Winter Outlook says another warm winter likely for western US

Click here to read the Outlook:

Below average temperatures are favored in parts of the south-central and southeastern United States, while above-average temperatures are most likely in the western U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and New England, according to the U.S. Winter Outlook, issued today by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

While drought may improve in some portions of the U.S. this winter, California’s record-setting drought will likely persist or intensify in large parts of the state. Nearly 60 percent of California is suffering from exceptional drought – the worst category – with 2013 being the driest year on record. Also, 2012 and 2013 rank in the top 10 of California’s warmest years on record, and 2014 is shaping up to be California’s warmest year on record. Winter is the wet season in California, so mountainous snowfall will prove crucial for drought recovery. Drought is expected to improve in California’s southern and northwestern regions, but improvement is not expected until December or January.

“Complete drought recovery in California this winter is highly unlikely. While we’re predicting at least a 2 in 3 chance that winter precipitation will be near or above normal throughout the state, with such widespread, extreme deficits, recovery will be slow,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “This outlook gives the public valuable information, allowing them to make informed decisions and plans for the season. It’s an important tool as we build a Weather-Ready Nation.”

El Niño, an ocean-atmospheric phenomenon in the Tropical Pacific that affects global weather patterns, may still develop this winter. Climate Prediction Center forecasters announced on Oct. 9 that the ocean and atmospheric coupling necessary to declare an El Niño has not yet happened, so they continued the El Niño Watch with a 67 percent chance of development by the end of the year. While strong El Niño episodes often pull more moisture into California over the winter months, this El Niño is expected to be weak, offering little help.

Winter Precipitation Outlook 2014-2015 via NOAA
Winter Precipitation Outlook 2014-2015 via NOAA

The Precipitation Outlook favors above-average precipitation across the southern tier, from the southern half of California, across the Southwest, South-central, and Gulf Coast states, Florida, and along the eastern seaboard to Maine. Above-average precipitation also is favored in southern Alaska and the Alaskan panhandle. Below-average precipitation is favored in Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest.

Last year’s winter was exceptionally cold and snowy across most of the United States, east of the Rockies. A repeat of this extreme pattern is unlikely this year, although the Outlook does favor below-average temperatures in the south-central and southeastern states.

In addition, the Temperature Outlook favors warmer-than-average temperatures in the Western U.S., extending from the west coast through most of the inter-mountain west and across the U.S.-Canadian border through New York and New England, as well as Alaska and Hawaii.

The rest of the country falls into the “equal chance” category, meaning that there is not a strong enough climate signal for these areas to make a prediction, so they have an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and/or precipitation.

The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, updated today and valid through January, predicts drought removal or improvement in portions of California, the Central and Southern Plains, the desert Southwest, and portions of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Drought is likely to persist or intensify in portions of California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington state. New drought development is likely in northeast Oregon, eastern Washington state, and small portions of Idaho and western Montana.

This seasonal outlook does not project where and when snowstorms may hit or provide total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance.

Greeley has drafted an updated Water Conservation Plan and would like your feedback

…recent run of wetness…led to some favorable soil moisture recharge…in southern Colorado — US #Drought Monitor

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

In a repeat of last week, yet another large weather system moved across the country’s midsection, bringing copious rains to the central Plains, middle Mississippi Valley and the Tennessee Valley, with 3-6 inches being a regular occurrence. Parts of the Pacific Northwest also enjoyed some nice moisture during the week. As for temperatures, most of the West and South saw well above normal temperatures, with readings 6 to 12 degrees above the norm. Unseasonably cooler weather was confined mostly to the northern and central Plains along with the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions…

The Plains and Midwest
On the heels of large areas of heavy rains last week across the region, another storm dumped another round of heavy rains (2 to 6 inches) across the state of Missouri, eastern and southern Kansas, western and southern Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas. Large 1- to 2-category improvements are noted in the D0-D2 areas on this week’s map for those areas seeing the heaviest rains and deficits being erased back to six months or more in those areas listed above. Soil moisture and streamflows are in great shape heading into winter in these areas as well. Missouri saw large improvements, with all but a small remnant of D0 being all that remains in the southwest part of the state where D1 was last week. Drought has been removed in northwest Arkansas, but the dryness persists and has expanded ever so slightly in the northeast corner of the state. Texas was more of a mixed bag, with rains improving things by 1 category in the eastern portion of the state (in general), but warm and dry conditions leading to degradation, with expansion of D1-D3 sneaking back in across south Texas. North-central Texas has also fared a bit better of late, and this is reflected in a slight trimming of D2-D4 in this part of the state and along the Red River border with Oklahoma.

Farther north, the rains missed the northern Plains (with no complaints or major impacts being reported as harvesting efforts are well underway now and behind schedule), with just a slight expansion of D0 showing up in southeastern North Dakota. To the east in Wisconsin, a good late period soaking led to the removal of the D0 across the southwestern quadrant of the state…

The West
High temps and dryness continue to plague much of the West during the early weeks of the new Water Year, with the exceptions being southern Colorado, southeast Arizona and the eastern third of Washington in the Cascade Range and along the coastal ranges. This trend has led to an expansion of D1 across more of northeastern Oregon.

One area that has done really well the past 6 months, and even tracking back to the beginning of the calendar year, has been in eastern Idaho, parts of northern Utah and northern Nevada. This has led to some early Water Year reassessment, noted by the trimming and shifting of D0-D2 westward in eastern Idaho and through a change of the impact line from “S/L” to “L”. As we enter the new Water Year, there are still some long-term lingering water supply issues across this region and into southwestern Montana, which bears watching to see if this wet pattern carries on during the winter.

The recent run of wetness this fall has led to some favorable soil moisture recharge and improving conditions in southern Colorado, with the removal of D3 and some reduction of D0-D2 noted there on this week’s map…

Looking Ahead
For the period October 15-20, after seeing a very wet pattern the past few weeks across the country’s mid-section, there should finally be some time to dry out and let the harvesting resume. The only areas showing good chances for heavier precipitation are in the coastal ranges and mountains in the Pacific Northwest, primarily from northern Oregon up into Canada. The other area expecting good rains is from the Mid-Atlantic up into New England, where 1-3 inches should bring some relief to the region. As for temperatures, most of the West, Pacific Northwest and the Great Plains states are expecting to see unseasonably warm temperatures, with readings likely running 3-6 degrees above-normal.

Looking at the 6- to 10-day time frame (October 21-25), the warm temperature trend continues into this period, and the entire western two-thirds of the country and most of Alaska are expected to see above-normal temperatures, with the strongest likelihood falling in the High Plains and along the Rocky Front Range from Colorado and Wyoming up into Montana. The bulls-eye for cooler than normal weather is found in the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys and within the Mid-Atlantic from Georgia northward into New Jersey. A greater likelihood of above-normal precipitation over this period is confined to the Pacific Northwest, Four Corners, southern Florida and the New England coastline. However, a large area of the country from the Great Plains eastward into the Mississippi Valley, the Midwest, Ohio Valley, Tennessee Valley and the western fringes of the Mid-Atlantic can expect it to be dry, with the highest probability falling from the Great Lakes down to the Gulf Coast along the Mississippi Valley.

“NRCS does their best, based on the SNOTELs they have” — Steve Vandiver #RioGrande

NRCS Streamflow Forecast June 1, 2014
NRCS Streamflow Forecast June 1, 2014

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Nobody’s crystal ball worked very well this year when it came to predicting river flows. In a Valley-wide water meeting yesterday, former long-time Division Engineer Steve Vandiver indicated the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) crystal ball might be cracked.

“NRCS does their best, based on the SNOTELs they have,” he said.

However, there are only about eight SNOTEL sites in the entire basin. SNOTEL is an automated system of snowpack sensors. Most of the SNOTEL sites in this basin provide information for the Rio Grande, with only two in the Conejos River system area. Vandiver said he was concerned about the apparent move by NRCS to rely on electronic data such as SNOTEL without confirming it through manual snow courses, a move that he believed would “lessen their ability to give us a good forecast.”

Vandiver added, “It’s vitally important we keep up with a forecasting system that means something.”

NRCS forecasts are the primary tool used by the Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 office to determine how much water the basin has to send downriver each calendar year and how much water irrigators will have available to them during the growing season. This year the NRCS forecasted annual stream flow for the Rio Grande at the beginning of the irrigation season was nearly 150,000 acre feet lower than the current forecast of 640,000 acre feet and the Conejos River system was almost 50,000 acre feet lower than the current forecast of 225,000 acre feet.

Because the earlier forecasts were off, the water division must send more water downriver now to make its annual obligation to the states of New Mexico and Texas as required by the Rio Grande Compact, Vandiver explained. That means an earlier cut off on the irrigation season on the Conejos River water users and greater curtailments on both the Rio Grande and Conejos River irrigators. Vandiver explained that because of the way the Rio Grande Compact was structured , the more water this basin receives, the higher percentage of it must be sent downriver, and the obligation percentage on the Conejos is already higher than the Rio Grande. In a big water year, which doesn’t happen very often , the Conejos system would have to send 70 percent of its water downstream, he said.

In normal water years, the basin has to send about a third of its water downstream to New Mexico and Texas.

“The delivery schedules dictate how much we can use,” Vandiver explained. Currently Conejos River system users are seeing a curtailment of more than 40 percent and the Rio Grande irrigators about 28 percent.

“On the Conejos system we are probably going to have to shut off early just to meet the compact,” Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said yesterday during the Rio Grande Roundtable meeting. He added the Rio Grande could probably make it to the first of November, the scheduled ending point for the irrigation season, but not extend past that point.

He said he will meet with Rio Grande irrigators before making the final decision on when to shut off the irrigation season this year. Vandiver, who held the division engineer position prior to Cotten and Mike Sullivan, described the headaches of managing water deliveries in the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley) so that Rio Grande Compact deliveries are made and irrigators receive the water due them.

He said there are so many variables that affect runoff and stream flow every year from rain to dust on snow. He said NRCS has depended on various snow measurement sites around the basin through the years but has not had the funding and manpower recently to maintain, improve or increase those sites. When SNOTEL sites are not maintained, they are not able to provide accurate information for annual forecasts. For example, he said the SNOTEL site at Wolf Creek had problems ranging from large trees laying across it to a gopher hole in the middle of it that were not fixed before last winter, so the site did not work right, and it is one of the key sites in the SNOTEL system.

Conejos River irrigators are embarking on a $237,000 pilot project to use a portable radar system coupled with meteorological stations and river data collection sites to determine if there might be a better way to forecast runoff and stream flows in the basin, or at least to augment the information provided through NRCS. The Rio Grande Roundtable and state water board provided funding for that pilot project.

Nathan Coombs, manager for the Conejos Water Conservancy District that is spearheading this project, said it is not the group’s intention to influence or circumvent NRCS “We don’t need to pitch that aside and start over” but to collect data on a parallel track and see if it is useful for future forecasting efforts. Coombs said the best place for the radar truck to be set up would either be Antonito or at the airport in Alamosa. He added the radar coverage would provide information for both the Conejos and Rio Grande.

Cotten said his office is not mandated to use NRCS forecasts , “but there’s nothing else out there really.”

He added the weather service had started doing some forecasting.

“We are looking at their forecasts also.”

He said the NRCS and weather service forecasts were about 100,000 acre feet apart from each other this year, and it appeared the weather service’s forecast was closer to the truth this time, “which doesn’t always happen.”

Roundtable board member Cindy Medina suggested the roundtable or another group take the lead on presenting a package of basin snow measurement needs to legislators like Senator Michael Bennet who could work with NRCS to make sure funding is in place to meet those needs.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Supreme Court hears arguments on dispute in Republican Basin — The Imperial Republican

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

From The Imperial Republican (Russ Pankonin):

The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments from Kansas and Nebraska Tuesday on the 2013 findings of Special Master William Kayatta, Jr.

Kayatta issued the ruling last year in an ongoing dispute dating to 2010 between the two states over Nebraska’s overuse of water in 2006.

Kayatta recommended Nebraska pay Kansas $5.5 million—$3.7 million as the actual damages Kansas suffered by Nebraska’s overuse; and $1.8 million to Kansas for the gain Nebraska received by pumping extra water in 2006.

He also said the accounting methods used to calculate water supplies in the Republican River Basin should be revised.

Two primary issues
The oral arguments by the states and questioning by the justices Tuesday centered on two main subjects:

  • Whether Kansas was entitled to a significant disgorgement or damage payment for Nebraska’s compact violation; and
  • Whether new accounting procedures for measuring imported water supplies into the basin, sought by Nebraska and recommended by Kayatta, should be allowed.
  • Kansas Solicitor General Stephen McCallister was the first to present arguments before the high court and set out by addressing the changes in the compact accounting. He said Kansas does not agree with Nebraska and the special master that the method for calculating imported water supply should be rewritten.

    “That agreement itself (2002 settlement) was a complex set of concessions and compromises,” he told the justices.

    The water model is an estimation at best of what’s going in the basin, he said. Parties were aware of the imported water phenomenon when the agreement was reached, he added. He said it wasn’t fair the water master focused solely on what Nebraska wanted changed while Kansas had issues that weren’t addressed. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Kansas was invited to provide a better solution to the accounting issues but did not. McAllister said they were working on one but didn’t have time to develop it.

    If contract principles were applied to the disagreement, the remedy would be to rescind the compact settlement.

    “And I don’t think you want that,” Sotomayor said. McAllister agreed that none of the states would want that.

    So if rescinding the agreement isn’t possible, she said, then it falls back to reforming or revising the contract.

    She asked McCallister, “If Kansas couldn’t come up with an alternative, why shouldn’t the court just accept the special master’s recommendation?”

    McCallister said Nebraska’s change in accounting procedures came late in the process, as a counterclaim during arbitration.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked about the process when the states can’t agree.

    McAllister said there’s the option of non-binding arbitration, “which we all love and almost always works out our disputes.”

    If that doesn’t work, and the states feel strongly about it, they can request a special master, he said. “But again, I don’t think we’ll get there because the parties can and have negotiated successfully.”

    Sotomayor was skeptical of this. “But I thought you had gone through the alternatives,” with no resolution, she said.

    He said they brought this case to the high court because Kansas believed there was a compact violation by Nebraska that needed a remedy.

    Disgorgement remedy

    That remedy would be for the justices to grant Kansas a significant disgorgement payment from Nebraska to get their attention, McAllister said.

    Disgorgement is defined as the forced giving up of profits obtained by illegal or unethical acts.
    Of the $80 million Kansas sought in damages, they designated $60 million as profits or unjust enrichment Nebraska received by their overuse of water.

    Justice Antonin Scalia said disgorgement payments aren’t a normal contract remedy and require an intentional violation.

    McAllister said if Nebraska only has to pay Kansas $3.7 million, there’s little incentive for compliance, especially if a dispute can drag out eight years before any possibility of recovery.
    Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. said Kayatta found Nebraska didn’t intentionally violate the compact agreement.

    McAllister said the master did find that Nebraska “knowingly exposed Kansas to a risk of violation.”

    While they didn’t purposefully violate, they did violate it, McCallister said. “I think you have to say it’s more than negligent.”

    McCallister continued, “Nothing less than a substantial disgorgement award seems to really get their attention. And here it has gotten their attention and it has also gotten Colorado’s attention.”

    Justice Dept. sides with Kansas on disgorgement

    Ann O’Connell, Assistant to the Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice, said disgorgement should be an available remedy when a state violates an interstate water compact.

    She said the monetary remedy would “help to stabilize compacts and ensure the states are working vigorously to meet their compact obligations.”

    Justice Scalia reiterated the need for intentional violation in contract law and asked O’Connell for cases where the high court imposed disgorgement, even in the case of intentional violation. She could not cite any.

    She did cite a case between Texas and New Mexico where disgorgement could be a possible remedy. She continued, “It certainly left that door open.”

    “For an intentional violation?” Scalia questioned. “Yes,” she replied.

    “But we’ve never done it, have we?” Scalia asked. “No. And this is a novel . . .” she said before Scalia cut her off.

    At the end of her argument, O’Connell did go on record that the Justice Department does support the special master’s recommendation to revisit the compact accounting methods.
    Nebraska wants accounting change, not high damages

    Nebraska’s Chief Deputy Attorney General, David Cookson, was the final lawyer to present arguments. He stated the compact settlement specifically says the accounting will not count imported Republican River water and requested the court approve Kayatta’s recommendation for the accounting change.
    Scalia challenged him, saying the settlement included how such a water supply be determined—by a formula—and that was agreed to.

    Cookson countered, saying the deal Nebraska agreed to was not the formula.

    “The deal we made was not to count imported water,” he said.

    He said the final settlement made it clear that accounting procedures could be modified at any time through the appropriate process.

    Cookson said Nebraska followed that process, by going to the three-state compact administration. After Kansas objected, non-binding arbitration was sought.

    “The master agreed the mistake occurred, sent it back to the RRCA (Republican River Compact Administration) to develop a solution. This was all presented to Kansas in 2007,” Cookson told the justices.

    He said the accounting procedures are a technical appendix to the settlement and were not part of the settlement agreement.

    Scalia asked if the final settlement could be amended by mutual agreement.

    Cookson said no, because the three states, in the final settlement, put in a non-severability clause that they couldn’t change it. Cookson made the distinction that the accounting procedures could be changed and cited case law where the court allowed appendixes to state settlements to be changed. In addition, he said the accounting procedures appendix was not included as part of the compact settlement when it was approved by Congress.

    Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., said the settlement is an agreement between two sovereign states.

    “The idea of a special master or this court changing the nature of that agreement is a pretty radical one,” he said.

    Cookson responded, “But we’re not changing that agreement. The agreement in the final settlement stipulation is do not count imported Platte River water.”

    When negotiating the settlement, Cookson asserted the parties knew the accounting procedures would change as things moved forward. He cited roughly 14 changes that have already been made and approved by the compact administrators. He said Kayatta’s recommendation doesn’t reform the compact settlement, just the technical appendix
    on accounting procedures.

    Disgorgement not justified

    On the issue of disgorgement, Cookson said Nebraska took exception to the award because the state did not deliberately violate the compact.

    Justice Elena Kagan said the special master and Justice Department Solicitor General characterized Nebraska as “a conscious wrong-doer, that you failed to act, refused to act in the face of known risk.”

    Cookson took exception, noting that Nebraska took control of consumptive use in 2002, while the settlement was still being negotiated. In addition, through 2006, the state reduced its pumping by 500,000 acre-feet, a 35 percent reduction. He said it was not possible for Nebraska to foresee its allocations would fall even below the record lows that occurred during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. He urged justices to understand that allocations in the settlement were based on a 10-year period of the Dust Bowl. He said it was reasonable for Nebraska to believe allocations would never go below those of the Dust Bowl.

    “And yet in ‘05 and ‘06, our allocations significantly fell below the Dust Bowl,” he told the justices.

    He said Nebraska conceded it fell short of compliance in 2006 and offered to pay Kansas its actual damages.

    Since then, Cookson said Nebraska has remained in compliance “even in the driest condition now of record in the basin.”

    For these reasons, he said Kansas’ claim of unjust enrichment “as a means of disgorging gain to Nebraska” is not appropriate.

    In rebuttal to Cookson’s arguments, McAllister said the court should give Nebraska this answer on changing the accounting method: “Sorry; you made the deal, and just because you now think you have a better way of doing it, doesn’t mean we should rewrite the contract.”

    Nebraska delegation attends

    A Nebraska delegation including representatives from the Department of Natural Resources, the Attorney General’s office and attorneys and natural resource district officials closely associated with the case attended the oral arguments. Those attending from the Upper Republican NRD included Manager Jasper Fanning, Assistant Manager Nate Jenkins and Board Member Jason Kunkel.

    The justices will now review the case and render a decision which could occur sometime before the end of the year but no later than the end of June 2015.

    More Republican River Basin coverage here.

    Lower Fryingpan River “relatively healthy” — Roaring Fork Conservancy


    From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

    The lower Fryingpan River ecosystem is relatively healthy even though an algae with the notorious nickname “rock snot” has taken hold, according to preliminary results of a study commissioned by the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

    Muck from the stream bottom was scooped up from three sites last fall to get a count of macroinvertebrates — bugs that can’t leave the river. An analysis over the winter showed the numbers were in line with results from a similar study in 2003, according to Heather Tattersall Lewin, watershed action director for the nonprofit organization.

    “That was good for us to see,” she told the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night in a briefing about the preliminary results. Macroinvertebrates provide food for the fish in the river.

    Populations of the American dipper bird, an important indicator species for river health, were also promising, according to Tattersall Lewin. A consultant found 28 mating pairs and observed that 23 of them were successful in producing young.

    Constant monitoring of water temperatures since October 2013 also didn’t produce any red flags…

    The Roaring Fork Conservancy’s study didn’t produce all good news. Rock snot, formally known as Didymosphenia geminate and often called Didymo, appears here to stay.

    The conservancy hired students from Colorado Mountain College in Leadville to monitor the river periodically for rock snot. They searched for the specific algae in the spring and after peak runoff at 20 sites. They found the coverage was in fewer places after runoff and that it wasn’t as dense in places where it was still found, Tattersall Lewin said.

    The CMC students will search for the algae again this weekend to see if it surged back after the lower flows of summer.

    Tattersall Lewin said rock snot isn’t your typical, slippery algae. It grows in clumps in a consistency she compared to coarse toilet paper. It appears to collect more easily on the flat, angular rocks of the Fryingpan than the rounded cobble of the Roaring Fork River, she said.

    The effects of rock snot on the ecosystem aren’t certain. International studies show Didymo is proliferating even in the healthiest streams, according to Tattersall Lewin. Studies are examining whether the growth is related to climate change.

    Rick Lofaro, the conservancy’s executive director, said two management policies by the reclamation bureau, which controls water flows from the dam, appear capable of reducing rock snot. First, maintaining a higher minimum flow during winters and dry times could avoid the buildup. Second, high, sustained water releases during spring runoff would help flush the river and benefit it in numerous ways. The rock snot would disintegrate.

    More Fryingpan River watershed coverage here.