Drought news: Drought conditions in Colorado showed little signs of change during the past week

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


Early in the period, a cold front moved from the Appalachians to the East Coast. During the latter portions of last week, the pattern amplified, with an intense low pressure system developing over the Great Lakes and another moving into the Pacific Northwest. The storm in the east pushed record cold temperatures as far south as the Everglades and snowfall from the southern Appalachians to New England, while the western storm brought much needed rain to many portions of the West. The western storm system then moved eastward and tapped into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, spreading rains from Texas to the Great Lakes…

Pacific Northwest and California

Moderate to heavy rains fell across the area from northern California to western Washington. Weekly rainfall totals for northern California top out at 2.3 inches, while rains further north, across the Olympic Peninsula and Cascades, exceed 9 inches. Feedback from California included some reports detailing improvements to stream flows while other reports only greening of small plants and grasses, not indicating deeper soil moisture recharge. The rains had an abrupt cutoff across Mendocino County. Northern Mendocino County reported near normal precipitation for October, but Southern Mendocino County was drier (below normal). Local lawns are greening up from the weekend rain which saturated the upper soils. During the past 2 months precipitation amounts for Del Norte, Siskiyou, Humboldt, Trinity and Northern Shasta Counties have been 150-250% of normal. On the north coast Gasquet is at 200% of Sept/October normal (8″ over normal). Trinity Reservoir is currently at 106 percent of normal inflow for October. Finally saw some river rises from the weekend storms, after the rises the rivers returned to new elevated baseflow levels. Drought reductions were depicted for areas with rains in excess of 1.5 inches and 30-day PnP greater than 200 percent of normal across Northern California.

AHPS is showing heavy rains across Wheeler County Oregon, but ground reports do not corroborate those estimates. No change was made to the depiction in eastern Oregon.

Across Washington and Northern Idaho, reductions in drought conditions were made. Almost a 1-category improvement was made across the Cascades. Orographically enhanced precipitation fell across portions of Central Idaho, so D1 was removed from near Clearwater County and also around the Boise area. Boise is reporting above-average precipitation for the year, despite below-average snowfall totals. Precipitation missed many portions of northern Idaho, where D0 and D1 were expanded to account for the ongoing dryness, mainly evident in AHPS data out to 60 days and NLDAS Soil Moisture models…

Southern and Central Plains

Widespread rains (1.0 – 2.1 inches) fell across the area from northwestern Texas to Missouri, prompting some improvements across those areas. The rains were ongoing at the data cutoff time of 12Z on Tuesday, November 4. Some reductions in drought intensity and coverage were made over the Texas Panhandle, partly due to recent rains and partly due to a reassessment of conditions in conjunction with the Texas State Climatologist. Improvements were also made to southwest Missouri, where recent rains have ameliorated any lingering dryness.

Across central and eastern Oklahoma, recent rains (0.5 – 2.6 inches) prompted some small areas of 1-category reduction in drought. No changes were made across southeast Oklahoma. In contrast, dryness continued across Arkansas and northwest Louisiana, so D0 was expanded to cover the areas showing less than 50 percent of normal precipitation at the 30 through 90 day time intervals.

Some reduction in drought coverage was made across eastern New Mexico, as 30-, 60-, and 90-day precipitation totals were well above average. Drought conditions in Colorado showed little signs of change during the past week. The areas around Las Animas and Conejos Counties have competing signals (dry long-term, wetter short-term). If the trend toward wetter conditions continues, the drought conditions will need to be reassessed…

Southwest and Great Basin

No changes were made to the drought depiction across Nevada, Utah, or Arizona. The Nevada State Climatologist requested no changes, pending evaluation of impacts of recent light rains (less than 1.0 inch)…

Looking Ahead
During November 6-10, wet weather is forecast for the eastern third of the Nation, Pacific Northwest, and parts of the southern Great Plains. Rainfall totals are likely to exceed 4.0 inches across Texas as the moisture is likely to have a tropical source. Lake enhanced precipitation is also likely near the Great Lakes as a low-pressure system is forecast to move from the Great Lakes to the Canadian Maritime Provinces during the next 3 days. During the early to middle portions of next week, a cold front is forecast to traverse the contiguous 48 states, ushering in drier and cooler conditions.

For the ensuing 5-day period, November 11-15, odds favor below normal temperatures east of the Rockies, with above normal temperatures west of the Continental Divide. Below median precipitation is favored for much of the contiguous 48 states, except near the Great Lakes, New England, and South Texas. Above median rains are favored for most of Alaska, except the interior basin, north of the Alaska range.

Reclamation (@usbr): Climate change impacts to western basins

Albuquerque launches New Mexico’s first operational aquifer storage and recovery project — Albuquerque Journal #RioGrande

The latest ENSO diagnostic discussion is hot off the presses (El Niño watch)

Mid-October 2014 plume of model predictions via the Climate Prediction Center
Mid-October 2014 plume of model predictions via the Climate Prediction Center

From the Climate Prediction Center:

Synopsis: There is a 58% chance of El Niño during the Northern Hemisphere winter, which is
favored to last into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2015.

During October 2014, above-average sea surface temperatures (SST) increased slightly across the eastern half of the equatorial Pacific. The weekly Niño indices were between +0.6°C (Niño-3.4 and Niño-1+2) and +0.9°C (Niño-3) at the end of the month. Subsurface heat content anomalies (averaged between 180o-100oW) were largely unchanged even as a new downwelling Kelvin wave increased temperatures at depth in the central Pacific. The monthly equatorial low-level winds were near average, although anomalous westerlies continued to emerge on occasion. Upper-level winds were also mostly average across the Pacific. The Southern Oscillation Index continued to be negative, accompanied by mostly average rainfall near the Date Line and suppressed rainfall over Indonesia. Overall, several features across the tropical Pacific are characteristic of borderline El Niño conditions, but collectively, the combined atmosphere and oceanic state remains ENSO-neutral.

Similar to last month, most models predict El Niño to develop during October-December 2014 and to continue into early 2015. However, the ongoing lack of clear atmosphere-ocean coupling and the latest NCEP CFSv2 model forecast have reduced confidence that El Niño will fully materialize (at least five overlapping consecutive 3-month values of the Niño-3.4 index at or greater than 0.5°C). If El Niño does emerge, the forecaster consensus favors a weak event. In summary, there is a 58% chance of El Niño during the Northern Hemisphere winter, which is favored to last into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2015.

USGS: National Water-Use at Lowest Levels since before 1970

Total US water withdrawals since 1950 via the USGS
Total US water withdrawals since 1950 via the USGS

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Ethan Alpern):

Water use across the country reached its lowest recorded level in nearly 45 years. According to a new USGS report, about 355 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn for use in the entire United States during 2010. This represents a 13 percent reduction of water use from 2005 when about 410 Bgal/d were withdrawn and the lowest level since before 1970.

“Reaching this 45-year low shows the positive trends in conservation that stem from improvements in water-use technologies and management,” said Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior. “Even as the U.S. population continues to grow, people are learning to be more water conscious and do their part to help sustain the limited freshwater resources in the country.”

In 2010, more than 50 percent of the total withdrawals in the United States were accounted for by 12 states in order of withdrawal amounts: California, Texas, Idaho, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, New York, Alabama and Ohio.

California accounted for 11 percent of the total withdrawals for all categories and 10 percent of total freshwater withdrawals for all categories nationwide. Texas accounted for about 7 percent of total withdrawals for all categories, predominantly for thermoelectric power, irrigation and public supply.

Florida had the largest saline withdrawals, accounting for 18 percent of the total in the country, mostly saline surface-water withdrawals for thermoelectric power. Oklahoma and Texas accounted for about 70 percent of the total saline groundwater withdrawals in the United States, mostly for mining.

“Since 1950, the USGS has tracked the national water-use statistics,” said Suzette Kimball, acting USGS director. “By providing data down to the county level, we are able to ensure that water resource managers across the nation have the information necessary to make strong water-use and conservation decisions.”

Water withdrawn for thermoelectric power was the largest use nationally, with the other leading uses being irrigation, public supply and self-supplied industrial water, respectively. Withdrawals declined in each of these categories. Collectively, all of these uses represented 94 percent of total withdrawals from 2005-2010.

  • Thermoelectric power declined 20 percent, the largest percent decline.
  • Irrigation withdrawals (all freshwater) declined 9 percent.
  • Public-supply withdrawals declined 5 percent.
  • Self-supplied industrial withdrawals declined 12 percent.
  • A number of factors can be attributed to the 20 percent decline in thermoelectric-power withdrawals, including an increase in the number of power plants built or converted since the 1970’s that use more efficient cooling-system technologies, declines in withdrawals to protect aquatic habitat and environments, power plant closures and a decline in the use of coal to fuel power plants.

    “Irrigation withdrawals in the United States continued to decline since 2005, and more croplands were reported as using higher-efficiency irrigation systems in 2010,” said Molly Maupin, USGS hydrologist. “Shifts toward more sprinkler and micro-irrigation systems nationally and declining withdrawals in the West have contributed to a drop in the national average application rate from 2.32 acre-feet per acre in 2005 to 2.07 acre-feet per acre in 2010.”

    For the first time, withdrawals for public water supply declined between 2005 and 2010, despite a 4 percent increase in the nation’s total population. The number of people served by public-supply systems continued to increase and the public-supply per capita use declined to 89 gallons per day in 2010 from 100 gallons per day in 2005.

    Declines in industrial withdrawals can be attributed to factors such as greater efficiencies in industrial processes, more emphasis on water reuse and recycling, and the 2008 U.S. recession, resulting in lower industrial production in major water-using industries.

    In a separate report, USGS estimated thermoelectric-power withdrawals and consumptive use for 2010, based on linked heat- and water-budget models that integrated power plant characteristics, cooling system types and data on heat flows into and out of 1,290 power plants in the United States. These data include the first national estimates of consumptive use for thermoelectric power since 1995, and the models offer a new approach for nationally consistent estimates.

    In August, USGS released the 2010 water-use estimates for California in advance of the national report. The estimates showed that in 2010, Californians withdrew an estimated total of 38 Bgal/day, compared with 46 Bgal/day in 2005. Surface water withdrawals in the state were down whereas groundwater withdrawals and freshwater withdrawals were up. Most freshwater withdrawals in California are for irrigation.

    The USGS is the world’s largest provider of water data and the premier water research agency in the federal government.

    More USGS coverage here.

    Saguache Creek: 140 years of ranching tradition and 13,000 acres under conservation easements #RioGrande

    Saguache Creek
    Saguache Creek

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The creek that drops out of La Garita Mountains and snakes its way toward the north end of the San Luis Valley floor has sustained ranching for 140 years. The ranchers who live in the narrow drainage and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust want to ensure that doesn’t change.

    “They really believe in that lifestyle and the importance of that lifestyle to the rest of us that live in urban areas,” Erik Glenn, the land trust’s deputy director, said.

    Last month, the land trust finalized a conservation easement on the Werner Ranch east of town, pushing the amount of voluntarily protected acreage along the Saguache Creek to 13,000 acres.

    The push to protect the drainage started nearly two decades ago when the Nature Conservancy began reaching out to landowners about protecting their land. But that initial push, which encompassed much of the north end of the San Luis Valley, was slow to take.

    “At that time, conservation easements and the Nature Conservancy in the traditional ag community were probably viewed with some hesitation,” Glenn said.

    The Nature Conservancy’s efforts coincided roughly with the formation in 1995 of the cattlemen’s land trust, which was put together by the membership of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. The link to the association, which has been protecting and promoting the interests of the industry since 1867, helped ease some of the locals’ apprehensions, Glenn said. By the late 1990s, a few ranchers in the area led by the Coleman family went ahead with easements. That example made a difference with their neighbors.

    “The landowners down there are very connected to each other,” he said. “It’s a lot of the same families that have been there for years and years.”

    Some of the families along the creek have had their ranches as far back as the 1870s.

    Today, there are 26 easements on parts or all of 21 ranches. The conservation easements share some common traits, Glenn said. They include keeping water rights tied to the property in perpetuity. The easements also restrict the right landowners would otherwise have to subdivide the property and often limit the construction of outbuildings or a new home to small sections of the property. The landowners retain ownership of the land and, in turn, can gain access to federal tax deductions, state tax credits and estate and local property tax benefits, among other potential incentives.

    Glenn said the land trust has gotten financial help from Natural Resources Conservation Service programs in the farm bill that aim to preserve irrigated agriculture. Great Outdoors Colorado also has made grants toward the group’s work. The land trust, which also has done extensive work along Tomichi Creek near Gunnison and the Elk River near Steamboat Springs, will keep working along Saguache Creek.

    Glenn said he hopes the recent conservation of the Werner Ranch will influence others at the eastern end of the drainage.

    “We think that one will probably catalyze additional efforts along the creek east of town,” he said.

    More conservation easement coverage here.

    Fountain Creek: “They’re selfish and the vote shows they don’t care about their neighbors downstream” — Jay Winner

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pueblo County officials are considering legal options after a two-year effort to form an El Paso County drainage authority for Fountain Creek went down the drain Tuesday. Particularly irritating for them was the decision by voters to approve keeping $2 million in tax money for parks while rejecting a plan to fund more than $700 million in flood control backlog.

    “They may develop some nice parks, and hopefully they’ll have water to put on those parks,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “They’re selfish and the vote shows they don’t care about their neighbors downstream. The vote on Tuesday was very divisive to Southern Colorado.”

    “I’m angry and disappointed,” added Pueblo County Commission Chairman Terry Hart. “They’ve put the question to voters twice and stormwater has failed twice. With these votes, it’s clear the people in El Paso County value entertainment more than honoring their commitments.”

    The vote could have repercussions for the Southern Delivery System, an $841 million water pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

    “Colorado Springs and its voters have not been supportive of finding and funding solutions for flood control on Fountain Creek throughout the discussions about Southern Delivery System,” said Pueblo Chieftain Publisher and Editor Bob Rawlings. “It should not have been built and should not be turned on until those questions are answered.”

    The Lower Ark District voted last year to sue the Bureau of Reclamation over its approval of the SDS contract despite the lack of a steady stream of funding for stormwater, which Colorado Springs had indicated was in place during a study. The district asked for a supplemental study monitoring SDS impacts without stormwater funding in place. The lawsuit was put on hold until after the election.

    “We did not want to be blamed for the failure of the stormwater vote,” Winner said. “To me, this is not unexpected. I just don’t think they care.”

    The Lower Ark board will consider its legal options at its Nov. 19 meeting.

    Pueblo County also will huddle with lawyers on potential violations of its 1041 permit for SDS, which includes stormwater controls. Hart said the county also is concerned about the Reclamation permit for use of Lake Pueblo and a state water quality permit in light of Tuesday’s vote.

    “Every conversation we’ve had with our friends to the north has been ‘be patient.’ We told them we would sit back and watch,” Hart said. “Our patience is at an end. In fact it may be gone.”

    The other commissioners had similar views.

    “They’re obligated legally and morally to control stormwater,” said Commissioner Sal Pace. “If they have to dry up some parks or not pave some streets, they need to figure it out.”

    “I would share my dismay with Colorado Springs Council President Keith King (who was quoted on the radio Tuesday night),” said Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen. “They need to regroup and secure funding for flood control on Fountain Creek. I would add that it’s up to their leadership to inform the voters.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A two-year effort to get El Paso County rowing in one direction on Fountain Creek flood control fell apart like a sandy bank falling into the stream Tuesday. But Colorado Springs officials have not given up on finding a way to fund flood control.

    “I think that it’s unfortunate that the stormwater initiative didn’t pass here in El Paso County, particularly considering the storms, floods and issues we’ve had in the last couple of years,” said Larry Small, a former Colorado Springs council member who now manages the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. “Hopefully the people will become more aware and reconsider the issue at some future point.”

    A task force started by Colorado Springs council members and El Paso County commissioners in 2012 became a private organization promoting the Pikes Peak Drainage Authority in this year’s election. But its efforts to promote were counteracted by signs in Colorado Springs front yards that read: “No rain tax.”

    Council voted 7-2 and commissioners 5-0 to put the measure on the ballot last summer.

    But Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach in August issued a proclamation claiming the fee was too high and tied up money for 20 years. He has promoted other ways to fund stormwater control, bundling it with other capital needs. On the day after the election, Bach announced stormwater would be added to the topics at a series of community meetings that will begin next week. In any case, the soonest another election would be held is next April.

    “Everything from Mayor Bach to date has grossly underfunded stormwater,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart, who added that the county is looking at legal action as a result of the failed vote. “I need to see something concrete.”

    Colorado Springs Utilities continues to take the position that the 1041 permit applies to future development, not the historic needs that were listed in the stormwater initiative, said Gary Bostrom, chief of water services. However, Utilities wants to see stormwater control succeed.

    “We will remain focused on doing our part to support a longterm solution to fund stormwater infrastructure needs,” Bostrom said. “In addition to our many efforts underway to improve Fountain Creek, Colorado Springs Utilities will continue to work with community leaders to develop a stormwater solution that our residents can support.”

    From KRCC:

    In El Paso County, voters strongly supported issue 1A for a revenue retention to help fund county parks. Voters rejected a proposal to create a regional drainage authority to fund storm water repairs. In Manitou Springs, issue 2G, which would have prohibited marijuana sales, was soundly defeated.

    More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.