Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

NIDIS: New Drought Early Warning System for Missouri River Basin #COdrought

NOAA: State of the climate — May 2014


Click here to go to the National Climatic Data Center for all the news. Here’s an excerpt:

Major climate events NOAA is closely monitoring:

  • Persisting and intensifying drought in parts of the West and the Central and Southern Plains: Long- and short-term dryness will continue to increase wildfire risk and impact water resources and agriculture. More information is available from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
  • Probability of El Niño increases later this year: According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, there is a 70 percent chance of El Niño conditions developing this summer, increasing to an 80 percent chance by autumn and winter. El Niño conditions could have significant impacts on temperature and precipitation patterns across the United States. More information is available from the Climate Prediction Center.
  • The North Atlantic hurricane season began on June 1: According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the 2014 North Atlantic hurricane season is forecasted to be near-normal or below-normal in terms of the number of tropical storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes. The last North Atlantic hurricane season with a below-average number of named storms was in 2009. More information is available from the Climate Prediction Center and NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.
  • Climate Highlights — May

  • The May contiguous U.S. average temperature was 61.2°F, 1.0°F above the 20th century average, tying as the 32nd warmest May on record.
  • A large portion of the central U.S. had temperatures near the 20th century average, while above-average temperatures were observed along the West Coast and the East Coast. California tied its ninth warmest May on record, with a statewide temperature 3.9°F above average. This marked the seventh consecutive month with above-average temperatures for California. No other state had May temperatures that ranked among the 10 warmest or coldest on record.
  • The May national precipitation total of 2.76 inches was 0.15 inch below the 20th century average, ranking near the middle of all Mays in the 120-year period of record.
  • Below-average and above-average precipitation totals were scattered across the country. Above-average precipitation was observed across the Northeast and in Texas, where it provided minor and short-term drought relief. Below-average precipitation was observed in the Southwest, Northern Rockies, Central Plains, and parts of the Midwest. Kansas had its sixth driest May on record, with 2.02 inches of precipitation, 1.83 inches below average.
  • According to the June 3 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 37.3 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down about 1.1 percent compared to the end of April. Both improvement and degradation of drought conditions occurred on the regional scale. Beneficial rain improved drought conditions across parts of Texas, Nebraska, and Iowa. In Texas, despite the short-term precipitation relief, extreme and exceptional drought coverage in the state is five times greater than at the start of the calendar year. Drought conditions worsened in parts of Kansas and Oklahoma. The long- and short-term dry conditions across the Southern Plains and the West helped fuel several large wildfires that threatened homes during May.
  • May precipitation totals were mixed across Hawaii. Locations on the Big Island were drier than average, which caused an expansion of abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Locations on Oahu, Kona, and Maui had their wettest May on record, while the Honolulu airport had its wettest May since 1978.
  • During May, there were slightly more record warm daily highs and lows (3275) as record cold daily highs and lows (2937).
  • Based on NOAA’s Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index (REDTI), the contiguous U.S. temperature-related energy demand during May was 74 percent below average and the 11th lowest in the 1895-2014 period of record. The above-average temperatures across the densely populated Northeast region contributed to the below average REDTI during May.
  • Climate Highlights — spring (March – May)

  • The average temperature for the contiguous U.S. during spring was 51.1°F, 0.2°F above the 20th century average, ranking near the middle among all springs in the 120-year period of record.
  • Above-average spring temperatures were observed from the Rockies, westward. The California statewide average temperature tied with 2013 as the fifth warmest spring on record with a seasonal temperature 4.1°F above the 20th century average. Each season since the winter of 2012/13 has been warmer than average in California.
  • Below-average temperatures were interspersed with near-average temperatures across the eastern two-thirds of the Lower 48. No state had spring temperatures that ranked among the 10 coldest, although Louisiana and Wisconsin both had their 11th coldest spring on record, with temperatures 2.1°F and 3.2°F below average, respectively.
  • The spring national precipitation total was 8.01 inches, which was slightly above the 20th century average.
  • Below-average precipitation was observed from the Southern Rockies into parts of the Midwest, with the driest conditions across the Central and Southern Plains. Kansas had its third driest spring on record and driest since 1966, with 4.08 inches of precipitation, barely half the average. Oklahoma had its ninth driest spring and driest since 2005, with 6.42 inches of precipitation, 4.31 inches below average.
  • Above-average precipitation fell across the Pacific Northwest, the Upper Midwest, and along much of the East Coast and Gulf Coast. Washington state had its fourth wettest spring with 13.88 inches of precipitation, 4.65 inches above the 20th century average.
  • Alaska had its eighth warmest spring on record, with a seasonal temperature 3.1°F above the 1971-2000 average. The spring heat in Alaska peaked in May, which was the state’s sixth warmest in the 1918-2014 record. Many locations across the state, including Anchorage, King Salmon, and Kodiak, had their warmest May on record. Alaska also had its 25th driest spring on record, with a precipitation total 14.7 percent below the 1971-2000 average. The combination of a warm and dry spring contributed to the state having its smallest May snow cover extent in the 48-year period of record.
  • The U.S. Climate Extremes Index (USCEI) for spring was near average. On the national-scale, the spatial extent of one-day precipitation extremes ranked as the third highest spring value on record at 60 percent above average. On the regional scale, the elements that track the spatial extent of cold daily highs and lows were elevated across the central U.S., one-day precipitation extremes were record and near-record high in the East, while the spatial extent of drought was record high in the West. The USCEI is an index that tracks extremes (falling in the upper or lower 10 percent of the record) in temperature, precipitation and drought across the contiguous U.S.
  • Based on REDTI, the contiguous U.S. temperature-related energy demand during spring was 6 percent above average and the 56th highest in the 1895-2014 period of record.
  • Happy 8th Birthday EPA WaterSense Program

    #COdrought news

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


    The previous 7 days featured an active weather pattern from the Central Great Plains to the Northeast. During the middle of last week, a low-pressure system moved from the Midwest to New England. After that, a slow moving low-pressure system moved across the southern Great Plains to the Tennessee Valley, spreading copious amounts of rain across much of the Great Plains, Midwest, and Southeast. Dry conditions persisted across the western portion of the contiguous 48 states. Strong trades persisted across Hawaii and Puerto Rico, bringing rains to northern and eastern facing slopes. A tranquil pattern persisted across most of Alaska, except the Alaska Panhandle…

    Southern Great Plains, Central and Southern High Plains

    Rainfall (2-3+ inches) fell across much of east Texas, prompting the removal of dry conditions from some portions of east Texas. Rainfall near the Texas coast was more limited in scope, so minor reductions in D0 (Abnormally Dry) and D1 (Moderate Drought) conditions were pursued near Wharton County. Beneficial rains (0.9 – 2.7 inches) fell across much the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. The rains prompted the contraction of D4 (exceptional drought) across northern Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, while D3 (extreme drought) was trimmed from the Oklahoma panhandle and southeastern Colorado. Subsoil conditions across Oklahoma and Texas are still quite dry with 71 and 59 percent of the reports indicating Very Short or Short of Moisture conditions, respectively.

    As with the Texas Panhandle, some beneficial rains (0.8 – 2.5 inches) fell across eastern New Mexico. D3 (extreme drought) was subsequently trimmed back from in and around Quay and Harding Counties.

    Huerfano County in Colorado has been dry as of late, and as part of a reassessment, D0 was reinstated. According to the Colorado Climate Center, recent rains have been beneficial for eastern Colorado, although reports are indicating that more rains are necessary to stem the tide of negative impacts due to the dry conditions. The heavier rains (0.7 – 3.0 inches) farther north in Colorado and Kansas, resulted in a nearly 1-category improvement in Colorado and near Hamilton County in Kansas…

    The Midwest and Central Great Plains

    Widespread rains from Minnesota to Kansas prompted the removal or reduction of drought across much of the Midwest and Central Great Plains. D1 was removed from most of Pipestone and Nobles Counties in Minnesota as rains up to 3.2 inches fell.

    Across Iowa, some rains fell throughout the week, which helped alleviate drought conditions for much of the state. The remaining drought conditions are tied to longer term soil moisture deficits, linked to a dry second half of 2013. Page, Washington, and Calhoun Counties reported 12-month precipitation totals at about the 7th, 10th, and 5th percentile, respectively.

    The moderate to heavy rains (0.6 – 5.1 inches) that fell across much of Nebraska resulted in drought reduction. Deeper profiles into the soil are still showing dryness, so the reduction was tempered by the long-term conditions, although the Extreme Drought (D3) was removed from central Nebraska as those areas received enough rains to recharge soil moisture down to 2-3 feet, according to calculations by the Nebraska State Climatologist.

    Abnormally dry conditions were removed from Illinois and Missouri as well. Rains there were more widespread but slightly less intense (1.5 – 4.9 inches), resulting in recharges of soil moisture and increased runoff. The discharge of the La Moine River went from 30cfs to 3,000 cfs in a couple of days and is now above median since June 4 at Collmar, IL. The surrounding subsoils are still dry. According to NASS, the rains greatly improved the topsoil but did not make much difference to subsoil moisture in western Illinois. The percentages of subsoil in very short (23%) to short (46%) is a slight improvement from the week before, with field tiles not running yet, according to reports out of the Illinois State Climatologist’s office. In Missouri, COOP stations and the University of Missouri Agricultural sit at Novelty reported rainfall amounts of nearly 5 inches, with widespread 2-4 inches for the week across Central Missouri, prompting the removal of D0.

    A 1-category improvement was implemented for most of eastern Kansas due to the widespread rains, with the rains missing much of western Kansas. Long-term subsoil moisture deficits continue to plague that state as well, so D3 (Extreme drought conditions were retained across western and southern Kansas with NASS reporting an 18 percentage point drop in topsoil reported as Short or Very Short of moisture, but 66 percent of subsoil reports indicating Short or Very Short conditions…

    The southern Rockies, Intermountain West, and West Coast

    According to the Colorado Climate Center and the NIDIS Upper Colorado River Regional Drought Early Warning System have been warm and dry for the past week over south and central Utah. This time of year is typically a dry period for the region, and May was a both cool and wet month. No changes were made to the Upper Colorado River Basin area or the rest of Utah.

    Persistent dry conditions prompted the expansion of drought conditions across Idaho. Thirty-day SPI as of June 10 is showing dryness expanding, so D0 was expanded to where SPI3 and 30-day SPI show dry conditions, but tempered where SPI3 and 90-day percent of normal precipitation show wet conditions that were present in the winter and spring.

    Drought conditions were expanded in Arizona as SPI3 and SPI6 values showed conditions drier than what was previously depicted. Fuel moisture values are low and fire danger is high for much of Arizona, outside of the major metropolitan areas, and that is where drought depiction was increased. Water Year-to-Date (less than 50% of average) and 1-year precipitation totals support the expansion as well…

    Looking Ahead

    Heavy rains are likely across the Great Plains from Oklahoma to Minnesota (5.1 inches is the maximum forecast value over Iowa). Widespread rains are also forecast over the Southeast and Florida. Little to no precipitation is forecast from Arizona and Utah to the West Coast.

    The ensuing 5 days (June 17 -21, 2014) features enhanced chances for above-normal rainfall from the Mississippi Valley to the East Coast, except Florida. The odds also favor surplus rainfall over northwestern Alaska. Odds for below-median rains are increased across much of the west, west of the Continental Divide and across portions of southern Texas.

    2014 Colorado legislation: Gov. Hickenlooper’s veto of SB14-023 rankles conservationists #COleg #ColoradoRiver

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

    From the Colorado Independent (Tessa Cheek):

    Governor John Hickenlooper is drawing backlash for vetoing a bill that conservationists say would have prompted farmers to update their irrigation systems and kept more water in Colorado’s Western Slope streams without asking anyone to forfeit water rights. Hickenlooper said that the final version of the bill, SB 23, lacked sufficient support from agricultural and water groups. Conservationists say Hickenlooper’s veto amounts to a “failure to lead.”

    “This legislation was the result of thousands of hours of coalition work over several years,” said Sara Lu of the Clean Water Fund. “The governor had expressed support for the bill, at least through his staff, and then seemingly out of nowhere he turned around and vetoed it.”

    This week, the Clean Water Fund has launched a “failure to lead,” campaign against Hickenlooper. The campaign includes massive ad buys at the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Aurora Daily Sentinel and will see banners proclaiming the governor’s “failure to lead” flown over a Rockies game at Coors field and the Western Governors Association Conference at the Broadmoor hotel. The group is also launching an online, social media-driven campaign, from the site http://failuretolead.org/ […]

    The Colorado Farm Bureau applauded Hickenlooper’s decision to veto the bill in favor of launching a pilot program and continuing negotiations next year. They said the bill was just too big a shift in a century of Colorado water law for farmers to feel secure in their rights.

    Sponsors of the bill emphasized that a farmer’s participation in the program would have been entirely optional. The measure was simply intended to allow farmers water-right wiggle room to better line drainage ditches, or install more efficient sprinklers, without experiencing a legal ratchet effect on their water rights, where if you use less water one season, you must use less forever.

    “This was a major initiative to promote wise water use and it was a win-win for Western Slope agricultural users and the environment,” sponsor KC Becker of Boulder said in a release expressing her disappointment and confusion after the veto.
    Pretty much everyone agrees the “use-it-or-lose-it” aspect of Colorado water law is a rigid and outdated principle that needs adjusting, but they don’t all agree SB 23 was the solution.

    “It’s a great idea, no doubt about it,” said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, which opposed the bill. “Our board’s concern was that not all the unintended consequences were figured out. Basically, water court would still be involved and that’s expensive.”
    Pokrandt worried what would happen if someone downstream wanted to use the extra water, or what kind of issues a farmer wanting to return to higher usage after a few seasons might face.

    Hickenlooper shared this concern, saying in his veto letter, “important questions remain about how best to expand the state’s in-stream flow program without creating injury or cost to downstream users, principally in agriculture.”

    Hickenlooper asked the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to team up with lawmakers to make a pilot program in anticipation of tackling the issue next session.

    From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

    The decision about what to do with Senate Bill 23 wasn’t easy, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wrote. “It was a close call.”

    But, ultimately, those sentiments were delivered in a veto letter, and the bill that provided incentives for Western Slope water efficiency measures will have to be reworked and revisited in another legislative session.

    The veto sparked immediate blowback from conservation organizations that criticized Hickenlooper’s actions as incompatible with his rhetoric on water issues in the state…

    While it’s true the bill enjoyed the backing of multiple water organizations and the governor’s own administration testified in its support, Hickenlooper’s veto letter pointed out that the message was not unanimous.

    “Our membership was somewhat split on this,” said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress, after the veto.

    While the Colorado Water Congress worked with legislators for months and eventually supported the bill, the Colorado River Water District, which represents Western Slope counties, saw its opposition specifically cited in Hickenlooper’s veto letter.

    Agricultural interests were similarly divided. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association supported the bill while the Colorado Farm Bureau opposed it.

    Senate Bill 23 was intended to provide a process for water rights holders in certain divisions to implement agricultural efficiency measures without putting their rights at risk of abandonment. The efficiency savings would have been transferred to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for an instream use, while giving the original rights holders the option to get that water back in the future.

    The Colorado River Water District praised the veto in a news release and stated that the approach taken by Senate Bill 23 was “too costly and likely ineffective.”

    In his letter, Hickenlooper directed the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Water Conservation Board to work with legislators on a pilot concept ahead of the next session.

    Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, said it’s too early in the process to talk about what a pilot program might look like, but an approach will be developed in the coming months…

    Colorado River Water District spokesman Chris Treese said the conversation about agricultural efficiency and instream flows will continue and that the organization plans to be involved in the pilot program discussion.

    “Since we took a stand, we certainly want to be on forefront,” said Jim Pokrandt, of the Colorado River Water District.

    Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, the House sponsor of Senate Bill 23, said any pilot program would require its own legislation in the next session.

    “Of course, many ranchers, water districts, county governments, and others supported the bill as is,” Becker wrote in an email. “But if it takes a pilot to get it done, then that’s fine with me.”

    The Colorado Water Congress will discuss the legislation in the upcoming weeks, Kemper said, and another year allows more time to get stakeholders on the same page.

    “I don’t think it was an urgency, especially with weather this year,” he said, referencing the above-average snowpack in many basins…

    “The only way anything good happens is through near unanimous consensus,” Pokrandt said.

    From The Denver Post (Lynn Bartels):

    An environmental group has launched an aerial attack on Gov. John Hickenlooper for his veto of a water-efficiency bill by flying a “Failure to Lead” banner at public events, including a gathering of Western governors.

    The director of Clean Water Fund — a group concerned with America’s water, global warming and a new-energy economy — says it’s coincidental that the “Failure to Lead” mantra echoes attacks leveled at the Democrat governor by the Republican candidates trying to unseat him in November.

    Sara Lu, state director of the nonprofit group, said the issue has nothing to do with being a Republican or a Democrat.

    “In his 2014 State of the State address, Gov. Hickenlooper said that any ‘conversation about water needed to start with conservation,’ ” she said. “Senate Bill 23 was his opportunity to show real leadership on water. His willingness to support the undoing of years of work by a significant coalition of Coloradans in order to maintain the status quo is a huge failure to lead on water, and we’re going to hold him accountable.”

    “Failure to sign is not the same as failure to lead,” governor’s spokesman Eric Brown countered. “R ead the veto message. The governor is taking this on as an administration priority so we can lead the collaborative process that fell apart.”

    A “#FailureToLead SB23” banner was flown Saturday over the Rockies-Dodgers game at Coors Field and over the Capitol Hill People’s Fair at Civic Center, and Monday over The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, where the Western Governors’ Association is meeting. It’s unclear whether the public understood that the banner referred to Hickenlooper or Senate Bill 23.

    The measure provided incentives to Western Slope owners of water rights to make water-conservation improvements — such as using more-efficient sprinklers — and to leave the water-efficiency savings in the stream.

    It was crafted over several years with the input and support of a diverse group of Colorado water stakeholders, including rural Coloradans, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Denver Water, the Colorado Water Congress and conservation groups. The administration testified in favor of the bill.

    “Despite these efforts, there was a breakdown in consensus toward the end of the legislative session that divided the water community and, in our view, would make implementation of the policy more difficult,” Hickenlooper wrote in his veto message.

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    Baca Ranch a boon for SLV water — The Pueblo Chieftain


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    Water once made the Baca Ranch the center of a firestorm that united the entire San Luis Valley. Now that resource plays a central role in offering a home to wildlife as part of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.

    When Congress created the refuge along with Great Sand Dunes National Park in 2000, it did so with the intention of preventing the water export schemes that were hatched by the ranch’s previous owners. That legislation also ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage water on the property roughly the same way it had been for over a century.

    Historically, the property was watered by the six streams that Cristo Mountains and by artesian wells that tap the confined aquifer. While the artesian wells no longer contribute much to the refuge, wet years still can see as much as 12,000 acres of wet meadows. Refuge Manager Ron Garcia said those mead­ows have been a boon to wildlife.

    “That’s kind of our prime habitat for nesting birds,” he said.

    Managing the ranch’s irrigation system, which at one point included over 100 miles of canals, was no easy task. Garcia and his staff got a big hand from Eddie Clayton, who’d worked for over three decades on the property as a ranch hand before dying at the beginning of last year.

    Researchers continue to track how birds use the meadows, recording the cover type where nests are found, their proximity to water and whether the area is used for forage.

    While Garcia and his staff have had to learn the ins and outs of irrigation on the ranch, they’ve also had to find a way to deal with large numbers of elk. A herd of between 4,000 and 6,000 elk roam the eastern side of the San Luis Valley. Garcia said surveys have found as many as 3,000 animals on the refuge during winter months. The elk concentrate along the streams running through the refuge, making a meal of willows and cottonwood shoots. Their browsing was such a problem that the refuge invited a researcher from Yellowstone National Park.

    “He looked at all the riparian areas and told us at the rate of browse that’s happening out there, your riparian areas will be gone in a few years,” Garcia said. Since then, one strategy that’s worked is fencing out elk from streams.

    “So far, they’ve been very effective,” Garcia said.

    Those riparian areas are important, partly because they provide habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, which makes its summer home in the valley.

    To date, the refuge remains closed to the public at large, although every summer staff offers a series of tours to the public.

    The wildlife service is working on a draft management plan that’s expected to be up for public comment within the next two months.

    Once finalized, that plan will determine the amount of public access and management strategies for the Baca, along with refuges near Alamosa and Monte Vista.

    More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

    Many eyes are on the EPA’s clarification of the “Waters of the US” under the Clean Water Act

    Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service
    Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado’s senators are crying “whoa!” and its major water providers “no” on a proposed rule by federal agencies to manage all watersheds under the Clean Water Act. In March, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed rules that attempt to resolve conflicting rulings on the Clean Water Act by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 370-page rules connect every part of a watershed, from mostly dry arroyos and wetlands to large streams and rivers, to be included under the definition of “waters of the United States.” It establishes a “nexus” of waters, rather than simply a connection to navigable waterways.

    Last week, Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Colorado Democrats, sent a letter to EPA Chief Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy urging them to extend the public comment period for the rule.

    “We have heard from many Coloradans who are concerned about unintentional consequences arising from the proposed rule, especially due to Colorado’s unique relationship with its water resources,” the senators wrote.

    “Colorado landowners and water users need certainty and commonsense interpretation concerning federal jurisdiction under the CWA in order to maintain current operations and plan for future growth.”

    On Wednesday, Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs Utilities executive and member of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, testified before the water resources subcommittee of the U.S. House that the proposed rule adds regulations that would hamstring Colorado water projects.

    Pifher oversaw the construction of the $600 million Prairie Waters Project, which allows Aurora and other Denverarea water providers to recycle return flows. He is the permit manager for Southern Delivery System, a $900 million project by Colorado Springs and its partners to reuse water in the Arkansas River basin.

    Pifher claimed the new rules would have added costs to Prairie Waters by including mostly dry streams under federal jurisdiction, and pointed to additional costs added by regulation for SDS.

    The rules, as written, also would have adverse impacts for agriculture, Pifher said.

    “Unfortunately, the waters of the U.S. rule, as currently proposed, could serve to impose additional regulatory burdens on local communities and economies without any concomitant environmental benefits,” Pifher testified.

    “Western municipalities and irrigated agriculture are prepared to work with the federal agencies and Congress in the crafting of a rule that adds clarity and certainty to the CWA and its implementing regulations, yet respects local needs.”

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.