#Drought news: No change in depiction for #Colorado, warm weather to dominate for the next week

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


The past week’s weather brought about a mixed bag of changes to the U.S. Drought Monitor map, with expansion of dryness and/or drought noted in the Northeast, Southeast, upper Great Lakes, northern Plains and Pacific Northwest. The most notable expansions this week are the advancement of D0 across the northern Cascades in Washington up to the Canadian border and the expansion of D0-D1 and a new area of D2 in the Southeast centered over northern Georgia, northern Alabama and southern Tennessee. For the most part, unseasonably warm temperatures were found east of the Rocky Mountains (with the exception being California), particularly in the Midwest, Upper Great Lakes and Northeast, where readings ran 5-15 degrees above the norm. On the other side of the spectrum, cooler-than-normal temperatures were observed across much of the West as Mother Nature always seems to find a way to balance the scales…

The Plains

Again, heavy rains pounded eastern Texas, parts of eastern Oklahoma and eastern Kansas. Recent rains have also led to the trimming or removal D0 across western Texas and the Texas Panhandle. Farther north, recent dryness and more seasonable temperatures have led to an expansion of D0 in western South Dakota and into northeastern Wyoming. Rains in northwest North Dakota and parts of eastern North Dakota have led to the reduction of D0 there…

The West

Most of the changes on this week’s map were for the better, with the one exception being the northern Cascades in Washington, which saw a push of D0 conditions north to the Canadian border. Elsewhere, D2 has been removed from the Big Horn range in Wyoming given the more favorable weather of late, but D0-D1 still remains as we head into summer. Some minor reduction of D0-D1 was also made in northwestern Montana this week, but lingering long-term water supply impacts remain. Other areas seeing changes for the better can be found along the eastern and southern flanks of the drought across western Nevada, extreme southeastern California, northwestern Arizona and southwestern Utah. Although certainly not all in the clear, northwestern California has seen some minor reduction of D0-D1…

Looking Ahead

The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) (June 1-8, 2016) is showing a very dry week on tap west of the continental divide. Heavy rains are expected in the southern Plains, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, southern Florida, the middle Appalachians and New England. The West will also warm up under some strong ridging as temperatures are expected to be running 6-18 degrees above normal for this time of year. Cooler weather should persist over this period in Texas, the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast.

Under strong model and forecast tool agreement, CPC’s 6-10 day outlooks are showing a strong ridge building in the West and extending into the central and northern Plains. Temperatures here will likely be running well above normal for the period June 7-11. Temperatures across Alaska and the Southeast also look to be above normal while the Northeast is most likely to experience below-normal temperatures during this time frame. As for precipitation, the odds are tilted toward above-normal totals in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the northern Great Basin and northern New England. The odds are not looking good in the central and southern Great Plains, Midwest, Gulf Coast region (except for southern Florida), and Mid-Atlantic, with rainfall looking likely to be below normal through early June.

It’ll be crowded on the Dolores River tomorrow — first boating release in a while

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Durango Herald:

A whitewater boating release below McPhee Dam will begin at 1 a.m. Friday and last at least three days.

Flows will be ramped up to at least 800 cubic feet per second by early Friday morning, and will remain at that level through Sunday, June 5.

Reservoir managers said the recreational release could lengthen, and flows may go higher as the reservoir fills and water is sent downriver.

The spill was delayed until warm weather brought the runoff forecast into focus.

A peak is expected in June on the Upper Dolores River as mountain snowpack melts.

It takes a few hours for release to reach the Bradfield Bridge put-in and other boat ramps.

The release will taper off late Sunday, ramping down from 800 cfs to 600 cfs over two days. From there, the river will drop down to 400 cfs over two days, then 200 cfs and finally 65 cfs. Minimum boatable flows for rafts is 800 cfs to 600 cfs; minimum for kayaks flow is 300 cfs to 400 cfs.

Smaller rafts and kayaks could enjoy five to seven days of boating run in the 100-mile canyon below McPhee.

After Sunday, decisions about releases will be posted on the McPhee Reservoir website.

Documentary filmmaker Rig to Flip has been monitoring the Lower Dolores and has identified and photographed a new boulder field and rapid upstream of the Dove Creek pump house and boat ramp.

The ‘Harbinger of Doom’ escapes the newsroom — #NewMexico In Depth

John Fleck photo via State of the Rockies Project -- Colorado College
John Fleck photo via State of the Rockies Project — Colorado College

From New Mexico In Depth (Laura Paskus):

Around the newsroom, John Fleck used to be called The Harbinger of Doom. When drought overtook New Mexico more than a decade ago, his stories regularly started running with headlines like: “New Mexico in its worst drought since 1880s,” “Conflicts rise as water dwindles,” and “San Juan water dries up for first time in 40 years.”

Initially covering science and the national laboratories, Fleck didn’t take over the water beat at the Albuquerque Journal until New Mexico was well into its most recent drought. “I was geared up to write about people running out of water,” he says today, sitting on his back porch and watching doves dip their beaks into a makeshift pond while black-chinned hummingbirds inspect the flowers. In 2013, when wells were running dry in the communities of Magdalena and Maxwell, he’d hit the road with a photographer, then bang out more depressing stories.

But the coverage didn’t feel quite right to him: “I began to realize there was this other story about people not running out of water,” he says.

Locally, for example, he points to a drop in Albuquerque’s water consumption. At the same time, as the city relied less on groundwater pumping and more on water from the Rio Grande, the aquifer started recovering.

“By the end, I was chafing under the constraint of what a newspaper story should be – 600, or maybe 750 words,” he says. Short, to-the-point, and focused on a crisis. In general, newspapers aren’t in the business of peddling stories about complicated issues and the subtle, nuanced solutions people devise.

Despite the nickname, Fleck just isn’t a gloomy guy. The grind of it all began to wear on him.

After three decades of writing short, punchy stories about crisis and conflict, he’s now thinking beyond day-to-day headlines. He’s also crafting deep arguments on how to solve the same problems he reported on before leaving the Journal last year. Today he’s an adjunct faculty member and writer-in-residence in the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program. His latest book, Water is for Fighting Over and Other Myths about Water in the West, publishes in September.

By focusing almost exclusively on failures and crises, he says that newspapers create a gap in the public narrative. Which is too bad, he says: “Positive messages can help people who are otherwise scared and combative about the future.”

Looking outside New Mexico, Fleck found more examples of declining water use—and of people coming together to work cooperatively. “I started to see all these places where, in the midst of the risk of crisis, people are slowly and quietly adapting,” he says. “But that doesn’t get as much attention—because it’s slow and quiet.”

Moving last year from the Journal Center to an office at UNM, Fleck finally found his sweet spot. He no longer had to focus on crisis. And he could turn his attention fully toward a river he’s loved since childhood: the Colorado River, where seven states share water under an agreement signed nearly a century ago.

While researching his book, Fleck started off curious about what happens when there’s not enough water; relying heavily on water stored in reservoirs, by the late 1990s states were using more water than actually flowed through the Colorado annually.

He ended up surprised by how well people work together to avoid a crisis. Reinforcing relationships outside the negotiating room is important, he says. That’s in part because in this new era of scarcity, the old rules and the old battle lines don’t hold up very well.

One story Fleck loves to tell involves a raft and two Colorado River foes: an environmental advocate and the general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which moves more than a million acre-feet of river water through the desert in canals and pipes. Dueling from opposite ends of the water wars, the two had been quoted in the same newspaper articles. But before that rafting trip, they’d never actually met in person. Afterwards, they crafted ways to protect Mexico’s Cienega de Santa Clara from the impacts of a desalination plant. People would still get their water. But an important watershed, one that supports migrating birds and wildlife at the lower end of the Colorado, wouldn’t be destroyed.

A rafting trip—or something simpler, like a drink together at the bar or a shared meal—might not seem like a big deal. But when formal relationships strengthen, evolve, or cross institutional boundaries, Fleck thinks people better understand what the others want and value when they’re sitting around the negotiating table.

As drought has further deepened the gap between water supply and demand on the Colorado, states and water users may be facing dire challenges. And yet, there are flickers of hope within the gloom of crisis.

A celebration of the return of water to the Delta near San Luis Rio Colorado
A celebration of the return of water to the Delta near San Luis Rio Colorado

A few years ago, for example, more than a dozen U.S. and Mexican agencies, as well as environmental groups, cooperated to deliver water to cities and farms during a drought – and also open the gates of Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border. That pulse of water would mimic the spring runoff rivers naturally experience when their waters aren’t dammed, diverted, and siphoned into taps and irrigation canals. In other words, water managers would allow the lower part of the Colorado to act like a river, rather than just a channel that delivers water for human needs.

It was a historic event. Since the 1960s, the river hasn’t typically reached the sea.

Greedy for water after decades dry, the channel sucked up most of the water before it made it to the ocean. But even after the eight-week long pulse moved through, scientists continued studying how the delta responded: they monitored where plants grew and survived, how that stream side habitat has affected birds and wildlife, and how the return of freshwater affected the groundwater.

With all that information, they’re learning more about the Colorado and its delta—and how future spring pulses or supplemental water releases might help the system and its wildlife even more.

Fleck still grins and waves his arms when talking about watching that water spread and fill the sandy channel two years ago. Activists, scientists, and officials from the US and Mexico peered over the bridge. And in the community of San Luis Río Colorado—a community still named for a river that no longer flowed past—people celebrated the water’s return. Families dragged lawn chairs and coolers to the riverbank. Kids threw up their arms and jumped into the water.

“It was made possible because all these people were working together for years,” Fleck says. “This collection of humans were all excited that they had done something people thought couldn’t be done.”

To see a video about the pulse flow and some of the studies being done, visit: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/details.cgi?aid=10280

Elevated lead levels found in Berthoud water — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

About a year after tests revealed elevated levels of lead in the town of Berthoud’s drinking water, another round of tests revealed similar results.

The town issued a notice to residents Wednesday that five of 40 samples recently tested for elevated lead levels. Town representatives did not immediately respond to a Coloradoan request for more information about the test results.

Berthoud’s drinking water system has struggled to meet the regulatory standard for lead in drinking water since at least 2014, records obtained by the Coloradoan show. In 2014, the water system had levels double the federal standard of 15 parts of lead per billion parts of water.

In 2015, another round of tests yielded the same result. The town’s water system serves about 5,400 people.

The 15 parts per billion value is a regulatory standard, not a public health standard. [ed. emphasis mine] Lead exposure can cause serious damage to the brain and kidneys and is especially dangerous for infants, young children and pregnant women…

Berthoud is far from the only Colorado community to struggle with elevated lead levels in its drinking water. Nineteen of Colorado’s 64 counties yielded at least one drinking water test result with 15 ppb or more of lead between 2012 and 2015. The water systems that met or exceeded the action level for lead during that time period serve about 295,000 people, or 5.5 percent of the state’s population.

Berthoud’s elevated lead levels likely originated from lead in plumbing fixtures, according to a town press release. Town leaders are working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a corrosion control treatment program to implement soon, the release said.

The town is also updating its material survey to ensure that drinking water samples are being taken at the sites with the highest risk — namely, homes built between 1982 and 1986, when plumbing often contained lead. The town is sending letters to about 260 homes that fit that criterion to see if they’d be interested in becoming part of the drinking water sampling pool.

Per state regulations, Berthoud must collect 40 drinking water samples every six months and submit them for testing.

Brass faucets, fittings and valves advertised as “lead-free” can contain up to 8 percent lead, the press release cautioned, advising Berthoud residents to opt for fixtures certified by the National Sanitation Foundation instead.

Get the lead out

The release from the town of Berthoud offers advice for residents worried about lead in their drinking water:

1. Run your water to flush out lead. If it hasn’t been used for several hours, run the cold water tap until the temperature is noticeably colder.

2. Always use cold water for drinking, cooking and preparing baby formula. Never cook with or drink water from the hot water tap and don’t use it to make baby formula.

3. Boiling water won’t reduce lead.

4. Periodically remove and clean the faucet’s strainer or aerator. While it’s removed, run the water to remove debris.

5. Consider investing in a home water treatment device or alternative water source. When purchasing a water treatment device, make sure it is certified under Standard 53 by NSF International to remove lead. Contact NSF at 1-800-NSF-8010, or visit the Water Quality Association’s website at http://www.wqa.org.

6. Identify and replace plumbing fixtures containing lead. Brass faucets, fittings and valves, including those advertised as “lead- free,” may leach lead into drinking water. The NSF website at http://www.nsf.org has more information on lead-containing plumbing fixtures. You should use only lead-certified contractors.

7. Have a licensed electrician check your wiring. If grounding wires from the electrical system are attached to your pipes, corrosion may be greater. Check with a licensed electrician or your local electric code to determine if your wiring can be grounded elsewhere. Don’t try to change the wiring yourself because improper grounding can cause electrical shock and fire hazards.

8. Parents should consult with a medical professional for advice about whether to have their child’s blood tested for lead.

Residents who want to be included in the town’s list of sampling sites can contact its water department at 970-532-2393. If your home isn’t a high-risk site but you would like to test your water, the town suggests these nearby labs:

Colorado Analytical

240 South Main Street, Brighton, Colorado


ACCUTEST Laboratories

4036 Youngfield Street, Wheat Ridge, Colorado


#Snowpack #Runoff news: The Summer Water Picture Not Quite as Rosy This Year — The Crested Butte News

Gunnison River Basin High/Low graph June 1, 2016 via the NRCS.
Gunnison River Basin High/Low graph June 1, 2016 via the NRCS.

From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

Snowpack across the Gunnison River Basin is below normal, particularly in the East River Basin where the predicted streamflow for the April through July runoff season is 78 percent of normal.

Spring runoff for the East River is likely to peak within the next few days. “The long-term average peak occurs on June 11, so this year’s peak seems to be on track or a few days earlier than normal,” Kugel said.

Reservoir conditions look to be quite different from last year. Last June, both the Taylor Park and Blue Mesa Reservoirs came within inches of spilling over. This coming summer, Taylor Park Reservoir is projected to reach somewhere between 90 percent and 95 percent of full and Blue Mesa is projected to reach 83 percent of capacity.

Kugel attributes the difference to a slightly better snowpack in the Taylor Park area and a recent 10-day peak flow release from Blue Mesa in accordance with a record of decision for the Aspinall Environmental Impact Study. Water was released for the lower Gunnison River for endangered fish habitat.

“Blue Mesa should start filling again but dropped several thousand acre-feet during the release and is currently at 69 percent of capacity,” Kugel said.

The Taylor Park Reservoir is currently at 72 percent of capacity and is in the midst of its peak release of 450 cubic feet per second (cfs), which started Tuesday, May 31 and runs through Saturday, June 4.

“We do that both to satisfy privately held instream flow rights on the Taylor River and to help flush sediments from the streambed and improve the fishery on the Taylor River. Once the release is complete, it will be stepped back down to 300 cfs over the course of a few days and it should remain at that for the month of June,” Kugel said.

That will make for good flows for several June events featuring local waterways. This year’s Gunnison River Festival, which features the annual river float and fish fry as well as events at the Whitewater Park, will take place just after the 41st annual Colorado Water Workshop.

Originally started by local historian Duane Vandenbusche and Gunnison water lawyer Richard Bratton, this year’s workshop features several authors, including Western Slope writer Craig Childs.

The Colorado Foundation for Water Education will also host a two-day tour of the Gunnison River Basin, providing an in-depth look at everything from Blue Mesa Reservoir to local irrigation practices and infrastructure to an organic farm and the Gunnison Whitewater Park.

The tour runs June 21-22; the Colorado Water Workshop runs June 22-24; and the Gunnison River Festival runs June 24-26.

Learn more at http://www.western.edu/academics/undergraduate/environment-sustainability/conferences/colorado-water-workshop.

Rifle limits water use due to intake pipe break — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Rifle Gap
Rifle Gap

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The city of Rifle on Wednesday barred outdoor water use after discovering a break in the pipe delivering water from the Colorado River to its treatment plant.

Crews found the leak around 4 p.m. and the city imposed the mandatory water restriction until further notice, to maintain flows for in-house use and in the case of fire. The city said in a news release that there is no estimate of when the pipe will be repaired, but it is working diligently on the problem.

It plans to notify residents once repairs have been made via means including the city’s website, the local Channel 10 community television station and on reader boards on Railroad Avenue.

#AnimasRiver: “But you don’t learn how to read the river in a week or a month. It takes years” — Roger Dale

Photo via https://mild2wildrafting.com
Photo via https://mild2wildrafting.com

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Last week, 20 or so river enthusiasts began Mountain Waters Rafting & Adventure guide training, eager to take on the six-day course that would bring them down the Animas River in a seemingly endless succession.

“We all run the same stretch of river, with the same old boats and the same old-school buses,” said Mountain Waters’ co-owner James Wilkes. “The only thing that separates one from the other is that person at the back of the boat.”

Kicking into gearThe scene at Mountain Water’s boat yard behind the Jiffy Lube on U.S. Highway 160 before classes start at 8 a.m. is a serene blend between a Dust Bowl refugee camp and a college dorm.

Campers fill the parking lot as breakfast boils over a portable stove. Trainees wedge into their wetsuits and splash gear. A lone 20-something in a bathrobe rolls a cigarette as Creedence Clearwater Revival asks in the background its eternal question: Who will stop the rain?

But once trip leader Doug Ponce calls for people to load up, the day kicks into gear.

“Being a guide really depends on your hunger and drive,” Ponce said.

Twice a year, before the rafting season gets in full swing, Mountain Waters hosts two guide training courses, which provide beginning boaters with the state-required 50 hours of experience on the river. Other companies in town offer a similar session.

And though anyone can take the course for whatever reasons, Wilkes said the training is an essential part of restaffing for the busy summer season.

“Durango people come and go,” Wilkes said. “A lot of kids do summer jobs, and then they move on. So it’s imperative we offer this training.”

Wilkes said Mountain Waters needs around 30 to 40 guides to handle the workload during peak season. Yet each year, only about 20 return, which is actually a good retention rate relative to Durango, Wilkes said.

It’s tough to gauge the town’s porous population of river guides. Wilkes estimated that with eight rafting companies around Durango, it’s likely there are about 100 full-timers, and another couple hundred on call.

A tough jobThe life of a river guide is not easy, Wilkes said. Pay can be erratic, landing trips can be competitive, and workers usually need a second job – and on top of all that, it only lasts about 10 weeks.

“It can be feast or famine,” Wilkes said.

Despite all that, there is no shortage of people who want to spend long summer days on the river.

“A lot or people see this job with a seasonal mentality, and it can be difficult,” said Ponce, who is entering his seventh year as a guide. “But if it got boring, I would have stopped by now.”

One trainee, Russ Penasa, graduated from Fort Lewis College in May, and with the flexibility of the post-graduate summer, signed up for the course hoping to land a job as a guide.

“I just figured, why not?” Penasa said. “I’ll try to get a job here, or if not, with another company in town.”

Flipping happensIndeed, the pursuit to become a guide is a labor of love. On Monday, just three days into training, Ponce gave the order to intentionally flip a raft in the precarious Corner Pocket Rapid in the Durango Whitewater Park.

“With the new whitewater park, unfortunately, flipping is something that happens,” Ponce said. “And the only way to prepare someone for that is to put them in it.”

Madison Smith, also a recent FLC grad, was one of the unlucky few jettisoned off the 16-foot raft and into the turbulent, murky waters of the Animas, running at around 3,000 cubic feet per second.

“You feel pretty vulnerable even with the life jacket,” Smith said. “But we’re learning how to have composure during chaos. People totally freak out, and it’s contagious.”

For the rest of the week, instructors, little by little, wean themselves out of the situation, allowing trainees to take over and make split-second decisions on the river.

Some will take jobs; others will take their newly acquired skills elsewhere.

Regardless, all leave with a better understanding of how to read the subtle signs in the water.

“And that’s really the most challenging part,” said Roger Dale, an instructor. “But you don’t learn how to read the river in a week or a month. It takes years.”

#ColoradoRiver: “Unprecedented high temperatures in the [#COriver] basin are causing the flow of the river to decline” — Brad Udall

The Colorado River Basin. The Upper Colorado River Basin is outlined in black.
The Colorado River Basin. The Upper Colorado River Basin is outlined in black.

From The Las Vegas Desert Sun (Ian James):

Lake Mead reached the new all-time low on [May 18, 2016] night, slipping below a previous record set in June 2015.

The downward march of the reservoir near Las Vegas reflects enormous strains on the over-allocated Colorado River. Its flows have decreased during 16 years of drought, and climate change is adding to the stresses on the river.

As the levels of Lake Mead continue to fall, the odds are increasing for the federal government to declare a shortage in 2018, a step that would trigger cutbacks in the amounts flowing from the reservoir to Arizona and Nevada. With that threshold looming, political pressures are building for California, Arizona and Nevada to reach an agreement to share in the cutbacks in order to avert an even more severe shortage.

“This problem is not going away and it is likely to get worse, perhaps far worse, as climate change unfolds,” said Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University. “Unprecedented high temperatures in the basin are causing the flow of the river to decline. The good news is that we have time and the smarts to manage this, if all the states work together.”


As of [May 19, 2016], the lake’s level stood at an elevation of about 1,074.6 feet. The federal Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the reservoir and Hoover Dam, projects the level to decline a few feet more to an elevation of about 1,071 feet by the end of June, before the level begins to rise again with releases of water from Lake Powell.

Under the federal guidelines that govern reservoir operations, the Interior Department would declare a shortage if Lake Mead’s level is projected to be below 1,075 feet as of the start of the following year. In its most recent projections, the Bureau of Reclamation calculated the odds of a shortage at 10 percent in 2017, while a higher likelihood – 59 percent – at the start of 2018.

But those estimates will likely change when the bureau releases a new study in August. Rose Davis, a public affairs officer for the Bureau of Reclamation, said if that study indicates the lake’s level is going to be below the threshold as of Dec. 31, a shortage would be declared for 2017.

That would lead to significant cutbacks for Arizona and Nevada. California, which holds the most privileged rights to water from the Colorado River, would not face reductions until the reservoir hits a lower trigger point.

Representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada said last month that they hope to have a deal finalized by the end of the year for all three states to accept cutbacks earlier than otherwise required in order to head off a more serious crisis.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has said she is optimistic about the talks, calling the over-allocation of the river a shared problem that must be solved. During a May 4 visit to Southern California, she said that there has been “extraordinary collaboration” between the states in working toward a deal, and that the United States and Mexico have also been making progress in negotiations on a new accord to share water from the Colorado River.

While representatives of the three states have discussed the outlines of proposals to temporarily take less water from Lake Mead, they say considerable hurdles remain, including negotiations between water districts within each state…

Scientists have estimated that rising temperatures and the resulting declines in runoff across the Colorado River Basin could reduce the river’s flow by between 5 percent and 35 percent by the middle of the century.

“Human-caused climate warming will drive larger and larger flow reductions as long as emissions of greenhouse gases continue,” said Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment.

“The river is over-allocated even before climate change is factored in,” Overpeck said in an email. He said he thinks the negotiations will probably “focus on how to reduce the over-allocation, but will eventually have to focus on sharing the pain as climate change continues to reduce the flows.”

From Esquire Magazine (Charles P. Pierce):

The long-term prognostications are just uncertain enough to be terrifying. The American Southwest—and the Los Angeles area in particular—are natural deserts. Only the miracle of engineering has made them habitable. Quite simply, we created human space in a place that, left to its own devices, would have been suitable only by cactus and lizards.

Often when we think we’ve conquered nature, we find we’ve only held it to a tenuous draw.