Snowpack/runoff/drought news: Fry-Ark deliveries expected to be nearly 52,000 acre-feet #COdrought

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project is expected to deliver the most water since 2011 this year as mountain snowpack continues to mount in the Colorado River basin. The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District on Thursday approved allocations to cities and farms totaling nearly 52,000 acre-feet. That would be the most since 2011, when 75,000 acre-feet were allocated, and the fourth highest total since 2001.

The Fry-Ark project brings water across the Continental Divide through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake.

The Southeastern district then divides the water according to principles that have been adopted over the 40 years since water first moved through the tunnel. This year, 28,379 acrefeet will go to cities, while 23,624 will go to farms.

Pueblo did not take its share of water, as is often the case.

“We felt we have adequate water available this year, so our policy is to make it available to other uses in a dry year or a year following a dry year,” said Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “We have more flexibility than others.”

Earlier this year, Pueblo decided it had enough water to lease some of it to other users.

Colorado Springs received the largest allocation among cities, with 9,000 acre-feet. Among agricultural users, the Fort Lyon Canal topped the list with 9,619 acre-feet, based on eligible irrigated acres.

Water costs municipal users $9.75 per acre-foot (325,851 gallons) and agricultural users $9 per acre-foot.

The board also allocated 8,000 acre-feet of return flows.

The Fry-Ark project actually is expected to bring over 64,000 acre-feet, according to Roy Vaughan, project manager for the Bureau of Reclamation. However, other obligations, transit loss and evaporation reduce the amount available to allocate. The projection assumes normal precipitation throughout the remaining weeks of spring and early summer. If the snowpack melts too fast to capture, or if minimum flows on the Arkansas River are not met, less water could be imported. To protect against that, the Southeastern district will hold back 20 percent of allocations until July 18 at the latest.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A pilot program will let farmers on the Fort Lyon Canal use their own return flows from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to supplement wells or surface-fed sprinklers. About 3,200 acre-feet will go toward farms on about 31,000 acres of ground under the Fort Lyon Canal covered by improvements. Nearly 60,000 acres will not be in the return-flow program, either because they are ineligible for Fry-Ark water or unable to use return flows under current policies.

Under Rule 10 of the 2010 consumptive use rules for surface irrigation and Rule 14 of the 1996 well rules, farmers are required to replace depletions. Fry-Ark principles also allow users first right of refusal on return flows — the portion that runs off a field and is not used by crops, water that runs off lawns or treated flows from sewer treatment plants.

Because Fry-Ark water is imported into the Arkansas River basin, it can legally be used to extinction. Cities either manage their own return flows through plans that cover multiple years or use the entire amount for augmentation. Farmers have not had the engineering or physical resources to manage the flows, which return at varying rates to the river over several years. The pilot program, with the help of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and well associations, will introduce new ways to account for water coming off fields and weave the results into existing replacement plans.

“Our staff, the Lower Ark district and the Fort Lyon Canal worked hard to make this happen,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern board.

From The Denver Post (Yesenia Robles):

With a forecast of highs above 70 every day this week, it should be safe to say Colorado’s Front Range is done with snow for the season. Expect a high of 85 degrees in Denver Sunday with temperatures in the upper 70s and lower 80s for the rest of the week — and a possibility for spring thunderstorms almost every day.

Although it ruined some Mother’s Day plans, last week’s batch of snow further pushed snowpack in Colorado river basins above average. Snowpack at the South Platte River basin hadbeen at 121 percent of average, but after last week’s snow that number reached 145 percent. Likewise, the snowpack at the Upper Colorado River basin is now at 136 percent of average. According to the National Weather Service, the recorded snowpack on May 13 is one of the 10 highest recorded for that date in the last 35 years.

Drought conditions have also continued to improve for most of the state, with only the southeast corner of the state still suffering. Currently about 2 percent of the state is classified under the most “exceptional” drought conditions, where almost 16 percent of the state was last year, according to the United State Drought Monitor.

This year’s additional, and wet, snowpack means there will be more runoff which can pose a risk for flooding in the foothills.

“All of the antecedent conditions for another flood are here,” the National Weather Service report states.

But other conditions including soil moisture, dry winds, warm rain and how fast snowpack melts will still play a role in causing or averting floods.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

Recent moisture was a real boon for agricultural producers. It means that farmers will not have to use precious irrigation water to get crops to emerge, and it will help pastures to green up for ranches, said Morgan County extension agent Marlin Eisenach. Local reservoirs are all full, and this means that water can be saved for the hot summer months, he said…

Planting has gone smoothly this spring despite a number of rain storms, he said. By mid-week, 90 percent of the local corn crop was planted and 60 percent already emerged, Eisenach noted. All of the sugar beets have been planted, as have potatoes and onions. About 40 percent of the beets had emerged.

The only question is whether or not crops suffered from cold nights during this past week, since it got down close to freezing, Eisenach said. That is especially important for wheat, because it is past the jointed phase, he said. It may take a little time to see if there was damage, Eisenach said.

Extra moisture was important. Statewide, only 51 percent of fields had adequate or surplus moisture, according to the Colorado Crop Progress Report, and only 44 percent had adequate or surplus subsoil moisture. Many of the fields that are short of moisture are in the southeast corner of the state and the San Luis Valley.

Mountain snowpack was at 93 percent of average at the beginning of the week.

At the end of last week, about 60 percent of pastures were reported in fair to excellent condition.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The snow at the summit of Buffalo Pass was hand-measured by the U.S. Forest Service at 147 inches Tuesday, the same depth it was on March 31, in spite of numerous mild days in April and May that pushed valley temperatures into the 60s. Also, a remote measuring device near the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass reports the snow depth there still is 69 inches. The 34.1 inches of water contained in the snowpack on the West Summit is 166 percent of the median, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and all of that water has yet to flow down the tributary streams into the river.

Could the Yampa River flood parking lots along U.S. Highway 40 this spring when runoff begins in earnest, like it did in 2011? Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said Wednesday that ultimately the answer to that question will depend on weather conditions. But he consulted the Colorado Basin Forecast Center to confirm that the Yampa is expected to peak below flood stage, but possibly not by much.

“There’s a 10 percent chance the Yampa will peak at 5,500 cubic feet per second, which compares to flood stage at 5,900 cfs,” Strautins said. “The peaks are really weather dependent, and it’s hard to predict beyond seven days out.”

Flood stage on the Yampa at Fifth Street also is described as a measurement of 7 feet on the gauge.

Forecast Center hydrologist Ashley Nielson told the Steamboat Today on April 22 that this year’s snowpack doesn’t measure up to 2011…

History suggests the Yampa typically would peak sometime in the next three weeks — during the last two weeks in May or the first week in June. The Yampa where it flows beneath the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat peaked at 2,830 cubic feet per second May 27, 2013. The year before, in 2012, it peaked unusually early at just 1,570 cfs on April 27. The preceding two years, the Yampa happened to peak on June 7. And it was June 7, 2011, that it peaked at 5,200 cfs, causing the evacuation of a parsonage at Steamboat Christian Center, where the river was flowing through the parking lot.

With the river flowing at just 1,010 cfs on Wednesday afternoon, and above average snowpack persisting in the mountains, this may be a runoff season when the peak does not arrive until June.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

This week’s snowstorm was worth several million dollars in water savings to San Luis Valley farmers but probably did not significantly affect snowpack in the mountains, Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manager Steve Vandiver told Rio Grande Roundtable members on Tuesday. Vandiver, who is also the retired division water engineer for the Rio Grande Basin, said in spite of the recent snow, the snowpack basin wide Tuesday morning was still just at 56 percent.

“We are extremely short, particularly in the southern part of the Valley,” he said.

The farther south, the worse it gets, Vandiver added. While Saguache actually might be at 100 percent of average, Alamosa would be 50-60 percent of average and the San Antonio Mountain area at 20 percent.

For farmers, however, this week’s snowstorm was liquid cash. Vandiver said he knew of only one sprinkler running on Tuesday. The sprinkler was running on a field on Highway 285 with four inches of snow on the field.

Vandiver said he did not know if the snow made much of a difference in the mountains but it certainly helped irrigators in the Valley below. He estimated the snow would save irrigators several days’ worth of watering and several million dollars.

Vandiver said the latest stream forecast the first part of May estimated considerably less water coming through the system this year than the previous month’s forecast, which also means less of an obligation to downstream states through the Rio Grande Compact. As a result, curtailments on irrigators went down with the forecast, from 10 percent to 7 percent curtailment on the Rio Grande and down to 1 percent on the Conejos River system.

“They have apparently a little bit of obligation, but something like this storm will very likely take care of that,” Vandiver said.

Vandiver also reported to the roundtable members, a Valley-wide representative water group, that the first groundwater management sub-district had submitted its annual replacement plan to the state, which had approved it, and the sub-district was replacing its depletions to the river.

“The depletions are slightly smaller than they were last year but we still have a daily obligation to replace depletions to the river,” he explained.

Vandiver added one of the major changes this year, which he hoped would carry over to future sub-districts , was the willingness of canals to enter forbearance agreements with the subdistrict . Six of the major canals have entered such agreements this year.

“It allows us to save the water that we do have and pay the money for that impact on a daily basis, instead of releasing water through the reservoir, which stretches our water supplies,” Vandiver said. “We see it as a very positive thing.”

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