Aug. 27, CBT Project was at its highest level in history for that date — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

On Aug. 27, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project was at its highest level in history for that date, said Brian Werner with Northern Water. Lake Granby was at its second highest level for Aug. 27, only beaten by Aug. 27, 1984.

“I tell people ‘you cant give away water this year,’” Werner said.

Looking at rainfall in Grand County, this year’s precipitation is somewhat deceiving. Precipitation is still below that for a normal year to date for Grand County, according to Accessweather Inc. Historically, the county has had around 7.78 inches of precipitation by this time in a normal year, though this year it has only seen about 5.58 inches.

So what’s keeping Lake Granby so full? For the answer, one needs to look across the Continental Divide.

Lake Granby, as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, is actually a reservoir for Front Range water users. Water is pumped through Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake, where it flows through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel to Estes Park.

This year, an unusually wet summer on the east side of the Divide has kept Front Range reservoirs full, leaving little recourse for water in Lake Granby. Couple that with increased snowpack on the West Slope and a clarity study that has kept flows through Alva B. Adams tunnel minimal, and what’s left is a swollen lake Granby, said Kara Lamb with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“We’ve run the East Slope of the Colorado Big Thomson Project largely on East Slope water most of the year,” Lamb said.

Lamb said she wasn’t sure, but she didn’t believe the Alva B. Adams Tunnel had been run at its full capacity of 550 cubic feet per second at all this year.

Gasner said the last year he could remember Lake Granby being at a comparable level at this time was 2011, but Lamb confirmed that there’s more water in the reservoir this year.

“Even though we were spilling in 2011 at this time, the volume of water is actually higher in this year than it was in 2011,” Lamb said.

Because of the way the spill gates at Lake Granby are situated, the lake can spill even at lower water levels.

Strong monsoon season

Earlier this summer, weather forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder believed a strong El Niño was in the works, meaning a wetter summer and drier winter for the Grand County area.

Surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that are sustained above average, commonly referred to as an El Niño event, can have strong effects on weather patterns in Colorado.

Though climate models have changed and a strong El Niño is less certain, climate forecasters still saw an above average monsoon season across the Front Range, said Todd Dankers, a forecaster with NOAA in Boulder.

“We’ve had one of these better monsoon type seasons here for the summer,” Danker said. “We’ve been picking up good amounts of rain, and you can’t really pin that on El Niño.”

Dankers said surface temperatures in the Pacific haven’t been following through the model of a strong El Niño that climate models predicted at the beginning of the summer.

Rather, they’ve been dropping toward normal in recent months.

“We were thinking this pattern we’re in now, it’s been able to tap into a little bit of Hurricane Maria,” Dankers said. “That is contributing some moisture to the showers that we’re going to see.”

Some of the monsoon moisture coming into Colorado has also come from the subtropical Pacific, he said.

“It’s kind of the best monsoon pattern that we’ve seen in the last few years,” he said.

Winter outlook

Though forecasters have been able to pin recent moisture to events in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, looking farther out, the view becomes much less clear.

A strong El Niño is still possible, Dankers said, which could mean a drier winter in the mountains.

Though right now, the outlook for the mountains is “unsettled,” with the possibility of drier weather moving into the Front Range.

“These long-term ridges and troughs shift every six or eight weeks,” Dankers said. “In the next week or two, we may see a big shift to a drier, warmer pattern that could persist for another five or six weeks.”

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Ute Water receives the “10 Year Directors Award of Recognition” from the Partnership for Safe Water

NIDIS: Want to see your county’s or state’s history of drought?

Below is the Colorado time-series for the last year.


[You can’t find out others’ motivations] “by talking to yourself!” — Pat Mulroy

Colorado River Basin
Colorado River Basin

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Last Friday, the former head of the water authority serving Las Vegas, Nev., electrified a crowd of Colorado water managers with her passionate and eloquent call for strategic collaboration amongst all who rely upon the Colorado River.

Pat Mulroy, now with the “Brookings West” think tank based at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, told participants in the Colorado Water Congress summer meeting in Snowmass, Colo., that it is time to expand our notion of citizenship beyond our towns and states to the entire Colorado River Basin.

Mulroy’s definition of the basin extends from Cheyenne to Denver and Tucson to Los Angeles, encompassing not only the river’s natural drainage, but the cities and farms outside the basin that draw on its waters through tunnels and canals. She pointed out that what happens in any part of this vast network affects every other part. And given that Los Angeles gets 50 percent of its water from the Colorado River and 50 percent from rivers and pipelines to the north, she argued that keeping Colorado Basin communities whole would ultimately require solving seemingly intractable water disputes in the drought-ridden state of California.

Noting the raft of news stories that appeared this summer, when Lake Mead dropped to levels not seen since it filled 80 years ago, she took issue with the much-repeated statement that Las Vegas is most at risk as lake levels fall. She pointed out that once the city’s new intake is finished next year, at an elevation of 860 feet, Las Vegas will still be able to pull water from the reservoir even when water levels drop below 900 feet — at which point no water will be able to flow beyond Hoover Dam to California, Arizona or Mexico. Repeating the notion that the Lake Mead problem is primarily a Las Vegas problem could lull the public in California and Las Vegas into thinking they don’t have to do their part to reduce consumption in order to boost lake levels.

Citing successful negotiations among the seven states that share the Colorado River Basin and Mexico on how to share surpluses (wouldn’t that be nice!), shortages, and return water to the delta in Mexico, Mulroy sounded optimistic that it will be possible to enact the conservation and management measures necessary to keep Lake Powell and Lake Mead high enough to forestall crisis. The stakes are high. Besides the millions of faucets and millions of acres of farmland on the line, the federal government might step in if the states are unable to keep the system working. Congress might even step in …

Having raised the specter of the Congressional bogeyman, Mulroy called for working diligently in good faith to preserve our communities in a way that makes sense while respecting the motivations of others working to do the same for their communities. In my favorite quote of the talk, she pointed out that you can’t find out others’ motivations “by talking to yourself!”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

#ColoradoRiver ties Denver’s water to downstream states — Denver Business Journal

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

“Literally everything that happens from Mexico all the way up to Denver is interconnected and affects us,” Jim Lochhead, the CEO of Denver Water, told the Las Vegas Sun during an interview with the Nevada paper this week.

Lochhead was in Las Vegas to attend the Business of Water Summit 2.0, which runs Thursday and Friday.

Lochhead joined other water leaders from across the Southwest, such as the senior officials from water utilities for Southern Nevada and Southern California, as well as business executives who depend on water, such as Coca-Cola.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

“Fish don’t have water rights, so it’s easy to lose sight of their needs” — Jan Scott #COWaterPlan


From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

Water is a complicated and controversial issue in Southwest Colorado, and more than 100 people showed up Wednesday night to share their thoughts and concerns with the Colorado General Assembly’s Water Resources Review Committee. It’s holding meetings around the state to collect comments about the Colorado Water Plan now being developed

“There is no group of people who appreciate a drop of water more than the people of Southwest Colorado,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who sits on the Water Resources Committee. “If you ask people in Denver where they get their water, they’ll say their kitchen sink. Or they’ll say they get their food from the grocery store.”

Mike Preston is the chairman of the Southwest Basin Roundtable, which is putting together Southwest Colorado’s recommendations for this area’s section of the plan. He shared highlights and summaries from the group’s draft. And then attendees were off.

Among the most frequent comments:

Increasing storage is key because more of Colorado’s water is leaving the state than we are required to release based on compacts and agreements. Increasing storage on the Front Range as well as here was one suggested answer.

“But we have to balance storage with environmental concerns downriver,” said Jon Scott, who works with the Animas Watershed Partnership. “Fish don’t have water rights, so it’s easy to lose sight of their needs.”

Practicing conservation is essential for Coloradans and people in downriver states who use Colorado’s water.

“Individuals want to have nice green lawns,” said Jesse Lasater, who farms 500 acres in the Pine River Valley. “But it doesn’t make sense to take water away from the people who are putting food on the table for green lawns.”

Protecting water rights might be required. Water is a property right in Colorado. Pending federal regulations may threaten those rights. There were concerns that federal regulations and this new Colorado Water Plan might trump existing, and valuable, water rights.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Drought news: Improvement over extreme northwestern Colorado #COdrought

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

This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw an active pattern across the Northern Rockies, Northern Plains, and parts of the Midwest. In Montana, a slow-moving, low-pressure system delivered widespread heavy rainfall and flash flooding during the weekend. Across parts of the Southwest, eastern Great Basin, and Intermountain West, locally heavy monsoon rains continued to provide short-term relief to the region. In contrast, the Far West remained in a dry pattern except for some isolated thunderstorm activity in parts of the Mojave Desert in southeastern California. Overall, the seven-day average temperatures in the western U.S. were generally below normal. East of the Rockies, temperatures for the week were above normal – especially across the Southern Plains, Texas, and portions of the Midwest while New England and the Mid-Atlantic states experienced slightly cooler than normal temperatures. In the Midwest, locally heavy rains fell across portions of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio bringing relief to scattered dry pockets in the region. In the Southeast, hot and dry conditions led to further deterioration of conditions across parts of Alabama and Georgia…

The Plains
Heavy rains fell across parts of the Northern Plains during the past week with two-to-six-inch accumulations in portions of North and South Dakota. Below-normal temperatures and rains led to the removal of Moderate Drought (D1) from South Dakota as well as areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) in the Dakotas and Nebraska. In southeastern Nebraska, short-term precipitation deficits and localized agricultural impacts on corn and soybean crops led to a minor expansion of an area of Moderate Drought (D1). In the Southern Plains, hot and dry conditions dominated the region with high temperatures exceeding 100° F in both Oklahoma and Kansas. Temperature departures from average were four-to-ten degrees above normal. In Oklahoma, drying ponds and low reservoir storage levels led to minor expansion of areas of Severe Drought (D2) in northeastern Oklahoma and Extreme Drought (D3) in southwestern Oklahoma…

The West
During the past week, significant rains fell across the eastern two-thirds of Montana. In central Montana, rainfall accumulations ranged from four-to-ten inches leading to flash flooding of local streams. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Missouri River at Landusky swelled to 35,000 cubic feet per second (cfs); well above mean flows at ~ 6000 cfs. In the Southwest, torrential monsoonal rains in the Phoenix Metro area and central Arizona led to flash flooding of dry washes and streams. In the Bradshaw Mountains north of Phoenix, four-to-eight inches of rain last week caused the Agua Fria River (above Lake Pleasant Reservoir) to swell to approximately 40,000 cfs (normal daily median discharge – 2 cfs), according to the USGS. The cumulative effect of the summer monsoon precipitation in Arizona led to one-category improvements in areas of Extreme Drought (D3), Severe Drought (D2), and Moderate Drought (D1) in central, southern, and western portions of the state. In these areas, beneficial rains improved the health of the vegetation, soil moisture, and surface water flows. Despite short-term gains in both Arizona and New Mexico, longer-term hydrological impacts (below-normal reservoir levels) remained after multiple years of below-normal snowpacks in the region’s mountain ranges. In New Mexico, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District recently curtailed water bank deliveries for irrigation in response to low flows along the Rio Grande. The combination of short- and long-term hydrological impacts (below-normal reservoir storage levels, below-normal mountain snowpack conditions in the headwater regions) led to the re-introduction of an area of Moderate Drought (D1) in the Middle Rio Grande corridor from Socorro County northward to Sante Fe County. In the Upper Colorado River Basin, recent monsoonal shower and thunderstorm activity has improved streamflows and reduced precipitation deficits leading to one-category improvements in areas of Extreme Drought (D3) Severe Drought (D2), and Moderate Drought (D1) in northeastern Utah and extreme northwestern Colorado. In California, recent showers and thunderstorms in the Mojave Desert (southeastern California) led to a one-category improvement in an area of Severe Drought (D2). Otherwise, conditions in California remained unchanged on the map. Elsewhere around the West, reservoir storage levels remained well below normal in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon…

Looking Ahead
The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for moderate-to-heavy precipitation accumulations (two-to-six inches) in an area stretching from the High Plains eastward to the Upper Midwest with lesser accumulations across the Lower Midwest, New England, Mid-Atlantic, and the Southeast. One-to-three inches are forecasted across the Gulf Coast region while the western U.S. will remain largely dry. The 6–10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above-normal temperatures across California, the Southwest, and the eastern half of the U.S. while below normal temperatures are forecasted across the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies, and Intermountain West. A high probability of above-normal precipitation is forecasted for the Eastern tier while the West will be below-normal.