Snowpack news: Most of the Western US is doing pretty well so far this water year

Westwide SNOTEL December 24, 2015 via the NRCS
Westwide SNOTEL December 24, 2015 via the NRCS
California snowpack December 24, 2015 via Twitter and Paul Rogers
California snowpack December 24, 2015 via Twitter and Paul Rogers

#Drought news: Half an inch to 2 inches of precipitation fell across the mountains of Utah and Colorado in the last week

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


Strong troughs moving in a fast westerly flow dominated the weather across the CONUS this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. The troughs brought Pacific cold fronts and low pressure systems which pounded the Pacific Northwest coast. Some of the troughs formed closed lows over the West which blanketed the coastal ranges to Rocky Mountains with welcomed snow. As they moved east, the low pressure systems drew in Gulf of Mexico moisture to dump heavy rain and snow over parts of the Great Plains to East Coast. The precipitation largely missed Arizona and New Mexico in the Southwest, much of the Southern Plains to Kansas, and parts of the Northern Plains in western North Dakota, eastern Montana, and north central Wyoming. At least 2 inches of precipitation fell in parts of the West and Southeast – from San Francisco Bay to the Canadian border and from the Cascade Mountains to the west coast; and from southern Mississippi and Alabama to central North Carolina. Heavier amounts fell in favored upslope areas – more than ten inches fell along the Oregon and northern California coast, with 13.27 inches of precipitation reported for the last 7 days at the CoCoRaHS station at Brookings, Oregon and 10.10 inches at Crescent City, California; five inches or more of precipitation was widespread across California’s Sierra Nevada range. Half an inch to two inches fell across parts of the Great Basin to much of the interior Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies; across parts of the Northern Plains; and across much of the country east of the Mississippi River. A thick blanket of new snow was laid down from Nebraska to Minnesota, with up to 13 inches of snow measured in parts of North Dakota. The precipitation was enough to contract drought and abnormal dryness in the Pacific Northwest and western Montana, Northern Plains, and Southeast. But drought or abnormal dryness was added in areas where precipitation has been deficient over the last 30 to 90 days, including the Big Horns in Wyoming, northeast Ohio, western New York, and coastal Texas…

Great Plains to Mississippi Valley

The fronts that moved across the central part of the country dropped locally heavy precipitation across parts of Nebraska and the Dakotas, but were mostly dry from southeastern Nebraska to most of Texas. Parts of the Mississippi Valley received half an inch to an inch of precipitation, with the Lower Mississippi, from eastern Texas to Louisiana, getting locally 2 to 3 inches. D0 was pulled back in northwest Nebraska, the Dakotas, and western Minnesota, and D1 trimmed in North Dakota. The precipitation in northern Minnesota helped recharge the topsoil moisture, but subsoil moisture was still short, so the D0 was contracted but not eliminated there. D0 was added to coastal Texas to reflect dry conditions for the last 30 days to 6 months…


Half an inch to 2 inches of precipitation fell across the mountains of Utah and Colorado, but Arizona and New Mexico were mostly dry this week. Local authorities received reports of poor range conditions in the D-Nothing area of La Paz County in southwest Arizona, and precipitation deficits were evident in AHPS and SPI indicators, so this area was filled in with D0. In New Mexico, many of the indicators show normal to wet conditions, except the reservoirs which continue to be below normal. D0 was kept in place in western New Mexico to reflect the poor reservoir conditions.

The Pacific Northwest, California, Great Basin, and Northern Rockies

A series of Pacific weather systems slammed into the Pacific Northwest this USDM week, bringing heavy rain along the coast and windward side of the coastal mountain ranges, with beneficial snow to the higher elevations. SNOTEL station reports of precipitation for the month to date totaled more than 200% of the monthly normal across much of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and were above normal for most stations for the water year to date (October 1-December 22, 2015) (WYTD). Some stations in the Washington Cascades had 150-200% of normal precipitation for the WYTD and were among the wettest 5% in the historical record. But this is still early in the wet season, with the precipitation totals so far at most stations not even halfway to the normal total for the entire seasonal. Most Pacific Northwest SNOTEL stations gained several inches of snow this week, with some Washington and northern Idaho stations gaining 2 to 3 feet of new snow. The snow water content of many Pacific Northwest stations was above normal, with some in the wettest 5% of the historical record. But, it should be pointed out again that this is early in the snow season and virtually all of the stations are below the seasonal peak value, with most not even halfway there.

Reservoirs responded slowly, but did see some improvement. In the Yakima River Basin in Washington, reservoir levels improved a few percentage points, with December 21 Bureau of Reclamation reports indicating Cle Elum was 48% full, Kachess 45% full, Keechelus 60%, and Rimrock 56%. These are near to above average for the date. Reservoir levels improved slightly but were still well below average in Oregon – only 10-20% full in the Umatilla River Basin and 5-35% full in the eastern Oregon basins. In Oregon’s Crooked and Deschutes River Basins, Prineville Reservoir was 31% full and Wickiup 48%. In southwest Oregon, the Emigrant reservoir was 16% full, Hyatt 11%, Howard Prairie 16%, and Fourmile Lake 14%. Reservoirs in western Idaho continued below average.

With improved mountain snowpack, improving reservoirs, and precipitation deficits erased out to the last 9 months, D0-D2 were pulled back along the Washington Cascades and into the Yakima River Valley. The D2 was kept in place across southeast Washington where precipitation deficits are notable at the 6 to 24 month time scales. In Oregon, D0-D1 were pulled back along the coast and some areas of the windward side of the Cascades, and D2 was trimmed in Josephine County, but no change was made elsewhere.

Well-above-normal precipitation prompted the pullback of D0-D2 in western Montana and in Judith Basin and Fergus counties east of the divide. But the Big Horn area of northern Wyoming has missed the beneficial precipitation of recent storm systems. Low streamflows, below-normal precipitation and Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) values for the last week to 6 months, dry soils, and SNOTEL snow water equivalent values in the lowest 5% of the historical record prompted the addition of D1 over this part of north central Wyoming.

In California, 4 inches or more of precipitation fell along the northern coast and along the Sierra Nevada, with precipitation amounts dropping off rapidly further south. Some Sierra Nevada SNOTEL stations gained 1 to 2 feet, or more, of new snow, with many above normal for this time of year. But it must be stressed that this is still early in the snow season and we have many months to go before a sufficient snowpack is built up to meet spring and summer meltwater needs. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) noted that, on a statewide average basis, the average snow water equivalent of mountain snowpack increased to 9 inches by December 22, an increase of 3 inches compared to a week ago, but it was still only 32% of the April 1 peak value. DWR reservoir levels barely changed in the last week, but the precipitation has increased the level of Lake Tahoe along the California-Nevada border, with about 13,300 acre-feet or 4.3 billion gallons of new water added. However, the lake is still 1.4 feet below reservoir gate level and another 6 feet below the fill level. With this week’s precipitation having minimal impact on the water resources of California and Nevada, no change was made to the USDM depiction in California and most of Nevada, except to change the impacts label to L in northern California and southern Oregon to reflect short-term wetness.

D0-D1 were pulled back in Elko County in northeast Nevada, and in adjacent southern Idaho, where streamflow was near normal and snowpack above normal. Precipitation was above normal for the week, month, and WYTD, and the moisture deficits for much of the last 6 years have been eliminated in this area according to the SPEI. Improving conditions along the northeast Nevada-Utah state line prompted pullback of D2…

Looking Ahead

During the next 5 days (December 24-29), an upper-level trough will set up over the West with a ridge over the eastern CONUS. Along the trough/ridge boundary, a strong low pressure and frontal system will generate widespread precipitation which will spread across the eastern half of the CONUS. Half an inch of precipitation, or more, is forecast from the Plains to the East Coast, with 3+ inches from eastern Oklahoma to the Ohio Valley. A tenth to half an inch are forecast across much of the West, with 1 to 3 inches expected along the coast from northern California to Washington. Exceptions include the interior Pacific Northwest, much of the northern Plains, southern California to southwest Arizona, and Florida, where little if any precipitation is predicted. Below-normal temperatures are expected over the West with above-normal temperatures from the Plains eastward.

For the ensuing 7 days (December 30-January 5), temperatures will remain cooler than normal beneath the trough in the West and above normal beneath the eastern ridge. The odds favor below median precipitation across the West, the northern and central Plains, and Ohio Valley to Great Lakes. Above-median precipitation is expected from the southern Plains to the Southeast and up along the Eastern Seaboard. The outlook is for wetter- and warmer-than-normal weather for much of Alaska.

USGS: From aquifer to zooplankton – your source for water resource glossaries

Click here to go to the USGS Water Glossaries webpage. (You know you want to spend most of the afternoon there.)

#ClimateChange: “Right now, we have islands of [agricultural] data collected by individuals” — David Gustafson

From ClimateWire (Niina Heikkinen) via Scientific American

This wasn’t just an academic exercise. Midwestern farmers grow the majority of the country’s corn and soybeans, and scientists had predicted that yields could take a substantial hit from changing weather patterns, with potential impacts on food prices and farmers’ earnings. Even though lots of researchers have studied how climate change could affect agriculture in the country’s “bread basket,” discussions have been siloed. Agronomists talk to other agronomists, soil scientists to other soil scientists, and agricultural economists talk to agricultural economists.

The researchers suggested a different approach — one that would integrate data across disciplines to build a much more comprehensive picture of how a changing climate could alter farming in the region. Over the following weeks, they developed their idea further. The interdisciplinary group of researchers proposed the creation of a network of field research sites that would collect data on current and future crops, different cropping systems and farm-level management practices. It would emphasize collecting field data to better inform climate modeling in the region, and participating facilities would conduct experiments to test different adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Their proposal, titled “Pharaoh’s Dream Revisited: An Integrated U.S. Midwest Field Research Network for Climate Adaptation,” was recently published in BioScience.

“We really wanted to step back and ask the big question of what could we do that would advance the response [to climate change], and we really felt that this was the thing that needs to be done,” said David Gustafson, director of the International Life Sciences Institute Research Foundation’s Center for Integrated Modeling of Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition Security and lead author of the article.
So far, Midwestern farmers have managed to escape major losses from climate change-related events, but that high productivity may change in just a few decades, researchers say.

Today, average yields for corn and soybeans in the Midwest are about 173 bushels per acre. By 2050, researchers predict, yields could fall by as much as a quarter. Yield losses in the Midwest aren’t just bad for American consumers. The region provides the largest share of globally traded corn and soybeans.

How do you plant ‘big data’ among farmers?

Farmers are already responding to more variable weather by installing drainage systems to keep their fields from becoming waterlogged during heavy rains and expanding irrigation to ward off the effects of drought. Some farmers are reducing tillage to increase soil carbon content and reduce erosion. Others are buying larger equipment so they can complete planting faster when the conditions are favorable.

But all these measures may not be enough to prepare Midwestern farmers for the dramatic environmental changes ahead. By between 2035 to 2065, temperatures in Illinois will be more like those in the mid-South, with rainfall patterns ranging between today’s East Texas and the Carolinas. While higher temperatures may make certain regions more hospitable for growing, other problems like low soil quality or not enough rainfall could make shifting production there more unlikely.

The effect on food prices is much less certain; studies suggest global food prices could stay relatively unchanged or increase by more than 60 percent.

These projections could become more accurate with broader access to relevant data on things like soil health, plant growth and farm management, the researchers said.

According to Gustafson, one of the first steps to encourage more data sharing will be to get partners like the Department of Agriculture’s Midwest Climate Hub, land grant universities and extension programs to collaborate more closely. The network would even include farmers and private-sector data, though that would raise more issues around proprietary information.

“Right now, we have islands of data collected by individuals; there really aren’t uniform standards for collection and curation of data,” said Gustafson. “We believe there ought to be research accessible across the entire Midwest.”

Richard Robertson, a research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute and co-author of the paper, agreed. As a crop modeler, Robertson said he could use more specific information about real-world farming practices to make his simulations more accurate.

“When should I get the fake seed into the fake soil under the fake sunshine?” he asked.

The answer isn’t always that obvious from the data. A mathematically ideal time to plant from a modeler’s perspective might not work for a farmer who is trying to keep his corn from being eaten by pests. But without communication, there is no way for people working with models to accurately reflect that kind of information in their predictions, he said.

“I think the vision outlined is brilliant and spot-on,” said J. Gordon Arbuckle, a sociologist at Iowa State University who has done extensive research on Midwestern farmers’ views on climate change and who was not involved in the study. “Bringing the many relevant disciplines and stakeholders together would be a challenging but ultimately most effective way to improve the resilience of Midwest agriculture.”

A long-discussed problem becomes crucial

The idea that scientists should do more to work together is not new, and calls for more open data have been getting louder since the early 2000s, said Gerald Nelson, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and co-author of the paper.

“In the last 10 years, the push for open data has been inexorable,” he said. “That’s the direction everyone is headed. What you do have to do is make it easy for people to make data available.”

He said that more communication would help researchers identify what kind of data would be useful to colleagues in other disciplines.

Robertson said that in his own personal experience, he has seen limited progress in how much researchers from different disciplines work together.

“I remember sitting in a room 13 years ago talking about the same thing. This goes back a long ways. Over these 13 years, we haven’t been able to get people in the same room at all. As a grad student, I could tell people were talking right past each other,” he said.

Data-sharing networks similar to what the researchers are proposing already exist in other scientific fields. Climate scientists make weather and temperature data widely available to their colleagues. In genomics, open data initiatives like the Human Genome Project helped to quickly advance research in the field.

There are also smaller-scale examples of cooperation within climate change and agriculture research, such as the Sustainable Corn and Useful to Usable projects, which are funded by the Department of Agriculture, said Arbuckle.

“[These projects] have shown that integrated, transdisciplinary approaches that bring physical and social scientists together with farmers and agricultural advisors can have powerful results. Scaling such approaches up, as the authors envision, could help us meet adaptation and mitigation objectives more effectively and on a much larger scale,” he wrote in an email.

Who pays for the experiments?

How do you get soil scientists, agricultural economists, hydrologists and climate scientists to work together across disciplines at the scale this paper proposes?

“Lock them in a room and shove pizza under the door,” Robertson said, laughing.

While he’s joking about that part, Robertson said that getting everyone to sit down in the same room, and to keep doing that over an extended period time, is important for building communication across different research fields.

“For people to work together, there has to be something to work on, and there has to be support, i.e., money to make this happen. It would need somebody somewhere with a big pile of money to say, ‘Hey, let’s do something for the taxpayers,'” he said.

That support would most likely come from public sources like the Department of Agriculture and from private business like Monsanto Co. and Kellogg Co.

As for how to make this integrated system work on a practical level, it’s still much too early to say, but the researchers hope that the development of such a system would encourage similar collaborations across the United States and internationally.

“[The project] has to be big enough that it matters; we don’t know exactly how it’s going to happen. We need to be testing things out in a wide variety of different experiments,” Robertson said.

Graphic via wamda
Graphic via wamda

#AnimasRiver: For enviro groups, #GoldKing spill intensifies mission — The Durango Herald


From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

For a handful of local environmental groups, operations have vastly changed since the national spotlight turned on Southwest Colorado on Aug. 5 when the Environmental Protection Agency triggered the release of 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage 10 miles north of Silverton. The spill turned the Animas orange and, ultimately, affected three states…

Animas River Stakeholders Group

Peter Butler, a coordinator for ARSG, said stakeholders had never worked on any sites around Gold King, yet when the blowout occurred, the group became a focal point for communication and public information.

“We probably, literally, answered several hundred phone calls,” Butler said. “My wife counted and said I had 126 phone calls in four days, and that’s not including my cellphone.”

In the past, the group’s meetings were sparsely attended, and usually dealt with technical details. Butler said the ARSG’s first meeting after the spill, on Aug. 25, garnered unprecedented attendance.

“We probably ended up having at least 100 people show up in August,” he said. “Because we had people who had never attended before, we couldn’t go into a lot of the other aspects we work on. We spent a lot of time just bringing people up to speed.”

The past few months, Butler said, has been dominated by work concerning Gold King. He said now the group regularly receives calls from people who claim they have the latest technology to solve water quality issues in the basin. That’s nothing new, he said, but what is unique is they now present on their own dime.

“Everyone wants to be the entity that can say, ‘We treated the Gold King spill,’” Butler said. “We had one group from Texas that just put their whole machine on a trailer and just showed up. We’ve been working with them for a few months, and they may really have something.”

Butler said the ARSG is eyeing closely how the Superfund designation plays out. The group has never taken a stance either way on the listing, but if the EPA and state health officials take over the mining district, it could affect how ARSG operates.

“We’re not quite sure what our role is going to be,” he said.

Trout Unlimited

“The simple truth is that TU, more than any organization in town, has long been working on mine remediation problems,” said Ty Churchwell, Trout Unlimited’s Animas River coordinator…

Recently, Trout Unlimited added objectives related to the blowout to the initiative-driven San Juan Clean Water Coalition, a group of local business and environmental groups and individuals banding together for the health of the Animas. Those actions include reforming Good Samaritan legislation and the 1872 Mining Law, building a permanent water treatment plant in Upper Cement Creek and instituting a long-term water monitoring program.

“We’ve been in this basin for well over 30 years working on fishery-related issues, and number one is water quality,” Churchwell said. “Very little has changed in that respect, but certainly the spill has galvanized our organization around the work we already do.”

Mountain Studies Institute

MSI earned a contract with the city of Durango to test the Animas River, and its staff members are still analyzing heavy metal concentrations in storm water data collected in September and October, which was actually funded by the EPA. The group is also taking tissue samples and monitoring macroinvertebrate communities.

Executive Director Marcy Bidwell said operations at MSI have definitely changed since Aug. 5, evidenced by more community involvement, even holding public hearings…

“We have worked very hard, and its got all our staffers excited,” she said. “It’s passion as much as a work of labor. Other work has been delayed in order to make way for the effort on the Animas, but we’re very adaptable.”

San Juan Citizens Alliance

“We have struggled,” Olson said. “This incident highlighted our desire to be involved in the discussion of the Animas headwaters, primarily to ensure that the benefit of the whole watershed is being represented.”

As a result, Olson said the alliance, which has a staff of six, is looking to hire a full-time riverkeeper in 2016, tasked solely with protecting the health of the Animas.

“I don’t feel like (SJCA) has been as vocal as we’d like to be,” Olson said. “And that’s an issue we’re solving by planning for this hire.”

In the meantime, Olson and his staff are using the spill to see what good can come of the event and how to educate the public now that all eyes are focused on cleaning up mine waste…

“The spill was an all-consuming, all-hands-on-deck exercise,” he said. “Once we realized the severity, we also quickly realized it was important for us not to just respond to the spill, but also use it as an educational moment to highlight the fact tremendous volumes of contaminated water are entering the Animas River every day.”

None of the groups reported a major uptick in donations since the spill. However, when the Gold King Mine released its torrent of orange wastewater down the Animas and eventually into Lake Powell, a new consciousness awoke in the public mind. And that’s made a difference.

La Plata County tests for elements not previously sampled at #GoldKing Mine — The Durango Herald

Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015
Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015

From The Durango Herald (Shane Benjamin):

The study was done in September by Wright Water Engineers on behalf of La Plata County government. The analysis found results similar to those reached by the Environmental Protection Agency, but the independent analysis screened for elements that had not been sampled by the EPA, including radium and uranium.

Both the EPA and Wright Water Engineering collected surface water and sediment samples in September at a location about 50 feet inside the Gold King Mine. At the request of La Plata County government, Wright Water Engineering analyzed EPA’s samples to see if it drew similar results.

Overall, water quality and sediment sampling results were consistent with EPA findings…

Wright Water Engineering’s sediment sample detected not even one part (0.149 pCi/g) of uranium-238, which is the most common uranium isotope found in nature and can be used in nuclear weapons. By comparison, the EPA regional screening level for residential exposure for uranium is 155 pCi/g, according to the Wright Water Engineers report.

Radium concentrations also did not exceed the 1.1 pCi/g national average found in soil across the country, the report concluded.

Neither the EPA nor Wright Water Engineers found detectable amounts of cyanide, dioxins, furans, PCBs, volatiles, semivolatiles, thallium or chromium.

EPA samples contained concentrations of lead and arsenic above national drinking water standards, but the samples were taken upstream from a water treatment plant near the mine. The water treatment facility appears to be effectively treating discharged water, as water quality in the Animas River has generally returned to “pre-spill” conditions, the Wright Water Engineers report says.

“As expected, there are elevated concentrations of metals in the adit water and sediment samples, many of which exceed regulatory screening levels,” the report concludes. “However, the non-metal and radionuclide parameters analyzed in this report do not occur in concentrations exceeding regulatory limits.”

USGS: Carbon in Water must be Accounted for in Projections of Future Climate

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey:

USGS scientists have documented that the carbon that moves through or accumulates in lakes, rivers, and streams has not been adequately incorporated into current models of carbon cycling used to track and project climate change. The research, conducted in partnership with the University of Washington, has been published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Earth’s carbon cycle is determined by physical, chemical, and biological processes that occur in and among the atmosphere (carbon dioxide and methane), the biosphere (living and dead things), and the geosphere (soil, rocks, and water). Understanding how these processes interact globally and projecting their future effects on climate requires complex computer models that track carbon at regional and continental scales, commonly known as Terrestrial Biosphere Models (TBMs).

Current estimates of the accumulation of carbon in natural environments indicate that forest and other terrestrial ecosystems have annual net gains in storing carbon — a beneficial effect for reducing greenhouse gases. However, even though all of life and most processes involving carbon movement or transformation require water, TBMs have not conventionally included aquatic ecosystems — lakes, reservoirs, streams, and rivers — in their calculations. Once inland waters are included in carbon cycle models, the nationwide importance of aquatic ecosystems in the carbon cycle is evident.

Speaking quantifiably, inland water ecosystems in the conterminous U.S. transport or store more than 220 billion pounds of carbon (100 Tg-C) annually to coastal regions, the atmosphere, and the sediments of lakes and reservoirs. Comparing the results of this study to the output of a suite of standard TBMs, the authors suggest that, within the current modelling framework, carbon storage by forests, other plants, and soils (in scientific terms: Net Ecosystem Production, when defined as terrestrial only) may be over-estimated by as much as 27 percent.

The study highlights the need for additional research to accurately determine the sources of aquatic carbon and to reconcile the exchange of carbon between terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Here’s the abstract:

Inland water ecosystems dynamically process, transport, and sequester carbon. However, the transport of carbon through aquatic environments has not been quantitatively integrated in the context of terrestrial ecosystems. Here, we present the first integrated assessment, to our knowledge, of freshwater carbon fluxes for the conterminous United States, where 106 (range: 71–149) teragrams of carbon per year (TgC⋅y−1) is exported downstream or emitted to the atmosphere and sedimentation stores 21 (range: 9–65) TgC⋅y−1 in lakes and reservoirs. We show that there is significant regional variation in aquatic carbon flux, but verify that emission across stream and river surfaces represents the dominant flux at 69 (range: 36–110) TgC⋅y−1 or 65% of the total aquatic carbon flux for the conterminous United States. Comparing our results with the output of a suite of terrestrial biosphere models (TBMs), we suggest that within the current modeling framework, calculations of net ecosystem production (NEP) defined as terrestrial only may be overestimated by as much as 27%. However, the internal production and mineralization of carbon in freshwaters remain to be quantified and would reduce the effect of including aquatic carbon fluxes within calculations of terrestrial NEP. Reconciliation of carbon mass–flux interactions between terrestrial and aquatic carbon sources and sinks will require significant additional research and modeling capacity.

Aerial view of Beaver Creek, Alaska. Credit: Mark Dornblaser, USGS.
Aerial view of Beaver Creek, Alaska. Credit: Mark Dornblaser, USGS.

The latest eNews from Northern Water is hot off the presses

Click here to read the latest newsletter from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Here’s an excerpt:

January water-related meetings

January is a busy month for water-related meetings throughout Colorado. The Four States Irrigation Council’s joint annual meeting with the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance (DARCA) is Jan. 13-15, 2016 at the Fort Collins Hilton. The Colorado Farm Show is Jan. 26-28, 2016 at Island Grove Regional Park in Greeley. Northern Water will have a booth at the farm show. It’s a good time to stop by and learn about what Northern Water is all about, receive project updates and grab some popcorn. The Colorado Water Congress 2016 Annual Convention is Jan. 27-29 at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center. The Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention is the premier water industry event in the state, attracting 500+ attendees that convene to network and collaborate on the important water issues of the day. Northern Water will also have a booth at the convention.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Keeping the Roan Plateau wild — Conservation Colorado

From Conservation Colorado (Scott Braden):

The Roan Plateau is one of my favorite places in Colorado; a Western Slope public lands treasure that is truly too wild to drill. But not too long ago, it narrowly escaped just that. In the mid-2000s, the BLM auctioned off tens of thousands of acres of this former naval shale reserve, which was a wilderness populated by herds of elk, genetically pure cutthroat trout, and a few in-the-know hunters and adventurers. Fortunately, people from across Colorado and the whole nation stood up and refused to see the Roan turned into an industrial park. Conservation groups sued the BLM on their faulty analysis of the environmental impacts of the leases. After a decade in the courts, the lawsuit to protect the Roan was settled last year in a way that would protect the top of the plateau, while allowing drilling (with stringent environmental safeguards) to move forward around its base. A win-win solution for all parties.

During the past five years, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to acquaint myself personally with the Roan Plateau – doing field work and tours of the area. I can attest to the sense of wild and free country, teeming with wildlife, that characterizes the top of the mesa. There are few other people up there, and although it is accessible to anyone with a two-wheeled drive vehicle (in dry conditions), it’s the kind of place you have to work to get to. The solitude is well beyond some of the formal wilderness areas in Colorado.

Now, the BLM has released a new draft version of the plan that will govern the Roan Plateau after the settlement. I am happy to report that the proposed alternative in the plan will, as the settlement stipulates, keep the top of the plateau free from industrial drilling and increase protections for the sides and base of the plateau. Right now, the BLM is seeking comment on the plan and hosting a series of open houses on the Western Slope. The meetings will be as follows:

Speak Up for the Roan Plateau: Silt
January 12, 2016
4:00 P.M.–7:00 P.M.
BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office
2300 River Frontage Road
Silt, CO 81652

Speak Up for the Roan Plateau: Battlement Mesa
January 13, 2016
4:00 P.M.–7:00 P.M.
Grand Valley Recreation Center
398 Arroyo Drive
Battlement Mesa, CO 81636

Speak Up for the Roan Plateau: Rifle
January 14, 2016
4:00 P.M.-7:00 P.M.
Rifle Branch Library
207 East Avenue
Rifle, CO 81650

YOU can help weigh in to protect the Roan. Make a comment today to tell the BLM to adopt their proposed alternative, and keep the Roan wild and free for the next generation!

Flood control project in the works by the North La Junta Water Conservancy District

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

Jeanette Meyers appeared before the City Council on Monday night to ask the support of the City of La Junta for the North La Junta Water Conservancy District project for flood control on the Arkansas River. The project already has the support of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District ($40,000), Otero County ($10,000), Arkansas Valley Round Table ($25,000). Malouff said the value to the City of La Junta manifests itself in lowering the ground water table during the flooding conditions, helping relieve storm sewer backup and improving issues with wastewater. Meyers said the Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers are in favor of the project.

Basically, the islands in the river need to be removed so the river may flow more smoothly downstream. A pinch point exists just east of the bridge at La Junta which contributes to flooding in North La Junta, La Junta in the lower areas and downstream. Meyers pointed out this is a matter of some urgency, since the Pueblo Reservoir is now at 200,000 acre-feet and at 250,000 acre-feet will have to start releasing water. All of the reservoirs except Queens are full or half full and the Fort Lyon Ditch is out of commission because of repairs. On the motion of Ed Vela, the council took the matter under advisement until the next meeting, for the purpose of working out the finances. The work must be completed by the end of March.

Bud Quick, who has helped North La Junta dodge some of the worst flooding the last couple of years, explained that we are sitting on top of an aquifer. If we can let the river widen out, it will flush itself out and slow down.

Engineering Department Director Dan Eveatt asked permission to accept a $50,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The grant is for the purpose of comprehensive planning for the city along the lines discussed with Downtown Colorado in recent public meetings. The council agreed to accept the grant.