Snowpack/drought/runoff news #COdrought

Snow water equivalent as a percent of normal May 12, 2014 via the NRCS
Snow water equivalent as a percent of normal May 12, 2014 via the NRCS

From the Associated Press via THOnline:

A powerful spring storm that dumped more than 3 feet of snow in some parts of the Rockies closed a major national trucking route for more than 24 hours, snapped power lines and drew skiers to the slopes of Colorado’s only remaining open ski area.

Just to the south, some Arizona communities are rationing water because of drought, and to the west, drought-parched California is bracing for another week of hot weather that could fuel more wildfires.

Spring is normally the wettest time of year in the Rockies. While snowfall is common in the mountains in May, significant snowfall at lower elevations like Denver in May only occurs every five or 10 years, experts said.

US Drought Monitor May 6, 2014
US Drought Monitor May 6, 2014

Much of the West remains in some stage of drought, with the worst conditions in Southern California and the Southern Plains and Texas Panhandle. Gusty Santa Ana winds are raising the fire danger in California, where temperatures are expected to top 100 degrees in drought-stricken inland areas this week.

A wildfire on Sunday on the Panhandle’s dry, dusty plains destroyed 75 homes in a mobile home community.
Conditions vary greatly within states. While Colorado’s overall amount of snow in the mountains — the state’s main water supply — is close to average this year, the snowpack in its southwestern corner is way below normal, and severe drought continues to afflict farms and ranches in the southeast. Fire officials are predicting a normal wildfire season for Colorado, which would be an improvement over recent years in which blazes have destroyed hundreds of houses.


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Mother’s Day storm system boosted snowpack levels in most parts of the state, but will not have much impact on the long-term drought that continues to grip the Arkansas Valley.

“One system moving through doesn’t do much for the long term,” said Makoto Moore, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. “It reduced the fire danger for a few days and provided some nice soaking moisture, and that’s good.”

While Pueblo has enjoyed average precipitation this year, the Rocky Ford area and other farming communities on the Eastern Plains remain under severe or exceptional drought conditions, according to the National Drought Monitor.

Snowpack levels, which declined when unseasonably high temperatures triggered early runoff in late April and early May, bounced back across the state Monday.

The Arkansas River basin snowpack increased to 103 percent from 87 percent last week. Statewide, every basin except the Rio Grande improved. In the northern part of Colorado, precipitation is about 20 percent higher than normal, while Southern Colorado is just 80-95 percent of median since Oct. 1.

The snow began as rain, but turned to snow as temperatures cooled Sunday afternoon. Snowfall continued into Monday morning in mountainous areas.

The heaviest accumulation was in the Westcliffe area, where more than a foot of snow amounted to 2 inches of moisture, according to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow network.

Parts of Huerfano County and southern Pueblo County received nearly an inch of moisture, while Pueblo and Pueblo West got 0.1-0.4 inches of moisture.

Out east, Otero and Crowley counties got 0.3-0.64 inches of rain.

While the southwest corner of the state and the San Juan Mountains are expected to get more snowfall this week, the weather is expected to be drier and warmer through the weekend in Pueblo and the surrounding area.

US Forest Service proposes new management practices for stewardship of water resources, webinar slated for May 20


Here’s the release from the US Forest Service:

May 2, 2014–The U.S. Forest Service today announced its intent to strengthen agency management direction for groundwater resources and the use of best management practices to improve and protect water quality on national forests and grasslands. This action is an integral component of watershed stewardship and land management.

“Water from national forests contributes to the economic and ecological vitality of communities across the nation and plays a key role in supplying 66 million Americans with clean drinking water,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said. “The changes to our internal management practices that we are proposing today will strengthen and support the Forest Service’s ability to manage the National Forest System to protect water resources and support healthy and resilient ecosystems.”

The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands in 44 states across the country. Over the past few years, the agency has taken a number of steps to protect and enhance water resources on National Forest System (NFS) land to support ecosystem health, water quality and water availability. These initiatives include creating the first national Watershed Condition Framework, publishing a new National Land Management Planning Rule that emphasizes water stewardship, implementing a National Climate Change Roadmap and Scorecard, and investing in national assessments like the Forests to Faucets project.

Today’s actions are another step towards improving agency management to protect and enhance water resources. In the draft Directive on Groundwater Resource Management, the Forest Service is proposing to amend its internal directives for Watershed and Air Management to establish direction for management of groundwater resources on NFS land as an integral component of watershed management. Specifically, the proposed groundwater direction would:

  • provide for consideration of groundwater resources in agency activities,
  • encourage source water protection and water conservation,
  • establish procedures for reviewing new proposals for groundwater withdrawals on NFS land,
  • require the evaluation of potential impacts from groundwater withdrawals on NFS natural resources and
    provide for measurement and reporting to help build our understanding of groundwater resources on NFS land.
  • These changes would improve the Forest Service’s ability to manage and analyze potential uses of NFS land that could affect groundwater resources.

    The Forest Service is also proposing to amend the internal Manual for Water Quality Management and to establish a National Best Management Practices (BMP) Program Handbook. These proposed changes to agency directives would enhance the Forest Service’s ability to protect water quality on NFS land by:

  • formalizing the National BMP Program as the primary method for control of non-point sources of water pollution to achieve federal, state, tribal or local water quality requirements;
  • requiring implementation of the National BMP Program on all NFS land;
  • establishing monitoring for implementation and effectiveness of the national BMPs; and
  • adding definitions and direction to clarify and improve consistency in the agency’s use of the national BMPs.
  • The Forest Service welcomes input on both proposals, which will be published in the Federal Register next week. There will be a 90-day public comment period on the proposed groundwater directive and a 60-day public comment period on the best management practices directives starting on the day the notices are published. Instructions on how to comment are in the Federal Register notices.

    The Forest Service will host a national webinar at 1 p.m. EST May 20 to discuss the components of the proposed policy to manage groundwater resources on the country’s national forests and grasslands. Forest Service leaders and technical specialists will provide an overview on groundwater issues and information on the intent of the agency’s directives.

    Here’s a release from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

    Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) stressed that the Forest Service’s newly proposed Directive on Groundwater Resource Management includes overly broad language that will expand the agency’s regulatory reach over groundwater and jeopardize privately-held water rights. The directive is strikingly similar in function and tone to the recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed rule to redefine waters of the United States to vastly expand that agency’s regulatory scope over surface water.

    “It seems like every week we uncover a new attempt by this Administration to encroach on private property rights. This latest instance would drastically expand the Forest Service’s regulatory reach to the point where if any private water rights holder so much as attempted to utilize groundwater to which they are legally entitled under long-held state water law, the Forest Service could insert itself and prevent access to that right. This bears an unsettling resemblance to the recent EPA proposed rule that would allow that agency to regulate virtually every form of surface water within the United States. These rules jeopardize every water user’s ability to freely access their water and maintain their livelihood,” said Tipton. “These backdoor attempts by the federal government to circumvent state law, take control of Western water, and trample private property rights are nefarious, coordinated and will not stand. I will continue to fight these blatant attempts to take and control our water and steadfastly defend private property rights at every turn.”

    The Forest Service’s proposed rule, which was released this month, expands the agency’s reach over groundwater, and seeks to establish new bureaucratic hurdles to interfere with private water users’ ability to access their water. View the full Forest Service Directive HERE.

    More groundwater coverage here.

    May 2014 CWCB Board packet is now online for review including several new draft chapters/sections of #COWaterPlan

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    Mead, Powell to end year at lowest storage since 1968 — John Fleck #ColoradoRiver

    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

    From Inkstain (John Fleck):

    The total combined storage in Lake Mead and Lake Powell at the end of September (the close of the “water year”) will be the lowest since 1968, when Powell was first being filled, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Reclamation “24-Month Study” (pdf).

    The current forecast calls for Lake Mead’s elevation to be 1,077.93 feet above sea level on Dec. 31, 2015, which is less than three feet above the trigger level for a shortage in 2016. That’s a little less than last month’s number.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    Water treatment plant for Windsor?

    The water treatment process
    The water treatment process

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Erin Udell):

    The town has always purchased its water from suppliers. Currently, it has three providers: Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, North Weld County Water District and the city of Greeley.

    But by purchasing its treated water and not having access to a water treatment facility of its own, Windsor loses something: control.

    “As long as people are going to build houses, we’re going to need water,” Windsor’s Director of Finance Dean Moyer said, referring to Windsor’s continued growth in recent years. “And, being that we don’t have our own plant, we’re always controlled by someone else.”

    Moyer said the town has always kicked around the idea of having its own water treatment facility.

    “It comes up every year and we talk about it, but up until now it seems to be getting more serious, you know?” Moyer said. “We really need to do something here.”

    Twenty-five years ago, when the town’s population was roughly 5,062, Windsor residents used a total of 335 million gallons annually, according to Windsor Director of Engineering Dennis Wagner.

    Now, with that population more than quadrupled, residents use about 650 million gallons of water per year…

    Windsor is currently one of 15 participants in Northern Water’s Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP). The regional water supply project aims to provide its participants with 40,000 acre-feet of new water supply each year through the Glade Reservoir and Poudre Valley Canal.

    The town also has been involved in conversations with a handful of other Northern Colorado communities about the possibility of sharing a regional water treatment facility.

    Arnold said eight municipalities, including Windsor, Severance, Loveland, Eaton and Milliken, and water districts like Fort Collins-Loveland, Central Weld and Little Thompson are involved.

    A feasibility study for the possible treatment facility has been conducted, Arnold added, and it would cost Windsor anywhere from $11 million to $17 million to buy in at a certain capacity level.

    The next step for the possible project is the formation of an authority that would be responsible for building the regional plant, Arnold said, adding that the communities involved just initiated that discussion about a month ago.

    More water treatment coverage here.