” he said.

He outlined a number of ways those utilities already are pursuing all four approaches to addressing water needs, including by having cut per-capita water use by 20 percent. But he said studies suggesting the Front Range can entirely meet future needs through conservation is wrong, and that it’s just a question of when more supply will be needed.

“The world’s not going to stop in 2040 or 2050 or 2060. Demand is going to develop,” he said.

While Front Range utilities want to be able to count on Western Slope water to help meet that demand, one of the themes the Colorado River Roundtable is settling on is that at least the mainstem six-county basin already has given up plenty of water to the Front Range and has no more left to develop.

The state Interbasin Compact Committee is hoping a compromise might be reached through the idea of a new water project providing no firm yield of water, with diversions occurring only in years of above-average precipitation. The concept is receiving some Front Range support.

Carlyle Currier, a Mesa County resident who sits on the committee, said many on the Western Slope long have said it needs protection from diversions in dry years.

“I think this (new idea) offer certainly opened the door to that and went in the direction we’ve been talking” about, he said.

But several who attended Monday’s session questioned whether the region can afford to give up water even in wet years. They pointed to low water levels at Lake Powell, which states in the Upper Colorado River Basin use to help meet compact obligations to states in the Lower Basin.

“Shouldn’t high-water years be when we start to replenish Lake Powell?” asked Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner.

She said wet years also provide the environmental benefit of variety in stream flows from year to year if the water isn’t being diverted. And if the Western Slope builds more storage of its own, it needs to make sure it has the ability in high-water years to fill those reservoirs, she said.

Despite the widespread reservations within the roundtable about more transmountain diversions, they generally agreed Monday that they need to at least be willing to discuss the possible conditions of such diversions so decisions aren’t made without their involvement. Several suggested that one condition governing wet-year diversions should be the current water level at Lake Powell.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

FEMA assistance in Weld tops $16 million — The Greeley Tribune #COflood

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com
Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

From The Greeley Tribune:

Weld County has so far received more than $16 million in national aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration since the September flood, those agencies announced last week.

Those numbers include programs for individuals or households and business and home loans, according to FEMA.

Colorado as a whole received $339.5 million in public assistance.

Weld County is the third-highest recipient of FEMA and SBA money in the state. Larimer County has received $37.2 million and Boulder County has received $21.3 million.

The count does not include assistance announced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has yet to be doled out to communities and organizations. The two rounds announced for HUD funding total $199 million statewide.

Flood victims can call FEMA at 800-621-3362 to check their application status or provide updates about their insurance claim or contact information.

NOAA: Does “global warming” mean it’s warming everywhere?

Observed trend in temperatures 1900 to 2012 via NOAA
Observed trend in temperatures 1900 to 2012 via NOAA

From NOAA:

No, “global warming” means Earth’s average annual air temperature is rising, but not necessarily in every single location during all seasons across the globe. It’s like your grades. If one semester you get all Bs and Cs, and the next you get all As and Cs, your grade point average rises, even though you didn’t improve in every class.

That’s the way it is with Earth’s near-surface temperature as atmospheric greenhouse gas levels climb. Temperature trends across the entire globe aren’t uniform because of the diverse geography on our planet—oceans versus continents, lowlands versus mountains, forests versus deserts versus ice sheets—as well as natural climate variability. When you’re zoomed in on a particular place, you may not be able to see the overall trend.

It is only when scientists calculate the average of temperature changes from every place on Earth over the course of a year to produce a single number, and then look at how that number has changed over time that a very clear, global warming trend emerges. In other words, it’s only when we “zoom out” to the planet-wide scale that the trend is obvious: despite a few, rare areas experiencing an overall cooling trend, the vast majority of places across the globe are warming.

The reason a “zoomed out” view makes the long-term trend so clear is that Earth’s annual average temperatures from year to year are found to be very stable when nothing is forcing it to change. Today, though, every decade since 1960 has been warmer than the last, and the last three decades each have been the warmest on record. Relative to geologic time, the warming that has occurred—1.5°F (0.85°C) over a span of 100 years—is an unusually large temperature change in a relatively short span of time.

However, not all land masses and oceans have experienced or will experience a constant, identical rate of warming. Natural variations in our climate system cause temperatures to vary from region to region and from time to time, leaving sporadic fingerprints in the long-term temperature record. When you consider the global map above, you can see that in a few parts of the world temperature trends were basically ”flat” over the last century.

One of those “warming holes,” as scientists have described them, appears in the U.S. Southeast. The latest National Climate Assessment describes how average annual temperature during the last century across the region cycled between warm and cool periods, with a warm peak occurring during the 1930s and 40s, followed by a cool period in the 60s and 70s, and warming again from 1970 to the present by an average of 2°F, with more warming on average during summer months. Some parts of the U.S. Southeast have experienced little net change or even a cooling trend since the early part of the 20th century, as seen in the map below. Other areas have warmed more than the average.

The climate of the U.S. Southeast, like that of any region, is influenced by many factors, including latitude, topography, and proximity to large bodies of water like the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Its climate varies considerably over seasons, years, and decades, largely due to natural cycles like the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and North Atlantic and Arctic Oscillations, which can introduce cooler-than-usual conditions to the region during certain phases.

Researchers have also connected the cooling trend in the southeastern United States to periods of thick clouds and unusually high soil moisture. Thick clouds can decrease the amount of sunlight reaching Earth’s surface, and damp soil allows for high evaporation rates, preventing daytime temperatures from getting as warm as they otherwise might.

Despite cooling trends in some locations, temperatures across the U.S. Southeast are expected to increase over the next century, even as they fluctuate annually and decade-to-decade. This natural climate variability is the reason that, as the vast majority of the world warms, a few locations are cooling and many are warming even faster than the rest of the globe. It is also why every year, perhaps even every decade, won’t necessarily be warmer than the last.

When you filter out all of the natural ‘noise’ by averaging over large areas and long periods of time, however, the global warming trend is loud and clear. And of course, warming is also evident in a suite of other climate indicators, including loss of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets; increasing ocean heat content; rising sea level; and geographic shifts in the ranges of plants and animals on land and in the ocean.

Reclamation: WaterSMART Funding Opportunity Available to Establish or Expand Watershed Groups

Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation
Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Cooperative Watershed Management Program is accepting applications from entities seeking to establish or expand watershed management groups. The funding opportunity announcement is available at http://www.grants.gov by searching for funding opportunity R14AS00038.

Funding is available for states, Indian tribes, irrigation districts, water districts or other organizations with water or power delivery authority located in the western United States or United States Territories to establish a watershed group. Funding is also available for an existing watershed group to expand. Applications are due on June 6, 2014 at 3 p.m. Mountain Standard Time.

Up to $100,000 in Federal funds may be awarded to an applicant with no more than $50,000 awarded in each year of the project. A non-federal cost share contribution is not required. Some awards for this program will be made in fiscal year 2015 once appropriations are approved by Congress.

WaterSMART is the U.S. Department of the Interior’s sustainable water initiative that uses the best available science to improve water conservation and help water resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. Since its establishment in 2010, WaterSMART has provided more than $161 million in competitively-awarded funding to non-federal partners, including tribes, water districts, municipalities and universities through WaterSMART Grants and the Title XVI Program.

The Cooperative Watershed Management Program provides funding for watershed groups to encourage diverse stakeholders to form local groups to address their water management needs. To learn more about the Cooperative Watershed Management Program please visit http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/cwmp.

More Reclamation coverage here.

The latest NIDIS newsletter is hot off the presses #COdrought

Desicated cotton field Texas March 2014 via NIDIS
Desicated cotton field Texas March 2014 via NIDIS

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

In an ongoing two-year project, NIDIS is collaborating with NOAA’s Office of Hydrologic Development (OHD) to generate NOAA’s first operational, long-term reanalysis of reference evapotranspiration (ET0). This new dataset represents a new direction within the NOAA’s operational mission and will not only fulfill missions for both funding partners but is also generating multiple spin-off uses in the greater operational and scientific communities in agriculture and hydrology, and beyond.

Northern Water Conservation Gardens Fair May 17

Weather station at the Conservation Gardens at Northern Water
Weather station at the Conservation Gardens at Northern Water

From email from Northern Water:

Everyone’s invited to attend the free, educational Northern Water Conservation Gardens Fair on Saturday, May 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Northern Water’s headquarters in Berthoud, CO.

The fair will feature Conservation Gardens tours, how-to seminars and demonstrations of irrigation technologies.

There will be garden tours starting every 30 minutes starting at 10 a.m. How-to seminars start at the top of the hour and will cover numerous topics from planning and renovating landscapes for low-water use to turfgrasses.

Vendors will be selling plants, irrigation equipment and gardening supplies.

Gardening and landscaping experts from Colorado State University, Larimer County Master Gardeners and several other organizations will provide information on gardening, landscape design and irrigation.

The first 400 fair attendees will receive a free Plant Select perennial. A limited number of free sub sandwiches will be available from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Young gardeners will enjoy the children’s potting bench, the rain maker target shoot and other kids’ activities.

For more information, see the Conservation Gardens Fair flyer.

Get a preview of the numerous plants in the Conservation Gardens.

Water Lines: Learn about Colorado and Gunnison rivers May 15 at Grand Junction City Hall #ColoradoWater

On Thursday, May 15, the Colorado River District and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University will co-sponsor the annual “State of the Rivers — Mesa County” meeting in the Grand Junction City Hall Auditorium at 250 N. Fifth St. There’s no charge to attend the meeting, and it will run from 6-8 p.m.

This year’s meeting will provide an opportunity to learn about and discuss the present, past and future state of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers in Mesa County. Light refreshments will be provided.


The meeting will open with a presentation by Erik Knight of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on what this year’s snowpack will mean for reservoir operations and flows in the rivers. This winter, the headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers enjoyed above-average snowfall for the first time since 2011.

Following Erik Knight’s presentation, Grand Valley Water Users Association Manager Mark Harris will present a slide show of historical photographs depicting the building of the Grand Valley Project, including the roller dam in DeBeque Canyon and the Government Highline Canal. This project, which began supplying irrigation water in 1915, greatly increased the amount of land under cultivation in the Grand Valley.

The meeting will conclude with an update on water planning efforts in the Colorado and Gunnison River Basins, which meet in Grand Junction. Mark Hermundstad — a water attorney with Williams, Turner & Holmes, PC and a member of the Colorado Basin Roundtable — and Frank Kugel — manager of the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District and a member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable — will provide the updates and take comments from the public.

These basin plans will feed into a statewide plan that Governor Hickenlooper has ordered to be drafted by the end of this year. The plan is intended to show the way towards filling a projected gap between water needs and developed supplies as the state’s population grows.

For more information, visit http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here. More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Drilling down on issue of water, agriculture & conservation — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture
Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

State vs. local mandates is the subject of this report from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

A lawyer now based in Durango, [Ellen Roberts] spent the early 1980s living in Grand Lake and running lifts at Winter Park. Pipelines from both towns divert enormous amounts of water, roughly 60 percent of water in eastern Grand County, to farms and cities from Denver to Fort Collins and eastward to Julesberg.

“I’m not trying to undo that—and never in a million years could we,” says Roberts. “But there’s concern on the Western Slope—legitimately—whether people on the Front Range understand that water doesn’t come from the tap. It comes from someplace else. My bill, S.B. 17, was an effort to begin that conversation about what is the best use of precious water. Because we live in high-desert like conditions, maybe we should be rethinking how we use our water.”

The idea was pitched to Roberts by Steve Harris, president of a water engineering company in Durango and a delegate to the statewide Interbasin Compact Committee. The IBCC, as the committee is called, has been meeting monthly in an effort to shape the state-wide water plan ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper…

“We appreciate that admonishment,” says Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, who helped Roberts draft the proposal.

“I think we need to have more of a state-wide discussion about water conservation—and not just what we have done in the past, but rather the next step, the next frontier in conservation,” says Treese.

“We need to move beyond turning off your tap while brushing your teeth. While helpful, that’s very marginal in its benefit. If you’re going to make a difference, you have to go outdoors. That’s where the consumptive use is.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Moffat Collection System Project: “My sense is Denver has been pretty willing to mitigate and negotiate” — Becky Long #ColoradoRiver

Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera
Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

From The Boulder Weekly (Bob Berwyn):

“After being in a permitting process for more than 10 years, we are pleased to see the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project,” says Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO and manager.

Colorado’s biggest water provider says the project will guard against future shortages on the northern branch of its system and provide more operating flexi bility, make the overall system more resilient to climate change and extreme weather events like floods and fires. And part of the mitigation includes water earmarked for environmental purposes on both sides of the Continental Divide, water that could benefit a sometimes stressed trout population in the South Fork of Boulder Creek.

After scouring thousands of public comments and compiling the voluminous scientific and engineering studies for the Moffat Collection System Project, the federal agency says the new diversion and storage would help avert a potential major Denver Water system failure. The feds singled out Arvada, Westminster and the North Table Mountain Water and Sanitation District as especially vulnerable to raw water shortages without the project.

Release of the final EIS is one of the final steps in the intricate and regulatory ritual required by the National Environmental Policy Act, commonly known as NEPA. Especially for big projects involving public resources, the law is intended as an environmental bulwark. Ten years is a long time, but irrevocable allocation of public resources requires a hard — not a fast — look, the law says…

A few hours after the study was posted, the environmental community targeted media and the public with statements and blog posts from conservation groups, including a stern warning shot from Earthjustice, the legal arm of the green machine. In response to the Corps’ dire warnings of water shortages, some conservation advocates seemed to be saying they’re ready for an all-out battle over the Moffat project.

Hardened battle lines are nothing new in western water wars, but if Winston Churchill were to comment on this one, he might say, “Never have so many battled so hard over so little.”

The Moffat project would reliably deliver 18,000 acre feet of water. That’s enough to comfortably supply a small community for a year, but to keep that number in perspective consider this: All of Denver Water’s reservoirs combined lose more than 25,000 acre feet of water annually to evaporation…

Conflict over the Moffat project may be avoided, since all the parties worked on this collaboratively, says Conservation Colorado advocacy director Becky Long.

“People really rolled up their sleeves and went to work on that plan. … My sense is Denver has been pretty willing to mitigate and negotiate,” says Long, who has deep roots in rural agricultural water use after growing up in the ranch and grazing lands of the Lower Blue Valley, north of Silverthorne.

Even before fully studying the final environmental impact statement, Long says it’s clear that this proposal is different from many past projects because of the huge effort put into mitigating the effects of new diversions and storage, especially on the Western Slope…

“At some point, Denver Water will need a permit from the county,” says Chris Garre, who lives on the south shore and has become leader of a grassroots effort to draw attention to the concerns of area residents.

Standing at one of the stunning overlooks, Garre explained graphically how the landscape would permanently change with construction, including a de-forested rock face at the site of the potential quarry, along with a total inundation of the existing shoreline and the elimination of tens of thousands of trees…

The formal comment period ends in June, but could be extended by another 45 days, with many entities already saying they will request more time. Denver Water execs said they expect a final Corps of Engineers decision on the $360 million project within a year. The decision will be made at the regional Corps of Engineers headquarters in Omaha.

Beyond that, Denver Water still needs several other major permits, including an amendment to a federal hydropower license and a water quality certification under the state-run Clean Water Act standards.

Denver Water spokesman Steve Snyder said the cost of the project, based on a per acre-foot yield, is in line with other water projects along the Front Range.

The first phases of construction including offsite road improvements could start as early as 2017, with dam construction expected to start in 2018 and finish in 2021, with the heaviest construction occurring between 2019 and 2020, Snyder says. All schedules are based upon the permitting schedule and may be delayed or accelerated pending approvals.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.

“…we have a lot of communities on a diminishing aquifer” — Eric Hecox


From The Denver Post (Steve Raabe):

The shimmering surface of Rueter-Hess reservoir seems out of place in arid Douglas County, where almost all of the water resources are in aquifers a quarter-mile under ground.

Yet the $195 million body of water, southwest of Parker, is poised to play a crucial role in providing water to one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S.

As recently as a few years ago, developers were content to tap the seemingly abundant Denver Basin aquifer to serve the thousands of new homes built each year along the southern edge of metro Denver.

But a problem arose. As homebuilding in Douglas County exploded, the groundwater that once seemed abundant turned out to be finite. Land developers and utilities found that the more wells they drilled into the aquifer, the more grudgingly it surrendered water.

“Now we have a lot of communities on a diminishing aquifer,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a consortium of 14 water suppliers that serve 300,000 residents.

As water pressure in the Denver Basin steadily declines, developers and water utilities that rely on the aquifer are being forced to drill more wells and pump harder from existing wells.

Enter Rueter-Hess. The massive storage facility — 50 percent larger in surface area than Cherry Creek reservoir — aims to help developers wean themselves from groundwater by shifting to other sources.

The reservoir anchors a multifaceted water plan for the south metro area that includes the purchase of costly but replenishable surface water, reuse of wastewater and a greater emphasis on conservation.

Douglas County, long a magnet for builders enticed by easy access to Denver Basin aquifers, is taking the water issue seriously.

A new proposal floated by the county government would give developers density bonuses — up to 20 percent more buildout — for communities that reduce typical water consumption and commit to using renewable sources for at least half of their water.

“In the past, the county had not taken an active role in water supplies because groundwater was sufficient,” said Douglas County Commissioner Jill Repella. “But we understand that we cannot continue to be solely reliant on our aquifers. What we’re doing today will help us plan for the next 25 years.”

Parker Water and Sanitation District launched construction of Rueter-Hess in 2006 and began gradually filling the reservoir in 2011, fed by excess surface and alluvial well flows in Cherry Creek.

Partners in the project include Castle Rock, Stonegate and the Castle Pines North metropolitan district. Parker Water and Sanitation district manager Ron Redd said he expects more water utilities to sign on for storage as they begin acquiring rights to surface water.

The chief source of new supplies will be the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, or WISE, in which Denver Water and Aurora Water will sell an average of 7,250 acre-feet a year to 10 south-metro water suppliers beginning in 2016. Most of them are expected to purchase storage for the new water in Rueter-Hess. An acre-foot is generally believed to be enough to serve the needs of two families of four for a year

Parker Water and Sanitation also is exploring ways to develop recreational uses at the dam — including hiking, camping, fishing and nonmotorized boating — through an intergovernmental agreement with other Douglas County entities.

Even three years after opening, the reservoir’s stored water has reached just 13 percent of its 75,000-acre-foot capacity. Yet Rueter-Hess is the most visible icon in Douglas County’s search for water solutions.

At stake is the ability to provide water for a county that in the 1990s and early 2000s perennially ranked among the fastest-growing in the nation. The number of homes in Douglas County has soared from 7,789 in 1980 to more than 110,000 today, an astounding increase of more than 1,300 percent.

The building boom slowed after the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009. Growth rates that had reached as high as 10 percent to 15 percent a year during the 1990s ratcheted down to about 1 percent to 2 percent.

But as the economy has begun recovering, Douglas County is once again “seeing high levels of demand” for new residential development, said assistant director of planning services Steve Koster.

One of the biggest Douglas County projects in decades is Sterling Ranch, a proposed community of 12,000 homes south of Chatfield State Park.

The 3,400-acre ranch sits on the outer fringes of the Denver Basin aquifer, making it a poor candidate for reliance on the basin’s groundwater.

As a result, the project developer will employ a mixed-bag of water resources, including an aggressive conservation and efficiency plan; surface-water purchases from the WISE program; well water from rights owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz; and a precedent-setting rainwater-collection program.

Sterling Ranch managing director Harold Smethills described the Rueter-Hess concept as “brilliant,” even though his development has not yet purchased any of the reservoir’s capacity.

“You just can’t have enough storage,” he said.

More Rueter-Hess Reservoir coverage here and here. More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here.

Snowpack news: Airborne Snow Observatory project second season recap #ColoradoRiver

Combined lidar and aerial mapping via GeoMapsvia GeoMaps
Combined lidar and aerial mapping via GeoMaps

From The Sheet (Katie Vane):

The ASO is a repurposed de Havilland Twin Otter plane, equipped with LiDAR (a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to generate three-dimensional information on surface characteristics), spectrometer, GPS, and an inertial measurement unit that tracks the pitch and yaw of the aircraft.

Together, the LiDAR and spectrometer, which measure both topography and reflected sunlight, create a three-dimensional map of the snowpack.

Incredibly, LiDAR data gathered from 20,000 feet in the air can measure snowpack topography to within 10 centimeters, Painter said.

The purpose of this data is to represent snowpack, particularly its water equivalent, “in a more meaningful way.”

Until now, snowpack data was typically measured using snow courses or snow pillows. Both snow courses and pillows offer limited information, as neither one covers a large amount of terrain. “The greater purpose of them is as an indicator of percentage [of average],” Painter said. “But water isn’t allocated in percentages; it’s allocated in acre-feet.”

“Remote sensing is key to understanding the whole of the mountain snowpack,” he concluded.

Considering about 75 percent of the freshwater supply for the Western U.S. comes from snowmelt, understanding mountain snowpack and calculating the snow water equivalent with greater precision is crucial for more refined water management.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

“The sky turns pink or brown as the dust clouds billow and swirl on the Southern Plains” — Betsy Blaney #COdrought

From the Associated Press (Betsy Blaney) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

The sky turns pink or brown as the dust clouds billow and swirl on the Southern Plains, leaving those caught outdoors with grit on their teeth and in their eyes, much like the days of the Dust Bowl. But due to the drought conditions that have been a constant presence since 2011, some parts of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, northeastern New Mexico and Southeastern Colorado are drier now than they were during the infamous dry spell of the 1930s.

While experts say the possibility of another Dust Bowl is unlikely because of modern irrigation and farming techniques enacted afterward that are aimed at holding soil in place, greater erosion in recent years has resulted in an increasing number of dust storms, including one last month that lasted three days in Lubbock.

The dust storms are an indirect result of the drought, according to Tom Gill, a geology professor at the University of Texas-El Paso who has studied the phenomenon for years.

“The drought leads to reduced land cover and making it far more difficult to keep the soil anchored to the ground,” he said. “To get a real strong dust storm you need a combination of barren land and strong winds,” Gill said.

In the 1930s, farmers plowed up 100 million acres, and billions of tons of topsoil blew away, filling the skies across five states with soil. Scientists with the federal government’s Soil Conservation Service — now the Natural Resources Conservation Service — stepped in after the man-made ecological disaster and tried to stem erosion.

Progress was slow initially, but since the 1980s, more U.S. farmers have moved to soil conservation practices, minimizing the disturbance of the soil’s surface and making it less likely to take flight in high winds. The results are telling: In 1982, more than 3 billion tons of soil nationwide were lost to wind and water erosion; that dropped to 1.72 billion tons in 2010, according to data from the conservation service

David Ford lives in a part of the Texas Panhandle that’s drier now than in the 1930s, and has used a strip-till process to conserve soil for about 10 years.

“If it hadn’t been for a lot of these changes, it would really be bad,” said Ford, who grows corn, cotton, wheat and grain sorghum on more than 4,000 acres about 50 miles north of Amarillo, Texas. “We would be in the middle of the ’30s again.”

The number of dust storms seems to rise with the length of the drought. Amarillo has had 10 this year; it had none in 2010. The city is about 10 percent drier now than the 42 months that ended April 30, 1936, and drier than the state’s record drought in the 1950s.

Lubbock already has seen 15 days with dust storms this year, the National Weather Service said.

Weather service officials in southeastern Colorado only began issuing dust storm warning this year because they were becoming more prevalent; so far, the Pueblo office has issued 15 warnings.