CWCB: June 2014 Drought update, June MTD precipitation = 33% #COdrought

Click here to read the update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

May was wet and cool across most of the state resulting in improvements to drought conditions throughout eastern Colorado. However, June, to-date, has seen just 33% of average precipitation; with portions of southern Colorado also seeing above average temperatures. Warm and dry conditions, such as these, can counteract gains from precipitation quickly. Reservoir storage remains high in the north but below average in the southern half of the state. Southeastern Colorado continues to struggle with blowing dust due to high winds and dry soil moisture. The hope that a strong El Nino event would bring significant moisture to the plains has largely dissipated with stagnant ENSO conditions. Water providers in attendance indicated that storage levels are strong, with many reservoirs near or at capacity (and some spilling), and they are not imposing watering restrictions beyond normal operating procedures.

  • Currently, 49% of the state is in some level of drought classification according to the US drought monitor. 23% of that is characterized as “abnormally dry” or D0, while an additional 9% is experiencing D1, moderate drought conditions. 8% is classified as severe, 7% as extreme and 2% of the state remains in exceptional drought (D4). These conditions are slightly improved over last month.
  • Current streamflow forecasts statewide range from greater than 150% of average in the South Platte to below 50% of average in parts of the southwest. The northern portion of the state has forecasts that are near to above normal, while the southern portion of the state has forecasts below normal.
  • Snowpack statewide is at 197% of median. All basins are experiencing normal seasonal decline, but significant amounts of snow remain. By this time of year many basins have reached melt-out, making those with snow still on the ground appear greater than conditions actually reflect. As of June 17, the basins in the northern portion of the state are all above the median while the southwest, Rio Grande and Upper Arkansas are below the median.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 95% of average at the end of May 2014, slightly higher than last month. The lowest reservoir storage statewide is in the Arkansas & Upper Rio Grande basins, with 56% and 63% of average storage, respectively. The Yampa/White and the South Platte have the highest storage level at 114% and 113% of average.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for the state, which takes into account both reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts, is near normal across much of the state, with an “abundant” index in the northern basins of the South Platte, North Platte, and Colorado. The lowest values in the state are in the Southwest and Rio Grande Basins and indicate moderate drought.
  • El-Nino conditions have begun, but are not yet firmly established and appear to have stalled resulting in a weak event for the time being. The stronger an El Nino event is the more likely we are to see a wetter growing season. Long term forecasts indicate dry conditions along the Colorado Front Range and eastern plains through September, which is consistent with a weak El Nino scenario. Western Colorado can hope for a near normal monsoon season.
  • The short term forecast anticipates near normal rainfall at best throughout the state over the next 14 days. June in Colorado is typically driest in the mountains and on the western slope.
  • From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    State officials say about half of Colorado remains in some level of drought.

    The Department of Natural Resources said Monday that more than 15 percent of the state is in a severe to exceptional drought. The hardest-hit area is in southeastern Colorado, while less extreme drought conditions are spread across the southern and eastern parts of the state.

    About a quarter of the state is classified as abnormally dry and 10 percent is in a moderate drought.

    Conditions vary widely, with the South Platte River in northeastern Colorado forecast to run 150 percent or higher of average because of heavy mountain snow last winter. Rivers in the southwest are predicted to be below 50 percent of average.

    Statewide, June precipitation has been 33 percent of average.

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    Colorado State University to study water quality impacts of beetle kill — the Fort Collins Coloradoan


    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    Scientists from Colorado State University and Colorado School of Mines have begun a five-year study of the impacts beetle kill forests have on water quality in Northern Colorado.

    The study, funded by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation Water Sustainment and Climate Program, will look at the South Platte and Colorado River basins.

    Scientists from both universities will use computer models and field and lab experiments to assess changes to water quality and availability following the mountain pine beetle outbreak. Although the outbreak is on the down-swing, it has killed millions of acres of trees in Colorado and across the Rocky Mountain West.

    The Poudre River drains into the South Platte River Basin, where Fort Collins sits.

    More Cach la Poudre River watershed coverage here.

    Didymo outbreaks due to changing water chemistry in a warming world?

    Didymo algae
    Didymo algae

    From The Crested Butte News (Seth Mensing):

    For seven years he has sought the cause of widespread blooms of an algae known as didymo, or rock snot. Now longtime Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory researcher and Dartmouth College professor Brad Taylor finally has his culprit. And the invasive outbreaks might have an origin closer to home than once believed, taking the unaware angler off the hook and placing the blame for the suffocating algae blooms on bigger environmental changes, according to a paper Taylor published in the journal BioScience.

    Taylor reports the algae Didymosphenia geminata was likely always present in even our most pristine streams and rivers, turning from an insignificant diatom into an asphyxiating blanket of goop as a result of changing water chemistry and a changing climate.

    Taylor started looking into the occurrence of large and unprecedented didymo blooms while at RMBL in the summer of 2007, a year after the blooms were first documented.

    “The work at RMBL figured prominently in the BioScience paper,” Taylor says. Didymo cells are in many rivers around Crested Butte and Gunnison and have been for more than 50 years, based on the research at the RMBL.

    According to Taylor, didymo blooms have been observed in the Taylor River, West Brush Creek, Cement Creek, East River, Oh-Be-Joyful below and above the wilderness area and Coal Creek, as well as some unnamed creeks and more. But such large blooms are a new phenomenon, Taylor says. And for reasons still being researched, the didymo cells in Poverty, Slate, Rustlers, East Fork Crystal, and some other rivers don’t bloom in the way didymo has come to be known.

    In his research plan on the RMBL website, Taylor says the second of two rounds of research, started in 2012, set out to answer four questions related to the didymo outbreaks.
    First, he hoped to answer the question of whether or not timing and magnitude of runoff correlated with didymo outbreaks. He wondered if the outbreaks could be related to the presence of beaver dams or occurred more in lake-fed streams. What he found was an affirmative answer to his final question about the relationship between an outbreak and phosphorus levels in the water. Instead of the algae blooming in response to an abundance of nutrients in the water, didymo was extending its reach to gather what few nutrients were left.

    Taylor doesn’t see any direct connection between low levels of phosphorous in the water and the abandoned mines in the area, since didymo occurs naturally in almost all streams, and blooms are being documented around the world. However, he said, the mats of didymo are trapping heavy metals that would otherwise flow freely downstream.

    And while that might sound like a good thing, the heavy-metal-laden didymo will eventually flow downstream, Taylor says, potentially depositing the heavy metals en masse.

    More Gunnison River Basin coverage here.

    Southern Delivery System update: $359 million spent so far, >44 miles of pipe in the ground

    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Tunneling under Fountain Creek is proving more difficult than expected for the Southern Delivery System. Some pipeline near Pueblo Dam has been laid in solid rock. And the temporary irrigation system to provide water for native vegetation over the pipeline scar through Pueblo County contains 50 miles of pipe (main line and laterals) and 15,000 sprinkler heads. Those were some of the highlights of a progress report by Mark Pifher, SDS permit manager, to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday.

    “The tunneling project was more difficult than we thought,” Pifher said. The work was being done just over the El Paso County line from the west side of Interstate 25, with a tunnel-boring machine 85 feet below ground.

    Because of the difficulty, a second borer from the east side one mile away is being used.

    “They had better meet in the middle,” Pifher joked.

    More than 44 miles of the 50 miles of 66-inchdiameter pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs has been installed; a treatment plant and three pump stations are under construction; and a Fountain Creek improvement project has nearly been completed, he said. All of the pipeline in Pueblo County has been installed, and revegetation has begun on 323 acres that were disturbed in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches. The irrigation system is so large that it has to run in round-the-clock cycles seven days a week, Pifher noted.

    “It’s apparently the largest sprinkler system in the state,” he said.

    Another 484 acres has been planted with native seed in El Paso County.

    As of March, $359 million has been spent on SDS, with $209 million going to El Paso County firms, $65 million to Pueblo County companies, $900,000 to Fremont County contractors and $84 million to businesses in other parts of Colorado.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here.

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