Colorado snow is deep and plentiful to start the year — Denver Business Journal

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal January 8, 2015
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal January 8, 2015

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

“As we began the new water year, it looked like summer might never end, given the unseasonably warm temperatures and nearly nonexistent precipitation through October,” the NRCS said. “Thankfully, November brought cooler temperatures and snow to the mountains across the state.”

But the combined San Juan, Animas, San Miguel and Dolores drainage is hurting with just 75 percent of the median snowpack.

Only the Upper Rio Grande is in a worse position – 71 percent of the median.

If the southern basins don’t get more precipitation in the next few months, they may be looking at their fifth consecutive year of below-normal snowpack and seasonal runoff, the NRCS said.

All the other basins are reveling in above-average snowpack, the report said. They range from 101 to 114 percent of the Jan. 1 median. The only exception is the Gunnison basin, which stood at 99 percent of the median.

Reservoir levels statewide also are looking good, with a combined 103 percent of average storage.

But Upper Rio Grande reservoirs were at 67 percent of average storage, and the average for the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins was 90 percent, an improvement over the 83 percent Jan. 1, 2014.

South Platte reservoirs had the highest average storage – 124 percent.

Great article on #energy legislation at #coleg — David McGimpsey

Wheat Ridge: “Why a Denver Suburb Has Gone All-In for Farming” — The Atlantic CityLab

The Flatirons from Wheat Ridge photo via Wheat Ridge 2020
The Flatirons from Wheat Ridge photo via Wheat Ridge 2020

Here’s an excerpt from Anna Bergren Miller’s CityLab article:

Wheat Ridge, Colorado, is experiencing an agricultural renaissance. Once known informally as Carnation City, the Denver suburb built its economy on a foundation of flower nurseries, apple orchards, and assorted vegetable crops. But by the time Wheat Ridge incorporated in 1969, residential and commercial development had eaten up much of the town’s farmland.

Five decades later, when city leaders sat down to rewrite the community’s comprehensive plan, they identified urban agriculture as a focal point. “We wanted to move the city forward and encourage investment, but we didn’t want to lose its unique charm, which is largely based on our agricultural history,” says Ken Johnstone, director of community development for Wheat Ridge.

“On top of that, we’re not blind,” Johnstone adds. “We weren’t the only city getting grassroots interest in local farming and food production. We saw it as an opportunity to brand ourselves.”[…]

The changes, which went into effect in July 2011, allow urban gardens (including for-profit farms operated by either the homeowner or a contractor) in all zoning districts. Farmer’s markets and produce stands are likewise authorized throughout Wheat Ridge. The city has streamlined the process as much as possible, eliminating the need for urban-garden permits. (Building permits are required prior to erecting signage or structures within an urban garden, and farmers selling at markets or produce stands must hold business licenses.)

Interestingly, the city’s embrace of urban farming isn’t a measure to keep development at bay, and neither does it reflect “planned shrinkage” (as in some parts of Detroit, for instance). Wheat Ridge is booming: New home construction is brisk, and commercial and retail vacancy rates are exceptionally low. Agriculture is part of what’s making Wheat Ridge attractive to newcomers. “Anecdotally, people I’ve had conversations with are moving here because of [the agricultural] environment,” says Johnstone.

The latest El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion is hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center


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

ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch

Synopsis: There is an approximately 50-60% chance of El Niño conditions during the next two months, with ENSO-neutral favored thereafter.

During December 2014, positive sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies decreased across the central and east-central equatorial Pacific. At the end of the month, the weekly Niño indices ranged from +0.8°C in the Niño-4 region, to +0.5°C in the Niño-3.4 region, to 0.0°C in the Niño-1+2 region. The positive subsurface heat content anomalies (averaged between 180o-100oW) also decreased during December in response to an upwelling equatorial oceanic Kelvin wave. Although the surface and sub-surface temperature anomalies were consistent with El Niño, the overall atmospheric circulation continued to show only limited coupling with the anomalously warm water. The equatorial low-level winds were largely near average during the month, while upper-level easterly anomalies continued in the central and eastern tropical Pacific. The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) remained slightly negative, but the Equatorial SOI remained near zero. Also, rainfall remained below- average near the Date Line and was above-average over Indonesia. Overall, the combined atmospheric and oceanic state remains ENSO-neutral.

Similar to last month, most models predict the SST anomalies to remain at weak El Niño levels (3-month values of the Niño-3.4 index between 0.5°C and 0.9°C) during December-February 2014-15, and lasting into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2015. If El Niño were to emerge, the forecaster consensus favors a weak event that ends in early Northern Hemisphere spring. In summary, there is an approximately 50-60% chance of El Niño conditions during the next two months, with ENSO-neutral favored thereafter (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome).

Jamestown And Lyons Continue To Work On Post-Flood Housing — KUNC

US 36 West of Lyons September 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call
US 36 West of Lyons September 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

From KUNC (Grace Hood):

In Lyons the challenge around housing centers on building more affordable residences. The town lost two trailer parks which held about 50 homes. Few of those residents have yet to return to Lyons.

To change the picture, the Lyons board of trustees voted Jan. 5 to move forward with one project to build a 50-70 unit housing project using a few acres of Bohn Park south of downtown. Lyons Mayor John O’Brien said the project is vital in replenishing 20 percent of the housing stock lost in the 2013 flood.

“This is an attempt to just partially rebuild some of that stock,” O’Brien said. “It’s a very important step to bring some of our people back and provide affordable housing.”

The project is encountering some opposition from a resident group called Save Our Parks and Open Space. Residents are expected to give the final thumbs-up or down on the project March 31.

Meantime in Jamestown, about 90 percent of residents have returned. Mayor Tara Schoedinger said bringing home the last 10 percent will be more difficult because most are in the midst of applying to federal home buyout programs. The process is posing a financial burden to participants.

“If they’re going to have their property bought out, they really need to do that as soon as possible because they’re paying mortgage payments on a property that doesn’t exist,” Schoedinger said.

The next challenge comes in the form of finding new property for these homeowners. Help could come from federal Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery dollars, which started flowing toward new home construction projects.

Jamestown continues to repair its infrastructure with fixes scheduled for the town square, its water distribution system and replacement of a key bridge on the south side of town in 2015.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

National Climatic Data Center National Summary Information – December 2014


Click here to go to the website for the full report and the cool graphics. Here’s an excerpt:

2014 U.S. temperature exceeds 20th-century average for the 18th consecutive year

Second warmest December boosted 2014 to 34th warmest year for contiguous U.S; eight weather and climate disasters exceeded $1 billion in damages

The 2014 annual average contiguous U.S. temperature was 52.6°F, 0.5°F above the 20th century average. Very warm conditions dominated the West, with four states having their warmest year on record, while the Midwest and Mississippi Valley were cool. This ranked as the 34th warmest year since we began keeping track in the 1895, while the temperature exceeded the 20th Century average for the 18th consecutive year.

The average contiguous U.S. precipitation was 30.76 inches, 0.82 inch above average, and ranked as the 40th wettest year in the 120-year period of record. The Northern U.S. was wet, and the Southern Plains were dry; the national drought footprint shrank about 2 percent.

In 2014, there were eight weather/climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. These eight events resulted in the deaths of 53 people. The events include: the western U.S. drought, the Michigan & Northeast flooding event, five severe storm events, and one winter storm event…

U.S. climate highlights: 2014

  • The West was warmer than average for much of 2014. Nine states had a top 10 warm year. Alaska, Arizona, California, and Nevada each had their warmest year on record. Most locations from the Rockies to the East Coast were cooler than average, with the exception of New England and Florida. Seven states across the Midwest and Mississippi River Valley had a top 10 cool year. No state was record cold during 2014.
  • The Pacific Northwest, Northern Rockies, Midwest, and Northeast were all wetter than average. Michigan and Wisconsin each had their seventh wettest year on record. The Southern Plains and parts of the Ohio Valley were drier than average, but no state was top 10 dry. The rest of the contiguous U.S. had near-average annual precipitation totals.
  • The U.S. Climate Extremes Index (USCEI) for 2014 was 35 percent above average, ranking as the 19th highest annual USCEI in the 105-year record. The components of the USCEI that were much above average for the year included warm nighttime temperatures and 1-day precipitation totals. The USCEI is an index that tracks extremes (falling in the upper or lower 10 percent of the record) in temperature, precipitation, drought, and land-falling tropical cyclones across the contiguous U.S.
  • U.S. climate highlights: December 2014

  • During December, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 37.1°F, 4.5°F above the 20th century average. This ranked as the second warmest December on record, and the warmest since 1939. Every state in the contiguous U.S. had above-average December temperatures, with nine states across the West, Southern Plains, and Northeast having a top 10 warm December. No state was record warm.
  • The December total precipitation for the contiguous U.S. was 2.51 inches, 0.16 inch above the 20th century average. This ranked near the median value in the 120-year period of record. Above-average precipitation was observed across the West, Central Plains, Southeast, and Northeast. Maine had its seventh wettest December on record. Below-average precipitation was observed across the Southern Plains and Northern Plains. North Dakota had its ninth driest December. No state had its wettest or driest December on record.
  • According to the December 30th U.S. Drought Monitor, 28.7 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down from 29.1 percent at the end of last month. Drought conditions improved across parts of Northern California, the Southeast, and the Northeast, but worsened across parts of the Northern Plains, Southern Plains, and Lower Mississippi River Valley. Despite above-average precipitation in California, only modest drought improvements occurred due to long-term precipitation deficits.
  • “Your word is everything…Be slow to commit that vote” — Gail Schwartz #coleg

    Gail Schwartz
    Gail Schwartz

    Adios Ms. Schwartz, it was fun watching you work for sensible water policy in the legislature over the years. Thanks for reading Coyote Gulch. Here’s a report from Curtis Wackerle writing for the Aspen Daily News. Here’s an excerpt:

    Gail Schwartz, who for eight years represented Senate District 5, which includes Pitkin County, in the state capitol, looked on Wednesday as her successor was sworn in. Democrat Kerry Donovan of Vail won a narrow election in November over Don Suppes, the Republican mayor of Orchard City, thanks largely to Donovan’s nearly 40-point margin of victory in Pitkin County.

    Schwartz, also a Democrat, won two close elections in 2006 and 2010 for her two terms in the Senate, both with strong Pitkin County support.

    Senate District 5 now includes parts of Gunnison and Delta counties, and the entire counties of Pitkin, Lake, Eagle, Chaffee and Hinsdale. Before a reapportionment process following the 2010 Census, it encompassed Pitkin, Gunnison, Chaffee, Hinsdale, Mineral and a portion of Delta, plus the five counties of the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado.

    Schwartz on Tuesday said she is proud of her work establishing the Building Excellent Schools Today program, which came about in 2008 and provides competitive grants that support new school construction in rural areas. Other highlights include renewable energy and water conservation efforts she championed in the legislature.

    “It’s been an extraordinary time,” Schwartz said. “We’ve gotten a lot done, not just for Senate District 5, but for rural Colorado and the state as a whole.

    “ … The bottom line is that I have been so blessed and so honored to serve.”

    The now former senator, who at one point was being recruited to challenge Rep. Scott Tipton for his U.S. Congress seat representing the Western Slope, said she does not yet know her next occupation. Schwartz said she has “several balls up in the air.”

    “I’m not looking to go lie on a beach someplace,” she said.

    While she does not want to jump into anything too quickly, Schwartz said she sees opportunities to work on policy development, possibly in education or renewable energy, perhaps with a consulting organization, in a political office or state agency, or with a nonprofit group.

    “I’m tilling the soil to see where the opportunities might be,” she said.

    She said she has no plans to become a lobbyist.

    “I don’t have the genetic makeup,” she said.

    Schwartz also serves on the board of the Aspen Community Foundation and on the High Country Regional Council of the El Pomar Foundation…

    Institutional knowledge

    The Colorado Constitution limits state senators to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. That seems a little counterintuitive to Schwartz, who said she is still running at full speed. Those term limits lead to a loss of a great deal of institutional knowledge, she said, and she has seen plenty of legislators she looked up to walk out the doors of the capitol, perhaps before their time.

    When that is the case, “the question is what happens to that institutional knowledge?” she said. “Who will take the reins? Who will new legislators look to for guidance?”

    Schwartz said that there are more pressing issues that might call for amendments to the state constitution, namely untangling contradictory state revenue and expenditure mandates. But if the term limits question were ever to come up, Schwartz said she would support revisiting the issue. State-level politicians are more accountable to their constituents than on the national level, she said.

    “I believe we already have term limits — they’re called elections,” she said.

    Advice for new a legislator

    Schwartz said she has met extensively with Donovan, whom she endorsed and describes as smart and hard working.

    “She’s quite the student, and she will take the time to study the issues,” Schwartz said of Donovan.

    Schwartz said she and Donovan went through all the files in Schwartz’s office, with Schwartz setting aside those she thought were particularly important. She also passed along to Donovan “about 20 bill ideas I thought would be beneficial to the region.”

    “She heard some of those. I’m extremely grateful that we do have a strong working relationship,” she said. “I believe we share many of the same priorities.

    “ … I certainly respect her independence and being able to do things her way.”

    In general, Schwartz said she would pass along the same advice to Donovan that she was given when she began her tenure in the Senate.

    “I think you want to stay in your seat and listen and learn, and not be too quick to jump on things or provide your opinion until you really understand the issue,” she said.

    The other important piece is to always be cognizant that, as legislator, the only thing you have is your vote, she said. Always be slow to commit it, and don’t promise it to a lobbyist or fellow legislator until you are absolutely sure, and have gone through a thorough process that includes citizen input.

    “Your word is everything,” Schwartz said. “Be slow to commit that vote.”

    Click here and here for Coyote Gulch posts that mention Gail Schwartz.

    Aspen faces deadlines on federal hydro permit — Aspen Journalism


    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

    The Aspen City Council is expected Jan. 12 to face decisions about its federal permit for a hydropower plant on Castle Creek, as the permit expires Feb. 28 and there are deadlines Jan. 29 and March 1 if the city wants to keep the permit alive.

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Aspen its first three-year preliminary permit for a 1,175-kilowatt hydropower plant on lower Castle Creek in November 2008, and its second three-year permit in March 2012.

    In the past nine months, the city’s communication with the commission has signaled varying degrees of commitment for the project.

    In March, the city filed a progress report saying it was still working on the project, despite a November 2012 advisory vote where 51 percent of city voters said the city should stop doing so.

    “The Aspen City Council has not abandoned the project … ” the city told the agency in March. “The project remains a viable project at this juncture, one which the city continues to study and to defend the water rights upon which its plans are based.”

    In June, however, the city settled a lawsuit over its water rights for the proposed hydropower plant. Both the settlement and a subsequent City Council resolution said the city “will not be pursuing or seeking to complete the Castle Creek Energy Center hydroelectric project at this time.”

    Instead, the city declared it was going to “pursue other renewable energy projects, including microhydroelectic installations at existing city-owned or controlled facilities.”

    Those facilities are two diversion dams located several miles up Castle and Maroon creeks, which are currently used to divert water to the city’s water treatment plant.

    The city in June sent FERC a copy of the resolution and the settlement agreement, and feels it gave adequate notice to the commission that its position on the project had evolved to embrace microhydro, Aspen City Attorney Jim True said.

    But in September, the city sent FERC a progress report that seemed to suggest the city was leaving the door open for the plant on lower Castle Creek.

    “In the event the City Council decides to proceed with the Castle Creek Energy Center project as a chosen alternative, the city will move forward as appropriate in accordance with applicable statues and regulations,” the city stated.

    On Dec. 23, True said that sentence should not be taken to mean the city is still pursuing the original project.

    Micro-hydroelectric plant
    Micro-hydroelectric plant

    “The city intends to pursue microhydro and we’ve made that clear to FERC,” True said. “We’re not looking at the Castle Creek Energy Center any more, at all.”

    But if the city is not pursuing the lower Castle Creek project and instead plans to study microhydro projects, should it ask FERC to extend or renew its existing preliminary permit?

    That’s one question the City Council is facing Jan. 12.

    The city does have the right to apply for a third “successive” preliminary permit, but Shana Murray, who manages hydro projects at FERC, said it would be difficult.

    “We will take a very hard look at what they have done to develop a license application over the last six years.”

    Karl Kumli, an attorney working for the city on its federal permit, was more upbeat about the chances of extending the city’s current permit, even though the city’s focus has shifted.

    “A preliminary permit, by its very nature, has some flexibility associated with it because you are studying options,” Kumli said.

    Murray said if Aspen did want to file for a third permit, it would be expected to do so on March 1, the day after its current permit expires Feb. 28.

    That is because one purpose of a preliminary permit is to secure the location of a proposed hydropower plant, so most applicants don’t leave a gap of even one day.

    The city also has the option, with the passage of the federal Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, to apply for a two-year extension to its current permit.

    Murray said so far two-year extensions on second permits are getting about the same level of scrutiny at FERC as applications for a third permit.

    However, if the city wants to go that route, it would need to notify FERC officials 30 days before the existing permit expires Feb. 28, which in this case is Jan. 29.

    Murray wouldn’t speculate on how the agency would respond if the city applies to extend or renew its permit.

    The city also has the option of simply letting its current permit expire and then applying for a new permit, or permits, for its proposed microhydro projects.

    And in June, the city signaled to FERC it might go that route, although it did not discuss letting its current permit expire.

    “In the near future, the city anticipates filing a separate preliminary permit or permits for such microhydro sites, which will be separate and different projects from the Castle Creek Energy Center,” the city said in its update.

    Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at

    More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.

    Boulder County approves proposed Longmont flood relief channel

    Flooding in Longmont September 14, 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call
    Flooding in Longmont September 14, 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

    From the Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

    Boulder County commissioners on Tuesday approved Longmont’s proposal to build a relief channel intended to prevent a recurrence of the September 2013 sheet of stormwaters that flooded several westside city subdivisions.

    In that flood, a breach on the north bank of the St. Vrain River resulted in floodwaters filling and overtopping ponds in Boulder County’s Pella Crossing open space area south of Hygiene, with the sheet of water eventually crossing Airport Road north of the river and the entering the city’s Longmont Estates Green, Champion Greens and Valley subdivisions.

    Those neighborhoods are in an area that was never anticipated to flood during a 100-year flood event and that’s outside the previously mapped 100-year floodplain, county land use planner David Beasley said.

    The Heron Lake Drainage Project getting the commissioners’ approval on Tuesday will include construction of a spillway on Heron Lake, the easternmost pond on the county open space, intercepting and deflecting floodwaters in the area and carrying them south toward the St. Vrain River rather than having them flow east into Longmont.

    Dale Rademacher, the city’s general manager for public works and natural resources, said a contractor for the $700,000 project is expected to be chosen soon, with construction to begin by early February and completed by May 1.

    Once that’s completed, the city will remove the temporary concrete flood-prevention barriers it installed along Airport Road…

    The county’s approval of the joint application from Longmont, Boulder County Parks and Open Space and the Golden Land Company has several conditions attached, including the revegetation of the area once the work is done.

    That revegetation is expected to comply with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service standards to ensure that it will provide suitable riparian habitat in the future and “provide connectivity with an adjacent Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse habitat area, according to the county staff.

    County commissioners congratulated the city, the county’s Open Space Department and the Golden Land Company for agreeing on a flood mitigation project the commissioners said will protect the environment, as well as residents of westside Longmont neighborhoods.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.