The latest ENSO diagnostic discussion is hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center

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

Synopsis: There is an approximately 50-60% chance that El Niño conditions will continue through Northern Hemisphere summer 2015.

During February 2015, El Niño conditions were observed as the above-average sea surface temperatures (SST) across the western and central equatorial Pacific became weakly coupled to the tropical atmosphere. The latest weekly Niño indices were +0.6°C in the Niño-3.4 region and +1.2°C in the Niño-4 region, and near zero in the Niño-3 and Niño-1+2 regions. Subsurface temperature anomalies increased associated with a downwelling oceanic Kelvin wave, which was reflected in positive subsurface anomalies across most of the Pacific. Consistent with weak coupling, the frequency and strength of low-level westerly wind anomalies increased over the equatorial Pacific during the last month and a half. At upper-levels, anomalous easterly winds persisted across the east- central Pacific. Also, the equatorial Southern Oscillation Index (EQSOI) remained negative for two consecutive months. Convection was enhanced over the western equatorial Pacific and near average around the Date Line. Overall, these features are consistent with borderline, weak El Niño conditions.

Compared to last month, several more models indicate El Niño (3-month values of the Niño-3.4 index equal to or greater than 0.5°C) will continue throughout 2015. This is supported by the recent increase in subsurface temperatures and near-term model predictions of the continuation of low- level westerly wind anomalies across parts of the equatorial Pacific. However, model forecast skill tends to be lower during the Northern Hemisphere spring, which contributes to progressively lower probabilities of El Niño through the year. In summary, there is an approximately 50-60% chance that El Niño conditions will continue through Northern Hemisphere summer 2015 (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome).

Due to the expected weak strength, widespread or significant global impacts are not anticipated. However, certain impacts often associated with El Niño may appear in some locations during the Northern Hemisphere spring 2015.

#Drought news: Colorado is heading into a warm pattern next week

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

Summary

This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw an active pattern nationwide as a series of storms delivered much-needed rain and mountain snow to portions of the Southwest and a wintery mix of freezing rain and snow to the lower Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and the Southern Tier from Texas to Georgia. Significant snowfall accumulations were observed in the mountains of northern Arizona, southwestern Colorado, northern New Mexico, and southwestern Utah helping to improve snowpack conditions. In the South, heavy rains fell across portions of Louisiana and Mississippi, while freezing rain and snow dipped as far south as Alabama and Georgia. In the Northeast, snow showers and cold temperatures persisted. Average temperatures east of the Continental Divide were well below normal, dipping up to 20°F below normal in the South, Southern Plains, Midwest, and Northeast. Out West, temperatures were slightly below normal except for portions of the Pacific Northwest where temperatures hovered slightly above normal…

The Plains

Across the Plains states, temperatures were well below normal for the period with the greatest departures observed in the Southern Plains. Overall, the Northern Plains were generally dry during the past week, while a mix of freezing rain and snow shower activity impacted the Southern Plains. The only changes on this week’s map were made in north-central Oklahoma where short-term precipitation deficits and deteriorating local pond conditions led to expansion of Extreme Drought (D3) in north-central Oklahoma…

The West

A series of storms starting late last week impacted the region with significant snowfall accumulations (12 to 24 inches) observed in the mountains of northern Arizona, southwestern Colorado, southwestern Utah, and northern New Mexico. The storms helped to boost snowpack conditions to normal in several drainage basins in Arizona and New Mexico including San Francisco Peaks of northern Arizona (104% of normal) and the Cimarron and Sangre De Cristo Range of New Mexico (125% and 100% of normal, respectively). However, the storms did not have an impact on the mountains of central Arizona and southwestern New Mexico where the current snowpack conditions remain well below normal. On the map, improvements were made in areas of Extreme Drought (D3) on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and in the Chuska Mountains in the Four Corners along the Arizona-New Mexico border. Additionally, areas of Severe Drought (D2) were reduced to Moderate Drought (D1) along the Arizona-Utah border. In California, the Sierra Nevada Range snowpack remains in very poor condition despite some moderate snowfall accumulations in the central portions during the weekend. According to the Department of Water Resources latest snow survey, the snow water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack is currently 19% of normal. In the Pacific Northwest, snowpack conditions are equally poor – ranging from 9% to 47% of normal in the Cascades of Oregon and Washington. In west-central Idaho, below normal snowpack conditions in the Weiser Basin (43% of normal) led to the expansion of Moderate Drought (D1) as well as expansion of Severe Drought (D2) in south-central Idaho where unseasonably warm temperatures are prematurely melting the snowpack…

Looking Ahead

The NWS WPC5-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for light- to-moderate liquid precipitation accumulations (generally less than 2 inches) in the southeastern quarter of the U.S. with greatest accumulations (1 to 2 inches) centered over Arkansas, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The West, Northern Plains, and Upper Midwest are forecasted to be generally dry. The 6–10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above-normal temperatures across the West, High Plains, Upper Midwest, and the Southeast while below-normal temperatures are forecasted for eastern New Mexico, Texas, and the Northeast. A high probability of above-normal precipitation is forecasted across the Pacific Northwest, northern California, and along the southern tier from New Mexico to the Southeast.

9th Annual Grand Junction Water and Wastewater Conference, August 13 and 14, 2015

Grand Junction back in the day
Grand Junction back in the day

Save the Date!

August 13 and 14, 2015, are the dates for the 9th Annual Grand Junction Water and Wastewater Conference at the Two Rivers Convention Center, 159 Main Street, Grand Junction, CO. The Conference is designed to provide water and wastewater industry personnel with current information and training to address relevant issues in these industries.

Topics will include Water and Wastewater Treatment, Collection and Distribution Systems, Operations and Maintenance, Operator Math, Laboratory Practices, Safety Emerging Trends and Technologies. TU’s will be awarded.

Link: http://events.egov.com/eventreg/CO/event.htm?name=9thannualgrandjunctionwaterandwastewaterconference

More water treatment coverage here. More wastewater coverage here.

Snowpack news

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

From The Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

The 17-day storm cycle that just deposited up to 6 feet of snow on local ski resorts could be compared to the slumping baseball team that suddenly gets hot in the dog days of August. It’s been a good run, but to make the playoffs, you still have to win an insanely high percentage of your remaining games.

With measurable snowfall on all but three days since Feb. 15, snowpack in the Roaring Fork Valley reached 93 percent of average as of Wednesday, said Sarah Johnson, education and outreach coordinator with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, citing Natural Resources Conservation Service data. That’s up from 79 percent of average on Feb. 19.

But to hit the 30-year median — which Johnson points out is just average — snowfall through April 7, which is when the snowpack typically peaks, would have to be 134 percent of normal for the next month, she said…

The deficit is due to an abnormally dry period from New Year’s to Valentine’s Day. January, with just 5.5 inches of snow at the Aspen water plant, was the second driest on record.

Johnson also pointed out that not all snow storms are created equal, in terms of “snow water equivalent,” which is the key metric when it comes to river health in the spring, summer and fall. Some snowfall has a higher water content, while colder, drier storms store less water.

“It’s all about how much water is in that snowpack when it melts down,” she said. “The more water in that snow, the better off the rivers and the water supply will be.”

She said that as of now, the watershed’s snow water equivalent in around 12.5 inches, where the average peak is about 17 inches…

[Cory] Gates’ snowfall calendar is showing between 57 and 72 inches of snow at the ski resorts since mid February.

However, the pattern in the Pacific Ocean that kept the jet stream above Colorado and brought us all that snow appears to be shifting, and at least for the next week.

COGCC approves new rules for operations within floodplains

Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 -- Photo/The Denver Post
Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 — Photo/The Denver Post

Here’s the release from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission today [March 2] unanimously approved new rules that outline requirements for operators with facilities located within floodplains.

The new rules implement several of the recommendations contained in the Commission’s “Lessons Learned” report published in March 2014 following the Front Range floods of September 2013.

The nine-member Commission approved regulations designed to better protect oil and gas facilities that may be subject to flooding and that require more preparations from operators to reduce potential impacts. The new rules formalize “best management practices” when operating within a floodplain and require:

  • All tanks, new and existing, be surrounded with hardened berms made of steel instead of earthen barriers.
  • Critical equipment be anchored according to an engineered anchoring plan.
  • The removal of existing pits used for exploration and product waste.
  • All new wells to be configured so operators can shut the well in remotely.
  • “We learned a great deal from our experiences in September of 2013, including what existing practices were successful in reducing damages,” said Matt Lepore, director of the Commission. “Requiring these practices for oil and gas operations within a floodplain makes sense and will ensure environmental impacts are reduced and equipment is further protected should we see another flood event.”

    In addition, the new rules require operators, by April 1, 2016, to establish an inventory of wells and critical equipment located within a floodplain and to register all such wells and equipment with the COGCC. Operators are also required to create a formal plan on how they will respond to a potential flood.

    “These new rules requiring operators to establish an inventory and a formal response plan will help ensure both operators and the COGCC can react more quickly when a flood threatens or strikes,” Lepore said.

    These new rules are effective June 1, 2015 for new wells and equipment and April 1, 2016 for retrofitting of existing equipment.

    The new floodplain rules is the latest of numerous steps undertaken by the COGCC to improve regulation of oil and gas development in Colorado and part of Governor Hickenlooper’s commitment to long-term recovery and resiliency after the 2013 floods.

    Since 2011, the Hickenlooper administration has crafted rules to increase setbacks, reduce nuisance impacts, protect groundwater, cut emissions, disclose hydraulic fracturing chemicals, increase spill reporting and significantly elevate penalties for operators violating Commission rules.

    The Commission has also significantly expanded oversight staff, intensified collaboration with local governments, sponsored ongoing studies to increase understanding of impacts to air and water, streamlined its process for public complaints, increased public access to COGCC data and adopted several formal policies to address health and safety issues brought about by new technologies and increased energy development in Colorado.

    More oil and gas coverage here.

    Evergreen Metro District offers help with water rights issue at Buchanan Ponds — the Canyon Courier

    Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com
    Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com

    From the Canyon Courier (Sandy Barnes):

    The Evergreen Metropolitan District is offering the use of its senior water rights to guarantee a supply of water for two ponds at Buchanan Park.

    Since discovering that the Evergreen Park and Recreation District has no identifiable water rights for the ponds next to Buchanan Rec Center, Ellen O’Connor, EPRD executive director, has been working with state water board officials and the EMD to resolve the issue. One possibility is using EMD water in the ponds rather than attempting to acquire water rights, O’Connor said at the Feb. 24 EPRD board meeting.

    Because the park district has no clear water rights for the ponds, someone else could grab them, EPRD board member Peg Linn pointed out.

    A worst-case scenario is that the ponds could be drained and dry, said EPRD board member John Ellis.

    Before EMD water can be brought to the ponds, the Evergreen metro and park districts need form a partnership and reach an agreement. An engineering assessment and legal work also needs to be done at an estimated cost of $35,000 — an amount the EMD is asking the park district to pay.

    “EPRD will be responsible for the costs associated with the proposal research,” said Dave Lighthart, EMD general manager.

    During discussion of the issue at the Feb. 25 meeting of the EMD board of directors, member Mark Davidson advised caution while proceeding with the plan.

    “We can’t get our water rights harmed,” said Davidson.

    “We’re going to need to a lot more information to make our decision,” said EMD board member Scott Smith.

    Both Davidson and others at the EMD meeting said the cost of using EMD water would be far less for the park district than going to water court and trying to gain water rights.

    “In the final analysis, the plan that we proposed is the most sustainable,” said attorney Paul Cockrel, who represents the EMD.

    “There’s a way to make this work,” said Ellis, who serves on the board of both the Evergreen metro and park districts. “This process would be less expensive than acquiring water rights.”

    Ellis suggested that Lighthart make a presentation at the next EPRD board meeting on the plan to assist the park district. He and Linn are on a subcommittee of the EPRD board that has been examining the water rights issue in recent months.

    A related issue is that the EPRD owns the dams at Buchanan Ponds and is responsible for maintaining them, said O’Connor.

    A recent state inspection of the dams revealed the need for some repairs, she said. O’Connor expressed her appreciation to the EMD, which she said assisted the park district with a camera inspection to ensure that the dams had no major repair issues.

    “The big concern was with the locks and pipes, and those are fine,” said Peter Lindquist, president of the EPRD board.

    The EPRD also needs to provide the state with an emergency evacuation plan in event of the dam breaking, O’Connor added.

    Troublesome water source

    The source of water for Buchanan Ponds is Troublesome Creek, a tributary of Bear Creek that flows under the Highway 74 overpass near the property in Bergen Park. When the EPRD bought the property for Buchanan Park in 1994, it did not appear that water rights were attached to the ponds.

    David Nettles, an engineer with division 1 of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said he doesn’t see any water rights to the ponds, which formerly were part of the Village at Soda Creek development. In the early 1980s applications were filed by Gayno Inc. and George Alan Holley to acquire water rights for the planned project. Those rights were tied to an original decree dating from 1884 for the Lewis and Strouse Ditch.

    It’s possible the rights were subsequently abandoned because of a failure on the part of the previous owners to file a required diligence report with the state, Nettles said.

    The developers of the Village at Soda Creek were seeking a conditional water right for their project in the 1980s. According to state law, when a project is completed, the property owner must go to water court and file for an absolute right.

    Every six years, the owner of a conditional water right also is required to file an application for a finding of reasonable diligence in the water court of the division in which the right exists. The owner of the conditional right has to prove that he has been pursuing completion of the project related to the water use for which he applied.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

    The City of Aspen filed a microhydro app yesterday with FERC on Maroon Creek

    Water Lines: Group discusses Colorado’s future regarding water & agriculture #COWaterPlan

    CWCB director James Eklund with manager in Water Supply Planning, Jacob Bornstein bring  a box containing the draft water plan to the Capitol.
    CWCB director James Eklund with manager in Water Supply Planning, Jacob Bornstein bring a box containing the draft water plan to the Capitol.

    From The Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

    The three-evening water course, organized by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in February, focused on water for agriculture for three primary reasons: 1) agriculture is the historical foundation of western Colorado’s largest communities; 2) it remains an important feature of our economy and landscape; and 3) as the largest consumer of water in a water-short region, significant transfers from agriculture to urban areas are expected in coming decades.

    The course examined the climate and legal context for agriculture, how water is used currently, and factors affecting the future of agriculture in Colorado and the rest of the Colorado River Basin. Growing urban demands and the potential for reduced supplies due to climate change are two of the primary factors affecting the water that will be available for agriculture in the future.

    Irrigated agriculture accounts for about 89 percent of the water consumed in Colorado and 70-80 percent of the water consumed in the Colorado River Basin as a whole. However, that does not mean that farmers and ranchers themselves account for all that consumption. All of us who eat Colorado-grown beef, sweet corn, onions and peaches and drink Colorado wine, beer and spirits claim a share of Colorado’s consumption, and wearing Arizona-grown cotton and eating California-grown winter lettuce increases our share of Colorado River water use.

    Nonetheless, since farmers are the ones whose livelihoods are dependent on access to irrigation water, they are the ones that feel the greatest unease when eyes are cast in ag’s direction to meet growing urban needs, improve flows for the environment, or to prop up water levels in Lake Powell.

    East of the Continental Divide are many examples of the devastation that occurs when agricultural water is moved to cities through a simple “buy and dry” process. Once a critical mass of farmers has sold out, it’s tough for those remaining to stay in business, and weeds take over abandoned fields. Just about everyone involved in debates about the future of Colorado water agrees that this is undesirable.

    As a result, there’s been lots of talk, and some legislative action, on “alternative transfer methods” that attempt to move water from farms to cities on a rotating, temporary basis that provides additional income to agriculture and keeps land and communities in agriculture over the long term. Such methods are discussed extensively in Colorado’s draft water plan.

    While seen as preferable to “buy and dry,” one farmer participating in the water course noted that the acronym “ATM” was a little unsettling, and wondered if cities would really be willing to give back “temporarily” transferred water if commodity prices made using water on the land more appealing than selling it on the market.

    Increasing irrigation efficiency, through methods such as drip and sprinkler irrigation and lining and piping ditches, has also been lauded as a way to help balance supply and demand and benefit the environment.

    Reducing diversions can certainly benefit stream health, both by keeping flows up and reducing contaminants from agricultural runoff. Several speakers pointed out, however, that more efficiently moving water to exactly where plants can use it will not necessarily lead to an overall reduction in water use. It could instead lead to increases in the total volume of water consumed, as each plant in a field can finally get the water it needs to grow to its full potential. And reducing the amount of water that slowly seeps back to streams from fields can reduce late-season stream flows.

    Another complication with agricultural efficiency measures is that they are expensive, and not every method is equally suitable to every crop and soil type — and sometimes it takes awhile to figure out what will really work well. Every mistake can cause a big hit to a farm’s productivity and income.

    The silver lining behind the urgency of balancing supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin is that significant brain power and financial resources are being devoted to figuring out how to optimize the use of water in both urban and agricultural areas, and how to wring multiple benefits from every drop. Farmers are getting financial and technical assistance with testing strategies to improve the health and water-holding capacity of their soils, as well as new water delivery strategies. Multi-stakeholder groups are debating the legal and financial mechanisms for how to more flexibly move water around to enhance the resiliency of the whole basin. It’s a time for both wariness and optimism, skepticism and creativity.

    To see slides presented at the water course, visit http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter/2015WaterCourse.html.

    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 http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at http://Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at http://Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

    More education coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    The latest issue of “The Current” newsletter from the Eagle River Watershed Council is hot off the newsletter is hot off the presses

    Eagle River Basin
    Eagle River Basin

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

    CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS!

    Each year the Watershed Council partners with Colorado Parks & Wildlife to survey fish populations in the Eagle River. This is part of an ongoing effort to monitor the effects of the remediation work at the historic Eagle Mine site south of Minturn. It is a fun way to get out on the water and a great way to give back to the river we all love! Click here to learn more about the electrofishing process.

    This year the fish surveys will take place on Wednesday, April 1st & Thursday, April 2nd. Those wishing to participate in the fish surveys must help with at least one day of ice breaking on either Saturday, March 28th or Sunday March 29th. For more information or to volunteer, please email info@erwc.org or call (970) 827-5406.

    More Eagle River watershed coverage here.

    Dissecting CA’s #drought: Is it climate change or just a string of bad natural luck? — Mountain Town News #ColoradoRiver

    West Drought Monitor February 24, 2015
    West Drought Monitor February 24, 2015

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    What’s up with the weather? Yes, it has snowed in the last week but the big story during midwinter was “hot and dry’ in the Rockies. In California, now in the fourth year of drought, it was even worse, with hot weather from Mexico to Oregon over the Presidents’ Day Weekend.

    A patch of abnormal weather or the front edge of a dramatically changing climate?

    Climate scientists don’t agree, and those on the sidelines have argued even more vehemently.

    “We’re now 15 percent of the way into the 21st century with runoff declines of 20 percent on the Colorado River,” says Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist/scholar at the Colorado Water Institute. “At what point can we say ‘this is climate change’ without being labeled some kind of kook?”

    California continues to be pained. Heavenly, the Vail Resorts ski area that sits on the California-Nevada border had a little more than 40 percent of the ski area’s 4,800 acres open this weekend.

    China Peak Mountain Resort had only the beginning skiing hill and a slope for sleds and inner-tubes open for Presidents’ Day weekend. “I’ve seen a couple wimpy years before, but nothing like this – nothing even close,” owner Tim Cohee told the Associated Press.

    Storms have arrived, but with marginal good for ski areas. “When it’s raining at the top of the mountain, it’s awful hard to build a snowpack,” said Michael Anderson, the official state climatologist in California.

    He told the AP that it was the second warmest January in recorded history but also the driest. The Sierra Nevada in January received 2 percent of its normal precipitation, with an average high temperature of 53 degrees.

    Across the Rockies, it was more of the same: fog rarely, if ever, seen at mid-winter during the World Alpine Ski Championships at Vail/Beaver Creek. In Jackson Hole, the temperature one day hit 52 degrees during a time of year when above-freezing is rare. In Yellowstone National Park, grizzly bears were out and eating bison carcasses.

    Meteorologists blame what they have taken to calling the “ridiculously resilient ridge” offshore the West Coast for both California’s woes of hot and dry and Boston’s recent cold and wet. But is this just ridiculous weather—or part of a shifting climate?

    In December, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report by eight scientists that concluded that California’s drought was “due to natural variations of ocean systems, with sea surface temperatures largely responsible,” in the words of Richard Seager, the lead author. The new finding doesn’t refute the evidence that climate change is real, Seager told the San Jose Mercury News and other reporters. But in the case of the 2011-2014 California drought, natural variations were much more potent than human factors, the team concluded.

    A different report from the American Geophysical Union found that the drought was unprecedented in the last 1,200 years. The authors, however, said that the drought was not outside the range of recent climate variability.

    Taking stock of Colorado’s drenching rains in September 2013, NOAA so far has also refused to find a causal link to rising global temperatures—despite evidence that the global atmosphere now caries 3 to 5 percent more water vapor.

    Other climate scientists found the new NOAA study wanting. Michael Mann, for example, pointed out that sea-surface patterns underlying the ongoing drought-favorable conditions may be partly forced, “and not simply a result of natural climate variability.” Nor, he added, did the NOAA study account for the potential influence of decreasing Artic Sea ice.

    The study exposed a deep rift among climate scientists and others about the level of proof that should be required. “This isn’t about ‘causality’ but about ‘influence,’” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland think tank that studies water policy. “The evidence is clear that human-induced climate change is influencing the drought, no matter the cause.”

    Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, similarly argues that increased greenhouse gases add oomph to natural variability, giving Superstorm Sandy perhaps another 10 to 15 percent punch as it reached the Jersey shore and Manhattan.

    Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at Harvard University, had a piece in the New York Times on Jan. 3 that accused climate scientists of being too timid. “It’s increasingly clear that they ought to be more emphatic about the risk,” she wrote. She says the scientific method that demands a 95 percent level of probability is too high. It means that science too often misses causes and effects that are really there.

    In Aspen, a string of 50-plus temperature days plus the second driest January since records began in 1935 invited questions about the weather vs. climate change issue. The Aspen Global Change Institute has issued a report saying that skiing could end by 2100, but local meteorologist Cory Gates told The Aspen Times that it was the “most ridiculous statement on Earth.”

    He said that the unusual weather of this winter is just that. “It just wasn’t our year in the West. Whoop-de-doo,” Gates said.

    This originally appeared in the Feb. 25 issue of Mountain Town News. Obviously, the weather in the Southern Rockies took a turn after that.