Colorado River Research Group: The Case for Conservation #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

Click here to read the report from the Colorado River Research Group. Here’s an excerpt:

The challenges facing the Colorado River Basin are varied and significant. In particular, population growth, drought, and climate change all are likely to further strain the regional water budget unless our management of water uses evolves to match our expertise in managing water resources. Fortunately, there’s also no shortage of viable, cost-effective solutions, and the many reforms enacted during the past decade have opened a short window of opportunity for basin residents to consider what a lasting solution might look like. It’s clear that any real solution must take advantage of the many inefficient water uses that persist throughout the basin, which are every bit as much of an opportunity to embrace as a problem to lament.

In providing “the case” for conservation in the Colorado River Basin, we are explicitly rejecting a few of the common myths that surround and burden the concept. We find that the popular characterization of water conservation as implying a sacrifice, an added cost, and a loss of productivity or opportunity is, at best, misleading and is arguably the direct opposite of the reality we face in the basin. Additionally, the notion that an increase in population must equate to an increase in consumption is not only inconsistent with the water use statistics, but when treated as fact, can become a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy that pushes the region toward ill-advised supply-side options. While it’s true that some of the low- hanging fruit of water conservation has already been captured, there’s nothing to suggest that we are close to exhausting the urban conservation potential, and the potential for significant agricultural conservation is exciting as long as it’s married to a commitment to protect the economic and social viability of rural communities.

We also appreciate that urban users fear losing their green spaces, while rural areas fear a loss of productive acreage. But that is not always the cost of conservation, and when it is, such reductions in irrigated land can be selected in a strategic and limited manner if rules and programs are created for that purpose. And what is the alternative? Further draining streams, reservoirs and aquifers to a point of collapse? Spending billions to import or desalinate new supplies (if available, and only after decades of work)? Without creative solutions, market forces and crisis scenarios will inevitably dry-up irrigated agriculture in unplanned ways that create undesirable third-party impacts.

As people that live, work, and recreate in the Southwest, we think the path forward is obvious: we should pursue the options that offer the greatest bundle of benefits for the lowest bundle of costs, that are easily scalable and can be done relatively quickly, that offer the lowest risks, and that leave the door open in the future to other approaches should they prove necessary. That is the case for conservation.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Dillon Reservoir and the Roberts tunnel

Denver Water employees Rick Geise and Nate Hurlbut assisted in setting the plug, which helps prevent chunks of ice and snow from falling into the spillway. Photo credit: Denver Water

NOAA: For the Southern Plains, some rain and drought relief

From NOAA:

At the end of April 2015, almost 60 percent of Oklahoma was experiencing moderate to exceptional drought, and 30 percent of Texas was experiencing drought conditions. Extreme drought conditions occupied central Texas and reached northward into central and western Oklahoma, with pockets of exceptional drought scattered along the border between the two states.

But according to the May drought outlook, conditions are likely to improve in the southern Plains this month. Forecasts indicate moderate to heavy rain in early May 2015 and enhanced chances of above-normal rainfall through the end of the month. The map pair at right shows U.S. Drought Monitor status as of April 28 (left) and the NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s U.S. monthly drought outlook for May (right).

Many of the areas experiencing extreme (bright red) or exceptional (dark red) drought in the southern Plains are projected to at least improve (tan) or see the end of drought (green) in May. The colors indicate that there is little opportunity for drought improvement in the northern Plains, but North Texas and western Oklahoma are likely to benefit from much-needed rainfall.

The NOAA Climate Prediction Center notes that May is one of the wetter months in the Great Plains region, generally bringing 10 to 20 percent of annual rainfall. NOAA’s monthly precipitation outlook for the United States shows western Texas and Oklahoma have at least a 40 percent chance of being wetter than normal through the end of the month, while much of the northern Plains region has an equal chance for precipitation totals that are below, near, or above the long-term average.

Some slight improvement has already occurred in Texas and Oklahoma during late April. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor website, the coverage of extreme to exceptional (D3-D4) drought decreased from 37 to 24 percent from April 21 to 28 due to heavy rainfall in the western and central parts of the state. Recent rains also improved conditions in Texas, helping water supplies recover in the Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio urban areas.

The local National Weather Service Office in Amarillo, Texas, explains that while short-term relief in the form of periodic heavy rain events has benefited farming and ranching operations in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, long-term drought impacts remain across the area, including low reservoir levels, drier than normal deep soil zones, and thinned grass stands on rangeland. CPC forecasters also caution that “one month of above-normal precipitation during one of the wetter times of year is not necessarily enough to bring substantial drought relief.”

2015 Colorado legislation: Stormwater ‘recycling’ could help boost urban water supplies — The Colorado Independent #coleg

Detention pond
Detention pond

From the Colorado Independent (Bob Berwyn):

Even though the rain-barrel bill got dunked in the Colorado Legislature this year, another measure that could help conserve and reuse urban water on a much larger scale passed without much controversy.

Senate Bill 212 could make it easier for places like Denver to start designing new stormwater management systems that would reduce the demand for water from rivers and reservoirs. Instead of simply letting stormwater run down the drain, the water could potentially be slowed down to water parks and ballfields.

The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican representing a rural agricultural district in northeastern Colorado. Sonnenberg opposed the rainbarrel bill partly because he feared that a boom in the urban rain-barrel biz could cut flows to rivers that supply water for farms farther downstream.

But [SB15-212 (Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights)], the stormwater bill, doesn’t pose the same threat because it doesn’t specifically allow people to capture and use water, Sonnenberg said, explaining that his bill was aimed at ensuring that cities don’t have to apply for water rights when they design and build stormwater systems.

In a comment letter on the Colorado water plan, Denver Water explained the history of the stormwater runoff issue. Most senior water rights were established in a time when there weren’t a whole lot of paved surfaces to channel water into drains. Instead, the water from big rainstorms spread out evenly over the land.

The idea that cities should have to apply for water rights for the stormwater they manage is “shortsighted, unnecessary and in conflict with the goals and values” of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order for the plan, Denver Water wrote.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Snowpack/runoff news: Widespread moisture helps all basins, South Platte Basin jumps to 110% of normal

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Ryan Severance):

The Arkansas River near Avondale was measured at a gauge height of 9 feet Saturday night, nearly 2 feet above flood stage.

Despite that, no widespread flooding was reported there, according to the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office…

“The Arkansas is showing it’s at flood stage in Avondale, but it’s not flooding. I’ve got two captains that have been down there looking and it’s within its banks,” said Mark Mears, the sheriff’s office emergency bureau chief.

Fountain Creek in Pueblo roared Saturday, measuring at a gauge height of just over 6 feet which was at least 2 feet higher than the river was at any point Friday.

Cathy Todd, who manages stables owned by her father near Fountain Creek on Overton Road, said Saturday’s water levels on the creek are among the worst she has seen.

“It’s taken out probably a football fieldsize chunk of land and all the trees and has taken pretty much everything out since last night,” Todd said. “We’ve been moving horses and horse trailers and anything we could salvage. It’s a huge, huge lake down there right now and the water is coming in really fast and really high, so it’s flooding the whole place.”

Todd said the last of the horse stables she kept near the creek were washed away by the waters Saturday…

There were no tornadoes spotted, but the system that prompted the tornado warning was responsible for producing golf ball-size hail in the county near the Pueblo Memorial Airport and its vicinity.

That hail didn’t impact farmers in the Vineland area, however.

Carl Musso, owner of Musso Farms, said crops in the area were not affected by the weather as wind was minimal and only small bits of hail fell there for a short time.

“I can’t speak for all of Pueblo County, but I can speak for Vineland farmers here. Everything that we’ve got growing looks great and all the vegetables look fantastic. Chiles are starting to come out of the ground and everything looks good,” Musso said. “We’ll be right on time with everything this year. The hail does worry you and, yes, we did have some fall here. But there was no wind, which is what really drives the hail.”

Tornadoes that touched ground were spotted later in the afternoon in remote areas north of Pueblo County.

Pueblo County considering show cause 1041 hearing for Southern Delivery System

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County is a step closer to calling for a hearing to decide whether to repeal or significantly alter the provisions of a 1041 permit allowing the Southern Delivery System to be built through the county.

On Monday, commissioners gave direction to staff to release a report to Colorado Springs detailing the progress of an investigation into whether that city’s lack of any specific funding for storm water permits constitutes a violation of the permit.

According to the report, staff’s recommendation is that, so far, the investigation shows there’s enough evidence to go forward with a show cause hearing on the 1041 document. But staff also asked for permission to hold off on issuing such an order until the first of August.

Waiting two months would give staff time to continue working with Colorado Springs, hire Denver-based Wright Water Engineering as a storm water consultant and give the new mayor and city council in Colorado Springs time to assess the issues for themselves.

“I am confident that there is some probability of success in coming up with some solutions to bring to the board, either as revised conditions or new amendments to the agreement,” said Ray Petros, water counsel to Pueblo County.

Petros said that it’s been six years since there was any dedicated funding in place for Colorado Springs’ storm water improvements and in that time, the number of infrastructure improvements that could help mitigate flows and improve water quality in the Fountain Creek have backlogged to the point that nearly $534 million worth of projects are awaiting completion.

Staff has been investigating the issue since April. Petros said it has been difficult to ascertain what high-priority projects have been completed or what kind of money has actually been spent on projects that would be beneficial to Pueblo County.

At the core of the investigation is the Springs’ decision to disband its storm water enterprise in 2009, along with the failure at the polls in 2014 of a measure to establish a new enterprise.

“Our issue has been from Day 1 that the 1041 permit requires some kind of dedicated funding,” said Commissioner Terry Hart. “No pun intended, but it’s been six years of water under the bridge and we’re painfully aware of that.”

Petros quoted a few passages within the 1041 permit that mentioned the funding source specifically, including the environmental impact statements attached to the permit.

The original staff report noted that the delay also gave Colorado Springs Utilities time to respond to information requests, but Hart said he felt Pueblo should set the timeline on that response.

Public Works Director Alf Randall said that the information requested by staff wasn’t complicated but understood if Colorado Springs staffers preferred to wait until the new mayor and council were sworn in.

Randall also said it would be good to have the information once Wright Water’s contract with Pueblo was finalized.

“I don’t understand what would be highly complex about providing staff a list of projects in 2015,” Randall said.

He said he thought it could be done by June 1.

The commissioners then directed that the June 1 deadline be included in the memo to Colorado Springs.

There are likely more investigations to follow. Commissioner Sal Pace asked staff to consider land purchases, reclamaneighbors. tion issues and potential impacts to Pueblo West homeowners in the investigation.

But the investigation came from a resolution focusing specifically on storm water issues.

All three commissioners said they would like to see future investigations into those other issues.

The commissioners also noted that the past week’s rainfall was a reminder of the urgency for the improvements, as runoff from Colorado Springs churned mud and debris in Fountain Creek and eroded property along Overton Road.

“We have a job to advocate for our constituents and I think the representatives from Colorado Springs, whether they like the process or not, would agree there’s been an impact to the community,” said Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Eagle River Valley State of the River meeting, May 21 #COWaterPlan