#AnimasRiver: Rebecca Thomas appointed remedial project manager for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

First priorities are water sampling, public outreach

Water sampling and community coordination will be the first items of business for Rebecca Thomas, the Environmental Protection Agency’s newly appointed remedial project manager for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

Thomas has done remedial work on Superfund sites in Libby, Montana, which endured asbestos contamination, and the California Gulch and Kennecott Copper Mine projects, which were both affected by mine pollution similar to the Bonita Peak site.

With a team that includes ecological risk assessors and a community involvement coordinator, Thomas said she will be working not only with the communities of Silverton and San Juan County, but also Durango, La Plata County and the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian tribes.

“We’ll be explaining what Superfund is all about and getting consensus on paths forward,” Thomas said. “We want to take full advantage of sampling season to continue our investigation and answer some of the questions we have.”

The Bonita Peak Mining District, which encompasses about 48 properties around Cement Creek, Mineral Creek and the Upper Animas, will be listed on the federal register and likely receive official Superfund designation next month.

The EPA spends an average six years on research before remedial action is taken at Superfund sites. But some smaller, less-complex mining properties may be eligible for early action, Thomas said.

Sampling will start as early as next month, and the EPA will coordinate with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Most existing data addresses risks associated with Cement Creek; Thomas said her team will be digging deeper into human health and ecological risk assessment for Mineral Creek and the Upper Animas.

“We’ll also be working with the BLM to conduct cultural resource surveys for historic sites and wetland inventory,” she said…

Thomas made rounds in Silverton earlier this week, introducing herself to the community, and plans to be a regular presence – in Silverton at least one week out of the month, she said. There are tentative plans for public meetings in both Silverton and Durango in late April.

“At this point, I’m not sure,” said Animas River Stakeholders Group co-coordinator Peter Butler, when asked how the organization will be working with the EPA throughout the process. The group has invested decades on regional mine cleanup projects and supplied the federal agency with data sets after the spill.

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage
Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

No “Buy and Dry” and sprawl for Berthoud area farm

Berthoud Auto Storage back in the day
Berthoud Auto Storage back in the day

From the Berthoud Surveyor (John Gardner):

The property will continue to be farmed by a lease agreement with proceeds going back to the county’s Open Lands Department. This deal satisfies the sister’s dream of keeping the property a working farm.

“We just couldn’t stand to see it developed,” [Peggy] Malchow Sass said. “Knowing that it’s going to stay a farm is really satisfying to us.”

The water for the property fills the Handy Ditch that gets water from the Big Thompson River, Malchow Sass said, adding that it’s positive to keep the water with the land, not only for the farm, but for all the other nearby ranches and farms that utilize the Handy Ditch water.

“By leaving the water in the ditch enables many farmers along the way to get their water more easily; the more water there is in the ditch the more easily it is for farmers to get their water,” she said. “That’s a benefit directly to the Berthoud area.”

Per the agreement, the water will continue to be used on the property seven out of 10 years but will also be available to local municipalities during times of drought. Acquiring the water rights is an innovative aspect of the purchase, according to Larimer County Commissioner Tom Donnelly.

“I think this is a great opportunity to really talk about what we want to do with water and how we want to see water addressed,” Donnelly said. “The last thing we want to see is a lot of irrigated farm land bought then dried up. We want to make sure that we keep some of those resources with the land so that they can be used in perpetuity.”

Craig Godbout, program manager for the Colorado Water Conservancy Board’s Alternative Transfer Methods grant program, agreed with Donnelly, saying the CWCB’s mission is to help preserve irrigated Ag land. And this is one of the first agreements that will have the water available for use by municipalities during time of drought.

“[Agriculture] is our second biggest industry contributing to our economy here in the state, and this project fits in really well with the state water plan because it helps close that municipal-industrial gap without permanent Ag dry-up,” Godbout said.

This is only the second alternative transfer of water agreement that’s been completed, according to Godbout, and it also creates a new mechanism that can be used as a model for future projects. It’s also an innovative way for the county to explore partnerships with municipal partners and some local farmers, Donnelly said.

“I think we’re doing some groundbreaking work here,” Donnelly said.

The property consists of high quality agricultural soils, with approximately 188 irrigated, 18 pastures and five farmstead acres, according to a natural resources department report. Two homes remain on the property; one built in the 1860s and the other built in 1947. There’s also the scenic red barn, once used to milk cows, located at the farm’s entrance, and a beat shack that was built in the late 1800s.

This land adds to the county’s open space catalog. The county’s interest in this particular parcel grew from its updated 2015 Open Space Master Plan that included citizens’ request for preserving irrigated farm and agriculture land according to Kerri Rollins, Open Lands Program manager.

“When we looked at our inventory across the board, we’ve done a whole lot of ranchland, we’ve done a really good job with ranchland; we’ve bought a few irrigated farms and conservations easements that we own, but they are certainly much smaller,” Rollins said. “So this opportunity happened to come along at the right time and at the time of updating our master plan. We’re excited to be moving forward with it.”

Donnelly credited the county’s Agricultural and Natural Resources Department for its work on making this deal happen and said that this deal has a wealth of opportunities. One of those opportunities could include an educational site for the Thompson School District’s resurrected Future Farmers of America program, where students who could use the land for a hands-on approach to agriculture, or using the farm as an incubator for organic farmers.

The Malchow family has worked with the Berthoud Historical Society to preserve some of the property’s historic features, including the beet shack and a pioneer grave.

One of the oldest ditches in Larimer County, the Eaglin Ditch, is located on the property. And the property also is located within the medium-to-high regional trail priority area for the Berthoud to Carter Lake Regional Trail Corridor…

The county’s Open Lands Department is actively pursuing grant funding to reimburse a portion of the county’s investment to the conserve this property and has already received a $178,425 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop the Alternative Transfer Mechanism and water-sharing agreement.

The county will pay $8.4 million for the land and its water shares with the intent of keeping it an active farm and making the water available to municipal providers in drought years. The land is valued at $1.6 million while the water rights are valued at nearly $6.9 million.

Rollins attended Tuesday’s Berthoud Board of Trustees meeting and requested a $100,000 contribution from the town’s Open Space Tax Dollar fund to help pay for the land acquisition. Trustees advised town staff to see what could be done to participate in this partnership.

The county is also seeking contributions through Great Outdoors Colorado and a private foundation, according to a report from the Department of Natural Resources. The land purchase will be finalized in April.

Crumbling Antarctic ice sheets could speed sea level rise

Summit County Citizens Voice

Fifty feet in 500 years?

Mountains of the Antarctic Sound. New climate modeling suggests more significant melting of the Antarctic ice sheets and ice shelves driven by atmospheric warming. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

The edges of Antarctic ice sheets may crumble and collapse much faster than most existing climate models suggest, potentially raising global sea level by as much as 50 feet in the next 500 years, according to researchers from Penn State and University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The scientists added new, previously underestimated processes to their projection after studying the role of Antarctic ice melting during the warm Pliocene era, about 3 million years ago when sea level rose by as much as 30 to 60 feet.

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Entertainment, with a splash of water education

Mile High Water Talk

Teaching sixth-graders about water is no small feat. It took a group of talented actors to pull it off.

By Matt Bond

A few times a year, I get together with my fellow education managers at two other utilities: Aurora Water and the city of Boulder. We compare notes, toss around new ideas and generally pontificate on the best ways to develop the next generation of water citizens.

We call ourselves The Three Amigos.

At one of our sessions in 2012, we talked about finding new ways of reaching audiences bigger than a classroom. How could we reach students more efficiently? Was there a better way to hold the attention of 300 sixth-graders than standing and talking at them?

After all, just getting them to pay attention at that age, let alone learn anything, can be like herding three-legged, blind mountain lions. Surely it was be possible, but how?

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#Drought news: D0 expands in Four Corners

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

Summary

The bulk of the precipitation that occurred during the 168-hour (March 22-29) monitoring period did not fall in areas experiencing dryness (D0) or drought (D1 or worse). Some of the heaviest precipitation soaked non-drought areas of the lower Southeast and the Pacific Northwest. And, a late-season snowstorm from the central Rockies into northern Lower Michigan also fell mostly “between the drought lines.” However, some of the Southeastern rain chipped away at D0 across southern Georgia and northern Florida. And, stormy weather in the Northwest pushed far enough inland to further dent lingering drought. In contrast, breezy, mostly dry weather covered the central and southern Plains and the Southwest, leading to further expansion of D0 and D1. On the southern High Plains, a combination of weather extremes—including developing drought, hard freezes, and large temperature oscillations—led to an increase in stress on rangeland, pastures, and winter wheat…

Southern and Central Plains

Development of short-term dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) continued across Kansas, Oklahoma, northern and western Texas, eastern New Mexico, and southeastern Colorado. On March 22-23, the Anderson Creek fire rapidly spread across Woods County, Oklahoma, and Comanche and Barber Counties in Kansas, destroying 16 residences and more than two dozen structures, and charring an estimated 367,620 acres of grass, brush, and other vegetation. Cooler, more humid weather arrived by March 24, aiding wildfire containment efforts.

According to USDA, nearly half of the topsoil moisture was rated very short to short on March 27 in Kansas (48%) and Oklahoma (43%). In Texas, statewide topsoil moisture rated very short to short increased to 40% on March 27, up from 24% the previous week. And, topsoil moisture ranged from 68 to 70% very short to short in Texas’ three westernmost regions: Northern High Plains, Southern High Plains, and Trans-Pecos.

Amid the expanding D0 and D1, snow fell in some areas on March 26-27, totaling 3.5 inches in Wichita, Kansas, and 1.3 inches in Amarillo, Texas. However, the snow melted within hours, followed by a return to warm, windy conditions late in the drought-monitoring period.

In addition, D0 crept eastward into the middle Mississippi Valley. In areas where little precipitation has occurred since the beginning of 2016, signs of short-term dryness are becoming more apparent in the form of reduced streamflow, shrinking stock ponds, and dry topsoil. In Missouri, parts of which experienced record flooding as recently as late December, USDA reported that “some producers expressed concern about the lack of rain and dry conditions.” Missouri’s topsoil moisture was rated 20% very short to short on March 27…

Northern Plains

Significant precipitation remained mainly south of existing areas of dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) across the northern Plains. As a result, the depiction was mostly unchanged. However, there was a slight increase in D0 coverage in northeastern and south-central South Dakota, reflective of precipitation deficits at time periods out to 3 months. In Aberdeen, South Dakota, year-to-date precipitation through March 29 was less than half of normal (0.98 inch, or 47% of normal)…

California

A little more trimming of dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) occurred across northwestern California, where water-storage and streamflow indicators continue to show that drought has been sharply scaled back or eliminated. For the remainder of the state, the return of dry weather meant that the drought depiction was effectively unchanged from last week as the traditional peak snowpack date of April 1 approaches. According to the California Department of Water Resources, the average water content of the high-elevation Sierra Nevada snowpack currently stands at 24 inches, about 87% of average. However, the snowpack is 97% of average in the northern Sierra Nevada, but just 72% of average in the southern Sierra Nevada, reflective of the “northern” storm track that has been a hallmark of the 2015-16 winter wet season…

Northwest

Widespread storminess ended as the drought-monitoring period began. However, on the strength of earlier precipitation and diminishing drought impacts, the drought situation further improved across Oregon and environs. Specifically, drought was completely removed from Washington for the first time since December 31, 2013, whiles severe drought (D2) was significant scaled back across southeastern Oregon.

Late in the drought-monitoring period, stormy weather returned to portions of the interior Northwest. Small reductions in the coverage of dryness (D0) and moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) were noted across the northern Rockies. However, much of the storm unfolded across Wyoming and environs after the monitoring period ended on the morning of March 29 and will be reflected on next week’s map. On March 28, daily-record snowfall totals in Nevada included 13.0 inches in Ely and 6.8 inches in Reno. The following day in Wyoming, record-setting snowfall totals for March 29 reached 15.3 inches in Lander and 8.8 inches in Riverton…

Southwest

Dry weather dominated the Southwest, although some rain and snow showers fell across the northern half of the Four Corners States (e.g. portions of Colorado and Utah). Following last week’s large increases in coverage of Southwestern dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1), changes were mostly limited to a slight D0 expansion in the Four Corners region and some new D0/D1 coverage in southern and eastern New Mexico. Before being mostly (90%) contained, the Baker Canyon fire northeast of Douglas, Arizona, scorched nearly 8,000 acres of vegetation near the Arizona-New Mexico line. In addition, periods of wind weather continued to raise Southwestern dust, especially on March 22-23 and 29…

Looking Ahead

A storm system will cross the Great Lakes region on March 29, producing a mix of rain and snow. The storm’s trailing cold front will reach the Atlantic Seaboard on March 30, but should stall across the lower Southeast. Precipitation totals associated with the storm (and its cold front) could reach 2 to 5 inches—in the form of heavy showers and locally severe thunderstorms—across the Southeast, and 1 to 2 inches along and north of the path of the low-pressure system. During the first few days of April, warm, dry weather will dominate the West, while a blast of cold air and snow showers will engulf the Great Lakes and Northeastern States. During the next 5 days, the southern Plains will remain mostly dry with rapid temperature fluctuations.

The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for April 5 – 9 calls for the likelihood of above-normal temperatures from the Pacific Coast to the Plains, while colder-than-normal conditions will dominate the eastern U.S.—especially the Northeast. Meanwhile, near- to below-normal precipitation in many areas of the country will contrast with expectations for wetter-than-normal weather across the Great Basin and neighboring areas, as well as the Great Lakes region and the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States.

#ColoradoRiver: Business of Water Conference Day 1 recap

From Cronkite News (Travis Arbon):

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said he believes there is a chance the U.S. Congress will move forward with legislation addressing drought in the West, but any federal response to water shortages must not overrule state policies or rely on federal funding.

Flake spoke at the 2016 Business of Water Summit in Phoenix, where local government and business leaders convened to discuss the future of water sustainability in the Southwest. Attendees from Colorado, Arizona and California streamed into the Hyatt Regency Phoenix hotel for the two-day conference…

Flake said he has been working on federal legislation to address the issue, but those measures remain trapped in congressional gridlock. One proposal would extend the Colorado River system’s conservation pilot program and allow the Department of the Interior to make voluntary agreements with water users to limit use. Flake said he is pushing for the Senate to advance a western drought bill this year, but the probability of passage remains low.

“I would say it’s somewhere around 40 percent chance right now,” Flake said. He added that there may not be enough time remaining in the legislative session to tackle the drought.

Ellen Hanak, the director of the Water Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California, said the federal government can do more to address western drought and water shortages. Her organization published a report in February on suggested federal responses.

The report recommends the federal government use its influence to resolve water conflicts, improve monitoring and data collection of water systems and develop plans to protect endangered species, among other reforms.

“A piece of the solution is reducing some of that (agricultural) water use, but to do that in a way that is not causing the kinds of problems you see,” Hanak said. “There are ways in which both local agencies and the federal government programs through (Department of Agriculture) can help to encourage more creative ways to do that.”

Flake said funding for federal legislation is complicated, because he would want to find ways to cut spending in other areas to pay for drought programs.

He said he would prefer to find a solution that honors previously negotiated water rights, including contracts that are nearly 100 years old, despite the potential for increased drought in the Colorado River Basin going forward due to climate change. A 2011 report by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects temperatures in the Colorado River Basin to increase by 5 to 6 degrees fahrenheit during the century.

Although many of the contracts were negotiated decades ago, Flake said they have a provision for handling droughts – a shortage declaration – that would force states to reduce water use…

Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, said the basin is entering a “new era” of water management.

“Today, we’re entering into a new era of uncertainty, and that uncertainty is because of the math,” Kuhn said. “We’re using too much water in the wrong ways. … I don’t want to say right or wrong from a moral standpoint, but from an economic standpoint.”

The math doesn’t work, Kuhn said, because the Colorado River in the 1920s was experiencing an unusually high flow. Water planning at the time did not take into account future supply decreases. But now, with rising population and changing climate, water use exceeds what the river replenishes.

Kuhn said excess usage is draining water stores built up over decades, and basin reservoirs have declined from 60 million acre-feet to 30 million acre-feet.

Marco Ugarte, sustainability manager at brewing company MillerCoors, said he doesn’t believe the lack of a federal response creates uncertainty for businesses – like his employer – that use high amounts of water, but he hopes policymakers listen to the concerns of the business community when making decisions about water reduction.

Some businesses, he said, might be more capable of making quick water use reductions than others, and each industry is different.

“Policymakers need to be aware of what is feasible, what is technically feasible, of the companies,” Ugarte said.

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

Cherokee Metro district chief resigns — the Colorado Springs Independent

Upper Black Squirrel Creek Designated Groundwater Basin
Upper Black Squirrel
Creek Designated Groundwater Basin

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

Sean Chambers, executive director of the Cherokee Metropolitan District located northeast of Highway 24 and Powers Boulevard on the city’s east side, has submitted his resignation, effective June 30.

Paid $100,000 a year, Chambers expects to receive a year’s severance pay under an employment agreement, he says when reached by phone.

Chambers was hired in 2010 amid continuing turmoil over a source of water after the district became embroiled in legal action regarding its use of water from a neighboring groundwater district. He succeeded Kip Peterson, long time manager of the district, who was given severance pay of 13 months pay and a vehicle, according to media reports at the time.

Former board member Steve Hasbrouk says the district was under investigation for various questionable business practices, but Chambers says the Sheriff’s Office concluded there was no wrong-doing last fall. The Sheriff’s Office confirms that.

Hasbrouk, who says he believes the investigation is continuing, left the board in 2012 after serving just over one term. He stopped going to meetings shortly after he was elected to a second term, because he says he got tired of being demonized for pushing questions about how the district was being run.

Since years ago when the legal action erupted over use of water from the neighboring groundwater district, including when the district had to buy water from Colorado Springs and the departure of Peterson, the district has been an unceasing source of drama.

But Chambers says he’s leaving simply to spend more time with his family.

“I’ve got two young kids, and I’m just in a position to spend a little bit more time focusing on their needs, and I value being a good father, and the demands of this position are such that someone doesn’t get the attention from me they deserve,” he says. Chambers says he has no job lined up after he leaves the district.

He also claims he’s left the district in better financial condition than he found it. Reserves, according to Hasbrouk, totaled $12 million when Chambers was hired. Chambers says reserve funds now sit at about $7 million, but notes a $10 million bond issue is now paid off. He also says the district is in a better position to add to its base of 8,300 customers.

“We do have an adequate water supply for the first time since 2004,” he says. “The district can write a commitment to serve a new housing project or new commercial development. It took more than 11 years to acquire water rights, build the connecting infrastructure and get to where the state agreed with our accounting.”

#COWaterPlan: How #Colorado is trying to get beyond zero-sum water wars — The High Country News

Here’s a column George Sibley writing for the The High Country News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

The self-styled sensible people today seem to take it for granted that Americans have lost any capacity for working through difficult problems, especially where cultural differences are concerned. That attitude has certainly surfaced in response to Colorado’s water planning process. Given the absence of additional unappropriated water, the sensibles say, more water for one group means less water for other groups, an unacceptable zero-sum situation, especially across Colorado’s transmountain and rural-urban “divides.”

Colorado historian Patricia Limerick lent credence to that zero-sum thinking in her contribution to a “Citizen’s Guide to Colorado’s Transbasin Diversions,” published by the state’s Foundation for Water Education. “There is no moral algebra,” she said, “for calculating whether retaining water to support commercial development on the Western Slope is better or worse than transporting water to support commercial development on the Front Range.”

Her statement reflects the first-come-first-served approach of metropolitan Denver toward West Slope water until late in the 20th century. It is a legal approach under the longstanding “prior appropriation” doctrine (first in time, first in right), but one of questionable morality. Colorado’s big federal transmountain diversions in that same period – the Colorado-Big Thompson and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects – transcended the letter of the law and carefully worked through a more just process that resulted in compensatory storage and maintenance of “live streams.”

The goal was to ensure that future development of the Western Slope would not be sacrificed, however legally, to the thirsty and more populated Front Range.

If water were the only factor in the equations between Colorado’s “divides,” then zero-sum skepticism might be warranted. But it is never just about water. All uses of water, from irrigated fields to municipal utilities to float trips, also involve the application of money and ideas to water. So when water is moved from Colorado’s rural Western Slope to the Front Range, Front Range money to implement ideas for how to make up that loss should be moved back across the Continental Divide to maintain the equation.

This is already happening to a greater extent than the water-war stories in the press suggest. The Colorado Water Plan that skeptics question coincided with two successful transmountain negotiations that anticipated most of the “conceptual framework” for diversions in the new Water Plan: the Moffat Tunnel Firming Project negotiated between Denver Water and the Colorado River District, acting on behalf of 37 West Slope partners; and the Windy Gap Firming Project between Grand County on the West Slope and Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict (the Longmont-Fort Collins urban corridor).

A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

2016 #coleg: HB16-1005 (Rain Barrels) out of Sen. Ag. Committee 6-3

Rain barrel schematic
Rain barrel schematic

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Good news for urban farmers. Colorado may soon lose its dubious distinction as the only state in the country to outlaw collecting rooftop runoff in rain barrels.

Today, the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee voted 6 to 3 to authorize rainwater collection.

House Bill 16-1005 would allow Coloradans to use up to two 55-gallon rain barrels to collect stormwater that rolls off of roofs. That rainwater can only be used to water lawns or gardens, under the bill.

The sticking point that killed the bill last year and held it up for the last week in the Senate: the impact such collection would have on the state’s water supply.

A study from Colorado State University, cited by the bill’s backers, said that rainwater collection wouldn’t impact water supply or long-held water rights.

The concern is centered around the backbone of Colorado water law, a doctrine called prior appropriation, which gives priority water rights to the first person to [apply a diversion to beneficial use].

In the House, the bill’s Democratic sponsors added amendments stating rainwater collection was not intended to interfere with prior appropriation.

When the bill was reviewed by the Senate Ag Committee last week, deputy state engineer Kevin Rein said if people claimed their water rights were being harmed, the state engineer would look first at junior water rights holders and not to rain barrel users.

Rein clarified those views today, pointing out the bill has no mechanism for tracking rain barrel use.

Under the measure, the state engineer would have the authority to curtail rain barrel use, but only if someone can point out which rain barrel is violating prior appropriation.

The bill drew “yes” votes from the committee’s four Democrats and from two Republicans: Sens. Ellen Roberts of Durango and John Cooke of Greeley.

Roberts has long been considered the swing vote on the committee in favor of the rainbarrel bill. She told The Colorado Independent after the vote, rainwater collection will likely have little more than minimal impact on water rights, the issue that halted the bill’s progress last year.

She doubts a flood of Coloradans will rush to buy rain barrels, which aren’t cheap. On the plus side, she said collecting rainwater will be beneficial as an educational tool for conservation.

One of the bill’s biggest backers, Pete Maysmith of the environmental group Conservation Colorado, said today in a statement the bill showed “just how bipartisan conservation issues can be. Both sides came together to craft language that recognizes prior appropriation but also acknowledges the shifting dynamics of water policy in the American West and the need to empower citizens to make change.”

Maysmith also thanked the committee’s chair, Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, for his “thoughtful consideration” and for allowing the bill to come to a vote.

Last year, Sonnenberg held up a committee vote on the 2015 version until the next-to-last day of the session, killing its chances of reaching a full Senate vote.

Sonnenberg was still a “no” vote Wednesday. He told the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Mike Merrifield of Manitou Springs,that he is still concerned that junior water rights holders will be shortchanged by rain barrel enthusiasts.

The bill’s House sponsors, Reps. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, both Democrats, hugged when they heard the bill passed, according to a Tweet from KUNC reporter Bente Berkeland.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for debate and a possible final vote.

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

[Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg] allowed a vote Wednesday, and the legislation passed by a 6-3 vote, according to the committee’s legislative council.

Sonnenberg was one of the “no” votes, along with Republican Sens. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs and Ray Scott of Grand Junction.

“I think we have in front of us a product of good collaboration and open-mindedness,” said Sen. Michael Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat and the bill’s main sponsor in the Senate, before the vote…

The Democrats’ bill now moves to the full Senate, where Republicans hold a one-seat majority.

The bill passed the state House with broad bipartisan support after the compromises, which prompted organizations that formally opposed it, such as the Colorado Farm Bureau, to become supporters.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday said he is optimistic he will see a rain-barrel bill on his desk for him to sign into law this year.

“Sometimes Colorado functions like the way Great Britain says the United States did leading up to World War II,” he said. “Prime Minister Churchill said the United States could always be counted on to do the right thing, but only after they’ve exhausted the other possibilities.”

winstonchurchillquotesamericans

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Megan Schrader):

After two years of wrangling, a bill legalizing the use of rain barrels passed it’s biggest hurdle Wednesday and seems likely to become Colorado law…

Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, is among the bill’s advocates.

“I think we’re going to actually get it done this year,” Merrifield said. “A lot of people were not aware they were breaking the law. A lot of people were collecting rain water off of their roofs.”

Sonnenberg was concerned about the impact the urban rain barrels might have on the amount of water flowing downstream to farmers and ranchers with water rights dependent on high-flows during large rain storms.

Merrifield said he worked to alleviate those concerns, including amending the bill so the state engineer will investigate and report any potential impacts from the increased use of rain barrels.

“In a state that is so desperate for water as Colorado, I think it’s valuable that people understand water law and the scarcity of water and how water can be used efficiently, how to conserve,” Merrifield said. “The more we know about it, the better I think it is for farmers who really were those who had the biggest objections to this bill.”

The Farm Bureau supports the bill this year.

Single-family units or multi-family structures with four or fewer units would be permitted to collect up to 110 gallons of precipitation from the rooftop of the building. Collected water must be used for outdoor purposes, like watering the lawn or garden.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus) via the Cortez Journal:

The political clouds in Colorado have parted in favor of allowing Coloradans to collect rain falling from their roofs.

Once a storm of controversy, the now-famous rain-barrel legislation cleared a Senate committee on Wednesday with bipartisan support. It heads to the full Senate, where the bill likely has the votes to finally pass after two years…

stopcollaborateandlistenbusinessblog

“We have a product of good collaboration and open-mindedness,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs…

One amendment would require the Division of Water Resources to curtail the use of rain barrels based on a determination of injury to water rights.

Other amendments include stating that using a rain barrel is not a water right and requiring the state engineer to evaluate if the use of rain barrels impacts water rights across the state…

…a study by Colorado State University found that allowing 110 gallons of rainwater storage per household would not decrease surface runoff by any detectable amount.

2016 #coleg: #COWaterPlan finally shows signs of progress — The #Colorado Independent

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Since John Hickenlooper’s administration finalized Colorado’s first-ever statewide water plan in November, watchdogs have been wondering when — and if — state officials might start putting the document into action.

Some had feared the issue, which is likely to irk at least some of the state’s many competing water interests, might be put off until after the November election. But, alas, there’s at least some forward movement this election year.

This week, state lawmakers are taking a first look at an annual water projects bill that includes at least three items that might trigger some water planning momentum.

The largest? A $5 million yearly transfer to the Colorado Water Conservation Board construction fund “to implement the state water plan.” That money would come from a severance tax “perpetual base” account that had $350 million in the bank as of June.

But what would that $5 million be spent on? The measure, Senate Bill 16-174, doesn’t exactly say, other than it could be “studies, programs or projects.”
Rep. Ed Vigil of Fort Garland, the Democratic chair of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, is the House sponsor on the bill, which was introduced Monday. Asked Tuesday what the state would get for taxpayers’ $5 million investment, he said that was a question he intends to ask the Water Board when the bill hits his committee.

The Water Board, which is part of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, is responsible for implementing the water plan — a pet plan of Hickenlooper, who has said that warding against a massive, mid-century water shortage is a key goal of his second term.

The state water plan, finalized November after two years and more than 24,000 public comments from throughout the state, lacks specifics on what legislation should be proposed or even which specific projects would help Colorado solve a looming water shortage of some one-million acre-feet by 2050.

An acre-foot of water is the amount of water it would take to cover Sports Authority field at Mile High from endzone to endzone with one foot of water. A family of four uses about one acre-foot of water per year, or about 326,000 gallons, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still not much there in there,” water lawyer Peter Nichols, one of Hickenlooper’s water appointees, told The Colorado Independent as the water plan was being drafted last summer. “There are a lot of platitudes and clichés and nice words like ‘foster,’ ‘develop,’ ‘encourage,’ and ‘coordinate’ in this draft. But those aren’t action words. Those words won’t carry us. They’re not going to meet our water needs for 2050.”

This week’s water projects bill does propose some specifics — albeit relatively small ones in the $20 billion context of the statewide water plan’s projected price tag.

One provision in the measure seeks $200,000 from the Conservation Board’s construction fund to study underground storage, such as refilling aquifers, “along the front range [sic].” That provision matches up neatly with a bill awaiting action from the House Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 16-1256, sponsored by Rep. J. Paul Brown of Ignacio, got a glowing vote of support from the House Agriculture Committee last month. Brown’s bill would task the water conservation board with studying storage possibilities along the South Platte River between Greeley and Julesburg. But if that measure fails to survive the full House, the study could still move forward under the projects bill being proposed this week.

The second specific item tied to the water plan is $1 million to update the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, also known as SWSI (pronounced SWA-sea). That 2010 study, commissioned by the Conservation Board, identified the one million acre-foot water shortage that became the driving force behind creating the state water plan.

But many believe the SWSI figure is too low, perhaps by as much as another one million acre-feet. During the water plan development process, officials on the Conservation Board stated the SWSI study would be updated in the next year or two to more accurately estimate the water shortage Coloradans will face in the future.
The bill is on the calendar for its first hearing in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee on Thursday.

The time to address water planning is before the reservoir run dry.

When the ground shifted under the hooves of #Colorado’s water buffaloes — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

During the next few years, two major installations will take shape in Denver that will seek to inform urban development of the future, including the use of water.

Along I-25, jut southwest of downtown, Denver Water has already started redeveloping its administrative campus. Most of the buildings there are more than 50 years old, but the water agency also sees it as an opportunity with the $195 million redevelopment to demonstrate the technology and concepts of the future.

Jim Lochhead -- photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)
Jim Lochhead — photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)

With all that it has planned said Jim Lochhead, the chief executive of Denver Water, the agency thinks it can reduce the amount of water needed for the campus by 50 percent. The agency, he said, is embracing “total reuse.”

The other project to keep an eye on within Denver is at the Coliseum and Western Stock Show complex along I-70 north of downtown Denver. With state backing, the aging complex will be redeveloped by Denver in concert with Colorado State University using cutting-edge building technologies but also minimal water uses.

Denver and the West have entered a new era that recognizes limits. Lochhead, in a recent presentation at the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute. During the 25 years of the conference there has been an “extraordinary remarkable transition in the paradigm of water,” he said.

In the first half of the 20th century, water developers, commonly called “water buffaloes,” encountered little opposition to their work. But after World War II, they “really ran into this new world that they didn’t understand,” said Lochhead.

The South Platte River typically all but vanishes as it passes through Denver’s industrial neighborhood north of downtown, downstream of the Burlington Ditch diversion, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best
The South Platte River typically all but vanishes as it passes through Denver’s industrial neighborhood north of downtown, downstream of the Burlington Ditch diversion, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best

The buffaloes understood water development in ways that were both monolithic and linear. Major cities and other agencies developed water, and they just ran over the opposition. Their development was linear, in that they just expected to do one more project after another. Their attitude, he said, was “if we run out of water, we’ll just get more.”

Lochhead identified a pivotal change in the 1950s, when a proposal to dam the Yampa River at Echo Park in northwest Colorado was fought by environmental groups and conservationists such as Wallace Stegner.

“They really didn’t see the first signs of the world shifting from under them as the Sierra Club was able to defeat construction of the dam in Echo Park,” he said. The water buffaloes didn’t see what was coming as Congress adopted the Wilderness Act and then a raft of environmental legislation. They didn’t see it when Jimmy Carter issued his “hit list” of federally funded reclamation projects in 1977, which effectively became the end of the era of dam building.

stoptwoforksdampostcardfrontcirca1988

In Colorado, according to Lochhead, the pivot came in the early 1990s, when Two Forks Dam was defeated. It was a stern rebuke to the thinking of Colorado’s water developers, who believed if “just only they could get one more big water project.”

Denver, in the 21st century, has been part of the new wave of thinking. This has been evident most clearly in the plans to enlarge Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder. The increased water will come from stepped-up diversions from across the Continental Divide, in the Fraser and Williams Fork valleys, at the head of the Colorado River.

At first glance, this looks like business as usual. But this project has been different. Nobody questioned Denver’s right to the water under Colorado water law. But Denver at the outset admitted that there were other considerations, especially when the streams were already nearly tapped out. With the increased diversions, up to 80 percent of the flows of the Fraser River will be diverted.

West portal Moffat Water Tunnel
West portal Moffat Water Tunnel

The plan worked out after lengthy negotiations between Denver Water representatives and those from Grand County and the Western Slope is complex. What is pertinent is that some of the major environmental groups, most notably Trout Unlimited, endorsed the settlement. And here’s a key principle:

When diversions occur will matter equally, or even more so, than how much is diverted.

Lochhead also pointed to the need for partnerships with irrigators downstream on the South Platte River. Denver has pledged to step up the reuse of the water it imports from the Western Slope, and it is entitled, by law, to use that water to extinction. Using the water to extinction, however, means less water for those downstream.

“We will have to have partnerships in how we deal with those impacts,” said Lochhead.

Also speaking on the same panel at the Rocky Mountain Land Use institute was Lawrence McDonnell, an adjunct professor of water law at the University of Colorado. The broad change in the West in the last quarter-century has been a small shift of water from agricultural produce to municipal uses, to accommodate rapid population growth. In the eight states, population grew 60 percent from 1990 to 2010, with most of that growth occurring on urban areas.

“Leadership has to come from cities,” he said, and it has. Growth has occurred “in ways that often resulted in far less per-capita water use.”

Dolores River: Southwestern Water files lawsuit over spring minimum flows

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

In September, the Colorado Water Conservation Board agreed to establish minimum in-stream flows up to 900 cubic-feet per second in spring on the Dolores River between the confluence of the San Miguel River and Gateway.

The new flow standards on the 34-mile stretch are intended to help river health, including three species of native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub.

Local water boards objected to the new standard, arguing that the flows were too high and could not be met in drought conditions. In addition, there was fear that water stored in the upstream McPhee Reservoir could be used to meet the standard.

But the CWCB denied their appeal, and the minimum flow plan for the Lower Dolores River was approved. In December, SWCD responded by filing a lawsuit in Colorado’s Division 4 water court in Montrose to try and overturn or modify the flow allocation.

Their lawsuit claims CWCB’s action on the Lower Dolores River exceeds the ISF’s statutory standard of “minimum stream flows to preserve the natural environment” and that it does not protect “present uses” of the water.

It further states that the new in-stream flow is inconsistent with CWCB’s statutory responsibility to develop water for beneficial and future use for state residents, and that the new standard is inconsistent with CWCB’s appropriation of an in-stream flow regime on the San Miguel River.

John Porter, SWCD board president, says it’s time to rethink the in-stream flow program so that some of it is reserved for future growth.

“A small amount, 1 to 2 percent of average in-stream flows, should be held by the CWCB for future domestic uses,” he said during a meeting with the Montezuma County commissioners. “We want to get people talking about the idea.”

The so-called “carve out” concept suggests tapping in-stream flow allocations to provide a more accessible water supply for unforeseen small development projects.

In defending the new Dolores River in-stream flows, CWCB was joined in the lawsuit by Western Resource Advocates, Conservation Colorado, and San Juan Citizen’s Alliance…

The new in-stream flows for Lower Dolores River begin below the San Miguel confluence are as follows: minimum flows of 200 cfs from March 16 to April 14; 900 cfs from April 15 to June 14; 400 cfs from June 15 to July 15; 200 cfs from July 16 to Aug. 14; and 100 cfs from Aug. 15 to March 15.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation for March 2016 through the 27th.
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation for March 2016 through the 27th.

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

#Snowpack news: Last week’s storminess boosts N. #Colorado basins

Westwide SNOTEL map March 29, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL map March 29, 2016 via the NRCS.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Federal snow survey data show snowpack at 96 percent of the median statewide, with most mountain areas above average and less in southern parts of the state.

Stream flows at 80 percent of the 115 monitors registered normal or higher, including the Colorado River and headwaters west of the Continental Divide.

Mountain snowpack serves as slow-release water storage, closely watched by irrigators and municipal supply managers, because it affects the amount of water that will end up in streams, rivers, reservoirs and irrigation canals. Water in mountain snowpack normally peaks in April.

“We know we were getting nervous and uneasy a couple of weeks ago because of the lack of March snow. It looked as if we were losing snowpack. But the last two weeks, we reverted to colder and stormier weather, and we are pretty much good for this time of year,” state climatologist Nolan Doesken said.

“You put it all together, we are looking pretty good into July on water supply. Municipal water supplies are in great shape. Agricultural supplies may need a little more bolstering yet.”

At a drought forecast meeting Tuesday, state and federal officials noted that soil in southeastern parts of Colorado remains dry, registering on federal drought monitors.

Weather forecasters were anticipating temperature increases over the next two weeks, accelerating snow melting and runoff, along with significant precipitation.

Recent storms in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado were stirring up reddish dust, which absorbs sunlight when deposited on mountain snowfields.

Dust on snowfields could accelerate snow melting in the coming weeks, causing melting up to 50 percent faster, said Karl Wetlaufer, assistant Colorado snow survey supervisor for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“This can have a notable effect. It absorbs a lot more sun, and the snow melts faster. That causes more of a peak in water runoff. With that faster runoff, it could possibly increase the chances of flooding.”

From CBS Denver (Justin McHeffey):

All watersheds in Northern Colorado are in good shape. The North Platte is the highest with 108 percent of average, the Yampa and White River basin have 102 percent, and the Colorado River remains at a strong 105 percent.

Southern Colorado hasn’t benefited from as much snowfall recently and is due for a storm. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River basins have fallen to 81 percent. There should be some relief coming to the southwest this week with mountain snow in the forecast.

Earlier this month, snowmelt was accelerated by a stretch of warm and dry conditions.

Since the weather has become more active, we’ve reversed this trend in the South Platte basin and snowpack is now moving in the right direction. Looking at the graph, notice how the purple line is now on the left side of the red line — this means the amount of snow on the ground is greater than average. The surrounding lines represent previous years’ moisture and how they compare to a typical season. The yellow line is from the year 2014 when the South Platte had over 120 percent of average snow.

Last week’s storm broke Denver’s snowfall record for March 23 — Denver International Airport measured 13.1 inches. The snow that fell was particularly heavy and wet. In Boulder, the snow reached a 7 to 1 ratio. In other words, 7 parts snow to 1 part water — just about as moisture-packed as we see in Colorado.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Kaitlin Durbin):

Concerns about water supply heading into Colorado’s dry season were alleviated in parts of the state by last week’s two-punch snowstorm.

In a matter of days, snowpack went from “Are we going to have enough?” to normal or better levels in northern Colorado, according to Larry Walrod, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. The southern half still has reason to worry, he said.

The Pikes Peak region looked promising based on levels of water in snowpack calculated at Glen Cove.

On March 20, three days ahead of the first snowstorm, Glen Cove reported 4.6 inches of water in the snowpack. The average for that time of year is 5.6 inches, Walrod said.

By March 29, the numbers had jumped to 7.2 inches, Walrod said.

That’s important, because mountain snowpack trickles down to city supplies during the runoff season.

“We made some ground in a couple of storms,” Walrod said. “We want to keep those numbers near average. That’s what our system is built on.”

Other areas north of Highway 50 also showed an increase.

Fremont Pass was 4 percent above average with 15.5 inches of water in the snowpack. The median for this time of year is 14.9 inches, Walrod said.

South of Highway 50 has not been as lucky.

Reports at the Apishapa Snotel site, north of Trinidad, showed 0 inches of water in snowpack as of March 20. Following storms later that week, counts were only up to 0.4 inches, Walrod said. The average for this time of the year is 5.9 inches, he said.

The Whiskey Creek Snotel site west of Trinidad, in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, wasn’t faring better, Walrod said. The area gained 0.3 inches of potential snowmelt following the storm, leaving their total 4.3 inches well below the 10.8 inches expected this time of year, he said.

Woodland Park: Fountain Creek sewage spill

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From KOAA.com (Greg Dingrando):

The spill was caused by some rags and roots that clogged a utility line on the south side of Woodland Park, according to utility workers. When the line became clogged, sewage shot up out of a manhole and flowed into the nearby creek.

The original gallon estimate on the spill was 400,000 gallons. But as the investigation went on, the number jumped to about 660,000.

“For one day of waste water treatment, our in-flow at the treatment plant is a little less than 600,000 gallons. So this is more than a day’s worth,” Woodland Park Utilities director Kip Wiley said.

An entire day’s worth of Woodland Park sewage in Fountain Creek could have been worse – Wiley said they dodged a bullet because the the creek was dry.

“Once it got into the creek it dissipated into the soil to where there was no running off down the creek. It wasn’t like there was other water carrying it down the creek. It simply disappeared into the soil,” Wiley said.

Colorado Springs Utilities immediately opened overflow pits on the south side to separate any sewage that made it through.

“Not something we had to do, but we felt in addition to protecting our own community it was probably a good idea to protect our downstream neighbors. That’s very important to us and it’s why we built it in the first place,” said Steve Berry with Colorado Springs Utilities.

El Paso County Public Health immediately took water samples and warned residents to stay away from the creek.

“Most folks are not recreating in Fountain Creek, but we encourage pets and people to stay out of the creek until after testing and we get a better assessment of the impact to Fountain Creek,” said Tom Gonzales with El Paso County Public Health Department.

Meanwhile, back in Woodland Park, the clog was fixed right away, but clean up took a little longer.

“We cleaned up the surrounding area around the manhole. Then cleaned up any signs of visible debris within the creek which was minimal,” said Wiley.

Woodland Park Utilities also did some testing of their own on parts of the creek that did have water and people’s well water who live along the creek. They hope to have results in the next couple days.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

About 650,000 gallons of sewage that spilled into Fountain Creek Monday at Woodland Park likely won’t have any impact on Pueblo.

That’s because Fountain Creek at that point, 15 miles northwest of Colorado Springs, is typically dry, and the liquid dissipated into the soil within about 300 yards of the spill, said Kip Wiley, Woodland Park utilities director.

“Fountain Creek is dry at that point, so it didn’t make it very far, maybe 200-300 yards,” Wiley said.
A 12-inch sewer line clogged by rags and roots discharged untreated sewage from a manhole for several hours, Wiley said.

Staff noticed that the city’s south side lift station was not receiving its expected volume at about 10 a.m. Monday. The manhole, in a field, was located at about 1:30 p.m., and the blockage removed about an hour later, Wiley said.

The initial report to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment indicated the flow of water to Fountain Creek was under snow at the time.

“We experience blockages from time to time,” Wiley said.

The area was treated, local residents advised and governments downstream advised, according to City Manager David Buttery.

Woodland Park sits on a divide and discharges treated sewage into the South Platte River basin, rather than the Arkansas River basin. However, the blockage occurred on the Arkansas River side, causing it to flow into Fountain Creek.

#Snowpack news: February was dry and dusty in SW #Colorado

Westwide SNOTEL map March 28, 2016 via the NRCS
Westwide SNOTEL map March 28, 2016 via the NRCS

From TheDenverChannel.com (Cory Reppenhagen):

Desert dust is littering Colorado’s trademark white powder snow and having a big impact on the spring runoff.

“It’s a big problem that many people don’t realize,” said Jeff Derry, the director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies.

Scientists like Derry call it a “dust on snow” event.

They typically occur in the spring when storms pull dust out of the desert southwest and spread it out over the Colorado mountains.

Record winds from a storm back in February blew in loads of desert dust. It’s since been covered up with more snow.

“Eventually that dust layer will emerge to the surface of the snowpack,” said Derry.

Derry says the dust can advance when the snow completely melted by up to 50 days, which can rob a river of up to 5 percent of its annual runoff. That’s about a billion cubic meters of water for the Colorado River.

“When the water melts earlier, the plants become active earlier, and they use more water,” adds Derry.

Global warming plays a role in the process as well.

Scientists believe an increase in “dust on snow” events over the last decade may be the result of soil destabilization in the source region of Arizona and Utah. It’s not warm air temperature that speeds up the snowmelt, it’s the actual radiation from the sun that does the job.

#ClimateChange: 2016 Arctic Sea Ice Wintertime Extent Hits Another Record Low — @NASA

From NASA:

Arctic sea ice appears to have reached a record low wintertime maximum extent for the second year in a row, according to scientists at the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.

Arctic sea ice was at a record low wintertime maximum extent for the second straight year. At 5.607 million square miles, it is the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record, and 431,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average maximum extent. Credits: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/C. Starr
Arctic sea ice was at a record low wintertime maximum extent for the second straight year. At 5.607 million square miles, it is the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record, and 431,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average maximum extent. Credits: NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio/C. Starr

Every year, the cap of frozen seawater floating on top of the Arctic Ocean and its neighboring seas melts during the spring and summer and grows back in the fall and winter months, reaching its maximum yearly extent between February and April. On March 24, Arctic sea ice extent peaked at 5.607 million square miles (14.52 million square kilometers), a new record low winter maximum extent in the satellite record that started in 1979. It is slightly smaller than the previous record low maximum extent of 5.612 million square miles (14.54 million square kilometers) that occurred last year. The 13 smallest maximum extents on the satellite record have happened in the last 13 years.

This short animation shows the Arctic sea ice freeze cycle from the last summertime minimum extent to March 24, when it reached its wintertime maximum extent. Credits: NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio/C. Starr

The new record low follows record high temperatures in December, January and February around the globe and in the Arctic. The atmospheric warmth probably contributed to this lowest maximum extent, with air temperatures up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit above average at the edges of the ice pack where sea ice is thin, said Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The wind patterns in the Arctic during January and February were also unfavorable to ice growth because they brought warm air from the south and prevented expansion of the ice cover. But ultimately, what will likely play a bigger role in the future trend of Arctic maximum extents is warming ocean waters, Meier said.

“It is likely that we’re going to keep seeing smaller wintertime maximums in the future because in addition to a warmer atmosphere, the ocean has also warmed up. That warmer ocean will not let the ice edge expand as far south as it used to,” Meier said. “Although the maximum reach of the sea ice can vary a lot each year depending on winter weather conditions, we’re seeing a significant downward trend, and that’s ultimately related to the warming atmosphere and oceans.” Since 1979, that trend has led to a loss of 620,000 square miles of winter sea ice cover, an area more than twice the size of Texas.

This year’s record low sea ice maximum extent will not necessarily result in a subsequent record low summertime minimum extent, Meier said. Summer weather conditions have a larger impact than the extent of the winter maximum in the outcome of each year’s melt season; warm temperatures and summer storms make the ice melt fast, while if a summer is cool, the melt slows down.

Arctic sea ice plays an important role in maintaining Earth’s temperature—its bright white surface reflects solar energy that the ocean would otherwise absorb. But this effect is more relevant in the summer, when the sun is high in the sky in the Arctic, than in the winter, when the sun doesn’t rise for months within the Arctic Circle. In the winter, the impact of missing sea ice is mostly felt in the atmosphere, said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

“In places where sea ice has been lost, those areas of open water will put more heat into the atmosphere because the air is much colder than unfrozen sea water,” Francis said. “As winter sea ice disappears, areas of unusually warm air temperatures in the Arctic will expand. These are also areas of increased evaporation, and the resulting water vapor will contribute to increased cloudiness, which in winter, further warms the surface.”

From the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

This photograph from a March 27, 2015 NASA IceBridge flight shows a mixture of deformed, snow-covered, first-year sea ice floes, interspersed by open-water leads, brash ice and thin, snow-free nilas and young sea ice over the East Beaufort Sea. Nilas are thin sheets of smooth, level ice less than 10 centimeters (4 inches) thick and appear darkest when thin. Credit: NASA/Operation Ice Bridge.
This photograph from a March 27, 2015 NASA IceBridge flight shows a mixture of deformed, snow-covered, first-year sea ice floes, interspersed by open-water leads, brash ice and thin, snow-free nilas and young sea ice over the East Beaufort Sea. Nilas are thin sheets of smooth, level ice less than 10 centimeters (4 inches) thick and appear darkest when thin. Credit: NASA/Operation Ice Bridge.

Arctic sea ice was at a record low maximum extent for the second straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.

“I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze. “The heat was relentless.” Air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean for the months of December, January and February were 2 to 6 degrees Celsius (4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in nearly every region.

Sea ice extent over the Arctic Ocean averaged 14.52 million square kilometers (5.607 million square miles) on March 24, beating last year’s record low of 14.54 million square kilometers (5.612 million square miles) on February 25. Unlike last year, the peak was later than average in the 37-year satellite record, setting up a shorter than average ice melt season for the coming spring and summer.

According to NSIDC, sea ice extent was below average throughout the Arctic, except in the Labrador Sea, Baffin Bay, and Hudson Bay. It was especially low in the Barents Sea. As noted by Ingrid Onarheim at the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Bergen, Norway: “A decrease in Barents Sea ice extent for this winter was predicted from the influence of warm Atlantic waters from the Norwegian Sea.”

Scientists are watching extent in this area because it will help them understand how a slower Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) may affect Arctic sea ice. “Some studies suggest that decreased heat flux of warm Atlantic waters could lead to a recovery of all Arctic sea ice in the near future,” said NSIDC senior research scientist Julienne Stroeve. “I think it will have more of a winter impact and could lead to a temporary recovery of winter ice extent in the Barents and Kara seas.”

This year’s maximum extent is 1.12 million square kilometers (431,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average of 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles) and 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) below the previous lowest maximum that occurred last year.

This late winter, ice extent growth in the Arctic has been sluggish. “Other than a brief spurt in late February, extent growth has been slow for the past six weeks,” said Walt Meier, a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Meier is an affiliate scientist at NSIDC and is part of NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis team.

Ice extent increases through autumn and winter, and the maximum typically occurs in mid March. Sea ice then retreats through spring and summer and shrinks to its smallest or minimum extent typically by mid September.

The September Arctic minimum began drawing attention in 2005 when it first shrank to a record low extent over the period of satellite observations. It broke the record again in 2007, and then again in 2012. The March Arctic maximum has typically received less attention. That changed last year when the maximum extent was the lowest in the satellite record.

“The Arctic is in crisis. Year by year, it’s slipping into a new state, and it’s hard to see how that won’t have an effect on weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere,” said Ted Scambos, NSIDC lead scientist.

NSIDC will release a full analysis of the winter season in early April, once monthly data are available for March.

Learn about Castle Rock’s rebate program and watering restrictions — the Castle Rock News-Press

castlerock

From the Town of Castle Rock via the Castle Rock News-Press:

Before the spring landscape season gets underway, Castle Rock officials are reminding resisdents to conserve water by using some of the town’s conservation programs.

Town Council approved earlier this month the 2016 Conservation Rebate Incentive Program, which offers rebates as part of an overall water-conservation plan.

The incentive program rewards residents transitioning from high-water-use landscaping and inefficient irrigation to other water-smart alternatives. It’s funded with money from water restriction violations and tier-four conservation surcharges. Funds are limited, and rebates are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

A household can qualify for each rebate only once.

The rebate program includes:

· Smart irrigation controllers — 50 percent of the controller cost up to $300

· Rotary nozzle retrofit — up to $5 per nozzle

· Rain sensors — 50 percent of the cost of the sensor up to $50

· SmartScape renovations — $1 per square foot up to $1,500 for high-water-use plant material, such as Kentucky bluegrass, removed and replaced with either Xeriscape or hardscape.

Applications are available at http://CRgov.com/rebates.

Water plan

The Town Council also approved the 2016 Water Use Management Plan. Castle Rock Water uses watering restrictions to help residents efficiently use water outdoors during warmer months.

By staggering water use on an every-third-day schedule, Castle Rock Water can maintain positive pressures throughout the water system, ensure appropriate fire flows and allocate time for water reservoir recovery.

Restrictions will be in place during June, July and August. Residents must follow a circle, diamond, square schedule that will be mailed to their homes around May 1 and is posted at CRgov.com/waterschedule.

Also, to promote efficient water use, outdoor irrigation will not be allowed between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. However, there are no time or day restrictions associated with hand watering.

These restrictions allow residents to water only during cooler, more humid times of day. This is when evapotranspiration — a measurement of how much water needs to be used to replace water lost through evaporation and transpiration — is at its lowest, and watering is most effective.

Both the rebate program and watering restrictions are outlined in Castle Rock Water’s Water Efficiency Master Plan. Since the plan was adopted in 2006, Castle Rock residents have exceeded and maintained the conservation goal of 18 percent or 165 to 135 gallons per person per day.

An updated plan was recently approved in 2016 and sets a goal for an additional 18 percent (122 to 100 gallons per person per day) of water savings by 2055.

Reclamation Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for Lake Nighthorse Recreation Plan

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft environmental assessment for the Lake Nighthorse Recreation Plan.

The draft environmental assessment includes a no action alternative and three alternative recreation plans. The three proposed plans provide different scenarios for recreation at Lake Nighthorse while protecting water quality and sensitive natural, cultural, and other resources and ensure compatibility with the primary purpose of the Animas-La Plata Project for municipal and industrial water supply.

“We appreciate the public’s patience as we work through the process of integrating recreation into the Animas-La Plata Project, said Ed Warner, Area Manager of the Western Colorado Area Office. “We are working as quickly as possible to make sure we address everyone’s concerns, follow regulations and requirements, and consider public safety. We encourage those interested in recreation at Lake Nighthorse to review the draft recreation plan and give us your comments on the proposed alternatives. We are looking forward to recreation becoming a reality on ALP Project lands in the future.”

The draft environmental assessment is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/animas/index.html, under the Environmental Compliance tab or a copy can be received by contacting Justyn Liff at 970-248-0625.

Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Written comments can be submitted by email to jliff@usbr.gov or mailed to: Ed Warner, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave., Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501. Comments are due by Monday, April 25.

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

Lake Nighthorse is a component of the ALP Project. The ALP Project was built to fulfill the water rights settlement of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian tribes of the southwestern Colo.

Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald
Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

Radar of the entire #Denver #blizzard in all its synoptic/mesoscale/orographic glory — Stu Ostro

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The Fountain Creek District is short on operating cash

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Fountain Creek district is running on fumes.

It’s like being in a car where none of the passengers can leave, so they take up a voluntary collection to refuel, but make sure that everyone can afford dinner at the next roadside grill. It’s not like you have to pay.

Time to pass the hat again.

“We will have to fund it this way until the time we can go to voters and ask for a mill levy,” said Pueblo County commissioner Terry Hart, who chairs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

The board looked at several options of how to distribute funding among its members, which include Pueblo and El Paso counties, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Fountain, Monument, Manitou Springs, Palmer Lake and Green Mountain Falls — the incorporated areas within the Fountain Creek watershed.

This year, the district needs $125,000 or it will run out of money in August.

“And the number is likely to grow in future years,” Hart said.

Executive Director Larry Small showed the board several alternatives based on population, the size of general fund budgets or a subjective determination based on relative sizes of the communities.

Pueblo County could pay anywhere from 6.517 percent under the various formulas, while the city of Pueblo’s share would be 7.7-15 percent. The smaller numbers occur when only population is considered.

Also included was formula for the 2013 collection of $50,000, which simply charged both counties, Colorado Springs and Pueblo $10,000 each, Fountain $5,000 and the smaller communities $1,250 each. That only partially worked, since Monument didn’t pay and Green Mountain Falls, with just 669 people, only was able to afford $150.

“If they don’t have the money, we can’t compel them to pay,” Small said. “I want to emphasize we do need the money this year.”

The district coasted for several years on a joint payment from Colorado Springs Utilities and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. It also uses management fees from grants to pay costs, including Small’s monthly salary, which has always been half of the authorized amount.

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 27-28

ARBWF-SalidaSteamplantArkRiver
Photo courtesy of the Chaffee County Visitors Bureau

The Arkansas River flows past the Salida SteamPlant Event Center, host of the 2016 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum slated for April 27-28. Registration and sponsorship information for the 22nd annual water forum is at http://www.arbwf.org.

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum sponsors support water education

Colorado poet Thomas Ferril wrote, “Here is a land where life is written in water.” Nowhere in Colorado are Ferril’s words truer than the Arkansas River Basin.

From mountain towns to Front Range businesses and Great Plains farms, life in the Arkansas Basin hangs by a blue ribbon of water in an arid climate, and a confluence of water issues creates a complexity that breeds bewilderment.

The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum will help alleviate that bewilderment April 27-28 in Salida with a wide range of educational presentations, discussions and speakers, including retired Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs.

Now in its 22nd year, the forum has established itself as the signature water education event in the Arkansas Basin. With an expected attendance of 200 people representing agriculture, municipalities, industry, government agencies, and environmental and recreational organizations, the forum offers an educational opportunity ripe with knowledge and diverse perspectives.

Just as important, sponsors contribute to the event’s educational offerings as well as providing financial support for the water forum and its year-round educational efforts.

Water education motivated the San Isabel Land Protection Trust to sponsor the event, as Kristie Nackord, director of development with the land trust, makes clear.

“We believe the water forum is one of the most important annual water education opportunities in our basin…. We’re thrilled to know that money raised through sponsorships goes toward the education of our next generation of water leaders.”
Here in the Arkansas Basin, “where life is written in water,” we know the importance of water, but we may not always understand the complex spectrum of water-related issues.

With its dedication to water education, the water forum and its sponsors serve the citizens of the basin by providing them with the information they need to understand the various colors in the Arkansas Basin’s spectrum of water dilemmas.

This year’s premier $5,000 “Headwaters” sponsor is the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, and AROA representative Bob Hamel offered his take on the event:

“The Forum provides an opportunity for outfitters to personally thank the water community for their support of water’s recreational uses…. The Voluntary Flow Management Plan is a great example of this relationship and is a model that is recognized across the West.”

Through the Voluntary Flow Management Program, various water entities collaborate to sustain upper Arkansas River flows through August 15 each year, significantly extending the rafting and kayaking season on the nation’s most popular stretch of whitewater.

As the land trust and AROA exemplify, the water forum serves a vital function among wide-ranging interests in Arkansas Basin communities, and both Nackord and Hamel agree, financial support for the water forum’s mission is a crucial investment in the future of the Arkansas Basin.

Sponsorship and registration information for the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum is at http://www.arbwf.org.

Rio Grande: Increased river access planned for reach near Del Norte

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

For more than 130 years, the Rio Grande as it flows through this town on the west side of the San Luis Valley has been a working river.

It’s here, where the San Juan Mountain foothills meet the San Luis Valley floor, that irrigation canals begin pulling off the river to water the barley, potatoes and alfalfa that drive the region’s agricultural economy.

But a coalition of groups is looking to add a little play to that equation by making a roughly half-mile stretch of the river more accessible to the public for fishing, some boating and a little water play.

“It’s an iconic river in the history of the U.S. and yet people don’t spend time there,” said Marty Asplin, co-director of Upper Rio Grande Economic Development.

And while there is hope the Del Norte Riverfront Project will bolster tourism for local businesses, its thrust will be drawing the town’s roughly 1,600 residents to the river.

At a recent fundraiser for the project, organizers found that sentiment while gathering input for a vision statement.

“Some people just wrote, very simply, ‘I want a place to take my kids,’ “ said Heather Dutton of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project.

Improving access to the river will take place on top of two basic building blocks.

The town government, which is a partner in the project, already owns riverfront property, and a roughly quarter-mile cement trail runs along the river from the nearby town park.

Second, Colorado Parks and Wildlife installed a fishing pier 20 years ago near the park, carved out a fishing hole along the pier and installed a rock structure just upstream in an effort to improve fish habitat.

Kevin Terry of Trout Unlimited said project planners and CPW will take another look at the “W” rock feature, and possibly replace it with a more modern one that could both improve fish habitat and serve as a play feature for small rafts, paddle boards and inner-tubers, depending on the level of stream flows.

“Right from the beginning on this project we want to work with them to get the best of both worlds,” Terry said.

A boat ramp, installed just downstream of the Colorado 112 bridge, would be a second element of the project.

And Terry said that site could also be home to a beach area.

It would be perfect for kids in the low flow conditions of late summer and early fall because it sits at the end of long, slow-moving pool, he said.

The project would also look at adding smaller, hardened access points upstream from the boat ramp.

Rio Grande River
Rio Grande River

#ColoradoRiver: Difficulties arise in efforts to save water for Powell #COriver

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

A recent Bureau of Reclamation report projects that Western river basins, including the Colorado Basin, are likely to experience a 7-27 percent decline in spring streamflows during this century.

The bureau’s 2016 SECURE Water Act Report to Congress, which can be found at http://usbr.gov/climate/secure/, is just the latest to warn of reduced streamflows in our region as temperatures climb.

The Colorado River Basin has already experienced more than a decade in which more water has been pulled out of rivers and streams for farms and cities than has come back in through rain and snow. As a result, water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell have begun to approach critical levels. For Mead, that means dropping too low to reliably meet demands. For Powell, that means dropping too low to generate hydropower and meet downstream obligations.

One of the efforts to head off this looming crisis is the System Conservation Pilot Program, which pays for voluntary, temporary water use reductions. This program, funded by major cities and other water suppliers that rely on Colorado River Basin water, was initiated in 2014 to test the feasibility of voluntary, compensated measures to curtail water use in order to prop up water levels in lakes Powell and Mead. Details on the program can be found at http://bit.ly/1UUSbIC.

Farmers and ranchers in western Colorado are among those who have participated and are considering participating in the program. Agricultural approaches tried so far include foregoing irrigation for part of a season, fallowing ground, leasing water and converting to lower water use crops. Some of these farmers recently met with program funders, researchers and supporters to discuss how the program is working.

The group included representatives of Denver Water, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, the Colorado River District, Colorado State University and Colorado Mesa University.

On the positive side, being paid to temporarily fallow land or reduce water use can provide money and time to upgrade aging headgates or other irrigation infrastructure, improve soil health or explore alternative crops.

Some farmers are hoping to use the program to receive income while transitioning ground from conventional to certified organic production, a three-year process that can lead to long-term economic benefits for the farmer. Farmers also like the opportunity to take the lead in figuring out how they could get by with less water, since there is concern that they may have to do so in the future. State law provides that participants in approved conservation programs will not have their water rights diminished as a result.

On the other hand, the first year of the pilot revealed many logistical hurdles to increasing flows into Lake Powell by paying farmers and ranchers to use less water. One major problem is how to ensure that saved water makes it to Lake Powell without being picked up by another water user that was previously short.

A related issue has so far hobbled attempts to lease water under the program. How can you lease water to an undefined recipient for an undefined use? According to some interpretations, this doesn’t square well with Colorado water law.

How to recognize the full value of agricultural water was also discussed. In addition to the need to compensate producers for forgone crop sales, concern was expressed about the impact of reduced production on farmworkers, implement dealers and the community at large. And how can you make sure that temporary water use reductions to get through a crisis really stay temporary, and don’t just permanently transfer that use elsewhere, from farms to cities? The fact that some cities are also participating in the program by reducing their water withdrawals or treating and returning wastewater helps address this concern, but doesn’t eliminate it.

The amount of water saved through the system conservation program so far is miniscule in relation to the amount needed to significantly reduce the risk of the reservoirs hitting critical lows. With all the issues involved with implementing the program and the growing demand for water, a major concern is whether this mechanism will ever be able to move enough water to really make a difference. Meeting participants noted that resolving the legal and logistical challenges, as well as building community understanding and acceptance of the program, are preconditions for scaling it up.

Avoiding critically low levels in Lakes Mead and Powell will require either significantly more action to reduce water demands or a lot more snow in the mountains. As of March 1, the 2016 water year inflows into Lake Powell were forecast to be 83 percent of average. That’s not terrible year, but it’s also not good enough to take the pressure off water users to control demand.

meadpowell09302015johnfleck

A sweet spot for fish water: water for ancient fish a bother for veteran anglers

The crest of the dam across the Fryingpan River that forms Ruedi Reservoir, which can hold 102,373 acre-feet of water. Photo courtesy Bureau of Reclamation.
The crest of the dam across the Fryingpan River that forms Ruedi Reservoir, which can hold 102,373 acre-feet of water. Photo courtesy Bureau of Reclamation.

BASALT – Anglers, and almost certainly fish, can sense how much water is running down a river at any given time.

Last summer and fall, for example, some fly-fishermen who regularly wade in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir thought there was too much water flowing out of the reservoir, as the river was running at 275 to 300 cubic feet per second. At that level, the river can be hard to cross in places.

Flows were up in the Fryingpan last year because a record amount of water was being released from Ruedi for the benefit of the 400 or so remaining Colorado pikeminnow living in 15 miles of the Colorado River between Grand Junction and Palisade.

Yet there still wasn’t enough water in the river for the pikeminnow last summer, despite a total 24,412 acre-feet of water released from Ruedi and sent down the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers. The “fish water” sent out of Ruedi last summer and fall may have helped the native fish struggling to survive in the heavily depleted Colorado River, but it still wasn’t enough on many days in August, September and October to reach the target flow level of 1,240 cfs set by biologists.

The same water sent downstream to make ancient fish in the Colorado River happier made veteran anglers on the Fryingpan River crankier. A similar scenario may play out again this summer, as up to 27,412 acre-feet of “fish water” is poised to be released from Ruedi this year to benefit the fish in the Colorado. On its way down, the water could cause late summer and early fall flows to rise again in the Fryingpan to 250, 300 or 350 cfs.

Ruede fish water releases by AF and CFS

A graph from USFWS showing the flow target of 1,240 cfs in 15-mile last August, September and October, actual flow in blue, and what flow would have been without releases of fish water from various upstream reservoirs. In short, the fish water helps meet the target flows, but it is still not enough. Source: USFWS
A graph from USFWS showing the flow target of 1,240 cfs in 15-mile last August, September and October, actual flow in blue, and what flow would have been without releases of fish water from various upstream reservoirs. In short, the fish water helps meet the target flows, but it is still not enough. Source: USFWS

Experienced anglers

“My perfect flow for the ‘Pan, where everything is gravy, dry-fly fishing is perfect, and older people can get around, is 220 cfs,” said Marty Joseph, manager of Frying Pan Anglers. “Three hundred cfs is on the high side, especially for the older guys.”

A big part of “wadability” is “crossability,” or whether someone can get across the river to fish a better hole without the water rising above their waist and sweeping them off their feet.

“There are a lot of spots on the river, especially where I like to fish, where its crossable at 250 cfs with a client,” Joseph said. “But at 300 cfs, you can’t cross at that same spot.”

Last year’s flow, especially the steady 300 cfs that ran down the ‘Pan in late September and early October, caught the attention of many of his regular clients.

“We do get most of our experienced guys at the end of season, and a lot of them are older, and a lot of them are very particular, and they’ve been coming here for 10 or 15 years, and then all of a sudden they see this hike in the flows, and they’re having trouble with that,” Joseph said.

140730_fishing_JC

Frustrating flow

At least 10 of his clients wrote letters to him complaining about the high flows, and those letters recently were sent to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which has a role in sending fish water out of Ruedi.

“We enjoyed our time at Taylor Creek cabins again this fall,” wrote one client to Frying Pan Anglers, “but, I should let you know that fishing was not very good attributed to the very high flows (300 cfs) in the Frying Pan (sic) River. These flows prevented us from wading in many areas of the river we are accustomed to fish. This was disappointing and frustrating.”

Frying Pan Anglers is one of the two larger fly-fishing guide services in Basalt. The other is Taylor Creek Fly Shops.

An economic analysis commissioned in 2014 by the Roaring Fork Conservancy found that anglers spend $3.3 million a year on fly-fishing trips to Basalt, factoring in their total spending from fishing equipment to guides to lodging.

A survey included with the analysis found that “wadeable flows on the river” was the second highest concern of visiting anglers after “insect hatches.” Of those surveyed, 37 percent said they would spend more days on the Fryingpan if the number of days when the river was flowing over 250 cfs was reduced.

But the flow levels out of Ruedi could be going up in the future.

A view of Ruedi Reservoir showing the face of the dam, the spillway, the building that houses a hydropower plant, and an overflow outlet just above it. The pool just below the outlets often has the biggest fish on the river lurking within it.
A view of Ruedi Reservoir showing the face of the dam, the spillway, the building that houses a hydropower plant, and an overflow outlet just above it. The pool just below the outlets often has the biggest fish on the river lurking within it.

Water flavors

There are three types of water released each summer and fall from Ruedi, a major storage reservoir for the Colorado River Basin opened in 1968 with a capacity of 102,373 acre feet. The first is a base flow, which in the absence of other water is 110 cfs. On top of that can be a fairly steady flow of “fish water” released at a rate that has varied over the last five years from 100 to 189 cfs. Last year, the flow rate of the fish water from Ruedi did not go above 175 cfs.

And on top of the layer of fish water can be a relatively thin layer of “contract water.” That’s water released in accordance with contracts the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which built the reservoir, has with 30 different owners. These pools of stored water are not often released, but the contracts do range from as little as 15 to much as 12,000 acre feet and collectively total 39,000 acre feet, so there is potential for significant future releases.

The dam manager working for the Bureau of Reclamation looks for the sweet spot on the Fryingpan and tries to deliver enough fish and contract water to meet demands while also keeping the river at a level that works for anglers. But that may be harder to do in the future, as there is more fish water than ever in Ruedi, and all of the available contract water has been sold, which means more people may call for it to be released, especially in the late summer and fall.

A map showing the location of the 15-mile reach.
A map showing the location of the 15-mile reach.

Sweet spot

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service value water in Ruedi because it only takes two days for it to get to the critical reach where the pikeminnows and other endangered fish enjoy “feeding, breeding and sheltering.”

Over the years, officials have developed a pool of 15,412.5 acre feet of fish water in Ruedi. Then last year, the Colorado Water Conservation Board gave Fish and Wildlife another pool of water by leasing 12,000 acre feet from Ute Water Conservancy District, a water provider in Grand Junction.

Ute Water bought 12,000 acre feet of water in Ruedi in 2013 for $15.6 million to use as a back-up supply. It’s the biggest pool of contract water in the reservoir. And rather than leave it there, Ute Water entered into a lease with the CWCB to use it as fish water in 2015.

The CWCB, in coordination with Fish and Wildlife, then released 9,000 acre feet of the 12,000 acre-foot pool in September and October. It would have released more if not for its self-imposed limitation of flows not to exceed 300 cfs.

Ute Water plans to lease 12,000 acre feet to the CWCB again this year to send down the Fryingpan River and on to the Colorado River to benefit the fish. Between the existing 15,412.5 acre feet of fish water in Ruedi, that could bring up releases to 27,412.5, which the ancient native fish might appreciate.

Danielle Tremblay of Colorado Parks and Wildlife holding a Colorado pikeminnow collected on the Colorado River in Grand Junction. An apex predator in the Colorado, pikeminnows used to be found up to six feet long and weighing 100 pounds.
Danielle Tremblay of Colorado Parks and Wildlife holding a Colorado pikeminnow collected on the Colorado River in Grand Junction. An apex predator in the Colorado, pikeminnows used to be found up to six feet long and weighing 100 pounds.

Big, old fish

The Colorado pikeminnow, which is considered an indicator species for ecosystem health in the 15-mile reach, “evolved as the main predator in the Colorado River system,” states a 1999 programmatic biological opinion, or PBO, that guides recovery efforts for the fish.

“It is an elongated pike-like fish that during predevelopment times may have grown as large as 6 feet in length and weighed nearly 100 pounds,” the PBO states.

One pikeminnow with a radio tag was tracked swimming up the Colorado River nearly 200 miles from Lake Powell to the 15-mile reach above Grand Junction between April and September 1982, a year of very high flows.

Another endangered fish, the humpback chub, likes to live in deep fast-moving water. About 1,800 to 1,900 wild native chub are still making a go of it in the Black Rocks and Westwater sections of the Colorado, downstream from Loma.

Two other species, the razorback sucker and bonytail, have had a tougher time over the years, although hatchery-bred suckers are now said to be doing fairly well.

A razorback sucker fresh from the Colorado River.
A razorback sucker fresh from the Colorado River.
A graph, courtesy of the Colorado River District, showing the releases of fish water in 2015 from four Western Slope reservoirs: Green Mtn, Ruedi, Wolford and Granby. The graph shows that flows from Ruedi, in blue, were fairly steady last summer and fall.
A graph, courtesy of the Colorado River District, showing the releases of fish water in 2015 from four Western Slope reservoirs: Green Mtn, Ruedi, Wolford and Granby. The graph shows that flows from Ruedi, in blue, were fairly steady last summer and fall.

Of AF and CFS

To make up for low flows in the Colorado where the fish live, a total of 1.3 million acre feet of water since 1998 has been sent downstream from regional reservoirs. Of that total, 329,032 acre feet came out of Ruedi and flowed down the Fryingpan. On its way, the water has apparently helped, not hurt, the trout stream, but it has compromised wadability.

Complaints about flow levels have been recognized in previous environmental reviews on the impacts of storing and releasing fish water in Ruedi. And the benchmark to try and hit was 250 cfs.

But a recent modeling effort by Colorado Parks and Wildlife suggested 300 cfs was also an acceptable wadability level, and that level was used last year to guide releases on the Fryingpan.

“We have done some surveys in the past, and using modeling, came up with 300 to 350 cfs is where you significantly lose wadablity in the river,” said Kendall Bakich, a wildlife aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “But angler experience is a little different than what a model can say, so that’s where that 300 target came from.”

But on March 21, after reading the letters to Frying Pan Anglers, officials from the CWCB and the Fish and Wildlife Service said at a meeting in El Jebel that they will try to keep releases to the 250 cfs level this summer.

“Our board said that staff should work with the Bureau of Reclamation and angling interests to try and accommodate to the extent practicable angling concerns so that releases of water under the water lease agreement shall not cause the flows to exceed 250 cfs,” said Ted Kowalski, a section chief of the CWCB, referring to the CWCB’s recent approval of renewing the lease with Ute Water for the 12,000 acre feet of water.

It’s not a firm cap, though, and if necessary to meet the goals of the endangered fish program, releases could go to 300 cfs, and the river to 350 cfs after tributary flow is factored in.

Joseph at Fryingpan Anglers said the fishing wasn’t bad at 300 cfs, and that experienced guides can still find good spots to wade with clients. But Joseph has his concerns.

“My worry is this year they say 300 is acceptable and next year it’s going to be 350, and two, four, five years, it is going to 400 cfs,” Joseph said. “They’re slowly just going to keep moving on it.”

That’s also a concern of some local officials.

“One of the fears that we’ve had from the very beginning here, and one these days it’s going to come true, its that the Fryingpan is going to be converted from a gold medal trout fishery, with a occasional high releases, to a sluiceway that does basically nothing but deliver water downstream,” said Mark Fuller, the director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, which recently sent comments on the issue to the CWCB.

Personnel from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service electrofishing on the Colorado River. The results from monitoring  fish populations on the Colorado between Rifle and Lake Powell is now of regional interest.
Personnel from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service electrofishing on the Colorado River. The results from monitoring fish populations on the Colorado between Rifle and Lake Powell is now of regional interest.

Fish Patrol

Fuller and regional water managers understand the value of working to keep the endangered fish alive in order to avoid enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.

“The 500-pound gorilla in the room is the PBO,” said Larry Clever, general manager of Ute Water, referring to the 1999 programmatic biological opinion.

The PBO requires that progress be made on sustaining the endangered fish. If not, an extensive environmental reviews known as “section 7 consultations” may be required under the ESA for all new or improved water projects on the upper Colorado River system.

“If those four endangered fish don’t make it, everybody has a section 7, for everything,” Clever said. “And, oh, we did one on a pipeline expansion. It cost $2.4 million. If the PBO goes south, we’re all in trouble.”

A USFWS employee holding a smallmouth bass, caught via electrofishing, that just swallowed a native bluehead sucker. Non-native fish eating  young native fish is a big obstacle to developing healthy populations of native fish.
A USFWS employee holding a smallmouth bass, caught via electrofishing, that just swallowed a native bluehead sucker. Non-native fish eating young native fish is a big obstacle to developing healthy populations of native fish.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program has been managing regional efforts to see what can be done for the fish both in the spring, when peak flows of at least 15,660 cfs are important to the fish, and in the late summer and early fall.

The goal is to stabilize populations through a variety of methods, including river flows, removing predatory non-native fish that eat young native fish and improving native fish passage around diversion dams.

As the 2016 runoff season approaches, water managers up and down the Colorado River are poised to again coordinate, via a weekly conference call, the release of fish water from reservoirs in the upper Colorado River basin.

They’ll do so for the sake of the remaining 400 adult Colorado pikeminnows, and their optimistic offspring, who desire at least 810 cfs of water in the fall, if it is a dry year, and 1,260 cfs if it is a normal year.

And for visiting anglers, they’ll also work to keep flows in the Fryingpan near 250 cfs.


Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Sunday, March 27, 2016.

#Colorado #Snowpack news: SWE is heading in the right direction N. and Cent. Mountains

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL map from this morning.

Westwide SNOTEL map March 27, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL map March 27, 2016 via the NRCS.

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

Purgatory Resort reported 4 inches of snow in the last 24 hours as of Saturday afternoon.

It snowed heavily most of the day Saturday at Wolf Creek Ski Area. The area reported receiving 17 inches of snow in the previous 24 hours as of Saturday afternoon. Silverton Mountain reported 4 inches in the previous 24 hours and 18 inches in the previous 72 hours Saturday morning and hadn’t updated the report on Saturday afternoon.

“Monday night and Tuesday, there will be another storm coming through,” said Ben Moyer, a meteorologist with the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service. “There won’t be much of anything in Durango again, but we’re predicting 9 to 10 inches in the mountains.”

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

Colorado’s statewide snowpack as of Thursday remained below normal despite storms over the past several weeks that dropped feet of snow in some areas.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service showed the statewide pack at 96 percent of normal and 93 percent of the median…

The NRCS reports, however, that snowpack levels in the South Platte River basin have recovered since dipping below normal earlier this month.

The basin includes Denver and nearly all of the metro area.

The South Platte’s snowpack as of Thursday was 6 percent above normal and 5 percent above the median.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

After a wet January and dry February, snowpack in western Colorado is hovering around normal. As of Friday afternoon, gauges across the Upper Colorado River Basin were registering a snow water equivalent 102 percent of the 30-year median for the date. The Roaring Fork Watershed trailed slightly, with 90 percent of the median.

“We had that pretty big snow cycle that caused powder days and snow days at the end of January. Otherwise, it was looking a bit dry, and February was particularly dry,” said Roaring Fork Conservancy education and outreach coordinator Liza Mitchell. “Not only is it important how much more precipitation we get, but the timing of the warming can have a huge impact.”

Snowpack in the high country generally peaks around April 10, when melting outpaces snowfall and rivers begin to rise. Last year, a relatively light snow year peaked in mid-March, with a potentially bad fire season averted thanks to a cool, wet spring.

This year has already surpassed the 2015 peak, but is still well behind the robust winter of 2014.

That may seem strange to residents of Glenwood Springs, where more than 2 feet of snow fell in January – including 7 inches on Jan. 17 alone – with almost as much in December. It’s not the precipitation on the valley floor that makes the big difference, though.

“We get more melting cycles down in the lower elevations. The water supply is more in the mountains, where it’s kept longer due to temperatures,” Mitchell said. “The snowpack we have in the mountains really acts as a natural reservoir. Over the course of the year, it’s going to melt and keep our rivers running all summer long.”

As such, a better indicator might be Bison Lake on the Flat Tops, where depth and snow water equivalent are measured each March 1. This year, that came to 56 inches of snow or about 17 inches of water if you melted it down. In 2015, it was 49 inches deep with 13.4 inches of water, and in 2014, 74 inches and 20.9 inches, respectively…

Even the National Weather Service’s three-month outlook looks like a mixed bag, calling for both above-average precipitation and higher temperatures in Western Colorado.

“You don’t often see those together,” said Norv Larson, a meteorologist for the weather service in Grand Junction. “It might mean warm temperatures during the day with thunderstorms developing in the afternoon – our typical monsoon pattern.”

He shied away from linking the weather to El Niño conditions in the Pacific.

“We’re one of those areas that’s transitional, so it depends on where the pattern sets up,” he said.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Over the last month and a half, the Upper Rio Grande Basin snowpack has “flat lined,” according to Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten.

Cotten told members of the Rio Grande Water Users Association during their annual meeting in Monte Vista Thursday afternoon that as of March 16, the basin snowpack sat at 85 percent of average, considerably less than it was earlier this year. In January the basin snowpack was more than 120 percent of average.

“A month and a half ago we were looking really good,” Cotten said. “We are not looking so good now, but we have got some time we could potentially get some more storms coming in.”

He said for the last three years the basin snowpack has held to a pretty similar trend, but the “flat lining” usually does not occur until March.

Cotten said the National Weather Service predicts above average precipitation for this region during April, May and June. However, “they have called for above precipitation over the last several months, and that hasn’t occurred,” he said. “We are hoping that will start to occur.”

Cotten also shared the index flow forecast for the Rio Grande, based on calculations from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS.) Their forecast for the Rio Grande this year is 620,000 acre feet. Last year the Rio Grande experienced 665,100 acre feet, and the long-term average is about 650,000 acre feet, Cotten explained.

Of the predicted 620,000 acre-foot flow on the Rio Grande, about 170,000 acre feet will have to go downstream to New Mexico and Texas to satisfy the Rio Grande Compact that Colorado has with those downstream states. Cotten said that would likely require 12-13 percent curtailment during the irrigation season. He explained that Colorado has about 6,800 acre feet of water in storage in the Rio Grande Reservoir, and if that were released, it could reduce the amount of curtailment to about 11.5 percent.

Cotten talked with the water users about the options for when and how the stored water might be released. For example, if a water year was good, it might be best to keep the water in storage. Another option is to release the water even before the irrigation season begins to wet down the system. Another option would be to hold onto the water until fall to see how the compact obligations are going and release it then if it was needed to meet the compact.

Cotten said storing compact water at the Rio Grande Reservoir rather than down at Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico avoids evaporation losses. The evaporation rate of surplus compact water in Elephant Butte is about 15 percent, Cotten said.

He added that the reservoir storage at Rio Grande Reservoir is a new tool his office is determining how best to use. He welcomed ideas from the water users.

2015 #coleg: Rainwater harvesting bill stalls in #Colorado Senate — The Colorado Independent

Photo credit: Photo credit: Krzysztof Lis, Creative Commons, Flickr. Via the Colorado Independent.
Photo credit: Photo credit: Krzysztof Lis, Creative Commons, Flickr. Via the Colorado Independent.

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

A perennial bill that would allow Coloradans to collect rainwater from rooftops in two 55-gallon barrels for watering lawns and gardens was sailing toward the Governor’s desk to be inked into law. But the measure stalled out in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

Just like last year, Eastern Plains Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg said he worried rainwater harvesting would shortchange rural senior water-rights holders from what they were due, and the state would have no way to stop the harvesters from hoarding what the law states is not theirs.

Rainwater harvesting enthusiasts are now asking if anything could convince Sonnenberg that two 55-gallon rain barrels attached to downspouts per household would not put a significant dent into his rural constituents’ water rights.

In Colorado, whoever lays first claim to a water right, in a river, stream or ditch, gets their water first. Everyone else takes a back seat, and may get less water, especially in times of drought. This is the backbone of state water law, a doctrine called prior appropriation.

Sonnenberg and other rural lawmakers fear rainwater collection would impact those senior water rights. And those fears were not put to rest with testimony from the Department of Natural Resources.

Sonnenberg questioned Kevin Rein, the deputy state engineer, about how the department would shut down rain barrel use when someone with senior water rights claims they’re losing their rightful water supply. Rein noted the bill grants the state engineer, who monitors water usage, the authority to ensure everybody complies with Colorado water law.

That applies to rain barrel use, too. Just how that would work, however, wasn’t clear.

Rein pointed to a study from Colorado State University that claimed there would be little or no impact from rain barrel use.

That didn’t sway Sonnenberg, who suggested a hypothetical: What if the city of Greeley is losing 40 acre-feet of water, and believes it’s due to rain barrel use in Denver? How would the state engineer determine which rainwater harvesters were to blame, which barrels were holding what was due downstream That’s where things got messy. Rein said the first place he would look was not at rain barrels, but at water used by someone with a lower priority claim to the water. Crawling around through people’s alleys and backyards isn’t likely a workable way to figure out if that’s where the loss is coming from, Rein said.

When the bill was in the House, its sponsors, Democrats Reps. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, worked with rural lawmakers, such as Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan, to add language that said rain barrel use was not intended to harm senior water rights.

“It worries the heck out of me when the state engineer says when water is short,” if that shortage could be attributable to rain barrels, the person who pays for it instead is the junior water rights holder, Sonnenberg said. “That says the amendments put on in the House are lip service and not enforceable.”

Last year, Sonnenberg did exactly the same thing. He allowed testimony on the bill, which was heard in the Senate Ag Committee on April 16, then put it on hold until the day before the 2015 session ended, in effect killing the bill.

It’s not like there aren’t the votes in the Senate to pass it. The bill is supported by one of Sonnenberg’s Ag Committee colleagues, Senate President Pro Tem Ellen Roberts, a Durango Republican. Her vote, along with the committee’s Democrats, are enough to get the bill out of the Ag Committee. But only if the bill is allowed to come to a vote.

Those who advocated for the bill point to its popularity with Coloradans. Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado told The Colorado Independent Thursday they’re encouraged by the bill’s broad support, which she noted included representatives from Greeley Water and the Colorado Farm Bureau. Both organizations opposed the bill in 2015.

It’s not always clear where to lay the blame when someone’s water rights are injured, said Conley. She vowed to sit down with Sonnenberg to figure out a way to address his concerns.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Democrat Mike Merrifield of Manitou Springs, said he is confident the bill will eventually clear the committee and make it through the Senate.

“Citizens of Colorado want to be able to do this,” Merrifield told reporters Thursday. “Rain barrels are an efficient way to learn about water policy in Colorado.”

From Aspen Public Radio (Bente Birkland):

“I didn’t plan on today being Groundhog Day, I anticipated that the bill would pass,” said state Sen. Michael Merrifield (D-Colorado Springs), sponsor of House Bill 16-1005 [.pdf].

“Citizens of Colorado want to be able to do this,” Merrifield said. “A rain barrel is an efficient way for people to learn about water policy in Colorado.”

Opponents worry rain barrels would prevent some water from reaching downstream users. The bill already passed in the House where Democrats added changes to bring Republican opponents on board. One amendment would give the state water engineer the ability to shut down rain barrels if they are determined to impact downstream users. Another clarifies that having a rain barrel is not a water right.

“I indeed had high hopes that those were helpful,” said Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), chair of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Like many inside the capitol, he’s tired of having the rain barrel debate.

“I want to be done with this, but right now I’m not comfortable,” he said.

Sonnenberg disputes a study from Colorado State University water experts that found rain barrels would not hurt other water users, because that water would otherwise be absorbed in the grass and shrubs. Sonnenberg posed a hypothetical scenario.

“Say the town of Greeley looks like they get shorted 40 acre-feet and it can be attributed to rain barrel usage in the city and county of Denver,” Sonnenberg said. “How would you deal with that specific type of instance? You obviously can’t walk up and down alleys and see who has rain barrels to curtail them.”

Bill supporters say that scenario would never happen because rain barrels have no impact, but Sonnenberg still wants more information before voting. Colorado is the only state in the country that doesn’t allow rain barrels. Water experts say the measure’s time has come, and they want to move beyond this debate and start focusing on substantive policy changes to deal with projected long term water shortages.

Despite the hurdle in the committee hearing, Sonnenberg and others don’t think there will be a repeat of the bill’s 2015 fate; they expect something to pass before the session ends.

Hickenlooper: ‘Time is now’ to move on West’s leaking mines — The Denver Post

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Feb. 21 confab in Washington, D.C., with the EPA-triggered Gold King disaster still roiling, Hickenlooper determined that a consensus had emerged: make tackling these tens of thousands of ecological time bombs a priority.

“There was a consensus the time is now,” Hickenlooper said, conveying his vision in an interview last week. “Let’s get a thorough inventory, assess — or, let’s say, reassess because almost all these mines have been assessed in the past — and begin looking at real timelines. How much would this cost? And what would be the best way to get the maximum reduction in toxicity?”

The problem is huge, even after so many Superfund cleanups, Hickenlooper said, “but it doesn’t mean you quit.”

“What Gold King did is put it front and center,” he said. “So, I think, there is a willingness to go.”

As part of the push, Hickenlooper said he would like to call a water summit at Four Corners with governors from New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

And he’s “all for” turning Silverton, beneath the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado, into a research hub to find the best way to neutralize old mines — short of installing water treatment plants on every contaminated waterway.

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage
Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

Fountain Creek: “…we can’t do anything in the creek under it’s under control” — Larry Atencio

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

After a decade, the vision for Fountain Creek is beginning to come into focus.

It will require multiple projects up and down a waterway that can quickly turn from a placid, meandering stream to a raging muddy river in one cloudburst.

They’ll need to be coordinated.

They’ll need to be maintained.

And in the most extreme of storms, there will have to be something to hold back the water before it hits Pueblo.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday tackled a few of those challenges and Pueblo’s representatives on the board were vocal about the next phases for flood control projects.

“Show me the detention ponds that will stop a flood,” said Pueblo City Councilman Larry Atencio. “It’s no secret that I advocate a dam. With economic and commercial development, we can’t do anything in the creek under it’s under control.”

Dennis Maroney, Pueblo’s former stormwater chief, recently surveyed Fountain Creek from the confluence with the Arkansas River to the northern city limits, and said it has radically changed over the last 10 years.

A demonstration flood control pond near the Northside Walmart will probably wash out before it can be repaired and the creek itself looks like a bomb hit it, he said.

“Fountain Creek has changed a lot,” said Maroney, who chairs the technical advisory committee and is a member of another committee looking at prioritizing projects. “If we do a project on Fountain Creek, we have to maintain it.”

“It will continue to get worse as long as we get more water,” said Jane Rhodes, who represents Fountain Creek property owners on the board. “And just wait until SDS (Southern Delivery System) if you don’t think it will change.”

The district will work with Colorado Springs and Pueblo County in coordinating stormwater projects within Colorado Springs that could impact Pueblo downstream. Right now, as part of 1041 permit negotiations, about 73 projects beneficial to both Colorado Springs and Pueblo County have been identified.

The district needs to determine how those efforts would impact its own work between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, as well as projects within Pueblo such as the detention pond that is washing out. Projects within Colorado Springs could reduce flows into Fountain Creek, but also might have the potential to move more water into the creek.

The Fountain Creek district includes a technical advisory committee with members from El Paso and Pueblo counties, cities within those counties and conservancy districts. It also is receiving input from a citizens advisory committee and a monetary mitigation committee that will prioritize projects to be funded with Colorado Springs’ $50 million payment over five years under the 1041 permit.

Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart could not say when the $50 million will begin arriving.

“We’re really at an impasse until we have an idea when the first $10 million will be made available to the district,” Hart said.

#AnimasRiver: States, tribes release preparedness plan — The Farmington Daily Times

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From the Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, the Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe released a plan Thursday to prepare for increased water flow in the Animas and San Juan rivers.

The plan addresses the monitoring of sediments left behind after the Gold King Mine spill in August. The spill released more than 3 million gallons of toxic mine waste into the Animas River. As the plume of mine waste floated down the river, it left behind heavy metals in the sediment.

Officials are concerned that the increased water flow in the rivers caused by the snow melt will stir up the sediment.

“The San Juan and Animas rivers are still contaminated from last year’s toxic waste spill, and we expect it to get worse as the snow melts and the water level rises,” New Mexico Environment Department Cabinet Secretary Ryan Flynn said in a press release. “Already, some of our cities are experiencing the effects. In Farmington, for example, there has been a substantial increase in lead found in the Animas River at times of high flows and turbidity. At those times, the city draws its drinking water from reserves instead.”

The preparedness plan calls for New Mexico and the city of Farmington to continue monitoring the river’s turbidity and examining how it relates to the levels of heavy metal. That will help the water users make decisions on use and treatment of the river water, according to the plan.

San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said the county is working with the environment department and Farmington officials on monitoring the river. He said the county has taken samples of river water from upstream.

#ColoradoRiver: “We need to be prepared for a range of conditions…and not pray for a wet year” — Anne Castle #COriver

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

From AZCentral.com (Brandon Loomis):

The Southwest needs a new vision and technologies to shore up its diminishing water supplies instead of relying on old “security blankets” like a drought-busting winter that refills America’s two biggest reservoirs, water experts and users argued Monday.

That’s what’s been happening with water use in the Colorado River basin.

No matter how big the reservoir, “if you’re taking more out than you put in, you’ve got a problem,” former U.S. Interior Department water and science chief Anne Castle said.

Castle and other experts, including a Colorado city water director, a California water recycler and a Pinal County farmer, discussed a range of likely responses and challenges at the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center conference…

In recent years the Colorado has given Lake Mead about 9 million acre-feet a year, while demands from downstream have averaged 9.6 million acre-feet and evaporation has claimed about 600,000 acre-feet each year…

Water recycling will increasingly be a part of the solution, and not just for watering golf courses or cooling power plants, said Fernando Paludi, associate general manager of Southern California’s West Basin Municipal Water District.

His district has invested $600 million in treatment plants allowing reuse for industrial uses, irrigation and groundwater replenishment. Since 1995 it has saved 165 billion gallons that Los Angeles otherwise would have dumped in the sea.

“We all share a water system, the mighty Colorado River,” Paludi said. “Heretofore the paradigm has been to get the water from where it is and bring it to Southern California.”

The future is about diversification and sustainability, he said…

One approach that many hope will free up water in the region is drip irrigation, a technology that delivers what a plant needs directly to its roots by pipe instead of flooding a field and watching water run off or sink into the ground. The potential for savings is huge, given that agriculture uses the majority of the Colorado River’s flows.

Drip irrigation is expensive — about $1,500 more per acre than a flood system — Pinal County farmer Dan Thelander said. Yet “the stars were in alignment” for his farm, Tempe Farming Co. near Maricopa, to install it on 1,000 of its 5,000 acres…

“We need to conserve water, which you can with drip,” Thelander said, “but the long-term outlook for water in Pinal County with the (Central Arizona Project) district is very concerning.”

CAP is the canal system delivering central Arizona’s share from the Colorado downstream of Lake Mead.

Israeli company Netafim invented drip irrigation 51 years ago, Netafim U.S. marketing director Ze’ev Barylka said, and it radically increases yields while decreasing fertilizer costs.

Yet only 4 percent of the world’s farmland uses it.

“It’s really in its infancy,” Barylka said…

Besides technological shifts, Castle said the region needs legal reform of water rights to make its management more nimble.

For instance, she said, Colorado has a water bank that would allow rights holders who don’t need to use all of their water allocation in any given year to deposit some water for sale to other users without risking loss of their full allocation in future years.

Such arrangements throughout the river basin are complicated by the legal requirement to research and prove that new water uses won’t harm other users. It’s a costly and time-consuming process that deters all but large “buy and dry” farm fallowing programs that many communities hope to avoid, Castle said.

The Southwest must adapt to climate change instead of hoping for a snowy winter in the Rockies or El Niño rains to reverse the drying, Castle said.

“We need to be prepared for a range of conditions,” she said, “and not pray for a wet year.”

Boyce water proposal still active — the Valley Courier

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Gary Boyce’s death does not mean the water project he was proposing is over.

“Gary Boyce was a partner in this project and he is dearly missed. The project, however, is moving forward,” stated Monica McCafferty, spokesperson for the Sustainable Water Resources (SWR) project.

She stated on Tuesday that SWR is continuing to meet with San Luis Valley residents and is encouraged with the positive feedback from residents.

“While the long-term plan is to eventually proceed to water court, there is no concrete timeframe for such action,” she added. “We are currently focused on continued outreach to the community and taking in their feedback.”

Boyce, a Saguache area rancher who spearheaded the SWR project in the Valley , died of cancer at age 68 earlier this month.

In a September 2014 interview, Boyce said he had not yet filed a water court application but would be moving forward in the near future. “This is not a forever process. This is something that needs to move expediently,” he said at that time.

He formed Sustainable Water Resources in 2011 with the stated goal of developing 35,000 acre feet annually from the confined aquifer in the northern part of the San Luis Valley by pooling existing water rights including some of his own. The water would be transferred from the Rio Grande Basin (the San Luis Valley) to the Platte River Basin, according to Sustainable Water Resources.

At the time SWR owned 25,000 acres of ranch lands with senior water rights and planned to purchase additional water rights.

In 2014 Boyce said he planned to set up a SLV Economic Assistance Fund of $150 million, with $50 million targeted for county governments and school districts. He said he had hoped the Rio Grande Water Conservation District would agree to help distribute the other $100 million through a global augmentation plan for the San Luis Valley that would include the water district’s Sub-District 1. However, the water district declined his offer, so Boyce said he would distribute $100 million through the company “to deal directly with those that are going to retire wells, retire farms.”

Boyce indicated that those who supported the project would be the ones who would receive SLV Economic Assistance Fund money.

“Once we file our application I think we are going to know who supports the project and who does not, who’s been helpful and who hasn’t,” he said in the 2014 interview.

He did not disclose who was backing this project but said it was all private money and did not specify the market but stated, “The market is there.”

Boyce said some of his ranches would be the first to participate with water rights in this proposal.

“I don’t see the project as I designed it, as my engineers designed it, as any threat to my ranches,” he said at that time. “If this was somebody else doing this project I would still be involved. This is the kind of project that’s going to help my neighbors and my ranching operation.”

Rio Grande Water Users Association Attorney Bill Paddock said during that group’s annual meeting this month that the water association was able to successfully restrict Boyce’s water rights from becoming the basis of a water export plan. Paddock said Boyce had filed a change of water rights application on Rito Alto and Kerber Creeks, which Paddock believed was the first step in Boyce’s export plan. The Rio Grande Waters Association and others fighting the change case were able to restrict Boyce’s water rights for “efforts to move water out of the San Luis Valley,” Paddock said.

“Those water rights are limited to use in the San Luis Valley and cannot form any basis for an out of Valley export plan,” Paddock said.

McCafferty indicated on Tuesday, however, that even without Boyce or his water, the Sustainable Water Resources project would be moving forward.

Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geologic Survey
Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geologic Survey

SDS: Pueblo County and #Colorado Springs are still talking 1041 permit requirements

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County and Colorado Springs continue to negotiate over the 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System, but there has been no resolution of issues regarding stormwater control.

“We’re still engaged in negotiations,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart told The Pueblo Chieftain this week. “We have made it clear that if we are able to pound out an agreement, it will be tentative and open to public review.”

Meanwhile, Pueblo West, an SDS partner, won’t jump into the fray.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers earlier this month laid out a plan to apply $450 million to stormwater projects on Fountain Creek and its tributaries over the next 20 years.

Many of those projects would benefit Pueblo County as well as Colorado Springs, and Pueblo County would have a say in prioritizing the projects, Suthers said.

The proposal is an attempt to make up for Colorado Springs’ decision to abolish its stormwater enterprise in 2009, and its failure to comply with state and federal stormwater permits.

Pueblo County officials publicly were cool to Suthers’ suggestion, pointing out that negotiations on several points have been underway for nearly a year. Meanwhile, Pueblo City Council and the Pueblo Board of Water Works adopted resolutions supporting Pueblo County in negotiations.

This week, Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member Mark Carmel attempted to get the board to weigh in on the negotiations, but other members of the board declined.

Carmel said the 20-year timeline proposed by Colorado Springs is too short and Pueblo could still be at risk from flooding on Fountain Creek caused by growth to the north. His proposal was not considered by the board.

As a result, Carmel is exploring his own candidacy for Pueblo County commissioner for the principle purpose to “influence a true agreement on SDS.”

“We need leaders who will not roll over and play dead to Colorado Springs; leaders who must remain vigilant to achieve a permanent solution to flooding before new SDS water magnifies the problem,” Carmel said.

Jerry Martin, president of the Pueblo West board, said he is generally satisfied with how Colorado Springs has treated Pueblo West in SDS.

Pueblo West became part of the SDS project in 2007, agreeing to take water from it rather than directly from the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam as a backup to its own pipeline from the dam and as a way to increase capacity of its water system. The agreement also designated Colorado Springs as the lead negotiator for SDS.

Pueblo West has used its connection to SDS twice, once last summer and the other beginning last month, as a way to get water. Agreements signed in relation to that settled issues among Pueblo West, Pueblo County and the city of Pueblo related to water issues, but not the 1041 permit with Colorado Springs.

“Colorado Springs has performed well during the disaster last summer and now,” said Martin. “We remain silent, because we’re not involved with Fountain Creek flooding. This current resolution is between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.”

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

White House conference identifies the need for projects

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art
Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

From FastCoexist.com (Charles Fishman):

Water problems have been front and center recently, between the disastrous lead poisoning of Flint’s water system and the drought that has now plagued California for half a decade. So the water community was quietly hoping the first-ever White House Water Summit on March 22 might be something like, say, the Olympic diving competition. High profile. Attention-grabbing, even if you don’t normally pay attention. With a few truly astonishing performances that might go viral.

It was an expectation built in part by weeks of small-group meetings and preparation by the White House, that water problems would, for a day, take center stage in the national policy discussions—and that water might then join other issues, like energy and jobs, in getting much more routine attention.

Instead, the summit was more like a July afternoon at the local community pool—a few too many people crowded into the water for anyone to really stand out. At a preliminary event in December, the White House Roundtable on Water, administration officials had suggested they might ultimately announce a bold national stretch goal related to water: to cut total U.S. water use by 33% from current levels, for instance; or push to cut the cost of desalination by 75%, so desalinated water had what the White House called “pipe parity,” no more expensive than water from a reservoir, well, or river.

In fact, at the summit, water conservation wasn’t even a topic of any of the dozen sections. Desalination, if it came up at all, was mentioned only in passing.

The summit, instead, was a quick tour across the wide horizon of water issues: replacing outdated pipes in cities, providing resilience to water utilities (and also farmers) in the face of climate change, and paying for the infrastructure work that needs to be done. Thirty-one people spoke, about 14 topics, in the course of three-and-a-half hours. Everyone got about seven minutes.

Although the summit had a little gloss of a big event—everyone got to go home with a box of M&Ms or Hershey kisses signed in gold by Barack Obama—in fact it was little different than a lot of water innovation meetings held around the country. Undoubtedly valuable, effective in connecting people from different water communities who don’t see each other that often, but not game-changing for water issues, not even game-changing for the people and projects spotlighted.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison Tunnel deliveries to start March 28

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service
Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 600 cfs to 700 cfs on Monday, March 28th. Irrigation diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will begin on Monday, March 28th. The latest runoff forecast is now at 79% of average. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 563,000 acre-feet which is 68% full.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for March and April.

Currently, there are no diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be at 200 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 500 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

The Ag Water NetWORK is conducting a survey of ag water right holders

From the Partners for Western Conservation website:

The Ag Water NetWORK is conducting a survey of ag water right holders to better understand perceptions, interests and concerns related to ag water rights and ag water leasing.

The survey is designed to get a better understanding of how agriculture water right users feel about leasing agricultural water for other uses. The survey represents a collaborative effort between Colorado agricultural and conservation organizations. Irrigated agriculture is essential to keeping a viable, sustainable agricultural industry in Colorado. Agriculture controls 86% of the water in Colorado, and it is crucial that agricultural producers make their preferences and concerns known as it relates to ag water leasing.

The results of the survey will be published. No information will be released that can enable identification of a specific survey respondent. If you have questions about ag water leasing or would like to provide input via a one-on-one interview, please contact Phil Brink, CCA Ag Water Network Consulting Coordinator at 303-475-3453 or phil@brinkinc.biz.

Click here to fill out the survey.

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

Town’s drinking water is safe, high quality — The Estes Park Trail-Gazette

Estes Park
Estes Park

From The Estes Park Trail-Gazette (David Persons):

If you are concerned about lead in your water, you may wish to have your water tested. When your water has been sitting for several hours, you can minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking.

Additional information on lead in drinking water, testing methods, and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800.426.4791 or at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/lead.

For more information about Estes Park’s water, go online to http://www.colorado.gov/pacific/townofestespark/consumerconfidencereport.

The water that Estes Park residents drink is among the cleanest, highest quality water in the state, according to town officials.

Recent testing seems to confirm that.

That’s comforting to know since a regional newspaper story last Sunday – citing test results of high levels of lead found in drinking water at four sites in the Estes Valley – had many people around town wondering what might be coming out of their tap.

“We’re very proud to remind the community that the town works around-the-clock to provide high-quality water to our customers,” said Estes Park Town Administrator Frank Lancaster. “We continually surpass strict federal and state standards to provide the very best drinking water possible.”

[…]

So what’s being done to ensure that the town’s drinking water is clean and rid of contaminants like lead?

According to Estes Park Public Information Officer Kate Rusch and Estes Park Laboratory and Water Quality Supervisor Diana Beehler, the town, as a water utility, is required by federal law to have a corrosion control program to minimize lead in drinking water and is required to do annual testing.

The corrosion control program began in the late 1980s and involves adding a chemical which coats pipes and plumbing fixtures to prevent water from corroding the metals. This program includes on-going monitoring of the treatment chemicals, the distribution system and households in our community to ensure that the corrosion control is effective.

The most recent annual testing of town drinking water occurred in 2015. The town sampled 23 homes that were built between 1982 and 1986. Homes were tested, instead of businesses, because lead poisoning is a chronic condition that occurs over long periods of time, and most people are drinking water from their homes daily.

Federal requirements mandate that the town reports the value at the 90th percentile, which was 2.3 parts per billion (ppb) of lead. The highest value in all the homes tested in 2015 was 6.5 ppb, Rusch and Beehler said. On the other hand, 14 of the 23 homes sampled were below the detection limit of 1 ppb.

The federal action level for lead is 15 ppb.

The local samples were taken after the water sat undisturbed in the plumbing for at least six hours to give the water an opportunity to react — allowing a “worst case” scenario for our testing, they said.

So, how safe are the town’s current and older water lines and pipes?

“The town’s main distribution lines are made of ductile iron, cast iron and galvanized steel, which are not a concern when it comes to lead,” Rusch and Beehler said. “The town has no lead main lines and is unaware of any lead service lines on private property. In addition, our corrosion control program is designed to coat the pipes and lead solder to reduce the amount of lead, anywhere in the system that is able to leach into the water.”

If concerned about the possibility of lead in drinking water, homeowners or business owners can test and mitigate the concerns themselves, Rusch and Beehler say.

A licensed plumber can inspect fixtures to determine if any lead sources are present, and a state-approved laboratory can test private water services to determine if lead is present in the water. When the levels are 15 ppb or higher, the EPA recommends taking precautions like flushing the tap for 15-20 seconds, using only cold water for drinking and cooking, and considering purchasing bottled water or a water filter. Flushing the tap is the easiest and most cost effective way to reduce lead if the customer is concerned.

While the town’s water and water system is closely monitored for quality, even the four sites cited by the Fort Collins Coloradoan in its Sunday story — the YMCA of the Rockies, Covenant Heights Camp and Retreat, Prospect Mountain Water Company, and Ravencrest Chalet — have each taken measures to ensure the quality of their drinking water is up to the levels required by state and federal agencies.

According to documents that the Coloradoan was able to obtain, each of those sites had test results that equaled or exceeded the federal action level of 15ppb in recent years.

Wwater samples tested at the YMCA of the Rockies, 2515 Tunnel Road, were found to have exceeded 15ppb four times since 2012, the Coloradoan reported. Those tests involved 10-60 samples taken around the property. The Coloradoan also reported that at least one sample each year since 2012 has tested at or above 15ppb.

YMCA of the Rockies collects water from the Wind River Stream diversion, not the Town of Estes Park. It then disinfects the water, and distributes it to guests and staff.

Martha Sortland, the Communications Director at the YMCA of the Rockies, told the Coloradoan that she believed the elevated levels of lead in drinking water were caused by water left in pipes too long.

When contacted on Wednesday, Sortland told the Trail-Gazette that providing safe drinking water for guests was a high priority, one that the business takes seriously. She added that a lot of time and money is invested in the operation of the water system to ensure water quality.

“The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provides regulations for safe drinking water,” Sortland said. “Our water falls within those regulations and always has.

“We are committed to adhering to Colorado state water regulations and we will continue to do so unequivocally.

“We have five full-time certified water treatment operators on staff at Estes Park Center, and we have partnered with the experts at JVA Consulting, an independent, third party contractor with expert credentials and experience in water quality management.”

The Coloradoan also reported that lead in drinking water at the Covenant Heights Camp and Retreat, 7400 Colorado Highway 7, tested 117ppb and 143 ppb in 2015, the highest levels of lead in Colorado drinking water recorded since at least 2012.

The high lead levels were attributed to lead soldering in staff cabins. Retreat officials told the Coloradoan that they quickly relocated staffers who had been in the cabins and have retrofitted the water pipes with PEX plastic piping.

Prospect Mountain Water Company (PMWC), also mentioned in the Coloradoan story, is a private community water system that serves about 124 residents.

The company has struggled for years and is now in bankruptcy. It has had lead levels in its drinking water that ranged from 91 ppb (in 2012) to 28 ppb (in 2014) to 15 ppb (in 2015).

Lead pipes and lead soldering are being blamed for the high lead levels.

The water company recently signed a temporary intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Town of Estes Park to provide water and run the water system until a new company can be contracted.

Rusch and Beehler said upgrades to the PMWC water system are being planned. They include distribution lines, water tanks and water pumps. The cost of these upgrades will be absorbed by fees paid by the PMWC customers.

In addition, Rusch and Beehler point out that PMWC lead tests have vastly improved since the Town of Estes Park began providing treated water including corrosion control.

Ravencrest Chalet, a bible school located 501 Pole Hill Road, had a high lead test of 16 ppb in 2013. However, that dropped to 4ppb in 2015.

Officials at Ravencrest could not be reached for comment to explain what measures they took to lower their lead level.

2016 #coleg: Sonnenberg tables HB16-1005 (rain barrels)

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

Committee chairman Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling, tabled the bill after a list of people testified for it, including organizations that supported it a year ago.

Sonnenberg tabled the bill last year and never brought it up for another hearing. This year he pledges that there will be a vote, “even if I vote no.”

[…]

Sonnenberg said, first, rain-barrel users needed to recognize Colorado water law’s pecking order of water rights, known as the prior-appropriation system.

Sonnenberg also wants the state engineer’s office to maintain oversight, so that in times of drought rain barrels can be curtailed.

Kevin Rein, the deputy state engineer over water supply and litigation, told Sonnenberg Thursday that regulating rain barrels would be difficult. Beyond checking yards to find the rain barrels, engineers would have to determine if shutting those barrels off would increase water for water rights holders elsewhere.

“It gets more difficult than just checking back yards,” he said.

That gave Sonnenberg pause.

He said that without meaningful enforcement “it would make the farmer pay for that depletion rather than rain barrels. That’s outside the prior-appropriation system, and I haven’t figured out how I’m going to deal with that now.”

Water law experts say rain-barrels are only technically illegal, because proving they injure the water rights of other users is nearly impossible. Nearly all of the water would be absorbed in the ground by the downspout or in the ground in the garden, a Colorado State University analysis indicated.

“We do not think any changes to the water cycle could be accurately quantified or measured,” said Chris Olson, a researcher and program manager at the Colorado Stormwater Center at CSU. “The water is going to be infiltrated or evaporated … The only difference is the timing, a day, maybe two, before the rain barrel is emptied.”

Garin Vorthmann, who represented the Colorado Farm Bureau, testified earlier that the powerful organization supports the legislation now that it includes the House compromises.

“It’s time to find a resolution to this ongoing conversation,” she told the Senate committee.

Danielson expressed disappointment but patience about the Senate logjam.

“I respect Sen. Sonnenberg’s decision to take a close look at this,” she said. “I am hopeful that we, along with rain barrel supporters such as the Farm Bureau, will be able to make rain barrels a reality.”

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The move drew criticism from supporters, who pointed out that Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango supported the bill last year, and offered the swing vote again this year to advance the legislation out of committee.

The bill also earned overwhelming support in the House this year, where it started.

It marks the second time Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling delayed a vote on rain barrel legislation. He did it last year when the bill moved through his Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. It sat then for nearly a month…

The state’s prior appropriations system grants water rights to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity. A study by Colorado State University found that allowing 110 gallons of rainwater storage per household would not decrease surface runoff by any detectable amount on a typical lot.

On Thursday, Sonnenberg questioned Deputy State Engineer Kevin Rein about the Division of Water Resources’ ability to curtail the use of rain barrels based on a determination of injury, as the bill was earlier amended to require.

“It’s an overwhelming chore to go through all the yards in Denver. I think our first cut at that would be we would need to have some rain barrels identified that are resulting in a deprivation of water to the senior water rights downstream, and then we could make that evaluation,” Rein said.

Sonnenberg worried that farmers and ranchers would feel the pinch: “This could very easily go to the next guy, which may be that farmer in Brighton, and have to curtail him.”

Supporters of the bill hoped they would be able to convince Sonnenberg not to delay the bill because of compromises reached along the way. Amendments helped pass the bill in the House 61-3…

Unlikely groups who previously expressed concerns with the legislation have come on board, including Greeley Water and the Colorado Farm Bureau. “It’s time to find a solution in this ongoing conversation,” said Garin Vorthmann, representing the Colorado Farm Bureau.

But Sonnenberg wasn’t convinced, adding: “I want to be done with this … but right now, I’m not comfortable.”

Theresa Conley, a water advocate for Conservation Colorado, said she was “disappointed.”

“Fear is a very motivating thing,” she said. “Until the governor has signed this bill, I’m going to be working on it like it could die tomorrow.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Megan Schrader):

“There has been a lot of misinformation put out on this bill,” Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said Thursday afternoon. “I’m not comfortable. I’m going to help get an extension and we’re going to lay this over until I can be comfortable, until we can make sure that someone else isn’t paying for someone else’s rain barrel.”

[…]

Sen. Michael Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat and sponsor of House Bill 1005, said it’s like Groundhog Day (the movie) where the same day keeps being repeated…

“I had fully anticipated that the bill would pass and at least with a super-majority,” Merrifield said. “I’m still confident that we’ll pass a bill. I’d like to do it sooner than later.”

Merrifield said concerns could have been addressed on the floor with amendments.

Sonnenberg said he was thrown by testimony from the state water engineer Thursday and needs time to work out his concerns but he pledged to bring the bill for a vote.

“I’m tired of this,” he said. “I’m tired of this issue. I’m confident they have been very willing to work and talk and have these conversations. I think it’s fixable, I just honestly right now can’t think what that is. I will bring this to a vote even if I vote no. We will have closure on this.”

Photo via the Colorado Independent
Photo via the Colorado Independent

#Snowpack news: Good snow in the #Colorado mountains, blizzard Front Range

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

#AnimasRiver: Whither runoff and pollutants?

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via WRAL.com:

More than two dozen state, tribal and local agencies said they will monitor the Animas and San Juan rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah at about 18 sites.

It isn’t clear yet what effect the spring and summer runoff will have on any metals that settled to the bottom of the rivers after the spill.

Snowpack in the Colorado mountains that feed the Animas — which joins the San Juan in New Mexico — was 81 percent of the long-term average Thursday. Kevin Houck of the Colorado Water Conservation Board said he didn’t expect a higher-than-normal runoff.

That could change if spring snows are heavy, Houck said, adding that the outlook will become clearer next month.

A crew led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inadvertently triggered the 3 million-gallon spill at the inactive Gold King Mine Aug. 5 during preliminary cleanup work.

The EPA estimates the spill sent 880,000 pounds of metals into the rivers, and some settled into the sediment on the bottom.

The metals included arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc. Water utilities briefly shut down their intake valves and farmers stopped drawing from the rivers. The EPA says the water quality quickly returned to pre-spill levels.

Colorado, New Mexico and Utah joined with the Navajo, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes — whose land is crossed by the rivers — to compile a plan to monitor the waterways and some wells. They will also test the sediment in the delta where the San Juan empties into Lake Powell, the massive reservoir in southern Utah and northern Arizona.

They said they will share their data and will train first-responders and water users about what to do in the event of a flood or other emergency.

Cities, counties, health departments and water districts along the rivers are also participating in the preparations.

Separately, the EPA released an updated plan Thursday for its own water-quality monitoring to last at least through August.

The agency said it planned to monitor 30 river locations in the three states. At least some of those sites appeared to be the same ones the states will monitor.

Meanwhile the Democrats in Congress are pushing for reform of the General Mining Act of 1872. Here’s a report from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

“While voluntary and philanthropic efforts may provide relief in certain instances, they cannot come close to truly addressing the vast scale of the problem,” said a letter from the lawmakers, including Natural Resources Committee ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Colorado Rep. Jared Polis and four others.

They sent the letter to committee chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee chairman Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and are requesting a hearing on two bills aimed at tackling the inactive mines problems.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are 500,000 inactive mines around the West and that tens of thousands are leaking, contaminating water with acidic, metals-laced drainage from mines.

The Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act would create a fund from fees on industry to clean up abandoned hardrock mines…

Lawmakers also are considering legislation to encourage voluntary cleanups by reducing liability under the Clean Water Act when well-intentioned work causes more harm…

And the EPA aims to stabilize the first 60 feet of the collapsed Gold King Mine portal and install a structure to control drainage, Grantham said.

“Operations at the Gold King Mine will resume as early as possible in the late spring, early summer, depending upon road conditions and any remaining avalanche hazards around the mine,” she said.

Finally, the EPA has released their final monitoring plan in the aftermath of the Gold Kind Mine spill. Here’s a report from Peter Marcus writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

The Environmental Protection Agency said it plans to examine water and sediment quality, biological communities and fish tissue at 30 locations under a variety of flow and seasonal river conditions along the Animas and San Juan rivers.

After the first year, “the need for additional monitoring and assessment and the entities best suited to undertake further monitoring will be determined,” according to the plan…

The EPA on Thursday also announced that it would make $2 million available for additional monitoring needs designed to complement the yearlong effort.

Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and the Navajo Nation will monitor the spring runoff.

Spring 2016 is the first snowmelt season in the Animas and San Juan watershed since the spill. There is concern that heavy metal concentrations in the river may rise as flows increase, posing a risk to downstream communities and aquatic life. A large spring snowpack has increased those concerns.

The preparedness plan includes sensors providing real-time data, including turbidity and flow levels. The plan also calls for water quality sampling at regular intervals to track river conditions.

The San Juan Basin Health Department will rely on the real-time data, beyond the periodic sampling performed by the EPA.

“Based on currently available data, San Juan Basin Health believes that use of the river this year poses no additional health risks as compared to previous years, but as conditions change over the course of the monitoring program, we will assess data from all sources in order to improve our decision-making and keep the public safe,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of the San Juan Basin Health Department.

“EPA’s comparison of current and historic data at long-term monitoring sites will be essential for determining if the August incident has changed river conditions,” she added.

Durango Mayor Dean Brookie questioned whether the EPA should commit to more than a year of sampling, suggesting that a more permanent monitoring plan could come as part of Superfund efforts.

Local communities and the state have expressed support for a Superfund designation, which would inject large amounts of dollars into treatment.

“To me, that’s not long term, that’s a start, and sets up the basis for long-term monitoring,” Brookie said.

San Juan County Administrator William Tookey pointed out that monitoring is not as critical to his community because it does not use the Animas for drinking or agriculture.

“Our concern is that there’s adequate monitoring in there so that our downstream partners get the protection and notice they need so it doesn’t put them in a bind,” Tookey said.

La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt added: “I’m pleased with the cooperation amongst the downstream entities to monitor the spring runoff in the wake of the Gold King Mine spill. With the winter snowpack and ongoing acid mine drainage in the Animas watershed, it’s critical we have this level of cooperation not only this year but throughout the Superfund cleanup process.”

Fall data, also released on Thursday, showed that sampling from 27 locations were below “risk-based recreational screening levels,” according to the EPA. Officials added that the data were consistent with pre-event conditions.

Data are compared to recreational screening levels for long-term exposure. The analysis takes into account such things as how a person would contact the river and for how long.

An EPA spring sampling event is underway, which will be followed by additional sampling in June and again in the fall.

After collecting data for a year, the EPA will assess it, consult with partners and decide what further monitoring or other actions are needed.

The goal is to consistently evaluate river conditions over time to assess impacts to public health and the environment. Researchers will examine fluctuations over time and location based on seasonal factors, such as precipitation and snowmelt.

The sampling locations will span Cement Creek, the Animas and San Juan rivers, and the upper section of the San Juan arm of Lake Powell.

Here’s a photo gallery about the spill from The Durango Herald.

The latest “Water Matters” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Colorado Water Trust

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado Water Trust receives $20,000 from ESPN for Roaring Fork Restoration

Flows on the Roaring Fork River, particularly through the middle of Aspen, tend to dip to extremely low levels toward the end of summer, even in years with average precipitation. This year, we are working toward enrolling Aspen’s water rights in a flow restoration program that will allow them to cut back their water use while still protecting their water rights. As part of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s Change the Course Campaign, ESPN stepped forward with a $20,000 grant to support our efforts to restore flows to the Roaring Fork.

In an effort to tell the story of the work we are doing in Aspen, ESPN invited us to attend the 2016 Winter XGames to showcase our efforts to restore and protect flows in the Roaring Fork River. It was a great multi-day event that allowed us to engage with hundreds of XGames fans. We are so grateful to ESPN for this unique opportunity for outreach and support!

Roaring Fork River back in the day
Roaring Fork River back in the day

EPA Announces $3.3 Million in Funding for Water Reuse and Conservation Research/Research will measure health and ecological impacts of water conservation practices

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Cathy Milbourn):

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced funding to five institutions to research human and ecological health impacts associated with water reuse and conservation practices.

“Increasing demand for water resources is putting pressure on the finite supply of drinking water in some areas of the United States,” said Thomas A. Burke, EPA Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “The research announced today will help us manage and make efficient use of the water supply in the long term.”

Water conservation practices that promote water reuse are becoming increasingly important, especially in the western United States, where factors such as climate change, extreme drought, and population growth are decreasing water availability. To help promote sustainable water reuse, this research will evaluate how reclaimed water applications such as drinking water reuse, replenishing groundwater, and irrigation can affect public and ecological health.

EPA announced these grants in conjunction with the White House Water Summit, which was held to raise awareness of water issues and potential solutions in the United States, and to catalyze ideas and actions to help build a sustainable and secure water future through innovative science and technology.

The following institutions received funding through EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program:

Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) Alexandria, Va. to actively identify contaminant hotspots, assess the impact of those hotspots on human and ecological health, and quantify the impact of water reuse and management solutions.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Urbana, Ill. to develop a new framework to understand how adaptive UV and solar-based disinfection systems reduce the persistence of viral pathogens in wastewater for sustainable reuse.

Utah State University, Logan, Utah to assess the impacts and benefits of stormwater harvesting using Managed Aquifer Recharge to develop new water supplies in arid western urban ecosystems.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nev. to quantify microbial risk and compare the sustainability of indirect and direct potable water reuse systems in the United States.

University of California Riverside, Riverside, Calif. to measure levels of contaminants of emerging concern in common vegetables and other food crops irrigated with treated wastewater, and to evaluate human dietary exposure.

More information on these grants is available at: https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/recipients.display/rfa_id/591/records_per_page/ALL

artificialrechargeusgs2011

Aspinall Unit spring operations forecast

Aspinall Unit dams
Aspinall Unit dams

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The March 15th forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 530,000 acre-feet. This is 79% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently 92% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 560,000 acre-feet which is 68% of full. Current elevation is 7487.3 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 530,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the peak flow target will be equal to 3,426 cfs for a duration of 24 hours. The shoulder flow target will be 300 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 530,000 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 7507 feet with an approximate peak content of 720,000 acre-feet.

West Salt Creek landslide was, “was a cascade of landslide events” — Jeffrey Coe

Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post
Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

“Our results revealed that the rock avalanche was a cascade of landslide events, rather than a single massive failure,” said the study led by Jeffrey Coe, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The 2.8-mile-long West Salt Creek landslide on the Grand Mesa on May 25, 2014, was the longest such slide in Colorado history.

The report found the sequence began with an early morning rockfall event that combined with a later earth failure.

The slide near the town of Collbran lasted about 3.5 minutes and sent a wall of debris rocketing down from the Grand Mesa…

Worries of another catastrophe have persisted in the slide’s wake, particularly in June, when heavy rains prompted warnings. The main risk, officials say, is in early spring as snowmelt travels down the slide area.

Water that has collected in a depression near the top of the slide has created a “sag pond,” which continues to prompt fears among geologists of another catastrophe.

Obama issues drought directive, action plan on World Water Day

From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Obama, at the first White House Water Summit held Tuesday in conjunction with World Water Day, announced an “action plan” to boost drought monitoring and forecasting capabilities in particular.

“There is nothing more important in the West than water,” said Catherine Greener, a member of the Colorado River advocacy organization Protect the Flows.

“Today’s executive action is an important step toward addressing the drought in the West and protecting limited water resources.”

Citing the 2012 drought that covered 65 percent of the nation and plunged farmers and ranchers into a financial nightmare, the administration outlined six steps to be taken this year, including extending federal water efficiency grants underway in California to other regions suffering from drought or those areas at risk.

The White House plan also calls for improving access to drinking water for communities most vulnerable to compromised supplies and mandates that drought impacts be included in emergency response plans as a condition for funding for new water and wastewater development projects.

The plan includes an accelerated emphasis on drought related research. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, will form an agencywide Western Water Applications Office housed at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. There, researchers will develop strategic applications analyzing satellite observations and airborne technologies to better meet the challenges of drought, flooding, declining snowpack and shrinking groundwater across the West.

The administration’s plan responds to a call for action in a report issued by the Western Governors’ Association, which asked that federal agencies coordinate their efforts in on the ground conservation efforts aimed at improving watershed health, enhanced data collection and subsequent sharing of information.

As part of the national response strategy on drought, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will award $3.5 million grants to five research institutions — including Utah State University in Logan — to study the health and ecological impacts of water conservation. The University of Utah is one of four research institutions that will share in $4 million to study how drought and wildfires affect water quality.

President Obama at Hoover Dam
President Obama at Hoover Dam

Funding Awarded for Two Small Hydropower Projects

Micro-hydroelectric plant
Micro-hydroelectric plant

Here’s the release (Christi Lightcap):

Two small hydropower projects have been awarded grants through the “Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency” (ACRE3) program. Both hydro projects generate electricity as water flows to the fields through irrigation pipelines.

The funding is part of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The RCPP small hydropower program provides funding for technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers to install and maintain projects that address natural resource concerns in Colorado.

“The program addresses water quantity, water quality, and energy resource concerns by helping farmers upgrade outdated and labor intensive flood irrigation systems to more efficient pressurized irrigation systems using hydropower, or retrofit existing sprinkler systems with a hydropower component,” said Sam Anderson, CDA’s Energy Specialist. “Over the next three years, the project plans to install 30 hydro-mechanical or hydro-electric power systems across Colorado.”

2015 Grant Recipients:

  • Park Family Farm, Kersey, Colo., will receive $9,568 to install hydroelectric turbines that generate 10 kW of power for operating two center-pivot irrigation systems on 125 acres. The hydro turbines will power the center pivots through a net-metering agreement with Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association.
  • Susan Raymond, Hotchkiss, Colo., will receive $11,400 to install hydro-electric turbines for generating 8 kW through a net-metering agreement with Delta-Montrose Electric Association. The hydropower will produce electricity to run three center pivots on 37 acres and provide electricity for an on-site veterinary practice.
  • In addition to the $20,968 awarded by the ACRE3 program, the two projects will receive combined funding of $28,100 from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and additional funding from the USDA’s Rural Development REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) Program. These funds are made possible through the RCPP Pressurized Irrigation Small Hydropower Partnership Project, a partnership between CDA’s ACRE3 program and the NRCS, with the support of USDA Rural Development. The two grant recipients will use the funding to pay for the hydro turbines, improvements to the irrigation systems and pipelines, and water management planning.

    Now Accepting Applications:
    CDA is currently accepting applications for the next round of RCPP Irrigation Hydro Projects and will award funding for six more projects this year. For more information and to submit an application, visit the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s ACRE3 energy website: http://www.colorado.gov/agconservation/agriculturalhydro or contact Sam Anderson at 303-869-9044 or Sam.Anderson@state.co.us. The application deadline is May 13, 2016.

    Blue River loses gold medal trout stream designation

    Summit County Citizens Voice

    Low flows, habitat destruction degrade fishery

    Summit County Colorado photography Sunrise along the Blue River in Summit County, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

    asdfasdfa Biologists and volunteers count trout in the Blue River just below Dillon Reservoir and the Dillon Dam. @bberwyn photo.

    Staff Report

    Colorado’s continued unsustainable use water has taken a toll on trout in the Blue River, where Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists have decided to remove the gold medal designation from a 19-mile reach stretching from just north of Silverthorne to Green Mountain Reservoir.

    According to CPW aquatic biologist Jon Ewert, unnatural stream flows, sparse aquatic invertebrate populations, low nutrient content and degraded habitat all contributed to the decline of the fishery. The agency said that stretch of the river hasn’t met the Gold Medal standard for about 15 years.

    There’s better news farther downstream, where CPW designated a 24-mile reach of the Colorado River, from Canyon Creek, at the mouth…

    View original post 220 more words

    March Madness gives big boost to water supply

    Mile High Water Talk

    Hammered by this month’s snowstorms, Summit and Grand counties provide a big boost to our water supply.

    By Jay Adams

    March in the Colorado Rockies can be as wild as a half-court buzzer beater in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

    The first week of the month was dry and unseasonably warm. The second week brought a bounty of snow, and some parts of Summit and Grand counties picked up more than 30 inches. Week three saw 70-degree temperatures in Denver, followed by a blizzard and more heavy snow in the mountains.

    Call it our own version of March Madness.

    That kind of volatile spring weather is why Denver Water’s planning team remains cautious about predicting the snowpack yield until mid-to late-April. “Weather in March is like the basketball tournament,” said Nathan Elder, water resource engineer. “We really don’t know what we’re going to get every year.”

    The frozen Snake River east of Keystone is one of Dillon Reservoir's three main tributaries. The frozen Snake River east…

    View original post 516 more words

    Drought news: D1 introduced in SE #Colorado

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

    Summary

    Storms continued to chip away at drought across northern California and the Northwest, while short-term dryness led to further moderate (D1) drought expansion in the southwestern and south-central U.S. During the 168-hour drought-monitoring period, ending on the morning of March 22, some of the heaviest precipitation fell in non-drought areas of the South, Pacific Northwest, and upper Great Lakes region. However, the Northwestern precipitation reached southward and inland, targeting parts of northern California and the northern Rockies. Farther east, snow grazed a portion of the Northeastern dry (D0) region on March 21, while periodic but widely scattered showers and thunderstorms dampened the lower Southeast. Elsewhere, short-term dryness began to intensify across the southwestern and south-central U.S., where until recently crops such as winter wheat had been growing well and rangeland and pastures had not been experiencing much stress. However, that has started to change as short-term dryness, aggravated by high winds and temperature extremes, has reduced soil moisture and begun to stress crops…

    Southern and Central Plains

    Development of short-term dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) became more apparent across portions of the central and southern Plains, especially when windy weather resulted in a sharp increase in grassfires and blowing dust on March 22-23. A particularly severe wildfire flared in Woods County, Oklahoma, on March 22, later racing into neighboring Kansas. During the fire’s resurgence on March 23, aided by wind gusts above 60 mph, a large plume of smoke—easily visible on satellite imagery—raced northward across central Kansas.

    According to USDA, nearly half of the topsoil moisture was rated very short to short on March 20 in Kansas (46%) and Oklahoma (43%). A week ago, on March 13, topsoil moisture was just 37% very short to short in Kansas. Still, the majority of the winter wheat crop was rated in good to excellent condition on March 20 in Oklahoma (63%) and Kansas (57%). The Texas winter wheat crop was rated 47% good to excellent on the 20th.

    Complicating matters for winter wheat is that a significant freeze struck portions of the central and southern High Plains on March 20, with low temperatures ranging from 5 to 20°F in some of the coldest locations in southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma, and northern Texas. Ultimately, it may be difficult to determine whether damage, if any, to the winter wheat crop was caused by freeze injury or by drought. The freeze was immediately followed by a warm, windy spell; Garden City, Kansas, reported a high of 88°F on March 22, just 2 days after a daily-record low of 10°F.

    Unless significant precipitation occurs soon, a much broader area of the central and southern Plains, extending eastward into the middle Mississippi Valley, may be ripe for expansion of dryness and drought during the next few weeks. Many of these areas received extremely heavy precipitation as recently as late December, and the landscape still retains a “memory” of this rain in the form of subsoil moisture and streamflow that has only recently begun to diminish…

    Northern Plains

    Cooler weather arrived across the northern Plains, following spring-like warmth. A pesky storm system over the upper Great Lakes region produced widespread, generally light precipitation, including some snow. Precipitation in northern Minnesota was heavy enough to trim the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0). Most other areas remained unchanged, except for a small D0 increase in western Minnesota…

    California

    Following northern California’s heavy precipitation events of March 4-7 and 11-14, dry weather returned across much of the state for several days. However, additional precipitation fell across northern California from March 20-22, providing further incremental drought relief. Specifically, some abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D2) was trimmed from the edges, largely due to robust streamflow and reservoir recharge.

    During northern California’s spate of heavy precipitation, the Yuba County community of Strawberry Valley—nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills at an elevation of about 3,800 feet—collected 11.04 inches of rain in a 72-hour period from March 4-7, followed by 10.44 inches in another 72-hour period from March 11-14. Higher elevations have received substantial snow; the average water content of the high-elevation Sierra Nevada snowpack has increased to 25 inches, up from 20 inches from the beginning of March. The 25-inch snow-water equivalency translates to 90% of the historical average as the traditional peak snowpack date of April 1 approaches. Snowpack is roughly average in the northern Sierra Nevada, but only about three-quarters of average in the southern Sierra. This is consistent with the winter 2015-16 storm track that has been more active across northern California and the northwestern U.S.

    From a water-supply perspective, the favorable news is that there is a nearly normal snowpack to melt off, in addition to the fact that the state’s reservoirs had already received nearly 6.5 million acre-feet of inflow by February 29. (This figure does not include any March inflow, which has been substantial in northern California.) In a typical recharge season, California’s reservoir inflow is about 8.2 million acre-feet; thus, even without factoring in March inflow and future snow-melt runoff, California has already received more than three-quarters (6.5 of 8.2 million acre-feet) of its average seasonal allotment of surface water.

    However, the improvement has not been evenly distributed, with long-term severe to extreme (D3 to D4) drought still entrenched across much of central and southern California, as reflected by less frequent storms during the 2015-16 wet season; still-low reservoir levels; less robust mountain snowpack; and continuing groundwater shortages…

    Northwest

    The latest parade of Pacific storms brought further relief from lingering dryness (D0) and drought (D1-D2) in the Northwest. Additional improvement was noted as far south as the northern tier of Nevada, where some trimming of moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) in part resulted from strong streamflow in smaller creeks and rivers, as well as an increased risk of spring snow-melt flooding.

    Farther north, dryness (D0) and moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) were reduced by varying degrees in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Notably, substantial dryness In Idaho was eliminated due to good reservoir recharge and snowpack accumulation that in most basins is coming close to, and in some cases has passed, the median annual peak value for the period of record. In addition, the latest batch of storms produced some heavy precipitation across the northern Rockies and environs. In western Montana, one of the remaining islands of moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) was slightly realigned to better match existing snowpack deficits along the eastern slopes of the Continental Divide…

    Southwest

    Similar to the central and southern Great Plains, dryness and drought has quickly begun to ramp up across the Southwest. Most of the major changes to the depiction occurred in Arizona and New Mexico; both states experienced large increased in the coverage of dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1). For the Southwest, a complicating factor is that February and March warmth has prematurely melted high-elevation snowpack in many basins. This has resulted in favorable spring streamflow that cannot be sustained as snowpack disappears. In recent days, warm, windy conditions have led to wildfires and blowing dust. While fires and dust sometimes occur due to atmospheric factors independent of drought, short-term precipitation deficits have contributed to the recent increase of both. By the afternoon of March 23, the Baker Canyon fire northeast of Douglas, Arizona, had charred more than 5,000 acres of vegetation…

    Looking Ahead

    During the next 5 days, from March 24-28, an active weather pattern will cover many parts of the nation. A spring storm will cross the Midwest on Thursday and northern New England on Friday. Heavy snow will end early March 24 across the upper Midwest but continue across parts of Wisconsin and Lower Michigan. Meanwhile, locally severe thunderstorms can be expected across the South through March 24, possibly as far north as the Ohio Valley. During the weekend, a new storm system will emerge from the Rockies and begin to develop across the nation’s mid-section, trailed by a surge of cold air. The track of the second storm is expected to be farther south than the earlier system, possibly resulting in beneficial precipitation across the south-central U.S. In contrast, dry weather will prevail through March 28 in southern California and the Desert Southwest.

    The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for March 29 – April 2 calls for the likelihood of near- to above-normal temperatures across the eastern half of the U.S. and in the Pacific Northwest, while colder-than-normal conditions can be expected across the remainder of the West. Meanwhile, near- to above-normal precipitation in most of the country should contrast with drier-than-normal weather across the southern High Plains, northern California, and the Pacific Northwest.