From The Clear Creek Courant (Corinne Westeman):
Saturday’s eighth annual Clear Creek Watershed Festival was a fun and educational experience for children and their parents. More than 20 local businesses, government agencies and nonprofits put together booths and stations for families to visit. For each station visited, the attendee would have her “passport” stamped. A full passport book earned a prize.
The event was started as a way to celebrate and educate the community, specifically children, on the importance of the watershed and how best to keep it clean…
Organizers Chris Crouse and Dave Holm said the festival is a way to teach attendees about watershed use and cleanliness factors, including wildlife/urban balance, high altitude, land-use impacts. The Clear Creek watershed not only supplies water for several communities, they said, it also supplies several breweries and Water World in Federal Heights.
This year, Crouse and Holm said, they tried to promote the event at schools as much as possible, as an opportunity to stimulate learning outside the classroom. And, overall, they anticipated about 500 people to visit the festival throughout the day…
Cannon said the festival is a great way to “get people exposed to what’s going on” in terms of water cleanliness. Cannon displayed various types of bugs from Clear Creek. He said the presence of certain bugs is “used as an indicator of healthy water,” and that it’s important to keep Clear Creek clean and safe.
“Anything that keeps kids connected to the environment is a good, healthy thing,” he said.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):
Nine months after the much-heralded release of the Colorado Water Plan, conservation groups are watching closely to see that the plan’s water conservation goals are being adequately funded and implemented.
“The plan is only as good as how it gets put into place and gets applied throughout the different basins,” Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program director for Western Resource Advocates, said in a recent interview with the Post Independent.
A key step in that process comes this week as the Colorado Water Conservation Board holds its bimonthly meeting in Edwards at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera.
Today, the Board Finance Committee meets to take a look at the finances for CWCB activities over the coming year, including implementation of the various elements of the water plan through the remainder of this year. Board members will also be taking a tour of Deep Creek near Dotsero, which has been deemed suitable for federal Wild and Scenic designation.
On the agenda for the regular board meeting Wednesday and Thursday will be a range of topics including a strategic planning session, reports from the directors of the nine river basins and, to start things off at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, a progress report on the steps taken since last November when the water plan was first presented to the CWCB. Included as part of that discussion will be an update on the “vision, timeline and status” of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which is a key aspect of the water plan.
“The urgency for having this plan in place for Colorado is every bit as strong as when the plan was written,” Miller said of the multi-year planning effort that led to the release of the water plan by Gov. John Hickenlooper last December.
Already, the state population has grown by another 100,000 people over the past year and is expected to double to nearly 10 million people by 2050, Miller noted.
“Drought remains an issue in Colorado and around the west, and some of the very reasons for the plan coming into being are even more pronounced,” he said.
Among the key conservation provisions in the plan was to achieve a savings in Front Range urban water usage of 400,000 acre feet of water and establishing stream management plans for most of the priority rivers in the state.
“In particular streams, the objective was to identify what the problems are with that stream, and to lay out options,” Miller said. “That’s an important first step in figuring out what the rivers need for long-term health.”
Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado said it comes down to securing implementation funding for those stream management plans to be developed.
Initial funding for the water plan was the “darling bill” of the last state legislative session, but it was just the beginning, Conley said.
The state Legislature earlier this year allocated $5 million for plan implementation in 2016. But it’s estimated some $175 million will be needed over the next five years to truly implement different aspects of the water plan, she emphasized. Especially as drought conditions worsen in the Colorado River Basin downstream from Colorado, the conservation measures built into the water plan intended to stave off more Front Range water diversion projects become even more critical, Conley said.
“There has been some progress with implementation, but there’s not a lot happening yet with the conservation goals,” Conley said. “It has not moved forward with the gusto that we would like to see.
“The more we plan now, the better off we will be able to respond to crises,” she said.
Local measures such as water sharing between different types of users and water recycling projects go a long way toward that effort, she added.
Miller also added that much work still needs to be done regarding the conceptual framework for new transmountain diversion projects that was a big part of the water plan.
“There needs to be a lot more scrutiny for those types of proposals, and criteria for when the state would fund any project proposals,” he said. “A lot of this will be decided very soon, and it could end up being a very good year for the plan next year if the budget gets approved, and if certain criteria get applied to that funding.”
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):
Rocky Mountain National Park’s glaciers are shrinking away.
And that’s a big problem — not only for the park’s scenic splendor, but also for Colorado communities that rely on water from the Poudre, Colorado and Big Thompson rivers, which are fed by meltwater from dozens of glaciers and glacierlike features strewn about the park.
For decades, Mother Nature has protected them from unfavorable conditions, but as the park’s temperatures climb and the promise of heavy winter snowfall grows more uncertain, the park’s glaciers and glacierlike features have slowly and unsteadily started to shrink.
A single decade of prolonged drought and warm summers could spell the beginning of the end for RMNP’s glaciers, according to one park ecologist. It’s already happened in California, where about a decade of drought and warming temperatures have pushed Yosemite National Park’s glaciers to near extinction.
“It’s sad to say, but most mountain glaciers are predicted to be gone by the end of the century,” said Dan McGrath, a Colorado State University research scientist. “I find it hard to believe (Rocky Mountain’s glaciers) could survive given the predicted warming and likely changes in precipitation.”
RMNP glaciers have always yo-yoed in size, partially melting in summer heat and regaining mass from winter flakes. The park has 30 glaciers, according to USGS topographic maps, but some of them technically aren’t glaciers anymore. Between the 1990s and 2005, the glaciers started to shrink at an increasing rate — perhaps faster than “at any other time in the historic record,” according to a 2007 Portland State University study.
And the park’s glaciers don’t have a lot of wiggle room. Its glaciers are tiny compared to well-known glaciers in Alaska, Greenland and elsewhere. RMNP’s biggest glacier is about 31 acres, the size of six Old Town Squares, and the smallest is smaller than two football fields, according to the 2007 study.
Scientists have no idea how the park’s glaciers have changed in volume over time and have only a limited record of how they’ve changed in area. McGrath wants to fix that.
He’s conducting a two-year study to find out how the glaciers have changed in area and volume since 2005 using historic maps, climate records, photographs and present-day measurements to fill the gaps in scientific understanding of the glaciers.
McGrath and his team are focusing mostly on the well-known Andrews and Tyndall glaciers but will monitor about 10 other glaciers along the Front Range. They’ll use electromagnetic waves to measure snow accumulation and ice thickness of the glaciers. With cutting-edge laser technology, they’ll create unprecedented 3D models of the glaciers. And they’re setting up timelapse cameras near stakes planted in the glaciers to study the timing of their shrinkage.
McGrath has discovered that Andrews and Tyndall glaciers are roughly the same size they were in 2005. They grew in 2010 and 2011 because of heavy snowfall but shrunk after that.
To get a better understanding of the glaciers’ timelines, McGrath will pore over climate models to see what’s in store for temperature and precipitation in the park’s higher elevations. It’s clear that warming will continue, but climate models are less certain about how precipitation will change over time in the Rocky Mountains.
Preliminary results from an ongoing study by Glenn Patterson, a CSU geosciences Ph.D. candidate, and Steven Fassnacht, a CSU snow hydrology professor, suggest that snowfall has decreased more in the park’s higher elevations than its lower areas.
Warming temperatures will melt more of the glaciers in summer, but warming temperatures’ larger impact could come in autumn and spring. A bump of a few degrees when temperatures are near the freezing point can turn snow into rain.
“Of all the things I’m worried about for glacier health, it’s that threshold,” McGrath said. “It can be 30 degrees and you get snow, or it can be 34 degrees and you might be getting only rain. That is going to dramatically alter both the behavior of the glacier and the mass balance. That’s universal.”
The final piece: McGrath’s team will study how glacier melt influences rivers, measuring streamflow and collecting water samples to see how much water glaciers contribute to rivers.
Downstream impacts are worth studying because the Colorado, Big Thompson and Poudre rivers are fed largely by snowmelt and groundwater. The park’s year-round snowfields have particularly important downstream impacts, and the snowfields behave a lot like glaciers.
Even a small loss in the snow and ice that feed Northern Colorado rivers would be a huge blow to Fort Collins and other nearby communities that rely on their water. The gradual melting of perennial snowfields bolsters late summer and fall streamflow, said Paul McLaughlin, an ecologist at the park’s Continental Divide Research Learning Center, and our water storage system depends on those established patterns. Changing water volumes and temperatures can irreparably damage delicate river ecosystems.
The strange thing about these glaciers is they shouldn’t really be here.
The park gets too warm in summer and not enough snow falls on them naturally, McGrath said. But most of the glaciers live in cirques that protect them from the summer sun, and aggressive winds shuttle snow across the Continental Divide, dumping between 5 and 10 times more snow on the glaciers than they would get from the sky alone.
“There’s something of a climate disconnect,” McLaughlin said. “In these systems where the glaciers have already retreated to these shady areas, there’s kind of a time lag in which the glaciers may persist even though the temperatures are getting warmer. But at some point in the future, we would expect they’ll reach a tipping point where they would quickly disappear.”
McLaughlin said the best-case scenario for the glaciers would be a future with less greenhouse gas emissions.
“We have the opportunity as humans to manage the amount of carbon dioxide we’re producing and putting into the atmosphere,” he said. “That will have an effect on our climate moving forward, and perhaps on the lifespan of our glaciers.”
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
If Colorado’s state water plan is to keep the headwaters state in control of its lifeblood, the plan will require a new spring of cash to replace one that is running dry, officials said Friday.
Where the money will come from — and ideas run from mill levies to sales taxes to tap fees to usage fees — isn’t clear, state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said at the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s annual seminar at Two Rivers Convention Center.
The state’s severance tax was anticipated to be a major source of revenue for the water plan, which was drafted to encourage water conservation as well as pay for water storage.
Severance taxes, however, have shrunk as oil and gas revenues have fallen in the face of dropping prices and as coal production has slipped.
The plan has twin goals of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water while also storing an equal amount by 2030, when the state would otherwise come 560,000 acre-feet short of the expected demands of residents and businesses…
Coram said he floated the idea of charging 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water on delivery to homes and businesses, to get people talking.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but I know doing nothing is not going to get things done,” Coram said.
Early projections called for the state severance tax to account for $3 billion, but that reservoir of cash is unlikely to refill soon, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which drafted the water plan and is charged with carrying it out.
It could take two to four years to determine how best to fund the plan, Coram said.
“We’re moving forward as aggressively as possible to implement this plan,” Eklund said.
Among the water plan priorities for the coming year are establishing a repayment guarantee fund with $50 million as needed to underwrite water projects; $10 million for the water supply reserve fund; $10 million for programming for the water plan and $5 million for the watershed restoration program.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Ryan Summerlin):
The common denominator among speakers at the Colorado River District’s annual seminar Friday was that stakeholders have an uphill battle to protect the river. The effects of climate change coupled with demand outpacing supply are continuing to leave water rights holders in a pickle — draining every drop of water before the Colorado reaches its mouth.
The Colorado River Basin is in its 16th year of drought, which ultimately hampers water supply, hydroelectric power, recreation and the basin’s ecology.
Jeff Lukas, an research integration specialist with Western Water Assessment, outlined the growing impacts of climate change on the Upper Colorado River Basin, comparing the basin’s temperatures, precipitation and runoff during other periods of record heat. Some of the key climate change risks for Colorado are reduced annual runoff, earlier runoff, degraded water quality, greater water demand and more frequent droughts, according to Lukas.
Many people are seeing a decrease in runoff for a given amount of precipitation, which Lukas links to warmer temperatures.
About 75 percent of precipitation goes back into the atmosphere, and the bulk of streamflow happens during a narrow window of time, about 80 percent occurring between April and July, he said. Rising temperatures indicate that this trend of decreased streamflow will continue.
Record warm years earlier in the 20th century were also very dry, but now the basin is seeing record heat in wet years as well, said Lukas. And the Colorado River Basin is more sensitive to warming than other basins.
Warming also leads to earlier snowmelt and runoff, less snow accumulation and declines in runoff, said Lukas.
Lukas expects rising temperatures to result in increased water consumption and stress on the water supply and rights holders.
Other speakers representing the Colorado River District, farmers and lower basin entities that manage river water distribution presented various efforts to combat anticipated shortfalls.
From the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):
The Bureau of Reclamation recently awarded two new contracts totaling $66.3 million for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Those contracts continue construction work on a project that will provide long-term, sustainable water for 43 chapters of the Navajo Nation Reservation, the southwest area of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation and the City of Gallup, New Mexico.
On September 7, 2016, Reclamation awarded a $37 million design-build contract to CH2M for the design and construction of a water treatment plant along the project’s Cutter Lateral. Water for the Cutter Lateral will be supplied from Navajo Reservoir via Cutter Reservoir near Bloomfield, N.M. In addition to a state-of-the-art water treatment plant, work under this contract will include design and construction of a clearwell pumping plant, 500,000 gallon regulating tank, 2,500 square foot operation and maintenance building and 21,400 feet of pipeline. The plant will have a phased water treatment system to accommodate increasing flows over time up to a future total capacity of 5.4 million gallons per day. Work under this contract is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2019.
On September 8, 2016, Reclamation awarded a second contract valued at $29.3 million to Moltz Constructors, Inc. for construction of Reach 22B of the Cutter Lateral, which will consist of 16 miles of 24-inch diameter pipe and two pumping plants. The pipeline is designed to handle flows up to 9.6 cubic feet per second and is scheduled to be complete in the summer of 2018.
“Vital infrastructure is a key focus for President Obama, the Department of the Interior and Reclamation and we’re proud of the monumental work being accomplished on this project by our employees, contractors and partners,” said Commissioner Estevan López. “These awards mark a significant milestone for the project; all Reclamation construction along the Cutter Lateral is now either underway or under contract and we’re on track to begin water deliveries through the lateral in 2019.” said Brent Rhees, Director of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region. The Navajo Nation is also moving forward with design and construction of downstream sections of the lateral under a financial assistance agreement with Reclamation.
The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is the cornerstone of the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Agreement. When complete, it will include approximately 300 miles of pipe, two water treatment plants, 19 pumping plants and multiple water storage tanks.
From the Colorado Water Conservation Board/Colorado Division of Water Resources (Taryn Finnessey/Tracy Kosloff):
Following above average temperatures in June and July across the entire state, August was cooler with slightly below average temperatures. Precipitation has varied over the last two months with some basins seeing half of normal moisture while others have had upwards of 150 percent of normal rainfall. The Front Range corridor remains dry and warm and drought conditions have also been expanded into Elbert and Lincoln counties. The forecast for the next two weeks shows mostly dry conditions coupled with moderate temperatures.
The months of June, July and August were collectively the 13th warmest summer period on record. Temperatures in September have been above normal in the southern half of the state and near normal to the north.
With the exception of the Yampa & White River basins, the state received near to well above average precipitation in August. However, September precipitation is tracking well below average in all basins. Statewide water year- to-date mountain precipitation, as reported from NRCS, is at 96 percent of normal as of September 16th. The 2016 water year ends September 30th.
Reservoir storage statewide is 107 percent of normal. The South Platte and Yampa& White basins have the highest storage levels in the state at 112 and 110 percent of average, respectively. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 91 percent. All other basins are above normal at 104 to 109 percent of average.
Front Range water providers all reported storage levels ranging from 80 to 126 percent of average, however they did express some concern regarding low stream flows, which this task force will continue to monitor.
The long term forecast is highly uncertain at this point. El Nino has concluded and ENSO neutral conditions exist. It remains unclear if La Nina conditions will develop. However, should La Nina materialize it does not necessarily mean Colorado will experience drought conditions.