Snowpack news: South Platte Basin = 107% of avg (best in state), Upper Rio Grande drops = 65%

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

The Upper Colorado River Basin — that’s us — is running 14 percent ahead of normal, as are the Yampa and White River Basin, and the South Platte River Basin, the NRCS said…

Besides the Colorado River Basin at 114 percent of median, the Gunnison Basin is 99 percent of median and the South Platte Basin is 112 percent of median.

Statewide reservoir storage is in good shape; end-of-December storage totals were at 103 percent of average, Domonkos said.

However, November brought cooler temperatures and snow to the mountains. The moisture stopped before Thanksgiving and the state experienced an unusual lack of moisture for more than two weeks, Domonkos said.

The normal is based on the 30-year average between 1980-2010, said Diane Johnson with the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. That norm will be adjusted in 2020 for the next 30-year cycle between 1990-2020.

“Snowpack is all about good conditions on the hill, good conditions in the rivers and a good water supply,” Johnson said.

Johnson tends to be cautious, and while she’s encouraged by the early season snowpack, she said a great deal can happen between now and April, or worse, nothing can happen…

Unfortunately not all of the major basins in Colorado are reporting normal snowpack conditions.

The Upper Rio Grande and San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins are reporting totals of just 71 and 75 percent of median respectively, according to the NRCS.

That’s not great news for these areas that have not recorded a normal seasonal snowpack since 2010, Domonkos said.

“If these basins don’t receive increased precipitation over the next few months, they may be looking at their fifth consecutive year of below normal snowpack and seasonal streamflow runoff,” Domonkos said.

Water Lines: Snowpack varies across Colorado & region — Hannah Holm

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal January 12, 2015
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal January 12, 2015

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

After a dry start to the season, recent storms have brought Colorado’s snowpack up to near normal for this time of year – moderately good news for both skiers and water managers. However, the benefits of these storms have not been evenly distributed across the state.

As of Jan. 12, the Colorado, South Platte and Arkansas River Basins all had above-normal amounts of water in the snow piling up in the mountains along the I-70 corridor and the central part of the state. A little farther to the northwest, the Yampa and White River Basins were at 96 percent of normal, while just to the southwest, the Gunnison Basin was at 90 percent. Moving farther south, the river basins in the far southwest corner of Colorado were at 70 percent of normal, and the Rio Grande Basin in south-central Colorado was at just 64 percent of normal.

The Colorado river basins with the skimpiest snowpacks have already been shortchanged for several years in a row. On the U.S. Drought Monitor map, you can see that a lumpy wedge across the southern tier of Colorado is in a long-term drought. The wedge is fatter and shows more severe drought conditions in the Southeast and is skinnier and shows more moderate drought conditions in the Southwest. The Albuquerque Journal recently reported that as a result of multiple dry years, water deliveries to central New Mexico from the San Juan River Basin in southwestern Colorado will be short this year for the first time in the 40-year history of the San Juan – Chama Project.

Region-wide, Colorado is doing better than its neighbors in the Colorado River Basin, with the exception of Wyoming. Most of New Mexico is in some level of long-term drought and an area of extreme drought straddles the Arizona-New Mexico border just south of the Colorado state line. Most of Arizona and Utah are in moderate to severe drought.

Outside of the Colorado River Basin, but also dependent upon Colorado River water, California has seen some improvement in its headline-making drought, although most of the state remains in extreme or exceptional drought – the two worst categories as defined by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The three-month outlook released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Dec. 31 indicated a likelihood of above-average precipitation for most of Arizona, New Mexico and southern California, with “equal chances” of above or below-average precipitation for Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Still, the seasonal drought outlook is for the drought in the four corners area to persist or intensify.

To put the current snowpack data in perspective, mid-January is typically about the mid-point for snowpack accumulation in Colorado. The snow content of storms in the remainder of January, February and March could still tip the balance significantly towards a wet or dry water year.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at or Twitter at

Grand Junction to hire Colorado Youth Corps Association youth to remove tamarisk #ColoradoRiver


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

The city of Grand Junction will use the $15,000 it recently received from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to remove tamarisk and Russian olive from the undeveloped Matchett Park area.

Because the GOCO funds were awarded as part of a Colorado Youth Corps Association program, the city will hire 10 youth ages 14 to 25 to complete the work, which is expected to take two weeks and to begin this spring.

The brush must be removed before moving forward with the master plan for the Indian Wash area, according to city officials.

Mesa County is one of 14 counties throughout the state in which Colorado Youth Corps Association programs will take place this spring and summer.

The projects, which will employ 200 youth from across the state, will enhance Colorado’s trails, parks, open spaces and wildlife habitat.

The overarching goal is to employ youth and young adults to work on critical outdoor recreation and land conservation projects in partnership with local governments and open space agencies.

All projects throughout the state will be completed with GOCO funds, portions of which come from Colorado Lottery proceeds.

For information about the Matchett Park project, call Traci Wieland at 254-3846 or email

For information about the youth corps, call Jeff Roberts with the Western Colorado Conservation Corps at 241-1027 or email

More tamarisk control coverage here.

El Niño update: “It’s hard to get a clear reading on it this year” — Nolan Doesken

Mid-December 2014 Plume of ENSO predictions via the Climate Predication Center


From (Maya Rodriguez):

Thousands of miles away from our wintry landscape, it’s a warming of water in the Pacific Ocean known as El Nino– a warming that can have potential impact on our snowfall.

“It’s hard to get a clear reading on it this year,” said Nolan Doesken, the State Climatologist for Colorado.

He says data last summer showed El Nino getting ready to strengthen. A lack of major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean last season seemed to back that up. So far, though, it’s remained weak, leaving our winter snowfall in Colorado, average.

“We’ve had big bursts of snow, but it was just enough to get us back up to average, for the state as a whole,” Doesken said.

El Nino can be potentially significant for the state because during strong El Ninos, the state tends to get a lot more snow. Out of the top ten snowstorms ever recorded in Denver, four of them happened in El Nino years, including the infamous Christmas Eve storm of 1982.

“At least, from the past, when you’ve had pretty strong El Nino conditions in the Pacific, it has tended to correlate with some spring storminess on the Eastern Plains and Front Range and some decent mountain snows in spring as well,” Doesken said.

Whether that will happen this spring remains to be seen. NOAA says there is a 50 to 60-percent chance El Nino conditions will emerge in the next two months.

Awash in facts: Water well on Greeley Central’s property teaches students about groundwater — The Greeley Tribune

Groundwater monitoring well
Groundwater monitoring well

From The Greeley Tribune (Dan England):

Liz Mock-Murphy expected a little whining from her Greeley Central High School students as she led them outside. Flakes fell from a sky as gray as the icy snow under their feet. The wind fastened a blade to the temperature of just a few puny degrees.

Mock-Murphy winced herself, and she wore a heavy coat and a fuzzy hat with huge earmuffs, the kind used by those who enjoy ice fishing in the mountains. Even Brian Brinkmeier, field supervisor for Quality Well and Pump, wondered how long he could keep his guys, dressed in beefy coats and hats and gloves, outside. They would need breaks in the truck, he said. The students almost looked naked by comparison.

Then Mock-Murphy and her students saw the yellow well tower just a few yards from the entrance. She was pleasantly surprised by their reaction.

“They thought it was really, really exciting,” she said. “I’m not kidding.”

Maybe Mock-Murphy’s students were just used to the cold, given the extended snap that’s blanketed Greeley, or maybe they’re AP environmental science students, so getting to see a water well helped them forget the frostbite. Or maybe, just maybe, they’re excited about applying what they’ve learned to the real world.

The well is part of the Well Watch Project, which hopes to help teachers and students understand the importance of our groundwater through monitoring wells drilled on school properties. The project actually began in 1991 when the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District installed the first well at Eaton Elementary School. By 1995, 16 were added from Eaton to Pueblo. But because there was no way to store and analyze data collected by students, the interest dried up.

The water conservancy district partnered with the Poudre Learning Center to revitalize the project in 2010. Now three wells are at the learning center. One was installed at Platteville Middle School in September, and now there’s the one at Greeley Central. The project teaches students how groundwater occurs, how long it takes to replenish and, perhaps most important, how easily it can be contaminated, as students will monitor for nitrates and the acidity of the water, as well as its oxygen content.

“So they’ll just be able to walk outside, open up a well, drop a line and pull water out of the earth,” Mock-Murphy said.

They can then compare those results with the other wells scattered throughout in the program. Remember how there was no way to store the data in the mid-1990s? The Internet solves that problem now.

Mock-Murphy, like most instructors, prefers to teach this way. She could show them a diagram and talk about a well that delivers water to farmland in Weld, and her AP students would probably get it, but it wouldn’t stick beyond a test. Or she can walk them outside, pull up some water and ask them what could happen if she dumped a bunch of chemicals in it.

“Anytime your students can collect real-time data, they internalize the knowledge,” Mock-Murphy said.

She can, in other words, not only test the water, but also explain that the sand they pull up with it is proof of an ocean that once covered the land.

There’s another reason to help students “internalize” information about groundwater, said Chuck Call, a steward for the Poudre Learning Center who helped put the project together. Most adults don’t realize how important it is to keep groundwater clean, he said. Some rural areas, like those in Weld County, use groundwater for drinking. It’s also a backup to the water in our reservoirs and rivers, and if that water is polluted, Call said, what water would we drink?

“We need an informed public,” Call said. “They will be the ones voting on these issues in the future.”

This isn’t just for an exercise or a test, Mock-Murphy said. The data the kids collect will carry over for years. In fact, that data is one of the reasons Quality Well and Pump donated its equipment and manpower to drill the well at Greeley Central. The company wants to know those numbers, too.

The water conservancy district hopes to expand that collection of data to measure what fracking is doing to the groundwater. There’s no current way for the students to measure that under the parameters of the program, but the district hopes to work with organizations soon to find a way.

That’s one goal. There are other, larger goals. They hope for more wells at more schools, and they will re-drill the ones they lost when the program died in the early ’90s. They will host a second-annual class in the spring to teach more instructors about the project. The goal is to make the water wells part of science instruction throughout Weld County. The groundwater already plays a part in students’ lives. Now they want it to be part of their studies.

More education coverage here.

Rio Grande now largest source of ABQ water — the Albuquerque Journal #RioGrande

New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation
New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

Albuquerque’s effort to wean itself from unsustainable groundwater pumping took a major step forward in 2014, with Rio Grande water for the first time in history meeting more than half the needs of the metro area’s largest water utility.

In a year-end report to the state, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility reported that 60 percent of its water came from its diversion dam, which intercepts Rio Grande flows near Alameda at the north end of town. Groundwater, pumped from deep layers of sands and gravels beneath the city, made up the other 40 percent of supply. The water utility serves a population of more than 600,000 in Albuquerque and neighboring areas of Bernalillo County.

The shift from groundwater to river water is critical to maintaining the long-term viability of Albuquerque’s water supply, said University of New Mexico water expert Bruce Thomson. “The groundwater is our drought reserve, so we need to preserve that,” Thomson said in an interview Monday.

The shift to river water, bolstered by water imported from the Colorado River Basin via the San Juan-Chama Project, began in 2008. At the time, excess groundwater pumping over more than a century had dropped the water table beneath Albuquerque by as much as 120 feet in some places. The use of river water has shifted that balance, with the water table rising 4 to 8 feet in the years since across Albuquerque, more in some places, said John Stomp, chief operations officer for the water utility. “The groundwater levels are continuing to rise in Albuquerque,” Stomp said.

“The fact that we’ve reduced the stress on our groundwater reserves has allowed them to recover fairly substantially,” Thomson said.

The results suggest the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project, a $500 million effort that included a new dam, water treatment plant and distribution pipes throughout Bernalillo County, is achieving its primary goal, Thomson said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.