— Climate Progress (@climateprogress) December 18, 2014
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):
The Rio Grande isn’t a raging torrent of white water on the San Luis Valley floor.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t do damage.
For decades, the river has carved shelf-like banks on segments of the river between here and Del Norte, leaving increased sedimentation, degraded fish and wildlife habitat and property damage.
The nonprofit Rio Grande Restoration Project has set out to fix that problem, having restored roughly 12 miles of riverbank, including the completion of the Outcalt Project last week.
“It’s a typical stream bank and river restoration project for around here where there’s been a loss of anchoring vegetation, so that results in instability in the stream bank,” said Heather Dutton, the project’s executive director.
The increased erosion that comes from the river carving up its banks leads to more sediment, which is a water quality problem for fish and makes it more difficult for the channel to carry water downstream to meet the needs of other irrigators.
It also makes it harder for state water officials to meet the demands of the Rio Grande Compact, which divvies up the river’s flows between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
The river’s carving can also impact property owners.
“Landowners freakout when they see their property wash away in the river and especially if they have a house there or some kind of infrastructure the river is getting close to,” Dutton said.
But she added that the roughly 50 property owners she’s worked with have been interested for reasons beyond self-interest.
“The neat thing about the valley is, people get it,” said Dutton, who grew up on a farm near Sargent. “People understand the need to restore the river for the river’s sake.”
The threat to buildings was not a problem at the Outcalt property, which sits roughly 10 miles upstream of Alamosa.
The project’s contractor — Antonito-based Robins Construction — shaped sections of stream bank, replacing vertical shelves with a more gradual grade.
Rock barbs then were planted to help keep current off the freshly molded banks.
On properties with large cottonwood galleries, root wads also can be dug into the banks, offering the same type of protection but one that’s more attractive to fish and the bugs on which they feed.
“That was a really neat part of this project is there were more cottonwoods than we knew what to do with,” Dutton said.
But the ultimate tool, albeit one that takes longer to take effect, is the planting of willows along the banks to provide long-term stabilization.
All told, 0.65 miles of stream bank were restored in the Outcalt Project. Funding for the projects includes 20 percent payment from the property owner.
Other funding has come from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The restoration project also has an eye on the 33-mile segment of the river that runs from the southern end of the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge to the New Mexico State line.
Program Manager Emma Regier is set to start work on a plan that will identify stretches in need of restoration and the prioritization of potential projects.
Both tasks will be subject to public input and the plan should be completed by next year, Dutton said.
But in the meantime, the restoration project still will have plenty of work to do on the upper reaches of the river between Alamosa and Del Norte fixing diversion structures.
Its biggest and first diversion work came on the McDonald Ditch project, which involves the replacement and relocation of a check dam and the extension of the ditch to a new diversion point upstream.
Construction is underway on the project.
Dutton said she has secured funding for three other projects designed to fix irrigation diversions and has identified another three that still need money.
“We’ll be working on ditch projects for a long time,” she said.
More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.
Science team tracks effects of historic pulse flow
FRISCO — Last May’s pulse flow in the Colorado River helped revive vegetation along a huge swath of the river’s edge, triggering new plant growth and raising the water table in the delta. After comparing satellite images taken August 2013 with new images from this year, scientists calculated a 23 percent increase in the greenness of riparian zone vegetation.
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From the Clifton Water District via the The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
Water customers of the Clifton Water District will see their usage rates go up again starting the first of the year, the fifth time in as many years at the utility.
Clifton water users will see their minimum monthly rate for 3,000 gallons rise $1 from $22 to $23, and customers with an average of 7,000 gallons a month will see an increase of $1.40 in their monthly bill. The changes are in effect beginning Jan. 1, 2015.
Rates for minimum usage were raised $2 last year, and rates increased in 2011, 2012 and 2013, as well at the utility.
By comparison, in 2012 the minimum rate charged for customers using 3,000 gallons or less was $14.50.
Water usage rates in larger quantities will also bump up $.10 per 1,000 gallons across all tiers in 2015.
There is no change this year to the district’s $2.50 monthly system investment fee, and out-of-district customers will still pay 1.5 times the in-district rates.
In a press release, the district cited three primary objectives in raising their rates again: funding the operation of aging infrastructure improvements, loan repayment and encouraging conservation.
Clifton Water is the second-largest system in the region, behind the Ute Water Conservancy District.
Clifton serves a population of some 37,000, and 13,000 taps.
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Amy Hamilton):
The zeros stack up on Powderhorn Mountain Resort’s website: zero snow in the last 48 hours, no snowpack at its mid-mountain base and none of the four lifts are open. To the anguish of skiers and snowboarders itching to get in a few turns, a lack of snow on Grand Mesa so far this year is pushing back Thursday’s scheduled opening day.
Yet down in the sun-splashed Grand Valley, folks have little to complain about.
Afternoon temperatures in the high 40s and 50s have people walking around in long sleeves and sweaters, but fewer jackets. Those hats and gloves are safe in storage a bit longer.
With temperatures ranging between 8 and 13 degrees above normal for this time of year, one starts to wonder if winter will arrive before the Dec. 21 solstice when the Earth’s northern hemisphere starts to tip back toward the sun.
“It’s been nice, hasn’t it?” remarked Ellen Heffernan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “It has been very warm. Last winter it was so cold so early. It’s nice that we can work our way into the cold.”[…]
A weak El Niño pattern is expected for Colorado this winter. The weather pattern in winter tends to favor milder temperatures in the northern U.S. and wetter weather over the southern part of the country.
In typical El Niño years, southern and southwest Colorado tend to receive more rainfall than the northern part of the state, Heffernan said.
In the Grand Valley, March is normally the year’s wettest month and December and January are the driest.
The warmer, dry winter temperatures may lift the spirits of humans, but it can be rough on trees. People should try to water trees, away from their bases and early on in the day to avoid nighttime freezing temperatures, said Susan Carter, horticulture program coordinator with Mesa County’s Colorado State University Extension Office.
“Without the moisture we should probably be thinking about watering them at least once a month,” she said. “Ideally you want to be able to get the moisture down about 6 to 8 inches. You can push a screwdriver down into the soil to check it.”
Gardeners also can place boughs or more mulch on bulbs and other plants to keep them from flowering early, Carter said.
Overall, thanks to a wet summer, Grand Junction is nearly 2 inches ahead of normal rainfall for the year. A reported 10.95 inches has fallen so far this year when the area normally receives nearly nine inches of rain by this time of year. Last year, the Grand Valley reported 12.4 inches of rain by this time.
Nearly an inch of snow normally falls by this time of year in the Grand Junction area. By this time last year, a whopping 10 inches of snow blanketed the Grand Valley, and a total of 14.8 inches of snow fell all winter.
Click here to go to the Climate Prediction Center website.
Here’s what NIDIS has to say about drought over the next 3 months (via Twitter):
Drought to persist/intensify thru March across Far West, S Plains; improvement likely in CA.