Colorado Water Workshop: The People's Water, June 18-20, 2014, Western State Colorado University, Gunnison, Colorado

Check out the events calendar at the AWRA – Colorado Section website for more events.

NOAA: Impacts of El Niño and La Niña on the hurricane season



Click here for all the inside skinny about ENSO.

From NOAA:

Today, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) released the June ENSO Diagnostic Discussion. Chances that an El Niño will occur by summer are above 70%, and reach 80% by the fall. Sea-surface temperature anomalies increased across all the Niño index regions in May; the latest weekly value of the Niño3.4 index is now above +0.5°C. Tropical rainfall across Indonesia and the Pacific remain close to average, but forecasters are confident that the atmosphere will begin to respond to the ocean and El Niño will develop, likely in the next few months.

Recently, there’s been a lot of speculation about how strong this El Niño will be, especially considering the strong westerly wind bursts in late winter, and the large subsurface temperatures in early spring. The subsurface temperatures in March, which was a record for the month going back to 1979, inspired comparisons to the early stages of the 1997/98 El Niño, the largest on record (ONI maximum of 2.4). That event also developed in the spring, like this one. However, right now, forecasters are not favoring a strong event (while not at all ruling it out) and believe a moderate event (ONI 1.0 – 1.5) is slightly more likely, sometime during the fall/winter. So what’s going on?

The latest ENSO diagnostic discussion is hot off the presses #COdrought

Mid-May 2014 Plume of Model ENSO Predictions
Mid-May 2014 Plume of Model ENSO Predictions

Synopsis: The chance of El Niño is 70% during the Northern Hemisphere summer and reaches 80% during the fall and winter.

Above-average sea surface temperatures (SST) expanded over the equatorial Pacific Ocean during May 2014, though the collective atmospheric and oceanic state continued to reflect ENSO-neutral. All of the Niño indices increased during the month, with the latest weekly values between 0.6°C and 1.6°C. In contrast, subsurface temperature anomalies decreased over the last two months, but still reflect a large pool of above-average temperatures at depth. The low-level winds over the tropical Pacific remain near average, except for westerly anomalies over the eastern Pacific. At upper-levels, anomalous easterly winds have predominated over most of the equatorial Pacific. Unlike the previous month, convection was near average across most of the tropics. The lack of a clear atmospheric response to the positive SSTs indicates ENSO-neutral, though the tropical Pacific continues to evolve toward El Niño.

Over the last month, the chance of El Niño and its ultimate strength weakened slightly in the models. Regardless, the forecasters remain just as confident that El Niño is likely to emerge. If El Niño forms, the forecasters and most dynamical models, such as NCEP CFSv2, slightly favor a moderate-strength event during the Northern Hemisphere fall or winter (3-month values of the Niño-3.4 index between 1.0°C and 1.4°C). However, significant uncertainty accompanies this prediction, which remains inclusive of a weaker or stronger event due to the spread of the models and their skill at these lead times. Overall, the chance of El Niño is 70% during the Northern Hemisphere summer and reaches 80% during the fall and winter (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome).

A historic course change on the #ColoradoRiver — David Festa and John Entsminger

Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute
Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (David Festa and John Entsminger):

Today, there is water flowing in the Colorado River Delta — where water has not flowed regularly for half a century — all because water managers, conservation organizations and policymakers in both the United States and Mexico were able to find common ground. When this common ground is intersected by an international border, you know you’ve surmounted an obstacle previously considered insurmountable.

Someone cue music heralding the “new era of Western water management.” That’s what some have dubbed this recent breakthrough. While the description might be sensational, it isn’t hyperbolic. We are in the midst of what appears to be a paradigm shift in the way we manage one of Earth’s most precious yet over-allocated natural resources, at least in this unique corner of the planet that we call home — the Colorado River Basin.

For those who wonder why it took so long to reach this point, it’s important to consider the context. Historically, Western water law focused on prioritization among users, with tenets such as “first in time, first in right” and “use it or lose it.” The philosophy behind this structure was to have an explicit understanding of each entity’s limited water rights. Little consideration was given to other stakeholders or even the river system itself. However, it appears as though we’ve found ways to respect the rights of stakeholders while identifying innovative and creative ways to work together. In other words, we believe we’ve finally cracked the code.

Like most change, this newfound spirit of cooperation was born of necessity rather than magnanimity. There now exists a mutual understanding that all Colorado River water users will suffer if even one sector experiences a catastrophic shortage. Delta communities in Mexico watched the river run dry long ago, but the entire system now faces longer periods of drought and the increasingly acute side effects of climate change. Las Vegans, dependent upon the Colorado for 90 percent of their water supply, are watching Lake Mead’s shoreline recede. It’s unsettling, but from this crisis is arising a new and better way of managing the river.

At a signing ceremony held in late 2012, officials from the United States and Mexico quietly changed the trajectory of the Colorado River, which represents the lifeblood of 40 million people and a region representing the world’s fifth-largest economy. Adopted by the U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission, Minute 319 to the 1944 Treaty with Mexico stands as one of the most significant water policy shifts of this era.

In the ultimate example of a “win-win” scenario, everyone involved in the accord saw benefits.

■ The seven states that share the Colorado River gained increased certainty regarding Mexico’s participation in potential reductions, increased reservoir storage in Lake Mead to help stave off that eventuality, and an unprecedented opportunity to make infrastructure investments in Mexico that will provide needed water to communities in both Mexico and the United States.

■ Delta residents rejoiced along with river lovers from around the world in seeing water once again flow all the way to the Colorado River Delta — if only for the duration of the pulse flow.

■ For its part, Mexico gained the ability to temporarily defer water deliveries while saving that water for the future.

Perhaps even more important than the individual benefits derived, however, was the realization that this type of multilateral cooperation was possible and in fact advantageous. Minute 319 represents a carefully calibrated set of balanced benefits for both countries that charts a course toward greater cooperation and partnership.

As the pulse flow to the Colorado River Delta comes to an end this month, we should all celebrate the success of a unique international experiment. The limited nature of the pulse flow does not diminish the progress we have made. Just as Minute 319 was built upon the successes of previous agreements, the next great leap forward in cooperative Colorado River management will have as its foundation this historic accord.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Collbran mudslide update

Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post
Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Nancy Lofholm):

Trash trucks are once again picking up the garbage on West Salt Creek Road near Collbran — one of the best signs, residents say, that some sense of normalcy is returning to those living under the threat of more movement from a giant mudslide.

“We feel very comfortable now. We feel like there is so much intelligence coming in now and that they are really watching that mountain,” said Celia Eklund, who lives along lower West Salt Creek Road.

The residents there are still on alert from the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office since the mountain above them slid on May 25 and buried three local men who had gone up to check on a smaller slide that occurred earlier that day.

There is a second public meeting Thursday in Collbran to update residents about the latest findings. The meeting is 6 p.m. at the Plateau Valley High School.

Dozens of experts from local, state and federal agencies have studied the slide that is now being called a “debris avalanche” or a “rapid earthflow” by geologists. They have used high-tech aerial imaging, GPS and water flow meters and have installed monitors that can detect even slight movements in the slide.

They now have a more accurate size on the slide, which is smaller than originally estimated.

The latest information from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the slide stretches for 2.5 miles and covers 550 acres. The slide contains 40 million acres of material.

The slide contains a pool of water at the top behind a large block of earth that broke off from the Grand Mesa where the slide originated. Geologists now estimate that pool will hold about 245 acre feet of water before it could reach an outlet and spill over. A gauge has been installed by the USGS Colorado Water Science Center just below the toe of the landslide to measure any flow from the slide.

Heather Benjamin with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office said the Army Corps of Engineers joined the geologists from the USGS and the Colorado Geological Survey this week. The entire group of geologists and emergency management personnel from the Colorado Department of Public Safety have been holding nightly briefings since the slide occurred.

Colorado River District Applauds Governor’s Veto #COleg #ColoradoRiver

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 release from the Colorado River District (Chris Treese):

The Colorado River District applauds Governor Hickenlooper’s decision on June 5 to veto Senate Bill 14-023. As noted in the Governor’s veto message, we are certain it was a close and difficult decision. The River District, along with many other parties, requested a veto.

But the issue is not dead. With the veto, the challenge remains for supporters and opponents alike to reconvene to develop new alternatives that provide genuine incentives for irrigation efficiency while avoiding the unintended and adverse consequences of SB023. The River District is committed to this challenge.

The River District worked with Senator Schwartz and others for two years developing legislation to create irrigation efficiency incentives. We succeeded in addressing an important part of the issue in 2013 with the passage of Senate Bill 13-019, which addressed voluntary, consumptive water use savings. We continued our efforts over the summer last year and throughout the legislative session this winter to address the more complex issue of non-consumptive water savings. In the end, we opposed the final approach taken in SB023 as too costly and likely ineffective. The River District, however, is committed to addressing the challenge of providing meaningful incentives for efficient irrigation. The Governor’s proposal in his veto message to try one or more pilot projects may be one viable approach.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Weld County earthquake: “Just drill new wells and increase recycling” — Ken Carlson

Deep injection well
Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

The answer to Greeley’s first earthquake in at least 40 years may be sitting 10,000 feet below the surface in a deep-water trash can that might be overfilling.

The oil and gas boom has put added stress on the industry’s resources, more specifically in deep wastewater injection wells that cut two miles below the surface. But some say the answer may be as simple as water management.

Wastewater injection wells — which take in produced water from fracking jobs — may now go under increasing scrutiny in Colorado, as scientists have found strong connections between them and a spate of small earthquakes across the country in recent years.

Still, most injection wells are not linked to any earthquakes; it’s only a tiny fraction of injection wells that have specifically been cited as the cause of a minor quake. It’s a puzzle that continues to grow for seismologists looking for answers.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder put out seismographic equipment throughout Weld County last week, hoping to cull the earth’s secrets into a database of answers. If injection wells are found to be the common denominator in further quake activity, they’ll capture it.

But in the absence of answers, some would say solutions are not that difficult.

“There are ways to fix this,” said Ken Carlson, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado State University. “This is sort of a byproduct of too much water being disposed of, but it’s not like we should shut it down. That’s what the activists will say. It just means we need to improve our water management. So if you say this is probably related to disposal wells, it isn’t that hard to change our practices and really fix this. Just drill new wells and increase recycling.”


Injection wells have long been handy tools for oil and gas companies to dispose of wastewater in an environmentally friendly way. The water is pumped two miles beneath the surface into porous rock, through which the water disperses — allowing more water to be pumped in. The process is highly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and state oil and gas regulators. Operators must adhere to disposing of water at tested rates and volumes, so as not to overwhelm the well, and they are subjected to annual inspection and well integrity testing every five years, state officials say.

“In a natural system like that, you can do projections. But until you push it to the limit, you can’t really prove it,” Carlson said, noting that he was clearly guessing. “Maybe it’s never been pushed that high.”

For Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which is working to manage its water resources by using municipal effluents, recycling and piping water into sites rather than trucking, officials say they may be coming close to a “limit” on its injections wells, and have been working toward better management to dispose of less.

“The wells are definitely a cause of concern with induced seismicity,” said Korby Bracken, environmental health and safety manager for Anadarko. “We think they’ll continue to be used but it’s something we’re studying quite a bit. There have been multiple studies in Ohio and Oklahoma and other areas where the injection of produced water from oil and gas had the potential to cause induced seismicity. It’s definitely something we’re taking a look at.”

The puzzling part to seismologists is that some areas rife with injection wells for years have no earthquake activity; still others start quaking the minute the well is drilled. There were two injection wells in proximity to the perceived epicenter of the Greeley quake — one was two years old, and the other was 20.

“There are a lot of variables,” said Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist out of Menlo Park, Calif., who is chief of the Induced Seismicity Project, which studies man-made earthquakes. “Maybe this earthquake relieved everything that was available to be relieved or maybe it didn’t and there will be more. Maybe the operator said I might be causing earthquakes, I need to stop injection or slow injections. Generally, when you slow or stop injections, earthquakes slow down.”

The idea of drilling more injection wells to relieve the pressure on existing wells is favored in the exploration community.

Carlson said the water could get dispersed a bit more evenly, reducing pressure with the oil and gas boom going on in Weld.

“It’s not a bucket,” Carlson explained of the rock in which the water is pumped. “It’s more like a sponge. You put the water in and it gets absorbed, then it diffuses through the formation. But you can’t just put in an unlimited rate and keep raising the pressure. Then something would give, and that something might be a fault. With the growth in fracking and unconventional oil and gas in the DJ, there’s certainly greater demand on some of these water disposal sites.”

Rubinstein said he wasn’t so sure drilling more injection wells is the answer.

“In a different perspective, now you’re covering more areas with injections wells, so maybe you’re increasing the probability of finding an area that has a fault,” Rubinstein said. “There are so many variables out there.”

Rubinstein suggested creating mid-volume wells, alleviating pressure that way. “But I don’t know if it gets you out of the problem,” he said.

Anadarko has a permit pending for an injection well. The company has three in Colorado now, all that are running at capacity.

“That being said, we’re looking at other and alternative ways to recycle the fluids that come from the well bore,” Bracken said. “So we don’t have to rely as much on those saltwater injection wells.”

Water, water everywhere

A typical frack job will use 3 million to 4 million gallons of water, but not all of it comes back once the rock is stimulated 7,000 feet below ground. Typically, about 20 percent of the water comes back to the surface during a frack job.

Companies will take that flowback, treat the water on site to take out harmful bacteria from beneath the ground, and truck or pipe it out for recycling or injection. The rest of the water comes out with the oil and gas over time.

Recent years have shown the technology is available to clean up used fracking water, enough to be reused, much like a municipal wastewater treatment system.

“Some operations are pushing ahead with more recycling,” Carlson said. “The more you recycle, the less you’re disposing of and that’s a good thing.”

Anadarko and Noble are big customers of High Sierra Water Services, which operates two recycling facilities in Weld County. Two of their facilities together can recycle about 20,000 barrels a day (840,000 gallons). Both companies have worked on both ends to recycle water.

Anadarko, for example, takes effluent from the city of Aurora’s wastewater treatment plant for most of its fracking operations, then reuses the water over and over.

“If you put down 10 units of something and only get two back, you have to make up eight units for the next well,” Bracken explained. “We’ll recycle what comes back, add make-up water, put it downhole, recycle what comes back and, eventually, you’re recycling the same molecule of water over and over again.”

Both companies are piping recycled water to and from recycling facilities.

But not all water can be recycled. Sometimes it’s too salty. That’s where injection is most necessary.

“Some of the water is very saline,” Rubinstein said. “Some of the water they’re producing in Oklahoma is … 15 percent salt. Salt is highly corrosive. They really can’t reuse it.”

Though reusing the water is the ideal, there’s simply not enough storage out there to hold the water.

“I guess I’d say there is the ability to now recycle probably 15 to 20 percent of the 100,000 barrels a day coming out of the DJ,” said Josh Patterson, operations director for High Sierra. A third recycling center is in the planning stages.

“Logistically speaking, there wouldn’t be a reservoir large enough to store every barrel (of wastewater) for it to be re-used,” Patterson said.

Costs of recycling are high, but so are trucking costs. If companies can eliminate trucking in new water, and recycle existing water, that takes trucks off the road and reduces those expenses.

Patterson said the demand for water recycling continues to grow, however, with both of High Sierra’s facilities contracted out for the next five years.

From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The Greeley Tribune reported Friday that [geophysicist] Anne Sheehan and a team of graduate students have been deploying seismographs to study the magnitude 3.4 quake. The U.S. Geological Survey determined the epicenter of the quake was believed to be 5 miles beneath the surface about 4 miles northeast of Greeley.

The suspected epicenter is near two injection wells. The May 31 earthquake caused no damage.

“If we find out something useful about whether injection causes earthquakes, it might be something that the industry can use to do a better job of injecting, if that turns out to be a problem,” Sheehan said.

Weld County has 28 injection wells for oil and gas waste, or “Class II” disposal wells.

State drilling regulators said earlier this week they were skeptical that the wells caused the earthquake.

The epicenter is difficult to determine, said Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist in Menlo Park, California, who has studied the increasing phenomenon of man-induced earthquakes for the past three years.

More oil and gas coverage here.

Video: Ridgway Dam hydro project commissioned — Telluride Daily Planet

Ridgway Dam
Ridgway Dam

From the Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):

On Friday, the Tri-County Water Conservancy District officially commissioned a new hydropower project at the Ridgway Dam.

The celebratory event included refreshments, tours of the powerhouse and a history of the project. The 8-megawatt, two-turbine, two-generator plant will produce about 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in an average water year, enough to power 2,500 homes a year with all their electricity needs. Construction on the Uncompahgre River project began in November 2012.

The City of Aspen and Tri-State Generation and Transmission are purchasing the power and Aspen is also buying the Renewable Energy Credits created by the project during the winter months. The Town of Telluride won a bid to purchase the RECs for June through September for $48,000. RECs are market-based instruments that convey the environmental value of renewable energy between buyers and sellers. Each REC provides proof that 1 megawatt-hour of renewable energy has been generated.

Buying the RECs was a step toward achieving the Telluride Renewed Challenge, an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and for 100 percent of the community’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser says though those aims might now prove too lofty, the town still likes to lead by example…

According to a press release from the Colorado Small Hydro Association, the emissions reduction benefit from the new plant is equivalent to removing approximately 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or about 4,400 cars from the road each year. Colorado Small Hydro Association President Kurt Johnson, of Ophir, said the Ridgway Dam hydro project is a great example of new hydro power on an existing dam.

“Only about 3 percent of the nation’s dams currently include hydropower,” Johnson said in a press release. “There is an enormous untapped opportunity to generate new clean energy using existing infrastructure.”

General Manager of the Tri-County Water Conservancy District Mike Berry said he is excited the project is complete and that it provided many local jobs during its construction.

“I’m glad we are coming to the end of it and the generator will be spinning for the rest of my life I hope,” Berry said.

More hydroelectric coverage here.

Conservation: Telluride may impose permanent restrictions

Photo via
Photo via

From The Watch (Seth Cagin):

With greatly expanded supplies of treated municipal water coming online at the end of this year when the Pandora Water Treatment Plant is scheduled to open, the Town of Telluride is considering the implementation of new water conservation measures.

While it may seem counterintuitive that a greater supply of water dictates the wisdom of more conservation, Town Manager Greg Clifton told the Telluride Town Council on Tuesday that “it is a matter of good stewardship of a natural resource,” especially incumbent, he suggested, on a “headwaters community.”

The biggest proposed new regulation, if council approves it, would not be not dramatic: restricting spray irrigation in town to nighttime hours, thus minimizing water losses to evaporation.

Greater awareness of the value of permanent water conservation measures has come about during the last two years, when there were water shortages and emergency conservation measures were imposed, Clifton said. In addition, he told council, it is a stipulation of a comprehensive settlement agreement with the Idarado Mining Co. that is close to completion that the town implement water conservation measures.

Water efficiency in Telluride also leaves more water in the San Miguel River, Karen Guglielmone, project manager for the town’s public works department told council, to the benefit not only of downstream water users, but also the local environment.

On a related note, reductions in water use also provide the benefit of putting less pressure on the town’s wastewater treatment plant. The town currently experiences more water consumption than the wastewater treatment plant can accommodate in the morning hours in the summer during large festivals. The town will attempt to encourage residents and visitors at those times to try to spread their water use out over the course of the day.

More conservation coverage here.

Animas River Days Saturday recap

Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango
Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

From The Durango Herald (Brandon Mathis):

“That’s our goal, to make it bigger,” festival coordinator Kasey Ford said Saturday.

She said between 1,500 and 2,000 spectators came to Whitewater Park at Santa Rita Park to check out everything from dual-slalom kayak races and boatercross races to stand-up paddle boards and river boards. A beer garden and food are being offered all weekend, along with live music from a stage on the water’s edge.

Ford said the plan next year is to have an official grand opening for the whitewater park after the waterfront landscaping is complete.

She hopes the new park with help expand the festival.

“We want to get more people involved and keep growing,” she said. “It used to be huge, and then it tapered off. We’re trying to get it back.”

Ford said there’s an overhead between $10,000 and $15,000. Organizers network and gain support from donations and sponsors.

“We scrape it all together,” she said. “We want more people to get interested in the river and conservation of the river.”[…]

Longtime festival organizer and competitor John Brennan called the rapids among the best in the West.

“It’s like jumping on a freight train going by at 50 mph,” he said. “Right now, the top wave at Smelter is probably one of he best waves in the western U.S.”

He said the same about River Days, which is in its 32nd year. Brennan has been there since Day 1. He called it the best water festival in Colorado.

“I’ve been to all of them, and this blows them all away,” he said.

While you would expect to see rafts bending over walls of water and kayakers darting through foam, Anna Fischer of Surf the San Juans baffled the crowd as she navigated the entire whitewater park on a stand-up paddle board.

“Rafts are having a hard time staying upright,” Fischer said, “so it’s definitely challenging on a board.”

Mike Wegoyn of Bayfield was getting some odd looks as he walked the river banks in flippers, gloves and a full-body wet suit, hood helmet and all. He doesn’t raft or kayak. He river boards. He surfs the waves head first, lying on a board two-thirds as tall as he is.

“This is the only river sport I do,” he said before entering the water. “When it was over (5,000 cubic feet per second) it was pretty rough, now it just feels like the ocean.”

More whitewater coverage here.