#Runoff news: Streamflow up in Big Thompson

Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.
Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Estes Park Trail-Gazette (David Persons):

A storm over Estes Park on Thursday night has greatly increased the runoff along the Big Thompson River and Fall River and, as a result, has increased the flow into Lake Estes.

A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation official said early today that the increased flow is forcing the bureau, which owns and controls the flow of water out of Lake Estes, to increase the outflow at Olympus Dam back into the Big Thompson River.

“We were forced to increase releases early and higher than previously planned,” said Peter Soeth, the Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Denver. “The releases are currently 450 cfs (cubic feet per second), and we might be going a little higher today in anticipation of what could be coming down from the mountains tonight.”

The local river runoff into Lake Estes, which has been slow this spring compared to last year, was averaging 350-490 cfs on Thursday. However, it started increasing overnight and peaked at 616 cfs around 1:30 a.m. today. The runoff inflow into the lake was at 505 cfs at 8:45 a.m. today.

In addition to the amount that the bureau is releasing through Olympus Dam, another 550 cfs is being diverted through Olympus Tunnel and is released back into the Big Thompson River at the mouth of the canyon at the power plant.

The total amount of water currently being released from Lake Estes — by way of the dam and tunnel — is approximately 1,000 cfs.

From The Brush News-Tribune (Jenni Grubbs):

While the South Platte River has gone down a bit in recent weeks, it is still running quite high and fast, according to the National Weather Service and Morgan County Office of Emergency Management.

#ElNiño #LaNiña news: The latest ENSO discussion is hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center

Jet Stream patterns El Nińo /La Nińa via NWS Boulder
Jet Stream patterns El Nińo /La Nińa via NWS Boulder

Click here to read the discussion. Here’s an excerpt:

ENSO Alert System Status: Final El Niño Advisory / La Niña Watch

Synopsis: ENSO-neutral conditions are present and La Niña is favored to develop during the Northern Hemisphere summer 2016, with about a 75% chance of La Niña during the fall and winter 2016-17.

El Niño dissipated and ENSO-neutral conditions returned during over the past month, as indicated by the expansion of near-to-below average surface temperatures (SST) across the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. Other than the westernmost Niño-4 region, the Niño indices were near zero by the end of May. Below-average subsurface temperatures continued and extended to the surface across the eastern equatorial Pacific. For the first time in 2016, atmospheric anomalies over the tropical Pacific Ocean were also consistent with ENSO-neutral conditions. The traditional and equatorial Southern Oscillation indices were near zero, while the upper and lower-level winds were both near average across most of the tropical Pacific. Convection was also near-average over the central tropical Pacific and over most of Indonesia. Collectively, these atmospheric and oceanic anomalies reflect a transition from El Niño to ENSO-neutral conditions.

Many models favor La Niña (3-month average Niño-3.4 index less than or equal to -0.5°C) by the Northern Hemisphere fall. However, most dynamical models indicate La Niña onset as soon as the Northern Hemisphere summer, which is slightly favored by the forecaster consensus. In contrast, many statistical models favor a later onset time, with about half indicating the persistence of ENSO-neutral conditions through the winter. At this time, the forecasters are leaning toward a weak or borderline moderate La Niña if an event were to form. Overall, ENSO-neutral conditions are present and La Niña is favored to develop during the Northern Hemisphere summer 2016, with about a 75% chance of La Niña during the fall and winter 2016-17.


2016 #coleg: Colorado lawmakers deny climate change reality — Writers on the Range

Science Senator. It's called science.
Science Senator. It’s called science.

From the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (Auden Schendler):

Let’s say you were a legislator in Colorado during this year’s session, and you needed some help making policy decisions on a topic that required scientific knowledge. What might you do?

Because you’re a booster of the state, you’d know that we have some of the finest academic and research institutions in the country. These include the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the University of Denver, the National Renewable Energy Lab and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. So it would make sense to ask those groups what they think on a given subject before moving forward. That, after all, is how public policy-making ought to work: Get the facts, make the policy.

But the facts-first and policy-later approach is not how some Colorado leaders like to tackle at least one serious issue: climate change. During Colorado Senate debate about adopting targets for the state’s Climate Action Plan, Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg testified that the science wasn’t “settled” yet. Sen. John Cooke, also a Republican, went further. Manmade climate change was a myth, he said, effectively putting our hard work on climate change on the same level as believing in unicorns and fairies. Neither man is one of the fringe elements of the Legislature; in fact, the leading force behind climate denial has been the Republican president of the Senate, Sen. Bill Cadman.

Yet their positions run counter to conclusions reached by every one of the state’s academic and research academies. Are these elected officials really discounting the work of our great state institutions?

There is absolutely no scientific case to be made for denying human impact on climate change. That means that the opinions of these legislators are just that – opinions based solely on hearsay or newspaper and talk-show statements by non-scientists who cite non-climatologists. If that’s how some policymakers approach this issue, how are they thinking about health care, economics, public safety, education or water quality? Is this the approach you’d take when fixing your car, having serious surgery or making health-care decisions for your child? [ed. emphasis mine]

Most lawmakers in the nation and around the world don’t act this irresponsibly. Science-based policymaking on climate issues has become a global phenomenon, now integrated into decision-making by almost 200 nations and in every area of our federal government.

In Miami, the science behind rising seas is one of daily concern. For water planners in California, drought science is nothing short of riveting, and in Alaska, where coastal communities built on permafrost are collapsing into the sea, science is meeting the budget in painful ways.

Lawmaking based on ideology is damaging in material ways. At the end of March, Colorado GOP legislators voted to defund the state Department of Health and Environment so that it can’t issue air-quality permits or perform inspections. Why? Because these elected officials oppose enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, the American response to climate change, which brought China and India to the table in Paris to try to broker a global deal.

But defunding an environmental agency won’t stop the Clean Power Plan; it merely hurts business. First, it does nothing to stop regulation, despite what some might think; it merely delays it. That means law-abiding businesses that need air permits to operate will simply have to wait, and then wait some more. Second, polluters breaking the law and violating the Clean Air Act at the expense of our kids’ health will no longer get caught and punished. (This is not a controversial issue: We all agreed that clean air was a good idea in the 1970s, and Americans overwhelmingly support the Clean Air Act.) Third, if Colorado refuses to do this work, the EPA will step in, so you’ll get out-of-state regulation anyway, exactly the opposite of the GOP’s goals for the state.

Why do legislators want to do this silly stuff? Because, according to Rep. Bob Rankin, Western Slope residents are “terrified” of the EPA Clean Power Plan. Give me a break: The state has mostly met the plan. Solar energy is thriving and producing tons of jobs. Aspen/Snowmass and Vail Resorts, responsible directly or indirectly for tens of thousands of jobs, both support the plan. Even the gas drillers at WPX Energy I met with last fall were diligently monitoring their own methane emissions and were hardly terrified.

Fact-based policy-making tends to work really well. It’s when we make decisions based on fantasy, sadly, that real people and real businesses suffer.

2016 #coleg: Could water funding sweeten a compromise on the hospital provider fee? — The #Colorado Independent

Colorado- Governor John Hickenlooper on Feb. 26, 2012. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.
Colorado- Governor John Hickenlooper on Feb. 26, 2012. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Gov. John Hickenlooper has added water to the list of needs that could be funded if the General Assembly reclassifies the state’s hospital provider fee.

Hospitals in Colorado pay a fee to the state, based on the number of overnight patient stays and outpatient visits. Those funds are matched with federal dollars and the money is used to pay for uninsured care and Medicaid expansion.

The fee currently counts as state revenue under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. But Democrats, including Hickenlooper, would like to reclassify the fee as a state-owned business, or enterprise. That would remove the provider fee dollars from TABOR revenue limits, estimated in 2016-17 at $656.5 million.

The fee is among several types of state revenue that are pushing state spending to those TABOR revenue limits. Currently, any dollars that exceed the TABOR limit must be refunded to taxpayers, although those refunds haven’t been necessary for more than a decade. However, state economists believe that if the fee isn’t reclassified, refunds would be required, as soon as next year.

Democrats have tried unsuccessfully for two legislatives sessions to persuade Republicans, including the Senate Republican majority, to allow that reclassification. Senate President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs drew a line in the sand before the 2016 session even started, releasing an opinion by legislative attorneys that said the reclassification would be unconstitutional.

Democrats countered with opinions from current Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, and her predecessor, John Suthers, who both said the change would be legal.

Hickenlooper has been weighing the idea of a special session to revisit the hospital provider fee issue, which would bring lawmakers back to the Capitol, most likely in early July. If Hickenlooper vetoes a bill that would gradually allow the sale of full-strength beer and wine in grocery stores, that issue could end up on the special session agenda, too.

Hickenlooper has until tomorrow to make a call on the beer bill; by law, the governor must decide what to do with any bill passed by the General Assembly no later than 30 days after the session ends.

Part of the issue with the hospital provider fee is in what to do with the extra money. Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a Boulder Democrat, proposed a bill during the session that would use those dollars to fund transportation, education and higher education. According to a fiscal analysis, reclassifying the fee would allow the state to put $155.7 million into those funding priorities in 2016-17.

But now Hickenlooper is attempting to add water as a way to sweeten the deal for Senate Republicans. He told several lawmakers this morning that he has been talking to Cadman about adding water projects to the funding list, although he didn’t say exactly how the money would be used.

Hickenlooper’s offer hasn’t quite tipped Cadman from opposition to support. “I haven’t persuaded him yet. I keep looking for that key,” Hickenlooper said.

The governor made those comments prior to signing a bill to set up a study of the South Platte River between Julesburg and Greeley. That study would look at possible storage solutions to keep millions of acre-feet of water that leave Colorado every year, over and above the amount required by compacts between Colorado and Nebraska.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable executive committee meeting recap

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water planners are looking at potentially leaner times for grants that fund projects, particularly for smaller water districts, towns or farms.

The funding crunch is coming because of an April opinion of the Colorado Supreme Court in BP America v. Colorado Department of Revenue, in which the oil giant prevailed in its arguments of which types of activities are exempt from mineral severance taxes. The impact could mean a repayment of up to $125 million and reduced future revenues.

Those taxes are the source of funding for Water Supply Reserve Account grants that are funded through the state’s basin roundtable process. Those grants are approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“Moving forward, revenues will be down 12.5 percent,” Brent Newman of the CWCB told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable executive committee Wednesday. “With the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan, we have to make sure grant programs meet standards.”

After last month’s meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee, CWCB staff is preparing a new plan of action to fund water projects that does not rely on the up-and-down revenues of mineral severance taxes.

That pot of money is now split among local governments, the Department of Local Affairs and agencies within the Department of Natural Resources, including the CWCB. The problem is that when oil, gas and mining activity drops or prices decrease, so do tax revenues. The state Legislature raided the revenues to meet budget shortfalls during the 2008-09 recession, showing they are unreliable.

The court decision will decrease the size of the fund pool. Newman stressed that carry-over funds are still in place, although roundtables already are starting to rein in their requests. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable hopes to move as much as $500,000 in grants ahead this year.

The state water plan calls for adding $100 million funding annually for water projects beginning in 2020, and the IBCC and CWCB have kicked around ideas — such as a container tax for water and soft drinks or a statewide tap fee — to provide that money.

But in the short term, CWCB staff is proposing using its own banked funds to provide a stable source for water projects for the next five years. The proposal includes establishing a $50 million loan fund that would be repaid, $10 million annual funding to the WSRA, $5 million annually for watershed restoration and $10 million annually for grants.

“Not everybody agrees with me, but I think it’s going to be a lot more restrictive,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and a member of the IBCC. “Under the water plan, in every basin, the gaps can’t get any bigger, but it could mean the large municipalities will take ag out of production.”

Small communities could also be in trouble as funds tighten, said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Water Conservancy District. Many of the participants in the Arkansas Valley Conduit project will depend on small grants to fund internal projects to connect to the new waterline when it is completed.

The plan is to put a funding system in place for 2017 through the water projects bill, but time is short, since the CWCB usually finalizes the list by November, and it meets just three times. The IBCC only has one meeting, in August, scheduled to discuss the idea, and typically has required months or years to work out differences among regions in the state.

“If we don’t have an agreement, this isn’t going to happen,” Winner said.

2016 #coleg: Gov. Hickenlooper signs HB16-1256 (South Platte Storage study)

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Leave it to a Western Slope legislator to tell his colleagues on the Front Range just what they should do when it comes to finding more water for their thirsty cities.

While the South Platte River is miles away from Rep. J. Paul Brown’s southwest Colorado House district, it’s actually as close as the nearest Western Slope stream when it comes to statewide water management.

That’s why the Ignacio Republican introduced HB16-1256, which calls on the Colorado Water Conservation Board to study how much South Platte water has been allowed to flow into Nebraska over what the state’s water compact with the state requires.

Additionally, the bill, which Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law on Thursday, calls on the board to identify potential sites to create more storage projects no matter how small they might be.

“It’s just important that we not waste water in Colorado anywhere,” Brown said. “I’ve been watching the South Platte for several years. Today, there is about 6,000 cubic feet per second that is flowing out of the state. This study will give us the information we need to go ahead and really get serious about water storage on the South Platte.”

The legislator said he got involved in the issue for obvious reasons: water is a matter of statewide concern and he’s tired of Front Range folks first looking to the Western Slope for more water when there’s still plenty in their own backyard.

He said the board shouldn’t have any troubles doing the study despite its short timetable — it’s due in March — because that state agency already has all the information it needs to complete it.

Brown said the study hadn’t been done previously because of too many competing interests in the South Platte River basin, and prior attempts at looking at more storage projects failed before they could begin.

“They just had their feet knocked out from under them so many times, they just kind of got discouraged, but I think it just took a sheepherder who’s just crazy enough to say we can do this and get the ball rolling,” he said. “When I first started out, they said it was impossible to do, but I just kept after them.”

Once Brown started to make strides in getting people to come to an agreement over doing the study, others quickly stood behind him, including Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who shepherded the bill through the Senate.

Ultimately, it got through the House and Senate, including several committees in each, with only a single no vote.

“The number one concern is we’re going to be 400,000 acre-feet short on the Front Range for the growth they’re expecting,” Brown said. “We’re going to have to come up with that water, but you can’t conserve that much. We’ve got to come up with some alternatives.”