Snowpack news: Central Rockies snow cover = 95%

Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal March 3, 2015
Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal March 3, 2015

From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Snowfall from the latest storm to hit Colorado’s mountains has already surpassed 4 feet around Wolf Creek Pass.

The Wolf Creek Ski Area says it has received 52 inches of snow as of Tuesday morning from the storm that moved in Friday.

The National Weather Service says another 3 to 6 inches of snow are expected there and other spots above 10,000 feet in the eastern San Juan Mountains Tuesday. A blizzard warning remains in effect there through 5 p.m. because of gusty southwest winds.

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USGS: Happy Birthday to us!

John Wesley Powell at his desk—same desk used by the USGS Director today via the USGS
John Wesley Powell at his desk—same desk used by the USGS Director today via the USGS

Colorado Water Congress: If you missed an original screening of one of our webinars, they are now available for viewing

Snowpack news: Snowfall in Fort Collins was 10.1 inches above normal for February

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson)

Nearly 23 inches of snow fell in Loveland in February alone — 16.9 inches more than average in the typically dry winter month — and snowpack in the mountain basins that feed our water supply has increased in the past month.

“Put that with high storage levels, and we’re in pretty good shape,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water, which manages the Colorado-Big Thompson project.

The three largest reservoirs that are part of that project, Carter, Horsetooth and Granby, contain 737,000 acre feet of water, which is the largest amount ever at the beginning of March, according to Werner. Other local reservoirs also are above average, he said.

One acre foot of water equals 326,700 gallons and is also equated to the amount needed to serve two families for one year.

March is typically the snowiest month along the Front Range, while February is thought to be one of the drier winter months.

This February alone, 22.6 inches of snow piled up in the Loveland area, which is 16.9 inches more than average in a typically dry winter month, according to Wendy Ryan, assistant state climatologist at Colorado State University. That snow brought with it 1.57 inches of water content, which is 1.05 inches above normal, Ryan reported.

For the snow season, which starts on Oct. 1, Loveland has received 44.9 inches of snow or 17.2 inches above average, according to Ryan. With that came 4.63 inches of water content, putting the area at 131 percent of average.

The mountains that feed our water supply with snow melt are split into drainages. The South Platte drainage sits at 110 percent of average while the Upper Colorado Basin moved up to 94 percent of average. And there is still the rest of March to count.

“We’re just starting March, and March and April are still our wettest months,” said Werner, adding the caveat that there are no guarantees with the weather.

“We don’t get overconfident with Mother Nature either.”

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Sarah Jayne Kyle):

Fort Collins got 17 inches of snowfall at the CSU weather station in February and was 10.1 inches above normal snowfall for the month, according to a monthly weather summary by Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University.

That much snow hasn’t been seen in a Fort Collins February since 1923, when 19.7 inches of snow fell in Fort Collins. This February was the sixth snowiest February since 1889; the snowiest February was in 1911, with 25.7 inches of snowfall.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

A storm system that’s lingered over the San Juan Mountains since Friday has dropped more than 3 feet of snow in places.

The Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 8 inches of new snow Monday afternoon, bringing the storm total to 43 inches at the ski area that sits between Pagosa Springs and South Fork.

Mountain highways running out of the valley into the San Juans — U.S. 160 over Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado 17 over Cumbres and La Manga passes and Colorado 149 over Slumgullion Pass — were under chain restrictions for all or part of Monday.

Little snowfall reached the San Luis Valley floor from the storm, but the storm was nevertheless a boon to farmers and ranchers there.

The Rio Grande Basin’s snowpack, which sat at 65 percent of average at the beginning of February, was at 85 percent of normal Monday thanks to this storm and another that came through the prior weekend.

The San Juans could see another 1-2 feet of snow along the Continental Divide through this afternoon before the storm departs, according to the National Weather Service.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1144 (Prohibit Plastic Microbeads Personal Care Products) ban moves on the State Senate

Graphic via 5Gyres.org
Graphic via 5Gyres.org

From KWGN (David Mitchell):

Some lawmakers want to ban the plastic beads found in some personal care products like face wash, toothpaste and hand sanitizer. They do not dissolve in water and are building up in Colorado’s lakes and rivers through wastewater.

The measure would slowly phase out products containing plastic bits by 2020. Major personal care product manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson back the measure and are already voluntarily removing the beads.

Skincare expert Amber Martinez says not only would the ban help the environment, but also your skin.

“A lot of over-the-counter products aren’t really going to give you a nice exfoliation like you would think they are,” she explained. “They do want to give you the illusion that you are exfoliating because a lot of people feel like when you have that rough texture on your skin they’re doing some benefits.”

Martinez says active ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids are really the most important thing in choosing a skin care product.

This measure has already cleared the Colorado House. It now moves on to the Colorado Senate. Two other states, Illinois and New Jersey have already passed similar bans.​

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

A showdown over how transmountain diversions are calculated is brewing in the Colorado Supreme Court — Chris Woodka

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A showdown over how transmountain diversions are calculated is brewing in the Colorado Supreme Court.

At issue is last year’s ruling on a change of use case filed by Aurora in water court in Pueblo.

Division 2 Water Judge Larry C. Schwartz ruled that Aurora is entitled to export an average of 2,416 acre-feet (787 million gallons) annually, even though Aurora waited more than 20 years to change the use of the water from agriculture to municipal.

Aurora shares Busk-Ivanhoe with the Pueblo Board of Water Works on the system that formerly was operated by the High Line Canal. It brings water into Busk Creek above Turquoise Lake from Ivanhoe Lake through the Carleton Tunnel, which once was a train passage and later an automobile route across the Continental Divide.

Pueblo Water has a 1993 decree changing its water rights from its 1971 purchase of its half of Busk-Ivanhoe. Aurora purchased the other half from High Line shareholders beginning in 1986, but did not file for a change of use until 2009.

Western Slope groups and the state Division of Water Resources are arguing that Aurora’s claim to water should be reduced by 27 percent because the city misused the water after purchasing its share of the Busk-Ivanhoe system.

They claim that Schwartz should have counted the 22-year period as zeros when calculating the historic use of water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system. Schwartz determined that the years where the water was used improperly should not count in the calculation, but said the amount of Aurora’s diversion should be recalculated separately from the amount awarded to Pueblo in 1993.

Aurora’s share is slightly less than Pueblo Water’s (2,634 acre-feet average annually) as a result.

Supporting Schwartz’s decision are the state’s largest municipal water providers, including Denver Water, Colorado Springs, Pueblo Water, Northern Water and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, all of which bring water across the Continental Divide.

They argue that water courts serve to prevent injury to other water users, not penalize inappropriate historic uses.

“It’s not very likely to have a direct impact on any of our existing rights,” said Alan Ward, Pueblo Water’s resource manager. “We appreciate the court did not see a need to be punitive. That could be an issue with other water rights in the future.”

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also supports Schwartz’s position because of its own pending change case on the Larkspur Ditch, which it purchased from the Catlin Canal and uses to bring water over from the Gunnison River basin.

Schwartz ruled in favor of Aurora in the case (09CW142) in May, and it was appealed by multiple Western Slope groups in October. Reply briefs in the case are due March 21, after which the court could hear oral arguments.

More water law coverage here

Estes Park to consider water rate study and system’s capital needs — Estes Park News

Estes Park
Estes Park

From the Town of Estes Park via the The Estes Park News:

To ensure continued high-quality utility services and plan for future upgrades through capital improvement projects, the Town of Estes Park periodically reviews the cost of providing services as well as projected revenue – the rates paid by customers. The Town’s public water utility is a cost-based entity that relies solely on user fees to operate. Costs and revenues must be balanced in order to maintain operations and keep utilities in line with ever-increasing federal standards. The Town’s Water Division is capable of serving Estes Park on the busiest day of summer. Yet like water utilities across the U.S., it is facing rising operational costs, aging infrastructure and increasingly stringent regulatory requirements.

Several upcoming public meetings will include water rate discussions. Visit http://www.estes.org/boardsandmeetings for dates and complete meeting details:

• March 10: Town Board study session to review rate study results and options

• March 24: Town Board meeting review draft rate plan

• April 28 (tentative): Final public hearing and potential adoption of new rates

The last time a water rate study was conducted, the Town opted to keep rates lower than recommended by the study in order to assist residents and businesses through the national economic downturn. Therefore, the Town has not completed a large capital project since replacing 600 feet of water main under Virginia Avenue in 2012. Funding capital infrastructure projects requires multiple years of savings, and postponement means they will cost more in the future. The following water system improvements are needed:

1. Establishment of secondary water sources for the Town’s two water treatment plants to ensure water treatment plants are not shut down due to problems with source water.

2. The Town’s system has grown and inherited older, private water distribution systems such as the one serving Carriage Hills. In 2014, the water crew repaired 27 leaks throughout the system, most caused by older pipes resting on shifting granite in acidic soil. Approximately 50 miles of the Town’s pipes need to be replaced to meet today’s standards. This costs $500,000 to $1 million per mile depending on blasting, excavation and road replacement costs.

3. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations have a direct influence on the operations and maintenance of distribution system and treatment facilities. For example, to meet the Surface Water Treatment Rules the Town uses enhanced treatment methods, which increase operating costs. Past rate increases funded the $8.25 million upgrade at Marys Lake Water Treatment Facility for membrane filtration in order to prepare for more stringent standards in the future.

For more information on the water rate study, please contact the Utilities Department at 970-577-3587.

More Big Thompson watershed coverage here.