— EPA WaterSense (@EPAwatersense) March 16, 2015
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From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Denver Post:
Snowpack in the mountains and valleys where the Colorado River originates has been shrinking since the beginning of March, a federal water expert said Tuesday.
The snow ranged between 89 and 91 percent of the long-term average, depending on which measurement is used.
“We dried out relatively significantly here since the beginning of March,” said Brian Domonkos, supervisor of the Colorado Snow Survey for the U.S. Agriculture Department…
Domonkos told the state task force on water availability that recent warm weather had begun to melt the snow at lower elevations in parts of the Colorado River basin.
Colorado’s snowpack is closely watched because it provides water for four major river systems that originate in the state: the Platte, the Arkansas and the Rio Grande as well as the Colorado.
The Colorado River is under especially close scrutiny because it helps supply California, which is in the midst of a historic drought. The most recent assessment available showed 40 percent of California was in an exceptional drought, the driest of five categories used by the federal government’s U.S. Drought Monitor. Nearly 28 percent was in an extreme drought, the second-driest category.
In addition to the Colorado River basin, three other river basins in the western part of the state feed into the Colorado River downstream. In those basins, the snowpack was 72 to 79 percent of average Tuesday.
East of the Continental Divide, snowpack in the basin that feeds the South Platte was average, while the North Platte River basin was at 85 percent. The North Platte flows north into Wyoming before turning east into Nebraska, where it joins the South Platte to form the Platte River.
The Arkansas River basin had 96 percent of average snowpack, and the Upper Rio Grande basin had 77 percent.
Early indications are that the risk of flooding in Colorado will be lower this year than last but still higher than average, said Klaus Wolter, a climate scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in Boulder.
Wolter said little dust appears to have accumulated on Colorado’s snow this year. Because of its darker color, dust can absorb more heat than snow and hasten melting and the spring runoff.
Rain or extended warm spells in springtime can speed up the runoff and trigger floods by putting more snowmelt into Colorado’s rivers and streams than they can handle.
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From The Durango Herald (Michael Cipriano):
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, penned a letter to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López requesting open access to the Lake Nighthorse Reservoir at the earliest possible date.
The La Plata County reservoir was completed in 2011, but a recreation plan has not yet been agreed on, and the area has remained closed to the public.
Lake Nighthorse is currently being managed by a coalition of partners that helped build the original reservoir.
The Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District commissioned a report that found recreation at Lake Nighthorse could stimulate upwards of $12 million in annual economic benefits for La Plata County.
“Given this momentum, we encourage the Bureau to expedite and prioritize its environmental analysis of the proposal, which would clear the way to open the lake to public access,” the letter reads.”
The letter also says that as of March 6, all members and partners of the Animas-La Plata Project’s Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association have endorsed the assessment of a draft recreational plan for the lake.
Several other entities have also expressed support for recreation at the reservoir, including the Southern Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, and the city of Durango.
“Given this impressive show of support throughout the region, we urge the Bureau to redouble their efforts to analyze and adopt an agreeable plan that will open Lake Nighthorse to recreational access as soon as possible,” the letter reads. “We look forward to your response including a timeline for next steps and to the resolution of this issue.”
Durango Mayor Sweetie Marbury said she is looking forward to the city’s residents being able to enjoy the area for swimming, fishing boating and other recreational uses.
“I am pleased to see that all the partners are now on board to initiate a process that we hope will open Lake Nighthorse as soon as possible,” Marbury said. “I appreciate our congressional delegation showing leadership on behalf of Southwest Colorado to support our efforts to open Lake Nighthorse to the public.”
From the Denver Business Journal (Ed Sealover):
Democrats on the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Monday killed Senate Bills 64 and 93, both sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, on party-line votes.
SB 93 would have required local governments to compensate mineral-rights owners for imposing new regulations that limited the use of their land, while SB 64 would have banned the federal government from requiring ski resorts to hand over their water rights in exchange for permits to use federal land.
Democratic leaders had complained that SB 64 was unenforceable and was moot after the federal government stopped requiring such concessions several years ago, and they claimed that SB 93 established a takings principle that only courts are allowed to interpret.
But Rep. Jon Becker, the Fort Morgan Republican who acted as the House sponsor for both bills, said afterward that Democrats “have set a dangerous precedent for all property owners in Colorado by granting their misguided ideology more weight than private property rights.”
From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):
Senate Bill 93 would have offered a means for mineral-rights owners to claim compensation from a local government if that government reduced the value of the owner’s royalties by at least 60 percent.
The measure previously made its way through the Republican-controlled Senate but was rejected on a party-line vote by the Democratic-controlled House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
A second measure, House Bill 1119, would have also held a local government liable for the value of lost royalties if that government enacted laws that limited natural-gas and oil extraction. That measure was also killed by the House earlier in the session.
Supporters said the issue had to do with property rights. Colorado is still grappling with the controversial issue of fracking after a task force recommended only modest steps to address local control over rules and regulations.
“We can all agree that in the state of Colorado these mineral rights are as much of a property right as the property you have in your home,” said Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, who sponsored SB 93. “If we do not allow access, then they should be just compensated for the loss of use of those rights as if they were a taking.”
The state currently holds the authority to enact rules and regulations. But several local governments have taken matters into their own hands through ordinances and voter initiatives. Those actions have setup legal battles.
Residents are threatening to once again take the issue to the ballot in 2016 since the oil and gas task force did not take concrete steps.
Mineral-rights owners worry that a ban on fracking in local communities would result in an elimination of their property.
But environmentalists and homeowners spoke of the health, safety, environmental and nuisance factors associated with fracking, including loud noise and the fear of contaminating groundwater with chemicals that are injected into the ground along with sand and water to break open natural-gas and oil deposits underground.
“The point of government is to balance the rights of some people with the rights of other people,” said Jen Bolton, representing both the Audubon Society and Colorado Trout Unlimited. “If you take away the ability of a community to regulate, you take away the ability to solve those sort of issues.”
More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.