The latest newsletter from the Water Center at CMU is hot off the presses

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art
Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Earlier this month, the Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a complete draft of Colorado’s Water Plan, which will be formally presented to Governor Hickenlooper on December 10. The draft will be finalized in December 2015.

The plan steers clear of endorsing controversial projects, such as any new transmountain diversion from the west slope to the east slope, but does outline key issues to be addressed for any such project to proceed. You can find current drafts of each chapter here. For journalist Allen Best’s report on the plan and the process, click here.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Path to Grand Lake clarity standard far from clear #ColoradoRiver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

Keep Grand Lake Blue. If you’re a resident of Grand County, you’ve probably seen those words pasted proudly to someone’s bumper. To the uninitiated, it seems like an innocuous, if not benevolent, goal. But to some Grand Lake fisherman, the issue is far from clear…

…a recent study by Brett Johnson, a professor in CSU’s department of fish, wildlife and conservation biology.

The study found that “pumping from Shadow Mountain Reservoir has an “enriching effect that should be beneficial to Grand Lake’s fish populations.”[…]

In 2008, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission set in motion a process to develop a clarity standard for Grand Lake.

Most of the solutions proposed so far would include bypassing Grand Lake, eliminating the influx of dirty, nutrient rich water from Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

In turn, Johnson postulates this could result in declines in sport fish growth and production.

During the Nov. 20 meeting, Katherine Morris, Grand County’s water quality specialist, raised some concerns with Johnson’s study, namely that the nutrient sources that Johnson identified were primarily cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacteria are less edible than phytoplankton, and when they die in large quantities, they can be toxic.

Johnson has conceded that pumping cyanobacteria into Grand Lake wouldn’t be a good idea, Morris said.

Cyanobacteria are currently the primary producers in both Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

“If we weren’t pumping the wrong nutrient ratio into Grand Lake, that might not be a problem,” Morris said.

Grand County will be issuing a rebuttal to the study, Morris said.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation November 1 thru 23, 2014
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation November 1 thru 23, 2014

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Fountain Creek: Will potential Pueblo County stormwater lawsuit impact the Southern Delivery System?

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From the Colorado Springs Independent (John Hazlehurst):

Let’s consider the Southern Delivery System, which, according to a 2013 white paper from Colorado Springs Utilities, will cure our water worries.

“SDS is more than a pipeline,” wrote CEO Jerry Forte. “SDS will serve as an engine driving more efficiency, effectiveness and reliability in our system, while protecting water rights from future threats. SDS makes our entire water system more than the sum of its parts.”

And if SDS isn’t available? Forte predicted higher rates, permanent watering restrictions and, as other systems age, the risk of long-term outages.

“A future without SDS,” Forte concluded, “could jeopardize our ability to meet future water demand, the reliability of our system, our valuable permits and approvals, and our community’s economic stability.”

There’s a tiny little cloud on the horizon — the lawsuit Pueblo County may be preparing to file over Colorado Springs’ inability to fund reliable flood control in Fountain Creek. And that’s to say nothing of a similar lawsuit threat from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which isn’t related to SDS directly but still could imperil the project.

CSU has issued a harrumphing press release, claiming a lawsuit from Pueblo would be without merit. But is it possible that Pueblo, and/or its ally, could prevail?

I’m not a distinguished attorney (you’ve confused me with my daughter, Melanie Hazlehurst Gavisk). But although the law’s nuances may elude me, I’m not encouraged by CSU’s (or the city’s) track record in litigation…

So here we are again. What happens if we lose, and local voters refuse once again to fund stormwater infrastructure?

So far, we’ve spent about $600 million on SDS, most of it borrowed. We’ll still have to pay it back. Worst-case scenario: Drought intensifies in California and the entire Colorado River Basin, our existing sources of supply are threatened, and we have to fund a reuse/recycle system. Desirable as that may sound to some environmentalists, it’d be hugely expensive, and would drive water rates into the stratosphere. Lawns? Gardens? Trees? Forget ’em.

There’s a solution at hand, though. If Council agrees to refer to the ballot Mayor Steve Bach’s proposal to issue $160 million in capital improvement bonds to fund stormwater and other infrastructure for the next five years, and our flighty voters approve — problem solved for now.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.

#COWaterPlan: “if you can streamline the permit process, it’s going to be helpful for the state” — Alan Hamel

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

If nothing else, the push to create a state water plan has led to a lot of talk about water.

“It has been a great opportunity,” said Alan Hamel, who chaired the Colorado Water Conservation Board last year when the idea for the plan was hatched. “We have created a lot of interest. But there’s still a lot of work between the draft and the final version.”

The draft state water plan will be presented next month to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who issued the executive order for the plan.

Hamel and his colleagues on the CWCB got one last look at the draft document at last week’s meeting.

What’s most significant to Hamel is the volume of public responses to the plan. More than 13,000 unique comments were received, along with 11,800 pages of form letters from people who wanted to see their concerns represented in the state water plan.

“There was a lot of passion in those comments,” Hamel said.

Among the major themes:

– Protection of the prior appropriation doctrine in the Colorado Constitution and subsequent court decisions. It grants seniority to the earliest use of water in the same stream system.

– Urban conservation programs that reduce the need to bring water from other sources to serve growing populations along the Front Range.

– Protection of rivers and streams for environ­mental and recreational uses.

– Preservation of farmland in Colorado.

– Development of the Colorado River, either for or against.

Hamel believes the chief value of a state water plan will be in how limited resources will be used to fund water projects and in removing permitting barriers to worthwhile enterprises.

“I think if you can streamline the permit process, it’s going to be helpful for the state,” he said. “I think the plan will bring a good collaborative approach.”

Hamel was skeptical of the state’s ability to complete the draft in a little more than a year, but is now optimistic that the final version can be in place by December 2015. Part of the reason is the work that has been going on for more than a decade with the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, Interbasin Compact Committee and the nine basin roundtables.

“The timelines were extremely short. We had a new director at the CWCB. But the staff, roundtables and IBCC stepped up to complete the project,” he said.

Early last year, the state Legislature also included a separate process that got even more people involved in commenting on the plan.

Despite the number of comments, there are still areas where the public needs to be better informed about how water resources are managed, Hamel added.

“We still have a lot of education to do,” he said.

There may also be a few holes in the plan.

The issue of tying new growth to available water supplies remains in the hands of local authorities within Colorado and would be difficult to include in the final plan, Hamel said.

“But the state can encourage networking and ideas,” he said. “The plan would bring a more coordinated approach.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Drought news

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

Summary

An unsettled, somewhat milder weather pattern developed over the nation, with locally heavy rain in parts of the south affording some drought relief. Farther east, showers in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast mostly prevented expansion of abnormal dryness, though rain largely bypassed southern Pennsylvania during the period. Locally heavy downpours eased drought in the southeastern Plains. In contrast, the West’s core drought areas remained dry, though additional heavy rain and mountain snow were observed in parts of the Northwest…

Central Plains

Despite a mostly dry, warmer week, the drought depiction over the central Plains remained unchanged. 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

Dry weather in western portions of the region contrasted with locally heavy downpours in the east. The drought depiction over the southern High Plains remained unchanged, with widespread Severe (D2) to Extreme (D3) drought noted from western Kansas into northern Texas. Farther east, moderate to heavy rain was noted in south-central Oklahoma, with numerous reports of 3 to more than 5 inches west of Lake Texoma. Likewise, moderate to heavy rainfall (1 to 6 inches) was noted across much of central and eastern Texas, with the highest concentration of heavy rain near San Antonio and Austin. Consequently, there were widespread reductions to drought intensity and coverage in the areas where rain was heaviest…

Western U.S.

Unsettled conditions in the north contrasted with ongoing drought elsewhere. Despite the northern precipitation, there were no changes to the drought depiction as experts in the field await further information regarding the potential benefits of the precipitation. Farther south, additional drought increases were likewise put on hold as all eyes turn toward the much-anticipated arrival of moisture later in the upcoming period.

For the second consecutive week, a steady plume of Pacific moisture produced 1 to more than 4 inches (liquid equivalent) of precipitation in northern portions of the Cascade Range, with lesser totals (0.5 to 1.6 inches liquid equivalent) noted farther east in the northern Rockies. 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 65 to 85 percent of normal in the state’s remaining drought areas, though deficits diminished somewhat.

Despite a southward shift of the precipitation over the period, the moisture during the week not sufficient to afford drought relief to California. The rain, which tallied locally more than 2 inches in northern California, will certainly benefit pastures and begin the process of aiding reservoirs. However, the moisture still fell well short of what is needed to ease the impacts of a three-year drought. In the core Extreme (D3) to Exceptional (D4) Drought areas north of Sacramento (where the bulk of this week’s rain fell), the 36-month precipitation averaged 60 to 75 percent of normal. Farther south, the abysmal start to the current Water Year (which began October 1) continued; rainfall to-date (since October 1) has totaled 20 to 50 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.

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

An East Coast storm will disrupt holiday travel but provide additional, soaking rainfall to the Southeast while rain and snow fall over the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. In the middle of the country, some snow is expected across the Upper Midwest and northern Plains, while dry weather prevails elsewhere. Out west, periods of rain and mountain snow will continue across the northern Rockies and Northwest. Meanwhile, much of California and the western Great Basin may receive rain and mountain snow from a late-week storm system, while unfavorably dry conditions prevail in the Four Corners region. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for December 1–5 calls for near- to above-normal temperatures nationwide, except for colder-than-normal conditions across the northern Plains and Upper Midwest. Meanwhile, above-normal precipitation in the eastern and western U.S., including California, will contrast with drier-than-normal weather across central and southern portions of the Rockies and Plains.