River district frets over flawed dam above Kremmling — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver

Wolford Mountain Reservoir
Wolford Mountain Reservoir

From the CWC Storytelling workshop.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The Colorado River District board of directors was told last week it is time to address the steady settling and movement occurring in Ritschard Dam, which holds back 66,000 acre-feet of water to form Wolford Mountain Reservoir, 5 miles upstream of Kremmling.

“The continued movement of the dam at Wolford Mountain Reservoir is the most important issue currently facing the River District,” states a Jan. 8 memo from John Currier, the chief engineer at the district.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention — Once Upon a Time: Telling our Water Stories

If you are attending today’s workshops stop by “Once Upon a Time: Telling our Water Stories”. I’ll be on hand to tell you everything you need to know about starting a blog like Coyote Gulch. Here’s the blurb from CWC:

As we will learn more about during our keynote talk at Thursday’s lunch, the public is very interested in water. When Colorado’s population searches for the facts, the water community will be their best source of information. We need to be prepared to share our stories and celebrate our successes. Join us as we learn how to make engaging stories about water in oral, visual, and written formats.

Snowpack news: “You are rightfully feeling a sense of uneasiness when the temperature starts shooting up to 70 degrees in January” — Nolan Doesken

Westwide Snotel snow water equivalent as a percent of normal January 28, 2015
Westwide Snotel snow water equivalent as a percent of normal January 28, 2015

From KUNC (Stephanie Paige Ogburn):

According to state climatologist Nolan Doesken, most basins are sitting right around average.

“No part of the state is desperately below average, no part of the state is above average,” he said. The Colorado River headwaters are at about average. “Those with the lowest snowpack are the Yampa-White, in the northwestern part of the state, and the Rio Grande, in the south.”

This is true even despite record-breaking warmth hitting parts of the state in the past two days; Fort Collins shattered its temperature record for the month of January, hitting 75 degrees on January 26.

‘You are rightfully feeling a sense of uneasiness when the temperature starts shooting up to 70 degrees in January, that happens hardly ever, but so far — so far, we’re OK,” said Doesken.

In fact, the warmth may signal an early transition to the spring season, when Colorado often gets pounded by snowstorms.

“Not getting many storms is sort of common for midwinter, but then…when you flip the switch from midwinter to spring as imminent, then we become distinctly more favored again to be in the path of some of these storms.”

Doesken also noted that current weather patterns look a lot like an El Niño. That usually means the southern part of the state will get more moisture coming across from California.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Adrian D. Garcia):

Fort Collins temperatures have plummeted to minus-5 and soared to 75 degrees in January alone. But the most significant changes of the season likely lie ahead, according to weather experts at the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins.

“Expect to see more dramatic weather before February, March and April pass,” State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said Tuesday. It’s not uncommon for temperatures to sharply rise or fall during autumn, winter and spring along the Front Range…

“Temperatures have not been abnormal for this time of year,” Doesken said. “What was abnormal was how warm it got yesterday (Monday) when we had the warmest day in January on record.”

Temperatures reached 75 degrees Monday, according to readings from Colorado State University’s Fort Collins weather station. The previous record for the month was 73 degrees, set in 1996. Tuesday set another record for the day with an official high of 72 degrees, breaking the record of 65 degrees set in 1987.

Average temperature for this time of year is the mid-40s…

It’s all a part of the continuum in the jet stream,” Doesken said.

Put more simply, cold air made its way from the Pacific Ocean up to the Canadian Rockies and then curved back south over the Midwest before turning sharply toward the East Coast with the result of snow and freezing temperatures. Boston was expected to receive nearly 2 feet of snow.

Colorado was right on the edge of that wind pattern, leaving warm air in the West and pushing cold air on, Doesken said.

Even without recent snow, Northern Colorado’s snowpack is looking only slightly below average.

“For us, a large fraction of our moisture comes, or fails to come, in the March-April-May period,” Doesken said. “We have a lot of time to catch up and accelerate or fall behind. There’s a whole lot more to this winter we haven’t seen yet.”

See Rocky Mountain National Park through the lens of Denver Post photographer Joe Amon

The City of Aspen councilors decide to let FERC hydropower application expire in March

From The Aspen Times (Karl Herchenroeder):

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 a second three-year permit in March 2012.

City Attorney Jim True recommended allowing the permit to expire on March 1, which would officially put the controversial Castle Creek Energy Center on ice, for now. City officials did, however, agree to continue exploring micro-hydro projects on Castle and Maroon creeks, which True said would involve protection of city water rights.

“We will update you on those issues,” True told the council, adding that there will be more detailed analysis later. “We do believe there are additional protections.”

Will Dolan, the city’s utilities project coordinator, said that if the city were able to install low-head hydro on Maroon Creek, it would allow it to run more water through the existing Maroon Creek hydroplant and “optimize production.” Councilwoman Ann Mullins asked if it will affect streamflows.

“It wouldn’t affect the flow regimes necessarily,” Dolan said. “It would allow us to more fully utilize our water rights, but it wouldn’t create any additional diversion from the stream.”

“These are issues we want to bring back in greater detail,” True said, adding that consultation with federal and city water attorneys is needed.

Councilman Adam Frisch said he believes there is broad community support to explore micro-hydro and called the plan that True laid out “a great step forward.” None of the council members offered objections to True’s recommendation.

“I agree to let it expire, continue the investigation of micro-hydro and have a universal statement on protecting water rights,” Councilman Dwayne Romero said.

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

However, in June, the city settled a lawsuit over its water rights for the proposed hydroplant. 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.”

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here and here.

CWCB approves Caitlin Canal lease to Fowler, Security, and Fountain for augmentation and exchange

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A plan to lease water from the Catlin Canal to Fowler, Fountain and Security beginning this year got final approval this week from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“This is truly beneficial to our basin and the state,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the CWCB. “I have a sense of urgency about seeing this happen, so that farmers will not give up on the idea of the Super Ditch.”

The plan comes with 60 conditions, 59 from State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who sorted through objections from other water users prior to recommending approval last week, and another added Monday dealing with precedence.

No one spoke against the proposal and approval was unanimous.

The application, under the umbrella of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, is the first approved as a pilot project under 2013 legislation, HB1248.

During a 10-year period, up to 500 acre-feet annually (162 million gallons) will be made available to the cities. About half will serve as replacement water for wells in nearby Fowler under current plans. The remainder will be transferred by exchange to Lake Pueblo, where it can be physically piped to El Paso County through the Fountain Valley Conduit.

Wolfe spelled out that the use of the shares is a temporary change and that using the water would have no impact on the Arkansas River Compact with Kansas. All other water rules, including Pueblo’s flow maintenance programs, must be observed. While 1,100 acres are involved, only 311 Catlin shares on six farms will be used to provide the water. The exhaustive list of conditions specifies that water from any given farm is available only three out of every 10 years and only 30 percent of a farm may be dried up at any given time.

Daily, periodic and annual accounting is required, and recharge ponds will be used to assure return flows that normally would have come from irrigation to replace water to the river system at the right time and place.

“It’s important that we move forward, because the biggest part of the municipal gap in the Arkansas basin is in El Paso County,” Hamel said.

At the last roundtable meeting, a proposal by the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority underscored concerns that more farmland could be dried up if alternatives such as Super Ditch are not explored, he added.

Hamel also is open to more long-term arrangements that would tie conservation easements to water leases, so cities would have more certainty of future supply, while the primary use of water would remain in agriculture.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Popular Mechanics: Astronomers have discovered the oldest known rocky planets, and they’re twice Earth’s age