Snowpack/runoff news

Remember to look at the Basin High/Low graph for your favorite basin to get an idea about snowpack there. The % of normal measure loses most of its meaning after runoff starts.

From CBS Denver:

Denver Water says because of the high levels of rain they have had to create some room in several reservoirs so they’ve allowed some to spill over. That allows them to keep some space for any additional spring runoff.

Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson says they’re expecting quite a few benefits from all the rainfall.

“It’s always good to fill up our reservoirs and what it really does is it gives us more flexibility and more opportunities for some other things, and this year we’ll see some great opportunities to provide additional flushing flows into the rivers and streams below our reservoirs to really help out those fish habitats,” Thompson said. “We’ll also see a great kayaking and rafting season, so great year to be kayaker or rafter in Colorado.”

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Stephen Meyers):

The Poudre River’s commercial rafting season began Friday, and thanks to the river ripping three times as fast as normal for this time of year, the early season should provide a thrilling whitewater ride for guests.

The roaring water is also a boon for Fort Collins’ economy.

Commercial rafting on the Poudre pumped $4.6 million in direct expenditures into Fort Collins in 2014, making an $11.8 million economic impact, according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

Commercial rafting companies took 37,225 rafters down the Poudre River last year, a slight bump from 2013 (37,214 rafters) and an enormous jump from the drought and fire impacted year of 2012, when the river shut down for a month.

The Poudre River, which typically peaks in late May or early June at 3,000 cubic feet per second, was running at 2,020 cfs Friday at a height of 5.32 feet. Normal flow at the canyon’s mouth for May 15 is about 700 cfs.

“The water is already high enough to run all sections of the river. Some years it’s too low (for the Class IV sections) on opening day,” said Bob Klein, manager of A Wanderlust Adventure. “All signs point to us having another great year.”

From 9News (Maya Rodriguez):

Water levels at Chatfield have risen eight feet since May 1, but that’s nothing compared to Bear Creek Lake, which rose 40 feet since the start of the month. Some roads there are completely submerged, but water managers say that’s how it’s should work.

“The whole purpose is to kind of capture the water as it comes down in big flood events and then release it slowly, so we don’t flood anything downtown,” Maxwell said.

Bob Steger is the manager of Raw Water Supply with Denver Water. He said while they’re keeping an eye on the rain expected this week, it’s also a welcome addition to their system of 10 reservoirs. They are now at 93 percent of capacity, 10 percent higher than they usually would be at this time of year.

“This is the time of year when we are trying to fill up our reservoirs, so wet weather is a good thing,” Steger said. “Not only can we fill our reservoirs, which is what we’re trying to do this time of year, but it gives us the flexibility to help with some environmental things and recreation as well.”

That means benefits to fisheries, like trout habitat, to recreation, like rafting, and to the rivers themselves.

“The wet weather also means we don’t have to divert as much water from the Colorado River basin into the metro area,” Steger said.

That can be significant because the less water diverted from the Colorado River for the Front Range, the more that’s left for the western slope and other states that get water from the Colorado River. That includes California, which is in the midst of a severe drought.

Feds project Lake Mead below drought trigger point in 2017 — The Albuquerque Journal


From the Associated Press (Ken Ritter) via the Albuquerque Journal:

Federal water managers released a report Monday projecting that Lake Mead’s water levels will fall below a point in January 2017 that would force supply cuts to Arizona and Nevada.

The effects could be serious. Arizona’s allocation of Colorado River water could be cut 11.4 percent, or by an amount normally used by more than 600,000 homes. Nevada’s share could be reduced 4.3 percent. Think 26,000 homes.

But officials heading water agencies in the two states and California took a wait-and-see approach to the projections posted by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

They pointed to fluctuations in precipitation levels just since January. They added that more will be known in August when the bureau knows how much runoff in the upper-basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming reaches the Lake Powell reservoir.

That will determine how much water the agency controlling a Colorado River water system crucial to about 40 million residents in seven Southwest U.S. states will release from Lake Powell through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead near Las Vegas.

“A lot is going to depend on precipitation and flows from the tributaries,” said David Modeer, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, the main water agency in the lower-basin state that would be affected the most.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Colorado’s Water Plan and WISE water infrastructure — The Denver Post

WISE System Map September 11, 2014
WISE System Map September 11, 2014

From The Denver Post (James Eklund/Eric Hecox):

The Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project is a partnership among Aurora Water, Denver Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority to combine available water supplies and system capacities to create a sustainable new water supply. Aurora and Denver will provide fully treated water to South Metro Water on a permanent basis. WISE also will enable Denver Water to access its supplies during periods when it needs to.

All of this will be accomplished while allowing Aurora to continue to meet its customers’ current and future needs.

Aurora’s Prairie Waters system will provide the backbone for delivering water from the South Platte when Aurora and Denver Water have available water supplies and capacity. The water will be distributed to the South Metro Denver communities through an existing pipeline shared with Denver and East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District, and new infrastructure that will be constructed over the next 16 months…

WISE is a key element to this plan. With construction agreements in place, we will break ground in coming weeks to begin connecting water systems throughout the Denver Metro area. When WISE begins delivering water in 2016:

• The South Denver Metro area will receive a significant new renewable water supply;

• Denver will receive a new backup water supply;

• Aurora will receive funding from partners to help offset its Prairie Waters Project costs and stabilize water rates; and

• The Western Slope will receive new funding, managed by the River District, for water supply, watershed and water quality projects.

More WISE Project coverage here.

Water Values podcast: Steve Cavanaugh discusses the untapped water supply that every utility has — non-revenue water

USBR: Learn about our 2 new grants to help water users take a proactive approach to drought

NOAA: The State of the Climate Summary Information for April 2015


Click here to read the summary from NOAA. Here’s an excerpt:

Global highlights: April 2015

  • During April, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.33°F (0.74°C) above the 20th century average. This was the fourth highest for April in the 1880–2015 record.
  • The April globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.00°F (1.11°C) above the 20th century average. This was the 10th highest for April in the 1880–2015 record.
  • The April globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.08°F (0.60°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for April in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record of 1998 by 0.05°F (0.03°C).
  • The average Arctic sea ice extent for April was 310,000 square miles (5.5 percent) below the 1981–2010 average. This was the second smallest April extent since records began in 1979, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center based on data from NOAA and NASA. This extent was 30,000 square miles larger than the record small April extent that occurred in 2007.
  • Antarctic sea ice during April was 640,000 square miles (22.4 percent) above the 1981–2010 average. This was the largest April Antarctic sea ice extent on record, surpassing the previous record-large April extent of 2014 by 10,000 square miles.
  • According to data from NOAA analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during April was 50,000 square miles below the 1981–2010 average. This was the 22nd smallest April Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent in the 49-year period of record. Eurasia had a slightly larger-than-average April snow cover extent, while North America had its 15th smallest.
  • Global highlights: Year-to-date (January–April 2015)

  • During January–April, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.44°F (0.80°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for January–April in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record of 2010 by 0.13°F (0.07°C).
  • During January–April, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.66°F (1.48°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for January–April in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record of 2007 by 0.05°F (0.03°C)
  • During January–April, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 0.99°F (0.55°C) above the 20th century average. This tied with 2010 as the second highest for January–April in the 1880–2015 record, trailing 1998 by 0.04°F (0.02°C).
  • For extended analysis of global temperature and precipitation patterns, please see our full April report.

    EPA: Over 1,000,000 people gave us comments on our Clean Water Rule, incl. fishermen, hunters, small business, farmers, & scientists

    Colorado River District: Footage of the Summit State of the River Meeting (Blue River Envy)

    What A Strengthening El Niño Means For Colorado — KUNC

    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 KUNC (Jackie Fortier):

    “When we are in a situation like we have now with at least moderate El Niño conditions we do tend to get wetter summers.” Although signs point to an El Niño, Wolter was still cautious.

    “It is not a slam dunk, it is not guaranteed,” he said. “I would say there is a like a 2-in-3 chance of having a wetter summer this year in Colorado, which is good news.”

    According to Wolter the El Niño is still in its early stages, but has the potential to cause extreme weather around the world. Researchers will have a clearer understanding in July after they collect more data on the strength of the storms…

    Colorado has seen false starts in El Niño-related weather. There were similar conditions and weather patterns in spring 2014, but the El Niño did not progress over the summer.

    “Yes there is a chance that this could be quite big, but having seen what happened in the last three years, there is still the chance that this thing could fizzle. Although I think the odds for that are much lower than before,” Wolter said.

    A strong El Niño will bring increased rain to drought stricken areas of the West like California and Nevada, though it won’t be enough to get them out of the drought, Wolter cautions. The precipitation it typically brings could mean good news for Colorado’s farmers, especially in the parched southwest region, as well as a possible decreased wildfire risk statewide.

    Although an El Niño means more precipitation over the summer in Colorado, that doesn’t translate to a snowy winter. In fact, it’s often the opposite.

    “Unfortunately that means a low snowpack. In mid-winter you typically just don’t get much precipitation out of El Niño in Colorado,” Wolter said.

    The last El Niño was in 2009-10. Wolter classifies it as moderate.

    The last strong El Niño – like what may happen in 2015 – was in 1997, and many Coloradans may remember it…

    “Sometimes you get too much of a good thing. If you look at historical cases where an El Niño got going, especially in the last 50 years, the Big Thompson flood in 1976, the Fort Collins flood in 1997, there was some really big floods in and around Denver in 1965, those were all El Niño summers,” said Wolter.

    2015 Colorado legislation: Governor to sign SB15-212 (Drinking Water Fund Assistance Nonprofit Entities) today in Rocky Ford

    Rocky Ford Melon Day 1893 via the Colorado Historical Society
    Rocky Ford Melon Day 1893 via the Colorado Historical Society

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Nonprofit rural water districts will benefit from new legislation that will allow them to apply for state grants and loans.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper is scheduled to sign the legislation into law this afternoon in Rocky Ford, at the offices of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    “The beauty of this is that it just doesn’t help water districts in our area, but throughout the whole state,” said Bill Hancock, manager of conservation programs for the Lower Ark District.

    Hancock is part of the Eureka Water District, one of 28 water districts in Otero County, many of them private associations. Those districts sprang up during a time when rural households were switching from cisterns to water delivery systems that served multiple households.

    Now, those districts are finding it difficult to make changes required by stricter water quality regulations or just the need to keep up with repairs.

    The legislation, Senate Bill 121, amends the law for the drinking water revolving fund administered by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to make private, nonprofit entities eligible for loans or grants. It was sponsored by Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, and others.

    “A lot of the companies are dealing with radionuclides or have aging infrastructure, which is very costly to fix, and they have no good way to finance improvements,” Hancock said. “In order to get government help, they had to be a governmental entity.”

    Some of the private water districts in Otero County formed an association last year in an attempt to get state funds, but it was treated as a “pass-through” agency by the state, Hancock said. The Lower Ark district pushed for the new law that keeps the funding door open.

    “We needed a legislative change,” he said.

    The new law also will help agencies in the Arkansas Valley Conduit prepare for hooking into the new water delivery system from Pueblo Dam when it is built.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    The 1st quarter Colorado River District board meeting summary is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

    Ritschard Dam movement graphic Colorado River District
    Ritschard Dam movement graphic Colorado River District

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

    The Colorado River District owns and operates the Ritschard Dam forming Wolford Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling in Grand County. It is a clay-core, rock fill dam that has experienced settling beyond the amounts normally expected by designers for a dam of this type.

    The dam is safe and will con􏰁nue to be safe in the future, according to the District’s engineering staff. Engineering consultants engaged by the Colorado River District to study the problem since 2009, as well as the Dam Safety Branch of the Colorado Division of Water Resources agree that the dam is safe and poses no danger.

    To maintain that standard, after an aggressive five-year investigation that included installation and monitoring of sophisticated instruments to measure the movements, the Colorado River District will decide this year on a renovation and repair scenario.

    Since the dam was constructed in 1995, it has settled near its center by about two feet, a foot more than anticipated. Along with this settlement, the crest of the dam has shifted downstream by about eight inches.

    Engineering consultants engaged by the Colorado River District to study the problem since 2009, as well as the Dam Safety Branch of the Colorado Division of Water Resources say the dam is safe and poses no danger.

    Out of an abundance of caution, Colorado River District Chief Engineer John Currier said enough informa􏰁on has been compiled to identify by mid-year the repair options and advise the Colorado River District Board of Directors on the proper one to choose.

    Consultants from AECOM (formerly URS) and River District staff briefed the Board of Directors on the condition and analysis of the dam at its January quarterly in Glenwood Springs.

    “We as a staff think it is incumbent upon us as an organiza􏰁on to really start moving this issue down the road,” Currier said. He noted that computer modeling of the se􏰂lement suggests that in future years, safety might be compromised, so a solution will be identified this year.

    Although Colorado’s chief of dam safety has not placed an operational restriction on the dam, the Colorado River District will continue with the cautionary policy it began in 2014. Once the reservoir fills this spring, it will be immediately lowered by 10 feet in elevation. The lower water level has been shown by instrumentation to slow down settlement trends.

    According to Currier, at that lower level, the Colorado River District can still meet its water contracting delivery needs, as well as obligations to endangered fish releases to the Colorado River.

    Also still protected is Denver Water’s leasehold interest in a portion of the storage that it employs in dry years to compensate for water it stores in Dillon Reservoir out of priority over Green Mountain Reservoir. At 10 feet down, recreational use will not be adversely affected.

    By the Board’s quarterly meeting in July, AECOM and staff will have repair scenarios to consider, including comparative costs.

    AECOM engineers told the Board that the culprit in the settlement was a poorly compacted rock fill shell that surrounds the clay core on the upstream and downstream sides.

    In such a dam, the clay core material is the impervious element in the dam. The rock fill shell supports the core. All dams, whether concrete or earthen, seep water.

    At Ritschard Dam, filters meant to collect seepage are in excellent shape and are doing their job. Seepage does not show any effects from the settlement, Currier said.

    More Colorado River District coverage here.