During the period of January–March 2016, the average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 4.6 degrees F above the 20th-century average, ranking as the third warmest on record, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Alaska had its warmest start to the year on record, while 32 states across the West, Great Plains, Midwest and Northeast were much warmer than average. The year-to-date average precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 0.04 inch below the 20th-century average.
The March average temperature for the Lower 48 was 6.0 degrees F above the 20th-century average, which ranks as the third warmest March on record and the warmest since 2012. Every state in the contiguous U.S. had an above-average March temperature, but no state was record warm. The March precipitation total was 0.38 inch above average and ranked near the middle of the 122-year period of record.
Boulder County Commissioners Elise Jones and Deb Gardner signaled their support Thursday for a $53.8 million package of road, bridge, transit and trails spending, and equipment and vehicle purchases, that the county Transportation Department has proposed for this year.
Transportation Director George Gerstle spent much of his presentation of that overall 2016 capital improvements program focusing on the $29.9 million expected to be spent by the end of the year on the latest set of repairs and replacements of roads and bridges destroyed in the September 2013 floods.
“Road and bridge flood repairs are dominating the program in 2016,” Gerstle said.
Officials have estimated that flood damages to Boulder County’s transportation network amounted to $120 million, and work on emergency, and then temporary, and then permanent, repairs has been underway for more than 2 ½ years.
If things proceed as planned the rest of this year, by the start of 2017, Boulder County should have completed or at least started construction on between $50 and $70 million worth of transportation flood-recovery projects, Gerstle said.
Already, during the first quarter of 2016, about $11 million in such flood-recovery transportation projects are being constructed, Gerstle told the commissioners.
The Board of County Commissioners is expected to formally vote to adopt the Transportation Department’s Capital Improvement Program during one of the board’s regular business meetings next Tuesday or Thursday.
A cluster of 48 mining sites near Silverton, including the Gold King Mine, is expected eventually to find a spot on the National Priorities List of the nation’s worst disasters threatening public health and the environment.
But the EPA’s process requires this first step, followed by a period for comments. There’s no guarantee listed sites would receive funding for cleanup.
“I’m excited. This shows our work negotiating with the EPA is paying off,” Silverton town administrator Bill Gardner said. “It shows they are true to their word that there’s going to be a commitment from them, and that we are going to move forward quicker rather than slower.”
“The agency will follow the same process at the Bonita Peak Mining District as for all other proposed NPL sites,” spokeswoman Christie St. Clair said.
The priorities list serves as a basis for enforcement actions against potentially responsible polluters and for securing cleanup funds. For 35 years, the Superfund program has run on the principle that polluters should pay for cleanups, defraying costs to taxpayers. EPA officials hunt for parties legally responsible for contaminating a site and try to compel them to cover cleanup costs.
“The process is moving forward,” said Peter Butler, coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, which since 1994 has worked to stop contamination from hundreds of leaking inactive mines.
“Hopefully, actual metal reductions to the river happen sooner rather than later,” Butler said…
Gov. John Hickenlooper in February backed up southwestern Colorado residents in requesting EPA action to address the Gold King and other inactive mines contaminating headwaters of the Animas River — water that flows into New Mexico, tribal nations, Utah and eventually the Grand Canyon toward California.
“We are pleased the EPA proposed adding the Bonita Peak Mining District to the National Priorities List (NPL). This is a crucial next step in making the region eligible for necessary resources and comprehensive cleanup efforts under EPA’s Superfund program, but our work is not done,” Hickenlooper said Wednesday morning.
“We are working with the EPA to ensure that adequate funding for this site is provided, including immediate interim measures and options to mitigate any further water quality deterioration. We are also working to ensure state and local officials continue to have an active role and that there is robust and significant community involvement,” he said.
“Lastly, we continue to support efforts by our congressional delegation to reach consensus around ‘Good Samaritan’ legislation, which is one of the most significant tools at our disposal to allow for voluntary cleanups of draining and abandoned mines.”
According to the latest snowpack reports from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, northern Colorado water users may finally get to let out the breath they’ve been holding.
In February, Brian Werner of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District said a wet, snowy spring would be key for a good water year. March and April are the most important months of the year for snowpack, he said.
Those wet spring snows came in March, with the official state total coming out of Denver International Airport at 18.4 inches of snow. Greeley, on the other hand, only got a total of 4.4 inches, according to the National Weather Service office in Boulder.
While those storms dropped varying depths of snow along the Eastern Plains of Colorado, they were of huge benefit to mountain snowpack, boosting most of the basins across northern Colorado to numbers near or above the historic average. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, as of April 4, the state was at 97 percent of the average for snowpack.
“March was good pretty much statewide,” Werner said. “We never get too over-confident, but we’re feeling pretty good about the water year.”
As of April 6, both the river basins that feed into northern Colorado — the Upper Colorado River Basin and the South Platte River Basin — were above 100 percent.
As for reservoir storage, the state is currently at 111 percent of average, according to the April 1 update from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Upper Colorado River Basin is at 111 percent of average and the South Platte River Basin is at 107 percent of the average.
Werner said not only are the water totals looking good, but since the snow had high water content, it helped improve soil moisture, something vital to farmers.
April will be key to deciding what the good water totals mean for farmers, Werner said. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District will hold its the Spring Water Users Meeting on April 13 at The Ranch in Loveland, where officials and producers can talk needs and forecasts. The next day, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District will decide water allocations. [ed. emphasis mine]
Southern Colorado may still be in murkier water, though. Though the storm that rolled through on March 26 hit southern Colorado harder than the metro area or northern Colorado, the March 23 blizzard didn’t. That kept the basins from getting a needed jump in moisture-packed spring snow. The Arkansas River, Upper Rio Grande and several other southern Colorado river basins are at or below 85 percent of the average.
“That’s a concern for southern Colorado,” Werner said. “We always say this — you want to be average or above average.”
The area’s saving grace may be in reservoir storage. The Arkansas River Basin and the rivers that make up the San Miguel area basin are both over 100 percent of the average, and the Upper Rio Grande Basin is at 94 percent storage, according to the NRCS report.
So while southern Colorado, which has struggled with drought for several years, will start the summer nearly 20 percent below average in snowpack, the area’s water storage may offset at least some of that burden, Werner said.
Though Southwest Colorado has yet to reap the benefits of a wet El Niño, as of April 1, statewide snowpack totals are up 150 percent from last year, according to the National Resource Conservation Service.
Karl Wetlaufer, assistant snow survey supervisor for NRCS, said data released Wednesday show just how much the dry spell in March affected the southern San Juan Mountains.
Combined metrics for the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel basins entered March with 97 percent of normal snowpack. By the end of the month, the total was down to 81 percent.
March brought just 53 percent of average precipitation for the region.
“Overall, the biggest news in that corner of the state is that it was a very, very dry March,” Wetlaufer said. “That dry spell certainly had a notable impact on whether or not a lot of those basins will reach their normal peak accumulation amounts.”
However, because of major dumps in the central and northern parts of the state, snowpack totals are 150 percent higher than last year – bringing Colorado to just about normal averages.
“It was a really strange split where northern and central mountains got well above average, and southern mountains got well below,” Wetlaufer said. “So statewide, we’re actually very near normal levels.”
And, Wetlaufer added, there’s still time for more snow. With forecasters predicting a wet spring, there remains a chance for higher elevations to accumulate more snowpack before summer.
“If we have a cool and wet spring for the next few months, water supplies could still dramatically increase, and that’s a trend we’ve seen in previous years,” Wetlaufer said. “Even down in the southwest, with how much high elevation terrain there is, it could still turn things around.”
“April is a very large contributor to the entire water budget,” said Brian Domonkos of SNOTEL, the federal team in charge of tracking snowpack across Colorado and other states in the west.
Using long, hollow tubes, the team digs deep into the snow near Berthoud Pass, to test how deep the snow level is. At the bottom, they strike soil.
“The soil plug allows us to know that the sampler made it all the way to the ground and most likely captured the entire depth of snowpack,” he said.
The spot at Berthoud Pass is one place that can tell them a lot about snowpack conditions in other areas.
“This site was picked because it’s right on the Continental Divide,” Domonkos said. “So, in a way, we’re representing snowpack on both sides of the divide…
Statewide, snowpack levels sit at 98-percent of what is a normal level this time of the year. If you look closer, though, the SNOTEL team said that number doesn’t mean everything is near average, everywhere in the state.
“Southern half of the state just didn’t get the precip in the latter half of March that the northern half of the state did,” Domonkos said.
As for reservoir levels this summer, the team said those that rely on the Colorado and South Platte River basins, including those on the Front Range, appear to be in good shape.
“We would anticipate that reservoirs would get fill supplies,” Domonkos said, adding, “provided we don’t have dry spells going forward.”
Meanwhile, the Arizona and California are keeping a wary eye on forecasts into Lake Powell. Here’s a report from Tony Davis writing in The Arizona Daily Star. Here’s an excerpt:
Drought continues to put the squeeze on the Southwest’s water supplies, with Colorado River runoff forecasts declining for the second straight month.
What: The April-July forecast for Colorado River runoff into Lake Powell is 74 percent of average, down from 80 percent in early March. It’s the second straight decline in the monthly forecast from a February prediction of 94 percent, said Brenda Alcorn, a senior hydrologist for the federal Colorado River Basin Forecast Center.
Why runoff is low: In February, the culprit was mainly warm weather, which triggers evaporation of river water. In March, the problem was more attributable to very dry weather in the southern half of the Colorado’s Upper Basin, including the Dolores River in Colorado and the San Juan River in [Colorado], New Mexico and Utah.
Why it matters: Much of the runoff into Lake Powell at the Utah border eventually makes its way to Lake Mead at the Nevada border. Mead is where much of Tucson and Phoenix’s drinking water is stored; it is pumped uphill to the two cities via the Central Arizona Project canal system.
What it means: The current low flows aren’t bad enough to trigger a shortage in CAP deliveries for 2017. But they make it more likely that a shortage will occur in 2018, said Chuck Cullom, CAP’s Colorado River program manager, and Bill Hasencamp, Colorado River resources manager for Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District. The feds currently predict a 54 percent chance of a 2018 shortage.
Why a 2017 shortage is unlikely: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoirs, is scheduled to release extra water from Powell to Mead this year because Powell is storing more water than Mead. It will release 9 million acre-feet, compared to 8.25 million on average.
How a 2017 shortage could still happen: If it stays dry and runoff is very low into the Colorado from its tributaries in the Lower Colorado Basin, such as the Little Colorado, Paria and Virgin rivers. But it’s unlikely that it will be that dry and runoff will be that low, Cullom and Hasencamp said.
On March 29th, more than 300 Coloradans came together to learn about the water challenges facing the state and how techniques developed and perfected in Israel may help alleviate Colorado’s water needs. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper called the summit a “big deal” for Colorado as he shared his vision for mitigating Colorado’s water issues during his afternoon remarks.
In his keynote address, best-selling author Seth M. Siegel (“Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World“), stated that the summit is an important step forward in addressing Colorado’s water challenges. “If we are going to solve our water problems, we will need all hands to help. United Water and Sanitation District and Netafim have proven ideas and methods which can be a model for addressing our water concerns.”
The summit was hosted by JNF and sponsored by Drs. Toby and Mort Mower, Netafim, and United Water and Sanitation District. Featured speakers included Governor Hickenlooper; former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter; Israeli Consul for Political Affairs Yaki Lopez; Drew Damiano, vice president of operations of United Water and Sanitation District; and other water experts. To see the full list of speakers please click here.
Israel once faced a similar water crisis to Colorado’s. Rapid population growth and a growing agricultural economy required more water than was available through natural resources. Through techniques like drip irrigation and the world’s largest desalination program, Israel turned its water crisis into a water surplus and now serves as a global model for successful water management.
JNF has effectively contributed to the development of water management and conservation systems in Israel for three decades. It has increased the country’s total water supply by 12% and helped Israel become a leader in water reuse. JNF’s network of 250 recycled water reservoirs provide almost half of the water used for agriculture in Israel, saving enough freshwater to meet the needs of 4.4 million people a year…
The Water Summit program tied together beautifully an impressive mix of water professionals, public officials, and JNF supporters who came together for local Colorado water issues. Participants walked away equipped with the knowledge needed to converse about local and global water issues and the technology Israel has to alleviate them.