From the Leadville Herald Democrat:
Typically, by May 1 nearly all mountain snowpack measuring locations in Colorado are dominated by snowmelt opposed to snow accumulation, with the turning point or peak accumulation occurring slightly after April 1.
However, this year all basins experienced the turning point in early March with the exception of the South Platte, which due to mid-April storms, was able to achieve a snowpack peak this year close to normal.
When viewed from the Front Range, it may seem that recent precipitation has substantially increased the statewide year-to-date total (currently at 80 percent of normal), but the fact is that statewide April 2015 precipitation was only 71 percent of normal, while the South Platte April precipitation was 110 percent of normal. Mountain snowpack follows the same storyline; the South Platte snowpack is at 96 percent of normal on May 1, while statewide snowpack is just 61 percent of normal. The Rio Grande snowpack is the lowest in the state at 25 percent of normal on May 1.
“Statewide snowpack peaked during mid to early March at about 75 percent of the normal peak snowpack. This means that mountain snowpack this year will only provide about three quarters of the typical snowmelt to contribute to streamflow” said Brian Domonkos, hydrologist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services Colorado Snow Survey Program. During the snowmelt season, when attempting to get a better understanding of water supply for the remainder of the water year, it is important to remember that snowpack is not the only factor involved in spring and summer runoff. Other factors to consider include snowpack peak timing and spring rain.
Snowpack peak timing, which occurred early this year, often results in poor runoff efficiency. Monthly precipitation has been well below normal in nearly every basin for the last two months, which carries more weight since March (63 percent of normal) 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.
These factors and many others, Domonkos goes on to say, “paint a poor streamflow forecast picture for much of the state heading into spring and summer of 2015.” Future near or above normal precipitation would improve streamflow prospects in most watersheds that are currently below average. However, without abundant rain, streamflow outlooks will likely not improve enough to make a substantial difference in the entire water budget.
From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):
Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District officials continue to assess efforts to dry up land formerly irrigated by the Thompson Ditch, including draining Harvard and Yale lakes west of Buena Vista.
“Yale Lake is definitely affecting the groundwater level,” said district engineer Chris Manera in his progress report to the Upper Ark board of directors during their Thursday meeting in Salida.
Manera presented data collected since January from nine district monitoring wells and nearby private wells that show dropping groundwater levels since Yale Lake was drained.
Manera said Harvard Lake is down gradient from the monitoring wells, and he saw no affect on water levels when it was drained in March.
Manera’s report confirms suspicions that seepage from Yale Lake hindered conservancy district efforts to dry up land once irrigated by the Thompson Ditch, a requirement for the district to use its Thompson Ditch water right for augmentation on Cottonwood Creek.
As previously reported, the groundwater level needs to drop at least 6 feet below the surface for the conservancy district to receive credit for drying up the land.
The land in question consists of an 11.51-acre parcel and a 2.84-acre parcel. Manera said the smaller parcel “is dried up” as are portions of the larger parcel.
During the Enterprise Committee portion of the meeting, hydrologist Jord Gertson reported the district currently stores 2,663.2 acre-feet of water in its reservoirs.
Gertson said all district reservoirs are full except for O’Haver Lake, which is being filled and should be full by the end of May.
Gertson also presented snowpack and precipitation data showing above-average conditions for the Upper Arkansas Valley.
After plummeting in March, Arkansas River Basin snowpack rebounded in April to reach peak depth in early May, putting the basin at 111 percent of average, Gertson said.
Gertson also presented the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s long-range precipitation outlook, which projects “well-above average precipitation” this summer in Colorado.
During the legislative update, district consultant Ken Baker mentioned House Bill 15-1259, which would have allowed Coloradans to collect up to two 55-gallon rain barrels of water that drains off their rooftops.
The bill died in the Senate May 5, but Baker believes the bill will return in a future legislative session and indicated that the bill runs afoul of the state’s doctrine of prior appropriation, which lies at the heart of Colorado water law.
Rain naturally seeps into the ground or drains into streams, and Baker pointed out that collecting rain in a barrel deprives downstream water rights holders of water to which they are legally entitled.
In other business, Upper Ark directors:
Learned that the judge in the district’s Cottonwood Creek diligence case signed the decree, a necessary step toward making a conditional water right absolute. Diligence must be proved in a water court proceeding every 6 years. Heard a U.S. Geological Survey presentation about water use trends in Colorado and the Arkansas Vallery. Learned that stipulations are pending from several objectors in the district’s 04CW96 exchange case, which should preclude the need for the case to go to trial in June. Learned that the district water management plan is under review and should soon be available for public comment on the district website, http://uawcd.com. Learned that an intergovernmental agreement with the town of Buena Vista for storing water in Cottonwood Reservoir is nearing completion. Approved a $1,000 Colorado Water Congress Stewardship Project sponsorship.
More Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
Colorado River water users will have to get used to more water conservation, according to a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report that was faulted in Colorado for failing to consider storage as a drought measure.
The report calls for several steps, including technology improvements and behavior change, to increase low-water landscapes, along with increased funding for environmental and recreational water-flow requirements and greater coordination of water and land planning.
“This report is reassuring proof that the Colorado River Basin report is not just another report sitting on a shelf. That report, along with the ongoing drought, is a call to action,” said Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which participated in it.
If nothing is done, “In western Colorado and across the arid West, we could lose our farming and ranching heritage and its economic and environmental benefits if we don’t come together now to cooperatively address this extreme challenge,” Treese said.
The call falls short of the needs on the West Slope, said Ute Water Conservancy District General Manager Larry Clever, who called the recommendations the “same stuff” that has been discussed in other forums.
Missing is the recognition that storage is needed, Clever said.“If we want to work on drought, we are going to have to store water somewhere, and it would be nice to store it where it didn’t evaporate,” Clever said.
Colorado’s water plan in the making includes storage, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday before the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, who pointed to the potential of holding more water at high elevation by expanding existing impoundments.
Storage is “a big option” in the plan as it’s being drafted, said James Eklund, who heads the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is drafting the water plan.
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.
Environmentalists have praised the new rule, calling it an important step that would lead to significantly cleaner natural bodies of water and healthier drinking water.
But it has attracted fierce opposition from several business interests, including farmers, property developers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, oil and gas producers and a national association of golf course owners. Opponents contend that the rule would stifle economic growth and intrude on property owners’ rights.
Republicans in Congress point to the rule as another example of what they call executive overreach by the Obama administration. Already, they are advancing legislation on Capitol Hill meant to block or delay the rule.
Gina McCarthy, above, the E.P.A. administrator, who is expected to release the final version of a new rule intended to protect the nation’s drinking water this week.
More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.