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Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation April 1 thru April 19, 2015 via the Colorado Climate Center
Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation April 1 thru April 19, 2015 via the Colorado Climate Center

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Snowpack news: Recent storm delights late-season powder-hounds

From the Examiner:

A cut-off low pressure storm returned the Rocky Mountains to winter this past week. Skiers and snowboarders flocked to the the ski areas that were still open and to their local backcountry slopes to enjoy the ridiculous amounts of snow that fell. Snowbird, Utah reported 42 inches from April 15 to 16 while the resorts of Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, and Winter Park received 32, 25, and 20 inches respectively…

Colorado’s snowpack not only contributes water for municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses but supports millions of dollars in tourism with non-consumptive uses like whitewater rafting, fly-fishing, and more. The state hosted around 500,000 rafters last year but likely won’t meet those numbers again this year. The smaller snowpack this year will reduce flows in the river, and how long the rivers are are able to be rafted. However, many reservoirs statewide are near capacity, which will help dam-released rivers keep their flows throughout the summer.

Before this storm, the Colorado snowpack was at 65% of average. While this storm dropped incredible amounts of snow, it did not make a huge impact on the state of Colorado’s snowpack. The snowpack still sits around 65% of average but is being dragged down by an incredibly dry winter in the southern portion of the state. The Upper Rio Grande Basin is currently sitting at 38% of average while the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin is sitting at 41% of average. This is in comparison to the South Platte River Basin, which is sitting at 95% of average. The snowpack current report can be viewed here. Many industries vital to Colorado, and the West’s, identity and economic survival are dependent upon the winter precipitation their mountains receive. While this storm has bolstered the meager snowpack, it will only serve as a bandage on the severed artery that is the West’s water woes.

From The Mountain Mail (Marcus Hill):

In Colorado April often brings snow rather than rain showers, and Mother Nature dealt Salida a heavy dose of it Thursday and Friday, causing power outages, cancellations and other problems.

The snow caused the city to eclipse its average precipitation for the month in just 2 days. April’s average is 1.18 inches. The storm last week resulted in 1.24 inches of precipitation.

Snow began falling Thursday evening, with large flakes wetting the streets but failing to stick. As the night waned, the streets froze and snow began to stick. The snow continued through Friday morning, accumulating up to 2 feet in some areas.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The snowstorm last weekend didn’t boost the snowpack in the Roaring Fork River basin up to average, but it added some much-needed moisture to most areas monitored by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The snowpack at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen didn’t change much despite the pounding at Aspen Mountain, according to the conservation service’s Snotel weather measuring station near Grizzly Reservoir. The snowpack was at 92 percent of the average established between 1981 and 2010 as of April 16 and remained that way Monday, after the storm moved on. There was the equivalent of 14.6 inches of water in the snowpack as of Monday. The average for the date is 15.7 inches.

It was a different story at the headwaters of the Fryingpan and Crystal Rivers. Up the Fryingpan, the Ivanhoe station increased from 92 percent of average snowpack on April 16 to 107 percent Monday. The snow-water equivalent is 14.2 inches.

The Kiln site in the Fryingpan Valley went from 25 percent of average snowpack before the storm to 43 percent after. The Nast site, which is at the lowest elevation of the three weather stations in the Fryingpan, went from no snowpack to 57 percent of average. It had a snow-water equivalent of 0.8 inches.

The snowpack picture in the Crystal River Valley went from bleak to only slightly better with the storm. The snowpack at Schofield Pass went from 61 percent of average to 64 percent. The snow-water equivalent at that high elevation weather station was 20.9 inches.

McClure Pass went from no snowpack to 13 percent of average. There is only 1.8 inches of snow-water equivalent at the site.

North Lost Trail outside of Marble was only slightly better. It went from 14 percent of average snowpack to 35 percent with a snow-water equivalent of 4.1 inches.

Rain and snow showers are in Aspen’s forecast for the next few days, but it’s going to be too little, too late to help the snowpack. In an average year, the snowpack builds until reaching a peak in early to mid-April. Dry conditions throughout the winter and warm temperatures through the spring ate up the snowpack early.

Southern Delivery System: Closing arguments expected to conclude today in Walker Ranch lawsuit

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Closing arguments are expected to wrap up sometime today in a jury trial to determine the value of the Southern Delivery System easement across Walker Ranches in Pueblo County.

Expert witnesses for Colorado Springs testified Tuesday, the seventh day of the trial.

Attorneys for both sides indicated the testimony would wrap up soon and they were preparing to present closing arguments today. After that, the jury will begin its deliberations.

Court records indicate Gary Walker was offered $100,000 for easements on a 150-foot wide strip 5.5 miles long through Walker Ranches in northern Pueblo County. Colorado Springs, which is building SDS, also paid Walker $720,000 to relocate cattle during three years of construction.

Construction on SDS began in 2011, and includes 50 miles of underground pipeline 66 inches in diameter in Pueblo and El Paso counties. The final phase of construction in Pueblo County is the Juniper Pump Station being built near Pueblo Dam.

Walker claims the choice of pipeline route has contributed to erosion and diminished the value of his land. His court records claim SDS has caused $25 million worth of impact on his ranches, which total 65,000 acres. He’s also claiming damages under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, which protects landowners from out-of-pocket expenses and requires Colorado Springs to use eminent domain only as a last resort.

District Judge Jill Mattoon is presiding over the trial.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: SB15-212 scheduled for hearing today in Senate Ag committee #coleg

Detention pond
Detention pond

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that would allow flood water to be stored regardless of the impact on water rights would not affect a proposal to build flood control structures on Fountain Creek.

The district is looking at building a dam or several detention ponds on Fountain Creek. It has no interest in getting blanket authority under [Senate Bill 15-212 (Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights)], which is moving slowly through the Legislature.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board has taken a neutral position on the legislation, and would not interrupt its study of flood control and water rights even if SB212 passes, said Larry Small, executive director.

“We have no intention to infringe on water rights,” Small said Tuesday. “We live and operate in this basin, and whatever we do has to be mutually beneficial.”

Small was speaking to a technical committee Tuesday studying how water rights can be protected while constructing flood control structures on Fountain Creek.

The Denver Urban Drainage District and other water interests are pushing SB212, which is scheduled to be heard today in the Senate agriculture committee.

Farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley are interested because of its impact on junior water rights. Several testified last week against the bill. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District offered amendments to the bill that would exempt Fountain Creek or the Arkansas River basin from the bill.

“Once again, it looks like the Legislature wants to put all the mitigation for these projects on the backs of farmers,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

It also was suggested that fire mitigation basins, which are needed in areas such as Colorado Springs to deal with the aftermath of large wildfires, be allowed but to postpone action on flood control basins.

The state of Kansas also wrote an April 10 letter to Mike King, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and Dick Wolfe saying the [bill] could have a negative impact on the Arkansas River Compact. It said a proposed notification system is not sufficient to protect its interests.

Small said that it might not be possible to move the legislation this year, since it would face more of a challenge in the House and the Legislature is set to adjourn on May 6.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.