Snowpack news

NRCS: The March 1, 2015 Colorado Water Supply Outlook is hot of the presses

Colorado streamflow forecast March 1, 2015 via the NRCS
Colorado streamflow forecast March 1, 2015 via the NRCS

Click here to read the report.

@USGS: Certain wastewater management techniques can lead to more mercury in groundwater

“We need to look for innovative, creative ways to do more water sharing” — John Stulp

SIEP Project location map via United Water and Sanitation
SIEP Project location map via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation
SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

In Israel’s Negev Desert, the agricultural community at the Hatzerim kibbutz has put innovative irrigation techniques to work to make this region’s arid landscape blossom — and Weld County has taken note.

Through the use of drip irrigation developed by Netafim, already put to use by local onion grower Fagerberg Produce, a team of researchers and water investors hopes this Israeli technology may also lead to a greener, more efficient future for Colorado’s farms and municipalities.

With water conservation in mind, Colorado State University and the 70 Ranch, located off of U.S. 34 and Weld County Road 63, have teamed up under the Subsurface Irrigation Efficienty Project to put the Netafim system to the test under local conditions.

The property, owned and operated by United Water and Sanitation District President Bob Lembke, will provide a 165-acre plot to be dedicated to drip and deficit irrigation testing over the next 30 to 40 years.

The $3.5-million study comes with funding from the Sand Hills Metropolitan District, United Water and Sanitation District, Legacy Waters Inc. and the 70 Ranch, LLC, as well as support from the Platte River Water Development Authority and Jewish Colorado.

Lembke said a 2011 trip to Israel and the Hatzerim kibbutz with Jewish Colorado left him inspired by the possibilities rendered by well-managed irrigation techniques.

“When you see what they’ve been able to do with far less than what we have, it’s amazing,” Lembke said, explaining that the project aims to distribute water more efficiently across farmland and lawns, ideally translating into more irrigated acreage.

“As the area (Colorado) continues to develop, the paradigm has been to buy ag water, move it from the farm, move it to the city and well, rural communities can fend for themselves. That hasn’t worked very well and I don’t like that structure. In examining alternatives, the Netafim technology may be one answer,” he said.

Netafim district sales manager Jason Scheibel explained the system works through polyethylene lines plowed 10 to 16 inches below the surface that supply water, fertilizer and pesticides directly to plant roots, rather than above the surface.

“We have better control over our water and fertilizer by putting it at the root zone. This allows us to control deep percolation, which keeps chemicals and fertilizers from getting to waterways and aquifers,” Scheibel said, also pointing to the benefits of reduced weed germination and lower herbicide inputs.

Drip irrigation has been found to be 20 to 30 more efficient with water use when compared to pivot systems, and up to 60 percent more efficient than furrow systems, he added. On the Colorado plains, he estimated the Netafim system costs about $2,000 an acre to install.

Lead CSU researcher Dr. Ramchand Oad said the pilot study hopes to answer cost questions for producers, by providing insight on water input and resulting yield when using the drip irrigation method. As the project moves forward, the findings of this research will be made publicly available at http://www.siep-smartwater.com.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said such knowledge could help farmers pull through difficult seasons.

“In those dry years when those junior water right farms are struggling to find water to sustain their crops, they’ll have an idea of what crops will sustain a lower water yield,” Conway said.

Regarding municipal water use, Lembke envisioned drip irrigation installed on lawns to reduce one of the greatest areas of urban water inefficiency: watering grass.

Looking at the larger picture of Colorado’s future, the governor’s water advisor John Stulp provided his support for the research project, as well: “This is consistent with what we’ve been talking about with the Colorado Water Plan. We need to look for innovative, creative ways to do more water sharing that still puts the farmer in charge.”

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

A Colorado water broker and a university researcher are testing underground crop irrigation, hoping it can make farms more efficient and reduce competition between cities and agriculture for the state’s scarce water.

The first crops will be planted this summer on a 165-acre test plot on the 70 Ranch in Weld County. Research will be overseen by Colorado State University professor Ramchand Oad (OHD).

Copying a technique used in Israel, tubes buried 10 to 16 inches underground will deliver water to plant roots, avoiding evaporation and other problems associated with surface irrigation.

Water broker Bob Lembke owns the ranch. The ranch and two water districts that Lembke heads are among the initial funders.

He says project budget is $3.5 million for five years but expects the research will continue longer.

Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM
Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

@NWSGJT: Here is a climate roundup for February and the meteorological winter, and a spring outlook

CU-Boulder researchers propose a novel mechanism to explain the region’s high elevation — Colorado University

Shaded relief map of the US via Learner.org
Shaded relief map of the US via Learner.org

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder (Craig Jones):

No one really knows how the High Plains got so high. About 70 million years ago, eastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, western Kansas and western Nebraska were near sea level. Since then, the region has risen about 2 kilometers, leading to some head scratching at geology conferences.

Now researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder have proposed a new way to explain the uplift: Water trapped deep below Earth’s crust may have flooded the lower crust, creating buoyancy and lift. The research appears online this week in the journal Geology and could represent a new mechanism for elevating broad regions of continental crust.

“The High Plains are perplexing because there is no deformation—such as major faults or volcanic activity—in the area to explain how this big, vast area got elevated,” said lead author Craig Jones, a CIRES fellow and associate professor of geology at CU-Boulder. “What we suggest is that by hydrating the lower crust, it became more buoyant, and the whole thing came up.”

“It’s like flooding Colorado from below,” Jones said.

Jones and his colleagues propose the water came from the subducting Farallon oceanic plate under the Pacific Ocean 75 to 45 million years ago. This slab slid underneath the North American continental plate, bringing with it a tremendous amount of water bound in minerals. Trapped and under great pressure and heat, the water was released from the oceanic plate and moved up through the mantle and toward the lower crust. There, it hydrated lower crust minerals, converting dense ones, like garnet, into lighter ones, such as mica and amphibole.

“If you get rid of the dense garnet in the lower crust, you get more elevation because the crust becomes more buoyant,” Jones said. “It’s like blowing the water out of a ballast tank in a submarine.”

Jones had the lightbulb moment for this idea when colleagues, including co-author Kevin Mahan, were describing xenoliths (pieces of crust ejected by volcanic eruptions) from across Wyoming and Montana. The researchers were reviewing the xenoliths’ composition and noticed something striking. Xenoliths near the Canadian border were very rich in garnet. But farther south, the xenoliths were progressively more hydrated, the garnet replaced by mica and other less-dense minerals. In southern Wyoming, all the garnet was gone.

Upon hearing these findings, Jones blurted out, “You’ve solved why Wyoming is higher than Montana,” a puzzle that other theories haven’t been able to explain.

At the time, Mahan, a CU-Boulder assistant professor of geological sciences, noted that the alteration of garnet was thought to be far too ancient, from more than a billion years ago, to fit the theory. But since then, he and another co-author, former CU-Boulder graduate student Lesley Butcher, dated the metamorphism of one xenolith sample from the Colorado Plateau and discovered it had been hydrated “only” 40-70 million years ago.

Past seismic studies also support the new mechanism. These studies show that from the High Plains of Colorado to eastern Kansas, the crustal thickness or density correlates with a decline in elevation, from about 2 kilometers in the west to near sea level in the east. A similar change is seen from northern Colorado north to the Canadian border. In other words, as the crust gets less hydrated, the elevation of the Great Plains also gets lower.

“You could say it’s just by happenstance that we seem to have thicker more buoyant crust in higher-elevation Colorado than in lower-elevation central Kansas,” Jones said, “but why would crust buoyancy magically correlate today with topography if that wasn’t what created the topography?”

Still, Jones is quick to point out that this mechanism “is not the answer, but a possible answer. It’s a starting point that gives other researchers a sense of what to look for to test it,” he said.