The latest newsletter from the Water Center at CMU is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

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


A good snowpack will allow coordinated reservoir operations and releases to benefit endangered fish in critical habitat in the Grand Valley and Lower Gunnison, as well as on the Green River. To see a presentation on snowpack and reservoir operations presented by Erik Knight of the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) at the Mesa County State of the Rivers meeting May 15

More education coverage here.

Grand Mesa mudslide video via US Rep. Scott Tipton

From Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today signed an Executive Order that declares a state of disaster emergency due to the West Salt Creek Landslide in Mesa County. The order allocates $500,000 from the state’s Disaster Emergency Fund to pay for the response and technical assessments.

“The landslide area continues to be unstable, making recovery operations too dangerous to attempt,” the governor’s order says. “The situation continues to evolve and presents significant risks to the community because responders, citizens, private homes, agricultural facilities, county roads and oil/gas infrastructure in the immediate vicinity are still vulnerable to further landslides and potential flooding.”

The Executive Order also memorializes the governor’s verbal order from earlier this week to activate the Colorado National Guard to provide aviation support including flying federal, state, local and private sector personnel providing technical assistance and incident response.

The order says technical assessments are in progress by the U.S. Geological Service, the Colorado Geological Survey and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will provide technical assistance with the flood risk, and CH2M Hill will also provide technical assistance on a voluntary basis.

The U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Patrol and the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management are assisting Mesa County and are participating in the Unified Command Post for the incident.

“…drought and climate change have been especially hard on the Navajo Nation” — Bobby Magill #ColoradoRiver

Monument Valley via Wikipedia
Monument Valley via Wikipedia

From Climate Central (Bobby Magill):

…drought and climate change have been especially hard on the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American tribe in the U.S. with more than 170,000 people living on the reservation in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The Four Corners region, where those states and Colorado meet at the edge of Navajoland, is truly the front line of climate change.

The region, like the rest of the Southwest, is expected to see more intense heat waves as the climate warms. Streams are drying up because of the drought, new sand dunes are forming on the reservation and old ones are getting larger. And that means residents here — especially those without the water and electricity taken for granted elsewhere — are more exposed to intense heat and are likely to be the first to suffer in a changing climate.

In Navajoland, water is sparse and distances are vast. The Navajo Reservation stretches roughly 300 miles from Tohajiilee, N.M., west of Albuquerque, to the west side in Tuba City, Ariz., north of Flagstaff. The Navajo Nation spans three states, covers more than 27,400 square miles and is larger than the land area of Belgium and the Netherlands combined. As with any region so large, the weather varies almost as much as the landscape does.

The lengthwise trip crosses through the redrock sandstone canyon country so iconic of the Southwest, and passes into ponderosa pine-covered high plateaus, desert scrubland clad with low piñon and juniper trees and the blustery grassy plains of the western part of the reservation not far from the famous Petrified Forest National Park.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Runoff/snowpack news

Here’s a report about the early runoff flows from Nick Coltrain writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through for the streamflow charts. Here’s an excerpt:

State climatologist Nolan Doesken noted that the Poudre, like the Big Thompson, is a highly managed river, with lots of intakes, reservoirs and other diversions.

Zach Allen, a spokesperson for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said peak runoff usually hits in late May or early June. The average peak runoff is 2,928 cfs for the Poudre, a number topped every day between May 20 and 27 this year.

Simpson called May so far an “anomaly” for river flows. Coming out of a few drought years, the river’s flow peaked at 12 times its five-year low for that same time period.

“It’s just a wild river this May,” Simpson said. “Nobody would have guessed to see this kind of water this early.”

Doesken said Mother Nature can still decide what it wants to do with the river. Snowpack remains high, but it was higher in 2011.

“There was a lot of concern that we would have high peak flows and substantial flooding,” Doesken said. “What we had instead was this beautifully well-behaved and consistent snow melt.”

From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):

On Tuesday, May 27, the latest SNOTEL data showed there was still 15 inches of water left in the snowpack that remained in the South Platte basin…

On Thursday, May 29, SNOWTEL data showed about 13 inches of water still remains…

The good news is that we saw two inches melt in just two days!

The bad news is that caused a tremendous change in areas rivers, creeks and streams, and there is still a lot of water to melt and come down.

From Steamboat Today:

About 100 households in the Tree Haus neighborhood just outside the southern boundary of Steamboat Springs have been advised by state health officials to boil their drinking water as the snowmelt coursing down the Yampa River has mingled with the domestic water provided by the Tree Haus Metro District.

Routt County Director of Health and Environment Mike Zopf confirmed Friday morning that the Colorado Department of Health and Environment issued the warning because the turbidity of the water exceeded allowable levels.

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Crystal dam spilling May 2009
Crystal dam spilling May 2009

Releases from the Aspinall Unit have been increasing over the last week. Crystal Reservoir began spilling yesterday and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are approaching 5,000 cfs today.

Releases are scheduled to increase again tomorrow by 1,100 cfs. The increase on Sunday has been postponed due to expected high water in the Colorado River through Grand Junction. Our office will reconvene on Monday morning to check on current and projected flows on the Gunnison and Colorado rivers.

If the latest release schedule continues at that time, the highest releases/flows are expected to begin on Wednesday, June 4th. At this time flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon could be in excess of 10,000 cfs. However, releases from the Aspinall Unit may be reduced or may not reach these levels depending on the potential for flooding in the Delta or Grand Junction areas.

“What dilutes it [selenium concentrations] is high flows, and we just haven’t had them for a while” — Randy Hayzlett

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state is looking at research in fields near Rocky Ford to determine if irrigation practices could improve Arkansas River water quality.

On Thursday, officials from Colorado and Kansas health agencies and researchers looked at how intercepting water from fields through irrigation drains could prevent deeper leaching of water and nitrates into the soil. That leaching action, when it reaches bedrock layers of shale, triggers suspended selenium releases that are harmful to wildlife, explained Tim Gates, a Colorado State University- Fort Collins researcher who has spent 15 years investigating Arkansas Valley irrigation systems.

“Excess irrigation percolates through to the shales and soils around them and the nitrates in the soil from excessive fertilization causes the selenium to dissolve out,” Gates said.

To a large degree, the increase of sprinkler systems and drip irrigation has reduced the amount of water applied to fields, meaning less water to percolate deeply in the soil.

But in fields still flood irrigated, drains could provide a means to reduce selenium buildup.

Many of the farms in the Lower Arkansas Valley have tile drains installed in the first part of the 1900s under federal programs as a way to reduce waterlogging.

A two-year study funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is looking at how effectively those drains can prevent selenium concentration.

“What it’s looking at is whether there’s a better way to intercept and control it,” said Jim Valliant, a retired CSU Extension researcher who is working on the project. Valliant also represents Crowley County on the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board.

Part of the problem rests with state water law, he added.

“Farmers are told to use it or lose it, so it encourages over-irrigation,” Valliant said. “But I think younger farmers are more willing to adapt. I think we can work together to improve the quality of the water returning to the Arkansas River.”

Cutting down on fertilizer application, which releases nitrates, could also save farmers money, Valliant said.

The levels of selenium in the Arkansas River are exacerbated by higher base flows on Fountain Creek, along with storms on Fountain Creek and Wild Horse Creek in the Pueblo area. But return flows from irrigation also react with shale that lies on the surface and up to 40 feet below throughout the valley.

It also creates a problem for downstream users, because the selenium accumulates as water moves along the river.

“Lakin, Kan., is a small community of about 1,800, and we had to build a $6 million water treatment plant,” said Randy Hayzlett, who represents Kansas on the Arkansas River Compact Administration. “I think the problem is getting worse. What dilutes it is high flows, and we just haven’t had them for a while.”

More water pollution coverage coverage here.