Fountain Creek: “Our infrastructure is not just behind, it is decaying” — Merv Bennet

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs is facing a lawsuit over the failure of voters to approve a drainage district in the Nov. 4 election. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board voted to give Colorado Springs notice that it would file a federal lawsuit over violations of its stormwater permit under the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit could be filed in 60 days, although the district is willing to discuss “effective remedies” during that time.

The board also voted to ask Pueblo County commissioners to investigate whether Colorado Springs has violated its 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System because it has not adequately funded stormwater protection for Fountain Creek.

“We’re frustrated about to our limit,” Lower Ark Chairman Lynden Gill told Colorado Springs Councilman Merv Bennett, utility board chairman, who spent an hour explaining how Colorado Springs intends to deal with the stormwater question after the failure of a regional drainage district in the election.

“We’re not going to give up. We’ll keep moving forward,” Bennett told the board.

Bennett argued that Colorado Springs is in compliance with the 1041 permit, but is obligated to fund stormwater as well. He was optimistic that voters eventually would approve a drainage district, acknowledging that a two-year effort with the support of political and business leaders had not been enough to convince voters this year.

He received a chilly reception.

“We had a meeting two years ago, and other than the dates, nothing has changed,” said Melissa Esquibel, a Lower Ark board member from Pueblo.

Esquibel asked Bennett if the city still has a $535 million backlog of projects without a stable source of funding. The total for El Paso County is $700 million.

Bennett said that $140 million-$160 million of that total is critical, but noted that the regional approach, which would have generated $40 million annually to deal with that. Other measures, including the Drainage Criteria Manual, have been taken as well, and the city is in compliance with its 1041 permit, he said.

Bennett pleaded for more time and cooperation.

“I don’t see us working together,” said Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner. He said talks between the district and Colorado Springs on water issues ended shortly after SDS permits were issued.

“If there have been sins of the past, I’d like to correct them,” Bennett said. “Our infrastructure is not just behind, it is decaying.”

That failed to sway the Lower Ark board, which had been teeing up the lawsuit for nearly two years. The board did not revive an earlier approach to sue the Bureau of Reclamation for failure to enforce its permit, opting instead to go after Colorado Springs directly.

“This was the more productive approach,” said Peter Nichols, Lower Ark’s water attorney.

The notice to sue cites Colorado Springs’ reduction in stormwater funding, deterioration of infrastructure, failure to control structures, failure to reduce discharge of pollutants and failure to prevent discharges that could affect public health as bases for the lawsuit.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Colorado Springs City Councilman Merv Bennett threw himself on the mercy of the Lower Arkansas water board Wednesday asking for more time for the city to develop a permanent stormwater funding plan.

Colorado Springs has had plenty of time, said Melissa Esquibel, a board member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. It’s time to sue, she said.

The board voted unanimously to put Colorado Springs on notice for a lawsuit over its lack of a stormwater funding program.

Colorado Springs is violating its Municipal Stormwater National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit, “as a result of its failure to provide adequate funding to support stormwater, to properly maintain its stormwater facilities and to reduce the discharge of pollutants from the MS4 (permit) to the maximum extent practicable,” says the Wednesday letter sent to Mayor Steve Bach, City Council President Keith King and City Attorney Wynetta Massey.

The violations adversely affect human health and the environment and are resulting in worsening water quality on Fountain Creek, the letter says.

“What it boils down to is we are frustrated,” said Lynden Gill, water district board chairman. “It’s about to our limit.”

The water district board, which includes Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent and Prowers counties, had contemplated litigation two years ago. But Colorado Springs elected officials promised to find a permanent source of funding, instead of annually piecing together money from the general fund and federal grants, which are not guaranteed, to pay for flood control projects, said Jay Winner, the water district’s general manager.

The lawsuit talk was tabled, he said.

Folks in the Arkansas Valley were hopeful that El Paso County, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain and Green Mountain Falls voters would approve a 
20-year plan to fund a stormwater program. But the ballot measure, which included the creation of a governmental entity and the collection of a fee from all property owners, was defeated 53 percent to 46.7 percent this month.

Massey said through a city spokeswoman that she did not have time to review the letter of intent to file suit, which arrived late Wednesday afternoon.

King dismissed the threat of litigation and said it would be difficult to distinguish if pollutants in Fountain Creek originated from Colorado Springs or from Pueblo.

“I don’t think they have grounds,” King said.

Colorado Springs earmarked $18 million for stormwater projects in 2013 and $26 million in 2014, Bennett said. The bulk of that money is federal grants. For example, in the proposed 2015 budget, the city expects to spend $38 million on stormwater projects. Of that, $5 million is from the general fund. The rest is money carried over from the previous year and $18 million in grants.

Arkansas Valley water board members were not impressed with the numbers.

“A couple of years ago we had a meeting in Pueblo, and other than the date, nothing has changed,” Esquibel said. “I don’t see significant action.”

The issue with the Arkansas Valley water district is different from one raised by Pueblo County commissioners, who said Colorado Springs Utilities promised to make flood control improvements on Fountain Creek as part of an agreement to pump water out of the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs in the 
$1 billion water pipeline project called Southern Delivery System. When the permits for SDS were inked, Colorado Springs had a stormwater fee in place and a list of projects designed to head off floodwaters going south. But the fee ended in 2009 and left Pueblo officials wondering if the promised flood control projects would be built.

Bennett told the water board that Utilities has committed to spending $131 million to mitigate flooding and improve water quality on Fountain Creek, including $50 million scheduled to be paid to the Fountain Creek District to mitigate the impacts of SDS to Fountain Creek in Pueblo County.

“We are taking responsibility for improvements on Fountain Creek,” Bennett told the board.

He fears that litigation would hold up work on the SDS project and the $50 million payment to Fountain Creek District, he said.

Esquibel said the Arkansas Valley water board won’t be held hostage by the threat of holding up the $50 million payment. Instead, the board voted unanimously to urge Pueblo County commissioners to review its permits with Colorado Springs Utilities related to water flow in Fountain Creek and take its own legal action.

The letter of intent to sue puts Colorado Springs on notice of a possible lawsuit, said Peter Nichols, the attorney for the Arkansas Valley water board. The board has 120 days to decide if it wants to go forward with the suit.

“Maybe a notice of intent to sue will wake up the people in Colorado Springs,” board member Wayne Whittaker said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County commissioners are mulling their response to Colorado Springs in light of the Nov. 4 rejection of a regional drainage authority by El Paso County voters.

“What we’re doing is looking at all the legal options, including the 1041 permit,” said Terry Hart, chairman of the commission. “Our best approach is using the leadership of all the governments in Pueblo County to do the right thing. We want to do this as professionally and swiftly as possible.”

On Wednesday, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board voted to sue Colorado Springs for violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

The board also voted to ask Pueblo County commissioners to look at whether Colorado Springs violated the conditions of its 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System. Among those conditions are adherence to a Bureau of Reclamation contract which was negotiated on the premise that a stormwater control authority and fee were in place. The stormwater authority would address flooding issues on Fountain Creek caused by development in Colorado Springs, which has an estimated $535 million in backlogged projects.

Colorado Springs City Council eliminated the authority in late 2009, based on its interpretation of a public vote, and in 2012 helped create a task force to look at a regional stormwater authority.

Voters in El Paso County rejected that by a 53-47 percent margin.

Last week, District Attorney Jeff Chostner, a former Pueblo County commissioner, threw his weight behind the county effort. Both Hart and Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district, say they would like Pueblo City Council to get involved as well.

Commissioners on Monday discussed options with their attorneys in executive session. In addition to the 1041 permit, the county is looking at the Clean Water Act, the Reclamation contract and the legal rights of downstream vs. upstream water users.

“We hunkered down with our lawyers to look at what options we have going forward,” Hart said.

Average October temperatures worldwide highest recorded since 1880 — @DroughtGov

The latest winter outlook is hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center


After a memorably cold winter in the central and eastern United States last year, and some very cold weather this month, folks are likely wondering if this cold weather is a harbinger of things to come. The simple answer is “not necessarily,” as the persistence of weather and climate from one winter to the next or even one month to the next is usually fairly low (Livezey and Barnston 1988; Barnston and Livezey 1989; Van den Dool 1994). While “persistence”—the prediction that recent conditions will continue—is a simple forecast to make, it rarely proves to be as accurate as forecasts made using dynamical models or more advanced statistical methods.

So does that mean this won’t be a cold winter in the central and eastern part of the nation? Again the answer is “not necessarily.” According to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC) mid-November outlook, odds favor below-normal temperatures in certain parts of the country, and many of those areas do turn out to be in the south-central and southeastern United States, as we will discuss shortly.

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, even in regions where above-normal temperatures are favored, a colder-than-normal winter is still a possibility. Remember, CPC’s outlooks describe probabilities, which means—as we’ve explained in earlier blog posts—that even when one outcome is more likely than another, there is still always a chance that a less favored outcome will occur.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) provides strong clues as to what we can expect during winter across much of the United States. Of course, this only applies when El Niño or La Niña are present, and as we approach winter, we find ourselves still waiting and wondering if El Niño is going to begin or not. However, despite the reluctance of El Niño to show itself so far this year, CPC forecasters have considered potential impacts from El Niño and have slightly tilted the outlook (particularly the precipitation outlook) in that direction.

And if El Niño remains a no-show this year, what will this mean for the forecast? Actually, as you might expect, not much, because the forecasters understand the fact that El Niño has a 58% of developing, which also means that there’s a 42% chance that it won’t. To see how information about El Niño gets incorporated into the forecast, let’s take a look at the precipitation outlook. (El Niño often has a more robust influence on precipitation than on temperature.)

The winter precipitation outlook favors wetter-than-normal conditions across the southern tier of the nation extending northward along the East Coast, as well as in southern Alaska, and drier-than-normal conditions in central Alaska, parts of the Pacific Northwest and around the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley. This pattern is quite consistent with the average precipitation patterns seen during previous El Nino winters.

However, you’ll note that the largest probabilities on this outlook are all less than 50%. This means that while above-normal precipitation across the South is the most likely out of the 3 possibilities (below normal, near normal, or above normal), it’s more likely that we’ll see precipitation that is “not above-normal.” That is, the combined chance that the outcome will fall in one of the other two categories (near normal or below normal) is higher.

It’s like spinning a climate roulette wheel. While the “above” area is the biggest piece of the pie, the near-normal and even below-normal areas are not insignificant and could occur. These are very modest probabilities for an El Niño winter and reflect the reality that El Niño is not a sure bet for this winter. And even if it does develop, it’s likely to be a weak event, resulting in weak impacts.

For example, in contrast to this year’s ENSO situation, precipitation probabilities in Texas and Florida during the 2009-10 winter outlook exceeded 50% for above-normal rainfall, and they exceeded 70% during the peak of the 1997/98 event. In both cases, the most likely or favored result occurred, as wetter-than-average winters prevailed. This year our confidence level is not so high, but we still think the probability for above normal is higher than it would be purely due to chance, which would be 33.33%.

The temperature outlook favors a warmer-than-normal winter over Alaska, the Western United States, and northern New England, while below-normal temperatures are favored across much of the south-central (2) and southeastern parts of the nation. Probabilities of above-normal temperature exceed 50% along the West Coast, so this region has a significantly reduced chance (just 15%, according to the pie chart) of seeing a colder-than-normal winter.

Also note that both maps include areas where neither above- nor below-normal conditions is favored. Those areas are shown in white, which represents “equal chances,” and it means that the odds for above, near, or below-normal are all the same (33.33%). This doesn’t mean that temperature or precipitation is expected to be normal this winter in those regions (the probability for that is also 33.33%), but rather that there’s no tilt in the odds toward any of the three categories. Thinking back to the roulette wheel, the areas of each region would be the same, so the likelihood of any of the three categories occurring is also the same.

Making seasonal forecasts is a very challenging endeavor. Seasonal climate models are not as skillful as weather models, and phenomenon like El Niño or La Niña only provide some hints as to what might occur during an upcoming season. CPC issues probabilistic seasonal forecasts so users can take risk and opportunities into account when making climate-sensitive decisions.

However, keep in mind that these outlooks will primarily benefit those who play the long game. The maps show only the most likely outcome where there is greater confidence, but not the only possible outcome. For example, while the outlook favors above-normal temperatures in northern New England, it wouldn’t be shocking for temperatures this winter to be near-normal or even colder-than-normal. I just wouldn’t bet on it.

Drought news: No changes in Four Corners #drought depiction

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


Bitter cold along with some snow settled over the central U.S., affording little — if any — drought relief. Farther east, soaking rainfall eased drought conditions in the Southeast, while highly variable rainfall in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast mostly prevented expansion of abnormal dryness. Out west, most of the region’s core drought areas remained dry, though locally heavy rain and mountain snow were observed in parts of the Northwest. A shallow to moderate snow cover encompassed more than 50 percent of the contiguous U.S. at the end of the period, establishing a new benchmark for the date…

Central Plains

Despite a mostly dry week, the drought depiction over the central Plains remained unchanged due to bitter cold. A historically cold air mass settled over the region, with temperatures averaging 20°F or more below normal. Long-term drought remained entrenched over the central High Plains, where precipitation dating back 36 months has tallied 60 to 75 percent of normal…

Southern Plains and Texas

Bitter cold — albeit dry — weather resulted in no change to the drought depiction except along the Texas Gulf Coast. Temperatures averaged 15 to 25°F below normal for the week, with some shallow snow noted over northern portions of the region at the end of the monitoring period. Despite the frigid, mostly dry conditions, some Abnormal Dryness (D0) was reduced along the southeastern coast of Texas where rainfall totaled locally more than 2 inches. Short-term drought remained most intense (Exceptional Drought – D4) along the Texas-Oklahoma border west of Wichita Falls, where 90-day precipitation has totaled less than 50 percent of normal. In contrast, many of the long-term drought areas (“L” designation) from Texas into Colorado have received above-normal precipitation over the past 90 days, but are still wrestling with the impacts of longer-term deficits (60-80 percent of normal over the past three years)…

Western U.S.

Variable conditions in the north contrasted with ongoing drought elsewhere. In addition, Santa Ana winds developed in California, exacerbating drought and enhancing the risk for wildfires. The current Water Year has been largely a disappointment in central and southern portions of the region, but has gotten off to a good start in the Northwest.

In northern portions of the region, a steady plume of Pacific moisture helped produce 1 to more than 4 inches (liquid equivalent) of precipitation in the Cascade Range, providing localized relief from Abnormal Dryness (D0) to Severe Drought (D2) in southwestern Oregon. Despite the beneficial moisture, the drought areas of southwestern Oregon are still contending with the impacts of last season’s poor end to the Water Year; 12-month precipitation averaged 60 to 85 percent of normal in the state’s remaining drought areas despite this week’s higher totals. In contrast to the localized Northwestern improvements, D0 was increased northward in Idaho and far northwestern Montana, where 60-day precipitation has tallied locally less than 60 percent of normal

Farther south, the 2014-15 Water Year has afforded little — if any — drought relief to California. Despite some light to moderate precipitation (0.2 to 1 inch, liquid equivalent) during the period across central and northern California, the totals still fell short of normal and did nothing to offset the impacts of the ongoing three-year drought. The current Water Year (which began October 1) has gotten off to an abysmal start; rainfall to-date (since October 1) has totaled 10 to 35 percent of normal in the Exceptional Drought (D4) areas around San Francisco, and locally less than 20 percent of normal in the D4 around Los Angeles. Likewise, the dry, mostly mild start to the winter has left snowpacks in the Sierra Nevada well short of normal. The dryness has been exacerbated by Santa Ana winds, which gusted over 40 m.p.h. in southern California.

In the Great Basin and Four Corners, there were no changes to this week’s drought depiction despite the very poor start to the current Water Year, particularly in western portions of the region. The season’s poor initial prospects are reflected by season-to-date (since October 1) precipitation, which has totaled locally less than 10 percent of normal in the Great Basin and western portions of the central and southern Rockies, with most areas reporting less than 30 percent of normal. Changes to the drought depiction across much of the west are typically slow to occur during the early part of winter, as the development of the Water Year will be crucial to the region’s drought relief (or development) prospects…

Looking Ahead

Milder weather will gradually develop over much of the nation, with precipitation chances greatest east of the Plains and in the Northwest. Following bitter cold early in the period, intensifying southerly flow will allow above-normal temperatures to develop across much of the nation. The moist, warm flow from the Gulf will set the stage for locally heavy rain from the southeastern plains and Mississippi Valley to the Appalachians. Meanwhile, an additional influx of Pacific moisture will produce locally heavy rain and mountain snow in the Northwest, with some moisture expected to spread into the northwestern quarter of California. However, the southern Rockies will remain mostly dry. The NWS 6-10 day outlook for November 25 – 29 calls for below-normal temperatures across much of the U.S., with warmer-than-normal weather confined to New England and west of the Rockies. Meanwhile, below-normal precipitation from California to the central and southern Plains and Delta will contrast with wetter-than-normal conditions along the East Coast and across the nation’s northern tier.

Denver Water presented with two conservation awards #ColoradoRiver

New GAO report shows we must act now to address the growing economic costs of climate change in Colorado — @SenBennetCO