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Science Senator. It's called science.
Science Senator. It’s called science.

Rio Grande Restoration Project’s Outcalt Project wraps up, 12 miles of river now restored

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.

Water Values podcast: Check out @JohnforWASH’s WASH discussion — great insight and info on WASH issues

Clifton water rates going up — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background
Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

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.

Mild winter likely because of effects of El Niño pattern — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

El Niño (ENSO) phenomenon graphic from the Climate Predication Center via Climate Central
El Niño (ENSO) phenomenon graphic from the Climate Predication Center via Climate Central

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.

What’s in store climate-wise for the next 3 months?

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.

Drought news: Still plenty of time to build snowpack in the west

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


Strong storm systems brought heavy, widespread precipitation to both the Northeast and West Coasts, providing beneficial moisture and drought relief to both regions. In the West, a broad trough of low pressure over the eastern North Pacific Ocean funneled several storm systems into the Pacific Coast that tapped subtropical moisture. The week’s greatest precipitation amounts fell on central and northern California where many locations totaled 4 to 12 inches. This precipitation came after the previous week’s moderate to heavy precipitation in the same area, continuing a wet pattern from northern California northward into the Pacific Northwest since mid-October. The wet weather finally allowed ample runoff (while producing stream and river flooding) that raised major reservoir levels (as of Dec. 16) in most of northern and central California by 6 to 10 percentage points from normal capacity (compared to Nov. 28 values). However, major California reservoir capacities still remained below normal, and due to above-normal temperatures accompanying these Pacific storms, more rain than snow has fallen on the lower elevations of the Sierra Nevada and Cascades, producing well below normal snow pack and water content this Water Year (since Oct. 1). Only the highest elevations have seen abundant snows. Fortunately, the West still has plenty of time this winter to build its snow pack for spring and summer stream runoff. Early in the week, a developing storm off the mid-Atlantic Coast looped back eastward, then tracked slowly northward, and eventually stalled over New England, dropping more than 1.5 inches of precipitation from eastern New York state eastward, with locally more than 4 inches in Maine. Late in the period, a storm system in the Nation’s mid-section brought widespread light to moderate precipitation to most of the Plains and Midwest, finally bringing welcome moisture to the central Plains and western Corn Belt after a very dry November and early December. Weekly temperatures averaged well above normal in the western two-thirds of the Nation and in New England, while the Southeast experienced subnormal temperatures…

Central and Southern Plains

The storm system previously mentioned in the Northern Plains and upper Midwest brought beneficial and welcome precipitation to the southern Great Plains (northeastern Texas, eastern Oklahoma) and central Plains (eastern and northern Kansas and most of Nebraska). The greatest totals (between 1.5 and 2 inches, locally to 2.7 inches) fell along the eastern Red River Valley, with 1 to 1.5 inches occurring in eastern Oklahoma, eastern and northwestern Kansas, and central and eastern Nebraska, with most locations (even Nebraska) seeing this precipitation fall as rain on unfrozen ground. With winter precipitation totals typically low, this was a significant moisture event. But due to the very dry autumn weather, this event was not quite enough to erase D0 over most of the central Plains; however, where November was wetter (Kansas southward) and this event had higher totals (at least an inch), a slight 1-category improvement was made. This included northwestern and eastern Kansas, southeastern Oklahoma, and northeastern Texas. In contrast, minimal or no precipitation fell on western and southern sections of Texas, and some slight deterioration was warranted in Texas in the northwestern Panhandle, along the southeastern coast near Matagorda Bay, and northeast of Houston…

Northern Plains and upper Midwest

After a rather dry November and early December, a storm system developed over the Southwest and intensified over the south-central Plains while tracking northeastward, bringing welcome moisture not only to the southern and central Plains, but also to parts of eastern South Dakota, Iowa, and much of Minnesota. The precipitation (0.25 to 0.75 inches, locally to 1.2 inches) was enough to stave off any deterioration in the region, and was a nice moisture bonus where the soils were not frozen (and since December normals are quite low). In the western Dakotas where little or no precipitation fell, short and medium-term surpluses existed, so dryness was not a factor. Accordingly, status-quo was applied here…


With most of this week’s significant precipitation concentrated in the Far West (e.g. California), only light amounts (0.1 to 0.5 inches, locally to 1.2 inches) fell on most of the Four-Corners States. Toward the east, little or no precipitation was reported in eastern New Mexico and western Texas. After the previous week’s light to moderate totals in Arizona and northwestern New Mexico, and a rather robust and long-lasting Southwest monsoon, surplus precipitation still lingered at 90- and 180-days across much of the region, thus no deterioration was needed. This is fortunate as the WYTD (since Oct. 1) basin average precipitation and SWE are both below normal, ranging from 50-70 percent of normal (precipitation) and 10-80 percent of normal (Dec. 15 SWE), with conditions closer to normal in central Colorado and northeastern New Mexico…

The West

Two consecutive weeks of widespread heavy (7-day totals of 4 to 12 inches) precipitation, augmented by above-normal autumn precipitation, produced major stream and river flooding in north-central California. The flooding on the Sacramento River was the highest since Dec. 31, 2005. The runoff led to good capacity increases (6 to 10 percentage points) in major reservoirs across northern and central California; however, they were still below the historical averages for Dec. 16. For example, the Nov. 28 Trinity, Shasta, Oroville, Folsom, and San Luis Lakes percent of capacity was 23, 23, 26, 28, and 23; on Dec. 16, they increased to 29, 32, 33, 38, and 33 percent, respectively, but the Dec. 16 historical averages were 44, 53, 54, 79, and 52 percent. Based upon historical storage data, almost every major reservoir saw a 1-category drought improvement in their levels during the first half of December, and combined with wet start to the Water Year (and December), a broad 1-category improvement was made in north-central and along the central coast of California (D4 to D3, or 0-2 to 2-5 percentile). In addition, the mountains east of San Diego and south of San Bernardino in southern California received between 6-12 inches of December precipitation, improving overall moisture conditions there from D3 to D2 levels. Lastly, along the border of California and Arizona, a reassessment of conditions noted surpluses at 30- and 180-days, hence D0 was extended northward to the tip of southern Nevada.

Unfortunately, remaining areas to the south and east of the 1-category improvements were unchanged as the storms precipitation amounts were lower (but welcome), the autumn months were quite dry, runoff was minor to non-existent (albeit a few mudslides in fire-scarred slopes), and not surprisingly, the major reservoir levels in the south remained static. Furthermore, the rain shadow effect was notable on the Nevada side where much less moisture made it over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Also, temperatures accompanying the storms have been above-normal, leading to more rain than snow at the higher elevations (e.g. Sierra Nevada). As a result, the snow water equivalents (SWE) for the northern, central, and southern Sierras were only at 43, 43, and 63 percent of normal for Dec. 16, which was actually higher than SWE values farther north in the Cascades of Oregon and Washington (10-30 percent). Fortunately, there are still many months left in their normal wet season for the Far West to build-up their snow pack, even though the Water Year-to-Date (WYTD) precipitation was at or slightly above normal in the Pacific Northwest. In north-central Washington, the past few months have been wet enough to justify a 1-category improvement to D1 as WYTD basin average precipitation was 112 to 120 percent. Similarly, surplus precipitation has fallen on extreme northern Idaho during the past 6-months to justify removal of D0. Elsewhere across the West and Rockies, enough precipitation (0.2 to 1 inch) fell from these Pacific storms to prevent any further deterioration, but not enough to warrant improvement.

In summary, a wet December (to date) has provided California a foothold for drought recovery, but 3 straight winters of subnormal precipitation will take time (possibly several consecutive wet winters) to fully recharge the reservoir levels and subsoil moisture back to normal. With several more months still left in the wet season, it is possible that additional storms similar to the ones that just occurred will continue to chip away at the long-term hydrological drought, and the addition of lower temperatures would help build the snow pack. “Cautious optimism, but still a long way to go” would be the very short summary for this week’s California drought picture…

Looking Ahead

For the upcoming 5-day period (December 18-22), heavy precipitation (up to 10 inches in northwest Oregon) is forecast for the Pacific Northwest (and southward to northwestern California) and northern Rockies, with lighter amounts in the central Rockies. A southern storm system should bring widespread moderate to heavy precipitation (1 to 4 inches) from central Texas eastward to Georgia and the Carolinas (including the expanding drought area in the Southeast), and lighter amounts along the Northeast Coast and in the central Great Plains. Mostly dry weather is expected in the Southwest (including southern California), High Plains, upper Midwest, Ohio Valley, and southern Florida. Near to above normal temperatures should envelop most of the lower 48 States, with the greatest positive departures in the northern Rockies and Plains and upper Midwest.

For the ensuing 5-day period (December 23-27), the CPC 6-10 day outlooks tilt the odds toward subnormal precipitation for eastern and southeastern Alaska, and from southern Oregon and California southeastward into the lower Mississippi Valley (lower Delta). Favorable chances of above median precipitation are expected in western Alaska, across the northern tier of States, and in the eastern quarter of the Nation, with the highest odds in the Great Lakes region and Northeast. Above median temperatures are expected in Alaska, the Far West, Southwest, and New England, with subnormal readings favored in the northern Plains and Florida.

South Platte Basin: The Nature Conservancy scores $1 million to enhance forest health #SouthPlatte

From Denver.CBSLocal.com:

Three companies on Tuesday donated $1 million to help sustain clean drinking water for Denver and other metro-area communities.

MillerCoors, PepsiCo and Wells Fargo donated the money to the Nature Conservancy also to help with forest restoration in the Upper South Platte River.

Heidi Sherk, with the group, said much of Denver’s water supply originates in the river. Protecting the forest and the water shed will help ensure a reliable supply, she said.

“After fires like the Hayman Fire, the water supply can be severely impacted through the erosion that happens after fires, which interrupts the supply of clean water,” Shrek said.

Years of aggressive fire suppression, coupled with periods of drought, have left more than six million acres of Colorado’s forests at risk for large and damaging wildfires.

Tuesday’s donation will be used to restore forests and clean water over the next three years by conducting restoration efforts on forest lands, including thinning trees, removing dry vegetation and conducting prescribed burns.

Here’s the release from The Nature Conservancy:

MillerCoors, PepsiCo and the Wells Fargo Foundation announced today that they are teaming up to donate $1 million to The Nature Conservancy to ensure a clean and sustainable source of water for Denver and neighboring metropolitan communities along the Front Range forests.

Colorado’s Front Range forests catch the winter snowpack and seasonal rains that replenish rivers and reservoirs and directly furnish drinking water to more than two-thirds of Colorado’s population. Years of aggressive fire suppression and prolonged drought have left more than 6 million acres of Colorado’s forests at risk for unnaturally large and damaging wildfires, threatening people, water and wildlife. 1.5 million of the 6 million forested acres at risk are in the heavily populated Front Range.

“We are grateful to MillerCoors, PepsiCo and the Wells Fargo Foundation for this generous donation,” said Heidi Sherk, The Nature Convervancy’s interim state director in Colorado. “The funds will enable us to increase the scale and scope of restoration, making an impact in this critical watershed that will truly make a difference.”

The donation will ensure that The Nature Conservancy, over the next three years, can design, implement and measure progress on a suite of forest restoration projects in the Front Range that will improve water security for the Denver metropolitan area and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires. Restoration efforts include thinning trees, removing dry vegetation and conducting prescribed burns.

“Water is an essential ingredient in beer, so at MillerCoors we are deeply invested in water stewardship efforts,” said Kim Marotta, MillerCoors director of sustainability. “We rely on Rocky Mountain Water from the Front Range Forests to brew our quality beers, so we are proud to stand alongside our partners and The Nature Conservancy to preserve this vital resource for years to come.”

“This critical watershed protection effort is the first project we’re working on with The Nature Conservancy as part of our recently announced Recycle for Nature partnership,” said Meagan Smith, PepsiCo North America Beverages director of sustainability. “ Joining together with MillerCoors and Wells Fargo will amplify the important work of preserving a vital water source for Denver. We believe simple acts can have a big impact and this project is a great way to begin our relationship with The Nature Conservancy and show our ongoing commitment to the communities in which we operate.”

“Wells Fargo is committed to being environmentally minded in all that we do. This includes finding ways to protect one of our most precious resources: water,” said Ashley Grosh, Wells Fargo vice president of environmental affairs. “We’re proud to join together with MillerCoors, PepsiCo and The Nature Conservancy on critical restoration efforts that are needed to build a more resilient future for communities in Colorado and the larger region.”

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.