Click here to read the update:
Following a very warm and dry start to the fall, November to-date has seen more seasonal temperatures west of the divide and increased precipitation on the west slope and northeastern plains. This has helped to alleviate abnormally dry conditions over parts of the state. Storage levels in some basins are at the highest levels since the turn of the 21st century and water providers have no immediate concerns going into the snow accumulation season.
- September ended water year (WY) 2015 well above average for temperature across Colorado, ranking as the warmest September on record. The start of WY 2016 began much the same with October ranking the 3rd warmest on record. Both months saw average temperatures more than 50F above the long term monthly average, setting the state up to see the warmest three month September/October/ November period on record.
- Overall precipitation during the October 2014- September 2015 water year was above average and the wettest water year since WY1999. Evapotranspiration rates were also some of the lowest recorded, since record keeping began 23 years ago.
- Statewide water year-to-date precipitation is near average across most of the state. Recent storms resulted in increases in many basins including the basins of the southwest, Upper Rio Grande, Gunnison, Upper Colorado and South Platte which are all above average for the water year to-date at 140, 105, 113, 110 and 121 percent of average, respectively.
- Reservoir Storage statewide is at 109 percent of average as of November 1st . The Arkansas basin has the highest storage levels in the state at 132 percent of average; this is the highest reservoir levels have been in the Arkansas in more than 15 years.
- The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 87percent of average; this is also the only basin with below average storage. However, the Rio Grande levels are 28 percent greater now than this time last year and the highest they have been since 2009.
- The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) is highly variable across the state with sub-basins ranging from extremely dry to extremely wet. At this time of year the index reflects reservoir storage, which is largely above normal statewide, streamflow forecasts will be incorporated into the index beginning in January.
- El Niño conditions remain strong, and are projected to continue into early spring. Strong events do not favor increased precipitation during the winter months in the central and northern mountains of Colorado, as storm tracks tend to move in a more southerly pattern. However, the likelihood of good spring snowfall in this region is better, especially along the Front Range. The best combination would be for the El Niño to weaken over the winter, and then come back strong in spring.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
2015 Water Year Comes to an End
The 2015 water year (Nov.1 – Oct. 31) started slowly, but precipitation later in the spring more than made up for it. April and May storms brought much needed moisture to the mountains and plains, and set in motion another very good water year for Northeastern Colorado.
Deliveries in 2015 were more than the record low year of 2014, but were still below average. This year the C-BT Project delivered 187,291 acre-feet to East Slope water users. The historical average is 211,000 AF. Deliveries to agricultural users spiked in late summer due to dry conditions. These late-summer deliveries also made space available in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake, which will allow water to be transferred from Lake Granby to the East Slope this winter. This will also create space in Lake Granby for the spring runoff.
In 2015, the total C-BT Project spill was 191,000 AF, with 148,500 AF from Lake Granby and 42,500 AF from Willow Creek Reservoir.
C-BT Project reservoir levels started the 2016 water year in good shape with more than 500,000 AF in storage. The average for Nov. 1 active storage is 442,413 AF.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Work is resuming on a dangerous portion of Fountain Creek through Pueblo.
The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing a $750,000 project to install articulated concrete blocks — held together by cable in a mat and anchored to the ground — along the Fountain Creek bank near the 13th Street Exit on Interstate 25.
Work should be complete within three months and Pueblo contractor Pate Construction is doing the work while flows are low.
The project started in April, but was interrupted by heavy rains in May and June that increased flows on the Fountain to well above normal for more than six weeks. Waters only recently receded to the point where workers could get in the channel.
Fountain Creek will be temporarily rechanneled to the east of the area while work is underway, said Jeff Bailey, assistant city manager for stormwater.
The area had been secured by a gabion — wire-wrapped rock — which washed out during the September 2013 flood on Fountain Creek.
Fountain Creek hits the bank at a right angle at 13th Street, threatening railroad tracks and roadways in the area. While the Corps is responsible for the work and funds it, the city is the sponsoring agency and coordinates such things as local permits and access, Bailey explained.
There are several other projects still in the planning stages to repair damage from this spring’s flooding, Bailey said.
The city will be removing the debris such as large trees that were deposited at the Eighth Street bridge in the near future. “We need to get that clear so the water doesn’t start undermining the supports,” Bailey said.
The city is also working on restoring trails and repairing the berm at the flood detention pond behind the North Side Walmart.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Transportation is working on projects to repair the Colorado 47 bridge and the trail in that immediate area, as well as clearing debris at the East Fourth Street bridge.
From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Nick Coltrain):
State Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, may propose a water bill ambitious enough that she may need to win a second term to see to fruition.
The proposal is an offshoot of her bill introduced last year to create a flexible use market for water rights, which essentially aimed to let water rights holders sell some of their water instead of feeling forced to use it all due to use-it-or-lose-it rules.
Arndt’s new proposal, which hasn’t been formally introduced but was discussed with the Coloradoan’s editorial board Monday morning, likewise aims at “taking away the disincentive” for a water rights holder to conserve water they don’t need. In essence, her proposal would create a virtual water market where water rights holders could take water they won’t use and put it up for bid by other water users in the basin. As long as it’s not more than 30 percent of the rights holder’s allocation over a 10-year period, it won’t affect their historic use patters, which can jeopardize how much they are allocated each year.
She used the example of an alfalfa farmer wanting to try his hand at growing hemp, a low-water crop, but facing the concern of losing water rights moving forward — and with it, the ability to grow enough alfalfa if he wants to return to his roots.
“There’s some flexibility in the system, but nothing like this,” Arndt said.
She acknowledged that this bill could be a big push, and that it could take a multi-year effort to reach a vote.
From the Columbia Water Center (Lakis Polycarpou):
America’s once world-class water infrastructure is crumbling and will cost, by some estimates, upwards of $1 trillion to fix. How can municipalities and water utilities find the revenue and capital to make the investments we need to preserve access to this vital resource?
Join us on the next America’s Water Webinar as Christine Boyle, Founder & CEO of Valor Water Analytics, discusses innovative approaches to address the water infrastructure challenge.
Webinar Date: Tuesday, December 7th, 2015 at 12pm EST
To join the webinar, sign in at: https://cuahsi.adobeconnect.com/_a1027428284/waterfuture/
From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler/Jonathan Romeo):
San Juan County commissioners and Silverton Town Board trustees on Monday voted unanimously to direct city staff members to pursue a Superfund listing with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to clean up leaking, inactive mines north of Silverton.
“We need to do what’s best for the town, the county, the environment and our downstream neighbors,” Silverton Mayor Chris Tookey said after the meeting, “and at this point, it appears (the National Priority List) will provide the most comprehensive cleanup in the shortest time frame.”
Last week, when Silverton officials announced they would propose the motion, it seemed to have unanimous support after they had toured several Superfund sites in Colorado with La Plata County commissioners and Durango city councilors. Part of their decision will be based on a promise from the EPA that the designation would not include the area inside the Silverton town limits.
“We approved staff and our attorney Jeff Robbins to engage in talks,” said Silverton Trustee Pete Maisel, who, along with San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier, will serve as liaisons for the project of requesting a ranking on the Superfund National Priorities List.
The two governmental entities haven’t set any deadlines, and they don’t expect it to be a quick negotiation, he said.
“We’re hoping the Colorado public health department will take the lead on this,” Maisel said…
On Thursday, Silverton officials admitted the EPA’s hazardous cleanup Superfund program has many drawbacks – with uncertainty over funding, the potential for mistakes and inevitable clashing of opinions – but ultimately, they said, it’s the only viable option to improve water quality in the Upper Animas River Basin.
After the Superfund tour two weeks ago, San Juan County commissioners and Silverton Town Board trustees expressed a tangible shift of opinion toward Superfund. The listing has been largely supported by downstream communities.
“Over the last 25 years, (the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) and EPA have learned a lot about how to conduct these cleanups,” Tookey said. “After talking with people in other communities, we feel it is appropriate to engage in conversations with the two agencies about listing.”
From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):
The decision puts the community closer to clean-up of the scores of abandoned mines that dot its surroundings and have been leaching contaminants into the Animas River watershed for more than a century.
“It’s a big step,” said Pete Maisel, a town trustee. “We are going to get the ball rolling.”
The news comes less than two weeks after representatives from Silverton and San Juan County spent three days touring four of Colorado’s largest mine Superfund sites as part of a fact-finding mission.
Leaders say the tour helped them decide to start working toward implementing Superfund.
Maisel and county Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier were elected to represent the Silverton community in talks with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…
“We’ve done a lot of research, and it appears at this time that the national priorities list is the best way to get these mines cleaned up quickly,” Ernie Kuhlman, chairman of the San Juan County board of commissioners, said in a statement. “All of us — Silverton, San Juan and our downstream neighbors — want something done immediately.”
“We have a lot of hard conversations ahead of us about what this all will look like,” he added. “We want those talks to start as soon as possible.”
From the Associated Press via the Farmington Daily Times:
Silverton and San Juan County leaders voted unanimously Monday to direct city staff members to pursue a Superfund designation with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The tourism-dependent community has been wary of seeking a Superfund designation for nearly two decades, fearing stigma and red tape. Officials say a tour of four Superfund sites this month changed their minds, showing them that the process could be difficult but successful.
Silverton Mayor Chris Tookey told The Durango Herald that it appears that route would provide the most comprehensive cleanup in the shortest amount of time.
“We need to do what’s best for the town, the county, the environment and our downstream neighbors,” Tookey said after the vote.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):
Colorado Springs repeatedly has violated its water quality permit and now faces a potential federal lawsuit, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned the city.
The EPA inspected 14 sections of the city’s stormwater system Aug. 18-19 and found “continuous failure” to meet standards or remediate problems highlighted in a state audit conducted Feb. 4-7, 2013.
Problems cited include inadequate funding, infrastructure problems, insufficient inspections, “not holding developers’ feet to the fire,” a lack of internal controls and too many waivers, Mayor John Suthers said Monday.
The city’s federal MS4 permit (for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) requires adherence to water quality standards. While drinking water is not at issue in this report, Suthers said, heavy sedimentation and other problems were reviewed in detail.
No city official denies the long-term neglect. But the irony is rich.
Since he took office six months ago, Suthers repeatedly has vowed that $19 million a year will be spent on stormwater improvements. That has the City Council’s full support, and $16 million for stormwater has been carved out of the mayor’s proposed 2016 budget, with $3 million to come from Colorado Springs Utilities.
So the city finally is poised to address a problem that has been worsening since at least 2008. The recession kicked in that year, and the city’s Stormwater Enterprise Fund was dismantled a year later, “a bad, bad combination,” Suthers noted.
Voters in 2009 backed Issue 300, a measure weakening the city’s use of enterprise funds. In response, City Council eliminated the stormwater fund. It had six inspectors at the time; today the staff has about three.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. The Waldo Canyon Fire struck in 2012, and the burn scar contributed to widespread flooding in 2013 that exacerbated already severe problems with Fountain Creek, Monument Creek and other tributaries.
Tim Mitros, until recently the city’s Stormwater Division manager, has been widely lauded for his response to those disasters and for his diligence on stormwater issues.
Homeowners cited his vigilance and daily visits in May, when record-breaking rainfall led to landslides that endangered two Rockrimmon houses. He also oversaw updates last year to the city’s antiquated, two-volume Drainage Criteria Manual for developers.
Now the city is advertising for a new stormwater manager. Why? “I don’t know. You’ll have to talk to Travis Easton,” Mitros said.
“We’ll be introducing accountability where it wasn’t before,” said Easton, who became Public Works director in August 2014. “We recognized long before this report came out that we had issues to address.”
Said Suthers, “We need to up our game in stormwater, and that’s what’s going on there.”
But he also noted: “If you really dig deep (in the report), the problem of inadequate manpower doing inspections” is evident.
The city has retained Broomfield-based MWH Global consulting engineers to review the EPA report and “propose how to move forward to settle this,” Suthers said.
The EPA encourages settlement discussions but says any settlement must be done through a consent decree by U.S. District Court with a schedule for injunctive relief and payment of an appropriate civil penalty.
In January, city officials will meet to negotiate with representatives of the EPA, U.S. Department of Justice and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (EPA and CDPHE officials working on the issue referred calls to their communications staff representatives, who did not return requests for comment.)
Suthers said the city hopes to obtain a waiver on penalties and avoid litigation.
The city has been negotiating for months with Pueblo County, which has threatened legal action, too, over the severe problems downstream users have experienced because of Colorado Springs’ inadequately controlled stormwater.
At risk is the 1041 permit that the county issued to city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities for its Southern Delivery System, a massive water project set to deliver up to 50 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.
Without the permit, CSU can’t turn on the tap for SDS.
But downstream users have incentive to let the project begin: $10 million a year for five years that the system will pay to the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District to build even more stormwater projects.
Instead of lawsuits and penalties, Suthers said, “We would rather spend money trying to solve the problem. We’re hoping both Pueblo and the EPA have some realization that we have a council and mayor that realize you can’t kick the can down the road any farther.”
From the San Juan Citizens Alliance via the Pagosa Daily Post:
Colorado’s leading conservation and recreation organizations American Rivers, American Whitewater, Audubon, Conservation Colorado, Environmental Defense Fund, High Country Conservation Advocates, San Juan Citizens Alliance and Western Resource Advocates agree that Colorado’s first-ever water plan is an important step forward for the state in terms of future water management.
The final plan reflects Coloradans’ values made clear in 30,000 public comments that revealed overwhelming support for conserving water in our cities and towns, protecting rivers and promoting a strong river-based recreation economy.
These conservation groups agree the plan will help protect Colorado’s $9 billion recreation and outdoor economy, our vital agricultural communities, and the birds and wildlife that depend upon healthy rivers for survival, while also helping to preserve our Western way of life. Specifically the groups applaud the fact the plan makes important progress in securing Colorado’s water future by:
Setting the first-ever state wide water conservation targets for cities and towns, prioritizing water conservation as never before Helping preserve and restore our rivers by proposing annual funding for healthy rivers, which will create ongoing and unprecedented financial support for river assessments and restoration Making new, costly and controversial large trans-‐mountain diversions, which harm rivers and local communities, much less likely
Together, these groups express optimism about the plan’s overall direction, and are committed to the implementation process. The groups emphasize that the plan will not be valuable without action from Colorado’s leaders to implement it.
Meeting all of Colorado’s water needs will require implementation and action in the same spirit of collaboration, flexibility and innovation that was shown in producing the plan. The groups will work with Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to protect Colorado’s environment by strengthening the water project evaluation criteria so the state engages only in those efforts that are cost-‐effective and have support from local communities. The groups look forward to collaborating with the state, water utilities, irrigators, the business community and others to adhere to and execute the plan and protect water for future generations.
Overall Colorado’s conservation experts agree the state is taking historic steps in the right direction by ensuring Colorado increases water conservation and recycling, keeps rivers healthy and flowing, and avoids new large trans-mountain diversions.
“The plan provides ample water for fast-growing Front Range cities, while recognizing the importance of protecting what makes Colorado special: gold-medal streams, flowing Rocky Mountain rivers, healthy western slope communities, and abundant wildlife. It’s clear that Coloradans value what our state has to offer and we are optimistic the plan will provide a down-payment for protecting healthy rivers and streams across the state. Now we have to get to work.”
— Matt Rice, Director of Colorado River Basin Programs, American Rivers
“We commend the CWCB and the Basin roundtables for ensuring actions to protect Colorado’s river systems and river-dependent recreation are incorporated into the plan. These critical actions need funding, stakeholder input, technical consultation and study as we manage water for the future and ensure that our recreation industry and whitewater rivers are world-class.”
— Nathan Fey, Director Colorado River Stewardship Program, American Whitewater
“The plan addresses the importance of preserving and restoring our rivers’ and steams’ environmental resiliency. Recognizing we still need more information and action to achieve that goal, the plan recommends that Colorado invest in stream protection and restoration. By 2030, the plan has a strong goal that 80 percent of a priority list of Colorado’s rivers and streams will have stream management plans.”
— Abby Burk, Western Rivers Outreach Specialist, Audubon Rockies
“Coloradans overwhelmingly support water conservation, and we are pleased to see this plan proposing our state’s first ever urban conservation goal. The plan recognizes that to meet our future water needs we must change the status quo from focusing on new, large trans-mountain diversions to prioritizing conservation, reuse and recycling. We look forward to the Governor moving forward and carrying out our state’s water plan to better protect our rivers and wildlife.”
— Theresa Conley, Water Advocate, Conservation Colorado
“Colorado is taking an historic step in the right direction with this first water plan. Meeting all of Colorado’s water needs moving forward will require implementation and action in the same spirit of collaboration, flexibility and innovation that was shown in producing the plan.”
— Brian Jackson, Associate Director, Environmental Defense Fund
“We commend the Governor and CWCB for committing to water conservation in such a commonsense manner. Making better use of the water we already have is the cheapest, fastest and most flexible way to meet new demands – it’s just a no-brainer.”
— Bart Miller, Water Policy Director, Western Resource Advocates
The San Juan Citizens Alliance advocates for clean air, pure water, and health lands – the foundations of resilient communities, ecosystems and economies in the San Juan Basin. For more information, visit our website at http://sanjuancitizens.org