Reducing catastrophic wildfires and restoring forests help protect the watershed and maintain the quality of our water.
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Join us for Girls & Science at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to ignite a passion for science in young girls. The Conservancy’s Clubhouse, “Secrets of the Prairie,” will introduce young potential scientists to prairie ecology. Girls ages 8-13 will be able to meet our scientists, see how your wingspan compares to an eagle, discover how to find to “hide” from predators and show your creativity by making animals at our arts and crafts table.
From The Colorado Real Estate Journal (Brett Bovee):
Water rights tied to properties can come in all sorts of flavors, but some of the most common are mutual ditch company shares, nontributary groundwater rights (sometimes referred to as Denver Basin rights) and units in a regional water storage project (such as Colorado-Big Thompson units). All of these types of water rights have different characteristics and associated value.
The most common way to value a water right is to document comparable sales. This is similar to methods employed in other real estate sectors. The difficulty with water rights is finding other sales, which transferred water rights that were indeed comparable to the subject water right of interest. You wouldn’t call a two-bedroom bungalow and a seven-bedroom estate comparable just because they are both houses in close proximity.
The same type of attribute information is important in valuing water rights. Aspects such as reliability, transferability and location (buyers) all factor into a water right’s value. When accurately comparable sales can be found, they provide the best indication of value. This is the most common valuation technique employed in areas with active water rights trading such as the Front Range.
Another method is looking at the potential income that could be generated from having the water supply that a water right provides. This often is applied to agricultural lands, by comparing the added value of being able to irrigate and grow higher-value crops, instead of dryland farming. For most other water uses, the analysis of income is complicated by other business, resource and manufacturing inputs.
A third method is looking at a replacement cost if the water right and the associated water supply were not available. For example, if a water user did not have ownership of a mutual ditch company share, what would the cost be to develop and utilize a new groundwater well? Another example is to consider the costs associated with a municipality acquiring and developing alternate water sources. The replacement-cost approach basically informs what the value of a water right might be by looking at the additional costs incurred by a buyer if they chose a different water right or source. In the residential real estate world, it would be like valuing a newly constructed house by looking at the cost of an old house plus the cost of the remodel and repairs.
From The High Country News (Krista Langlois):
For the past several decades, paleo-hydrologist Victor Baker of the University of Arizona [has been studying the] flood history of the Colorado Plateau. [And] he’s found that floods much larger than any in recorded history are routine occurrences [and] he feels his research is being largely ignored by agencies and public utilities with infrastructure in the path of such floods.
Earlier this month, when a spillway at the nation’s tallest dam in Oroville, California, nearly buckled under the pressure of record rainfall, the consequences of under-estimating flood risks were brought into sharp relief. Dams aren’t built to withstand every curveball nature can throw — only the weather events that engineers deem most likely to occur within the dam’s lifespan. When many Western dams were built in the mid-20th century, the best science to determine such probabilities came from historical records and stream gauges.
But that record only stretches back to the late 1800s, a timespan Baker calls “completely inadequate.” Today, technology allows scientists to reconstruct thousands of years of natural history, giving us a much clearer picture of how often super-floods occur. “The probability of rare things is best evaluated if your record is very long,” Baker explains.
By combing the Colorado River, the Green River and others in the Southwest for sediment deposits and other flood evidence and then carbon-dating the results, Baker has concluded the short-term record severely underestimates the size and frequency of large floods. On the Upper Colorado near Moab, Utah, Baker and his team estimated the average 500-year flood at roughly 246,000 cubic feet per second, more than double the 112,00 cfs that scientists had estimated drawing on the stream gage record alone. Baker’s calculations put the 100-year flood at 171,000 cfs, also much greater than the previous estimate of 96,000 cfs. In comparison, legendary flooding in 1983 and 1984 that nearly overwhelmed Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam, just downstream, peaked at just 125,000 cfs. (The dam has been bolstered since then, and today engineers say it can handle flows up to 220,000 cfs.)
Does this mean dams like Oroville and Glen Canyon need to be fortified to withstand bigger storms? Officials from the Bureau of Reclamation are confident that Glen Canyon, at least, is equipped to handle even “extremely large hydrologic events.” And The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reluctant to apply paleo-hydrology research to existing infrastructure, in part because we’ve altered rivers so much that some Corps’ scientists believe ancient flood records are no longer realistic indicators of current risks.
But Baker believes it would be foolhardy to not at least create contingency plans for the possible failure of some of the West’s biggest dams. That Japanese officials were warned about Fukushima and didn’t act is “an embarrassment,” Baker adds. “We may have some similar things occurring in the United States, if we don’t seriously pay attention to this science.”
From The Conversation (Reagan Waskom, David J. Cooper);
President Trump is expected to issue an executive order directing federal agencies to revise the Clean Water Rule, a major regulation published by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers in 2015. The rule’s purpose is to clarify which water bodies and wetlands are federally protected under the Clean Water Act.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt led a multi-state lawsuit against the rule as Oklahoma attorney general, and has called it “the greatest blow to private property rights the modern era has seen.”
At the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, we work in partnership with the farm and ranch community to find solutions to difficult western water problems. Farmers and ranchers often express frustration with one-size-fits-all worker protection, food safety, animal welfare, immigration, endangered species and environmental regulations. So we understand their concern that this rule may further constrain agricultural activities on their land.
In particular, they fear the Clean Water Rule could expand federal regulations that impact their private property rights. However, regulatory agencies and the regulated community need to know the limits of the Clean Water Act’s reach so they can take appropriate measures to protect water resources. If the rule is scrapped, we still will need to know which water bodies require protection under the law.
The Clean Water Act of 1972 protects the “waters of the United States” from unpermitted discharges that may harm water quality for humans and aquatic life. However, it leaves it up to EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to define which waters the law covers.
Agencies and the courts agree that this term includes “navigable waters,” such as rivers and lakes. It also covers waterways connected to them, such as marshes and wetlands. The central question is how closely connected a water body must be to navigable waters to fall under federal jurisdiction.
In 2001 and 2006, the Supreme Court handed down rulings that narrowed the definition of protected waters, but used confusing language. These opinions created regulatory uncertainty for farmers, ranchers and developers.
The Supreme Court wrote in the 2006 case, Rapanos v. United States, that if a water body had a “significant nexus” to a federally protected waterway – for example, if a wetland was some distance from a navigable stream but produced a relatively permanent flow to the stream – then it was connected and fell under federal jurisdiction. But it failed to clearly define the significant nexus test for other situations.
The Clean Water Rule seeks to clarify which types of waters are 1) protected categorically, 2) protected on a case-by-case basis or 3) not covered. Here are some of the key categories:
Tributaries formerly were evaluated case by case. Now they are automatically covered if they have features of flowing water – a bed, a bank and a high water mark. Other types, such as open waters without beds and banks, will be evaluated case by case. “Adjacent waters,” such as wetlands and ponds that are near covered waters, are protected if they lie within physical and measurable boundaries set out in the rule. “Isolated waters” are not connected to navigable waters but still can be ecologically important. The rule identifies specific types that are protected, such as prairie potholes and California vernal pools.
EPA estimated that the final Clean Water Rule expanded the types of water subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction by about 3 percent, or 1,500 acres nationwide. Opponents clearly think it could be much broader – and until they see the rule implemented on the landscape, their fears may have some basis in fact.
Protecting drainage ditches?
Industry and agriculture groups believe the new rule defines tributaries more broadly. They see this change as unnecessary overreach that makes it difficult to know what is regulated on their lands.
Western farms are laced with canals that provide critical irrigation water during the growing season. These canals and ditches divert water from streams and return the excess through a downstream return loop, which is fed by gravity. Because they are open and unlined, they also serve as water sources for wildlife, ecosystems and underground aquifers. And because they are connected to other water bodies, farmers fear they could be subject to federal regulation.
The only way to surface-irrigate in western valleys without affecting local water systems would be to lay thousands of miles of pressurized pipes, like those that carry water in cities. This approach would be impractical in many situations and incredibly expensive.
More generally, farmers and ranchers want to be able to make decisions about managing their land and water resources without ambiguity or time-consuming and expensive red tape. In spite of EPA assurances, they worry the Clean Water Rule could include agricultural ditches, canals and drainages in the definition of “tributary.”
They fear EPA will use vague language in the rule to expand its power to regulate these features and change the way they are currently operated. They also fear becoming targets for citizen-initiated lawsuits, which are allowed under the Clean Water Act. Moreover, they are skeptical the outcomes will significantly benefit the environment.
Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy argued that the rule would not unduly burden farmers. “We will protect clean water without getting in the way of farming and ranching,” McCarthy told the National Farmers Union in 2015. “Normal agriculture practices like plowing, planting, and harvesting a field have always been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation; this rule won’t change that at all.”
All waters eventually connect
Farmers and ranchers are independent by nature and believe they know what is best for the stewardship of their own land. They tend to be regulation-averse and believe voluntary approaches to water quality provide the flexibility needed to account for site-specific variations across the landscape. However, science shows that relatively minor effects at the edge of one field can aggregate across a watershed in cumulative impacts that are significant and sometimes serious.
From an ecological perspective, scientists have long understood that surface water bodies and tributary groundwater within a watershed are connected over time. Even if it takes years, water will move across and through the landscape. Determining which tributaries have a “significant nexus” to traditional navigable waters depends on how you define “significant.”
Even small wetlands and intermittent ponds provide ecosystem services that benefit the larger watershed. Wetlands and small water bodies that are geographically isolated from the floodplain may still impact navigable waters as either groundwater flows or surface runoff during heavy or prolonged precipitation events.
In that sense, all water runs downhill to the stream eventually. As a dozen prominent wetland scientists wrote last month in an amicus brief to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is reviewing the Clean Water Rule, “the best available science overwhelmingly demonstrates that the waters [protected] categorically in the Clean Water Rule have significant chemical, physical, and biological connections to primary waters.”
Scientists and ecologists agree interpreting the degree and frequency of this kind of connectivity requires site-by-site analysis. We now understand more clearly how isolated water bodies function on the landscape as part of a larger complex, and our knowledge can help clarify how directly water bodies are connected. But deciding where to draw the bright line of regulatory certainty may lie beyond the realm of science.
If the Trump administration withdraws or weakens the Clean Water Rule, it is likely to leave regulators interpreting case by case whether tributaries and adjacent waters are covered, as they have been doing since 2006, and land and water owners guessing about what they can do with their resources. So in the end, repealing the rule won’t answer the underlying question: how far upstream federal protection extends.
Here’s the release from NCAR/UCAR (Keith N. Musselman, Martyn P. Clark, Changhai Liu, Kyoko Ikeda, and Roy Rasmussen):
As the world warms, mountain snowpack will not only melt earlier, it will also melt more slowly, according to a new study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).
The counterintuitive finding, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, could have widespread implications for water supplies, ecosystem health, and flood risk.
“When snowmelt shifts earlier in the year, the snow is no longer melting under the high sun angles of late spring and early summer,” said NCAR postdoctoral researcher Keith Musselman, lead author of the paper. “The Sun just isn’t providing enough energy at that time of year to drive high snowmelt rates.”
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s sponsor.
The findings could explain recent research that suggests the average streamflow in watersheds encompassing snowy mountains may decline as the climate warms — even if the total amount of precipitation in the watershed remains unchanged. That’s because the snowmelt rate can directly affect streamflow. When snowpack melts more slowly, the resulting water lingers in the soil, giving plants more opportunity to take up the moisture. Water absorbed by plants is water that doesn’t make it into the stream, potentially reducing flows.
Musselman first became interested in how snowmelt rates might change in the future when he was doing research in the Sierra Nevada. He noticed that shallower, lower-elevation snowpack melted earlier and more slowly than thicker, higher-elevation snowpack. The snow at cooler, higher elevations tended to stick around until early summer — when the Sun was relatively high in the sky and the days had grown longer — so when it finally started to melt, the melt was rapid.
Musselman wondered if the same phenomenon would unfold in a future climate, when warmer temperatures are expected to transform higher-elevation snowpack into something that looks much more like today’s lower-elevation snowpack. If so, the result would be more snow melting slowly and less snow melting quickly.
To investigate the question, Musselman first confirmed what he’d noticed in the Sierra by analyzing a decade’s worth of snowpack observations from 979 stations in the United States and Canada. He and his co-authors — NCAR scientists Martyn Clark, Changhai Liu, Kyoko Ikeda, and Roy Rasmussen — then simulated snowpack over the same decade using the NCAR-based Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model.
Once they determined that the output from WRF tracked with the observations, they used simulations from the model to investigate how snowmelt rates might change in North America around the end of the century if climate change continues unabated.
“We found a decrease in the total volume of meltwater — which makes sense given that we expect there to be less snow overall in the future,” Musselman said. “But even with this decrease, we found an increase in the amount of water produced at low melt rates and, on the flip side, a decrease in the amount of water produced at high melt rates.”
While the study did not investigate the range of implications that could come from the findings, Musselman said the impacts could be far-reaching. For example, a reduction in high melt rates could mean fewer spring floods, which could lower the risk of infrastructure damage but also negatively affect riparian ecosystems. Changes in the timing and amount of snowmelt runoff could also cause warmer stream temperatures, which would affect trout and other fish species, and the expected decrease in streamflow could cause shortages in urban water supplies.
“We hope this study motivates scientists from many other disciplines to dig into our research so we can better understand the vast implications of this projected shift in hydrologic patterns,” Musselman said.
From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Fort Collins Coloradoan:
Scientists have long known the annual snowmelt is starting sooner as the climate warms. New research by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, found that when the snow begins to melt earlier in the season, it dissipates more slowly than it does in late spring or summer, in part because the angle of the early year sun is lower so its rays are less intense.
The sun’s intensity is particularly important because the energy in direct sunlight is the biggest driver of snowmelt, said Keith Musselman, the lead researcher.
Another factor that slows the snowmelt in the early season is the fact that nights are still cooler.
The conclusions, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, could help explain why computer models show rivers fed by mountain snow are expected to run lower in a warming climate, even if rainfall increases as snowfall decreases, said Musselman, a post-doctoral fellow at the Boulder research center.
The new study didn’t examine the broader consequences of the findings, but Musselman said some slow-melting snow that lingers in the mountain soil could be taken up by trees and plants or evaporate into the atmosphere instead of flowing into rivers and reservoirs, where people can use it.
Changing the timing and pace of snowmelt could also have implications for the annual surge of spring runoff that helps keep rivers healthy, and for floods and flood control.
“We think the impacts could be far-reaching,” Musselman said.
Mountain snow is a vital water source around the globe. NASA, which is conducting an unrelated study on how to measure snow from space, says one-sixth of the world’s population gets most of its fresh water from snow.
The snow that falls in Colorado’s mountains alone feeds four rivers that provide water to a dozen states and Mexico. One of those rivers, the Colorado, supplies water to about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland.
From The Rio Blanco Times (Jennifer Hill):
2016 saw the finalization and implementation of the Rio Blanco Land Use Plan. The plan, which had a four-year creation process, was accomplished in partnership with the former board of county commissioners. It endeavors to influence federal decisions by providing local input regarding federal lands. Because federal law requires that federal agencies, such as the BLM, give “meaningful consideration” to plans developed by local governments and conservation districts, the district has been able to gain a bigger seat at the table during the decision making process. The plan has already been put into use in addressing sage grouse issues and has allowed a conservation district representative to attend the BLM’s weekly NEPA meetings where they can officially comment on current issues, such as the BLM’s travel management plan.
The other major event impacting the conservation districts was the news that their mill levy had been incorrectly assessed causing an 83 percent budget reduction for 2017. The mill levy, which began collection in 1989, is only eligible to receive monies from real property. However, since its inception, it was collecting on both real and personal property. According to Hendrickson the oil and gas industry were hit the hardest. The impacted companies were given the opportunity to request abatement for the past two years’ collection. Hendrickson expressed extreme gratitude that none of the companies had, and instead expressed support for the work undertaken by the districts. The companies left substantial money in the coffers of the districts, with Enterprise being eligible for $135,000, Williams $65,000 and XTO $30,000. To help ease the budget transition the former board of county commissioners helped fund the districts for the 2017 year.
Meeker resident Gary Moyer, who sits on the National Association of Conservation Districts, provided a short update. The NACD is currently pushing for Congress to oppose any EPA authority over water quantity and the recently released BLM Planning 2.0. According to Moyer, Planning 2.0 does not allow for enough local input, despite the claim by the BLM that local input is the very purpose of the new plan. Moyer also cited concerns that it gives environmental groups who are not locally based a much bigger seat at the decision making table. He is hopeful that the plan will be killed by the Senate.
Senator Cory Gardner’s office sent a representative to address the group. Betsy Bair, who manages Gardner’s Grand Junction office, confirmed that Senator Gardner does not support BLM Planning 2.0 and is opposing the BLM’s vent and flare regulations, which impact the oil and gas industry.
The second half of the evening was filled with talk of water issues, many of which have significant impact to those living on the White River.
Marsha Daughenbaugh of the Community Agriculture Alliance informed the group of an upcoming Yampa/White River Basin water workshop. The workshop will take place on March 22 in Steamboat. Agriculture producers will be provided with the opportunity to learn about The Colorado Water Plan and how it may impact them. More information can be found at coagwater. colostate.edu.
Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River Conservation District discussed the importance of Colorado snow pack. “We are all snow farmers,” he said. Pokrandt talked about the increasing incidence of water being pulled from production agriculture to the front range and the need to keep water moving from the East to the West. The Colorado River Conservation District will be piloting a program this year to conserve water in the Grand Valley, paying farmers to leave fields fallow. Pokrandt expects more than $750,000 to be paid to participating farmers this year.
The final speaker of the evening was Alden Vanden Brink from the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy. Vanden Brink updated the audience on the White River storage project, which is currently seeking to begin Phase II which includes modeling, preliminary studies and stakeholder outreach. Following Phase II the district will seek permitting, which Vanden Brink says can be a very long process.
The Douglas Creek Conservation District meets monthly, on the first Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Rangely. In coming meetings they will be discussing the future of the district.
From CBS Denver:
Denver Water is teaming up with federal and state forest services to take care of water sheds and keep drinking water clean.
That means logging dead trees in some of the areas around Denver Water reservoirs.
The company says it’s about health forests and clean water.
“The purpose of these treatments is not simply to plant trees and create a more forested area, but it is to create a more resilient ecosystem so that when fires do occur, they’re not occurring at the catastrophic level that will significantly impact our facilities,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead.
The agencies started working together in 2010 after some wildfires broke out including the Hayman Fire.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
The “Forests to Faucets” deal signed by Denver Water, the Colorado State Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and U.S. Forest Service builds on a $33 million 2010 initiative that led to thinning on 48,000 acres of public land, utility officials said.
“We’ve seen tremendous results during the first five years of this partnership and we are excited to now expand the program to include private lands,” Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead said.
Logging contractors enlisted in the effort clear trees from beetle-ravaged forests where large wildfires and erosion threaten water supplies. Denver Water officials have said investing in forest health helps avoid having to un-clog reservoirs and water delivery systems later at far greater cost.
Water providers increasingly get involved in forest health because, with bug-infested trees dead and dying on millions of acres, weakened soils can erode, especially after fire and heavy rain. This means more sediment slumping into streams, rivers and reservoirs.
The idea is to reduce risks of large wildfires by creating spaces between trees in forests.
Federal forest service regional director Brian Ferebee called the partnership with Denver Water “trend-setting.”
“Together we will proactively work to conserve, maintain and restore watersheds, ecosystems and the services they provide Americans,” Ferebee said in a prepared statement.
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
At the Animas River Stakeholders Group meeting in Silverton on Thursday, Superfund site project manager Rebecca Thomas told the 20 or so attendees the EPA has laid out a work plan for the summer.
Thomas said much of the work will be a continuation of last year’s activities, including collecting data and water samples, as well as looking at flow control structures at the Gold King Mine, the site of the EPA-triggered mine spill in August 2015.
The EPA also will install a pressure gauge system to monitor the bulkhead at the Mogul Mine, adjacent to the Gold King, which are both significant contributors of heavy metals into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.
The EPA wants to install a ground monitoring well between the inner and outermost bulkheads at the American Tunnel, the drain for the Sunnyside Mine workings. It’s suspected the American Tunnel’s water level has reached capacity and could be responsible for increased discharges out of adjacent mines, such as the Gold King.
Thomas said crews will compile more data for the possible closure of the bulkhead at the Red & Bonita Mine, another contributor into Cement Creek. Specifically, EPA wants to better understand the water hydrology of the mine workings.
As for the EPA’s interim water-treatment plant at Gladstone that treats discharges out of the Gold King Mine, Thomas said the agency is looking at about six sites to store the mine waste.
“This is increasingly more important for us as we start to run out of room for sludge management (at Gladstone),” Thomas said.
She said there may be more than one location for the mine waste, and that the agency hopes to have that finalized by May.
Thomas added that the EPA is planning a few quick-action remediation projects at sites within the Superfund listing where there is an immediate benefit to the environment, water quality and managing adit discharges.
She said 27 of the 48 sites qualify for early-action remediation, which could include fixing mine waste ponds, remediating waste rock dumps or redirecting clean surface water away from known polluted areas.
“There’s no way we’re going to get all the work done, but the hope is to get some of the work done,” Thomas said.
The Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Forest Service – all working on the Superfund site – also listed a few projects they have planned for this year.
Most notably, the BLM has permission to undergo a pilot project with Texas-based Green Age Technologies to test a new treatment on mine wastewater that many in the stakeholders group have said holds promise for low-cost water treatment.
The BLM and Green Age will spend 21 days treating discharges out of the American Tunnel and Gold King Mine with a technology known as cavitation, which separates metal ions from water.
The EPA had promised the town of Silverton before the community supported Superfund designation that the agency would embrace new technologies for mine-waste treatment.
From the Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via DenverRite.com:
Facing pushback from industry and Republicans in Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency delayed on Friday a proposal that would require mining companies to show they have the financial wherewithal to clean up their pollution so taxpayers aren’t stuck footing the bill.
Contaminated water from mine sites can flow into rivers and other waterways, harming aquatic life and threatening drinking water supplies. Companies in the past avoided cleanup costs in many cases by declaring bankruptcy.
Newly sworn-in EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a longtime critic of the agency during his previous position as Oklahoma attorney general, said the four-month delay would give more opportunity for public comment.
The financial assurance rule was proposed during the Obama administration and fiercely opposed by mining industry representatives, who contended it was unnecessary and redundant because of other programs meant to prevent mines from becoming government cleanup liabilities.
“By extending this comment period, we are demonstrating that we are listening to miners, owners and operators all across America and to all parties interested in this important rule,” Pruitt said in a statement.
Environmentalists generally endorsed the proposal as a way to make sure mining companies were held accountable. “It appears the new EPA administrator is already favoring industry over public interest with this delay,” said Bonnie Gestring with the advocacy group Earthworks.
The delayed rule was unveiled late last year under a court order that requires it to be finalized by December 2017. The order came after environmental groups sued the government to enforce a long-ignored provision in the 1980 federal Superfund law.
EPA officials said Friday they still intend to meet the court-ordered deadline.
The proposal would apply to hard-rock mining, which includes mines for precious metals, copper, iron, lead and other ores. It would cover thousands of mines and processing facilities in 38 states, requiring their owners to set aside sufficient money to pay for future clean ups.
From 2010 to 2014, the EPA spent $1.1 billion on cleanup work at abandoned hard-rock mining and processing sites across the U.S.
Companies would face a combined $7.1 billion financial obligation under the proposed rule, costing them up to $171 million annually, according to the EPA. The agency said the amount could be covered through third parties such as surety bonds or self-insured corporate guarantees.
Click here for all the inside skinny on the presentations March 1st and March 2nd. Here’s an excerpt from the website:
For decades, biologists accepted that Colorado’s native cutthroat trout could be distinguished by their location: Greenbacks were east of the Continental Divide, Colorado River cutthroat were west, Rio Grande cutthroat were in their namesake watershed, and the Yellowfin cutthroat have been extinct from Twin Lakes since the early 1900s.
However, using innovative genetic technology, researchers recently revealed that remnant Greenback populations on the eastern slope were actually Colorado River cutthroat trout, and fish that genetically resembled Greenbacks were unexpectedly numerous on the western slope. This was a blow to recovery efforts for Colorado’s Greenback cutthroat trout, a Threatened Species, and native trout conservation in general. It was unclear if this reflected the widespread sportfish stocking efforts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or a gap in the knowledge about our indigenous cutthroat trout. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) conducted an investigation to solve this mystery.
Kendall Bakich, Fisheries Biologist at CPW, will discuss and explain these results. CPW has always used the “best available science” to protect the legacy of our native cutthroat and Kendall will outline how the agency continues to work on the frontline to preserve native trout diversity and enhance resiliency so the species persist well into the future.
Kendall is an Aquatic Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Her work focuses on the management and conservation of sportfish populations in the Eagle and Roaring Fork watersheds, as well as the Colorado River and its tributaries between Canyon Creek and State Bridge.
CARBONDALE — Wednesday, March 1st, at 5:30 P.M. at Third Street Center
ASPEN — Thursday, March 2, at 7:00 P.M. at ACES at Hallam Lake
The Naturalist Nights series is presented by the Wilderness Workshop, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Roaring Fork Audubon. Presentations are hosted Wednesdays at the Third Street Center in Carbondale at 5:30 P.M. and Thursdays at ACES at Hallam Lake in Aspen at 7:00 P.M.
From the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Jennifer Hill):
The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy is preparing to begin Phase II of the White River storage project with the ultimate goal of obtaining a new reservoir on the White River.
The project began in 2014 with a water storage study. The study was determined necessary after the Conservancy determined that Rio Blanco was facing a water crisis. Approximately half of Kenney Reservoir’s original size has been silted in and it’s estimated that it loses 300 acre feet of water storage per year. The loss of Kenney significantly impacts recreation, endangered fish and potentially the Town of Rangely’s ability to store water. The district initially investigated improvements to Kenney but found that dredging would cost more than half a billion dollars and enlarging Taylor Draw had significant permitting issues. Because of these concerns the Conservancy District decided to move forward with the study of a new multipurpose reservoir. The functions of a new reservoir would include municipal and domestic water supply, environmental improvements, recreation, energy development and potentially irrigation and Colorado River Compact Storage.
Phase I of the project, which was completed in 2015, saw 23 initial reservoir sites identified at various locations along the White River. Estimating water demand in 2065, the District was able to narrow it down to two possible sizes, a 20,000 or 90,000-acre foot reservoir. After comparing construction, implementation and storage costs the location was also narrowed down to the Wolf Creek Drainage, which is located 17 miles East of Rangely, near Yellow Creek. The total project cost of the 20,000-acre foot option is estimated at $71.1 million and the 90,000-acre foot option at $127.7 million. However, when a storage cost per acre foot comparison is made the larger reservoir appears economical, with the 20,000-acre foot costing $3,560 and the 90,000-acre foot costing $1,420 per acre foot.
In addition to size options Wolf Creek comes with two potential locations, a traditional dam built directly on the White River or an off channel diversion project which would require the water to be piped and pumped to a nearby location. The on river dam option offers a smaller dam footprint, hydroelectric options and the possibility of extending the life of Kenney Reservoir by preventing more sedimentation. This option will require greater infrastructure relocations as well as have a larger impact on private and agricultural lands.
While the off channel diversion would certainly have higher construction costs than building on river, there are benefits to be considered. The off channel diversion would receive less sedimentation, leaving it more protected from the problems Kenney has experienced. It would also require little to no need for infrastructure relocations such as power lines or pipelines along with a minimal impact to private lands and personal property. Additionally, there are significant enlargement capabilities. However, the off channel option also provides limited opportunities for hydroelectric power. The conservancy has already filed for water rights on both options.
Phase I also looked at the potential tax revenue provided by a new reservoir, with recreation playing a large role. It is estimated that the Wolf Creek site could create a total annual tax revenue of $1.1- $1.4 million.
Phase II, which will begin when all funding mechanism are firmly in place, will include more stakeholder and public outreach, preferred alternative refinement, preliminary sedimentation studies and hydraulic modeling. In addition, this phase will include development of minimum stream flows for the endangered fisheries program and research into the possibility of another hydroelectric plant. Phase II is estimated to cost $350,000. The funding comes from a variety of stakeholders including $85,000 from the Yampa/White Green Roundtable, $75,000 form the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, $50,000 from the Town of Rangely, $10,000 from the Town of Meeker and $25,000 from Rio Blanco County. There is also a $82,888 grant request in to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
In their most recent meeting the Rio Blanco Board of County Commissioners agreed to additional funding to help fill the $22,000 gap with the understanding that the Conservation District would request the Towns of Meeker and Rangely to share the burden.
The $75,000 contribution from the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District is a sizeable amount of money for the district, as it equates to 45 percent of their tax revenue.
The goal is to have Phase II completed by 2018 so that the lengthy permitting process can begin.
The entire project boasts an aggressive schedule with the goal of final completion in 2024. This timeline is considered rapid because the last completed dam project in Colorado took 18 years. It is also not unusual for the permitting process to last decades.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
The agreement renews partnership work Denver Water initiated in 2010 aimed at reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
New restoration and “wildfire fuels reduction” projects will be done on more than 40,000 acres of watershed deemed critical, according to a U.S. Forest Service announcement.
Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead, U.S. Forest Service regional director Brian Ferebee, Colorado State Forest Service director Mike Lester and Natural Resources Conservation Service director Clint Evan were to sign the latest deal Monday in Denver at the History Colorado Center.
The forest health work has involved clearing trees from beetle-ravaged forests where fire and erosion increasingly threaten water supplies. Lochhead has said investing in forest health helps avoid having to deal with the problem later at a much greater cost.
Water providers have ventured into forest management work because, with bug-infested trees dead and dying on millions of acres of Western forests, weakened soils can erode, especially after fire and heavy rain, releasing sediment into streams, rivers and reservoirs.
After the Buffalo Creek Fire, Denver Water had to spend $30 million dredging and unclogging the city’s Strontia Springs reservoir. An estimated 625,000 cubic yards of sediment from surrounding mountainsides, enough to cover a football field 200 feet high, slumped into the reservoir.
Federal officials have warned repeatedly in recent years that the nation’s forests are threatened like never before. The previous forest health work plan called for thinning 6,000 acres of dense forest near Denver Water’s Dillon reservoir. Denver Water and the Forest Service each contributed about $16.5 million for the work. The forest health deals create work for logging contractors.
From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Scott Condon):
A dozen Roaring Fork Valley residents got an up-close look Sunday at how the weird weather has affected the snowpack this winter.
The group trudged into the aspen woods at the summit of McClure Pass during the cold morning to conduct an old-fashioned snow survey — ramming a hollow metal pole into the ground by hand power to take a core sample. Derrick Wyle, a soil conservationist with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, then walked the citizen scientists through calculations using markings on the pole and by weighing it to determine the snowpack density.
The exercise confirmed that Colorado’s typical Champagne powder has been closer to Sierra Cement this winter. Warm temperatures have often produced a rain-snow mix this winter as well as a series of 50-degree days in February.
The average of the nine samples indicated a snow depth of 38 inches and a snow-water equivalent — the amount of water contained within the snowpack — of 14 inches. That produced an average water density of 37 percent…
HANDS-ON FIELD EXPLORATION
The Natural Resources Conservation Service and Roaring Fork Conservancy have teamed up for the past five or so years to present the workshop, called, “Understanding Snowpack and its Role in Western Water.”
While Wyle took the students through a mock snow course survey, Mitchell worked with the group to dig a snow pit and analyze it for clues to the snowpack composition.
The digging initially was easy with 3 inches of light powder covering the surface. That was the snow that fell in recent days.
The fluff soon gave way to a thick, crusty layer that Mitchell said was baked and solidified during the long dry, warm spell in late January and February.
Closer to the ground, more than 3 feet below the snow surface, the consistency was looser again.
Mitchell planted thermometers at different layers of the snowpack and took equal-sized samples from the top and lower down in the dense layer. She mixed the snow samples with equal amounts of water and boiled them over Jet Boil burners she brought into the field. Once the snow was melted, it showed that the higher density layer, indeed, produced more water.
TRYING TO INSPIRE PEOPLE
Mitchell said getting people into the field is essential to Roaring Fork Conservancy’s mission to inspire people to explore, value and protect the Roaring Fork Watershed — an area that stretches from Independence Pass to Glenwood Springs and includes the Crystal and Fryingpan rivers and all their drainages.
The watershed is about 1,400 square miles.
“It’s about the size of Rhode Island,” Mitchell said.
And about 30 percent of it is federally protected wilderness, where motorized and mechanized uses are prohibited, according to Mitchell.
The conservancy holds a number of workshops and field trips over the course of the year, highlighted by its popular summer float trip on the Roaring Fork River.
Sunday’s program was designed to drive home the point that the snowpack “is a natural storage system for water,” she said…
SNOWPACK SOARED IN JANUARY
From now through spring, everyone from river guides to farmers will watch the snowpack to help gauge runoff.
So far, snowpack levels are impressive, thanks to the non-stop snow over the first three weeks of January. The pace of snowpack accumulation slowed significantly in February, but it still remains well above median at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen as well as at three sites each in the Crystal and Fryingpan drainages.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service relies primarily on automated Snow Telemetry sites now for data, including one on McClure Pass. Wyle gave a brief tour of the facilities there Sunday. The site transmits data each hour on snow depth, cumulative precipitation and snow water equivalent.
However, Wyle and his counterparts around the state still ski or snowshoe to select sites each month for a manual check of the automated data. He and his colleagues in the Glenwood Springs office do field tests at Nast Lake up the Fryingpan Valley.
Sunday’s field operation provided a glimpse of how the snow survey workers gather their data…
All the automated Snow Telemetry sites in the Roaring Fork Watershed are measure well above the median. Here are the measures as of 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The first number is the snow water equivalent in the snowpack, the second is the percentage of median.
Independence Pass, 14.8 inches, 119%
McClure Pass, 16.8 inches, 130%
North Lost Trail, 19.8 inches, 157%
Schofield Pass, 41.8 inches, 172%
Nast Lake, 11.6 inches, 184%
Kiln, 12.5 inches, 138%
Ivanhoe, 16.4 inches, 164%
Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service
From The Bent County Democrat:
…the mayor conducted regular business with the passing of a number of resolutions [including]…
Resolution No. 3-17, a Resolution of the City of Las Animas Sewer Enterprise approving a loan between the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and the City of Las Animas sewer enterprise in the principal amount of not to exceed $176,000 for the purpose of financing the design and engineering costs relating to improvements to Las Animas wastewater facilities; authorizing the form and execution of a loan agreement and a governmental agency bond evidencing the loan; and prescribing other details in connection therewith; Resolution No. 4-17, a Resolution of the City of Las Animas sewer enterprise approving a loan between the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and the City of Las Animas sewer enterprise in the principal amount of not to exceed $593,500 for the purpose of financing improvements to Las Animas wastewater facilities; authorizing the form and execution of a loan agreement and a governmental agency bond evidencing the loan; and prescribing other details in connection therewith; Resolution No. 5-17, a Resolution of the city of Las Animas approving a contract with the City of Las Animas Sewer enterprise relating to improvements to the Las Animas Wastewater System and providing for payment for such services and Resolution No. 6-17, a Resolution of the City of Las Animas sewer enterprise approving a contract with the City of Las Animas wastewater system and providing for payment for such services.
From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):
The city has already bought some water rights to begin this compliance process.
Alamosa City Attorney Erich Schwiesow told the council Wednesday night that staff has estimated it could take $3.5 million to comply with the rules…
The ordinance provides an outside limit to the terms of the financing of $3.7 million principal, $5.6 million total payment, and maximum annual payment of $375,000.
The $5.6 million is based on 5 percent interest over a 15-year repayment period.
Schwiesow said this ordi-ALAMOSA city council this week set boundaries on how much it will spend on its efforts to comply with new water rules from the state.
The council approved on first reading and scheduled for a March 1st public hearing an ordinance setting $3.7 million as the upper limit of what the city will finance to pay for water rights and associated expenses to bring the city into compliance with new groundwater rules.
Under the new rules, well owners (including municipalities ) must make up for their negative effects to surface water rights as well as providing means to replenish the San Luis Valley’s aquifer to more sustainable levels. nance for financing for the water project including the acquisition of water rights. It does not mean the city will be spending that much, but it means the city will not spend more than that, he explained.
The city will be working with UMB Bank to set up the financing . Alamosa Councilman Charles Griego said he hoped local banks would be involved. City Manager Heather Brooks said UMB Bank would shop around for the best rates, and Schwiesow added that the city council would ultimately approve whatever bank UMB Bank brought back to the council for financing. UMB Bank essentially serves as a broker for the city, he explained. In another water related matter of a different nature, the council on Wednesday approved its first budget amendment for the year in part to cover the costs of replacing failing equipment in the city’s wastewater treatment facility. The city will transfer $250,000 from the Enterprise Debt Fund to the water treatment department to replace ultraviolet equipment that is part of the last disinfection phase at the wastewater plant…
Alamosa Public Works Director Pat Steenburg added that when the plant was constructed 19 years ago, it had two UV systems. One of those quit working five or six years ago and the other is “on its last leg.” There are no parts even available for it now, he added.
The total transfer from the Enterprise Debt Fund was for $383,000, which included the $250,000 for the UV equipment as well as water department operations including $33,000 to add a technician to backfill existing staff.
The budget amendment also includes interdepartmental transfers to cover the cost of a drone purchase for the city, which all departments from IT to fire will be able to utilize.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.
And here’s the Westwide basin-filled snowpack map from the NRCS.
It was very cold overnight above 10,000 feet in the Colorado mountains. That’s good news. The warm temperatures and winds have the potential to become snow-eaters.
From The Albuquerque Journal (Olivier Uyttebrouck):
January and February have been among the warmest on record in New Mexico. But the warmer-than-usual weather has not severely depleted the plump mountain snowpacks that accumulated earlier this winter.
“The snowpack seems to be holding,” said Royce Fontenot, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. “We’ve got snowpacks at normal, or above normal, in all of our northern New Mexico basins.”
The state continues to benefit from hefty snow accumulations in the northern mountains in December and January, with a couple of new storm systems headed this way over the next 10 days.
New Mexico’s runoff season typically spans mid-March to mid-April and much will depend on what the weather brings over the next six weeks or so, Fontenot said Friday.
“If things stay the way they are, we’ve got enough snow in those upper basins that we will probably see some decent runoff volumes over the season,” he said.
And last year demonstrated that a healthy snowpack doesn’t guarantee a good spring runoff. In 2016, dry, windy weather in March destroyed much of New Mexico’s snowpack.
This year, forecasts suggest that New Mexico will get some additional rain and mountain snow over the next couple of weeks, Fontenot said.
“We’ve been warm, we’ve been windy, and that has had some impact on the snowpacks,” he said. “But we’ve got some systems coming in over the next 10 days that are going to help maintain the snowpack in the northern basins.”
In December and January, one storm system after another dumped snow on the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Many parts of New Mexico received up to four times normal precipitation in January.
Fruit growers in the Grand Valley are worried about fruit trees. Some are budding already due to the warm up over the past few weeks. Here’s a report from The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
Fruitgrowers are casting wary eyes upward, hoping for cool — not cold — weather to swing in over western Colorado and restore some late-winter order.
As it stands so far, this February is shaping up to be the warmest February on record in Grand Junction.
Through the first 21 days of the month, the average daily temperature was 44 degrees, a half-degree warmer than the next warmest February, which occurred in 1907, according to John Kyle, data acquisition program manager for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Historically, the average temperature for February is 34.5 degrees.
In fact, this February is on track to be warmer than March normally is. The average daily temperature in March is 43.9 degrees, Kyle said.
The reason for the abnormally warm weather is that the storms have come in from the warmer Pacific Ocean, rather than dropping down from Canada and carrying them with cold Arctic air.
While the abnormally warm weather pattern may not continue into March, residents shouldn’t expect prolonged cool, wet periods either. The forecast for Grand Junction calls for equal chances of temperatures and precipitation being below or above normal, Kyle said.
As it happens, unsettled weather is pretty much the norm and if anything, that makes predicting the future of the valley’s peach crop a bit fuzzy.
From The Laramie Boomerang (Ike Fredregill):
Compared to a 30-year average, Fahey said the Platte River Basin’s snowpack is at about 120 percent.
“I look at the Laramie Watershed all the way down into Colorado,” Fahey said. “The Colorado side is a little higher, 120-130 percent (of average). And the Wyoming side is at 100-120 percent. Combined, they put the area at about 120 (percent of average).”
Laramie Water Resources Specialist Darren Parkin said only a small amount of the city’s water is supplied by snowpack in the Snowy Range.
“Most of our water comes from the headwaters of the Laramie River,” Parkin said.
The headwaters originate in Colorado around Chambers Lake and the Rawah Range.
“That whole drainage area is where we get our runoff,” Parkin said.
With Laramie receiving about half its water supply from the Laramie River, Parkin said snowpack plays an important role.
“For the town itself, about 50 percent of our water on a normal year comes from the river,” Parkin said. “The west end of town is primarily supported from river water, and the east end of town is primarily supplied by the (Casper Aquifer).”
Additionally, the snowpack plays a vital role at Monolith Ranch.
“We can really structure our whole hay growing plan off the snow pack report,” he said. “(The snowpack) has been good this year so far — we started slow, but it’s picked up so far.”
Currently, the snow season is in its early phase, Parkin said.
“We’re in that transition period where you have that warm period with dry snow, but it should really pick up this spring with the heavier, wet snows,” he said.
However, more snowpack means more runoff, which causes increased variables for the Laramie Water Treatment Plant.
“High runoff years are more work because of the ever increasing changes in the water quality,” Parkin said.
All things considered, he said more water is rarely a bad thing unless it’s a safety hazard.
“It’s a bit too early to tell if the snowpack will be a flooding concern,” he said.
Wyoming State Engineer’s Office Hydrographer and Water Commissioner Adam Skadsen agreed.
“Early in the year, it doesn’t take too much snow to affect the percentages,” Skadsen said. “But it’s still up in the air what the spring snows will bring.”
Although the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office has instruments in place to measure the on-site water content of snowfall, Skadsen said he checks the snowpack manually each month to ensure the data is correct.
“The last time we were up there, there was a really good base with really heavy powder on top of it,” Skadsen said. “There’s a lot of water content to the snow.”
Looking at the data from Brooklyn Lake, he said the snowpack’s water content is above the 10-year average.
“Last year, we were at 13.5 (water content inches) and the median is about 12,” Skadsen said. “This year we’re a little above that — it’s sitting at 16.3 (water content inches).”
He said the increased snowpack was good, but he would like to see more.
“With the recent weather, I’m hoping we’ll get the numbers up a little more,” Skadsen said. “I’d like to see another foot on the mountains.”
From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):
he Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently released its Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report, based on Feb. 1 figures, which marks the second comprehensive update for Colorado since the “2017 water year” began on Oct. 1.
According to the report, statewide snowpack and reservoir levels had increased since the Jan. 1 report, and were well above average statewide.
From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):
The 26th annual Governor’s Conference on Agriculture saw more than 425 people engaged in the various ag industries gather at the Denver Renaissance Hotel Wednesday and the picture that emerged is one of an industry beset by consumers who don’t understand or don’t care about it, a changing marketplace in which commodity prices are the same as they were decades ago while costs continue to climb, and a looming climate catastrophe.
Case in point: Water, which will be more in demand than ever in the coming half-century, will continue to disappear.
During the morning general session Dr. Gregory Graff, associate professor of economics at Colorado State University, gave a presentation on the “value chain” of agriculture. Among the highlights was optimism that there are great opportunities for food manufacturing in Colorado. Graff said consumers care most about how fresh their food is, and that means putting food processing plants as close to the crop source as possible. He specifically mentioned cheese-making and processing other dairy foods as presenting tremendous new opportunities in Colorado.
But food processing uses vast amounts of water, and Colorado’s water sources are already overtaxed. The South Platte River, one of the most developed and appropriated rivers in the United States, is now the subject of three ongoing studies to find ways to conserve, divert, and store even more water from it.
At the same time, climatologists at CSU say Colorado is getting hotter and drier and, if the trend continues, by 2050 Denver will have a climate more like Albuquerque, N.M.
During an afternoon breakout session, Tarryn Finnessey, senior climate change specialist at [the Colorado Water Conservation Board], said at the same time water use increases in coming decades, streamflows will decrease, the peak mountain runoff season will begin earlier, and snowpack will decrease.
“Looking ahead, there’s not even enough water to meet existing demand, let alone increased demand,” Finnessey said.
From The New York Times (Troy Griggs, Gregor Aisch and Sarah Almukhtar):
Nearly 2,000 state-regulated high-hazard dams in the United States were listed as being in need of repair in 2015, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. A dam is considered “high hazard” based on the potential for the loss of life as a result of failure.
By 2020, 70 percent of the dams in the United States will be more than 50 years old, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
“It’s not like an expiration date for your milk, but the components that make up that dam do have a lifespan.” said Mark Ogden, a project manager with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials…
Two weeks ago, heavy rains caused the Twentyone Mile Dam in Nevada to burst, resulting in flooding, damaged property and closed roads throughout the region.
The earthen dam, built in the early 1900s and less than 50 feet tall, is one of more than 60,000 “low hazard” dams, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Typically, failure of a low hazard dam would cause property damage, but it would most likely not kill anyone.
In 2016, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimated that it would cost $60 billion to rehabilitate all the dams that needed to be brought up to safe condition, with nearly $20 billion of that sum going toward repair of dams with a high potential for hazard.
In 2015, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York, introduced the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act, an amendment to the National Dam Safety Program Act, to provide grant assistance to rehabilitate publicly owned dams that fail to meet minimum safety standards.
The bill is still pending, but it would not apply to a majority of the dams in the United States because more than half of them are privately owned. Oroville Dam is owned by the State of California, but the Twentyone Mile Dam is owned by Winecup Gamble Ranch, a cattle operation in northeastern Nevada.
While most legislation involves inspection and rehabilitation, hazardous dams that have outlived their usefulness can also be removed.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):
Story by Mari N. Jensen at the University of Arizona
Warming in the 21st century reduced Colorado River flows by at least 0.5 million acre-feet — about the amount of water used by 2 million people in one year — according to new research from Colorado State University and the University of Arizona.
The research is the first to quantify the different effects of temperature and precipitation on recent Colorado River flow, said authors Bradley Udall of CSU and Jonathan Overpeck of UA.
“The future of the Colorado River is far less rosy than other recent assessments have portrayed,” said Udall, a senior water and climate scientist/scholar at the Colorado Water Institute, a unit within CSU’s Office of Engagement. “Our findings provide a sobering look at future Colorado River flows, and send a clear message to water managers that they need to plan for significantly lower river flows.”
The paper by Udall and Overpeck, “The 21st Century Colorado River Hot Drought and Implications for the Future,” went online Feb. 17 in the American Geophysical Union journal Water Resources Research. The Colorado Water Institute, National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey funded the research.
Significant water reduction
From 2000 to 2014, the river’s flows declined to 81 percent of the 20th-century average, a total reduction of about 2.9 million acre-feet of water per year, with a warmer climate accounting for 0.5 million acre-feet per year and a reduction in precipitation levels making up the remainder. One acre-foot of water will serve a family of four for one year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Forty million people in seven U.S. Western states, plus the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California, rely on the Colorado River for water.
From one-sixth to one-half of the 21st-century reduction in flow can be attributed to higher atmospheric temperatures since 2000, according to the researchers. Their analysis shows as temperatures continue to increase, Colorado River flows will continue to decline.
Current climate change models indicate temperatures will increase as long as humans continue to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but the projections of future precipitation are far less certain.
“This paper is the first to show the large role that warming temperatures are playing in reducing the flows of the Colorado River,” said Overpeck, Regents’ Professor of Geosciences and of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona and director of the UA Institute of the Environment.
The Colorado River Basin has been in a drought since 2000. Previous research has shown the region’s risk of a mega-drought – one lasting more than 20 years – rises as temperatures increase.
“We’re the first to make the case that warming alone could cause Colorado River flow declines of 30 percent by mid-century and over 50 percent by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated,” Overpeck said.
The team began its investigation because Udall learned that recent Colorado flows were lower than managers expected given the amount of precipitation. The two researchers wanted to provide water managers with insight into how future projections of temperature and precipitation for the Colorado River Basin would affect the river’s flows.
Udall and Overpeck began by looking at the drought years of 2000-2014. About 85 percent of the river’s flow originates as precipitation in the Upper Basin – the part of the river that drains portions of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. The team found during that time, temperatures in the river’s Upper Basin were 1.6 degrees F (0.9 C) higher than the average for the previous 105 years.
25 years of data
To see how increased temperatures might contribute to the reductions in the river’s flow that have been observed since 2000, Udall and Overpeck reviewed and synthesized 25 years of research about how temperature and precipitation affect the river’s flows. Water loss increases as temperatures rise because plants use more water, and higher temperatures increase evaporative loss from the soil and from the water surface and lengthen the growing season.
In previous research, Overpeck and other colleagues showed current climate models simulated 20th-century conditions well, but the models cannot simulate the 20- to 60-year mega-droughts known to have occurred in the past. Moreover, many of those models did not reproduce the current drought.
Those researchers and others suggest the risk of a multi-decadal drought in the Southwest in the 21st century is much higher than climate models indicate, and that as temperatures increase, the risk of such a drought increases.
“A mega-drought in this century will throw all our operating rules out the window,” Udall said.
Udall and Overpeck found all current climate models agree that temperatures in the Colorado River Basin will continue rising if the emission of greenhouse gases is not curbed. However, the models’ predictions of future precipitation in the Basin have much more uncertainty.
“Even if the precipitation does increase, our work indicates that there are likely to be drought periods as long as several decades when precipitation falls below normal,” Overpeck said.
The new study suggests Colorado River flows will continue to decline.
“I was surprised at the extent to which the uncertain precipitation aspects of the current projections hid the temperature-induced flow declines,” said Udall.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation lumps temperature and precipitation together in its projections of Colorado River flow, he said.
“Current planning understates the challenge that climate change poses to the water supplies in the American Southwest,” Udall said. “My goal is to help water managers incorporate this information into their long-term planning efforts.”
$100 million Hillcrest project among infrastructure improvements that support thousands of local construction jobs.
From Science Magazine (Eli Kintisch):
The scientists flying over the world’s largest thawing chunk of ice have selected a particularly auspicious summer to be studying the melt. The edges of Greenland’s 1.7-million-km2 ice sheet regularly melt in summer, even in years when the ice sheet as a whole grows because of snowfall in its higher, colder center. But in 2016, the melting started early and spread inland fast. By April, 12% of the ice sheet’s surface was melting; in an average year the melt doesn’t reach 10% until June. And just before the scientists’ journey, a violent river of meltwater, one of hundreds coursing out from the ice sheet, swept away a sensor, bolted to a bridge to measure the water’s turbidity. It was the second time in 4 years such a device had fallen victim to the liquid fury of the glaciers. “I’ve been doing these trips for years, but I’ve never seen so much water,” the helicopter pilot told the researchers.
In Greenland, the great melt is on. The decline of Greenland’s ice sheet is a familiar story, but until recently, massive calving glaciers that carry ice from the interior and crumble into the sea got most of the attention. Between 2000 and 2008, such “dynamic” changes accounted for about as much mass loss as surface melting and shifts in snowfall. But the balance tipped dramatically between 2011 and 2014, when satellite data and modeling suggested that 70% of the annual 269 billion tons of snow and ice shed by Greenland was lost through surface melt, not calving. The accelerating surface melt has doubled Greenland’s contribution to global sea level rise since 1992–2011, to 0.74 mm per year. “Nobody expected the ice sheet to lose so much mass so quickly,” says geophysicist Isabella Velicogna of the University of California, Irvine. “Things are happening a lot faster than we expected.”
It’s urgent to figure out why, and how the melting might evolve in the future, because Greenland holds the equivalent of more than 7 m of sea level rise in its thick mantle of ice. Glaciologists were already fully occupied trying to track and forecast the surge in glacial calving. Now, they are striving to understand the complex feedbacks that are speeding up surface melting.
Although the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, high temperatures alone can’t explain the precipitous erosion of Greenland’s ice. Unseasonably warm summers appear to be abetted by microbes and algae that grow on the increasingly wet surface of the ice sheet, producing pigments that boost the ice’s absorption of solar energy. Soot and dust that blow from lower latitudes and darken the ice also appear to be playing a role, as are changes in weather patterns that increasingly steer warm, moist air over the vulnerable ice.
To track this complex set of factors, scientists have enlisted satellite instruments: imagers to monitor the color and reflectivity, or albedo, of the ice and altimeters to measure its erosion millimeter by millimeter. They are also organizing expeditions like this one, called Black and Bloom, which has enlisted experts in algae (the Bloom) and soot (the Black), some of whom have never before worked in the Arctic. By inspecting the changing ice sheet close up, they hope to understand how biological and physical processes are conspiring to destroy it. As team leader Martyn Tranter, a biogeochemist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, explains, “We’re driven by curiosity, but also the fear that all this new biology may accelerate global sea level rise.”
An hour after taking off from an airstrip about 90 km from the western edge of the ice sheet, the helicopter lands on flat, dry, crunchy snow. The brightness is dazzling, making sunglasses a necessity. But when Joe Cook of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom takes light readings with a sensor connected to a mini-laptop, they show the snow isn’t quite as white as it looks. It is absorbing a bit of the visible light it would otherwise reflect, and the absorption is greater in invisible infrared wavelengths. Cook explains that the darkening is the result of a melt-induced feedback that polar scientists have long documented: Upon melting and refreezing, ice crystals lose their spiky shape and grow larger and rounder, which can reduce the reflectivity of the snow by as much as 10%. As absorption rises, so does temperature, accelerating the melt.
Their measurements complete, the team packs into the helicopter and flies west, back toward the ice’s edge. At the second stop the winter snow is gone, and the exposed ice is bumpier and wetter than at the first stop. It is also increasingly dirty and dark. Satellite data show that the margins of the ice sheet have darkened by as much as 5% per decade since 2001. That’s why we’ve come to this place, which some have dubbed a “dark ice” zone. Earlier sampling revealed several culprits. Dust trapped over the centuries has become concentrated at the melting edge of the ice sheet. Soot from European factories and Canadian wildfires, along with increasingly prevalent patches of bare ice, contribute as well.
Researchers have yet to quantify the relative contribution of each darkener, but a third player could be the biggest driver: a bloom of algae and bacteria. The surface of the ice here is pocked with holes just wide enough for a researcher’s finger. Each is filled with crystal-clear meltwater, but a dollop of black sludge darkens the bottom. Much of the sludge—known as cryoconite—is living bacteria, as the Finnish-Swedish explorer Nils A. E. Nordenskiöld suggested nearly 150 years ago. It thrives thanks to another feedback effect: Solar energy captured by the dark cryoconite helps keeps the water from freezing and deepens the cone. It also creates a favorable environment for more bacteria to grow, fueling continued melt.
In 2010, microbiologist Marian Yallop of Bristol found more life on the ice margins: a thriving community of algae that extends beyond the cones. “To the amazement of everybody, we found this algae growing in this extreme cold, under high ultraviolet light conditions, tolerating regular freezethaw cycles,” says Yallop, who is taking part in this year’s expedition. The brown pigments that protect the plants from the sun stain and darken massive swaths of ice…
At the third sampling stop, 80 km west of the first, the algae’s power to melt ice is devastatingly evident. Not only has winter snow long vanished, but so have several meters of the underlying ice. What’s left is a far cry from the Greenland that most people picture. “People think of the Greenland Ice Sheet as pretty pristine,” says atmospheric scientist Jim McQuaid of the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. But this scene is a mess: Cryoconite cones have coalesced into cruddy puddles and basins, while a robust river, a few meters across, gushes across the dirty icescape. The researchers eagerly scrape brownish snow into plastic bags. Later they’ll analyze the samples for DNA and other markers to identify algae species as well as inorganic contaminants.
About 20 km from the final sampling station is an experimental plot that Black and Bloom researchers monitored for 5 weeks last summer. Their goal was to ground truth satellite measurements of the darkening, quantifying each of the darkening factors and their effects on melting. They called their study plot the “pixel” because, at 500 m across, it corresponded to the maximum resolution of a NASA satellite sensor that maps Greenland’s color each day. The team used drone flights, regular sampling, and a series of reference poles to track how seven different microhabitats—among them streams, bare ice, and slush—were evolving in terms of albedo, cryoconite formation, and biological activity. Members of the team hope the results will eventually make it possible to use satellite data to infer local melting conditions across the entire ice sheet…
Albedo isn’t everything. 2012 was a whopper summer for melting on Greenland; by 12 July of that year, fully 98% of the ice sheet was covered in liquid water, according to satellite data. At one weather station, a layer of ice as much as a meter thick melted in 4 days. That brief episode and a subsequent 2-day melt contributed to 14% of the season’s ice loss.
But a recently published modeling study of the 2012 melting showed it wasn’t sun falling on darkened snow that drove the melt—in fact, the skies were pretty cloudy over much of the island during the two melting events. Instead, it was warm temperatures and rainfall, provided by big “blocking” high-pressure systems that kept the mild weather in place. As the Arctic warms, such melt episodes are likely to “occur much more frequently in the future,” says Dirk van As of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland in Copenhagen. Earlier this year, climate scientist Marco Tedesco of Columbia University published data supporting an earlier proposal that the retreat of Arctic sea ice has disrupted the polar jet stream, causing weather systems to meander more slowly from west to east.
The topography of the ice sheet also plays a role in the accelerating melt. Each increase in temperature drives the upper edge of the melt zone farther inland and higher up the ice sheet. But because the ice sheet is steep at its edges but flatter toward the middle, each successive degree of warming exposes a larger area of ice to melting than the last. This nonlinear response to warming means that about 60% more meltwater was released from the ice sheet over the past decade than would have been the case if the ice slope were uniform, scientists estimated in a recent paper.
Researchers hope to incorporate all of these factors into computer models of ice sheets, which still struggle to mimic how real ice sheets respond to climate change. In a recent comparison of four ice models, for example, the amount of meltwater they produced under current conditions varied by more than 40%. Forecasts of future ice sheet behavior appear even more uncertain: Under the same high–global warming scenario, eight ice sheet models predicted anywhere between 0 and 27 cm of sea level rise in 2100 from Greenland melt.
Better melt models would improve forecasts not only for Greenland, but also for the Antarctic Ice Sheet. It holds 10 times more water than Greenland, and for now is losing nearly all of its ice through glacier calving, not surface melting. But sooner or later the thaw will reach the bottom of the world.
In the meantime, the modelers working back in their cozy offices want to know more about the feedbacks driving Greenland’s decline. One key question is how meltwater that drains to the base of the ice sheet affects the glaciers’ march to the ocean, and the rate at which they shed icebergs. Researchers also wonder how meltwater flows unleashed in the spring affect summer runoff. Scientists have recently discovered that, during spring melt-and-freeze cycles, massive “ice lenses,” as thick as 6 m, form just below the snow surface. Data from sensors in the snow suggest that the lenses block summer meltwater from percolating into deeper, older snow, known as firn. Instead, the meltwater is apparently getting trapped near the surface, amplifying summer flows. Next spring Tedesco will participate in a 150-km trek by snowmobile across southeast Greenland, in –30°C temperatures, to see how widespread the phenomenon is. “It’s going to be pretty brutal, but there’s no other way to get the data,” he says.
Melting brings other challenges for field research, as Black and Bloom researchers discovered last year when they tracked their “pixel” of eroding ice. The researchers faced endless slush and puddles, and a weekly chore of moving their working and sleeping quarters as the ice disappeared around them, leaving the tents stranded on bizarre pedestals half a meter high. But they also felt a sense of wonder at the transformation of the icescape, McQuaid says. “Each evening we marveled as the sun went low, enjoying the fact that we were somewhere no one else had been, and would never be again, because of the melt.”
From the Taos Valley Acequia Association:
John Shomaker, TVAA Hydrologist, will discuss the hydrology of the Rio Lucero Storage Project and the Mitigation Wells. Rebecca Dempsey will also be in attendance to answer any legal questions on the Storage Project or Mitigation Wells.
The Rio Lucero Storage project will be discussed at 11:00 a.m. The Mitigation Wells will be discussed at 2:00 p.m.
It is very important commissioners attend and invite your parciantes to attend this special meeting to pass along correct information on the Storage Project and Mitigation Wells.
From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):
As of Feb. 21, Colorado’s snowpack was sitting at 140 percent of what is considered normal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
That amount has dropped some, though, as only a week earlier, the statewide snowpack was at 147 percent of normal.
Still, this bodes well for Fort Morgan in terms of having plenty of water this summer and fall. It also looks good for Northern Water, which provides that water to the city through the Colorado-Big Thompson pipeline.
“Late spring and early summer snowmelt and runoff from the Rocky Mountains provides most of Colorado’s water supply,” Northern Water’s website explains. “Greater snowpack means favorable water supplies; lower amounts can signal an impending drought.”
The two major river basins that play roles in the water supply for the C-BT pipeline are the Upper Colorado and South Platte, and they had snowpacks of 147 and 142 percent, respectively, in mid-February. Those percentage fell to 140 and 132 as of Feb. 21…
Further, the C-BT pipeline’s water storage level was “above average” at the start of February, tracking at 121 percent of normal as of Feb. 1.
From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):
On Tuesday, farmers and ranchers from all over the area attended the Water Quality Workshop at Otero Junior College: Impacting Your Farm’s Bottom Line. They were informed by a series of three panels of speakers, plus introductory remarks by John Stulp, Director for the Interbasin Compact Committee and Water Adviser to Governor Hickenlooper.
Stulp was happy to see organizations and communities working together to solve our common problems. “Water quality is everyone’s issue,” said Stulp. He is also pleased with technological advances in agriculture. “The center pivot sprinklers are a great invention, also the low pressure nozzles operated by computers that water according to humidity.” The new equipment enables the farmer to reduce the amount of fertilizer by 50 percent and get the same yield, contributing to better water quality. “Conferences like these bring out practical ideas,” said Stulp, a farmer and rancher from Prowers County who served as Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture from 2007 to 2011 and Prowers County Commissioner for 13 years.
Moderator Carol Ekarius, CEO of Coalitions & Collaboratives Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to fostering on-the-ground efforts to address environmental challenges, introduced the first panel, “Lessons from the Field.” The presenters were Phillip H. Chavez, managing partner for Diamond ‘A’ Farms in Rocky Ford; Ryan Hemphill, progressive family farmer from near Hasty; Jerry Allen, Irrigation Water Management Specialist for Shavano Conservation District on the western slope; Joel Moffett, Resource Conservationist, Ecological Division Colorado National Resource Conservation Service…
Hemphill manages the family farm. His main concern is the bottom line, and he has found good conservation practices not only save his back but produce a good return on investment. The family started improvements back in the seventies with concrete ditches, and their latest innovation is central pivot sprinklers operated by electrical motors. These sprinklers also have nozzles which descend to just above plant level and deliver water in a fine spray.
Former ag teacher Jerry Allen, originally from Cheraw, described all the good things ground cover planted after the harvest of the main crop or concurrently with it can do: increase organic matter in the soil, increase plant diversity, provide winter food for livestock, keep the soil cool and workable, to name just a few. Planting turnips and radishes along with or after other crops has multiple benefits. These root vegetables bring protein up through the soil again, besides providing great fodder for cattle in the winter. Cattle love the leaves and leave the roots in the ground to do the rest of their job.
NRCS’s Joel Moffett couldn’t agree with him more. “We’ve been farming the same way for 5,000 years, and all we’ve improved is our tools,” said Moffett. He thinks it’s high time we quit plowing up the fields, keep them as undisturbed as possible and planted with various types of plants, improving biodiversity and discouraging plant diseases and insect infestations, making fewer chemicals necessary in the production of food. Thereby we not only improve the soil but also the quality of the water percolating through it.
From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via The Aspen Daily News:
It’s detective time on the Colorado River. There’s been a massive thievery. Who or what has purloined the agua?
Precipitation in the seven-state Colorado River Basin during 2000-2014 averaged 6.1 percent less than in the 20th century, but flows declined 19.3 percent. In other words, despite a few sour winters of marginal snow, most notably 2002 and 2012, it’s mostly been business as usual at elevations of 9,000 to 11,000 feet.
That elevation band, the money belt for Colorado’s ski industry, provides 85 percent of the river’s water when it reaches Lee’s Ferry at the entrance to the Grand Canyon. Colorado alone is responsible for 70 percent of the river’s flows.
Where did this water go? Rising temperatures, say researchers Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck in a new study, explain roughly a third of reduced flows.
Drought alone has been the conventional explanation for reduced flows in the river. The poster for the drought has been the ever-more bleached rocks of the rivers’ two giant reservoirs, Powell and Mead, looking like a swimsuit tugged indecently below the tan line.
But precipitation has declined relatively little in the 21st century. However, temperatures in this century have increased 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit as compared with the 20th-century record. Therein lies the major difference, according to Udall and Overpeck.
They believe that flows will almost certainly decline further, by 35 percent or more during this century, as temperatures inexorably rise due to increasing heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
“Our work demonstrates that flows are unlikely to return to the 20th century averages if we only wait,” they write in a study being published in a journal called Water Resources Research.
Things could really turn strange if rising temperatures pile on top of natural droughts that last several decades. Tree rings document several such multi-decadal droughts between 900 A.D. and 1400 A.D. in the Southwest.
Might heat-induced drought coupled with natural drought also result in empty reservoirs such as, say, Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt on the Fryingpan River?
An empty Ruedi is far out on the limb of hypotheticals, but it’s among the possibilities that water managers should contemplate as they examine an ever-changing human-driven climate, said Udall, who is affiliated with the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. Overpeck is with the University of Arizona.
Udall said the major contribution of this new study is that it examines temperature as driving changes in how much water flows in Colorado River tributaries, including the Roaring Fork River, apart from precipitation changes.
Previous studies have stepped up to the same conclusion but then walked away. Instead, they amalgamated temperature with precipitation in an effort to project how accumulating greenhouse gases will change the climate in the American Southwest. Amalgamation, said Udall, hides the true risk, because uncertain increases in precipitation shown in some climate models obscure the known and dramatic temperature-induced declines from all models.
“Combining the two effects is not the right way to look at risk,” Udall said. “Future temperatures are known, but precipitation is not. We have to prepare for this downside risk and not pretend that it doesn’t exist.”
Eric Kuhn, the general manager for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, said he started wondering in 2010 whether rising temperatures were at least partly responsible for the reduced flows being observed. If the Udall and Overpeck conclusions don’t surprise him, he finds them “troubling.”
“The No. 1 thing is there is no return to normal,” he said. “Everything is going to be different in the future.”
Is storage the answer?
The study says nothing about new water storage projects. And when asked what the study says about the conditional water rights held by the city of Aspen for potential reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks, or about storage in other mountain towns, Udall declined to talk about new dams in general.
Kuhn said he sees the need for additional storage “but it will be specific to the location. The need for storage for lower-elevation demands will be greater than the higher-elevation demands.”
At the other end of the Colorado River, in places like Arizona’s Yuma Valley, growing seasons — and water demand — are expected to expand. The region produces 80 to 90 percent of the lettuce, broccoli and other produce found in grocery stores in the United States during the winter. But any additional reservoirs will also be vulnerable to increased evaporation due to rising temperatures.
Not like the past
During the 20th century, water managers and virtually everybody else presumed that past was prelude to the future. Droughts occurred, yes, and sometimes lasted for years, as occurred in the 1930s and then, more deeply yet in Western Colorado, during the 1950s. Again in 1976-77 and 1980-81, winters were time for rock skis.
Then things would get back to normal. But climate scientists point to a constant shift in temperatures and perhaps in precipitation as accumulated greenhouse gases drive changes that overlay natural variability.
“We’re going to be reacting to unforeseen (or unpredictable) conditions, not just more severe droughts,” says Kuhn. “It might be something like California is experiencing this year. As temperatures increase, the atmosphere carries more moisture and storms can be much more intense. It will be different.”
Some water agencies, including Denver Water, are trying to plot their futures, given the large uncertainties that remain, using a process called scenario planning. Scenario planning contemplates a wide array of futures, but also a great many options.
Assumptions of climate stability led to massive investments in water plumbing in the 20th century. These include Ruedi Reservoir, built to benefit the Western Slope for the federally financed Fryingpan-Arkansas Project’s diversions to farms along the Arkansas River. To the north, Green Mountain Reservoir was similarly built to benefit the Western Slope as part of the federally financed Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
Between are the tunnels, both at Winter Park and from Summit County, used by Denver Water to draw the water for use by residents of that city and many of its suburbs under the Continental Divide. Other cities, including Aurora and Colorado Springs, have other diversions—including Homestake Reservoir and Tunnel, located partially in the northeast corner of Pitkin County.
All these dams, reservoirs and water tunnels have one thing in common: They were constructed after 1922. That’s the year that the seven basin states struck an agreement about how to apportion what was then presumed to be 16.5 million acre-feet of average flows on the Colorado River. In fact, the river has mostly fallen short.
But with the projections by Udall and Overpeck of at least 20 percent declines in Colorado River flows by mid-century, all that infrastructure could be the equivalent of a dry dock. That’s true especially if deep, lingering drought overlays the new temperature-induced drought.
“It could mean a lot of dried up stuff,” says Udall, ticking off Ruedi, Green Mountain, Dillon, and other dams built in the 1930s and since to create reservoirs.
Change the Compact?
Those with pre-1922 compact water rights are more secure. Palisade peaches and Olathe corn look safer, and also a lot of hay pastures. Irrigators tend to have older, more senior rights. For that matter, Aspen has mostly very senior rights, too.
Here’s Udall’s thinking: The 1922 compact has somewhat vague language about the entitlements of water by Arizona, California, and Nevada to water from Colorado and other headwater states. Does that mean that, in the event of extended drought, that those with post-1922 water rights in Colorado must allow water to flow downstream to the deserts? This scenario is called a compact curtailment.
By one debatable interpretation of the Colorado River compact, Colorado and other upper-basin states would have half as much water as California, Arizona, and Nevada.
“That puts us into a gray area where we have no historical precedent for sharing a shortage with the lower basin,” says Udall. “There’s nothing in the compact that addresses that. We have no roadmap for how to do it.”
A rethinking of the Colorado River Compact and other agreements is needed, says Udall. Water management laws, agreements, and policies adopted over the last 100 years never expressly included risk management for climate change nor contained provisions for how to handle the relentless flow reductions that he and Overpeck foresee.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
From The Independent (Ian Johnston):
The once-mighty Colorado River, which has regularly failed to reach the ocean since the 1960s, is already in the grip of the worst 15-year drought on record with the flow of water in the 21st century nearly a fifth lower than the 20th century average, a new study found.
And the scientists warned the river could be reduced by anything from 35 to 55 per cent by the end of this century if nothing was done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Rising temperatures cause increased evaporation from the river, but also prompt plants to use more water.
A paper about the study in the journal Water Resources Research said: “With continued anthropogenic [human-caused] warming, the risk of multi-decadal megadrought in the Southwest increases to over 90 per cent over this century if there is no increase in mean precipitation.
“Even if modest precipitation increases do occur, the risk will still exceed 70 per cent.”
In the event of “huge and unlikely” increases in rainfall, there would still be a megadrought risk of just under 50 per cent…
But the researchers found that the river’s flow between 2000 and 2014 was 19 per cent lower than the average from 1906 to 1999 – equivalent to the amount of water used by two million people over a year.
One of the paper’s lead authors, Bradley Udall, of Colorado State University, said: “The future of Colorado River is far less rosy than other recent assessments have portrayed.
“Current planning understates the challenge that climate change poses to the water supplies in the American Southwest.
“A clear message to water managers is that they need to plan for significantly lower river flows.”
However he added that a prolonged drought – such as has occurred in the past – could make things substantially worse.
“A megadrought in this century will throw all our operating rules out the window,” Mr Udall said.
From The Greeley Tribune (Samantha Fox):
Farm operations can’t work alone. It takes collaboration to make them successful.
That was the main theme of Wednesday’s 26th annual Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture, driven home by many of those who spoke at the forum, including Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. Hickenlooper, Gardner and more than a dozen others spoke to a group of 425 farmers and ranchers from across the state at the Renaissance Denver Stapleton Hotel.
The speakers said with growth and the changing desires among consumers, the industry’s economic outlook and the unpredictable nature of agriculture, collaboration is key.
That rings true for all of agriculture, but especially in Colorado, where the industry is one of the largest in the state, said Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown…
According to Hickenlooper, about 50 percent of Colorado’s agriculture exports are to Mexico, so collaboration through open communication with elected leaders is important when it comes to trade.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor Website. Here’s an excerpt:
Several weather systems moved across the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. Upper-level troughs, surface fronts, and surface low pressure systems slammed into the Pacific Coast, drenching California, Oregon, and Washington with several inches of precipitation, especially in the favored upslope areas. As they crossed the coastal ranges, the weather systems dropped above-normal precipitation across parts of the Southwest and Pacific Northwest. Tapping Gulf of Mexico moisture, a couple systems drenched parts of the Southern Plains to Lower Mississippi Valley, while another brought above-normal precipitation to parts of the Upper Mississippi Valley, but most of the Northern to Central Plains was drier than normal. Upper-level ridging in the central part of the CONUS contributed to above-normal temperatures across most of the country and drier-than-normal weather for most areas east of the Mississippi River. With persistent unusually warm temperatures across much of the CONUS, plants are responding prematurely, especially in the Southeast to Midwest. For example, as noted by the Alabama State Climatologist, plant phenology indicates that Alabama is around 20 days ahead of normal with warm soil temps (and dry soils) so that plants think it is March 12th instead of February 20th. The precipitation that fell this week continued to reduce long-term drought in California and contracted drought in the Southern Plains, but dry conditions in the Mid-Mississippi Valley, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic expanded drought…
Central to Northern Plains
Parts of eastern Kansas measured an inch or more of precipitation this week, but only a couple tenths of an inch fell across the rest of the Central to Northern Plains with many areas reporting no precipitation. In the High Plains of Colorado, D2 expanded in Lincoln County to better reflect dryness over the last 7 days to 12 months. As noted by the Colorado Climate Center, soil moisture remains a concern for eastern Colorado as spring rains will be needed to make up for deficits during the second half of last growing season…
Days of heavy precipitation continued to improve mountain snowpack, but created areas of flooding, especially downstream from the favored upslope areas. As of February 21, the daily Sierra Nevada snowpack was 186% of average for the date and 151% of the April 1 climatological peak. The North Sierra 8-Station Index for February 21 showed 230% of average precipitation for this date, and the Central Sierra San Joaquin 5-Station Index for February 21 showed 230% of average precipitation for this date, both of which are above the 1982-1983 record for the date; the Southern Sierra Tulare Basin 6-Station Index for February 21 showed 223% of average precipitation for this date, which is very near the 1968-1969 record for the date. Over a foot of precipitation was reported for the week at several CoCoRaHS stations, including 16.60 inches at Honeydew in Humboldt County, 15.36 inches at Alta Sierra in Nevada County, 14.54 inches at Big Sur in Monterey County, and 13.80 inches at Monte Sereno in Santa Clara County. Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, which have been the epicenter of drought in California in recent weeks, received much-needed rainfall. Over 8 inches of rain was reported at two stations near Santa Barbara and over 6 inches at Ojai (6.97 inches) and Thousand Oaks (6.59 inches) in Ventura County. Streams were running full which helped refill depleted reservoirs in the area. Lake Cachuma rose 24 feet in just one day, which is remarkable and most welcomed. Even though the reservoirs were responding quite favorably, they still have a long way to go before we can classify this area as drought-free. As of February 22, Lake Cachuma was at 82,011 acre-feet, or 42.4% of capacity, Jameson Reservoir was at 52.5% capacity, Lake Casitas at 42.3%, and Lake Piru at 31.7%. These values still represent a significant hydrological drought. Generally a one-category improvement to drought conditions was made from central California to the Los Angeles basin. Areas of D0-L were left in the San Joaquin Valley where wells were still in jeopardy and groundwater aquifers will take many more weeks or months to recharge. D3 was eliminated but D0-D2 were left in place along the Central Coast where the reservoirs were still below average and groundwater has yet to be recharged. D0-D2 were left in place in southern California where the precipitation was not as heavy and longer-term precipitation deficits remained. With the removal of this D3, D2 is now the worst drought condition in the state; August 6, 2013 was the last time California had no D3…
Rest of the West
Six to 10 inches of precipitation fell in the coastal areas of Oregon and Washington, with less than 2 inches in the leeward areas. Two to 5 inches were common in the mountains of Idaho, but less than 2 inches to just a few tenths occurred in the Great Basin and Four Corners states. The snow water content (SWE) at high elevation stations from California to the Central Rockies was well above average for the date; the SWE was below average at some Northern Rockies stations and stations in Arizona and New Mexico. Snowpack in the eastern Sierra slopes of southern Nevada and adjacent California continues to increase. The SWE, averaged across all snow courses in the eastern Sierra, was more than twice the normal (217%) for this time of year, and even 143% of the April 1 peak. D1 was eliminated and D0 contracted from Death Valley to Nye County in Nevada. The remaining D0 reflected long-term dryness at the 12-24 month time scales. In Colorado, D0 was pulled back from the Sangre De Cristo Range, where mountain snowpack SWE and precipitation showed generally wet conditions. A shallow snowpack with low SWE along the eastern portion on the Mogollon Rim in eastern Arizona prompted the introduction of a spot of D1…
In the day since the Tuesday morning cutoff time of this week’s USDM, a low pressure system dropped half an inch or more of precipitation across parts of California, Oregon, and the Northern Rockies, while another surface low gave half an inch to 2 inches of rain to parts of Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. For February 22-28, the western low will track across the central CONUS to Northeast, followed by a second low taking a similar track, and a third low will bring more precipitation to the West. A tenth of an inch or more of precipitation is forecast for much of the West, the Lower Mississippi Valley, and parts of Florida, with 1 inch or more along the west coast, Central Rockies, and in a band from the Central Plains and Ohio Valley to the Northeast. Up to 3 inches of new precipitation may fall in the D1-D2 area of southern coastal California and the Sierra Nevada, with up to 2 inches in parts of the Midwest to Northeast. Little to no precipitation is forecast for the Northern and Southern Great Plains and parts of the coastal Southeast. A trough west/ridge east pattern should keep temperatures cooler than normal in the western CONUS and warmer than normal in the east. For March 1-8, the odds favor drier-than-normal conditions from the Southwest to Central Plains, most of Alaska, and parts of Florida, and wetter-than-normal conditions along the northern Alaska coast, the northern tier states in the CONUS, and most of the country along and east of the Mississippi River. Odds favor cooler-than-normal weather across Alaska and the western CONUS, and warmer-than-normal weather across the eastern half of the CONUS as well as the Southern Plains.
From The Denver Post (Jon Murray):
Rafael Espinoza opposed a series of big flood-control projects planned by Denver city officials as a city councilman — by voting last June against steep increases to storm drainage and sewer fees that are helping to pay for the work.
Now Espinoza has found a new way to voice his misgivings about one of the controversial projects. He was one of several residents who asked a judge’s permission late Tuesday to be added as plaintiffs to an ongoing lawsuit challenging the city’s plan to reshape much of City Park Golf Course. The city wants to create a storm water detention area on the course’s western portion that would fill up during heavy storms but remain part of the course.
Essentially, the councilman wants to sue his own city over the project — if a judge lets him.
“I voted against this (fee) increase because it missed the opportunity to not only address the stormwater drainage problems of District 1, but of the entire city,” Espinoza said in a statement Tuesday. “Instead, this project misappropriates the use of the public good to focus on a flood plain that directly eases the development of the I-70 Ditch at the expense of a more comprehensive citywide solution.”
A motion filed late Tuesday by attorney Aaron Goldhamer, who has pressed the lawsuit since last year, says a city attorney has indicated to him that the city plans to oppose only the addition of Espinoza as a plaintiff. The two sides disagree on whether a legal concept called “government deliberative privilege” prevents a sitting councilman from joining such a lawsuit, the filing indicates.
Espinoza and many critics of the city’s Platte to Park Hill storm water projects — estimated to cost $267 million to $298 million — have based their opposition in part on the link to the state’s $1.2 billion Interstate 70 plan.
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):
After hearing dozens of public comments, and having their email inboxes flooded with input, the council voted 6-1 late Tuesday night to take a place at the table with the Northern Water Conservancy District, the lead proponent of NISP and representative of 15 backers of the project. NISP would include two reservoirs fueled by the Poudre River, including one near the mouth of the Poudre Canyon.
Council members were also clear that they didn’t view opening discussions as giving in to the project. Councilman Bob Overbeck — the only vote against it — added to the Tuesday resolution that the council outright opposed the project in 2008 and voted in 2015 not to support the project in its current form. The word “negotiate” and phrase “mutual interests,” referring to the city and Northern Water, were also struck from the resolution.
Nonetheless, Gary Wockner, of Save the Poudre, said his group is looking at putting the question of whether the city should support NISP before city voters…
Advocacy group Save the Poudre conducted an opinion poll, via 556 automated phone calls, which results found an overwhelming amount of opposition to the project among city voters.
About 50 of the 60 or so people who made public comment Tuesday opposed the resolution or NISP outright…
John Stokes, head of the city’s natural areas department, said Wednesday staff was happy to get more direction from council, in terms of having discussions with Northern Water regarding city concerns and mitigation proposals. He was also clear that staff didn’t view it as authority to make any decisions regarding the city’s support or efforts of NISP.
“Council makes the decisions about all of this, and, clearly, if we’re going to make any progress on this, it needs to be with council on board,” he said…
Brian Werner, spokesperson for Northern Water, said his group was grateful to be able to have more robust conversations about NISP with the city. There have been some talks with the city about its concerns, but it always felt “sort of like walking on egg shells,” without formal backing, Werner said.
He noted Northern Water and its constituents have already shifted plans to address concerns about low-flow periods of when the Poudre River might dry up by including promises of base flows. Werner cited the city’s softening positions between 2008 and 2015 as proof of Northern Water’s efforts.
“They’ve gone from an almost hell no, to a we’re not happy right now, but maybe make some changes and come back with another proposal,” Werner said. “… I would argue that shows we’ve been listening to Fort Collins as we’ve been trying to craft and draft this plan.”
From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Gabriel Go):
Update: The council adopted an amended version of the resolution with a 6-1 vote. Bob Overbeck was the only dissenting vote.
The Fort Collins City Council discussed Resolution 5217, which would begin discussions with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, a public agency which provides water to northeastern Colorado, on Tuesday. The discussion revolved around a controversial proposal known as the Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The NISP is a proposed project meant to deliver 40,000 acres of water a year to 15 Northern Colorado communities. While the city itself would not a participate in the NISP, a portion of southeastern Fort Collins would partake in the project.
The NISP would consist of three reservoirs along the Cache La Poudre River, including a large reservoir to the north of the city known as Glade Reservoir which would divert over 1,200 cubic feet per second of the river’s peak flows. This would reduce annual river flows by 20 percent and by 30 percent during the peak flow months of May, June and July, a staff report said.
However, the project is not without opposition. According to non-profit organization Save the Poudre, the NISP/Glade Reservoir project would cause immense ecological damage to the Poudre River.
According to the organization’s website, the project’s aim of reducing peak flows would prevent the river from cleaning itself of algae, endangering the Poudre’s water quality as well as the habitat of a number of aquatic plants and animals.
The staff report also acknowledges that “it is likely the health of the river will be negatively impacted by NISP, especially without well-planned and extensive mitigation actions.” The report states that although the river is able to support a number of ecological systems, the Poudre is approaching “critical thresholds below which the river’s health and resilience will suffer.”
The city’s Natural Resources Director John Stokes recommended the City Council to begin discussions with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. In particular, he recommended to negotiate with the public agency, saying it would be the best alternative outcome.
If the city were to forego consulting with Northern Water the project would be left to federal and state agencies who would not consider the NISP’s impacts on Fort Collins.
Close to 40 Fort Collins citizens approached the council for public comment, some urging the council to negotiate with Northern Water and some voicing their reservations.
“I’ve noticed a marked decline in the river corridor already… I see virtually nothing anymore,” said one Fort Collins citizen about the current state of the Poudre.
The city owns around 60 percent of the river’s corridor and the city has already engaged in a number of projects with regards to the Poudre, such as clean-ups and the creation of trails.
Negotiations with Northern Water does not mean that the city has already agreed to the NISP’s construction. In order to construct the reservoirs a permit must be obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who must assess the environmental impacts of the project.
The NISP has been in the federal permitting process for 12 years and thus requires many state and federal permits in order for the project to push forward. In 2015 the council passed a resolution which stated “the City Council cannot support NISP as it is currently described and proposed (as of 2015).”
From The Crested Butte News (Crystal Kotowski):
In January the Colorado Water Conservation Board granted the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) and partners $175,000 to begin local watershed management planning efforts. The funding will support the gathering of baseline information, initial stakeholder outreach, and future needs assessments in three Upper Gunnison tributary basins from 2017 to 2020.
The goals of the Upper Gunnison Basin Watershed Management Plan are to protect existing water uses and water quality, and improve relationships between different water users. The plan also seeks to understand whether there are gaps between available water and future uses, and how to best manage that water moving forward. Water experts predict that the Colorado population will rise exponentially, putting more stress on the Front Range’s limited water supply and thus the Western Slope, and changing temperatures will reduce water availability.
The planning framework developed by the UGRWCD includes needs identified in the Colorado Water Plan, but also focuses on agricultural and municipal uses. Irrigated hay and pasture meadows have rights to approximately 95 percent of the basin’s water resources. “Our planning process distinguishes between ‘watershed management’ and ‘stream management,’” explained UGRWCD board member and outreach coordinator George Sibley.
“’Stream management’ in the Colorado Water Plan focuses almost entirely on environmental and recreational needs. Watershed management covers our interactions with all of the water resources in the entire watershed, including groundwater, and water removed from streams for human purposes,” said Sibley…
Gunnison River watersheds encompass over 8,000 square miles of western Colorado and are critical headwaters of the Colorado River. “The Upper Gunnison River Basin is a headwaters basin, which means it is not yet really a river, but many flows of water becoming a river. Most of those streams organize themselves into seven main watersheds, each unique in its natural and human cultural geography,” said Sibley…
Locally, the assessments will begin with the Ohio Creek, East River and Lake Fork watersheds, providing a framework for the other four watersheds over the next four years.
Each watershed study begins with a needs assessment inventory of known and anticipated needs stretching out to mid-century from industry, recreation, agriculture, and human settlements in general—while subsequently identifying areas with significant environmental concerns.
The studies will seek to understand ecosystem function needs, river flows, infrastructure in need of improvement, water quality impairment issues, and ensuing legal frameworks. This first phase will also address information gaps and develop pilot projects to demonstrate best management practices. Pilot studies and demonstration projects in each watershed will look at options to reconcile instream and diversion needs. Potential demonstration projects include ditch repair, stream channel reconfiguration, wetland enhancements, coordination irrigation or other conservation practices.
The UGRWCD will be the coordinating agency for the watershed management planning processes, working with other water-related agencies and organizations within the Upper Gunnison Basin, including but not limited to the Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association, the seven municipal/domestic water suppliers in the Upper Gunnison Basin, Trout Unlimited, High Country Conservation Advocates, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, the Lake Fork Conservancy, recreational organizations, and federal and state land management agencies.
From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):
NASA’s three-week field study of snow conditions in the Silverton and Grand Mesa areas ends Saturday, after which scientists will analyze the data in an effort to develop satellites to provide snow observation data critical to water management.
On Tuesday, NASA deployed three aircraft and had about 50 researchers on the ground for the last days of data collection.
“It takes some time after we get out of the field to fully analyze the data,” said Ed Kim, a physical scientist at NASA. “We don’t have any significant findings this early. We’re always at the mercy of whatever weather we happen to get, and we know warm, wet weather has impacted the project. We’ll find out what that impact is.”
People throughout the snow research community from Canada, Europe and the U.S. volunteered their time for the effort. Researchers on the ground spent the past three weeks taking measurements, including the variation of snow depth, and digging snow pits to study the vertical structure and composition of snow layers from the surface to the ground. The team also mounted sensors to snowmobiles. The data collected on the ground will be compared to the accuracy of measurements taken from aircraft.
“That’s really critical to understand what airborne sensors are seeing,” Kim said.
Researchers used a combination of instruments to collect data on the snow, including radar and LIDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, to measure snow depth and density, thermal infrared sensors to gauge temperature, and a hyperspectral imager and multispectral imager to measure how much sunlight the snow reflects and how fast it consequently will melt. NASA also used a passive microwave, which can gauge how much natural microwave radiation is blocked by snow.
NASA’s goal is to use the research to develop a multi-sensor satellite to study snow and predict water content, which would be a watershed invention for science. Snow impacts drinking water, agriculture and industry across the globe, yet there is no comprehensive instrument to measure it. SnowEx is sponsored by the Terrestrial Hydrology Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
NASA’s Colorado expedition marks the first of a five-year snow study called SnowEx. Kim said NASA will spend the second year analyzing the data collected this month in the Senator Beck Basin, just north of Red Mountain Pass, and Grand Mesa, east of Grand Junction, as well as making plans for the final three years of the study.
Kim said NASA’s conclusions over the next year from this winter’s study will determine the next steps…
NASA selected the Senator Beck Basin near Silverton and the Grand Mesa area to conduct research because the two areas offer varied terrain and snow conditions. Moreover, scientists want to develop an instrument that can observe snow hidden in forested areas.
From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):
Federal forecasters now expect the reservoir to avoid its first federal shortage declaration next year, thanks to the boost it should get from what could wind up as the wettest winter on the river’s basin in 20 years.
“We’re in for a good year, no doubt about it,” said Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Salt Lake City.
Storms in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming over the past month have added more than 3 million acre-feet to the water supply forecast for the Colorado. That’s a 10-year supply for Nevada, which gets 300,000 acre-feet from the river each year and uses it to supply the Las Vegas Valley with 90 percent of its drinking water.
SHORTAGE DECLARATION UNLIKELY
The latest forecast from the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center calls for the surface of Lake Mead to start 2018 about 3 feet above the trigger line for a shortage declaration that would force Nevada and Arizona to reduce their river use.
Projections in January called for slightly below average flows on the Colorado through this summer, resulting in an 11-foot drop that would take the lake below the shortage line.
Forecasters now expect 9.6 million acre-feet of snowmelt — 134 percent of the average for the past 30 years — to make its way into the river between April and July.
One acre-foot of water is enough to supply two typical valley homes for just over a year. The Colorado River provides water to some 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico.
Some monitoring stations on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains show roughly twice as much snow as usual for this time of year, and Julander said it is very wet and “ripe” to begin melting into the river system.
“We’ve seen a dramatic and substantial increase in snowpack and soil moisture,” he said. “January and February were absolutely outstanding. It feels good to say that.”
Heavy snow and rain in California also could take some pressure off the overburdened Colorado. The Golden State draws more water from the river than anyone and might be able curb its use and store more of its supply in Lake Mead now that its own reservoirs are filling again following heavy rains in the lowlands and snowfall in the Sierra Nevada.
From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):
As of Feb. 21, Colorado’s snowpack was sitting at 140 percent of what is considered normal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
That amount has dropped some, though, as only a week earlier, the statewide snowpack was at 147 percent of normal.
Still, this bodes well for Fort Morgan in terms of having plenty of water this summer and fall. It also looks good for Northern Water, which provides that water to the city through the Colorado-Big Thompson pipeline.
“Late spring and early summer snowmelt and runoff from the Rocky Mountains provides most of Colorado’s water supply,” Northern Water’s website explains. “Greater snowpack means favorable water supplies; lower amounts can signal an impending drought.”
The two major river basins that play roles in the water supply for the C-BT pipeline are the Upper Colorado and South Platte, and they had snowpacks of 147 and 142 percent, respectively, in mid-February. Those percentage fell to 140 and 132 as of Feb. 21…
But even with the dips over the last week, the numbers were still well above normal. That could continue to be the case, according to Northern Water.
“The most probable streamflow forecasts are also well above average,” the water district stated.
Further, the C-BT pipeline’s water storage level was “above average” at the start of February, tracking at 121 percent of normal as of Feb. 1.
By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The water referee in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs, in a case involving a major marijuana grow operation in the midvalley, has found that Colorado courts can lawfully issue a new water right specifically to grow the plant, even though it’s still illegal to grow pot under federal law.
“The fact that the Controlled Substances Act [CSA] prohibits marijuana use does not make an otherwise lawful appropriation of water under Colorado law illegal,” wrote Susan Ryan, the water referee, in Friday’s order on High Valley Farms, the grow site for Aspen’s Silverpeak Apothecary. “Instead, the validity of the appropriation is governed by Colorado water laws.”
Ryan’s 12-page order found that the actual legal process of the state issuing a water right to grow pot does not conflict with federal law, even though the watering itself of cannabis plants still may be in conflict.
“Establishing a valid appropriation does not require an analysis of the legality of the subsequent use of the water right,” Ryan’s order says. “Because water-right appropriations are governed exclusively by Colorado law, there is no conflicting provision in the CSA.”
With the order, High Valley Farms LLC is able to continue to pursue its application for a new water right to irrigate marijuana, and a novel question under Colorado water law has been answered.
Ryan’s order is the most detailed articulation to date of the state’s position on the question of whether a new water right specifically to irrigate marijuana can be issued, although it applies only to Division 5.
And it’s possible that a water court referee or judge in another water court division could issue a differing opinion should the question arise in other ongoing cases. The Colorado Supreme Court might have to eventually sort out opposing views.
Rhonda Bazil, the Aspen-based water attorney for High Valley Farms, declined to comment on the order, as did Jordan Lewis, the owner of both High Valley Farms and the Silverpeak marijuana store in downtown Aspen.
Posing the question
Ryan, the water referee, recently took her position in the water court in Glenwood Springs after working as a water attorney in private practice at a law firm in Denver. She found herself having to rule on a question that had been posed in August 2015 by the preceding water referee, Holly Strablizky, who is also an attorney and now works for Eagle County, and state division engineer Alan Martellaro, who is based in Glenwood.
Strablizky and Matellaro jointly reviewed the 2014 water rights application from High Valley Farms, in which it openly told the water court it was seeking a water right to irrigate up to 3,000 marijuana plants in a facility near Basalt.
After amending its original application, High Valley Farms is now seeking the right to use 9.24 acre-feet of water a year from the Roaring Fork River and an existing well on the site.
After their joint review of the water rights application, the water referee and the division engineer issued a customary “summary of consultation.” In it, they posed a question to the court: Is it OK to issue a water right in Colorado specifically to grow pot, which is still an illegal act under federal law?
The question, however, was not stated in such plain terms.
“The application must explain how the claim for these conditional water rights can be granted in light of the definition of beneficial use as defined [under state law],” the summary of consultation says. “Specifically, beneficial use means the ‘use of that amount of water that is reasonable and appropriate under reasonably efficient practices to accomplish without waste the purpose for which the appropriation is lawfully made.’”
In the summary of consultation, the officials put the word “lawfully” in italics.
Answering the question
Ryan, in the Friday order, reframed the question from the summary of consultation in more direct terms.
“The issue before the court is whether High Valley can lawfully appropriate water to cultivate marijuana and for use in its greenhouse facilities in light of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits all marijuana use,” Ryan wrote. “Whether High Valley can seek to appropriate water for marijuana cultivation is a threshold issue in this case. To resolve this issue, the court must determine how ‘lawful’ is used in the water law statutes and if there is a conflict between those statutes and the CSA.”
After digging into the issue, Ryan determined that the “lawfully” in question does not pertain to the end use of the water, but to the legal framework and process that allows the water right itself to be granted.
In explaining her conclusion, she focused on two words, “lawfully made,” and not just on the word “lawfully” that had been emphasized in the summary of consultation.
“In this provision ‘lawfully made’ is closer to the word ‘appropriation’ than the word ‘use,’” Ryan wrote, turning to the “principles of statutory construction,” or the actual words used in a given law, for guidance.
The term “lawfully made,” she concluded, “modifies appropriation, not use.”
“The water court must determine whether the claimed appropriation is lawful, not whether the claimed beneficial use is lawful,” Ryan concluded. “A lawful appropriation of water does not require an analysis of the lawfulness of the subsequent use of that water.”
No conflict with federal law
Ryan also found there was no conflict between state and federal laws in creating the High Valley Farms water right, which was a key concern in the case.
“There is no federal law that prohibits the appropriation of unappropriated water, if that appropriation is done in compliance with state law or lawfully,” she wrote.
As part of her finding, Ryan cited two other recent decisions by the Colorado Supreme Court that centered on conflicts between Colorado and federal law relating to marijuana, Coats v. Dish Network, LLC, which concerned an employee using medical marijuana, and People v. Crouse, which dealt with law enforcement officers having to return confiscated marijuana.
In both cases, there was a direct conflict between federal and state laws, and federal law prevailed.
“In contrast to the facts in those cases, there is no federal water law that governs the appropriation of water from intrastate water sources,” Ryan wrote. “The regulation and allocation of a state’s internal water resources has been expressly delegated to the states by the federal government. There is no way to determine whether an appropriation is lawful under federal law. Thus, lawful appropriation means lawful under Colorado water law.”
Ryan did recognize the federal government’s ability to overrule Colorado’s pot laws via the federal Supremacy Clause, but said applying federal law to marijuana would pertain to possessing and using marijuana, not to the “lawful appropriation” of water.
“If the federal government decides to enforce the CSA’s provisions, the Supremacy Clause would apply, and federal law trumps Colorado state law allowing the possession and use of marijuana,” Ryan wrote. “However, this does not change the analysis of whether a lawful appropriation is made under Colorado water law.”
Will it stand?
Ryan’s order could be challenged and referred to the Division 5 water court judge, James Boyd, by one of the three other parties in the case, each of whom owns property near the High Valley Farm facility: the Roaring Fork Club; WCAT Properties, LLC; and the Spencer D. Armour III 2012 Trust.
But Jason Groves, a water attorney at Patrick, Miller and Noto of Aspen and Basalt, who represents all three opposing parties in the case along with his colleague at the firm, Scott Miller, said their clients are focused on the amount of water proposed by High Valley Farms, and not the marijuana question. As such, they do not plan on challenging the order.
“The current objectors in the case, which we represent, have no concerns about the beneficial use question raised in the summary of consultation,” Groves said. “Our concerns are on the amount of water they propose to use, which is nearly a four-fold increase in use from the existing well on the property.”
It is also possible that another party could file a motion to intervene in the case and contest the referee’s order, but so far no other person or entity has indicated they are inclined to take such action.
Please see related stories:
Feb. 8, 2016
Basalt water case could affect states pot industry
Jan. 2, 2015
Can Colorado approve a water right to grow pot?
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):
The diminishing water level in the 280-acre lake south of the Colorado Springs Airport is intentional. Gary Steen, manager of the Fountain Mutual Irrigation Company that owns the Big Johnson, said Tuesday morning that his company has been draining the reservoir since the summer of 2016 and preparing to repair three outlet gates…
The irrigation company typically fills the reservoir in the fall and winter months before the irrigation season begins in early April. Steen said crews have been building a bypass pipeline for the last few weeks and will finish the work prior to April 1.
When Fountain Mutual built the reservoir in 1910, it took control of a water storage decree that dates back to 1903, Steen said. That decree allows the company to store up to 10,000-acre feet of water in the lake. But, according to Steen, sediment in the reservoir has diminished its capacity over the years to about 5,000-acre feet.
Click here to read the article:
As station chief at NOAA’s Point Barrow, Alaska, observatory, Bryan Thomas works close to the edge of the Arctic Ocean. What he saw from his office in early February, looking north toward the horizon, was troubling.
“I could see what’s known as water-skyoffsite link — the reflection of dark water on clouds on the horizon,” Thomas said. “From land, you can maybe see 10 miles, and the clouds were telling us that somewhere in that distance there was open water.”
Normally, there would be unbroken sea ice for hundreds of miles.
“Here we are in February, when we expect maximum sea ice extent,” Thomas added. “This might be all we’re going to get.”
The Arctic’s new abnormal
It’s a time of tumult in the Arctic, with record temperatures and extraordinary sea-ice conditions now becoming the norm. For starters:
- Sea ice observed in January in the Arctic was the lowest in the 38 years of satellite recordoffsite links and 100,000 square miles less than 2016. That’s equivalent to the size of Colorado.
- The average temperature of 4.4 degrees F in Barrow, Alaska, from November 2016 through January 2017 shattered the old record of 0 degrees set between 1929 and 1930. From 1921 to 2015, the average November-to-January temperature in Barrow was -7.9 degrees F.
- Temperatures in the Arctic for the calendar year 2016 were by far the highest since 1900. Each of the past four years was among the top 10 warmest on record.
The late and faltering formation of sea ice this winter is one of many signs of extraordinary change in the Arctic, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. He added that repeated surges of extremely warm air have stunted the growth of sea ice during fall and winter.
Melt season is dead ahead, and it’s not looking good
Will 2017 set a record for the least amount of sea ice ever recorded at winter’s end? Serreze said it’s probably a given: “We’re starting melt season on very, very bad footing.offsite link”
What’s happening in the Arctic isn’t staying in the Arctic, added Richard Thoman, a meteorologist for NOAA’s National Weather Service Alaska Region. Profound changes are coming to the state’s interior as well.
“This winter was cold by today’s climate standards,” Thoman said. “By historic standards, it was completely uninteresting. I’m ready to say beyond any doubt that interior Alaska simply does not experience the temperatures it did in the past. “
The rapid changes are bewildering, even to scientists who’ve studied it for decades.
“We knew the Arctic would be the place we’d see the effects of climate change first, but what’s happened over the last couple of years has rattled the science community to its core,” Serreze said. “Things are happening so fast, we’re having trouble keeping up with it. We’ve never seen anything like this before.”
From the World Meteorological Organization:
The extended spell of high global temperatures is continuing, with the Arctic witnessing exceptional warmth and – as a result – record low Arctic sea ice volumes for this time of year. Antarctic sea ice extent is also the lowest on record.
Reports from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies said that global average surface temperatures for the month of January were the third highest on record, after January 2016 and January 2007. NOAA said that the average temperature was 0.88°C above the 20th century average of 12°C. The European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, Copernicus Climate Change Service, said it was the second warmest.
Natural climate variability – such as El Niño and La Niña – mean that the globe will not break new temperature records every month or every year. More significant than the individual monthly rankings is the long-term trend of rising temperatures and climate change indicators such as CO2 concentrations (406.13 parts per million at the benchmark Mauna Loa Observatory in January compared to 402.52 ppm in January 2016, according to NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory).
The largest positive temperature departures from average in January were seen across the eastern half of the contiguous U.S.A, Canada, and in particular the Arctic. The high Arctic temperatures also persisted in the early part of February.
At least three times so far this winter, the Arctic has witnessed the Polar equivalent of a heatwave, with powerful Atlantic storms driving an influx of warm, moist air and increasing temperatures to near freezing point. The temperature in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, north of Norway, topped 4.1°C on 7 February. The world’s northernmost land station, Kap Jessup on the tip of Greenland, swung from -22°C to +2°C in 12 hours between 9 and 10 February, according to the Danish Meterological Institute.
“Temperatures in the Arctic are quite remarkable and very alarming,” said World Climate Research Programme Director David Carlson. “The rate of change in the Arctic and resulting shifts in wider atmospheric circulation patterns, which affect weather in other parts of the world, are pushing climate science to its limits.”
As a result of waves in the jet stream – the fast moving band of air which helps regulate temperatures – much of Europe, the Arabian peninsular and North Africa were unusually cold, as were parts of Siberia and the western USA.
Sea ice extent was the lowest on the 38-year-old satellite record for the month of January, both at the Arctic and Antarctic, according to both the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center and Germany’s Sea ice Portal operated by the Alfred-Wegener-Institut.
Arctic sea ice extent averaged 13.38 million square kilometres in January, according to NSIDC. This is 260,000 square kilometersbelow January 2016, the previous lowest January extent – an area bigger than the size of the United Kingdom. It was 1.26 million square kilometers (the size of South Africa) below the January 1981 to 2010 long-term average.
“The recovery period for Arctic sea ice is normally in the winter, when it gains both in volume and extent. The recovery this winter has been fragile, at best, and there were some days in January when temperatures were actually above melting point,” said Mr Carlson. “This will have serious implications for Arctic sea ice extent in summer as well as for the global climate system. What happens at the Poles does not stay at the Poles.”
Antarctic sea ice extent was also the lowest on record. A change in wind patterns, which normally spread out the ice, contracted it instead.
Click here to listen to the podcast. (via David McGimpsey)
Mark Ryan, a former top US EPA attorney now in private practice, joins The Water Values Podcast and provides an insider’s view on the Clean Water Act and several important developments affecting the Clean Water Act. Apart from his outstanding analysis of three pending cases (Waters of the U.S. Rule, Water Transfer Rule, and Des Moines), Mark also fills us in on some general administrative law issues (the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017) and his thoughts on how the Trump administration might handle these issues.
In this session, you’ll learn about:
The history of the Clean Water Act What limnology is What the purpose of the Clean Water Act is How the Clean Water Act is administered The five-part test for Clean Water Act applicability How the Clean Water Act has evolved from 1972 to present The Waters of the U.S. Rule & related litigation The Water Transfer Rule case The Des Moines drainage tile point source case What “point source” means
Dam safety team conducts annual inspections, manages upgrades and trains for emergencies to keep facilities secure.
Here’s a guest column from Annie Whetzel that’s running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
If the fight in Battlement Mesa over the proposed injection well zone and its proximity to the water intake for the public water supply taught us two things, it is that our drinking water comes from the river and it is vulnerable.
Throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and the middle Colorado River watershed, unless you have a well in your backyard, our water comes from surface water. (In fact, even if you have a private well, it is susceptible to surface water and chemicals at the surface that leach down.)
Surface water includes the water that runs off the surface of the ground, everything from the mountains upvalley to the sidewalk downtown, flows to the river, and into our home.
Source water, essentially the source of our water, is important to protect. It is the water we depend on for daily life. The Middle Colorado Watershed Council hosted an event recently and many participants wanted to know how they could help our watershed now. A quick answer is: protect source water.
Last year, Glenwood Springs finalized its source Source Water Assessment and Protection Plan. The city worked with a statewide organization called the Colorado Rural Water Association to identify where our water comes from, understand areas where the source water might be at risk, and ways to mitigate those risks to water.
Glenwood Springs highlighted two crucial areas. One area comes from the Flat Tops and flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon. This tributary, while remote, is extremely vulnerable to severe fire damage.
If a large fire rolls across the area, the resulting sediment in the tributary could be enough to affect our water supply. It happened in Fort McMurray, Alberta. A fire tore through the area followed by heavy rains filling the river with sediment. The water treatment facility managers had to shut down their intake valve to the facility because the sediment in the water was too great for the system to handle.
The second area highlighted as at risk for contamination is along the Lower Roaring Fork River. This area is impacted by industry, transportation and the public. Here is where we get to work together and take feasible steps to ensure safe water.
The first step we all can easily take in protecting our source water is making sure we are handling our home waste and house run-off effectively. Paul Hempel, source water specialist for the Colorado Rural Water Association, said to best protect source water at an individual level is to “take care of household activities.”
Taking care of household activities includes managing toxic household supplies effectively and ensuring something as simple as oil and grease are handled correctly. That is, don’t pour it down the drain.
In a prepared statement, Trent Mahaffey from Glenwood Springs Waste Water Treatment Facility, explained that oil and grease can easily damage water and septic systems and can “create overflows into local waterways or property.” He reminds us all to freeze oil and grease and dispose of it in our household trash, and wipe out oily pans with a paper towel before washing them, to prevent excess oil going down the drain.
Another common source water contamination is runoff directly from a house or driveway. Hempel mentioned that porous surfaces are helpful to prevent excess runoff. Runoff from the house directly to a sidewalk or down a driveway can easily collect debris, oil, animal droppings and other contaminants like fertilizers on its way to the storm drain or ditch. If you have a downspout, create a gravel catchment for the water so it doesn’t have the opportunity to pick up large contaminants on its way to the river.
Better yet, avoid potential contaminants all together. Hempel stresses that the most important aspect of protecting source water is to simply be aware. This means understanding that what we spray down our driveway or pour down our drain affects our water supply. We should strive to avoid fertilizers with nitrates and washing our car in the driveway. Even if we protect the flow of water to the storm drain with porous surfaces, it is possible for surface water to seep into our groundwater, which will also make its way to the river.
How can we help our watershed? Be aware of where our water comes from and be aware of what we are adding to the system. Let’s protect our source water.
Annie Whetzel is with the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, which works to evaluate, protect and enhance the Middle Colorado River Watershed through the cooperative effort of watershed stakeholders. To learn more, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/midcowatershed.
Here’s the release from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (Elisabeth Gawthrop):
Since last month’s briefing, sea-surface temperatures have warmed in the area of the central equatorial Pacific Ocean that define El Niño and La Niña events, called the Nino3.4 region. Last week, the weekly anomaly for Nino3.4 was +0.1ºC — the first time it’s been above 0.0ºC since June. The first image below shows the latest week’s anomalies.
While the sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) point to a neutral ENSO state, the convection patterns in the equatorial Pacific (i.e. at what longitudes along the equator clouds and thunderstorms form) continue to show a La Niña-like pattern. Although this pattern is what is most likely to in turn influence precipitation patterns around the world, it is expected to weaken or disappear during the remainder of February and early March.
The upcoming seasonal forecasts are not showing much in the way of La Niña influence. “The models are expecting the convection patterns to return to neutral very soon, such as within the coming few weeks,” said Barnston. “The March-May climate is not expected to be materially influenced by the current cloudiness conditions.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center issued a Final La Niña Advisory last week.
To predict ENSO conditions, computers model the SSTs in the Nino3.4 region over the next several months. The graph in the first image of the gallery below shows the outputs of these models, some of which use equations based on our physical understanding of the system (called dynamical models), and some of which use statistics, based on the long record of historical observations.
The mean of the statistical models’ forecast is similar to that of last month, with Nino3.4 SSTs staying around 0ºC or just above through the end of the year. The mean of the dynamical models’ forecast, especially later in the year, has increased from last month’s forecast. These dynamical models now call for anomalies around +0.8ºC as the northern hemisphere’s summer comes to a close. Last month’s forecast from the dynamical models didn’t quite reach +0.5ºC.
These forecasts, however, extend past what’s known as the spring predictability barrier — a function of ocean dynamics that makes it hard to predict ENSO past June of each year, so uncertainty is high.
Based on these model outputs, odds for La Niña are close to zero for the next several seasons, with neutral conditions dominating (see second graph in gallery above). The warmer SSTs shown in the plume graph, especially in the dynamical models, are reflected in the increasing likelihood for El Niño conditions later in the year.
The official probabilistic forecast issued by CPC and IRI in early February shows a similar overall pattern. This early-February forecast uses human judgement in addition to model output, while the mid-February forecast relies solely on model output.
From NOAA (Emily Becker):
Well, that was quick! The ocean surface in the tropical Pacific is close to average for this time of year, putting an end to La Niña, and forecasters expect that it will hover around average for a few months. Let’s dig in to what happened during January, and what the forecast looks like.
Not with a bang
This La Niña wasn’t exactly one for the record books. Our primary index, the three-month-average sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Niño3.4 region, only dipped to about 0.8°C cooler than the long-term average during the fall of 2016. However, these cooler-than-average temperatures persisted for several months, and the atmosphere over the tropical Pacific responded as expected to the cooler waters. Namely, during the fall and winter to date, the Walker Circulation was strengthened: stronger near-surface east-to-west trade winds, stronger upper-level west-to-east winds, more rain than usual over Indonesia, and less rain over the central Pacific.
During January, the sea surface temperature edged close to normal, and the average temperature in the Niño3.4 region was just about 0.3°C below normal by the end of the month. (Note, this is using the weekly OISST data. There are some differences between our sea surface temperature data sets, which Tom described in detail here.)
Another factor that we watch is the temperature of the tropical Pacific Ocean below the surface. Over the past few months, the amount of cooler-than-average water at depth has been decreasing, and by the end of January it had disappeared. These deeper waters often give an idea of what we can expect at the surface in following months. Meaning, the lack of cooler water at depth makes it unlikely that the surface will cool off again substantially in the next few months
From The Guardian (Melissa Davey):
For the first time, researchers have developed a mathematical equation to describe the impact of human activity on the earth, finding people are causing the climate to change 170 times faster than natural forces.
The equation was developed in conjunction with Professor Will Steffen, a climate change expert and researcher at the Australian National University, and was published in the journal The Anthropocene Review.
The authors of the paper wrote that for the past 4.5bn years astronomical and geophysical factors have been the dominating influences on the Earth system. The Earth system is defined by the researchers as the biosphere, including interactions and feedbacks with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and upper lithosphere.
But over the past six decades human forces “have driven exceptionally rapid rates of change in the Earth system,” the authors wrote, giving rise to a period known as the Anthropocene.
Steffen and his co-researcher, Owen Gaffney, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, came up with an “Anthropocene Equation” to determine the impact of this period of intense human activity on the earth.
Explaining the equation in New Scientist, Gaffney said they developed it “by homing in on the rate of change of Earth’s life support system: the atmosphere, oceans, forests and wetlands, waterways and ice sheets and fabulous diversity of life”.
“For four billion years the rate of change of the Earth system has been a complex function of astronomical and geophysical forces plus internal dynamics: Earth’s orbit around the sun, gravitational interactions with other planets, the sun’s heat output, colliding continents, volcanoes and evolution, among others,” he wrote.
“In the equation, astronomical and geophysical forces tend to zero because of their slow nature or rarity, as do internal dynamics, for now. All these forces still exert pressure, but currently on orders of magnitude less than human impact.”
Click here to read the report (Lauren M Foster, Lindsay A Bearup, Noah P Molotch, Paul D Brooks and Reed M Maxwell):
In snow-dominated mountain regions, a warming climate is expected to alter two drivers of hydrology: (1) decrease the fraction of precipitation falling as snow; and (2) increase surface energy available to drive evapotranspiration. This study uses a novel integrated modeling approach to explicitly separate energy budget increases via warming from precipitation phase transitions from snow to rain in two mountain headwaters transects of the central Rocky Mountains. Both phase transitions and energy increases had significant, though unique, impacts on semi-arid mountain hydrology in our simulations. A complete shift in precipitation from snow to rain reduced streamflow between 11% and 18%, while 4 °C of uniform warming reduced streamflow between 19% and 23%, suggesting that changes in energy-driven evaporative loss, between 27% and 29% for these uniform warming scenarios, may be the dominant driver of annual mean streamflow in a warming climate. Phase changes induced a flashier system, making water availability more susceptible to precipitation variability and eliminating the runoff signature characteristic of snowmelt-dominated systems. The impact of a phase change on mean streamflow was reduced as aridity increased from west to east of the continental divide.
From The San Jose Mercury-News (Paul Rogers and Matthias Gafni):
How did a giant, gaping hole tear through the massive Oroville Dam’s main concrete spillway last week, setting in motion the chain of events that could have led to one of America’s deadliest dam failures?
Dam experts around the country are focusing on a leading suspect: Tiny bubbles.
The prospect is simple, yet terrifying and has been the culprit in a number of near disasters at dams across the globe since engineers discovered it about 50 years ago. In a process called “cavitation,” water flowing fast and in large volumes can rumble over small cracks, bumps or other imperfections in concrete dam spillways as they release water during wet years. The billions of gallons of water bumping off the surface at 50 miles an hour create enormous turbulence that can form tiny water vapor bubbles that collapse with powerful force, and like jackhammers, chisel apart concrete.
“It starts with small holes, but it can break off big chunks of concrete,” said Paul Tullis, a professor emeritus of civil engineering at Utah State University and cavitation expert. “It’s like a big grinder. It causes concrete to be torn apart.”
It’s still too early to investigate the cavity on the spillway while dam operators at the nation’s tallest dam desperately drain billions of gallons of water down the damaged chute ahead of coming storms.
But the same phenomenon nearly caused the collapse of one of America’s other largest dams, Glen Canyon, a 710-foot tall behemoth on the Colorado River, in 1983…
When engineers entered the Glen Canyon Dam’s damaged spillway, they found a crater 32 feet deep and 180 feet long, and tons of concrete, reinforced metal and rock that had simply washed away. The right spillway had similar, but less severe damage.
They didn’t simply reconstruct the spillways, they introduced new technology with aeration slots — essentially ramps at vulnerable spots in the spillway to create an air pocket where water vapor could be disrupted and weakened. The physics gambit worked. In 1984, the runoff was equally as challenging, but Glen Canyon’s spillways had no problems.
Those fixes led the federal agency to retrofit two other large dams — Hoover and Blue Mesa — with aerators.
“It was a defining moment in dam design,” Bureau of Reclamation hydraulic engineer Philip Burgi told a magazine years later. “The world was watching how we were going to solve this problem.”
Similar fixes were added to the Tarbela Dam in Pakistan and Infiernillo Dam in Mexico, and now are common in new dams.
It could be months before the cause of the collapse of Oroville Dam’s spillway is known. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week ordered the state Department of Water Resources to convene a panel of five dam engineering experts to oversee an investigation.
But despite the lessons from Glen Canyon, the Oroville Dam spillway apparently did not have aerators. The massive chute is 178 feet wide, as wide as 15 lanes of freeway, and just 15 inches thick in the middle. Sources at the Department of Water Resources say it hadn’t been retrofitted with aerators — likely one or two ramps, in the case of Oroville’s chute-style spillway, perhaps a foot high each, that would allow the water to flow over and reduce the risk of cavitation.
“Compared to the cost to repair that, it would be just a few million dollars,” said Tullis. “It’s not just a matter of money, it’s a matter of safety. It should have been a priority.”
When the main spillway failed, officials had to slow water releases. The lake, swollen from heavy storms, rose nearly 50 feet in five days and overtopped its emergency spillway for the first time ever, forcing the emergency evacuation of nearly 200,000 residents along the Feather River. The hillside below the emergency spillway eroded badly, leading to fears it would collapse, and send a wall of water into towns below. In recent days, dam operators have increased flows down the broken main spillway, dropping the lake level, and hoping it doesn’t further tear apart.
By Friday morning, state officials had lowered the water level at the 10-mile-long reservoir by 40 feet, especially important as three new storm systems were coming in.
“The threat level is lower. It’s much, much, much lower than what it was on Sunday,” said Bill Croyle, acting director of the State Department of Water Resources.
One concern that is certain to be a focus in the investigation are cracks in the main spillway in recent years. Records from the state Division of Safety of Dams show the cracks were seen in 2009. Also, crack repairs were done last in 2013, according to Kevin Dossey, a senior civil engineer with the Department of Water Resources.
“We made repairs and everything checked out,” Dossey said last Friday at a news conference. “It looked like it would hold, and be able to pass water.”
If the concrete patches came off, or the cracks worsened, however, that could have eroded the spillway, or it could have created enough of an uneven surface to start the domino-effect of cavitaton, experts said.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot of an imperfection when water velocities are very, very high,” said James Kells, a professor of civil and geological engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.
“When I first saw photos, the first thing that came to my mind was cavitation, just because of where the damage was,” Kells said. But he also began to think uneven concrete slabs or internal erosion below the concrete could be “viable causes.”
Another theory is that the drought dried the ground under the spillway enough that it shrank, creating a void of a few inches that cracked the spillway when huge volumes of water roared down this winter…
1967: Heavy snow melt in the Bighorn River basin raises the Yellowtail Dam reservoir to record levels, opening the spillway for 20 straight days. The Montana dam spillways suffers a hole the size of a semi-truck and trailer.
1977: The Karun Dam in Iran has more than 7,500 feet of concrete torn up on its concrete spillways.
1979: The Kebon Dam along the Euphrates River in Turkey suffers damage to two spillways; one had been running for 15 days, another just three.
1983: The Glen Canyon Dam takes on heavy snowmelt and rains leading to water coming perilously close to the top of the dam. Its two tunnel spillways open for the first time ever and both receive significant damage. Engineers create new aerator devices to fix the problem, a big turning point in spillway engineering.
1983: Hoover Dam, the nation’s most well-known, used its spillways in 1941 for initial testing and again in 1983 due to unanticipated high water levels, and both times a concrete elbow transition suffered cavitation damage.
Mid-1980s: Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River in northeastern Utah and Blue Mesa Dam in Colorado suffer damage are both fixed with aeration devices.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):
The city’s denial is its first response in court to a lawsuit that claims discharges of pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries violate the laws. The discharges are from Colorado Springs’ stormwater system…
Colorado Springs asserted in Monday’s filing that it “has at all times been in compliance” with permits issued by the state agency to govern the discharges and the stormwater system.
The city contends it should not be subjected to court orders or monetary penalties that the environmental agencies want a judge to impose.
Colorado Springs also contends that allegations in the lawsuit misrepresent the facts of issues in dispute.
From The Cortez Journal (Jacob Klopfenstein):
The livestock association held its annual meeting at the Cortez Elks Lodge. Local, state and federal officials also spoke at the event, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.
[Ken Curtis] said there is about 300,000 acre-feet of water in the snowpack for the McPhee Reservoir basin. However, but the reservoir will only be able to store about 90,000 additional acre-feet, he said.
“We’re going to get a chance to do a lot of active management,” Curtis said.
With water levels looking good, a recreation spill downriver is likely, but it’s still early, he said. Water officials will have to work hard to manage the above-average snowpack levels this season, he said.
Curtis also discussed the issue of mussels in waterways. The invasive quagga and zebra mussels have infiltrated the Great Lakes and are slowly making their way across the West, he said. Colorado has avoided an infestation, but they have appeared as close as Lake Powell, he said.
If mussels get into waterways on the Western Slope, they could cause costly damage to water infrastructure, such as dams and irrigation equipment, Curtis said.
Recreational boat inspections have been taking place on McPhee Reservoir and House Creek, but funding has decreased for inspections in recent years, he said. Hopefully funding will stabilize soon for the inspections, Curtis said, but in the meantime, access may be limited to recreational areas in 2017.
“We need to raise the insurance one level higher,” Curtis said. “We’re going to close lake access when the inspections aren’t happening.”
McPhee should be open seven days a week, but House Creek will probably only be open four days a week, he said.
Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., which owns Narraguinnep and Groundhog reservoirs, has also considered closing boat access to both those lakes because of the mussel risk.
The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and Dolores Water Conservancy District are raising money to continue boat inspections at McPhee and House Creek, he said.
The boat inspection program costs about $95,000 per year, and the Forest Service previously covered that cost, Curtis said.
No mussels have been found on boats during inspections at McPhee, but they have been found as close as Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs, Curtis said.
From The Cortez Journal (Jacob Klopfenstein) via The Pine River Times:
Speaking to an agriculture group this month in Cortez, state legislators Don Coram and Marc Catlin said they’re prepared to help farmer and ranchers from Colorado’s Capitol.
“The basis of this state and of this area is agriculture,” Catlin told members of the Southwest Colorado Livestock Association. “I’m a believer in that. I’ll do everything I can for agriculture.”
The livestock association held its annual meeting Feb. 11 at the Cortez Elks Lodge. Local, state and federal elected officials also spoke at the meeting, including Montezuma County commissioners and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.
Coram, R-Montrose, represents Senate District 6, which covers Montrose, Ouray, San Miguel, Dolores, Montezuma, La Plata, San Juan and Archuleta counties. He took over the seat from Republican Ellen Roberts, of Durango, who resigned in October.
Rep. Catlin, R-Montrose, took over Coram’s seat in House District 58, which covers Montrose, San Miguel, Dolores and Montezuma counties. He has experience as a water manager in Montrose County, he said.
Both Coram and Catlin said water on the Western Slope will be a major focus for their tenures in the legislature.
Coram introduced SB 36, a bill that would change the appeals process for groundwater court cases, in January. It passed the Senate on third reading Feb. 14 and will be referred to the House. The bill would disallow parties from introducing new evidence during an appeal that was not presented in the original case.
Coram said he has talked with some farming and ranching families that have spent lots of money paying water engineers and attorneys to resolve such cases.
The senator said legislators will have to work harder to store more water and keep it in Colorado. He said he will be traveling around the state to try to come up with funding solutions for water storage projects…
Catlin said there is a divide between how the western and eastern Colorado think about water. Agriculture operations on the Western Slope should be prioritized over cities and towns on the other side of the mountains when it comes to water, he said.
Agriculture doesn’t get enough attention from people in the state as other industries, such as tourism, Catlin added.
“Agriculture is the No. 2 industry in the state, and it sure doesn’t get much talk,” he said. “The only time they talk about us is when we have a crop failure and it’s going to affect main street.”
Coram also said he would advocate for hemp development. Currently outlawed at the federal level but legal in Colorado, hemp production is limited.
Coram touted the crop’s potential, saying it could become a viable crop and have a huge impact in Colorado.