The Depiction of #Drought — Kelly T. Redmond

Drought means different things to different people (or plants or animals). Click here to read a great paper by the late Kelly T. Redmond explaining how drought is classified by the pros.

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#Snowpack news: A beautiful snow for Colorado

Here’s the statewide basin-filled map from this morning.

Statewide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.
Statewide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.

And here’s the west-wide basin-filled map from this morning.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.

#Drought news: Less than half normal precip. E. Colorado since Oct.

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

Summary

A series of fast-moving Pacific storm systems raced eastward across the lower 48 States this week, bringing light to moderate precipitation to the Northwest, California, and along the southern tier of states. Once the systems reached the Southeast, they tapped moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and produced widespread and numerous heavy showers and thunderstorms, some severe, from southeastern Texas northeastward into the Carolinas. Copious rains fell across much of the Southeast, with more than 4 inches measured from extreme southeastern Texas northeastward into south-central South Carolina. Locally, 7-12 inches of rain was dumped on southern Mississippi northeastward into west-central Georgia. These rains fell on much of the Southeast drought area and provided welcome relief, especially in southern sections. Lighter precipitation (0.5-2 inches) also fell on most of the Northeast and Ohio Valley, including heavy snow (up to 2 feet in Maine) that blanketed parts of northern New England. Unfortunately, little or no precipitation fell on the Nation’s mid-section, particularly the south-central Plains and lower Missouri Valley, where above-normal temperatures and lingering dryness dating back to the Fall has generated impacts in Oklahoma that were worse than what the data indicated. Weekly temperatures averaged below-normal in the West (anomalies -10 to -15 deg F in the Interior Northwest and Great Basin) and much above-normal in the eastern half of the Nation (anomalies 10-15 deg F in the southern Great Plains and along the western half of the Gulf Coast)…

The Plains

While precipitation and drought improvement was ongoing in the Southeast and parts of the Northeast, very dry and mild weather continued across the middle third of the Plains. Since early October, less than half of normal precipitation has fallen across eastern Colorado, western Kansas, northern Texas, and much of Oklahoma, accumulating deficits of 2-4 inches. Although the past 90-days are typically a dry time of year, the lack of normal precipitation, above-normal temperatures, and gusty winds have exacerbated conditions, with impacts worse than what the indices and data are depicting. For example, NASS/USDA Oklahoma winter wheat conditions rated poor or very poor went from 12% on Nov. 27 to 25% on Jan. 1, while topsoil moisture rated short to very short rose from 55% on Nov. 27 to 70% on Jan. 1. There have been numerous reports of small ponds and watering holes drying up or very low in western, central, and northeastern sections of the state. As a result, D1 was expanded into south-central Oklahoma, D2 was expanded across the central and northeastern parts of the state and into northeastern Texas, and D3 was added to east-central Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas where the deficits and SPIs were the worst. The only other degradation in the Plains was a slight increase in D0 in extreme south Texas. In contrast, enough rain fell across central and eastern Texas that some 1-category improvements were made. A slight reduction in the small D2 area in eastern Wyoming (Weston County) was done after reassessing the various indices and data. No other changes were made to the Plains…

The West

The week was rather cold and tranquil, with precipitation totals of 1.5-4 inches in the Cascades, 1-2 inches along the Oregon and northern California coasts, 1-2 inches in the Sierra Nevada, and 0.5-2.5 inches across the Southwest, including southern California and Arizona for the second consecutive week. Downtown Los Angeles recorded its wettest month (4.55 inches in December) since December 2010 (10.23 inches). Temperatures averaged below normal in the West, with anomalies of -10 to -16 deg F in eastern Oregon, southern Idaho, northern Nevada, and western Utah. As of January 3, NRCS basin average precipitation for the Water Year (since Oct. 1) was above normal in much of the West, with below-normal basins (70-99%) limited to parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Basin average snow water content was also faring well, with most basins near or above normal as of Jan. 3. Some basins, however, in southern New Mexico, western Montana, northern Idaho, eastern Washington, and California were below normal. As a result of the wet start to the Water Year in southeastern California, southern Nevada, and southwestern Arizona (and supported by indices and lack of negative impacts), a 1-category improvement was made there. In southern Utah (San Juan and Kane counties), with snowpack levels above normal and indices near normal, the D0 was removed. Elsewhere, status-quo was maintained in the rest of the West after several improvements were made the previous 2 weeks…

Looking Ahead

During the next 5 days (January 5-9), several Pacific storm systems laden with moisture are expected to batter California and the West, with up to 18 inches of precipitation forecast for the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Coastal areas of Oregon and the northern two-thirds of California are expecting more than 4 inches of precipitation, while the Intermountain West, northern, central, and southern Rockies, and Cascades may see 1-3 inches. Unfortunately, little or no precipitation is predicted in the middle third of the Nation (including the Plains), while a storm may develop off the Atlantic Coast. Light totals (less than 1 inch) may occur along the eastern Gulf and south Atlantic Coasts, with lake-effect snows likely in the favored Great Lakes snow belts. Temperatures across much of the lower 48 States should be well-below normal except above-normal in the Southwest.

During January 10-14, the odds favor above-median precipitation in the West, northern Plains, Midwest, Northeast, and northern Alaska, with good chances for sub-median precipitation in the southern Rockies, southern half of the Plains, along the Gulf and southern Atlantic Coasts, and the southern half of Alaska. Temperatures are expected to rebound from Days 1-5 cold spell, with a favorable tilt toward above-normal readings across the southern half and eastern third of the U.S., with the cold expected to remain in the Northwest, northern Plains, and southeastern Alaska..

Durango inks deal to manage recreation at Lake Nighthorse

Lake NIghthorse September 19, 2016.
Lake NIghthorse September 19, 2016.

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

The Durango City Council approved a long-awaited lease Tuesday that will allow the city to manage recreation at Lake Nighthorse.

“We have been waiting for this to be on the agenda since 2009,” Mayor Christina Rinderle said.

The 25-year lease will now be sent to the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the property, for approval, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said in an interview.

The city agreed to manage recreation at Lake Nighthorse because in 2008 Colorado Parks and Wildlife declined to do it.

The lease agreement is a big step, City Attorney Dirk Nelson said. But the city is not legally ready to open the property yet.

“This isn’t ours to open or close,” Councilor Dean Brookie said.

The city must annex the property; a planning-and-development memorandum of understanding must be signed; and necessary infrastructure, including a dock, must be built.

The city does not have a set time frame for opening the lake yet, Metz said.

“I can promise that we will make that known as soon as we can,” she said.

However, the lease will allow the city to make a good case for keeping some of the grants it has already received for construction of amenities around the lake, including a $3 million state grant that has not been completely spent, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

Another $285,000 grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife will help pay for a boat dock, an overflow parking area and to chip seal the road from County Road 210 to the boat ramp, Metz said.

The lease between the Bureau of Reclamation and the city will allow Parks and Wildlife to fund these projects.

A grant through the Bureau of Reclamation is also paying for an entrance station where boats will be inspected. This construction is underway, and it will be completed in 2017, Metz said.

Once the lake is opened, the city expects user fees to cover the operation of the area, she said.

If the city faced a shortfall in operational revenue, the city and the Bureau of Reclamation would split that cost, but only if the money was approved by the City Council and the U.S. Congress, she said.

Similarly, the city and the bureau could split the cost of future construction projects, she said.

The cost-sharing is specified in the lease, she said.

However, the bureau will own any structures that it funds, according to the lease.

As part of its management plan, the city plans to annex the 1,500 acres of surface water, about 500 acres of land on the east side of the lake, as well as a narrow band of land around the whole lake. This will allow city police officers to patrol the area.

A swimming beach, natural surface trails, camping and picnic areas are planned for the annexed area, but they will be phased in later.

Limiting the annexation to certain areas is meant to protect archaeological sites, Metz said.

During a December meeting of the Natural Land Preservation Advisory Board, Metz said that a plan to manage hunting near the lake must also be agreed upon as part of the preparation to open the lake.

While hunting would not be allowed on annexed land, it could be allowed on adjacent land.

The city plans to work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on hunting management, Metz said.

The lake could offer an area for water fowl hunting that isn’t available close to Durango, said Steve McClung, representing Colorado Parks and Wildlife as a nonvoting member natural land board.

‘Call year’ declared on the Republican River by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

From the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources via The McCook Gazette:

The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources has determined that 2017 is a “Compact Call Year.”

On Dec. 31, 2016, DNR director Gordon W. Fassett made the announcement that this year is a “call year” according to provisions of and resolutions regarding the 1942 Republican River Compact between Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado.

Nebraska will now have to comply with terms of the Compact’s 2016 resolution, including providing Kansas with the ability to either call for delivery of its share of Republican River water as needed (from water storage in Harlan County Lake), or leave it in ground and available to Kansas water users at some future time when it’s needed more.

The resolution signed by the three states in August 2016 provides Kansas water users much more certainty that there will be a viable irrigation supply in dry periods. Nebraska will receive full credit in Compact accounting for its compliance activities, including its augmentation deliveries, provided that the water generated by its activities (“Compliance Water”) is delivered to Harlan County Reservoir in Nebraska for Kansas water users’ use.

During Compact Call Years, the Nebraska DNR regulates and administers surface water in the Republican River basin upstream of the Guide Rock Diversion Dam to ensure Nebraska’s compliance with the Compact, issuing the necessary closing notices on natural flow and storage permits in the basin until such time as DNR and river basin Natural Resources District determine that administration is no longer needed to ensure Compact compliance.

The Republican River Compact, signed Dec. 31, 1942, entitles Nebraska to 49 percent of the river’s water, while Kansas receives 40 percent and Colorado gets 11 percent. The Republican River originates in Colorado, crosses the northwestern tip of Kansas into Nebraska, then runs through Nebraska before re-entering Kansas in its northeastern corner.

The official document is here.

Grand County Board of County Commissioners meeting recap

Windy Gap Reservoir
Windy Gap Reservoir

From The Sky-Hi Daily News (Travis Poulin):

Grand County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris and contract employee Lurline Underbrink-Curran gave a water quality update at the first Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting of 2017.

WINDY GAP BYPASS

On Dec. 21, 2016 the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the federal US Department of Agriculture, announced The Colorado River Headwaters Project (CRHP) would receive a $7.75 million grant to apply to a series of river restoration and conservation projects in Grand County. The grant, totaling $7,758,830, comes to the CRHP through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), part of the NRCS. The grant equals 80 percent of the requested amount. Underbrink-Curran said, in an update, that there are several sources the RCPP will apply to for the remaining funds. With the amount of money secured, other funders may be more willing to sign on to a project that has the ability to be completed and do such great things for the environment, fish passage, water quality and temperature and agriculture.

The $7.75 million grant will be divided up between a series of water projects including the creation of a bypass channel that will connect the Colorado River below the Windy Gap Reservoir to the sections of the River above the Reservoir. A significant portion of the funds will also be used to improve river habitat downstream from the Windy Gap as well as improving irrigation systems for irrigating ranchers in the Kremmling area and to improve soil and water quality.

According to Underbrink-Curran, the water right issue for the bypass channel has made some progress. At the last meeting there was a real effort to find a path that all could agree upon. Steve Bushong with UCRA had drafted a position that all agreed might work. That draft was circulated with the attorneys and has undergone several revisions and inclusions but seems to be getting close to complete.

UPRR INJECTION WELL

Morris said in December of 2016 the Water Quality Board requested she submit a letter to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) expressing the board’s dissatisfaction of a revised discharge permit for Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR).

UPRR plans to submit a Class V Injection Well permit for a site near the Moffat Tunnel in Winter Park. Class V wells are used to inject non-hazardous fluids underground. Most are used to dispose of waste into or above underground sources of drinking water. This disposal can pose a threat to ground water quality if not managed properly.

According to UPRR, The plant would treat and return 95 percent of the contaminated groundwater issuing from the tunnel and return it, clean, to the Fraser River.

Grand County shared their concerns with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stating that the plant was designed to treat only metals and total suspended solids (TSS), but the current discharge permit only recognizes TSS and metals as contaminants. According to Morris, Grand County does not know what will be the fate of the organic pollution that will also be in the discharge during annual tunnel cleaning operations, which is what caused the pollution found in September.

Morris said she has not drafted the letter yet because the permit has not been released.

BERTHOUD PASS SEDIMENT CONTROL

Morris said the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is asking for comments by Jan.30 on a draft Berthoud Pass Sediment Control Action Plan (SCAP). The SCAP will identify potential scenarios for enhanced maintenance and sediment control features to be implemented when funding becomes available. The last meeting about this effort took place in October of 2015. Morris said she will be reviewing the SCAP this month.

Black Hills says giving water rights to Pueblo best option — The Pueblo Chieftain

Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com
Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

Black Hills Energy believes the best use of its limited water rights for the old Power Stations 5&6 is to donate that water — and the equipment that carries it — to the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the city of Pueblo.

The utility makes that argument in a Dec. 20 filing with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Black Hills was ready to carry out that water transfer last month when Commissioners Joshua Epel and Glenn Vaad stopped the process and asked that Black Hills explain why it wasn’t attempting to sell the water rights instead of donating them.

Vaad said the sale of the water could be used to lower costs for Black Hills ratepayers.

In practical terms, the Black Hills water is used to help fill the channels of the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, so having the water sent elsewhere would pose a major problem to the Pueblo attraction.

Commissioner Frances Koncilja, a Denver attorney but Pueblo native, disagreed with Epel’s and Vaad’s interim order and said her colleagues were meddling with a win-win agreement for the Pueblo utility, but the order was issued.

In its Dec. 20 response, Black Hills officials explain that the limited amount of water it has rights to for cooling the old power station has such limited uses that selling them seemed impractical while donating them to the city and the water board was a better option.

“Our donation of the water rights . . . will provide an immediate benefit to the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the city of Pueblo and the community at large, because it will be a significant contribution towards the continued viability of the hub of Pueblo’s Downtown and a key tourist attraction — the HARP,” the brief says.

What the commission will do next is less certain. Epel, who’d been chairman for six years, resigned from the commission effective Jan. 3 and Vaad announced he would retire. Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday nominated Jeff Ackerman and Wendy Moser to the commission for terms effective Monday, but both have to be confirmed by the Senate.

State Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, was one of a group of Southern Colorado lawmakers who backed Koncilja’s appointment to the commission earlier this year and in December, he said he would urge Hickenlooper name her chairman.

Dredging of Fountain Creek will improve flood carrying capacity — The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jon Pompia):

The Pueblo Levee Dredging and Maintenance Project, which will run through April, is being undertaken to improve the flood carrying capacity of Fountain Creek from the confluence with the Arkansas River upstream to the East Eighth Street bridge.

The work also will see the removal of undesirable vegetation on the east levee embankment (stream side only), on the east bank of the creek and on a portion of the west bank of the creek.

The work is being handled by Sun Construction, which has contracted with the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District.

After the dredging of the creek, the bed material will be hauled by trucks to disposal sites. The work also will include the demolition of two of the abandoned railroad bridge piers.

Truck and equipment access to the creek will be from two staging areas on city property — one at the location off South Joplin Avenue near the abandoned railroad bridge and the second at the west end of East 11th Street.

During the project, the contractor will manage vehicle traffic interactions on public streets and with traffic on the river trail adjacent to the levee. Currently, the bike trail on the east side of the river is closed.

Removal of vegetation on the east and west banks will be limited to non-native, “invasive species” and will not include desirable species such as willows and cottonwoods.

Removed vegetation on the east levee and invasive species will be treated with a herbicide to hinder regrowth.

The removal of vegetation is expected to occur between April and August.

The city will benefit from the delivery of about 55,000 cubic yards of material that will be trucked to sites near Lake Minnequa and near Plaza Verde Park.

While the dredging and demolition will continue through April, the operation will be suspended during the period of higher creek flows — until approximately August and concluding by the end of December.

“Water storage is ‘integral’ to Fort Morgan’s future” — Ron Shaver

Northern Integrated Supply Project July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.
Northern Integrated Supply Project July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

A community that does not have enough water is a community that does not survive, and Fort Morgan city leaders want to ensure that is not what happens here.

As such, the Fort Morgan City Council approved continuing the city’s role in the Northern Integrated Supply Project and the $360,000 expenditure that will require in 2017.

Fort Morgan has been gambling on NISP, a massive water storage project, getting permitted and built for 13 years now, according to Water Resources/Utilities Director Brent Nation.

But it’s a gamble that could pay off in water security for as long as the next five decades, according to City Manager Jeff Wells.

About NISP

That’s because NISP would include Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (aka Northern Water) building both Glade Reservoir north of Fort Collins and Galeton Reservoir northeast of Greeley and east of Ault.

If these reservoirs get built, it would mean “40,000 acre feet of new, reliable water supplies” for the 15 NISP participants, which include Fort Morgan, Morgan County and Morgan County Quality Water District.

But getting it built involves both completion of the final environmental impact statement for he project and getting a record of decision on a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

As of January 2017, Northern Water was estimating that the Corps likely will finish the FEIS yet this year and then issue the record of decision on the permit sometime in 2018.

Large cost, lengthy timeline

Fort Morgan, alone, will have spent more than $1.3 million toward NISP and the city’s 9 percent stake in it over the project’s 13 years of planning and studies. And there could be another 10 to 12 years yet to go before NISP and its reservoirs conceivably would go online and the city would have water stored in Galeton Reservoir and pumped back to Fort Morgan.

As the project progresses, the city’s annual payments for it will get larger and larger, Nation warned. He called the 2017 one among the last of the “smaller payments.”

Depending upon what the Corps does this year, the larger NISP payments could start next year.

“Next year, in 2018, we’ll start moving into the larger engineering payments, and then hopefully within a year or two after that we’ll be moving into construction-type payments, where we’re getting into millions of dollars for our portion of that work,” Nation said.

Regardless, if and when it does get built, NISP would provide enough water to give the city water security for the future and whatever residential, commercial and industrial growth may come, according to Mayor Ron Shaver, Wells and Nation.

And such a lengthy timeline is not unusual for this large of a water storage project, according to both Nation and officials from Northern Water.

Reasons to continue

But continuing to support it will be worth it for the city in the long term, Nation stressed.

He shared his reasons why the city should “move forward on this project” with the council.

“We continue to exist on a base water supply that we have to rent what we need for our current needs. We still have times of the year where we’re using some rental C-BT water in order to meet all of our water demands,” Nation said.

Also, the Fort Morgan Water Treatment Plant is experiencing record levels for demand for treated water, with 1.5 billion gallons treated over the last 12 months.

“Six out of the last seven months we had record production at treatment facility,” Nation said, adding that the local industry was “driving those numbers.”

Specifically, large industrial water customer Cargill Meat Solutions is continuously pulling in water.

“We’re not seeing a lot of downtime with Cargill,” Nation said. “And even when they’re down on that seventh day, they’re using a lot of water just to clean the facility.”

And expansions at both the Leprino Foods cheese plant and the Western Sugar Cooperative beet plant have meant increased demand for water from Fort Morgan.

“We just continue to see our industrial/commercial numbers go up as we continue just to exist at the current population that we’re at,” Nation said. “It kind of drives home to me that this project is important to us. It’s something that we need to continue to participate in and see it to the finish line. This is something we need as a community.”

Wells agreed, adding that the city has previously looked into many other options for obtaining enough water for the city’s future.

“Today, there are no more viable alternatives than NISP for the city of Fort Morgan,” he said.

Shaver, who served as the city’s utilities director before retiring from the city and then serving on the council and now as mayor, said NISP is what the city needs for its future.

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.
Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.