The latest Greeley Water newsletter is hot off the presses

Looking for more inspiration? After taking a drive down West Colfax Avenue, check out the xeriscape demonstration gardens at Kendrick Lake in Lakewood.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Xeriscape Made Easy

Garden In A Box offers a simple approach to learn about and plant a water-wise garden. Gardens will go on sale March 1. Be the first to know about the 2015 garden choices by signing up on the pre-sale list.

2015 Colorado legislation: Rainwater 
bill (HB15-1016) includes 
incentives — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

A 2009 pilot program designed to encourage the use of capturing rooftop rainwater in new developments to augment water supplies has never quite gotten off the ground.

As a result, a House panel Wednesday approved a bill designed to increase incentives for more such projects, to see if it is a good way to use non-potable water for such things as landscaping, and conserve water that is meant for actual drinking.

The measure, HB1016 [Promote Precipitation Harvesting Pilot Projects], lessens some of the requirements to qualify to be a pilot. To date, only one project has been approved, that in a small development on Denver’s south side.

The measure heads to the House Appropriations Committee for more debate.

@NWSBoulder: March 4-8 temp/precip outlooks by NWS Climate Prediction Center, released 2/26

Been seeing tamarisk beetle kills in S. Nev. Updated map also shows ’em converging on New Mexico

2014 Tamarisk leaf beetle distribution map via the Tamarisk Coalition
2014 Tamarisk leaf beetle distribution map via the Tamarisk Coalition

From the Tamarisk Coalition website:

Each year, with the help of numerous partners across eleven states and Mexico, TC produces an annual distribution map that notes the presence and absence of Diorhabda spp. from sampling sites across the west. These data in no way represent all locations where the tamarisk beetle may exist, but give a broad perspective of beetle dispersal, providing land managers with information that may help with their integrated pest management plans, restoration strategies, and funding opportunities. If you would like to participate in the program, or help fill any “gaps” you may see in current data on the map, please visit our tamarisk beetle monitoring program page.

For 2014, TC would like to thank more than 30 partners directly involved in providing this year’s data, and more than 60 that have provided data during the span of TC’s involvement in tracking beetle locations across the west. This year showed rapid population expansion in Kansas, Oklahoma, and eastern New Mexico, with a slowing of spread along the Rio Grande in New Mexico, and a “stall” in southern Arizona. This decreased expansion, as compared to movement the last few years, is most likely indicative of the Northern Tamarisk Beetle (Diorhabda carinulata) reaching the southern limits of its physiological constraints along the Colorado, Little Colorado, and Rio Grande. There are three other species of tamarisk beetle in North America, and this year was the first time that all four species were recorded in a single state, New Mexico.

The production of the Annual Tamarisk Beetle Distribution Map is generously funded by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

More tamarisk control coverage here.

@USGS: Fossil evidence for continental drift theory proposed over 100 yrs ago

Snowpack news: “February’s moisture could make up for a dry, warm January” — Chris Woodka

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal February 26, 2015
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal February 26, 2015

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Snow along the Front Range has been intense this week: closing schools, making driving treacherous at times and filing up in drifts as people dig out.

But statewide, the average accumulation of snow so far remains below average at 82 percent of median.

Snowpack remains heaviest over the central mountains, which bodes well for this spring’s water supply. But the southern mountains and the far western part of Colorado remain below average.

As of Thursday morning, the Pueblo area had received about 15 inches of snow containing close to an inch of moisture for the month of February, which is above average.

That’s a lot for recent years, but not yet close to the record 20.1 inches of snow recorded at Pueblo in 1894. Pueblo received more than 17 inches in 1911 and 1939 as well.

Up to a foot of snow was left in the Upper Arkansas River basin by the storm that started Saturday night, while the storm that started Wednesday deposited about half that much.

More than 2 feet of snow has blanketed some mountain areas of the state, leaving snow stations at elevations above 11,000 feet anywhere from 123-144 percent of median.

The Arkansas River basin as a whole was listed at about 95 percent of median as of midnight Thursday, but snow continued to fall in the morning hours over much of the area.

The Upper Colorado River basin, which Pueblo and the Arkansas Valley rely on for supplemental water, was at 91 percent of normal early Thursday, with some headwater areas well above normal.

While the South Platte basin is in good shape at 106 percent, most of the state’s other basins still are struggling to reach average snowpack levels. The Rio Grande and Gunnison River basins are only at three-quarters average and the southwest corner of the state is lagging behind other areas.

March and April are typically the snowiest months, but February’s moisture could make up for a dry, warm January, which negated the benefits of early snows.

From The Dolores Star (Jim Mimiaga):

Southwest Colorado is expected to see steady precipitation through Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecast models show the area receiving between 13 and 25 inches of new snow between Friday and the middle of next week, reports NWS meteorologist Joe Ramey.

“It looks persistent for quite a while with back-to-back storms,” he said.

The NWS has issued a winter storm watch for southwest Colorado beginning Friday at 6 a.m. and lasting until Monday at 8 p.m.

On Friday, the first storm hits in Cortez, bringing showers turning to snow overnight. Lower elevations like Cortez and Durango are right on the snow-rain line over the weekend, Ramey said. Weekend daytime highs are expected to be at or above freezing.

A second colder storm rolls in on Monday and is expected to generate steady snow for Cortez and the San Juan mountains.

“The colder air should make it all snow all the time,” Ramey said.

Last weekend’s storm dropped 24 inches of snow in the Dolores region, and 12 inches in Cortez, according to local weather watchers. Telluride reported 29 inches from the last storm.

Local meteorologist Jim Andrus said the upcoming storm system is similar to one in 1967 that dropped 18 inches of snow in Cortez and seven feet of snow in Flagstaff, Az.

“A deep, low-pressure trough over the Southwest is setting up a strong storm flow over the Four Corners,” Andrus said. “It is not a good travel weekend. The National Weather Service predicts Wolf Creek could receive up to 70 inches of new snow.”

After so many dry weeks, what changed?

Ramey explained that a high-pressure ridge in the atmosphere above California had been persistently blocking storms from reaching southwest Colorado. Last week, the ridge moved westward over the Pacific, allowing storms to go around and dive into Colorado.

The added moisture is good news for the Dolores Basin snowpack, which feeds McPhee Reservoir during Spring runoff. Before last weekend’s storm, the basin was one of the driest in the state.

Vernon Lamb, a technician for the Dolores Water Conservancy District that manages McPhee, reported that on Feb. 19, the Dolores Basin’s snow-water equivalent was at 61 percent of the median for that day.

By Monday, Feb. 23, the snow-water equivalent had jumped to 67.2 percent…

Despite the bump in snowfall, southwest Colorado’s overall snowpack is still the lowest in the state. The combined snowpack for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan watersheds is at 68 percent of normal, as of Feb. 25. The state average is 82 percent of normal for that day.

From The Denver Post (Daniel Boniface):

Snow overnight Thursday in Denver led to a new snowfall record for the month of February with 22.2 inches recorded at Denver International Airport in 2015, breaking a 103-year-old mark.

The National Weather Service in Boulder announced overnight the new mark surpassed the previous record of 22.1 inches set back in February of 1912.

The weather service recorded 3.3 inches at DIA on Thursday to break the record.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Brian Bledsoe):

The past week has been AMAZING in terms of snowfall in Colorado!

Not only did communities along the Front Range receive some excellent snow totals, the mountains have been getting hit hard as well.

Since Friday, as much as 4 feet of snow has fallen in the mountains. The most encouraging news is the San Juan Range has been a big winner. Up until the past five days, the southwest part of the state hadn’t received much snow this winter, but the current weather pattern will continue to drop hefty amounts on ski areas such as Wolf Creek, Purgatory, Crested Butte and Monarch Mountain.

So while many folks have been skiing at the northern and central mountain resorts, now is a great time to break away and head south. Some of the best powder of the season exists at the aforementioned resorts.

The high country will continue to benefit from this wintry pattern, but less snow will fall at lower elevations. However, simply because it is less snow doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Colorado Springs is having one of its snowier winters in years, and that pattern looks to continue.

Remember, don’t curse the snow. The more that falls on the Pikes Peak region, the better the chances of avoiding water problems and fire danger problems in the near future.

Businesses stress flexibility in changing climate — the Fort Collins Coloradon

Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003
Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Sarah Jayne Kyle):

Michael Baute, co-owner of Spring Kite Farm, knows his business needs to be flexible to stay viable in a shifting climate.

“I’ve staked my life on providing fresh, local food,” said Baute, who started his farm in southwest Fort Collins in 2012.

“It was super hot, super dry and I said, ‘Let’s start a farm,’” he laughed while speaking Thursday during a panel on climate change held at Colorado State University.

The farm lost its ditch water and was without irrigation until ash-laden runoff from the High Park Fire rendered water unusable for some industries, freeing it for farm use.

Baute said if he had not gotten water that year, the farm likely would not have survived. The following years launched a series of ups and downs, from floods in 2013 to a short growing season in 2014.

The farm endured snow on Mother’s Day, which Baute said is historically “when you transplant tomatoes,” and six hailstorms.

It soon became apparent that he would have to learn to adapt, Baute told those gathered Thursday at “Fort Collins on the Front Lines of Climate Change,” sponsored by Environment Colorado, CSU’s Student Sustainability Center and other regional partners.

Though the farm started growing only vegetables, Baute recently added a breeding program for pork and dairy goats to diversify the business.

“We have to build systems that are more resilient,” he said. “If I get hailed out this year, I still have pork on the market… I can build a system that keeps me out of bankruptcy.”

Ben Costello, “director of fun” at Fort Collins-based Mountain Whitewater Descents, said his industry has also started planning unpredictability on the Poudre River — the lifeblood of the rafting business. Up to 40,000 tourists go rafting on the Poudre every summer, Costello said.

Mountain Whitewater Descents, and other area rafting guides, were put out of commission for three weeks in 2012 during the High Park Fire.

“Frankly, we’re lucky to still be in business,” Costello said. “That’s a real eye-opener.”[…]

Environment Colorado representative Anna McDevitt said Costello’s and Baute’s stories are some examples of the local impacts of a changing climate.

“We are all victims of climate change,” she said. “There are multiple impacts that we’re feeling here in Northern Colorado.”

Oil And Gas Wastewater Presents A Business Opportunity For One Colorado Company — KUNC

Deep injection well
Deep injection well

From KUNC (Leigh Paterson & Inside Energy):

In 2013, Colorado and Wyoming produced around 128 million barrels of oil and a little more than 2.4 billion barrels of wastewater combined. North Dakota produced 300 million barrels of oil and nearly 360 million barrels of wastewater in 2013.

Wastewater disposal is a massive but little-known part of the oil and gas business. According to Boston-based water consulting firm Bluefield Research, the U.S. hydraulic fracturing industry spent over $6 billion in 2014 on water management. For those reasons, Colorado-based T-Rex Oil believes now is the perfect time to get into the business of wastewater disposal.

T-Rex Oil is looking to operate a wastewater disposal well in Western Nebraska, but may face an uphill battle to get the required permit. NET News Nebraska has reported that the company is facing strong opposition from residents. T-Rex’s application [.pdf] says the proposed project would be the largest operation of its type in the state, accepting upward of 80 truckloads a day of wastewater from Colorado, Wyoming and possibly Nebraska. The brine – a super salty, sometimes chemical-laden fluid – would then be processed on site before being pumped underground.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are around 144,000 class II wells spread across the country. Most are actually aging oil wells that companies inject with carbon dioxide or other substances to get them to produce more oil, a process known as enhanced oil recovery. Other wells are used to store fossil fuels and about 20 percent are used to dispose of wastewater.

The wells used for brine disposal is what worries residents of Nebraska’s panhandle, who have concerns about spills, groundwater contamination, and an increased risk of earthquakes.

“I just have reasonable doubts about the safety,” Jane Grove told NET Nebraska. Her ranch sits near the T-Rex’s well site.

Spills have been a concern in North Dakota, where on average, more than 2 gallons of wastewater spills per minute. Most spills occur during transportation – the wastewater has to get to the well either by truck or pipeline – or storage tanks can leak.

Earthquakes are another concern of the residents. Injection wells and oil and gas exploration have been linked to human-caused quakes, also known as “induced seismicity.” In 2014, Oklahoma was found to have had more magnitude 3 or greater quakes than California. Greeley, Colorado had a brush with a human-caused temblor in 2014 as well, where activities at an injection were linked to a magnitude 3.2 shake. Geological activity in the area later tapered off when the well was shut for evaluation and later allowed to start operating again, albeit at lower pressures and volumes.

To many they are invisible, but injection wells, for now, are vital to the industry because they are the cheapest and most available way to dispose of oil and gas wastewater. As Justin Haigler, president of Black Bison — Wyoming’s largest water services company — notes, “without this water management, oil and gas doesn’t happen.”

More oil and gas coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1038 (Flexible Water Markets), “It still looks like there’s still a speculation issue” — Jay Winner

Rocky Ford Ditch
Rocky Ford Ditch

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Legislation purporting to offer more options for farmers appears to be just another way to dry up more farms in the eyes of a district set up to protect Arkansas Valley water.

The bill, House Bill 1038, would create a flexible water market right that would allow farmers to lease half their water to cities, recreation activities or even other farms. While it says it would keep water in farming, the district thinks it might do just the opposite.

“The way it was introduced, we just weren’t that interested,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “But to me, it looks like another form of buy-and-dry. We don’t understand the need for it.”

Winner said the legislation, backed by water interests in the South Platte, would harm the Arkansas River basin by allowing 10 consecutive years of the entire consumptive use from a farm to be moved to other uses. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch plans a pilot program this year that limits leases to just three years in 10.

“It still looks like there’s still a speculation issue,” Winner added. “We’re right back where we were last year on this same issue.”

The legislation passed the state House by a 42-22 vote on Feb. 10 and is now in the Senate.

The measure was substantially modified in the House agriculture committee and now includes a 10-year pilot program which would allow the Colorado Water Conservation Board and state engineer to evaluate the need and effectiveness of flex marketing.

The bill limits the number of flex use water rights in any given basin to 10 water court applications and 10 substitute water supply plans for the pilot program’s first 10 years.

It also allows for drying up farmland five years in every 10 in order to move the consumptive use portion of the water for uses other than irrigation of the property served by the water right.

Winner thinks there is a potential to “stack” the court and administrative routes, since nothing in the law prevents it.

The bill still prohibits transfers from one basin to another and includes a provision for fixed points of delivery — an attempt to comply with the state’s anti-speculation doctrine. However, Winner is concerned one point, such as Lake Pueblo, could still open use of the water to multiple users.

The fiscal note by Legislative Council attached to the bill indicates there could be increased water court caseload over time because water rights holders would be able to more easily sell water rights to other users and the number of change-inuse applications would increase.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here

Forum on Agriculture: “Conservation, reuse, storage, and you have to do all of it now” — Greg Fisher

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

Gov. John Hickenlooper addressed Colorado’s agricultural community Thursday in full Western style, donning a black Stetson cowboy hat for the annual Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture at the Renaissance Hotel.

While the variation from the governor’s typical attire lightened the mood, the day touched on some of the most serious issues affecting the future of agriculture.

Water reigned as the topic of the day, carrying through not only Hickenlooper’s presentation, but also the day’s panel discussion led by 7News meteorologist Mike Nelson and the keynote speech by the governor’s water adviser, John Stulp.

Hickenlooper lauded the Colorado State Water Plan as vital to creating long-term security and better preparing the state for the challenges of climate change.

Stulp described the plan as achieving five major goals: fostering collaborative solutions to address the state’s looming supply gap, creating alternatives to the buy and dry of agricultural lands, protecting Colorado’s compact entitlements, pushing federal regulators to move more quickly on approval processes, and aligning state policies with dollars.

Stulp applauded the basin roundtable discussions that contributed to much of the legwork behind the water plan for bringing together diverse state interests that “would have otherwise only gotten together in a courtroom to sue each other.”

With Hickenlooper looking to expand international exports in agriculture, water security will play a key role in establishing confidence and capacity to move forward.

“Ag is one of the leading, if not the leading, industries in the state,” Hickenlooper said.

To bolster the sector further, he encouraged the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to expand export markets for beef and pork. The proposed treaty would expand trade routes for U.S.-made goods in Asia, the Pacific and Latin America.

Hickenlooper also praised the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program for bringing new advocates into the sector, and the Western Dairy Association for its efforts to afford veterans opportunities in agriculture.

Earlier in the day, a lively panel discussion led by Nelson touched on national, statewide and local water challenges, addressed by panelists Robert Sakata, Carlyle Currier, Reagan Waskom, Greg Fisher and Bart Miller.

The panel captured the complexity of Colorado’s state water laws, which often translate to decades of work to conclude infrastructure projects. With concern over excess flows entering Nebraska and potential calls on the Colorado River by western neighbors, one audience member asked why the state is not able to create more storage areas.

Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, said uncertainty often leads well-intended projects off course.

“We see participants pull out because they’ve been putting money in and they don’t know if they’re going to get the storage in the end,” he said.

Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning for Denver Water, said, while additional storage would help, the state needs to look at supply development holistically.

“Storage will help, but we must take an all-of-the-above approach: conservation, reuse, storage, and you have to do all of it now,” Fisher said.

The panel differed on its opinions regarding the overall water use from fracking operations.

Waskom said the estimated 20,000 acre-feet of water that goes into hydraulic fracturing on the South Platte represents a drop in the bucket for the capacity of the river. Most of the water comes from systems such as Greeley’s that permit multiple use, which avoids additional demand.

One acre-foot of water is enough to serve four homes for a year.

Bart Miller, water program director for Western Resource Advocates, said while 20,000 acre-feet may not sound like a lot, when compared to the enormous cost of creating storage for such water, the quantity does equate to a meaningful amount in the grand scheme of things.

The panel also turned to the high groundwater levels damaging homes and farmland around Gilcrest and LaSalle in Weld County.

While Waskom said he has been living this drama for a decade, the water expert could not provide an easy solution.

“This is a really hard one to solve without someone getting harmed,” he said. “This is a classic Colorado water fight.”

While unity served as a recurring theme, discussion over Weld’s groundwater headache served as a reminder that on many water issues, cohesive solutions have yet to be found.

More education coverage here.