#Snowpack news: May 22 Basin High/Low graphs

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

What’s up with the #Animas River, May 26 — Mountain Studies Institute


Click here for the inside skinny.

Fountain Creek District board meeting recap

<a href="https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/sir20145019">Report</a>: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013 -- USGS.
Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013 — USGS.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two projects to improve Fountain Creek will get underway soon after contracts were approved at Friday’s meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

A $67,000 contract with MWH Global was approved to evaluate flood control alternatives on Fountain Creek between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

It’s the next phase of a project to determine the best type and placement of flood control structures on Fountain Creek, which could include a dam or several smaller detention ponds.

The planning started with a U.S. Geological Survey study in 2013 that identified the most effective concepts to protect Pueblo from severe floods and reduce harmful sedimentation. Last year, another study determined flood control projects could be built without harming water rights downstream.

The new study will use $41,800 in grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board through the roundtable process. It is expected to be complete by Jan. 31, 2017.

A second project, totaling $60,000, was approved to continue a study of Fountain Creek stability and sediment loading by Matrix Design. The project was begun in 2010, and will identify the most critical areas for projects along Fountain Creek.

The district obtained matching funds for the projects through the payment of $125,000 from Colorado Springs Utilities to the district under terms of a recent intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County that allowed Southern Delivery System to be put into service.

The district board also agreed on a formula to fund routine operation of the district among member governments in Pueblo and El Paso County. The district is looking at $200,000 in funding for next year’s budget. The funding is allocated by population, with Colorado Springs paying half; unincorporated El Paso County, 25 percent; small incorporated cities in El Paso County, 5 percent. The city of Pueblo would pay $26,000, or 13 percent; Pueblo County, $13,000, or 6.5 percent.

Those costs are still subject to approval by each governmental entity.

#Snowpack #Runoff news: Dust on snow will affect runoff

Westwide SNOTEL map May 22, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL map May 22, 2016 via the NRCS.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Thanks to spring snowfalls and cooler temperatures keeping the snow in the mountains a bit longer, the Rio Grande Basin’s snowpack is now above normal.

In fact in the northern part of the basin the threat of flooding conditions now exists, Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Assistant Division Engineer James Heath told water leaders at the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday afternoon in Alamosa.

He said as of [May 16], the basin snowpack was 104 percent of normal.

“We exceeded last year’s peak, which is good,” he said. “We are looking at a pretty good runoff. The northern part of the Valley is looking at flooding conditions already.”

He said La Garita and Carnero Creeks are already running at about 100 cubic feet per second (cfs). They typically peak at 50-60 cfs.

“They will get higher over the next week,” he said.

He said Saguache Creek is running at 175 cfs and is steadily climbing.

Heath said the Division of Water Resources is reviewing three forecasts to help determine what the annual flow of the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems will be this year, but the three forecasts vary quite a bit. Traditionally the water office has relied on the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) but is also now reviewing forecasts from the National Weather Service and WRF-Hydro, a modeling system developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

On the Rio Grande, the National Weather Service has the highest forecast of 659,000 acre feet for the April-September time period , WRF-Hydro the next highest at 542,100 acre feet with NRCS at 445,000 acre feet for April-September . Division Engineer Craig Cotten decided to use a figure of 540,000 acre feet for the April-September time period and 660,000 acre feet for the calendar year.

“That’s above average on the Rio Grande system,” Heath said.

Thanks to return flows, the water division is going to maintain curtailment levels at 13 percent on the Rio Grande.

Curtailments on the Conejos River system have gone up, however, Heath explained. Curtailments were at 22 percent when the irrigation season started and now are at 26 percent.

The total anticipated flow of the Conejos River system this year is 300,000 acre feet, which is about average, Heath said, with 267,500 acre feet anticipated April-September. The forecasts between NRCS, the National Weather Service and WRF-Hydro were not as disparate on the Conejos system, with NRCS estimating 208,500 acre feet April-September, the National Weather Service predicting 327,000 acre feet and WRF-Hydro anticipating 297,700 acre feet.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Dust on snow is more than unsightly.

It also causes the snowpack to melt sooner, which affects runoff into the San Luis Valley’s rivers, creeks and irrigation ditches.

The only place in Colorado to do so, the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies (CSAS) monitors and measures dust-on-snow events at 11 mountainous locations including two affecting the San Luis Valley, Wolf Creek Pass and Spring Creek Pass.

CSAS Director Jeff Derry talked about the center’s work and made a preview presentation for financial support to the Rio Grande Roundtable on [May 17] in Alamosa. The water group will consider the formal request during its next meeting.

Derry said the data the dust-onsnow studies provide helps improve snowmelt forecasts.

“We collect a lot of data that SNOTEL does not,” he said.

The monitoring sites are at higher elevations than most SNOTEL measurement sites, he said.

Colorado’s recently completed water plan acknowledges dust on snow as a problem, Derry said. Simply put, when the snow is dirty, it melts faster because it does not reflect off the sun as well, Derry explained.

He said there could be several dust-on-snow events through a winter, which create layers of dust between snowfall layers in the snowpack, and in the spring when the snow begins to melt off the mountain, when the snowpack reaches those dust layers, it melts at a higher rate. This can explain erratic peaks in runoff, he said.

“Dust can be a major error in forecasting because they don’t know where dust might be in the snowpack so they can’t account for it,” Derry said. He said the biggest source of dust is from the Southern Colorado Plateau. The only way to know how many layers of dust there are in the snowpack is to dig snow pits, Derry said. “There’s just no substitute for going out and digging a snow pit.” He said this year on average there were about six dust events, with most of those being moderate events. Last winter there were three. “We usually see about eight events a year,” Derry said. There have been as many as 12-13 dust events in a year, however.

Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Nathan Coombs said this type of information could be valuable for water management in the basin.

“This is a very big decision-making tool,” he said.

“Any kind of forecasting tool is very important to us,” added Roundtable member Travis Smith.

Derry will be asking for financial assistance from each of the basin roundtables . His first request was to the Rio Grande Basin roundtable.

He is asking for $25,000, but that could be split over more than one year, he said.

Dust on snow in the San Juans
Dust on snow in the San Juans

From The Mountain Mail [May 9, 2016] (Paul Goetz):

Colorado snowpack reached 104 percent of median by May 1, the Natural Resources Conservation Service reported Friday in a news release.

Conditions have shown the first improvement over the previous month since Jan. 1.

Mountain precipitation across the state during April was the best in 2016 at 110 percent of normal. Water year-to-date is at 100 percent of normal.

Colorado’s current snowpack and precipitation levels are right where they should be this time of year, Brian Domonkos, Colorado snow survey supervisor, said.

Elsewhere in the West seasonal snowpack has succumbed to early spring warming and has not recovered as Colorado did from recent storms, he said.

“In the Pacific Northwest, low precipitation and high temperatures led to a dramatic reduction in snowpack,” said NRCS hydrologist Cara McCarthy. “In this area, peak streamflow is arriving weeks earlier than normal this year.”

Not all areas have low snowpack. “Parts of Wyoming and Colorado have seen much above-average precipitation in recent weeks, causing concerns about potential flooding in the North Platte,” said McCarthy.

Snowpack for the North Platte River basin is 114 of median, 177 percent of last year.

The South Platte River basin is 114 percent of median, 117 percent of last year.

The seven major mountain watersheds in Colorado all received 90 percent of normal April precipitation or better. Special mention is warranted in the Arkansas, Upper Rio Grande and combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins because these areas received 120 percent of normal or better precipitation.

Rio Grande River Basin snowpack reached 77 percent of median and 269 percent of last year’s snowpack.

Yampa/White river basins are sitting at 106 percent of median, 224 percent of last year’s snowpack.

The seven major watersheds also have 90 percent of normal or better water year-to-date precipitation.

Arkansas River Basin snowpack reached 110 percent of median, 122 percent of last year’s snowpack.

Snowpack metrics indicate that the North and South Platte river basins have the best snowpack in the state at 114 percent of normal.

The Arkansas River saw the greatest improvement in April, while the Upper Rio Grande and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins saw little change. Snowpack there is now 77 and 85 percent of normal, respectively.

Although not reflected in snowpack values, the NRCS noted it is also fortunate that rain was abundant most particularly in the Upper Rio Grande, which added to the greater water budget.

Statewide reservoir totals increased 1 percent since April 1, ending the month at 112 percent of normal, with declines occurring in the Rio Grande, Arkansas and combined Yampa, White and North Platte watersheds.

#AnimasRiver: New Mexico pushes for remedies in wake of mine waste spill — The Native Times

On April 7, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
On April 7, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Native Times:

The federal government and Colorado have made little progress in remedying damage from the release of millions of gallons of wastewater from a southern Colorado mine last year, New Mexico’s top prosecutor charged in a pair of scathing letters sent to officials this week.

The wastewater, which contained arsenic, copper, lead, mercury and other dangerous pollutants, rushed down a Colorado mountainside and eventually fouled rivers in three Western states, setting off a major response by government agencies and private groups.

Attorney General Hector Balderas wrote to the head of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado officials as New Mexico’s threat to sue the agency, the neighboring state and two mining companies remains on the table.

Balderas said New Mexico reached out to discuss independent monitoring and remedial measures in the wake of the spill, but he’s concerned about the lack of progress.

New Mexico’s requests have been disregarded and minimized, he said.

“I am disappointed by the continued unwillingness to respond to the New Mexico Environment Department’s numerous attempts to resolve this matter diplomatically and outside of court,” Balderas said. “The safe and peaceful livelihood of our citizens should override any political or scientific indifferences that we face.”

The EPA didn’t comment directly on the letter, but a spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the agency takes responsibility for the cleanup of the spill.

Erin Lamb, a spokeswoman for Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, declined to comment because of the possible litigation.

The EPA announced last month that it would reimburse states, tribes and local governments about $1 million for their costs after an EPA-led crew triggered the release of 3 million gallons of wastewater from the inactive Gold King Mine while doing preliminary cleanup work.

Most of the money is for the cost of responding to the spill, but requests for another $570,000 in expenses from the immediate aftermath are still being considered.

During the spill, water utilities briefly shut down their intake valves and farmers stopped drawing from the rivers as the bright yellow plume moved downstream.

The EPA said the water quality quickly returned to pre-spill levels, but some continue to warn about heavy metals collecting in the sediment and being stirred up each time rain or snowmelt results in runoff.

In his letters, Balderas said New Mexico’s agricultural landscape was severely damaged by what he described as a catastrophe. He said meeting the state’s repeated and reasonable demands for compensation and long-term monitoring would be a step toward justice.

“Following this tragic incident, our greatest concern should be ensuring that the people and the lands we live on are free from hazardous materials,” he wrote.

According to the EPA, $2 million has been allocated to support the states’ and tribes’ monitoring plans. Another $628,000 will help to fund a real-time alert system that will monitor water quality.

Sampling locations also have been set up in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and on Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo tribal lands as part of the EPA’s monitoring program.

New Mexico has developed its own monitoring plan and the city of Farmington, which taps the Animas River for drinking water, has installed sensors to detect contamination.

#ColoradoRiver #COriver: “…this is a time of great reckoning” — Patty Limerick via NPR

Patty Limerick
Patty Limerick

From NPR (Michel Martin):

As the Colorado River dries out, the seven states that rely on this body of water risk water scarcity. Colorado state historian Patty Limerick discusses preparations for water scarcity in the West.


Now we’re going to take the conversation closer to home. Water is becoming a major topic of concern in the American West. Just take the Colorado River. Forty million people in seven states depend upon it for drinking, farming and recreation, and the strain on the river is showing. For the last decade, the Colorado River has been completely dry by the time it completes its 1,400 mile journey to the Sea of Cortez.

That’s just one reason we’re heading to Colorado on Tuesday for our live event series. And one of the people we’ll meet up with there is Patty Limerick. She’s the faculty director for the Center for the American West in Boulder, and she’s also the Colorado state historian. Patty, thanks so much for joining us.

PATTY LIMERICK: Oh, what a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: Now you have a saying that I want to introduce everybody to. You call the last 100 years in the American West, quote, “the era of improbable comfort made possible by a truly astonishing but taken for granted infrastructure,” unquote. It’s catchy. But unpack that for me.

LIMERICK: Oh, thank you. In my opinion, that’s just a wonderful way of saying after initial encounters of Euro-Americans with this region, they just thought, it’s too dry for conventional American settlement. It can’t happen here. Then all kinds of ingenuity and hard work kicked in, and this place became a very comfortable place to live.

You turn on a faucet, you get water. You turn on a switch, you get electricity. It’s just a – it’s a remarkable transformation. And so if you look before this era and if you look at the future, that is implausible and improbable comfort. And it is not guaranteed for the ages. In fact, this is a time of great reckoning.

MARTIN: Do I take that to mean that you believe that era is now over? And if so, why? Is it because of climate change, or is it because of demand?

LIMERICK: Yeah, I think it’s petering out more than ended. I think a whole bunch of factors – certainly climate change – and as the managers of, well, most water utilities say it’s not that we’re moving from one determined, defined state of precipitation to another one. The past no longer really give us our bearings. We don’t know that there’s not going to be a new, stable normal. It’s really a state of continued uncertainty. I’ve been in this area for 32 years, and I would say I see change.

MARTIN: Now a World Bank report said that lack of water could give rise to a lot of interpersonal conflict. In your state, conflicts have already arisen with the eastern and western parts of the state sometimes in conflict over water rights. I mean, do you – is that something that you see?

LIMERICK: I think it’s an open question. I would say there’s a very strong streak of collaboration. And the state of Colorado has a state water plan for the first time in its history. It was a very long process. And they squabbled, they fought, but then they reached some kind of report that they could all stand behind. Now having that as a written document is pretty different from having a new this is how we conduct ourselves and this is how water is allocated.

MARTIN: So what I think I hear you saying is that conflict isn’t the only choice. What you also see…


MARTIN: …Are new pathways to collaboration around this because people are understanding just how crucial it is. So, Patty, before we let you go, why should people in other parts of the country care about this?

LIMERICK: Because you can have droughts in the southeast. Georgia and Alabama – those states have squabbled over water during periods of drought. And bedrock – most important – water quality can create a problem of scarcity. I don’t want to take us off track, but Flint, Mich. is the place to remember – to think it’s not just the West.

MARTIN: Patty Limerick is the Colorado state historian and the faculty director of the Center for the American West in Boulder. She will be joining me in Fort Collins, Colo., on Tuesday for our live event. It’s called The Future of Water. It’s a conversation about a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about and more. You can start joining the conversation right now if you care to. Our hashtag is #nprh20. That’s on Tuesday in Fort Collins, Colo. Patty, thank you so much for joining us.

LIMERICK: Oh, thank you. I can’t wait until Tuesday.

#ColoradoRiver Basin: Evapotranspiration big user of water #COriver

Evaporation and transpiration graphic via the USGS
Evaporation and transpiration graphic via the USGS

From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

More water is lost across the seven-state basin to evaporation due to human factors such as irrigation during July — about 8.5 million acre-feet — than what flows downriver from Lake Powell to Lake Mead in an average year, says the study, from seven researchers in Southern California, Taiwan and China.

The 8.5 million acre-feet is more than five years worth of Central Arizona Project water for Tucson, Phoenix and neighboring cities and farms. An acre-foot covers a football field a foot deep.

During July, 38 percent of evaporation in the seven-state basin — which also includes big reservoirs such as Lake Powell and Lake Mead — is typically caused by human factors, the study says. Year-round, the human share is about 12 percent, the study says.

The study, covering 2003 to 2010, used satellite data and computer models to calculate the difference between natural and human causes of what’s called evapotranspiration — a combination of two forces.

Evaporation occurs from a water body such as a reservoir or river. Transpiration occurs when water irrigates a crop, is taken up into plants through its roots, and goes on small pores on the underside of leaves. There, it changes to vapor and is released.

The 8.5 million acre-feet is “a pretty big number, for sure,” said Stephanie Castle, a water resource specialist in Irvine, California, who co-authored the study. “The middle of summer is when it’s hottest, when there’s the most evaporation off Mead and Powell, and when it’s more likely that irrigation is applied.”

Hopefully the study will start a conversation about how to minimize evapotranspiration losses, said another author, Jay Famiglietti, a senior scientist for NASA’s Joint Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

“We lose a lot of water from reservoirs that were built at a time when we didn’t think evapotranspiration was as important as we do today. We can’t fix the problem if we don’t start putting numbers out for comparison,” Famiglietti said.

Evaporation from reservoirs has long been a flash point for environmentalists who decry the damming of rivers and its resulting environmental degradation to store water for people…

As long as reservoirs exist, it’s unlikely much can be done to reduce their evaporation because they’re too big, Famiglietti said. But irrigation water loss “is a bit easier problem to tackle,” said Famiglietti, who earned a master’s degree in hydrology from the University of Arizona in 1986.

“Using less water and being more efficient with irrigated agriculture can certainly help,” he said, particularly drip irrigation lines that can be covered by topsoil.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Colorado’s reservoirs, declined detailed comment on the study, as did the Central Arizona Project.

“It’s interesting information to add to the studies that exist already regarding the Colorado River,” said bureau spokeswoman Rose Davis. “We appreciate the interest in the Colorado River.”

Losing water to evaporation “is the price we pay for having four years worth of water stored in the reservoirs,” added CAP spokesman Mitch Basefsky.

The Arizona Farm Bureau, a farmers’ educational and advocacy group, agreed that the study touches on a valid concern that desert states with low humidity and high temperatures have high evapotranspiration rates. But Arizona farmers using flood irrigation have modified practices to reduce water use and evapotranspiration, said Julie Murphree, a Farm Bureau spokeswoman.

“Unfortunately, such a study does not take into account all the things the farmers are doing to reduce water use,” Murphree said.

UA hydrologist Thomas Meixner and Oregon State University hydrologist Michael Campana generally praised the study, in part because it shows the importance of using satellite data to measure evaporation. Evaportranspiration is probably the most difficult form of water behavior to measure, since you can’t see it, said Campana, who earned a master’s degree and a doctorate at the UA in the 1970s.

While the discovery of large-scale evapotranspiration may not be shocking, it’s important that the researchers were able to measure it, Meixner said. If you do wholesale changes to landscapes, he said, you need to know: “How does that affect the climate?”