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.


In Praise of Wastewater Managers

Your Water Colorado Blog

August is National Water Quality month.  This Sunday, August 31 is the 160th anniversary of the outbreak of one of the worst cholera epidemics to hit London – an epidemic that ultimately led to the identification of contaminated water as a conduit for the disease.

Humans have always sought sources of drinking water, and some water clearly looks and tastes better.  But we didn’t always understand that the wrong water could make us sick.

Where Does Your Water Come From?

Before I came to CFWE, I worked as a historical interpreter.  Whether wearing pioneer or Civil War-era dress, I always got the same question – “Don’t you wish you lived back then?”  And my answer was always no.  When asked why I prefer the present, the first thing on my list is always indoor plumbing.

Jennie Geurts before she joined CFWE - the clothes were pretty, but the water quality could be deadly. Jennie Geurts before she joined CFWE – the clothes were pretty, but the water quality…

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[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.