Drought news: Reservoir storage above average in Colorado

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


This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw improvements in the Southwest as overall conditions continued to improve across parts of the region. Improvements primarily were focused upon west-central New Mexico and northern Arizona where most long- and short-term indicators have pointed toward improvements, although reservoir storage levels in various drainage basins remain below normal. During the weekend, residual moisture associated with Hurricane Dolores fueled showers and thunderstorms across southwestern California and western Arizona leading to locally heavy rainfall accumulations and flash flooding. Despite well-above-average precipitation in southern California during the past 90 days, recent rainfall has had little impact on the overall drought situation in the state. In the Pacific Northwest, above average temperatures and precipitation deficits continue to mount across the region with growing concern about potential crop losses in central and eastern Washington. Moving eastward, short-term precipitation deficits led to slight deterioration of conditions in the northern Plains while locally heavy rainfall was observed across drought-free areas of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Missouri. In the Southeast, conditions continued to deteriorate across portions of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina where excessive heat and lack of rainfall dried soils and reduced streamflows. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) climatological rankings, the contiguous U.S. average temperature for June was the second hottest in the observational record (1895–2015). On a state level, California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Washington all experienced their hottest average-temperature Junes on record since 1895…

The Plains

Across the central and northern Plains, temperatures were near normal in eastern portions while western parts were below normal. In the southern Plains, temperatures were near- to-slightly-above normal for the week. The heaviest rainfall accumulations (two-to-four inches) were observed in isolated pockets of northwestern Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle, while lesser amounts (one-to-three inches) were recorded in the central and northern Plains. On the map, areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) expanded in Kansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota where short-term precipitation deficits exist…

The West

During the past week, average temperatures were below normal across much of the West with the exception of western portions of California and Oregon, eastern New Mexico, and Washington. During the weekend and into Monday, moisture associated with Hurricane Dolores triggered showers and thunderstorms across parts of southern California and western Arizona. Some locally heavy accumulations (two-to-four inches) and flash flooding were reported. Despite well-above-average precipitation during the past 90-days in parts of central and southern California, the Sierras, and portions of the Great Basin, the recent rains have not impacted the overall drought situation in these areas because significant precipitation deficits remain as well as agricultural and hydrological (low reservoirs, below normal streamflows) impacts. In the Pacific Northwest, precipitation has been below normal since the beginning of the Water-Year (Oct. 1). The trend has continued during the past 60-days leading to very low streamflows, dry soils, and increasing concern in the agricultural sector. In the Southwest, some improvements were made on this week’s map in areas of Severe Drought (D2) in west-central New Mexico as well as east-central and northern Arizona where long- and short-term drought indicators (precipitation, soil moisture, streamflows, and vegetative health) have shown improvement during the past year. However, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), statewide reservoir storage remains below normal in both Arizona and New Mexico. According to the Salt River Project (SPR), the Salt River system reservoirs are currently 53% full while the Verde River system reservoirs are 52% full. In New Mexico, Elephant Butte (the state’s largest reservoir on the Rio Grande) is currently 27% of average – up 9% from the same time last year. Elsewhere, statewide reservoir storage is above average in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming…

Looking Ahead

The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for generally dry conditions across most of the western U.S. with the exception of some modest accumulation (one-to-two inches) in northern portions of the Great Basin, northern Rockies, and North Cascades. In contrast, the central and northern Plains and western portions of the Midwest are forecasted to receive one-to-three inches while heavy precipitation is forecasted in southern Georgia and Florida with totals in the three-to-seven inch range. The CPC 6–10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above-normal temperatures east of the Rockies as well as along the West Coast while most of the interior West will be below normal. Across the West (with the exception of extreme southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico), there’s a high probability of below-normal precipitation while the central and northern Plains, western portions of the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast have a high probability of above-average precipitation.

Sportsmen support federal water rule — The Durango Herald #cleanwaterrules

Fen photo via the USFS
Fen photo via the USFS

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The bipartisan poll – conducted by two separate pollsters – highlights support across political lines, despite partisan gridlock in Congress. Critics of the survey, however, believe the poll left out key questions…

The Clean Water Rule will take effect Aug. 28. It clarifies regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act to protect streams and wetlands.

In Colorado, 66 percent of sportsmen support applying the Clean Water Act to smaller streams and wetlands, with 43 percent indicating strong support, according to the survey. About 31 percent indicate opposition. Across all the four states surveyed, 83 percent of hunters and anglers thought the EPA should apply the Clean Water Act to smaller, headwater streams and wetlands.

The poll was conducted by right-leaning Public Opinion Strategies and left-leaning Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

“This is incredibly broad,” said Al Quinlan, president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. “It’s as broad of support as I see for any issue in the electorate today.”

The survey was completed after interviews with 1,000 registered voters who identify as hunters and anglers. Pollsters completed 260 interviews with voters in Colorado.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, who has strongly opposed implementation of the rule, suggested that the poll should have included questions pointing to local environmental protections.

“This sin of omission is misleading, and skews the survey to the desired outcome of those asking the questions,” Tipton spokesman Josh Green said. “To imply that there is wide support for the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule – with this survey as the evidence – is deeply misleading and insulting.”

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Paradox Valley Unit: Earthquakes yes, but less saline water in the #ColoradoRiver

Here’s an in-depth report from Stephen Elliott writing for The Watch. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Nestled in an unassuming corner of Paradox Valley along the banks of the muddy Dolores, the work done at the Paradox Valley Unit, a facility operated by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, has enormous implications for the water supply of major cities in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River, including Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

The project is also having a literal impact closer to home, in the form of seismic activity; since injection began at the site in 1991, seismic monitors have recorded around 6,000 “seismic events,” or earthquakes, within 16 kilometers of the injection well.

It is known beyond any reasonable doubt that the earthquakes are the result of the brine injections.

“The injection history and seismicity history correlate pretty well in both the spatial and temporal extent. It’s generally accepted that the seismic activities in Paradox Valley are induced by injection,” said Shemin Ge, a hydrogeology professor at the University of Colorado.
“Yes, we induce small earthquakes,” said Andy Nicholas, facility operations specialist at the Paradox Valley Unit. “They knew from the beginning that there was the likelihood to do that.”[…]

When it comes to water quality in the western U.S., the importance of the Paradox Valley Unit cannot be overstated. If the salt wasn’t extracted from beneath the Dolores in Paradox Valley, it would end up not only in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, but also in treatment facilities for major urban Lower Basin water-user cities.

At the Paradox Valley facility, extraction wells between 40 and 70 feet deep along the Dolores pull brine out of the groundwater beneath the river, process it and pump it three miles across the valley to the injection well. The injection well then shoots the brine more than 2.5 miles down into the Mississippian Leadville Formation, beneath the Paradox salt formation that serves as a barrier preventing the brine from ascending back upwards.

Prior to the Bureau of Reclamation’s extraction-and-injection process, which began in the early 1990s, the Dolores River picked up roughly 185,000 metric tons of salt each year as it flowed across Paradox Valley. (Unlike most river valleys, which are created by erosion, this one was formed by the collapse of a salt-cored geological fold, instead of the flow of a river. Indeed, paradoxically, the Dolores River cuts across this span instead of paralleling it, giving the Paradox Valley its name.)
Between 2008 and 2012, the average injection rate at the Paradox Valley Unit was 190 gallons of brine per minute. As of last month, the PVU well had injected just over two million tons of brine beneath the muddy Dolores riverbed during its 24 years of operation.

The total tonnage of salt removed from the Colorado River system by the PVU is impressive, but the significance of the facility depends on the valley’s status as a so-called point source of salinity. A majority of the salt that flows into the Colorado River system does so through non-point sources such as large agricultural areas, where a tract thousands of acres in size might contribute a relatively small amount of salt to the river. At Paradox Valley, however, all of the salt enters the river system in a comparably small area, and can be more easily extracted and quantified than at non-point sources.

At non-point sources — say, a large agricultural valley where irrigation runoff pushes salt into a river — the best the Bureau of Reclamation and its partner agencies can do is offer canal-lining projects, which prevent some salt in the soil from flowing with excess irrigation water into rivers, and provide education for farmers about more efficient irrigation practices.

At the PVU, on the other hand, the Bureau of Reclamation can physically extract salt from the groundwater and quantify it, making it the only such location in the Colorado River Basin where salinity control impacts are 100 percent known. (There is a point source of salinity near Glenwood Springs that is perhaps more significant than the one at Paradox Valley, but no salt extraction is done there.)

All told, 10 percent of the salt taken out of the entire Colorado River system by the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program is extracted at the Paradox Valley site.

“It’s the only place where we’re removing salt in a physically measurable way. We’re measuring the quantity of salt, so we’re certain that we got that pumped out of the river,” said Steve Miller, a water resource specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “[The PVU] gives us a chance to really grab a large amount of salt in a very controlled fashion. The project is really important to the Lower Basin [states], but not so important to Colorado. In terms of the total amount of salt reaching Lake Powell it’s very important, because in Paradox we can get a lot of salt out in one fell swoop.”

Sentiments on NISP continue to run high — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of NISP maps.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

Disagreement over the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project and its impact on the Poudre River has not mellowed with time.

Supporters of the project, which would build two new reservoirs, say NISP is needed to meet the future water needs of growing Northern Colorado communities.

Opponents say the project would drain and irreparably harm the river and its ecosystem, especially through Fort Collins.

Both sides turned out in force Wednesday for a public hearing in Fort Collins on a supplemental draft Environment Impact Statement, or EIS, for the project, just as they did when the document was initially released in 2008.

The issues haven’t changed over the years, several speakers noted.

Longtime Fort Collins resident and former City Council member Gina Janett said NISP is about growth, not about saving farmland from being bought and “dried up” by municipalities for water.

Development of irrigated farmland has gone on for decades and will continue, she said.

“The truth is, this project will provide water to buy and develop thousands of acres of irrigated farmlands, the willing sellers will be the farmers in the areas adjacent to the towns … and farms won’t be dried up and remain vacant but will be sold along with their water to developers to build new subdivisions and shopping centers.”

Proponents of the project said the “buy-and-dry” phenomenon is real and threatens to take thousands of acres out of agricultural production.

Bruce Gerk, a farmer from Julesburg, said water from NISP is needed to keep farms and cities viable in Colorado’s arid climate.

“If we are going to have a society that has the surety of water in this desert … then we have to control that resource and we need to do it in a responsible way,” Gerk said. “But we do need storage.”

Fifteen municipalities and water districts are participating in NISP through Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, also known as Northern Water.

The project would yield 40,000 acre feet of water a year to participants. An acre-foot is roughly 325,851 gallons, enough to meet the water needs of three to four urban households for a year.

The draft EIS looks at four alternatives for the project, including a “no action” alternative. The version of NISP preferred by Northern Water is Alternative 2, which would build Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins.

Glade would be a bit larger than Horsetooth Reservoir and inundate the valley through which U.S. Highway 287 currently runs from north of Ted’s Place to a point south of Owl Canyon Road.

Water would be drawn from the Poudre near the mouth of its canyon during times of peak flow, primarily May and June, to fill the reservoir with up to 170,000 acre feet. Seven miles of U.S. 287 would be rebuilt to the east.

Galeton Reservoir would be built east of Ault and draw water from the South Platte River. It would hold about 45,000 acre feet of water.

The project would use new pipelines and existing canals to transfer water and meet requirements for returning water to the rivers.

Opponents of the project maintain the water that would be provided by NISP could be realized through conservation. Another concern is the ecological impact of reduced river flows as water is diverted into reservoirs.

Fort Collins resident Greg Speer said plans for reducing flows in the original draft EIS were “fatally flawed.” The supplement document is no better, he said.

“There are a lot of problems with NISP as well,” he said. “The bottom line is these flows still as projected are fatal for the Poudre.”

Representatives of several communities participating in NISP said they have taken steps to increase their conservation efforts. Dave Lindsay, town manager of Firestone, said the town had reduced its per capita water consumption by 13.5 percent.

“That’s substantial but it’s not enough,” he said.

To have a sustainable future, Colorado needs projects like NISP to store water that otherwise would flow out of the state, he said.

The EIS is required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for its production. The EIS process for NISP began in 2004.

Northern Water expects the final EIS to be issued next year, with a decision on the project coming in 2017.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) coverage here and here.

Groundwater levels in the north-central San Luis Valley increased over late spring and early summer

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Groundwater levels in the north-central San Luis Valley increased over late spring and early summer, thanks to wet weather and reduced pumping.

“Hopefully we’re changing the direction of the storage,” Allen Davey, an engineer for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said Tuesday.

After a three-year decline that saw water levels in the unconfined aquifer drop by 700,000 acre-feet through 2013, the shallower of the valley’s two major aquifers has added over 100,000 acre-feet this spring and summer.

The unconfined aquifer is fed by stream flows, surface-water diversions and the return flows from irrigation.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here

Colorado Parks and Wildlife scientists have bred whirling disease resistant fish — The Loveland Reporter-Herald


From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Anglers have been reporting catches that they haven’t seen in Colorado rivers in many years — good size rainbow trout — due to an effort from scientists to restore populations of the fish that were devastated by whirling disease.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife scientists have been breeding whirling disease resistant fish in hatcheries across the state and stocking them in waters around Colorado since 2006, including in the Poudre River west of Fort Collins.

“We are seeing an increase in the rainbow trout population,” said Eric Fetherman, aquatic research scientist. “We haven’t seen them reproduce in the (Poudre) River. We’re not to that point yet.

“We are starting to the see natural populations coming back in other parts of the state. In the Gunnison River, the natural population there is enough to consider not restocking.”

On the Poudre, the fish are stocked above the narrows near Rustic but have made their way downstream and onto the hooks of happy fishermen and women all along the river.

“We’ve had reports of people catching them at Picnic Rock and even all the way through town,” said Fetherman…

In 1986, a private hatchery unknowingly imported infected rainbow trout from Idaho and stocked them in 40 different waters. The disease -— which infects the spine of young fish, causes then to swim in a whirling pattern and ultimately die — spread throughout the state and essentially ended natural reproduction of rainbow trout in most Colorado rivers.

Brown trout, which are not susceptible, took over as the dominant fish.

Then in 2002, at a national conference in Denver, researchers learned about a family named Hofer in Germany who was raising rainbow trout that were resistant to the parasite that causes whirling disease, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Colorado researchers imported eggs from the Hofer hatchery and began to study them.

Sure enough, research showed that the Hofer trout were resistant to whirling disease, and some were stocked in reservoirs west of Berthoud.

However, because these fish had been in domestic hatcheries for generations, researchers knew they would have little chance of survival in creeks and rivers because they did not possess the instinct to avoid predators and to survive in fluctuating water.

So, the research team, led by George Schisler, an aquatic scientist based in Fort Collins, began cross-breeding the Hofers with wild trout. After three years, they stocked the first Hofer-cross rainbow trout, but the first fish did not survive.

Again in 2010, biologists stocked fingerlings in the Colorado River, and just over a year later, they found good numbers of 15-inch rainbow trout and evidence that the young fish were hatching in the wild, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Since then, the fish have been stocked in many rivers including the Poudre, East, Taylor, Gunnison, Rio Grande and Yampa. Biologists vary the time of year, size and location to optimize survival of the rainbow trout.

This year, 6 million Hofer crosses will be raised across all the Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatcheries and released into water statewide. At the Bellvue fishery right now, 150,000 Hofer crossed with Colorado River rainbow are growing in troughs to be released into the Poudre and St. Vain Rivers in late August and early September.