#Drought news: Above normal temps forecast for #Colorado for the next week

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


Increasingly warm weather prevailed across much of the nation, with beneficial rain observed from Texas to the central and northern Atlantic Coast. Seasonable dryness over the Great Plains accompanied temperatures averaging 10 to 15°F above normal, with numerous daily record highs noted over southern portions of the region. Out west, progressively warmer weather heightened concerns of early snow melt, with early-week rain and mountain snow falling short of weekly normals and doing little to ease long-term drought…

Central Plains

Sunny skies and above-normal temperatures prevailed across this drought-free region, with daytime highs reaching 90°F in central and southwestern Kansas and upper 70s to lower 80s elsewhere. While still within the central Plains’ climatologically dry season, the recent abnormal warmth hastened winter wheat out of dormancy and will heighten the need for topsoil moisture over the upcoming weeks…

Northern Plains

Spring-like warmth was observed over the northern Plains, with daytime highs reaching the upper 60s (°F) in southern Montana and lower 70s in southern South Dakota. Light precipitation was observed across much of the region, though amounts were again insufficient to offer relief from Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1)…

Southern Plains and Texas

After early-week heat, increasingly wet weather resulted in a significant reduction of Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) over much of the region. Early in the period, daytime highs topped 80°F across Texas and Oklahoma, with readings touching 90°F over the southern High Plains and Deep South Texas. While the hot, windy conditions sparked wildfires and increased concerns over “flash drought”, widespread, moderate to heavy rain (1-3 inches, locally more) during the latter half of the period reduced or eliminated a wide swath of D0 and D1 over central and southern portions of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma. In contrast, persistent short-term dryness necessitated expansion of D0 and D1 in Deep South Texas…

Western U.S.

Despite some welcomed rain and mountain snow at the beginning of the weekly drought assessment period, a return to dry, warmer weather by week’s end renewed concerns of a sub-par Water Year even with the ongoing strong El Niño. There were localized improvements to drought intensity and coverage, but the overall trend was toward maintaining or increasing the West’s multi-year drought.

In northern portions of the region, additional rain and mountain snow continued the locally favorable Water Year in the Northwest and resulted in further reductions of Abnormal Dryness (D0) across southwestern Oregon, eastern Washington, and northern Idaho. Farther east, Moderate Drought (D1) was likewise reduced in south-central Montana (Big Horn County) to reflect near- to above-average reservoir storage and Water Year precipitation. In contrast, Wyoming’s snowpack Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) remained below the 10th percentile (40 to 70 percent of average) in the Bighorn Mountains and below the 20th percentile (50 to 85 percent of average) in the River Range, where Severe (D2) and Moderate (D1) Drought were introduced, respectively.

Farther south, there were small changes to the dryness/drought depiction from the Great Basin into the Four Corners Region. In the D1 and D2 areas around Great Salt Lake, reservoir storage hovered near or below 60 percent of average for the date, reflecting the lingering impacts of the region’s long-term drought. D0 was expanded over central Arizona and southeastern New Mexico, where the favorable first half of the Water Year has given way to protracted dryness over the past 90 days (generally less than 50 percent of normal, locally less than 40 percent). Furthermore, the initially favorable snowpacks in the lower Four Corners have begun to rapidly diminish, with SWE near or below the 20th percentile (less than half of normal) from central Arizona into western New Mexico.

In the core drought areas of California and western Nevada, welcomed early-week rain and mountain snow gave way to warm, dry weather. Despite locally impressive precipitation totals during the 7-day period (ending Tuesday morning at 4 a.m., PST) , wetter-than-normal conditions for the week were confined to the northern-most counties in California as well as portions of the Sierra Nevada. Extending back another 7 days, precipitation over the past two weeks — even with this week’s rain and snow — has fallen well short of normal over most of the state. Nevertheless, a boost to northern California’s SWE and reservoir storage led to a small reduction of Extreme Drought (D3). However, the recent overall trend toward warmer, drier weather — despite the ongoing strong El Niño — has raised concerns over increasing short-term drought impacts in addition to the region’s ongoing long-term (“L” Impact) drought. To illustrate, a pronounced pocket of short-term dryness extends from the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains southeast of Los Angeles northwestward to Santa Barbara, where rainfall has averaged a meager 33 to 50 percent of normal during the current Water Year (since October 1)…

Looking Ahead

Stormy, occasionally cold weather in the East will contrast with warmth and dryness across much of the west. A potent winter storm will march northeastward across the Great Lakes, producing additional locally heavy showers across the Atlantic Coast States as well as moderate to heavy rain and snow in the Midwest. In the storm’s wake, briefly chilly conditions east of the Mississippi will give way to a rapid warm up by early next week. Generally tranquil weather will prevail from the Plains into the upper Midwest, though here, too, increasingly warm conditions will develop into next week. Unfavorably warm, dry weather will persist from California and the Great Basin into the lower Four Corners Region, while periods of rain and mountain snow continue farther north from the Northwest into the northern and central Rockies. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for March 1 – 5 calls for above-normal temperatures across western and central U.S. as well as much of the Northeast, with cooler-than-normal conditions confined to the upper Midwest. Meanwhile, below-normal precipitation is anticipated from the central and southern Pacific Coast eastward onto the High Plains and upper Midwest.

#ColoradoRiver: Aspinall Unit Spring operations forecast #COriver

Aspinall Unit
Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The February 15th forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 620,000 acre-feet. This is 92% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently 99% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 565,000 acre-feet which is 68% of full. Current elevation is 7488 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft.

Black Canyon Water Right

The peak flow and shoulder flow components of the Black Canyon Water Right will be determined by the May 1 forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir. If the May 1 forecast is equal to the current forecast of 620,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the peak flow target will be equal to 4,797 cfs for a duration of 24 hours. The shoulder flow target will be 461 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25. The point of measurement of flows to satisfy the Black Canyon Water Right is the Gunnison River below Gunnison Tunnel streamgage at the upstream boundary of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Aspinall Unit Operations ROD

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the peak flow and duration flow targets in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, will be determined by the forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir and the hydrologic year type. At the time of the spring operation, if the forecast is equal to the current forecast of 620,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the hydrologic year type will be set as Average Dry. Under an Average Dry year the peak flow target will be 8,070 cfs and the duration target at this flow will be 10 days.

Projected Spring Operations

During spring operations, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be made in an attempt to match the peak flow of the North Fork of the Gunnison River to maximize the potential of meeting the desired peak at the Whitewater gage, while simultaneously meeting the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow amount. The magnitude of release necessary to meet the desired peak at the Whitewater gage will be dependent on the flow contribution from the North Fork of the Gunnison River and other tributaries downstream from the Aspinall Unit. Current projections for spring peak operations show that flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon could be in the 5,000 to 5,500 cfs range for 10 days in order to achieve the desired peak flow and duration at Whitewater. If actual flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River are less than currently projected, flows through the Black Canyon could be even higher. With this runoff forecast and corresponding downstream targets, Blue Mesa Reservoir is currently projected to fill to an elevation of around 7516.2 feet with an approximate peak content of 801,000 acre-feet.

Otero County: Commissioners discuss agriculture, water — The Fowler Tribune

Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

From The Fowler Tribune (Bette McFarren):

Commissioner Kevin Karney met with the Southeast Colorado Water Conservancy District last week. The board is working on getting last year’s winter water distributed before there has to be a spill from Pueblo Reservoir. First spill, out of district, has already been taken care of by Aurora’s sale of water shares to well companies and storage (Holbrook took some of it). Some deliveries to ditches are already started.

If John Martin spills in May as expected, there is a possibility of a free river. The water supply is excellent and the snow melt has hardly begun. Allen Hamel of Colorado Water Conservancy Board projects the board will use the plan and guidelines developed by the state. Winter water in Pueblo is at 125,000 acre-feet as of Thursday, as compared with 105,000 last year at this time and an average of 88,784 af. There is talk of dredging the Pueblo Reservoir to increase capacity.

#AnimasRiver: La Plata County commissioners press EPA for #GoldKingMine spill answers — The Durango Herald

A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 -- photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin
A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

From The Durango Herald (Edward Graham):

While skeptical of the EPA officials’ lack of specifics on such things as reimbursements to downstream entities for monitoring efforts, the commissioners said the agency seemed receptive to their concerns.

“To me, the meeting was a commitment to engagement, which might be an adequate, realistic expectation,” said Commissioner Julie Westendorff. “I do think we were heard, and I think based on the comments that they shared, I think they were sincere in thanking us for coming and telling them what it looks like on the ground.”

The commissioners were in town to attend the National Association of Counties legislative conference, but Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said that a priority during the visit was to press the EPA about its commitment to long-term monitoring.

“The timing of our trip is not just happenstance,” Lachelt said. “We really wanted to have this meeting with the EPA to make sure that they help get all of these programs in place in time. They told us that they’ve spent $8 million so far responding to the spill, so that includes the $2 million treatment plant (for Cement Creek), and probably a lot of personnel costs and water testing.”

A major focus of their hour-long meeting was to discuss spring runoff and the possibility of heavy metal pollutants, laced with river sediment, being disturbed from the Animas riverbed. The EPA previously stated its plans to monitor before, during and after the spring runoff because of the Aug. 5 spill that sent 3 million gallons of mining heavy-metal-laden sludge into the river.

“La Plata County doesn’t have the expertise to come up with a monitoring plan or response plan, and so we need to get help from the state and from the EPA to help us do this,” Westendorff said…

Lachelt said coordination between the EPA regions was severely lacking, especially in response to the spill. She said the agency needs to establish a more direct contact to respond to spill-related issues across the regions…

While the EPA didn’t offer the commissioners much in the way of long-term, agency-led solutions, they agreed that the meeting was a productive step toward establishing a working relationship with the agency. And the commissioners are willing to branch out to push for more meaningful responses.

Price tag for @Coloradoan water quality records request = $61,200


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

In light of the Flint water crisis and national concern on the safety of drinking water, the Coloradoan submitted a public records request to the Water Quality Control Division of the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment earlier this month.

The request asked for three data points:

1. Water test results for lead submitted to the state by public water systems in 2013-2015;

2. A list of public water systems out of compliance with drinking water standards;

3. The number of lead service lines in the state classified by the lowest level of geography available – whether by city, zip code or water system.

The Water Quality Control Division responded to the Coloradoan’s request on Tuesday. A list of public water systems out of compliance was included in the response.

The first request was fulfilled for free because it will take less than an hour to collect the data. After the first hour of work on a request, state agencies are free to charge requestors up to $30 an hour to fulfill requests.

For the third request, the state is asking for $61,200, equivalent to 2,040 hours of staff and attorney time the state estimates will be needed to compile the data.

The Department of Public Health and Environment charges $30 an hour for all staff time associated with locating and producing records for those who request them, in accordance with Colorado open records law.

Officials at the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators indicate that if a water system has a lead action level in exceedance, then the water system “must submit the detailed inventory system.” Colorado has had water systems with lead action level exceedances.

The state reports drinking water systems in Colorado don’t have to submit to the state the number of lead service lines within the system. Instead, they must identify their sample locations and indicate whether the sample was supplied by a lead service line or if the sample location contains lead pipes or copper pipes with lead solder.

The Water Quality Control Division is prohibited from releasing the addresses of public utility users, so staff would have to retract all individual homeowner addresses from the sample location data, according to the division’s response to the records request.

That process, along with research, retrieval, review and production of the records, would take more than 2,000 hours – or nearly a year of working weeks if a single staff member carried out the work.

The Coloradoan is seeking to collect the state data as part of a national project in conjunction with the USA TODAY Network on drinking water safety across the U.S.

Tamarisk Coalition Receives Funding — WesternSlopeNow.com

Colorado National Monument from the Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014
Colorado National Monument from the Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014

From WesternSlopeNow.com (Andy Chilian):

The Tamarisk Coalition announces they recently received two grants on the behalf of the Desert Rivers Collaborative that will greatly help their cause. Tamarisk officials say grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Bacon Family Foundation, totaling more than $200 thousand, will allow the coalition to continue streamside restoration efforts in the Grand Valley.

It is projected that approximately 70 acres of additional riverside habitat will be restored, thanks to $175 thousand from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and $30 thousand from the Bacon Family Foundation. The funding will be used to pay different crews and contractors to use native plantings for re-vegetation and remove tamarisk, an invasive plant from the Eurasia region, as well as Russian olive, a thorny shrub and small tree that have overtaken a lot of riverside area.

In addition, the funding will tremendously aid in reducing wildfire risk and improving river function, soil conditions, and water quality, and ultimately improve our local habitat for fish and wildlife.

“The overall goal is to improve riparian health here in the Grand Valley, and it’s a continuation of projects that have been going on for several years,” says Shannon Hatch with the Tamarisk Coalition.

Funding from the Bacon Family Foundation will also allow the hiring of an intern to assist with project mapping, maintenance efforts, data management, technical assistance, community outreach, and engagement.

Snowmaking primer

Photo via Bob Berwyn
Photo via Bob Berwyn

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (James Hagadorn):

Like grow lights and center-pivot irrigators, snow guns are technological lynchpins of the Colorado economy.

But what governs how snow is made? And what are its impacts?

The region’s humidity is a major factor. If the air is dry enough, snow can be made at temperatures above freezing, or 32 degrees. Just as evaporating sweat helps to cool us, when it’s dry, water droplets evaporate and cool as they’re ejected from snow guns. Thus, in dry conditions, evaporative cooling lowers localized temperatures enough to freeze water droplets, even with temps up to 40 degrees. Conversely, when air is moist, little evaporation occurs and lower ambient air temperatures are needed for ice crystals to form.

During snowmaking, another type of cooling – called expansive or adiabatic – also takes place. If you’ve ever felt how cold a can of compressed air gets after usage, you’ve experienced this effect. Such cooling occurs when compressed air shot from a snow gun expands as it’s released from the water nozzle. The expansion causes cooling, helping to freeze the water droplets. This process can drop temps nearly 100 degrees within inches of the water nozzle.

Many ski areas have hundreds of snow guns and a cornucopia of special nozzles to take advantage of these phenomena. They are used on the ground or mounted on towers, poles or lances. All rely on high water pressure and high air pressure to produce snow.

Man-made snow isn’t shaped like the delicate and pointy six-sided snowflakes that children cut from folded paper. Rather, it is shaped like a sphere and is a denser, larger particle. Sometimes the cores of flakes made by snow guns aren’t frozen by the time they hit the ground, so the piles, or whales, of snow are allowed to cure for days until they’re bulldozed into place.

Whether it’s fresh or stale, artificial snow behaves quite differently than nature’s own. To skiers and riders, it’s more akin to sticky concrete than to fluffy powder. That’s because it’s almost 30 percent ice and 70 percent air, compared with the best natural snow, which is about 10 percent ice and 90 percent air. One positive is that man-made snowflakes are more durable, making them ideal for establishing a base or creating jumps, pipes and terrain parks.

Snowmaking uses an incredible amount of energy. It takes megawatts to transfer water uphill and cool it before pumping it; to compress, cool and dehumidify air before sending it downpipe; and to install, maintain and run all of the associated equipment.

With higher temperatures and higher humidity, the costs can more than double. That’s why there’s been a push over the years for better technology that brings efficiencies in energy, climate and timing. For example, nozzles have improved to the point where they make much smaller crystals with less air, which translates to more snow for the same amount of pumping energy.

Today’s snow guns use less than a third of the air employed by those a decade ago – a notable achievement given that compressing air requires more energy than pumping water. Some ski areas store water in upslope ponds, which then feed into snowmaking lines, again saving pumping energy. Other ski areas have built bottom-of-mountain storage ponds because pumping water long distances, with the miles of pipe needed to transport water to snow guns, is expensive.

In general, 20 percent more snow is made in Colorado today, using 40 percent less energy, than 10 years ago.

But what about the water? Most of it is purchased or taken from streams, rivers and runoff. Like the Front Range’s “buy and dry” strategy for securing agricultural water, ski corporations have snapped up senior water rights to the tune of millions per year. Fortunately, nearly 80 percent of this water gets returned to the system whence it came, with the remainder lost to evaporation. Some even recapture the meltwater and reuse it.

The quantity – and timing of diversion/return – of this water has serious impacts on the quality of water and scope of downstream watersheds.

And the future? As the planet warms, the high country will have warmer average low temperatures. The ski seasons will become shorter, and their shoulders will be less predictable because spring storms will more frequently bring rainfall or freezing rain in place of light fluffy snow. So snowmaking will become even more important, despite the fact that the energy byproducts from installing, maintaining and operating snow guns contribute to global warming.

Notwithstanding these issues, plan on seeing more snowmaking. It feeds the state’s economic engine and continues to improve in efficiency, reducing its environmental impact. Over the long haul, it is more predictable than the cloud-seeding strategies invested in by skiing and agriculture industries.