#Snowpack news: Moving on up to a second peak

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

Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for March 30, 2017.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 30, 2017 via the NRCS.

#Drought news: Improved depiction E. #Colorado

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


PLEASE NOTE – The Drought Monitor reflects observed precipitation through Tuesday, 1200 UTC (8 am, EDT); any rain that has fallen after the Tuesday 1200 UTC cutoff will be reflected in next week’s map (in particular, Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s heavy rain on the central and southern Plains).

During the 7-day period (ending Tuesday morning), renewed Pacific storminess brought increasingly wet, mild weather to a large swath of the country. Precipitation was heaviest from the central and northern Pacific Coast into the central and northern Rockies, while a secondary area of locally heavy rain and wet snow developed over the central High Plains and environs. Farther east, an influx of Gulf moisture led to widespread moderate to heavy rain from the lower and middle Mississippi Valley into the interior Southeast, while somewhat lighter precipitation was observed across the Midwest (mostly rain) and New England (wintry mix). As a result, widespread reductions in drought intensity and coverage were made where the heaviest precipitation fell, although the lower Southeast (including Florida) remained unfavorably dry..

Northern Plains

There were no changes to this region’s drought depiction, with light to moderate showers (locally more than 0.5 inch) bypassing the lingering long-term Moderate Drought (D1) area…

Central and Southern Plains

Locally heavy precipitation in western- and eastern-most portions of the region afforded some drought relief, while mostly dry weather prevailed during the period elsewhere. Moderate to heavy rain and wet snow (1-3 inches, liquid equivalent) led to reductions in Abnormal Dryness (D0) as well as Moderate to Severe Drought (D1 and D2) from central Colorado northeastward into central Nebraska. A secondary precipitation maximum (1-4 inches) likewise led to reductions of D0 and D1 across eastern Kansas. The remainder of the region was mostly dry, though heavy rain (1-3 inches, locally more) was recorded during the 24-hour period from Tuesday into Wednesday morning over southern and central Kansas into central and western Oklahoma; as this rain fell after the 1200 UTC Tuesday cutoff, the impacts will be incorporated into next week’s analysis…


There were minor changes to the drought depiction in Texas, with minor improvements in eastern portions of the state contrasting with subtle expansion of dryness farther west. Rain amounts across eastern Texas were highly variable, with amounts of 1 to 3 inches affording some reduction of Abnormal Dryness (D0) or Moderate Drought (D1). Meanwhile, D0 was expanded north of Midland after another dry week left precipitation over the past two months less than 60 percent of normal. It should be noted the recent heavy rain (1-4 inches) over north-central Texas fell after the Tuesday 1200 UTC cutoff, and will be incorporated into next week’s drought assessment…

Western U.S.

Despite renewed heavy locally heavy rain and mountain snow across central as well as northern portions of the region, the precipitation largely bypassed the lingering long-term drought areas (denoted by an “L” on the map) across southern California and the Southwest…

Looking Ahead

The storm responsible for the heavy rain that has fallen since Tuesday morning over the southern and central Plains will move slowly east, bringing welcomed showers and thunderstorms to the eastern third of the nation. The greatest likelihood for an inch or more of rain will be from the Midwest into the Northeast, with the more appreciable rainfall totals bypassing the lower Southeast’s drought areas. Meanwhile, another moisture-laden Pacific storm will track from the Northwest across the northern Great Basin, emerging onto the central High Plains before reorganizing and strengthening over eastern Texas. This latter system will produce a swath of rain and mountain snow from the Pacific Northwest into the central Rockies, while moderate to heavy rain (2-6 inches) develops across the south-central U.S. by early next week. Moisture from this second system is expected to reach the Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast by Tuesday morning. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for April 3 – 7 calls for above-normal temperatures nearly nationwide, with the greatest likelihood of warmth occurring in the southern Atlantic States. Meanwhile, near- to above-normal precipitation across most of the country will contrast with drier-than-normal weather from parts of California to the Rio Grande Valley.

@SenBennetCO, @SenCoryGardner Public Lands Bills Approved by Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) today released the following statements after five Colorado-specific public lands bills were unanimously approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Bennet and Gardner introduced the bipartisan bills earlier this year.

“Our public lands define Colorado and help drive our outdoor recreation economy,” Bennet said. “These bipartisan, commonsense bills will expand outdoor access and preserve and protect wildlife habitat for years to come. The Committee’s approval of these measures is a win for Colorado, and we’ll continue to work to advance these measures in the Senate.”

“Protecting and promoting Colorado’s public lands is not a partisan issue, and I’m proud to work across the aisle to move these priorities forward,” Gardner said. “Each piece of legislation is important to Colorado and I’ll continue to support efforts that will ensure future generations of Coloradans are able to enjoy our state’s natural treasurers.”

Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via
  • The Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act (S. 285) would authorize special use of the Bolts Ditch headgate and the segment of the Bolts Ditch within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, allowing the town of Minturn, Colorado to use its existing water right to fill Bolts Lake. This would solve a problem created in 1980 when Congress designated Holy Cross Wilderness area, but inadvertently left Bolts Ditch off of the list of existing water facilities.
The main entrance is about 30 miles west of Colorado Springs. Photo credit UncoverColorado.com.
  • The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (S. 287) legislation will allow for enhanced wildfire protection as well as additional habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities for visitors. Established as a national monument in 1969, the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is located west of Pikes Peak and less than 40 miles from Colorado Springs. The monument is home to diverse fossil deposits, maintaining a collection of over 12,000 specimens. It also provides recreational experiences and curriculum-based education programs for its visitors. A private landowner submitted a proposal to donate 280 acres of land adjacent to Florissant Fossil Beds Monument, but due to current law the land donation cannot take place. This commonsense legislation would permit a landowner to donate private land to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
  • The Wedge Act (H.R. 688) would aid the Forest Service in acquiring several parcels of land adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park. This Act would help preserve critical wildlife habitat, Colorado River headwaters, and a highly visible view shed in the area commonly referred to as the Wedge.
  • The Crags are rock formations located south of Divide, facing the northwest slope of Pikes Peak. It’s a beautiful hike popular with families. Photo credit Colorado Springs Hikes.
  • The Crags, Colorado Land Exchange Act (H.R. 618) is a federal land exchange where the Forest Service would acquire pristine land in the Pike National Forest allowing for more outdoor recreation near Pikes Peak.
  • The Elkhorn Ranch and White River National Forest Conveyance Act (H.R. 698) would correct the discrepancy that took place from conflicting land surveys and require the Forest Service to convey acreage to private ownership that is rightfully private property, according to the Forest Service’s own conclusion and recommendation. For nearly 100 years, 148 acres of land has been used as private land even though it is included in Forest Service survey maps, and this legislation allows for the resolution between the Forest Service and the private landowner.

Not your grandparents’ rain barrel — @MSUDenver

From the Metropolitan State University Insider:

If you have grandparents then you’ve probably seen a rain barrel. You know the one – a lidless plastic garbage can with a window screen balanced on top, placed just beneath a downspout. The high-end models even feature a rock holding the screen in place. And the water, well, let’s just say even the plants are a little suspicious of the quality.

Ironically, rain water collection was illegal in Colorado until last year (not that it stopped your grandparents). When that century-old law was scratched from the books in 2016, it seemed like a good time to rethink – or even better, redesign – grandpa’s humble rain barrel.

That’s what professor Ted Shin had in mind when he assigned the task to students in his Intermediate Industrial Design Studio class at Metropolitan State University of Denver. But this class project had an added wrinkle – a design competition with cash prizes doled out to the winners.

Industrial design students show some of their early sketches of a rain barrel. Photo: Tom Cech

“The goal is to create a better, more functional rain barrel; to take a relatively simple object and try to imagine it in a new way,” says Shin, chair of the Industrial Design Department. “The competition element just makes it a little more fun.”

To raise the stakes, students were split into seven teams. Each was given six weeks to complete the same task: design a 55-gallon barrel that prevents mosquito breeding, eliminates the first polluted flush of rainwater off a roof, allows for efficient transport to landscaping sites, and looks good doing it.

Teams will present their design concepts on March 15, including ideation, sketches and even small-scale models. The competition will be judged by working professionals from Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Water and sustainability consulting firm the Brendle Group.

The top two teams will receive cash prizes, and if they impress the right judge, maybe even get their design out of the classroom and into the real world.

Student concepts for a new and improved rain barrel. Industrial design students will compete for cash prizes on March 15. Photo: Tom Cech.

The event is sponsored by the One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship at MSU Denver. Center Director Tom Cech played a crucial role in developing the project. He also recruited the judges and provided early feedback to students on their concepts.

For Shin, this type of real-life project not only prepares students for how they’ll work in the field, but also imparts another important lesson: “Design is not just about making pretty things. Working on a project like this also helps students think about how their work can have a positive impact on the environment and public health.”

Not to mention backyard gardeners – even grandparents.

Student concept for a new and improved rain barrel. Photo: Tom Cech

Chatfield Reservoir environmental storage pool project scores $400,000 from @WaltonFamilyFdn

Chatfield Reservoir

From the Walton Family Foundation via The Villager:

The Walton Family Foundation has provided $400,000 in support of The Greenway Foundation and Denver Water pledge drive for the environmental pool at Chatfield Reservoir. If the pledge drive is successful, the foundation’s funding will purchase of 45 acre-feet of storage in the reservoir.

The pledge drive, announced last August, will add 500 acre-feet of environmental storage at Chatfield Reservoir through a community coalition. Denver Water has committed nearly $2 million to fund the purchase of 250 acre-feet of storage space in Chatfield — if The Greenway Foundation can raise the funds necessary to match that amount.

Ted Kowalski, who leads the Colorado River Initiative for the Walton Family Foundation, stated: “The foundation focuses on developing sustainable water management practices for the Colorado River basin. This innovative project pairs agricultural water users located downstream on the South Platte River with holders of existing storage located upstream at Chatfield Reservoir, to benefit both parties and the intervening riparian environment of the South Platte River. This could be a model for use throughout the Colorado River basin, and other basins.”

The 500 acre-feet of water would be added to the 1,600 acre-feet for an environmental pool being developed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board through the Chatfield Reallocation Project, for a total of 2,100 feet of storage.

The environmental pool will be set aside for releases of water that will provide environmental and water quality benefits to the South Platte River below Chatfield during low-flow periods of the year when additional stream flow levels are critically needed.

In addition to the commitment from the Walton Family Foundation for the 45 acre-feet of storage, the grant to The Greenway Foundation also provides funding for the creation of a management plan to maximize the effectiveness of the water releases to the South Platte River.

“The Greenway Foundation is grateful for the very generous grant from the Walton Family Foundation as well as Denver Water’s commitment for support through the fundraising challenge” said Jeff Shoemaker, The Greenway Foundation’s executive director. “Contributions to the environmental pool are a one-time only cost for environmental, water quality, and recreational benefits that will last for generations.”

The Greenway Foundation has secured the following additional commitments toward meeting the challenge grant from Denver Water:

  • City and County of Denver – 50 acre-feet
  • The Greenway Foundation – 10 acre-feet
  • The Colorado Parks Foundation – 10 acre-feet
  • Shoemaker Family – 10 acre-feet
  • Rinehart Family – 1 acre-foot
  • Capitol Representatives – 1 acre-foot
  • Total to date (to match Denver Water challenge): 82 acre-feet
  • Arapahoe County Open Spaces Program and the cities along the South Platte River within Arapahoe County are also actively working to make a contribution to purchase 50 acre-feet to the environmental pool. The jurisdictions collaborate as members of the South Platte Working Group, which is seeking to make funding commitments by the end of this year.

    “Our goal is to enhance efforts to improve the urban reach of the South Platte River, helping to ultimately create a fishable river right in the heart of Denver,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “We believe that with the commitment of the community, this river that has been ignored can be healthy and beautiful to help ensure Denver remains a vibrant, exciting city.”

    Outreach and engagement efforts are also underway with numerous additional public and private entities and individuals to secure the remaining support needed to meet the Denver Water challenge. The goal is to have commitments for the full 250 acre-feet by the end of August 2017.

    The environmental pool storage will be filled by a water right owned by the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, a major agricultural district downstream from Denver. Releases from the environmental pool will flow through the Denver metro area, providing environmental, recreational and water quality benefits, and then be used by Central for agriculture. Every drop of water in the environmental pool will provide multiple benefits.

    The environmental pool is part of the overall Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project which, when completed in 2019, will allow for an additional 20,600 acre-feet to be stored in the reservoir.

    Durango fluoride dosing vote update

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    Durango voters are being asked April 4 to decide whether to remove fluoride from the city’s drinking water. Most-recent campaign filings show the pro-fluoride campaign has outraised and outspent its rival committee.

    The campaign to preserve fluoride in the water, Healthy Kids Healthy Durango, collected $22,465 in cash and in-kind donations through March 16. The campaign spent $8,769.

    Clean Water Durango, the group fighting against water fluoridation, collected $1,045 in cash through March 16 from three people. The group disclosed spending $2,641 through March 16. Much of the spending – $2,462 – was part of an addendum that was not formally added to the donation total.

    Bob Lieb, who filed the report and donated to the campaign, said the anti-fluoride campaign plans to raise and spend a total of $5,000, mostly for signage, advertising and informational brochures. He said most of those donations are coming through the campaign’s website.

    Lieb said the campaign relies on volunteers, as opposed to the pro-fluoride side, which has hired people to advocate.

    “It’s a David and Goliath campaign, no doubt about it,” Lieb said. “And we’re the David. They’ve brought a lot of out-of-town money.”

    Most of the donations to the pro-flouride campaign came from Healthier Colorado, a Denver-based nonprofit that contributed $17,340 of in-kind support such as mailings, web marketing and other contributions. The campaign also collected $5,125 in cash donations from 30 individuals – including 11 dentists.

    Healthier Colorado is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to improve public health through public policy.

    Kate Stigberg, director of activism for Healthier Colorado, said an email from concerned residents in Durango, including oral health professionals, asked the group for help.

    The group has been supporting water fluoridation since January 2016 in partnership with Colorado Children’s Campaign, Delta Dental and the Colorado Dental Association.

    #Snowpack news: March precipitation below average in Steamboat Springs

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 29, 2017 via the NRCS.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    Snow is more of a sure thing at Breckenridge at an elevation of 9,600 feet, with an 80 percent chance of receiving 1 to 3 inches Friday. Saturday’s accumulations in Breck are expected to be about an inch.

    More snow could fall in the San Juans and the West Elk Mountains to the south. Intellicast rates the chance that Telluride will see 3 to 5 inches of snow on Saturday at 100 percent. Crested Butte, at the headwaters of the Gunnison River, has a 70 percent chance of 3 to 5 inches of snow on Friday and a 60 percent chance of 1 to 3 inches on Saturday.

    Kate Gmeiner’s weather station, between downtown and the base of the ski area, confirms that precipitation has come in dribs and drabs early and late this month, with nothing but trace amounts in the middle of March. There was no measurable precipitation from March 12 to 24.

    In spite of the dry spell that began here in February, moisture for the water year, which began Oct. 1, 2016, is still at 105 percent for the combined Yampa and White river basin. However, the water stored in the standing snow at higher elevations has slipped to 93 percent.

    Much of that moisture fell in December and January, when the ski area saw back-to-back 100-inch snow months at 9,000 feet.

    @CWCB_DNR board approves lease with @UteWater for #ColoradoRiver endangered fish program — @AspenJournalism

    Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Summit Daily News:

    Anglers on the Fryingpan River can expect again this year to see as much as 300 cubic feet per second of water released from Ruedi Reservoir in late summer and early fall to bolster flows in 15 miles of the Colorado River near Grand Junction to benefit endangered fish populations.

    Water released from Ruedi flows down the Fryingpan to the Roaring Fork River and then into the Colorado River.

    The directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board at a regular meeting on March 23 approved a third annual lease with the Ute Water Conservancy District that allows for CWCB to release 12,000 acre-feet of water from Ruedi at a cost of $86,400, or $7.20 per acre-foot.

    Ute Water, which provides water to 80,000 people in the Grand Junction area, paid $15.6 million in 2013 to store 12,000 acre-feet of water in Ruedi each year. Ute Water considers its Ruedi water to be a backup supply, but since the water can also be used for environmental and “instream flow” purposes, it’s willing to lease it on a year-to-year basis to the CWCB.

    In turn, the CWCB works with officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the release of water as part of the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program, which is working to maintain populations of four species of large native fish: the Colorado pikeminnow, the razorback sucker, the bonytail and the humpback chub.

    For the third year in a row, state and federal water managers have pledged to release no more than 300 cfs of water from the Ute Water pool in Ruedi, and work to keep all flows in the Fryingpan under 350 cfs in order to preserve the wade-ability of the popular fly-fishing stream.

    Flows of about 220 cfs are considered ideal for fly-fishing clients by two local commercial guide services working on the Fryingpan, and flows of about 300 cfs in late 2015 brought complaints of high water to the CWCB from guides and their clients.

    But last year, anglers seem to have gone with the steady flow on the Fryingpan of just less than 300 cfs from mid-August to late September, as no formal complaints were lodged with the CWCB, according to Linda Bassi, chief of the agency’s stream and lake protection section.

    Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, said last year appeared to have gone OK on the river for wading clients.

    “The flow stayed where they said it would and I did not hear any complaints,” Lofaro said via email. “However, I think people do mind, especially if the level exceeds 300. The two fly shops in town would be quick to register concern. So far, it seems to be working.”

    Last year, a special meeting was held in the spring to discuss the pending releases of fish water from Ruedi. This year, after having contacted local stakeholders, the CWCB decided the issue could simply be discussed at the regular annual meeting on Ruedi operations held by the Bureau of Reclamation.

    As the endangered fish do better with more water in the river, a key part of the recovery effort is keeping flows in the 15-mile reach at least as high as 1,240 cfs in an average year and 810 cfs in a dry year, although the target flow levels are often not met.

    The 15-mile reach is depleted by two large irrigation diversions — the Grand Valley Project in DeBeque Canyon and the Grand Valley Irrigation Canal in Palisade. Last year during the critical months of August and September, they diverted at a steady rate of about 1,600 cfs, primarily to irrigate alfalfa, according to state records.

    That level of diversion leaves about 400 cfs in the Colorado River, but the “fish water” sent downstream brings the river back toward the 1,000 cfs level.

    In 2015, the first year of the lease with Ute Water, the CWCB and Fish and Wildlife released 9,000 acre feet from the total pool of 12,000 acre feet owned by Ute Water in Ruedi.

    In 2016, after approving a second one-year lease, the two agencies released all of the 12,000 acre feet, with half of it flowing down the river between Aug. 27 and Sept. 11 and half released between Sept. 25 and Oct. 14.

    Fish and Wildlife also has access to other pools of “fish water” in Ruedi, and all told in 2016 there were 27,413 acre feet of water released from Ruedi to the benefit of the endangered fish. But Ruedi is not the only source of water for the 15-mile reach.

    Green Mountain Reservoir, located in the northern end of Summit County on the Blue River, released 55,390 acre feet in 2016 for the 15-mile reach, according to Don Anderson, a hydrologist with the recovery program. Wolford Reservoir, north of Kremmling, released 5,766 acre feet for reach, while Granby Reservoir in Grand County released 5,413 acre feet and Williams Fork Reservoir, east of Kremmling, released 234 acre feet.

    In all, that’s 94,216 acre feet of water sent down the Colorado River to the 15-mile reach. By comparison, Ruedi holds 102,373 acre feet of water.

    The 94,000 acre feet of water sent to bolster flows in the 15-mile reach is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount taken out by the two largest diverters above the reach.

    In 2016, state diversion records show that about 1 million acre-feet of water were diverted by the Grand Valley Project and the Grand Valley Irrigation Canal, although a portion of that was diverted to make electricity and was immediately returned to the river.

    The big diverters on the river, which include the Grand Valley Irrigation Company, the Grand Valley Water Users Association and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, are, however, paying increasing attention to the 15-mile reach and do work cooperatively on a weekly conference call with officials at Fish and Wildlife and CWCB to manage flows.

    The irrigators also have been working to improve the efficiency of their irrigation systems and are more willing than in past years to approve late-season releases of “surplus” water held in Green Mountain Reservoir, according to Michelle Garrison, a water resources specialist at the CWCB.

    “So there is progress being made,” Garrison said.

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News on coverage of rivers and water in the upper Colorado River basin. More at AspenJournalism.org.