The Colorado River District and the Southwestern Colorado District pow wow over the #ColoradoRiver

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

From the districts via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The two water conservation districts that comprise the entire Colorado River basin in Colorado have adopted principles concerning how extended drought conditions should be addressed on the river’s storage system.

Their recommended contingency steps, if needed, to boost extremely low levels at lakes Powell and Mead include releasing water from other reservoirs to Lake Powell, removing non-native trees and employing winter cloud seeding.

As drought conditions persist in the Colorado River basin, low water levels in the lakes are of extreme concern.

The seven Colorado River basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation are working on what is being referred to as a contingency plan to avoid the unacceptable consequences if the current basinwide drought continues.

At Lake Powell the concern is that storage could drop below the elevation necessary to produce power. If this occurs, federal agencies would lose up to $120 million per year in power revenues. These revenues are used to cover the operation of power-generating units and the transmission grid, repay the federal treasury for the facilities, and cover the costs of critical environmental recovery programs. Additionally, customers of federal power could see their costs skyrocket, as the Western Area Power Administration would have to go to the spot market to replace the lost hydropower.

The Colorado River and Southwestern water conservation districts met in a special joint meeting Sept. 18 in Montrose.

The boards resolved that changes in federal reservoir operations and additional investment in river augmentation programs must be the first priority.

If it becomes necessary to implement the contingency plan, stored water in Flaming Gorge, Navajo and the Aspinall Unit (Blue Mesa Reservoir) should be released and subsequently stored in Lake Powell to increase Powell’s lake levels, the boards said. Weather modification (winter cloud seeding) and removal of non-native, riparian trees (tamarisk and Russian olive) should be undertaken to enhance both river flows and water levels in Lake Powell.

Only if those efforts prove insufficient should “demand management” proposals be pursued, because those efforts would disrupt traditional water uses. Demand management proposals include a reduction in consumption by municipal and irrigation users and voluntary deficit irrigation and temporary fallowing by agricultural users.

The two boards stressed the importance that any demand management effort include conservation by both municipal and agricultural water users, and that any agricultural water disruptions be shared by Colorado River water users on both the East and West slopes.

The entire Colorado River basin from the Rockies through the Lower Basin to Mexico is in at least the 15th year of a historic drought. Despite occasional above-average years, the 15-year trend is very dry. Lake Powell is about half full and Mead is below 40 percent full.

Drought news: Conditions is SW and NW Colorado improve a bit #COdrought

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


The long-wave circulation pattern, during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week, consisted of an upper-level ridge over the western United States and trough over the east. This continued the trend of well-above-normal temperatures in the West and below-normal temperatures in the Midwest to Northeast. Low pressure systems, moving in the jet stream flow, dragged cold fronts across the contiguous United States (CONUS), bringing areas of precipitation to the northern Rockies, Plains, Great Lakes, and Southeast. Moisture from the remnants of Hurricane Odile deluged parts of the Southwest and western Texas with flooding rains, while a cold front spread moisture across portions of central and eastern Texas. Some of Odile’s tropical moisture fed monsoon showers over the Intermountain Basin. However, large parts of the Far West, Great Plains, and CONUS east of the Mississippi River had a drier-than-normal week…

The Plains and Midwest

With cooler-than-normal temperatures and areas of precipitation, no change was made to the USDM depiction in the Midwest, although mounting precipitation deficits were becoming a concern in northeast Minnesota. A weather system, that dropped 2-4 inches of rain over southwest Missouri, resulted in contraction of D0 there. But 30- to 90-day precipitation deficits continued to mount further east, with low streams becoming evident, so D0 expanded in east central Missouri. No change was made to the USDM depiction over the central and northern Plains, even though the week was mostly drier than normal. Areas of above-normal rain fell across Kansas, but they had little impact on agricultural conditions, so no improvement was made to the USDM depiction. The extreme dryness of the 2012-2013 drought severely depleted soil moisture in the state. As noted by the Kansas State Climatologist’s office, surface water supplies have not recovered materially, with ponds having a quarter to a third of normal capacity, even in areas receiving above-normal precipitation. The USDA reported up to 55% of the topsoil and 64% of the subsoil short to very short of moisture in some western crop districts, with 23% of pasture and range conditions poor to very poor statewide. Even in the northeast district, where soil moisture conditions were “wettest”, 15% of topsoil and 32% of subsoil were still rated short to very short of moisture…

The West

The remnants of Hurricane Odile dropped 2 inches or more of rain along a path from southeast Arizona, across southern New Mexico, into western Texas this week, with locally 5 inches or more reported in many areas along with widespread flooding. A CoCoRaHS weather station near Carlsbad, New Mexico, reported 10.48 inches of rain during the week. Reservoirs along the Pecos River in southeast New Mexico were replenished by the Odile rainfall, including Brantley and Red Bluff. Significant improvement in the USDM depiction was made, with D1-D2 pulled back in southeast Arizona, D0-D3 pulled back in southern New Mexico, and much of southeast New Mexico now drought-free. However, the Odile rainfall, while beneficial, was not enough to eliminate 3+ years of drought in other parts of the state. A band of moderate drought (D1) remained from southwest to south central New Mexico, with an oval of severe drought (D2) in the southwest corner of the state. Areas to the north received very little to no rain from Odile. Another dry week added short-term dryness on top of long-term dryness, so D2-D3 was expanded in northwest New Mexico. USDA reports indicated that, on a statewide basis, soil moisture and pastures and rangeland improved in New Mexico, with the values decreasing to 52% of topsoil and 56% of subsoil short or very short of moisture and 32% of pasture and rangeland rated in poor to very poor condition.

Further to the north, beneficial rains improved D0-D3 in southwest Colorado and D0-D1 at the junction of Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. But D0 expanded into northwest Montana and D1 expanded into the north central prairies and canyons of Idaho to reflect dryness which appeared as notable departures on the 30-day to 6-month Standardized Precipitation Index. Firefighting crews were fighting large wildfires in the northern Idaho D1 area. Monsoon showers dropped an additional inch or more of rain over parts of the intermountain basin, adding to the above-normal rainfall this area has received during the summer. D1-D2 were pulled back in southeast to east central Nevada to reflect the short-term gains made due to the monsoon/tropical moisture. Showers in parts of California dropped a few tenths of an inch of rain, but had little effect on drought conditions. Reservoir levels in the state continued to decline and groundwater wells continued to go dry. Record warm January-August temperatures across the West have intensified evapotranspiration and exacerbated drought conditions. With continued much-above-normal temperatures, the drought depiction across the rest of the West remained unchanged…

Looking Ahead

During the September 25-30 period, a large upper-level trough of low pressure will begin moving over the western CONUS from the Pacific. Temperatures will be warmer than normal for much of the country at the beginning of this period, but become cooler than normal in the West near the end of the period. The trough should bring precipitation to much of the West, with an inch or more expected from northern California to the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest, and an inch or more over much of the Northern Rockies. The precipitation is expected to miss southern California. Bands of frontal precipitation are likely in parts of the Plains and Midwest, in the Southeast, and along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts, although the precipitation is forecast to miss large parts of the Plains to Midwest.

The upper-level pattern will slowly migrate to the east during October 1-8. The 6-10 day and 8-14 day outlooks indicate that the temperature pattern will be below normal in the West and above normal in the East, with above-normal temperatures eventually returning to the West Coast. The precipitation pattern should transition to drier than normal in the West and wetter than normal from the Rockies to the Great Lakes and Southeast as the weather-producing systems migrate eastward. An upper-level ridge over the eastern Pacific is expected to bring above-normal temperatures to Alaska, with wetter-than-normal conditions to the southern coastal locations and drier-than-normal conditions to the interior Alaskan locations.

Blanca wetlands provide prime habitat

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The most important resource at the Blanca Wetlands greets visitors the moment they get out of their cars. Mouths, ears, eyes and loose pant legs are all inviting targets for the bugs, which, more importantly, play a critical role in making the 10,000-acre wetlands a magnet for migrating shore birds and songbirds.

“That’s really our job, I think, out here, is to grow bugs,” Sue Swift-Miller, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said.

Swift-Miller and fellow wildlife biologist Jill Lucero help oversee the wetlands, which sits 8 miles northeast of town, and manage the complex interplay of water management with the timing of bug hatches and bird migrations.

The bird species that come in the largest number include the Wilson’s Phalarope, Baird’s Sandpiper and the American Avocet.

But the wetlands and their bugs also attract species such as the western snowy plover, American white pelican, and the white-faced ibis. Those species and 10 others that visit the wetlands are designated as sensitive species by the agency, meaning they or their habitat are either in decline or projected to do so.

Overall, more than 163 mammals use the wetlands.

That the birds and the bugs are here in such numbers is the result of the BLM’s decision in the 1960s to restore the wetlands by drilling 43 wells into the confined aquifer, the deeper of the San Luis Valley’s two major groundwater bodies. The water, which averages out to roughly 5,000 acre-feet annually, is then funneled into a series of basins that range from fresh water ponds that support both cold- and warm-water fisheries to shallower basins that have a higher salt content than the ocean.

After years of study, Swift-Miller said it’s become evident that bugs need specific water-quality parameters, depending on the species. BLM officials can, with the help of hundreds of miles of canals and culverts, funnel fresh water to certain basins to dilute the salinity or withhold to emphasize it.

The intermittent use of water is particularly important in habitat areas known as playas, which are generally saline basins with clay dominated soils that historically went through wetting and drying cycles in the valley.

While drought and diversions for agriculture have cut wetting cycles, the BLM has found a jump in insects such as fairy and brine shrimp when it’s added water to the playas.

Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research
Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

“We’re getting macroinvertibrates that have been in cyst stage for years,” Lucero said. “Nobody’s seen them for 50 years and suddenly they’re coming out as we wet an area.”

But choosing when to apply water is just as critical.

“If you’ve got bugs available when the birds aren’t here, you really haven’t done yourself any good,” Swift-Miller said.

The agency’s use of groundwater will soon be coming under a new set of state regulations, as is the case with all groundwater users in the valley. Those regulations, which remain in draft form, are expected to require groundwater users to obtain surface water to offset the injury their pumping causes to surface-water users.

But the BLM’s augmentation efforts began even before the draft regulations thanks to 20 illegal wells the agency drilled in the late 1970s.

While the agency will still have to get more augmentation water, Swift­Miller said it’s possible the agency will get enough to avoid shutting down any wells at the wetlands.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape for that,” she said.

Before the agency and other area water users began pumping groundwater, the Blanca Wetlands was the endpoint in a string of marshes, playas and lakes that extended to the north end of the valley. A map from 1869 shows the Blanca Wetlands as part of a large lake. Aerial photos from the 1940s in the agency’s possession show a string of connected wetlands that run to where the current San Luis Lake State Park sits, at the southwestern edge of the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Earlier this year, the BLM approved a proposal that would allow it to buy property from willing landowners in an effort to expand the Blanca Wetlands and improve habitat connectivity. The search for willing sellers would focus on the area that extends north and northeast from the Blanca to the west side of the state park.

Another focus area for expansion sits further north on the western edge of Baca National Wildlife Refuge and runs east to Mishak Lakes.

While expansion funding would need to navigate the gridlock that has dominated congressional budget proceedings, the proposal did make it into the White House’s budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins Wednesday.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Loveland’s Utilities Commission to examine issue of fluoride dosing

Calcium fluoride
Calcium fluoride

From the Loveland Utilities Commission via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

Loveland’s Utilities Commission will take a look Tuesday at an issue that has been pretty low on the city’s radar for the past 60 years: fluoridation of city water.

At a meeting slated for 4 p.m. at the Police and Courts Building, 810 E. 10th St., a pair of presentations is planned for commissioners: one seeking the reinstatement of fluoride additives to the city water supply at least to pre-2010 levels, and another seeking the removal of all fluoride.

Members of the public are encouraged to attend to learn more.

At issue is an apparent change in the city’s fluoridation process in the past few years, according to Larry Sarner of Loveland. In an interview Tuesday, he said that state-mandated reports in the past four years showed the city periodically discontinued fluoridation of the city’s water in 2010 because of maintenance at the treatment plant and didn’t resume them until 2013. However, when the city resumed fluoridating the city’s water, it was at about half of the level previous to 2010, Sarner said. According to city figures, only in the past couple of months has it returned to pre-2010 levels.

More water treatment coverage here.

Colorado Springs Utilities: Northfield Reservoir is getting a $3.4 million facelift

Northfield Reservoir via The Mountain Jackpot
Northfield Reservoir via The Mountain Jackpot

From The Mountain Jackpot (Beth Dodd):

The dam at Northfield Reservoir, built back in 1890, is getting a $3.4 million facelift…

The Northfield Water System is part of a collection of 25 reservoirs that supplies water to Colorado Springs and other communities including Green Mountain Falls, Chipita Park, and Cascade. It is located in the rugged country between Woodland Park and the Air Force Academy. It was purchased by Colorado Springs Utilities for about $1.25 million in 1949. Today the system includes Rampart, Nichols, and Northfield Reservoirs.

Colorado Springs Utilities is making modifications and upgrades to the Northfield Dam to comply with state dam safety recommendations. The State Engineer’s Office currently classifies Northfield Dam as a small, significant hazard dam. The 124 year old structure is a 30 foot high, 350 foot long earth embankment with a storage volume of 245 acre feet of water. The spillway is an uncontrolled overflow concrete structure at the south end around 6 feet below the crest of the dam. A water treatment plant, just downstream of the dam, was retired from service in 1996.

The Northfield Dam Modification Project will be conducted by ASI Construction. They have three main tasks to complete. They will construct a new spillway with flow meters and a regulation gate and remove the old spillway. They will raise the height of the embankment by about 8 feet and provide new roads and grading downstream from the dam. Finally, they will demolish the old water treatment plant and associated structures. The work will include removal or abandonment of unused pipes, the inspection and possible replacement of the steel outlet pipe, and reclamation of the area after the end of construction.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Human fingerprints on 2013 floods — Mountain Town News #COflood

Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES
Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Human fingerprints were not evident in the floods along Colorado’s Front Range in September 2013—at least not clearly.

“Because human changes have made the global atmosphere warmer and more moist, one can confidently state that all weather events are now subject to some influence of anthropogenic climate change,” says “Climate Change in Colorado.” A warmer atmosphere can hold more water, and the global atmosphere is estimated to have 3 to 5 percent more water as a result of anthropogenic, or human-caused, warming.

That alone “may have increased the source moisture for the event and increased the intensity of heavy rainfall,” the report adds.

But the weather pattern in September 2013 that dumped up to 18 inches of rainfall across portions of the Colorado foothills “was rare but not unprecedented, and climate change does not need to be involved to explain the pattern itself … The historical record strongly suggests that a flood event of the extent and magnitude of September 2013 could occur even in the absence of climate change.”

A report examining the link between anthropogenic warming and the 2013 floods is to be published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, but the conclusions there are not expected to conflict with these findings.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.