Today’s long lead outlook from the Climate Prediction Center is enough to make a southwestern water manager long a second consecutive busted forecast*. With La Niña in the offing, the maps show creeping brown across the Four Corners states by August and not letting up until late spring of 2017:
New detention ponds and detention basins dominate the list of 71 stormwater projects that will be built throughout Colorado Springs over the next 20 years as part of a $460 million intergovernmental agreement.
Topping the list released by the city Wednesday are $2 million worth of projects through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to maintain and repair city stormwater fixtures; a $250,000 King Street detention pond; a $2.5 million detention basin at America the Beautiful Park, and a $3 million detention basin on Sand Creek, surrounded by Forest Meadows housing developments near Woodmen and Black Forest roads.
The projects are intended to stanch the flow of flood waters into Pueblo County, and cut back on sediments and other pollutants entering drainages and going downstream.
Asked why the developers aren’t providing the Sand Creek pond, Public Works Director Travis Easton said he couldn’t recall for certain but thought one of the developers was providing other stormwater work.
The America the Beautiful project calls for a consultant to be hired and to coordinate the work with Kiowa Engineering, designer for the adjacent Olympic Museum, one of three City for Champions projects that all are privately funded.
The city money isn’t being spent to benefit the museum; rather, it’s needed for that entire downtown area, Easton said.
“What we realized is we have open space in that park, with a low-lying area, and needed to route water from downtown into the pond to treat it before it enters Fountain Creek. They didn’t have detention ponds back when that was built, and it just goes straight into Fountain Creek,” he said.
Many of the detention ponds and basins got the nod from Wright Water Engineers Inc., which is representing Pueblo County in its three-way pact with the city and Colorado Springs Utilities.
Other projects throughout Colorado Springs, including many listed by the Pikes Peak Stormwater Task Force in 2013, are lower on the city’s new list.
But, Easton said, “I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the order of things farther down the list because these will change. We’re starting the top nine projects this year. We’re meeting with Pueblo County’s engineers soon to go over the list, which we’ll do every year, and plan the projects for the next five years.”
Big concessions to Pueblo County had to be made in the agreement, or Utilities could have been blocked from launching its $825 million Southern Delivery System last month. The county held a critical permit for the massive water project, and its commissioners demanded extensive stormwater work on Fountain Creek and its tributaries.
The county’s needs were heavy on flood control, sediment loading and channel stabilization, Easton said, “but we agree those are needed.”
The city’s Stormwater Division is spending $7.1 million next year on operating costs alone, primarily personnel and equipment, he said. Three new employees have been brought on board, and five more will be hired over the next three months.
“We need to make sure we have processes in place so these people can hit the ground running and do the job.”
The city has launched a new website to highlight the location of all 71 stormwater projects on an interactive map. Easton said he also plans to combine the city’s new interactive maps so stormwater and roads projects all will be in one place.
“It will be a one-stop shop for citizens to go and see where their money is being spent. This is a tool meant for the citizens, a communication tool.”
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw widespread improvements in drought conditions primarily focused on northern California and Nevada while short-term precipitation deficits during the past 30–60 days led to some deterioration of conditions in parts of the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and Southeast. During the past week, unseasonably cool temperatures dominated east of the Rockies while temperatures were above average in the Far West. Parts of the South continued in a wet pattern where a series of severe storms impacted South Texas with heavy rains (five-to-twelve inches) and localized flash flooding. Significant rainfall accumulations (two-to-five inches) also were observed in portions of the lower Midwest including southern Illinois, western Kentucky, and southern Missouri. Out West, conditions were generally drier, although some modest rainfall accumulations were observed across the Central and North Rockies as well as in the Pacific Northwest. In the Hawaiian Islands, beneficial rains fell in the drought-impacted coffee growing regions of South Kona on the Big Island, providing some relief…
Across the Plains, improvements were made on the map in areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) in southeastern Kansas and north-central Oklahoma where recent rainfall improved area conditions. In southwestern South Dakota, short-term precipitation deficits in the Black Hills led to the introduction of an area of Moderate Drought (D1) that extended across the border into northeastern Wyoming. Temperatures were well below-normal across the entire region during the past week, especially in the Central and Northern Plains where temperatures were six-to-fifteen degrees below-normal. Precipitation across the region was heaviest in eastern portions of Kansas and Oklahoma where one-to-three inch accumulations occurred during the past week while northern portions were dry…
During the past week, average temperatures were generally above-normal across much of the West with the exception of the northern Great Basin, central Rockies, and northern Rockies where temperatures were two-to-ten degrees below normal. Overall, the West was generally dry during the past seven-day period with the exception of isolated shower activity in the Central and Northern Rockies, and portions of the Pacific Northwest. With the conclusion of the snow season, statewide reservoir storage is above average in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming while near-normal levels are present in Oregon and Utah. Conversely, below-normal storage levels remain in Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
On this week’s map, widespread one-category improvements were made across northern California and northwestern Nevada where conditions have steadily improved since the beginning of the Water Year (October 1st). In the northern Sierra, spring rains combined with a generally above-average snowpack have led to considerable increases in reservoir storage levels in area reservoirs. According to the California Department of Water Resources, Lake Oroville sits at 116% of its historical average while both Folsom Lake and Lake Shasta are at 108%. As of May 17th, the Northern Sierra 8-Station Index (a broad index of precipitation in the northern Sierra) is at 119% of average since the beginning of the Water Year. In southern California, precipitation accumulations since the beginning of the Water Year have been below-normal, especially in coastal areas of Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura counties where the percentage of normal precipitation is less than 50% for the Water Year. In northwestern Nevada, a one-category improvement in a large area of Extreme Drought (D3) was made in response to a combination of short- and long-term indicators supporting improvements including: snowpack conditions, stream flows, reservoir storage levels, percentage of normal precipitation, and vegetative health. In the Pacific Northwest, a combination of short-term precipitation deficits (30-day) and above-normal temperatures led to the introduction of an area of Abnormally Dry (D0) in northwestern Oregon and western Washington where stream flow (28-day average) activity and soil moisture conditions are below-normal in many locations. In western Utah, a one-category improvement was made in an area of Moderate Drought (D1) where short- and long-term indicators show improvements in stream flows, groundwater levels, and soil moisture…
The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for significant rainfall accumulations in the Gulf Coast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Texas with totals ranging from two-to-four inches. Otherwise, lesser accumulations are forecasted for extreme northern California, the Northern Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest. The CPC 6–10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above-normal temperatures east of the Rockies while the West is expected to be below-normal. Below-normal precipitation is forecasted for the Eastern Tier and Desert Southwest while there is a high probability of above-normal precipitation in the western portions of the Midwest and South, Northern Great Basin, Northern Rockies, Pacific Northwest, and across the Plains states.
From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
Green Mountain has started to fill for the 2016 season and due to the higher snowpack and minimum available storage in Dillon Reservoir releases from Green Mountain will be increasing to 800 cfs over the next two days. Releases are expected to remain above 600 cfs for several weeks. Green Mountain Reservoir is currently 55% full and is anticipated to reach maximum fill around the second week of July.
The future of water—who gets it and who has access to it—is just the start of an upcoming panel discussion presented by National Public Radio and host of “All Things Considered” Michel Martin. “Water is so central to the development of the west,” Martin says. “We’re working together to talk about something locally important and of national interest.”
“Michel Martin: Going There” is an NPR series that brings together an eclectic and informed panel of guests to the heart of the story, in hopes of igniting a nationwide debate on various issues. The next discussion, “The Future of Water,” is happening on May 24 at Colorado State University, in partnership with KUNC. “There’s art around water, there’s story around water,” Martin continues. “We’re looking for things that aren’t just your usual debate.”
Martin will be joined by local and national guests: Patty Limerick, Colorado State Historian and University of Colorado Boulder’s director of the Center of the American West; Paolo Bacigalupi, author of The Water Knife; Roger Fragua of the organization Water is Life; and Melissa Mays, a concerned mom from Flint, Michigan, who started the group Water You Fighting For. “These are people who you want to spend one-and-a-half hours with,” Martin says. “ Really, it’s like a very interesting dinner party.”
To keep things upbeat, there will be a performance by Colorado’s Seven Falls Indian Dancers, as well as opportunities for audience participation—whether you can make it to the event or not. Attendees can submit questions at the event and anyone, from anywhere, can send questions through Twitter to @NPRMichel or @KUNC, tagged #NPRH2O.
The panel will be streamed live (find details here closer to the event) and recorded for a feature segment on “All Things Considered.” In other words: Don’t be surprised if you see the Centennial State in national headlines later this month.
Attend: May 24, 7 p.m.; Colorado State University’s Lory Student Center, 1101 Center Ave. Mall, Fort Collins; $15
At Yampa River State Park on Thursday, Josefina Kuberry, Jayden Evenson and more than 130 other third-graders were thinking about rocks.
“We glued different rocks on paper,” said Josefina, as she, Jayden and a group of other students began reciting the types of rock — igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic — that they’d just seen.
Third-graders from East, Ridgeview and Sandrock elementary schools gathered on Wednesday at the park to learn about cycles of water, rocks and various life forms. And they did it with the help from local agency experts who congregated at the park with the students.
Among the topics broached by Dusty Jager, rangeland management specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, were the roles plants play in filtering running water and the importance organic matter to the soil.
Bugs, Jager explained, are among those vital agents.
“They break down the organic matter, and they also help with infiltration of water when it rains,” he said.
Jager said the students were especially interested in the water trailer, or stream simulator, that NRCS staff members brought to the park.
Becky Jones agreed. She’s a private lands wildlife biologist working for NRCS, Colorado Parks & Wildlife and Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.
“They love it when you flood it, and when they can float things down the river,” she said.
Donn Slusher is a rangeland ecologist working for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. He’s in partnership with NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Slusher is also one of 26 sage grouse biologist specialists in the nation.
“We just kind of start out talking about where streams come from — the head waters and stuff — and how they move through the river,” he said, as he recalled during lunch break the talk he’d given to students. “We talk about vegetation and the importance of it to protect the banks from erosion.”
Gina Robison, outdoor recreation planner and program leader for the Bureau of Land Management, focused on the way “weathering and erosion” shaped the rocks scattered throughout the park — and throughout the region. That sort of knowledge, Robison said, can cultivate an appreciation of the environment.
“If you know a little bit about your environment, you’re able to appreciate it more,” she said. “You know how it works, you know how it got there, you know how it survives.”
And getting out into the environment in the first place was a key goal of Wednesday’s trip. Sam McCloskey, Colorado Parks & Wildlife ranger, said he and others staff members delivered presentations about plant life cycles. The students then went outside to examine those concepts by scrutinizing dandelions.
“One of the reasons we do a program like this is to increase their interest in (the outdoors),” McCloskey said.
Throughout the activities, students were moving through third-grade science standards, said Bobbi McAlexander, the East Elementary School third-grade teacher who coordinated the trip with the help of Colorado Parks & Wildlife. Those standards, she said, included learning about the water cycle, the rock cycle and the life cycle.
“They get the outdoor-education,” McAlexander added. “For a lot of (students), games take precedence (in their lives) — and this gets them in the outdoors.”
From Northern Water via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:
Residents can learn about water conservation and native plants at Northern Water’s Conservation Gardens Fair on Saturday.
The free event will be held 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at Northern Water, 220 Water Ave., in Berthoud. It will feature seminars, tours of the conservation gardens and advice on water saving measures and technology.
Expert advice will come from Associated Landscaper Contractors of Colorado, Fort Collins Utilities, Colorado State University Extension Office, Colorado master gardeners, Colorado Vista Landscape Design, High Plains Environmental Center, HydroPoint, L.L. Johnson, Loveland Water and Power and Plant Select.
The first 400 people will receive a perennial and a chance to spin the prize wheel.
Starting at 11 a.m., a limited number of free sandwiches will be available.
On the second and final day of a mining conference in Farmington, a question borne out of mounting frustration was raised by a New Mexico representative: “Are we going to benefit from Colorado’s Superfund designation? And if not, do we have to apply?”
The inquiry, posed by Rich Dembowski, chairman of the New Mexico Gold King Mine Citizen’s Advisory Committee, stems from lingering resentment that as the Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado pursue the federal hazardous cleanup program, New Mexico, and its concerns, are being ignored.
Dennis McQuillan, chief scientist of New Mexico’s Environmental Department, said requests for an informational meeting about the Superfund listing in New Mexico have gone unanswered by the federal agency.
Yet when New Mexico officials see EPA hearings scheduled in Silverton, Durango and Ignacio, McQuillan said it feels like an outright slight toward downstream interests.
“It’s a reoccurring theme – we’re not treated like stakeholders down here because we’re not in Colorado,” he said. “We’re basically forgotten. But we are stakeholders. Our people use the water.”
For two days, researchers from New Mexico and Native American tribes pored over the science behind the spill, the highly mineralized Silverton mining district, and the possible short and long-term effects of sediment loading in the Animas and San Juan rivers.
McQuillan said the conference was a bit of an attempt to play catch-up to years of research well-known in Southwest Colorado through groups such as the Animas River Stakeholders Group. He hopes next year’s conference will have more data to compare.
“I think the Gold King spill brought a lot of attention to the existing situation down here,” he said.
“We have this shocking visual of yellow river, and yet the issue’s been around a long time.”
McQuillan said instead, the state environmental department has been more concerned over the high levels of E. coli found in the stretches of the Animas and San Juan rivers within New Mexico, which pose a more immediate risk to human health.
“The Gold King spill took a lot of the attention away from that issue that’s still out there,” he said. “That’s why we need a holistic approach to the entire watershed. Maybe this single event will cause that holistic response.”
The EPA listed 48 mining-related sites in its Superfund proposal, all around the Silverton area. However, New Mexico officials maintained Wednesday a real cleanup of the watershed should include other contaminating sites from Silverton to Lake Powell.
“The elephant in the room right now is we don’t trust the government, and that’s focused at the EPA,” Dembowski said. “Why aren’t they answering questions?”
New Mexico officials claim the EPA hasn’t justified important data, such as metal levels in the water returning to pre-spill conditions, and failed to answer simple questions about the temporary water-treatment plant, which led the state to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
San Juan County Commissioner Kim Carpenter, who referred to the post-Gold King spill world as “hell,” made it clear he too is no fan of the EPA.
“There’s a lot of resentment over the mine spill,” he said.
“In every state there’s a fight about water. And sometimes we overlook the fact we have to fight for what we have, not just what we want.”
However, Carpenter said New Mexico communities along the Animas and San Juan watershed are “at the mercy of where it all starts,” and for real cleanup efforts to begin, “the blaming has to stop.”
Virginia McLemore, with the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, begrudgingly agreed that although relationships between communities along the watershed might not historically be fair, they must work toward a shared goal.
“For years, Colorado gets the financial benefits, and we have to deal with the metal laden sludge,” she said. “But this is a problem that affects us all, and we have to trust the federal agencies will do their part.”
Location map for abandoned mine near Silverton. The Silver Wing is in the upper right corner of the aerial.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The Grand Valley Drainage District has been able since 1983 to charge fees for services such as handling stormwater runoff, the district says in a Mesa County District Court filing.
The district responded to a lawsuit filed by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and Mesa County that asked the court to nullify the bills sent out to more than 40,000 property owners aimed at generating $2.5 million annually for stormwater improvements. The suit seeks a preliminary injunction that would stop the fee.
Mesa County owes $25,000 and the chamber $600, the drainage district said in its response that asks Judge David Bottger to uphold the fee and require the plaintiffs to pay the bills.
A hearing date is to be scheduled.
The district’s due date for payment is May 31. It is negotiating with the state to collect any unpaid fees.
The original lawsuit said the fees violated the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights section of the state constitution because it amounted to a tax that was imposed without a vote of the residents of the district.
The fees “are not a tax of any kind,” the district said in its response, but “service fees” needed to defray the cost of managing and controlling stormwater flowing off impervious surfaces.
The district’s existing mill levy brings in enough money to operate the networks of ditches and conduits needed to carry irrigation waters and seep toward the Colorado River.
The levy, however, “is not sufficient to address either the quality of water, or the increase in the quantity of water, generated by urban development and the impervious surfaces that are created as part of urbanization, such as roofs, sidewalks, driveways and parking lots,” the district said.
The district is charging residents within its 90-square-mile area north of the Colorado River $36 per year. Businesses, local governments, churches and other nonprofits are charged $36 per year for each 2,500-square-foot area of impervious surface they occupy.
The district also charges an impact fee on new development.
School District 51 is receiving a credit for its payments in recognition of teaching children about water and runoff.
The nation’s largest man-made reservoir slipped to a new record low sometime after 7 p.m. Wednesday, and forecasters from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expect see its surface drop another 2 feet through the end of June.
The latest dip into record-low territory comes as officials in Nevada, Arizona and California consider a new deal to prop up the declining lake by giving up some of their Colorado River water.
But some river advocates argue that those voluntary cuts could be rendered meaningless by proposed water developments that will further sap the overdrawn and drought-stricken river before it ever reaches Lake Mead…
Others see reason for hope.
Colby Pellegrino, Colorado River programs manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said the “silver lining of this cloud” is the cooperative work among water managers, regulators and policymakers across the river basin. She said some of those collaborations have already made a tangible difference at Lake Mead, where the water would be even lower than it is now without some of the banking agreements and conservation efforts agreed upon by the states.
The voluntary reductions being discussed are designed to stave off deeper, mandatory cuts for Arizona and Nevada if the lake sinks below levels outlined in a 2007 agreement.
Nevada would leave 8,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead each year under the first round of voluntary cuts, while Arizona would give up 192,000 of its 2.8 million acre-foot Colorado River allocation to benefit the reservoir…
The annual reductions would increase to 10,000 acre-feet for Nevada and 240,000 acre-feet for Arizona should Lake Mead drop another 30 feet to 1,045 feet above sea level.
Elevation 1,045 is also where California would see its first voluntary cuts, which start at 200,000 acre-feet a year and increase by 50,000 with every additional 5-foot drop in Lake Mead. Under existing law, California is not required to give up any of its 4.4 million acre-foot river allocation, which is the largest among the seven states that share the Colorado.
Lake Mead’s new record low erases the old mark of 1,074.71 feet above sea level set just over a year ago on June 26.
Federal forecasters expect the lake to finish this June at elevation 1,070.98. The last time Lake Mead had so little water in it was May 1937, the month of the Hindenburg disaster, when the reservoir was filling for the first time behind a newly completely Hoover Dam.
Record-low water levels present more of an access problem than a supply problem for the Las Vegas Valley, which depends on the lake for 90 percent of its water.
Southern Nevada Water Authority officials insist Nevada’s comparatively small 300,000 acre-foot share of the Colorado River can be stretched enough through reuse and conservation to serve the growing community for decades to come. But to keep that water flowing from the shrinking lake, the agency is spending almost $1.5 billion on a new deep-water intake and pumping station.
Wherever this year’s low-water mark eventually lands, the record is not expected to stand for long. The current forecast calls for Lake Mead to start 2017 about 4 feet higher than it is now, then dip downward again into record territory in April. The reservoir should bottom out near elevation 1,063 sometime in June 2017.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the elevation inched below the past record set last June, when it hit 1,074.70 feet, according to hourly data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency responsible for overseeing Western water management and the Hoover Dam.
“This is the early warning signal,” said Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with Western Resource Advocates, a conservation group. He said that it signifies that more water is being used than the Colorado River, which feeds Lake Mead, provides.
“It’s about an over-allocated resource,” he said.
Projections show the lake could continue dropping about 3 more feet through June, ebbing farther from a full capacity of 1,221 feet above sea level, which was last achieved in 1983. Facing a drought of more than a decade, it has dropped 130 feet since 2000.
“It’s a visual and physical manifestation for all of us,” said Rose Davis, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation. She added that water issues are plaguing countries throughout the world and that Lake Mead provides an illustration. “We might not see it globally but we can certainly see the bathtub ring.”
For now, the drop is largely symbolic since shortages are not likely to be triggered next year. But states could face cuts in 2018. No resource planning is an exact science, but the Bureau of Reclamation says there is a higher chance states will be asked to voluntarily reduce their Lake Mead allocations in 2018…
The river is fed by snow melt in the Rocky Mountains…
…the Southern Nevada Water Authority told the Sun earlier this month that it was building a water system impervious to elevation drops.
“We are building a water delivery system that will ensure a secure water supply regardless of lake levels in Lake Mead,” John Entsminger, SNWA’s general manager, said last week.
Last fall, the water authority completed a “third straw” project that would draw water from the bottom of the lake if surface elevations were to drop below a critical level of 1,000 feet. SNWA can call on more than 1 million acre-feet of water in the case of a shortage.
Beyond the drought and climate change, Beckwith said that what is also driving the drop is that Lake Mead loses more water than it takes in. He said states have come to recognize this in recent years.
Davis, with the Bureau of Reclamation, said that as states negotiate more voluntary reductions, individuals should also play a role in conservation and improving their water usage practices.
“(The water agencies are) doing what we can,” she said. “But it’s got to go farther than that. It’s got to go down to the individual.”
Many states, including Nevada, have made strides in conservation that focuses on the end-user, but Beckwith said more can be done.
“In the cities, we’re going to need to start deploying next-generation urban water efficiency measures,” he said. “How do you affect personal behavior rather than how do you just affect the toilets and the showers and the appliances that use water?”