Snowpack news (Part 2)

Statewide snowpack map May 11, 2015 via the NRCS
Statewide snowpack map May 11, 2015 via the NRCS

Click on the thumbnail graphic to view an updated statwide snowpack map from this morning. The other products have not updated yet.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Colorado’s peak snowpack was about 75 percent of normal this year, the Natural Resources Conservation Service said Friday.

That peak occurred from early to mid-March, about a month earlier than normal. April precipitation didn’t help things, being only 71 percent of normal statewide, the federal agency said. Statewide snowpack was just 61 percent of normal May 1.

May 1 snowpack ranged from 25 percent of normal for the Rio Grande River basin to 96 percent for the South Platte.

The Colorado basin was at 68 percent, and the Gunnison, 53. The Yampa/White basins were at just 46 percent; the Arkansas, 89; the North Platte, 61; and the San Juan/Animas/Dolores/San Miguel, 36.

Colorado’s 75 percent snowpack peak will mean a corresponding 25 percent drop-off from normal when it comes to this year’s snowmelt contribution to streamflows. Brian Domonkos, hydrologist with the NRCS Colorado Snow Survey Program, said in a news release that other factors such as spring rain also can affect streamflows and water supply.

“Monthly precipitation has been well below normal in nearly every basin for the last two months, which carries more weight since March … and April are the two months of the year in which Colorado typically receives the most precipitation. Additionally, April often provides rain at the lower elevations, which does not add to the snowpack, but often augments streamflow. Largely that rain has not come to Colorado,” he said.

He said that these and other factors “paint a poor streamflow forecast picture for much of the state heading into spring and summer.”

One bright spot continues to be reservoir storage, which is at 108 percent of average statewide. Storage by basin is at 129 for the Colorado, 123 for the Gunnison, 120 for the Yampa/White, 113 percent for the South Platte, 85 for the San Juan/Animas/Dolores/San Miguel, 79 for the Arkansas and 75 for the Rio Grande.

Silverthorne: 22nd annual State of the River recap

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

Summit’s Blue River Basin recorded snowpack near the 30-year average, and the six speakers at the 22nd annual State of the River meeting on Tuesday, May 5, stressed that local residents should feel fortunate that the headwaters community was spared the immediate water supply problems others are facing around the West.

“Everybody has Blue River envy,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District. “You’re the sweet spot this summer.”

However, the event’s speakers also emphasized the coming impacts of long-term drought and overconsumption on Summit and other communities that supply the majority of the West’s water.

Kuhn said major water players including Denver Water, which owns and operates Dillon Reservoir, are for the first time loudly prioritizing certainty of water supplies over development because they are worried about their future abilities to deliver water to their current customers…

County Open Space director Brian Lorch and Blue River Watershed Group board treasurer Jim Shaw said restoration projects on the Swan River northeast of Breckenridge and the Tenmile Creek east of Copper Mountain are moving forward with success.

Summit County water commissioner Troy Wineland said Summit’s snowpack didn’t quite reach average this winter, according to data from the Blue River Basin’s four SNOTEL measuring sites. Half of the snowpack arrived in November and December, and it was gone at lower and middle elevations by the end of March, which was unusually dry and warm.

Runoff started sooner this year, and Tenmile Creek flows in early April were five times greater than average, Wineland said. He predicted peak runoff will occur in early June depending on the weather.

On Monday, May 4, Wineland said Old Dillon Reservoir achieved its first complete fill of 303 acre feet. The reservoir is jointly operated by the county and the towns of Silverthorne and Dillon, and it was stocked with golden trout from California that Wineland said should mean good fishing in the next year or two.

Wineland stressed the role that Summit residents can play in shaping the state’s first-ever water plan, which will outline Colorado’s water policy priorities for the next 50 years and will be handed to the governor in December…

Bob Steger, water resources engineer with Denver Water, said his calculations of Summit snowpack included data from Fremont Pass, which is why he measured Summit’s snowpack as above average but “nowhere near the snowpack that we had last year.”

The Blue River Basin may be the only basin in the state that peaks above average, and Denver Water’s No. 1 priority of filling Dillon Reservoir “should be no problem,” he said. “We’re only two feet from full right now.”

It should be a great summer for boating as well as rafting and kayaking below the dam, Steger said. “The fishing will eventually be good, but if you don’t like high water you probably better stay out until sometime in July.”

He answered a question about Antero Reservoir in Park County, which Denver Water will empty this summer ahead of repairs to the 100-year-old dam. The phase that requires draining the reservoir should be done by the end of 2015 with refilling beginning next spring. Steger also said Denver Water is still working on a permit to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.

Ron Thomasson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who oversees Green Mountain Reservoir operations, said runoff flows won’t be high enough this year to allow coordinated reservoir operations that would protect endangered fish on the Colorado River.

Peak flows must be between 12,900 cfs and 23,000 cfs to do that, and the current forecast is for 9,600 cfs, he said…

Kuhn presented last and detailed continued threats facing Lake Powell and Lake Mead operations.

“We’re going to have to cut back our uses,” he said, “after 100 years of develop more, develop more, develop more.”

Lake Mead could likely see its first shortage next year or in 2017, he said, and “bad things happen when Lake Mead and Lake Powell get drained.”

Allowing Lake Powell’s water level to fall below the amount needed to generate electricity would lead to dramatically higher utility bills costs, the elimination of funding for the important environmental programs funded by the hydropower revenue noted above that protect current and future water use in Colorado.

If Colorado and the other Upper Basin states violate the 1922 Colorado River Compact and fail to provide enough water to Lower Basin states, the West could be fighting over water in lengthy court battles and Colorado could be forced to prohibit some water uses.

Western states could lose control of water to the federal government, Kuhn said, and Colorado would likely lose power in management of the Colorado River and water in the state.

When asked about building an interstate water pipeline to solve some shortages, Kuhn said water managers have discussed pipelines of absurd lengths and he doesn’t think that method will work.

“To expect that we can export our problems to somebody else, I just don’t see that somebody else will willingly accept them,” he said.

Snowpack/runoff news: Our snowpack is lackluster — The Durango Herald

Statewide snowpack map May 8, 2015 via the NRCS
Statewide snowpack map May 8, 2015 via the NRCS

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

In the West, the snowpack of the winter 2014-15 is history, the Natural Resources Conservation Service said Friday.

“Across most of the West, snowpack isn’t just low – it’s gone,” NRCS hydrologist David Garen said in a release. “With some exceptions, this year’s snowmelt streamflow has already occurred.”

“The exceptions are northern Colorado, western Montana and southern Wyoming,” Garen said.

Garen could have included the southwest corner of Colorado where the snowpack isn’t great, but still exists.

Noah Newman at the Colorado Climate Center said the four basins in the region still have some snow.

As of May 1:

The San Juan Basin had 5.4 inches of snowpack, compared with the 30-year median of 15.4 inches (35 percent).

The Animas Basin had 68 percent of the 30-year median – 7.4 inches compared with 11 inches.

In the San Miguel Basin, there were 4.6 inches of snow on the ground, compared with the 30-year median of 10.4 inches (44 percent).

The Dolores Basin is hurting – 0.7 inches compared with the 30-year median of 3 inches (23 percent).

It’s been a dry year for the Colorado River Basin, the NRCS statement said.

“Snowmelt inflow into Lake Powell Reservoir is estimated at 34 percent,” said hydrologist Cara McCarthy. “We forecast streamflow from current conditions. Spring and summer rain might relieve areas that are dry.”

Forecaster: El Nino could bring lots of rainy, cloudy summer days — Aspen Daily News

El Niño (ENSO) phenomenon graphic from the Climate Predication Center via Climate Central
El Niño (ENSO) phenomenon graphic from the Climate Predication Center via Climate Central

From the Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

According to AspenWeather.net forecaster Cory Gates, the valley is heading into a moderate, and possibly strong, El Nino summer, which will bring more rain and cloudy days.

This week’s precipitation levels would be considered above average in most years, but not in an El Nino spring, Gates said.

However, he called this week’s deluge a “30-year rainfall” in and around Basalt.

“This ain’t going away. It will be a wet summer,” Gates said Friday. “The water’s way too warm in the Pacific, and we’re going to have a jet stream. … This is an El Nino spring and summer. I guarantee it, 100 percent.”

What is a bit unusual is that the weather pattern is getting stronger, with Pacific water temperatures likely to be 1.4 to 1.5 degrees above normal, he said…

According to river data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the deluge has caused the Roaring Fork River in Glenwood to rise from 2,700 cubic feet per second (CFS) last week to more than 7,000 this week. The Roaring Fork has grown from 70 to 140 CFS in Aspen, and from 473 to 776 CFS in Emma, during the same time frame.

The Crystal River near Redstone has also increased, from 268 to 616 CFS since last week.

Even though the water flows downstream very quickly during these rain events, it still benefits the health of local rivers. The strong flows help to move sediment down river, improving the riverbed habitat for the tiny organisms upon which trout feed, said Chad Rudow, water quality coordinator for the Roaring Fork Conservancy…

Gates said 7 to 8 inches of snow fell above 12,000 feet during the past week, and 3 to 6 inches between 10,500 and 11,200 feet.

But Rudow noted that many of the snowpack measuring sites are at elevations that may have seen the precipitation falling as rain.

He said the Roaring Fork watershed snowpack was at 60 percent of average, in terms of snow-water equivalent, last week, and is now at 58 percent. The Colorado River Basin as a whole dropped from 52 percent of average to 46 percent this week.

Rudow added that the snowpack on Schofield Pass fell from 19 percent of average last week to 16.5 percent on Thursday.

But the snow telemetry station at Ivanhoe Lake, near Hagerman Pass, did see an increase this week from 99 percent of average to 101 percent, he reported.

Colorado Springs Utilities plans to appeal judgment that favored Pueblo-area rancher — The Colorado Springs Gazette

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Colorado Springs Utilities has filed notice that it intends to appeal a jury’s $4.6 million judgment in favor of rancher Gary Walker, who let Utilities build a 5.5-mile pipeline on his land for the Southern Delivery System.

Walker and Utilities had agreed that the easement was worth $82,900, and the pipeline was installed on his northern Pueblo County land in 2012 as a conduit for the Southern Delivery System, or SDS.

That regional project is designed to pump Arkansas River water from the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West, delivering up to 96 million gallons a day to those communities. Water delivery was expected to begin in 2016.

At trial, Walker’s counsel said Walker was negotiating a conservation easement worth more than $30 million with the Nature Conservancy, but degradation of the utility easement destroyed those prospects.

Colorado Springs, which owns Utilities, “had no opportunity to prepare a rebuttal to this surprise, unprecedented argument,” said the notice of intent to appeal filed late Thursday.

The notice questions, among other things, how a property value can be agreed upon at $82,000 and then valued at more than $30 million before a jury, and whether it was appropriate to deny the jury an opportunity to view the property.

The Pueblo County District Court jury deliberated for nine days before rendering its verdict April 23.

Neither Walker and his attorneys nor the Nature Conservancy returned calls Friday.

But SDS spokeswoman Janet Rummel said storms on the land drained water onto the pipeline alignment, causing erosion after the easement had been restored.

“We’ve been working ever since to fully restore it,” Rummel said. “His attorney was claiming actually not as much about the reclamation, but really about his lack of ability to ensure future conservation easements on his property. We really saw no evidence presented that that was the case. That was changing the big concern at the 11th hour of this trial. We need to take into account the effects on our ratepayers.”

Utilities paid Walker about $720,000 to move his cattle and laid irrigation lines along the easement to ensure that plants for restoration would survive, she said.

“From our perspective, we’ve gone above and beyond to address the concerns raised.”

The Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District isn’t taking a position on the legal battle, said Executive Director Larry L. Small. But the district is supposed to receive $10 million every year for five years to mitigate the extra flow that Fountain Creek will experience.

“If this drags on, it could impact SDS from becoming operational – and our revenue. That wouldn’t be too good because we’re waiting for that money to begin doing the work we need to do.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Rains along the Southern Delivery System pipeline scar through Walker Ranches is again causing flooding problems in northern Pueblo County.

“Prior to the SDS crossing Walker Ranches, we never had floods like these from that area,” said ranchver Gary Walker. “Mother Nature’s defenses took care of it.”

Walker is involved in litigation with Colorado Springs over the 5.5-mile stretch of buried 66-inch diameter pipeline. A jury in April awarded Walker $4.665 million in damages, which Colorado Springs is appealing.

On Friday, rains created a river of mud along the pipeline route, causing some flooding in adjacent areas. Walker supplied aerial photos to The Pueblo Chieftain that show water crossing and sheet off the pipeline scar, with several hundred feet of plastic irrigation pipe — used for revegetation — hanging above a chasm of rushing water.

Walker said this is a violation of Colorado Springs Utilities’ commitments under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS because the area has not been returned to pre-construction conditions.

He first raised the issue of the pipeline route, which crosses arroyos, in 2008. He wanted the pipeline to follow the route of the Fountain Valley Conduit, constructed in the 1980s, which he said would be less damaging to his ranchland.

“Now Walker Ranches will become part of the flooding problem to downstream residences of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River,” Walker said. “These are not Biblical events. Our weather is just returning to normal and our drought is ending, as any ‘old-timer’ like me will tell you.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Thursday appealed a $4.665 million jury award for damages to Walker Ranches by the Southern Delivery System water pipeline.

The appeal was made in Colorado Court of Appeals in Denver.

The city’s lawyers said the April 23 verdict was delivered after a nine-day trial without any other findings or calculations.

The city’s lawyers added they had no chance to rebut the closing argument of Walker Ranches’ lawyers that the SDS pipeline across 5 miles of the property had diminished the value of surrounding land and that testimony did not support the verdict.

They also claimed the basis for diminished value of the property was not revealed until opening arguments and the value itself only in closing arguments.

A court judgment on the $4.665 million award was entered Wednesday by Pueblo District Judge Jill Mattoon.

Gary Walker, whose family owns the land, said the Nature Conservancy was negotiating with him to buy conservation easements for $1,680 per acre on about 15,000 acres, about $25 million.

“The city had no opportunity to reply to this surprise, unprecedented argument,” Colorado Springs attorneys wrote in the appeal.

Neither side disputed the value of the $82,900 150-foot-wide utility easement for a buried 66-inch diameter pipeline which Colorado Springs offered $1,400 an acre.

Colorado Springs’ filing lists 14 points of law, as well as a catch-all “any other issues” that were not covered by crossappeal.

Among the points raised by Colorado Springs lawyers is whether conservation can be considered the highest and best use for property, a topic Walker elaborated on in an interview with The Pueblo Chieftain after the trial.

Walker explained that conservation is the main purpose for Walker Ranches and illustrated that by pointing out that the millions of dollars from previous conservation easements was used to purchase more land with the intent of preserving ranch land and open spaces for future generations.

Colorado Springs’ attorneys also raised the question of whether Mattoon erred by denying the jury an opportunity to view the property.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.