#ColoradoRiver: Hoover (Boulder) Dam dedication anniversay

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Click here to go to the Hoover Dam FAQ webpage from the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Click on a thumbnail to view a gallery of Hoover Dam photos from the Coyote Gulch archives.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Upper Colorado River Basin water year 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal through August 31, 2015
Upper Colorado River Basin water year 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal through August 31, 2015

#ColoradoRiver: Southwestern Water Conservation District Water 101 session recap #COWaterPlan #COriver

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

The nightmare scenario for West Slope water nerds is a “call” on the Colorado River, meaning that Colorado, Wyoming, and Northwest New Mexico are not delivering a legally required amount of water to California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

If or when that happens, some water users in the three Upper Basin states will have their water use curtailed so that the Lower Basin states get their share. Water banking as a concept being proposed on the West Slope to minimize curtailment and huge water fights between holders of pre-1922 water rights, which would not be curtailed, and holders of post-1922 rights that would be curtailed.

Durango water engineer Steve Harris spoke to this at the Sept. 25 Water 101 seminar in Bayfield.

The idea started in 2008 with the Southwest Colorado Water Conservation District and the Colorado River Conservation District. Those two entities cover the entire West Slope, Harris said. The idea of water banking is “to provide water for critical uses in cases of compact curtailment.”

West Slope agricultural water users would voluntarily and temporarily reduce their water use and be compensated for it. The water would go to Lake Powell to satisfy the legal requirement for the three Upper Basin states to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water each year (averaged over 10 years for a total 75 million AF) to the four Lower Basin states and avert curtailment…

All this is dictated by a water compact signed in 1922. It committed 15 million AF per year divvied up between the Upper and Lower Basin states. “Average flow now is around 13 million AF in the Colorado,” Harris said. The result has been continued draw-down of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“Right now we are at around 90 million AF versus the 75 million AF over 10 years,” Harris said. If the amount delivered goes below the 10 year requirement, perfected water rights before 1922 would not be curtailed. Most of that is West Slope ag water.

About half of Bayfield’s and Durango’s municipal water is pre-1922 rights, he said. More than 90 percent of the 1-plus million AF of pre-1922 West Slope water is used to grow grass or alfalfa hay.

Post-1922 rights include area reservoir storage, water for coal-fired power plants, a lot of municipal and industrial water, and 98 percent of West Slope water diversions to Front Range urban areas. “So they would be curtailed. But that’s not going to happen,” Harris said, because Front Range residents aren’t going to have their water supply cut to grow hay.

“We want to set up a water bank so the pre-1922 users would set aside water for the post-1922 users. Otherwise, pre-1922 rights could be targeted for acquisition by post-1922 users,” he said.

Water banking is still an idea at this point. “We don’t know if the water bank will work,” Harris said. Two studies have been done, one is under way, and a fourth will be conducted by Colorado State University to look at the impacts on eight small farms of full irrigation, reduced irrigation, and no irrigation.

Harris said 50,000 to 200,000 AF of West Slope pre-1922 water might be able to go into a water bank, based on land that could be fallowed. But there is concern that some other senior water right holder could take the water before it gets to Lake Powell. Also, he said, “It’s very hard to measure water saved through fallowing. Every year is different.”

In contrast, there is an estimated 55,000 AF of critical post-1922 municipal and industrial use on the West Slope and 295,000 AF of critical diversions to the East Slope. “The amount of pre-compact water that might be available is much smaller than the demand,” Harris said. He cited another local issue: “If you don’t irrigate on Florida Mesa, people don’t have water wells.”

An assortment of water entities in the Colorado River Basin have contributed $11 million to do demand management pilot projects to get more water to Lake Powell. Durango applied to change their water billing to “social norming,” meaning how much water you use compared to your neighboors. Harris quipped that he’d pull the norm down because he made a show of removing his lawn back in the spring.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts also spoke at the seminar. “Even though we are a headwaters state, there’s a limited amount of water, and if the population is going to double by 2040 or 2050, where will the water come from? … Every direction from Colorado, there’s a neighboring state that has a legal right to some of our water.”

Eighty-seven percent of the state population lives between Fort Collins and Pueblo, and they like their Kentucky blue grass, she said, adding, “Kentucky is a much better place for it. … On the Front Range, all they care about is does the water come out when they turn on the tap.”

She noted the heated reaction to the bill she introduced in 2014 to limit the size of lawns in new residential developments that use water converted from ag, leaving the ag land dry. Harris initiated that idea. Roberts commented, “To feed their lawns, they need our water.”

As with population, 87 of 100 state legislators also live betwween Fort Collins and Pueblo, she said. “If they don’t come out here to know our world, they don’t appreciate why water is so important. … Water is our future.”

Roberts gave an update on the Colorado Water Plan, which is intended to address the projected gap between water demand and supply. Community meetings on the plan were held around the state last year and earlier this year. “The number one thing we heard was the need for storage,” Roberts said. “If we can’t capture and hold the water we have, we are hurting ourselves.” The next question is how to pay for storage projects. “That’s where the fighting begins,” she said.

The water plan needs more specifics on recommended actions, Roberts said. And after the Gold King spill of toxic mine waste, it needs something about water quality threats from abandoned mines.

The 470-plus page plan is being done by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is supposed to be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. It’s available on-line at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

Children’s World Water Day activities at Littleton-Englewood treatment plant

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From the Centennial Citizen (Tom Munds):

Excited laughter and conversations among young voices created a different atmosphere at the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant as more than 500 students from Englewood, Littleton and Denver made a field trip there for World Water Day activities.

“We have expanded the event this year and have more students attending it,” said Brenda Varner, plant employee and event coordinator. “We have gotten help in expanding the event from a number of agencies that are providing volunteers and displays. Each school’s student group is scheduled to visit every station. The stations provide the opportunity to check out displays, listen to presentations and do hands-on activities. I am sure one of the more popular hand-on activities will be at the booth where each student can create a special T-shirt.”

She said the school groups arrived at different times Sept. 23. Each group then followed a schedule from station to station.

Sixth-graders from Littleton Preparatory Charter School took part in the event. At one of the tour stations, Lily Stinton and other Littleton Prep students were divided into small groups and ran a number of tests on water from the South Platte River.

“I am learning a lot of things I didn’t know about water,” Stinton said. “I am learning about what has to be done to water so it is safe for us to drink. I am glad I came today.”[…]

Fellow student Charles Childers said it was fun testing river water.

“The water looks OK when you have it in the flask,” he said. “Then with the tests and the displays you learn about all the stuff that is in the river and in the river water. I didn’t know much about the river and the water in it so it is cool to learn about those things.”

Basalt approves whitewater kayak park — The Aspen Daily News

Proposed Basalt whitewater park via the Aspen Daily News
Proposed Basalt whitewater park via the Aspen Daily News

From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

Pitkin County plans to install concrete structures and place boulders in the Roaring Fork River near the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Elk Run Drive to create the wave feature for kayakers, and help secure an in-stream diversion water right to keep more of the precious liquid in the river.

But whitewater enthusiasts will have to wait just a bit longer to ride the waves, after construction was delayed until next year so that more public input can be taken into account and amorous trout have time to do their thing.

John Ely, Pitkin County attorney, told the council that Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials had concerns over spawning trout in the river where the construction is to occur. This sentiment was echoed by members of the local angling community who urged caution on moving forward, and asked that the project be delayed.

David Johnson, member of the Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance and guide at the Crystal Fly Shop in Carbondale, said more public input needs to be reeled in before construction occurs.

“Our official position on this issue is that, as an entity, we’d like to see the town of Basalt delay construction on this project so the public can be more fully informed and engaged,” he said. “Pitkin County has had this on the drawing board for a long time, many years, but there hasn’t been outreach to the fishing community.”

Johnson added that the “washing-machine effect” of the feature could be detrimental to fish in the river, and that many locals are skeptical of just how much water the junior right would put in the river, even though any would be a benefit…

Laura Makar, assistant Pitkin County attorney, noted that the cubic feet per second associated with the right would entail an extra 240 CFS from April 15 to May 7; 380 CFS from May 8 to June 10; 1,350 CFS June 11 to June 25; then down to 380 CFS June 26 to Aug. 20; and 240 CFS from then until Labor Day…

Ely said that construction will be delayed until 2016, and that the Army Corps of Engineers, which provides the 404 permit for the project, has been amenable to a delay. The permit has already been granted but is scheduled to expire on Dec. 7…

Denise Handrich, an adjunct professor at Colorado Mountain College’s Aspen campus, said the whitewater park will provide a wonderful location to teach her students how to kayak…

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said that while safety must still be addressed in the area, she was relieved by the delay to allow for the spawning trout to procreate, calling fishing the top economic driver for Basalt.

“I’m really happy that we’re going to slow down,” she said. “I think this issue with the spawning is a big deal. … Fishing is a really, really big deal for this community.”

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

Bayfield: Water 101 session recap

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From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

Two-thirds of the water that originates in the Colorado mountains must go to downstream states and Mexico, recently retired State Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs noted at the Water 101 seminar on Sept. 25 at the Pine River Library in Bayfield.

This includes Kansas, Nebraska, and New Mecico as well as Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California.

Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922.  (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)
Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

“The legal doctrine is equitable sharing of interstate waters,” Hobbs said. This is governed by an assortment of interstate compacts, starting with the 1922 compact with three upper basin (Western Colorado and parts of Wyoming and New Mexico) and four lower basin states. Compacts are between states, but they become federal law when approved by Congress.

The 1922 compact dictates that 75 million acre feet, averaged over 10 years, must be delivered to the lower basin states. That’s measured at Lee’s Ferry in the Grand Canyon below Glen Canyon dam and Lake Powell. Seventy percent of that water comes from Colorado, Hobbs said.

There are nine interstate compacts governing Colorado water, he said…

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Within Colorado, the hot issue for many years, at least on the Western Slope, has been trans-mountain water diversions to the Front Range. “We are one Colorado. Isn’t that the problem?” Hobbs asked. Before his 19 years on the State Supreme Court, he represented the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (northern Front Range) for 17 years.

“The water in these rivers is available to Colorado. There’s an overlay of federal supremacy,” he said. There are trans-basin diversions within the Colorado River Basin and around 24 diversions that go from Colorado headwaters to the east, he said.

Colorado water law is based on prior appropriation (first in time, first in right) and putting the water to beneficial use. A water right is conditional until it’s put to beneficial use.

The problem is, “If you can’t get your structure permitted by the Corps (of Engineers) or permits to cross federal land, you can’t put the water to beneficial use,” he said. “Getting the right is one thing; getting the permit to build the project is something else.”

Hobbs also listed a progression of federal laws – the 1862 Homestead Act to promote Western settlement, the 1866 Mining Law that severed water from federal lands and turned it over to states, and the 1902 Reclamation Act that opened the way for Western dam construction projects.

Colorado became a territory in 1861, he said. That year the territoriaal legislature created the right for settlers to build ditches to get water to their land that wasn’t next to the stream. It prevented corporations, railroads and land barons from buying up the river banks to control the water. In 1864, the legislature made prior appropriation the basis for water diversion and use.

San Luis People's Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain
San Luis People’s Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

The earliest ditch right was the 1852 People’s Ditch near San Luis. Ute water rights date to 1868, the basis for constructing the Animas/La Plata Project.

“Our (state) constitution from 1876 says the public owns the water. You get a right to use it by prior appropriation,” Hobbs said. “The most valuable rights in the state are water and ditch rights.”

He showed pictures of several historical hand drawn maps of rivers in the mountain region. One from 1841 showed a big blank space of unknown land. The land was considered vacant, at least to settlers coming from back East, he said, noting that Native Americans already lived “from sea to shining sea.”

Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP
Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP

Before all those maps, Hobbs showed a picture of Far View Village on Chapin Mesa at Mesa Verde and a nearby structure that he said was a water reservoir. There are four reservoirs at Mesa Verde and one at Hovenweep, Hobbs said. Paleohydrology is one of his interests. “I can’t teach about water law without talking about history, culture, governance. There are enduring problems that go way back,” he said.

“Everywhere across this country there are water features, because water is the basis of life,” he added

Hobbs was just appointed as Jurist in Residence at Denver University. He also serves on the Colorado Foundation for Water Education that publishes the quarterly Headwaters magazine and the Citizens’ Guide to Colorado Water Law.

El Niño: “The fact of the matter is it’s always unpredictable” — Nolan Doesken

Average influence of El Niño on US temperature and precipitation
Average influence of El Niño on US temperature and precipitation

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

…there’s another factor at play this season to complicate an already inexact science regarding El Nino. And it’s leaving even seasoned forecasters unsure what this winter will look like.

It’s called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and it only happens about every two decades. The combination of the PDO with a historic El Nino means the normal El Nino pattern might be thrown off course.

“In my 27 years, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like this,” said Mike Baker, meteorologist and climate service focal point with the National Weather Service in Boulder…

The last two big-time El Ninos took place in 1997-98 and 1982-83. Both periods started out warmer and drier than usual for Northern Colorado but were punctuated by a small number of heavy snowfalls in the area.

Fort Collins averages 15 inches of rain and 47 inches of snow a year. Looking at each of the four years individually, those years brought above to well-above rain and two well-above average, one average and one below average snowfall. The most rain was in 1997, when Fort Collins last experienced a major flood, with 25.24 inches. That year also saw 75.9 inches of snow, second in those years only to 1983’s total of 81.7 inches.

A Christmas Eve blizzard in 1982 dropped about 24 inches of snow on Denver, although Fort Collins only received about 4 inches. A late October snowstorm in 1997 slammed Denver with more than 24 inches of snow and Fort Collins with about 18 inches.

Northern Colorado is less affected by El Nino than southern and southwestern Colorado, and even Denver. That’s because it’s further from the storm track, or the Pacific jet stream —a river of wind in the upper atmosphere that picks up storms.

“These little weather disturbances are carried along like leaves in a river, and these little disturbances when they move across an area produce the weather,” Baker said. “That’s why we don’t see weather all the time. We have to wait for one of those little leaves of energy to come by in the jet stream.”

The Pacific jet stream sets itself up along the coast where the water is relatively warmer, which is why storms come from the south during El Nino years.

Here’s where things get weird, though. Remember the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the thing that happens every 20 years? It causes warmer water in the northern part of the Pacific, all the way from the Pacific Northwest up to Alaska.

So right now, the entire Pacific coast is warm and there’s no temperature gradient, which means the jet stream is wandering around like an awkward party guest, unsure where to sit down.

Whether Fort Collins gets any big snows depends on where the jet stream eventually finds a seat.

“We always tell the media, if the jet stream sags 50 miles, we’re gonna see nothing here along the Front Range,” Baker said. “If it sags a little farther north, we’re gonna get clobbered.”

Forecasters say the precipitation outlook for the next three months is indeterminable. The jet stream’s location might be farther north than normal for an El Nino period, its movement toward the U.S. might be delayed, or it may not set up at all.

“The fact of the matter is it’s always unpredictable,” said Nolan Doesken, state climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center. “People get all excited about a strong El Nino as if this will absolutely predict the rest of the late fall and winter … But it’s just one modifier of the otherwise beautiful and complex atmospheric-oceanic circulation system.”

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