Boulder County and federal officials are inviting residents and owners of property along flood-damaged portions of Left Hand Creek west of U.S. 36 to a Tuesday night community meeting.
The meeting, set for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Altona Grange, 9386 N. 39th St., will include updates about designs and plans for restoration projects on portions of the creek, as well as a construction time frame for those projects.
Well associations have boosted the amount of water they intend to use, and a program to augment on-farm irrigation improvements is growing.
“We remain the only basin in Colorado that has regulated irrigation efficiencies,” [Steve] Witte said. “But in the years we have had it, we have increased the acreage in sprinklers and drip irrigation.”
Witte outlined enforcement actions in the Arkansas River basin, noting that violations of well regulations and breaching unsafe or illegal dams occupied his staff’s time last year. In addition, the Division of Water Resources is taking more of a consulting role in water court cases and filing statements of opposition “only if necessary.”
Last year, in 97 cases, the state filed just one statement of opposition, while settling 21 or 50 pending cases it was active in within Division 2, Witte said.
He also reviewed cannabis — hemp or marijuana — requests, noting that 69 growers, mostly in Pueblo County, had filed plans for water through his office.
About the only thing he wasn’t prepared to talk about: New rain barrel legislation that passed the Legislature this year.
City officials, already eyeing three future reservoirs to grow Aurora’s water storage system, appear to be close to buying land for the future Wild Horse Reservoir in Park County.
Aurora’s water system consists of 12 reservoirs that span the Front Range and Continental Divide, providing the city with more than 156,000 acre feet of storage located in three water basins. But even though they can supply the city with years of emergency supply in case of a drought, city officials say demands for water are increasing and that they will need more storage to provide services to potentially 600,000 residents in the coming decade.
Lisa Darling, Aurora Water’s South Platte Basin program manager, said that reservoir is likely to be designed and completed by 2022…
According to city documents, Wild Horse would provide the city with 32,400 acre-feet of water storage. The city is expected to complete the purchase and sale contract for the sea-horse-shaped reservoir by August of this year. Aurora Water officials say the project will cost the city $92 million to build out…
[Greg] Baker said Wild Horse has been easier to negotiate in part because it is being built on private land owned by Hartsel Springs Ranch in Park County. He said the owners see the economic opportunity in the recreational elements the reservoir will provide once completed.
Wild Horse will also be located 10 miles above Aurora’s Spinney Mountain Reservoir, which is also in Park County, meaning the city will not have to acquire additional water rights through court to use it.
The other two reservoirs planned are the East Reservoir and Box Creek.
The East Reservoir, which city officials began researching as a site in 2012, would sit just east of the Aurora Reservoir on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range. Darling said it could be completed in the next decade. Aurora Water is still in the land acquisition process with the Colorado State Land Board and the Rangeview Metropolitan District.
Darling said the East Reservoir project has been held up in part by federal agencies, who for years have been working to find unexploded ordinances that potentially remain on the site and could be harmful if not detonated properly.
One not-so-bright spot for the city is completing Box Creek, a site north of Twin Lakes in Lake County.
“The (National) Forest Service has been less than helpful to date,” said Aurora Water Resources Management Advisor Joe Stibrich about ongoing negotiations over the Box Creek site…
Aurora’s 12 reservoirs include Aurora, Quincy, Rampart, Strontia, Spinney, Homestake, Jefferson Lake, Twin Lakes, Pueblo, Turquoise, Henry and Meredith.
Popular notions to the contrary, bark beetle infestations do not equal more severe fires, according to a University of Colorado researcher.
The San Juan Mountains have seen plenty of both in recent years and Robbie Andrus, a doctoral student in geography, found the 120,000-acre West Fork Fire did damage for other reasons.
He told the Rio Grande basin roundtable Tuesday that dry, hot weather, topography and stand structure had far more to do with whether a fire would kill trees.
“Fire severity was very similar in beetle-killed and non-beetle-killed areas,” he said. “Essentially, from an ecological perspective, fire didn’t burn differently in those areas.”
His research included the West Fork burn scar as well as others in the San Juans where the spruce beetle had not been present.
All told, the research was conducted on 140 plots.
In looking at Englemann spruce infested by beetles, he focused on sections of the forest where trees had reached a gray stage, meaning they had dropped their needles but were not more than five years into the epidemic at the time of the fires.
Dan Dallas, superintendent of the Rio Grande National Forest, told the roundtable the study’s findings were not surprising, given that spruce are not a fire-resistant tree.
“We basically know that if fire of any sort gets up against a spruce tree, it’s going to kill it,” he said.
But Dallas noted that the U.S. Forest Service measures fire severity by how badly a fire scorches the soil.
Extremely burnt soil, which amounted to about 11 percent on the West Fork scar, can prevent the return of spruce stands.
Andrus did not dispute the importance of soil in determining severity but he said it would have been difficult to measure.
Dallas also told the roundtable there were concerns about the threat posed by the beetle-killed trees once they begin to fall, a process that can take as long as 50 years.
While that was not in the scope of Andrus’ study, Dallas worried about a fire hitting a section of the forest covered in downed spruce trees. “You have way more potential for damaging the soil,” he said. The Rio Grande has 588,000 acres of beetle- infested spruce stands, most of which have yet to fall.
Dallas also added that opponents of Forest Service thinning operations had cited Andrus’ work as a reason not to do thinning projects.
Andrus, a former wildlands firefighter, said he did not agree with that sentiment when it came to doing work that would protect homes or other structures. But he does believe that logging in remote sections of beetle-killed forest would not have an impact on the likelihood or severity of future fire.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
World Economic Forum Ranks Climate Change as Top Environmental Risk
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) recently released Global Risks Report has for the first time ranked climate change “as the most severe economic risk facing the world.” The WEF’s report indicated that climate change is compounding and intensifying other economic, humanitarian, and social stresses such as mass migration.
In a January 22nd National Geographic article, Chief Risk Officer of Zurich Insurance Groups, Cecilia Reyes, stated that “climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker societal cohesion, and increased security risks.” To view the full report visit the World Economic Forum.
At the moment, snowpack looks good on Vail Mountain, Fremont Pass and at Copper Mountain — the closest snow-measurement site to Vail Pass. That’s good news, since much of the upper valley’s water supply is stored in snowpack, not reservoirs.
As of Monday, those three snow measurement sites were all within 5 percent of the 30-year historic median levels. That’s good, since we’re within a week or so of the historic peak of what’s called the snow year — roughly Nov. 1 through May 1…
STATUS OF RESERVOIRS
Peter Goble, of the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, said Dillon Reservoir is at roughly 90 of its average capacity for right now. But fresh water there will be diverted down the Blue River to Green Mountain Reservoir, which is currently at 40 percent. Granby Reservoir, near the Colorado’s headwaters, is releasing water into the river at normal rates right now, Goble said.
STORM HEADED THIS WAY
While snowmelt is on the minds of river-runners and others who depend on water levels right now, it looks like there’s still more precipitation to come.
Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said a good-sized storm is headed for Colorado from the Pacific Northwest. That storm should hit in the next few days, Phillips said.
More important, Phillips said a low pressure system is expected to set up and stall over the Four Corners area. That system should remain into early next week.
That means there’s a good chance of precipitation, some of it heavy at times.
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE
Weather forecasting loses a lot of certainty more than about 10 days into the future, but the weather service does do longer-term forecasts, based more on probabilities than actual patterns.
This year, the probabilities look pretty good for a slow, sustained snowmelt. Phillips said the 60-day outlook shows this part of Colorado with an above-average change of above-average precipitation and below-average temperatures. Looking further out, the 90-day outlook shows an above-average chance of above-average precipitation and above-average temperatures.
That came as good news to Eagle River Water & Sanitation District communications and public affairs manager Diane Johnson.
“If it gets to mid-June and warms up, that would be great,” Johnson said. “That means we’ve had a nice, slow snowmelt.”
Time is running out for snowpack to rebound in the Rio Grande basin but forecasters are optimistic the San Juan Mountains will still get above-normal precipitation in April and May.
The prospect of late spring snow, especially after a 45-day run with almost no snow in February and March, would be ideal, said Pat McDermott, a staff engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources in Alamosa “Late April and May snowstorms have a huge impact on this basin as far as runoff,” he told the Rio Grande basin roundtable.
Precipitation to date is at 82 percent of average in the basin but the National Weather Service’s long-term forecast calls for above-average precipitation in April and May.
The arrival of that snow would be good for irrigators come summer, but it would also impact how the state manages its deliveries under the Rio Grande Compact.
The compact, which divvies the river’s flows between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, has sliding delivery requirements for Colorado that vary according to the amount of streamflows.
Right now the state predicts 645,000 acrefeet of flows on the Rio Grande at Del Norte, which, if true, would amount to 104 percent of the river’s average.
That would require a delivery obligation of 180,000 acre-feet and has led the state engineer’s office to set curtailments on irrigators at 13 percent…
On the Conejos, the San Luis Valley’s second biggest river and a tributary of the Rio Grande, the projected streamflow for the year is 280,000 acre-feet.
If that projection holds, it would be 93 percent of the river’s long-term average, according to records that date back to 1910.
The delivery obligation sits at 95,000 acrefeet, while curtailment is set at 22 percent.
Impossible to tell in mid-April, when conditions are mirroring those seen last year.
Snowpack in the Arkansas River basin is just 80 percent of average, but ahead of last year at the same time, Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week.
Reservoirs are full — so full that the only reason more water is not being spilled is the abnormally dry March weather. Until a soaking shower in Pueblo on Sunday and Monday, Pueblo had been parched. Now, rainfall for the year is about normal, and conditions are expected to stay wet for a while.
Styling his talk “State of the Arkansas,” Witte delved into the statistics that paint a picture of unsettled conditions.
“In January things looked good, and I said the drought was over,” Witte joked. “By early April, things had declined. But remember last year when we had a Miracle May and Pueblo got a record 5.6 inches in one month.”
The best result was that reservoirs topped off.
The worst result was that those who had prudently saved water those reservoirs might lose it.
On March 2, Lake Pueblo held 272,000 acre-feet of water, which meant a lot of it could have been lost in order to get to the proscribed flood control volume of 245,373 acre-feet on April 15. Fortunately, the dry weather allowed about 25,000 acre-feet to be used in late winter and early spring, ending that threat.
“Unless we get another Miracle May,” Witte said.
John Martin and Trinidad Reservoir are also at the highest levels in years, providing assurance that even if the rains don’t come, the Arkansas Valley will be in relatively good shape this year.
The Yampa River was flowing at more than three times the median volume for April 14, but a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction confirmed the rushing river was rising due to rapid, low-level snowmelt, and the peak of spring runoff is likely still well in the future.
The Yampa was flowing at 1,650 cubic feet per second at mid-afternoon Thursday after dropping from its daily peak of 1,790 cfs, recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey just after midnight. Those flows compare to the median flow for April 14 of 470 cfs.
“About a week ago, the Yampa began to show a general trend upward with daily swings,” NWS forecaster Dennis Phillips said. “There was a surge with temperatures getting so warm, we saw water run off throughout the night. Low elevation runoff could crest soon.”
Consulting forecasts by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, Phillips said the expectation is that the nearby Elk River, which drains the west side of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, should peak on or near June 1. A similar long-range forecast for the Yampa hasn’t been posted.
With a colder storm front due to influence weather in the Yampa Valley for the next four days or so, the forecast center anticipates the Yampa will calm down, with flows gradually receding into next week, Phillips said.
Historical data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey confirms how unusual this week’s flow on the town stretch of the Yampa has been. The record flow for April 14 on the Yampa at the Fifth Street Bridge was the 2,070 cfs, recorded in 1930. Not since the 1,810 cfs (mean flow for the entire day) recorded on April 14, 2000, has the Yampa seen anything similar to April 2016.
The mean flow April 14 in many seasons is in the range of 300 to 500 cfs, according to USGS records.
Here’s the release from the University of Colorado:
Active on social media? Care about weather? If the answer is ‘yes,’ the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Weather Service (NWS) want your help investigating large surface hail accumulations from thunderstorms in Colorado between April and September.
The goal of the crowdsourced study is to help researchers better understand and forecast hail-producing thunderstorms in Colorado and nationwide, said Associate Professor Katja Friedrich.
The researchers are asking users of Twitter, Facebook and email to document such severe storms with photos, video and measurements of hail depth for the Deep Hail Project, said Friedrich of CU-Boulder’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Friedrich and her CU-Boulder colleagues, including students, are teaming up on the project with Bernard Meier, lead forecaster of the National Weather Service Office Boulder.
Thunderstorms occasionally produce swaths of massive amounts of hail in Colorado. Such events sometimes are referred to as “plowable hailstorms” because some roads remain impassible until snowplows or bulldozers are used to clear them, said Friedrich.
“These severe storms pose a substantial risk to life and property and often result in motor vehicle accidents, road closures, airport delays, river flooding and water rescue activity,” she said. “Over the course of a summer, millions of people are affected by these kind of thunderstorms.”
According to Meier, the pilot project is to better understand why certain thunderstorms produce massive amounts of hail and how meteorologists can identify them. “We need to know when these thunderstorms occur, how much hail is on the ground and the extent of the hail swath,” he said.
One advantage of using Twitter for weather reports is geotagging, which is geographic information associated with individual tweets, said Meier. Geotagging allows weather researchers to see the time and place a particular tweet was sent, which is expected to enhance the timeliness and accuracy of online weather reporting and communication between the public and local weather forecast offices.