Coyote Gulch outage

Urban coyote photo via Coyote Yipps
Urban coyote photo via Coyote Yipps

I’m heading to the Colorado Convention Center for a 3-day training with the Climate Reality Project. I’m hoping to learn techniques for communicating with folks that have differing world views from mine.

Posting may be hit-or-miss through Saturday. I’ll try to catch up on Sunday and Monday.

#Drought to persist in E. #Colorado, development likely over the central plains

Drought forecast March 2017 via the Climate Prediction Center.
Drought forecast March 2017 via the Climate Prediction Center.

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


Several weather systems traversed the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) in the fast-moving upper-level flow during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. Upper-level troughs, surface fronts, and surface low pressure systems brought above-normal precipitation to parts of the Southwest, parts of the Pacific Northwest to Great Lakes, and parts of the Southeast, Upper Ohio Valley, and Northeast. But the speed and tracks of the weather systems left much of California and other parts of the West, most of the Central to Southern Plains, parts of the Southeast and Northeast, much of the Mid-Mississippi Valley, and Mid-Atlantic coast drier than normal. Temperatures averaged cooler than normal in the West under the influence of the troughs, while the dominance of ridging east of the Rockies resulted in above-normal temperatures. As noted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the persistence of the unseasonably warm weather east of the Rockies has ushered winter wheat out of dormancy up to a month ahead of normal. The warm temperatures and unusually early green up have increased evapotranspiration and heightened the need for soil moisture in areas wrestling with winter-time drought, at a time when crop-water demands are typically minimal. As reported by the National Weather Service, vegetation has responded rapidly to the unusually warm temperatures, with flowers and trees blooming or in full bloom across east-central Georgia and central South Carolina. Drought conditions continued to improve in California, as the hydrologic systems responded to the precipitation of recent weeks and months, and in the Northeast. Drought and abnormally dry conditions expanded from the Southern Plains and Midwest to the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic coast, reflecting precipitation shortages that have developed over the last one to three months as well as, in the Southeast, worsening hydrological conditions and long-term dryness…

Central to Northern Plains

Bands of precipitation fell across the Central to Northern Plains. Much of Kansas and parts of the Dakotas received a tenth of an inch or less of precipitation, while a snowstorm dropped 0.3-1.0 inch of precipitation across parts of Nebraska and southwest South Dakota. D1 expanded across eastern Kansas, while D0-D1 contracted in northwest Nebraska and western South Dakota. According to February 27 USDA reports, 56% of the subsoil and 55% of the topsoil in Kansas, and 30% of the subsoil and 25% of the topsoil in Nebraska, were short to very short of moisture, while 21% of the winter wheat in Kansas was in poor to very poor condition…


Two or more inches of precipitation fell across parts of the northern California coast, the Sierra Nevada, and San Diego County regions, while less than an inch was recorded in other areas. The typical interior rainshadow areas had less than half an inch of precipitation. Drought improvement occurred in three regions.

The D0-L in the San Joaquin Valley was removed due to improving hydrological (aquifer) conditions. There are two types of aquifers: confined and unconfined. Unconfined aquifers are characterized by a geology where water can seep into the aquifer from the ground surface directly above. Confined aquifers have a geology in which an impermeable layer of dirt or rock exists above the aquifer which prevents water from seeping into it from the ground surface directly above. Confined aquifers are recharged by water seeping into them from farther away where the impermeable layer doesn’t exist. Most of the USGS well groundwater stations in the San Joaquin Valley were showing significant recharge occurring, while those that were still quite low were probably confined aquifers which may take months or years to recharge.

D1 was pulled back along the Coastal Range to Santa Barbara County. The lake levels of the reservoirs in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties continued to rise but, since the rains let up, they were not rising as quickly. Lake Cachuma’s reservoir was at 87,466 acre-feet on February 26, which equates to 45.2% of capacity versus 42.4% a week ago; Lake Casitas was at 43% compared to last week’s 42.3%; and Lake Piru was at 33.7% versus last week’s 31.7%. D2 was kept in place in this region to reflect the continued low, but recovering, reservoirs. However, the recent rains have not improved the situation on the offshore islands. With below-normal precipitation this week and continued groundwater shortages, D2 was added to Catalina Island.

Rain during the last day of this USDM week gave southern California and southwest Arizona a good soaking, with rainfall amounts 0.5-2.0 inches over parts of Arizona and over 5 inches over parts of San Diego County in California. In the mountains of San Diego County, Palomar Observatory reported 9.04 inches of precipitation. D0-D1 was pulled back one category in San Bernadino, Riverside, and San Diego counties, and the adjacent D2 was trimmed a bit. The rain should result in rapid responses in local reservoirs. The San Diego River reached 14.2 feet, which is the third highest stage ever and slightly higher than December 2010 and 1980…

Rest of the West

One to 4 inches of precipitation fell across coastal Washington and Oregon and parts of the Northern to Central Rockies, the Great Basin, and Arizona. Less than an inch of precipitation fell across other parts of the West, with some areas receiving a tenth of an inch or less. D1 was deleted and D0 contracted in eastern Oregon and western Montana to better reflect precipitation and snowpack conditions. D0-D1 was trimmed in southwest Arizona and D0 pulled back in east-central Montana. D0 was added over the southwest mountains of Montana to reflect low snowpack water content (SWE) and subnormal precipitation at the 7-day to 3-month time scales, and D0 was expanded over northeast New Mexico to better reflect soil moisture and streamflow conditions…

Looking Ahead

In the 2 days since the Tuesday morning cutoff time of this week’s USDM, a frontal system dropped 1-2 inches of rain, and locally more, across parts of the Ohio Valley D0 area, with half an inch or more falling across parts of the Southeast. For March 2-9, 3-5 inches of precipitation, and locally more, is forecast for north coastal California to western Washington; 1-2 inches over parts of the Northern Rockies; and a tenth of an inch or more across the rest of the Northwest into the Great Basin. Precipitation is expected across parts of the Southern Plains to Southeast, Northern Plains to Great Lakes, and along the Eastern Seaboard, with amounts ranging from a few tenths of an inch across most of these regions, to an inch or two across southern Texas, the Gulf Coast, and northern Great Lakes. Most of the Southwest into the Central Plains should be dry. Above-normal temperatures are expected for most of the CONUS, with the greatest departures in the Central Plains, while below-normal temperatures may linger in the Pacific Northwest. Odds favor the temperature anomaly pattern persisting through March 10-15, with cooler-than-normal temperatures expected for Alaska. March 10-15 projections favor a continuation of the precipitation anomaly pattern with below-normal precipitation from the Southwest to Central Plains and along the Gulf of Mexico coast to Mid-Atlantic States, with above-normal precipitation favored for the rest of the CONUS. Odds favor drier-than-normal weather in southern Alaska and wetter-than-normal conditions in northern Alaska.

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

Aspinall Unit Spring streamflow forecasts

Aspinall Unit
Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The February 15th forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 970,000 acre-feet. This is 144% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently 166% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 576,000 acre-feet which is 69% of full. Current elevation is 7489.3 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft.

Black Canyon Water Right

The peak flow and shoulder flow components of the Black Canyon Water Right will be determined by the May 1 forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir. If the May 1 forecast is equal to the current forecast of 970,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the peak flow target will be equal to 7,158 cfs for a duration of 24 hours. The shoulder flow target will be 966 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25. The point of measurement of flows to satisfy the Black Canyon Water Right is the Gunnison River below Gunnison Tunnel streamgage at the upstream boundary of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Aspinall Unit Operations ROD

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the peak flow and duration flow targets in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, will be determined by the forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir and the hydrologic year type. At the time of the spring operation, if the forecast is equal to the current forecast of 970,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the hydrologic year type will be set as Moderately Wet. Under a Moderately Wet year the peak flow target will be 14,350 cfs and the duration target at this flow will be 10 days. The duration target for the half bankfull flow of 8,070 cfs will be 40 days.

Projected Spring Operations

During spring operations, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be made in an attempt to match the peak flow of the North Fork of the Gunnison River to maximize the potential of meeting the desired peak at the Whitewater gage, while simultaneously meeting the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow amount. The magnitude of release necessary to meet the desired peak at the Whitewater gage will be dependent on the flow contribution from the North Fork of the Gunnison River and other tributaries downstream from the Aspinall Unit. Current projections for spring peak operations show that flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon could be over 8,000 cfs for 10 days in order to achieve the desired peak flow and duration at Whitewater. If actual flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River are less than currently projected, flows through the Black Canyon could be even higher. With this runoff forecast and corresponding downstream targets, Blue Mesa Reservoir is currently projected to fill to an elevation of around 7515 feet with an approximate peak content of 790,000 acre-feet.

#Snowpack news: SW basins = 154% of normal (best in #Colorado), Yampa/White = 122% (lowest)

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From Las Vegas Now (Katie Boer):

Nevada is still considered to be in a drought, but the accumulation in snowpacks has experts hopeful about the health of Lake Mead. However, the state’s not out of the clear.

For years the lower Colorado River Basin has been in a drought impacting Nevada and California, but the snowfall in the Rocky Mountains this season has been significant causing much of the Great Basin to be well above average.

The snowpack in the Rockies is up 150 percent to 200 percent above normal, so that will be a direct impact on runoff that eventually feeds directly into water levels at Lake Mead.

“We were just up at Kyle Lake yesterday, and thats a long time site for us. It’s a snow course that we measured back in 1940, and the amount of water in the snowpack yesterday was within two-tenths of the record high for that time of year,” said Troy Brosten, assistant snow surveyor supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service for the USDA.

According to Brosten, the heavy snowpack, once it starts to melt, will flow downstream into the upper Colorado River, eventually hitting the lower Colorado River Basin before arriving at Lake Mead.

“With the snowpack accumulation that we have, we will see improvements in the drought situations,” Brosten said.

“Right now the Colorado River, the lower parts are fairly stable, and we’re seeing the levels of Lake Mead rise just a little bit,” according to Rose Davis, Bureau of Reclamation, lower Colorado region…

“It’s looking good right now,” Davis said. “We’re looking good for an in-flow from the upper basin this year of about 9 million acre-feet. We’re getting a good snow pack. It’s not going to undo 16 years of drought, but it is going to maintain our lake levels and perhaps let them come up a little bit.”

But regardless of this year’s heavy snowpack, Davis says “it’s a very important concept for to remember that nobody’s out of drought.” “I mean regardless of what you’re seeing on the flooding in California and other places — one year doesn’t undo drought,” Davis said.

And here’s the Westwide SNOTES basin-filled map from the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 1, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 1, 2017 via the NRCS.

The February 2017 “Headwaters Pulse” is hot off the presses from @CFWEwater


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

The Rural Water Conundrum

Roughly 20 percent of Colorado citizens rely heavily on groundwater for their drinking water supply. Many live in small communities: 98 percent of Colorado’s water systems serve communities smaller than 10,000 people. For small, rural water providers, limiting the risk of chronic health conditions ranging from kidney and liver disease to cancer means contending with a long list of federally regulated contaminants. Emerging and unregulated contaminants pose additional challenges. As rural communities work to reduce health risks, they also struggle to spread the costs of water testing and treatment over small populations, while keeping up with changing regulations and the evolving science of water pollution.

Meanwhile, private well owners remain exempt from any water quality regulations, but bear the weighty responsibility of essentially operating their own personal utilities by constructing their own wells and testing and treating drinking water. They count on state and federal groundwater laws to keep their water sources free of some pollutants, but ensuring clean water means paying for water testing and treatment while keeping accurate maintenance records. And yet, many well owners test their drinking water less frequently than state health officials recommend, and high costs are partly to blame. Some groundwater experts believe state government should do more to require or subsidize private well testing, but at least for now, relying on a private well means taking your family’s health into your own hands.

Read more about rural water health challenges by checking out this full article by Nelson Harvey. Find more information on public health and water in the latest issue of Headwaters magazine.