#Drought news: One category improvement in parts of western Colorado and eastern Utah

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


During the past 7-days, heavy rain (2 inches or greater) fell across portions of the southern Plains, the lower Mississippi Valley, and the Southeast. The heavy rain was associated with the approach and passage of several upper-air troughs and frontal systems. Light precipitation (up to 0.5-inch) was reported across many areas west of the Continental Divide. Daytime high temperatures early in the week only reached the 30s and 40s in the eastern Dakotas/western Great Lakes region. By the weekend, high temperatures in the 40s were common across the Great Lakes region and Northeast, as winter-like conditions were slow to give way to lasting spring warmth…

The Plains

In North Dakota, rains this past week were very spotty. Conditions were variable, with some reports of wet soil and machinery stuck in the mud, and other reports of inadequate vegetation for livestock. For this week, the only modification made to the drought depiction was to slightly expand moderate drought (D1) westward in south-central North Dakota to include eastern Stutsman, eastern Logan, and eastern McIntosh Counties. One area that bears monitoring in the next few weeks for possible deterioration to severe drought (D2) is Cass and Richland Counties, in the extreme southeast part of the state.

In eastern and central South Dakota, field work and corn planting is ramping up quickly this week, especially in the eastern part of the state, and field reports indicate dry topsoil conditions. A fairly large area of severe drought (D2) was introduced in central and eastern South Dakota. One agricultural impact is winter wheat winterkill (due in part to dry overall conditions, lack of protective snow cover, and a lack of moisture so far this spring). Other small grains that were planted this spring have been slow to emerge, or uneven in emergence, due to dry conditions. Alfalfa fields also experienced winterkill and/or frost damage. Moderate drought (D1) was expanded across north-central and extreme southeastern portions of South Dakota, where recent rains missed. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (part of USDA) soil moisture reports indicate South Dakota is 69 percent Short or Very Short, which is the third worst in the Nation.

In northeastern Nebraska, longer-term precipitation deficits extend back to (at least) the start of the current Water Year (October 1, 2014). Recent rainfall has also missed this region. Therefore, a 1-category deterioration was made to the depiction, from abnormal dryness to moderate drought (D0 to D1), for the Counties of Antelope, Pierce, Knox, and Cedar. In southwestern Kansas, there were welcome rains and cooler conditions, but the only 1-category upgrade was made to the counties of Meade and Clark. Other areas received enough precipitation to at least offset further degradation.

In western and central Oklahoma, heavy rain (widespread 2-4 inches, locally in excess of 10 inches) fell during the past week prompting 1-category improvements in some areas. In Texas, rain fell mostly where it was needed this week, resulting in lots of 1-category improvements across the state. Improvements in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are based on reservoir recovery, while in the San Antonio area, they are based on aquifer recovery and various objective indicators. Reservoirs are lagging behind in central Texas. Short-term improvements were also rendered to the drought depiction in the Panhandle region…

The West

In eastern New Mexico during the past several days, widespread 1-2 inch rain amounts (locally greater) fell in the area from Clayton to Tucumcari, Santa Rosa, and Clovis. There were reports of excellent soaking rains, with little runoff into arroyos and small streams. A rancher from San Miguel County reported soil moisture down to 3 feet, with significant green-up compared to the past several years. Factors such as these prompted the removal of severe drought (D2) from Quay County, and moderate drought (D1) from southern Quay County and portions of adjacent counties. Following are USGS stream flow reports for New Mexico (expressed as percent of historical average for the current Water Year, October 1, 2014 to present). Stream flows in the Gila basin range between 98-104 percent; for the headwater tributaries of the Pecos River basin 106-138 percent, and for the lower Pecos River basin 84-166 percent. Stream flows in the Animas River of the San Juan River basin are about 123 percent of average; for the headwater tributaries of the Canadian River basin 78-126 percent, for the mid- to lower- part of the Canadian River basin 19-41 percent, and for the Canadian River mainstem near 21 percent. In the Rio Grande basin above Albuquerque, stream flows range between 88-129 percent of average; the Rio Grande below Taos Junction Bridge 116 percent, and the Jemez River near Jemez 92 percent of average.

Relatively small-scale revisions were made to the depiction in both Colorado and Utah. The largest change was a 1-category improvement (from D2 to D1) across eastern sections of Utah, and adjacent western sections of Colorado.

In southwestern Idaho over the past few weeks, there has been a robust green-up in the Owyhee River basin. However, it appears to be short-lived, as the snow-dominated streamflow peak has, or is now, passing through the region. In addition, prospects for ample precipitation within the next two weeks are low. As a result, widespread 1-category deterioration was rendered to the drought depiction across much of Idaho. In Washington, it’s been much drier than usual during the last month, especially in the lower Columbia Basin. As a result, the Yakima Bureau of Reclamation announced their mid-month forecast is expecting pro-ratable water users to receive only 54 percent of their water allocation. Reservoirs are being tapped earlier than normal (normal is late June), since snow melt is not adequate for regional needs, in addition to stretches of warm, dry weather. Accordingly, severe drought (D2) was expanded from north-central Oregon into south-central Washington, and moderate drought (D1) was expanded across the Blue Mountains (Garfield and Asotin Counties) in the extreme southeast part of the state, where the few Snotel stations that are there, are snow-free. In northeastern Oregon, severe drought (D2) was expanded across Umatilla and northern Baker Counties. Abnormal dryness (D0) was expanded to include the Oregon Coast, due to significant short-term precipitation deficits. Moderate drought (D1) was expanded westward across the western slopes of the Oregon Cascades, and much of the Willamette Valley. In south-central and southeastern Montana, abnormal dryness (D0) was modestly expanded to reflect the increasingly dry conditions.

Little if any precipitation fell across the state of California during the past 7-days, with the exception of moderate to locally heavy precipitation (0.5-3.0 inches) over north-central portions of the state, including the Sierras. The heavy precipitation will aid in green-up, but is expected to have very little impact on the long-term drought. No alterations were made this week to the California drought depiction…

Looking Ahead

For the upcoming 5-day period, April 30-May 4, much of the contiguous United States is expected to receive little if any precipitation. Fairly localized exceptions may include the Virginias and parts of the Corn Belt, where 0.5-2.0 inches is predicted.

For the 6-10 day period, May 5-9, there are elevated odds of above-median precipitation across most areas between the Rockies and Appalachians, as well as for southern Florida. There are elevated odds of below-median precipitation for much of the Pacific Northwest and part of the Southeast.

It all ends in a Nevada mud puddle: Lake Mead, the Colorado River and #drought — Colorado Independent #ColoradoRiver

From the Colorado Independent (John Tomasic):

In case you missed it: The terrifying evaporating mud puddle that was once Lake Mead outside of Las Vegas is a flashing warning sign – long coming and mostly ignored – that the human relationship to water in the American Southwest has got to change, pretty much immediately.

Lake Mead is fed by the Colorado River, a water source for 40 million people. And with shrinking snowpack in the Rockies, the water levels in the river are dropping. Same with Lake Mead, a major water source for California, Arizona and Nevada.

“The lake is ebbing as though a plug has been pulled from a bathtub drain; its shoreline forming a soap ring around its edges, a ring that will only grow in the dry summer months. The water is already so low that boat launch ramps need to be extended to reach the water. ‘It’s a surreal landscape out there,’” reports the LA Times.

Californians are panicked.

Some water watchdogs in Colorado are getting jittery, too. Colorado relies heavily on water from the river that shares its name. Colorado and other upper basin states are required to deliver a certain amount of water to the lower basin each year to keep reservoirs at levels required under federal compacts.

If supplies keep waning, water users (all of us) in states across the region will feel the pain.

From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

The federal government ratcheted up its risk estimates for Central Arizona Project shortages on Wednesday.

The odds of a shortage in water deliveries to Arizona and other Lower Colorado River Basin states in 2016 are now 33 percent, up from 21 percent as predicted in January, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said.

By 2017, the odds rise to 75 percent, compared to a January prediction of 54 percent.

The bureau raised the odds of shortages three days after Lake Mead on the Colorado River hit another record low level — the third time that’s happened since 2010.

Snowpack levels in the Colorado River’s Upper Basin are significantly lower now than in January, which reduces runoff into the river and into Lake Powell, which releases water to Lake Mead at the Nevada border. Water for the CAP canal system is stored in Lake Mead…

“This isn’t a crisis for Arizona, but it’s really a signal that all users in the basin need to address the long-term imbalance between supply and demand,” said Chuck Cullom, CAP’s Colorado River program manager.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Snowpack news

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

2015 Colorado legislation: Ranchers and farmers on the lower Ark oppose SB15-212

Detention pond
Detention pond

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Megan Schrader):

Several farmers and ranchers along the Lower Arkansas River remain opposed to a bill they say will harm their water rights, but proponents say [Senate Bill 212 (Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights)] is essential to protect the public from floods and contaminated water.

“It does harm rights, or it has the potential to harm rights,” said Don McBee, who made the long trek from his farm 10 miles north of Lamar to advocate for a change to the bill Wednesday when it was considered in the House Local Government Committee.

“We lost,” he said after an amendment he supported failed 8-3 and left him still opposing the bill.

The bill would do two things.

It would ensure flood mitigation and filtration systems constructed in response to wildfire burn scars can hold water without having to pay for the water rights of those downstream.

No one takes issue with that portion.

The second half of the bill deals with other water quality detention ponds that hold water to filter out sediments and prevent flooding. The bill stipulates those ponds cannot hold water for more than 72 hours unless it’s more than a five-year flood and then the water must be released within not more than 120 hours. But it also says that those facilities do not hurt downstream water rights and puts the onus of proving harm on water rights holders. In water court, it’s usually the opposite.

McBee said holding water in that way reduces the amount of water that comes during a peak flow, which will reduce the water that is available for junior water rights holders who can only get water when the flow of the Arkansas reaches a certain level.

Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer with the Division of Water Resources, said the farmers’ concerns are not unwarranted and water rights could be impacted by regional detention projects. But he said the bill is necessary.

“We definitely see the value in this bill giving us that codification in the statutes to say that yes, this detention is allowed,” Rein testified Wednesday. “It’s not the perfect bill, but what it does do is provide us that balance.”

McBee and others are particularly concerned about plans for flood restoration and mitigation projects along Fountain Creek, which flows from Colorado Springs to Pueblo where it joins the Arkansas.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, amended his bill in the Senate specifically to exempt Fountain Creek projects from protections under the bill.

McBee said that wasn’t enough.

Rep. Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff, R-Pueblo, agreed the bill didn’t do enough to protect downstream water rights. She proposed an amendment that McBee said would have allowed him to support the bill about guaranteeing that peak flows were not injured by detention systems.

The amendment failed. The bill passed out of committee 10-1 with Navarro-Ratzlaff the only no vote. It now goes to the House floor for consideration. If it passes, it will have to go back to the Senate for consideration of a technical change made in the House.

Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, sponsored the bill in the House.

Water districts seek study of Kendig Reservoir on West Divide Creek — Aspen Journalism #ColoradoRiver


From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District are seeking $40,000 from the state to study the feasibility and cost of storing 5,000 to 15,000 acre-feet of water in a proposed Kendig Reservoir on West Divide Creek, 15 miles south of Silt.

The request was made Monday to the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which reviews grants for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state water-supply planning agency.

“We think that now is really a good time to take a good, hard look at Kendig again,” John Currier, the chief engineer for the River District, told the roundtable Monday.

The Colorado River Basin roundtable recently identified Kendig Reservoir as one of its top-priority projects in the ongoing Colorado Water Plan process. (See project sheet).

A grant committee of roundtable members will now review the request, and the roundtable as a whole will vote it at its next meeting, scheduled for May 18.

If approved, the roundtable will send a letter in support of the funding request to the CWCB board.


“Basically dries up”

The dam and reservoir on West Divide Creek could bring late-season irrigation water to 14,000 acres of land on the mesa south of Silt, especially as it could feed an existing network of irrigation canals.

“The reservoir would store the early summer peak flows, which would allow late season irrigation demands to be met more frequently,” a feasibility evaluation from the Colorado and West Divide districts states.

“It would really be planned as a supplemental irrigation supply in West Divide, which is critically water short,” Currier said. “There are roughly 14,000 acres in West Divide that could use more water. The West Divide basically dries up by the end of the irrigation season.”

Other uses could include industrial, domestic, environmental, recreation and hydropower generation. Included among potential industrial uses is water for natural gas and oil operations.

Currier said that while the energy sector would not use nearly as much of the water in a new Kendig Reservoir as agriculture, energy producers would likely highly value the stored water and may contribute to the cost of the reservoir, which was estimated in 2011 to cost $40 million to $65 million.

West Divide Creek is a tributary of Divide Creek, which flows north into the Colorado River just upstream from Silt. The dam would be built in the channel of the stream.


Rights to water

The West Divide Water Conservancy District holds two conditional water rights from 1965 and 1979.

Together, the rights allow for storage of 18,060 acre-feet of water behind a 180-foot-tall dam on West Divide Creek. The dam, as envisioned at that time, would form a reservoir with a surface area of 257 acres.

By comparison, Ruedi Reservoir actively stores 101,280 acre-feet of water behind a dam on the Fryingpan River that is 285 feet tall, creating a reservoir with a surface area of 997 acres.

One goal of the feasibility study is determine the right size for a new reservoir, which would be built on private land that would have to be obtained by the water districts for the project to happen.

The application for money from the Colorado River and West Divide districts to study the feasibility of Kendig Reservoir states that “storable inflow” to the proposed dam site on the West Divide Creek site averages 12,000 acre-feet annually, but can drop to 2,000 acre-feet in dry years.

“This is in a location where you have limited supply in critically dry years,” Currier said. “So they are looking at how much carryover capacity is really required to create a firm yield. And what is that firm yield is a critical piece of this investigation.”

The rights for Kendig Reservoir are junior to the Cameo Call, a group of water districts that divert water under senior rights from the Colorado River, at the red-roofed roller dam east of Palisade. Earlier planning documents for the West Divide project also state that water from the Colorado River could be pumped uphill and stored in the reservoir.


The Divide in “Thompson Divide”?

The headwaters of West Divide Creek are near the western end of Four Mile Road, where Pitkin, Gunnison and Mesa counties come together.

The Garfield-Mesa county line, as it crosses West Divide Creek, would run through the proposed reservoir.

Some consider that Divide Creek is part of the namesake of the “Thompson Divide” area, which describes land on either side of a large ridge, with Divide Creek draining the west side and Thompson Creek the east.

Kendig Reservoir is part of the larger West Divide project that was studied by the Bureau of Reclamation as early as 1937.

The West Divide project was included in the 1956 federal Colorado River Storage Projects Act, which also authorized the dams that create Glen Canyon, Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge reservoirs.

In 1966 Congress authorized construction of the West Divide project, but federal money was never appropriated for the project.


A fresh look

The original Kendig Reservoir was also intended to store water imported from the Crystal River basin, but the two districts abandoned that component of the project in 2014.

Currier said that was one reason it makes sense to take a fresh look at Kendig.

There is both a lower and an upper Kendig reservoir site. The lower site is the originally proposed location. The upper side is above a major water distribution canal. The two districts will now look at the general area covered by both sites for the optimum location.

“Additional study is required to identify optimal reservoir sizes, potential reservoir operation, the firm yield of the reservoir, geotechnical issues and project costs,” the engineering report states.

In addition to the current request for state money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the two water districts are also each proposing to spend $10,000 of their own money on the feasibility study, which is expected to cost $60,000.

The study is to be prepared by Wilson Water Group and RJH Associates, an engineering design firm, according to the application. A summary of the feasibility study report is due Dec. 31.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. The Post Independent published this story on Monday, April 27, 2015, as did The Times.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

The latest “Headwaters Pulse” newsletter is hot off the presses from the CFWE


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

Water scarcity and planning for Colorado’s future

Everyone is talking about water. California is in a drought crisis, Lake Powell is only 45 percent full, and in Colorado, though needed moisture has been falling over much of the state, anything could happen! Although it’s impossible to accurately predict the future, the immediate pressures of drought in the lower Colorado River Basin highlight the importance of preparedness. How can Colorado be ready for whatever the future brings?

Our winter issue of Headwaters takes a close look at the state water planning process’ inner workings, including why we need the plan now, what it took to complete a first draft as of December last year, and where we’ll likely need to go further to achieve success. Plus, we help you chart your water future—looking at elements like climate, population growth and social values that could change Colorado’s future (flip to page 16 of the magazine for this feature). Colorado’s Water Plan won’t be finalized until December 2015, so pick up, flip through or download your copy of Headwaters Winter 2015 issue today to see what we’re planning for.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.

“We spent the day at the Children’s Water Festival” — @greeleywater