The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River, said it will release 9 million acre-feet (11 billion cubic meters) from Lake Powell, sending it down the Colorado to Lake Mead, where it will be tapped by Arizona, California and Nevada…
…the planned release is above the annual average of 8.7 million acre-feet (10.7 billion cubic meters), and it should be enough to delay a widely expected shortage in Lake Mead, said Marlon Duke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation.
A shortage would trigger cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada, the first states to be hit under the multistate agreements and rules governing the Colorado River. That had been expected as soon as next year.
“It’s pushed that shortage likelihood out into the future,” Duke said, but it’s too early to say how far.
Melting snow is expected to raise the level of Lake Powell by about 50 feet (15.24 meters) by mid-July, but after the 9 million acre-feet (11 billion cubic meters) is released, the reservoir will be about 35 feet (10.67 meters) higher on Oct. 1 than it is now, he said.
The two reservoirs are part of the Colorado River system, which supplies water to about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles (16,317 sq. kilometers) of farmland in seven states and 20 Indian reservations. Mexico is also entitled to a share under a treaty.
A prolonged drought and rising demand for water have overtaxed the river. Some researchers say global warming is also affecting water flows.
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House Bill 1289, which would extend a pilot program that streamlines the assessment of consumptive use and could ease the financial impact on water rights owner by simplifying the process, was heard by the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee Monday. It was laid over until next week while lawmakers consider the impacts of the program.
Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, said the program has proven to be a way to save money on the front end for water rights users in the Arkansas River Valley, where it was first implemented.
But this comes at a cost in the overall amount they can charge for their water rights, as the methods used generally err on the side of caution and underestimate the Historic Consumptive Use by 10-15 percent, Hansen said. “This is in a sense the horseshoes and hand grenades approach.”
In a short term transaction that is not always a drawback beause of the amount saved by not undergoing a full analysis…
Some Republican members of committee didn’t necessarily agree with that and expressed concerns that this would leave farmers losing out on the value of their rights.
They were concerned that it would place additional burden of proof on owners if they believed they didn’t receive a fair share because of the conservative nature of the analysis as opposed to buyers having to prove the engineering analysis was over valuing the rights…
Hansen disagreed, saying the bill doesn’t require the use of the program or say that it must be used by water court when deciding the value of rights.
John Stulp, water policy advisor for Gov. John Hickenlooper, agreed the program isn’t meant to be and end-all answer that would limit water right owners recourse in seeking adequate compensation for their resource…
The aim is to cut down on incidents of “buy and dry,” where a farmer sells his or her water rights to a municipality and loses the resource critical to cultivating the land.
Simplifying the process will make it easier for farmers to lease their water rights over a short term, rather than racking up vast sums of debt from engineering analysis and court costs arguing over the exact consumptive use of their rights.
While it is uncertain if there would be bipartisan support for the bill in the House, it is sponsored by Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, in the Senate.
This is a Colorado Foundation for Water Education webinar in partnership with the Colorado Water Congress. The webinar focuses on cyanotoxins and algal blooms – how they’re affected by nutrients and nonpoint source pollution, and how Coloradans in rural and urban areas alike are working to address these threats to our water quality and public health.
During this hour-long webinar, speakers explain the causes and challenges of coping with algal blooms and cyanotoxins; The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisories and criteria for cyanotoxins; the link between algal blooms and nutrients; Colorado’s Regulation 85; and nutrient management and outreach efforts in the state.
From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Charlottesville Daily Progress:
During a packed briefing in Albuquerque, the Bureau of Reclamation outlined its expectations for water supplies and management along the river system that flows through some of the state’s most populated areas.
The forecast is based on snowpack, soil moisture and climate predictions, but officials acknowledged it’s still a best-guess and that things can always change.
Bureau hydrologist Ed Kandl said temperatures are expected to be above average this summer across New Mexico and there are equal chances that precipitation will be average. Still, he said snowpack along the Colorado-New Mexico state line and the resulting runoff will bolster flows along the Rio Chama and Rio Grande.
“This year looks to be the best since 2008, which was the last good year,” he said.
At a monitoring site in Conejos County, Colorado, there’s as much snow as there has been since the station was established in the 1980s. Kandl said there’s still a lot of snow at the site.
However, the Sangre del Cristos near Santa Fe and other mountain ranges farther south have fallen below average thanks to hot, dry weather in March. A flash drought speeded up melting and dried out the soil in lower elevations.
In the Pecos River Basin, one of the key snowpack gauges has been below average all season.
Kandl pulled up a map of the western United States that detailed the results of the winter storm track over the Sierras and into northern Utah, where streamflow forecasts were 180 percent of average. From there, levels begin to drop off.
“It’s a very fine line between feast and famine,” he said, pointing to the sites in New Mexico that were below average. “A matter of 50 to 100 miles made all the difference in the world.”
Despite the positive streamflow predictions along the Rio Grande, nearly half of the state is classified as abnormally dry on the most recent federal drought map . Still, that’s a vast improvement over last year at this same time, when nearly every square mile of New Mexico was dealing with some level of dryness or drought.
The Colorado high country had well below average snowpack for the first two and half months of the snow season, and ski resorts were delaying their openings. The forecast for January called for a switch in the weather pattern. Colorado needed something big to get out of trouble.
“Through the end of January, it was a complete rescue and then some. It came back, and it came back with flying colors.” Domonkos said it was a record breaking dry spell, followed by a record breaking January, that brought the snowpack levels as high as 152% of average. Then a warm, dry March dropped the numbers back down to average, and drew the attention of some of the nation’s top snow scientists.
“We could potentially have a shift from high rates of melt to slower melt,” said Keith Musselman, a hydrologist with NCAR in Boulder.
Musselman and his team of hydrologists recently published research showing that early season snowmelt might not mean that runoff water just gets to reservoirs sooner, but rather it could get intercepted along the way. Musselman says warm, dry springs will likely slow the flow of that melt, leaving it more susceptible to evaporation and absorption by plants.
“It requires a certain amount of water to fill up cracks and divots and depressions before you have water connect, and then create the stream flow,” Musselman said.
With a booming population in Colorado and the western United States, it is becoming more and more important to know exactly how much water is in our snowpack, and when it will reach our reservoirs. It’s so important, in fact, that NASA is in the Colorado high country trying to find a better technique to measure it.
The SnowEx project in a multi-year project being conducted in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The goal is to combine current statistical methods with improved remote sensing and computer modeling to allow for better water planning. If successful, we could see soon have even more accurate snowpack measurements and runoff forecasts.
NRCS reported that Colorado’s reservoir storage was at 110% of average to start April, with an average snowpack still to melt off. Also, the majority of streams in Colorado are still anticipated to produce normal to above normal flows, with the exception of the Upper South Platte and streams in the Yampa and White River basins. Those streamflow projections are for current snowpack, and average spring precipitation.
The early season on the Arkansas River in Colorado will serve “adrenaline-junkie guests looking for high water, big waves and big holes,” said Andy Neinas, the owner of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, based in Colorado.
But big water may also serve those seeking rides on the milder side. Mr. Neinas likened snowmelt to a block of ice on a sidewalk on a hot day.
“The cube of ice will obviously melt quickly,” he explained. “That’s our spring high-water season. Because there is so much more water, the block of ice will take a much longer time to melt, and that illustrates our long season of family-friendly flows.”
In southwestern Colorado, Mild to Wild Rafting plans to run its first full season on the Dolores River since 2008. It includes a Class IV rapid known as Old Snaggletooth that rafters ages 11 and younger must walk around when the water is high.
Water levels in some popular areas for rafting, like the Grand Canyon, are based on controlled dam releases, which are more predictable. Even among those that rely on nature’s tap, above-average snowfall doesn’t ensure higher water in rafting season, which is generally May through August.
Brian Merrill, the chief executive of Western River Expeditions, based in Salt Lake City, said snowpack had fallen sharply with warm March temperatures. This may affect trips on a stretch of the Colorado River in Utah known as Cataract Canyon, which cuts through Canyonlands National Park.
Cañon City community members will meet again with Cotter Corp. on Thursday to hear about the former uranium mining company’s pilot groundwater cleanup project.
Cotter hopes the project will reduce uranium and molybdenum contaminates to safe levels, but so far, community members have had mixed feelings about the effectiveness of the program.
Doni Angell, a member of the Lincoln Park Community Advisory Group that hosts the meetings and frequently comments on Cotter projects, said the proposed project, known as the Organic Bioreactor Work Plan, will only create a more concentrated toxic environment…
The project proposes an organic method using wet hardwood mulch to remove contaminates from the groundwater, rather than synthetic chemicals that most uranium mills use. The mulch, Cotter believes, would remove oxygen from water flow areas, causing the uranium to separate from the water. Because the water is migrating down slope through the mulch, Cotter anticipates successful contamination reduction using the natural aquifer as opposed to a mechanically propelled system.
“This is the simpler solution based on our tests, and sometimes the simple solution is the better solution,” Cotter project manager Steve Cohen said, adding that capital costs for this type of project are much lower than synthetic chemical-based ones.
Community Advisory Group member Carol Dunn said she does not know enough about the details of the project to make an assessment.
She said her hope going into Thursday relies on the relationship the community has developed with Cotter – a unique aspect of the Cotter/Lincoln Park site in relation to other Superfund sites where the responsible party is usually no longer present…
The project is in the informal public comment period, which was extended by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from April 21 to May 7 last week after a request from the Community Advisory Group. The EPA and CDPHE – which oversees activities at the site because of its designation as a Superfund site in 1984 – are reviewing the details of the project and will provide comments following the May 7 comment deadline.
At that time, the agencies will also evaluate comments received from other agencies and the public, include the Community Advisory Group…
The original groundwater contamination in the Lincoln Park community was caused by the discharging of the uranium tailings into unlined tailing ponds. The ponds were closed in the early 1980s when the EPA listed the area as a Superfund site, and the waste was excavated and put into new lined ponds. The new ponds cut off most of the groundwater contamination, and, since then, the EPA has since declared the contaminated ground water status as “under control.”
The EPA is currently administering its 5-year review of the site to ensure that the site decision remedies are continuing to protect human health and the surrounding environment. The Community Advisory Group also has contributed to that project, providing the EPA with people to interview in the community about the impacts, or lack thereof, of the remaining contamination.
(The Community Advisory Group meeting will take place on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Abbots Room at the Abbey Events Complex, 2951 East U.S. Highway 50. The meeting is open to the public.)
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A split Garfield County Commission on Monday approved a zoning change needed for Ursa Resources to continue pursuing a controversial wastewater injection well proposal in the residential community of Battlement Mesa.
But while Commissioner Mike Samson was part of the 2-1 vote approving the change, he said he has a lot of questions when it comes to injection wells and will be seeking a better understanding of the proposal from Ursa when it comes back to ask the county for a special-use permit for the well. It will need to get that permit under the new zoning…
Ursa currently has county and state approvals for two well pads in Battlement Mesa, and has said that if it gets the injection well pad approval, that could help eliminate the need for another pad by the community’s golf course and cut its overall planned number of pads in Battlement Mesa from five to four.
But some activists and Battlement Mesa residents fear that groundwater and surface water contamination, induced earthquakes and other impacts could result from an injection well, jeopardizing nearby residents…
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky voted against the zoning change. He said he’s been a fairly strong supporter of oil and gas development in the county, and the county’s decision to let Ursa drill in Battlement Mesa reflected the fact that mineral rights are a property right…
He said while he’s relatively comfortable with injection wells, Ursa’s proposed well is something that residents have sought relief from, and that’s a request he feels he can honor.
Commissioner John Martin said he doesn’t like injection wells because he thinks water brought up from underground during oil and gas production should be able to be filtered and put to agricultural and other surface uses, but the industry is only allowed to recycle it for oil and gas uses. If leftover water is not disposed of in injection wells it is sent to evaporation ponds, a form of disposal that raises health concerns, he noted.
Both he and Samson reiterated that the commissioners’ vote Monday doesn’t authorize Ursa’s operation of an injection well, but just lets the company proceed with seeking the permit to do so.
But their vote frustrated some residents, including Betsy Leonard, who said afterward that Martin and particularly Samson showed “no backbone” on the issue…
Resident Carol Fallon said she thinks the injection well is just designed to save Ursa money by avoiding truck hauling costs…
Matt Honeycutt, Ursa’s operating superintendent, said he’s happy Ursa will get the chance to move forward and show why it believes its plan is a good one. He said he expects the company will apply for the special-use permit within the next month or so.
He also responded to an argument from some residents that Ursa should be recycling the produced water in its operations rather than disposing of it. He said it does use its produced water from wells in its hydraulic fracturing operations, but has to have a place to dispose of the water that wells continue to produce after the fracking is done.
Ursa’s injection well also would require approval by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It also has yet to receive county or state approval for the pad where the well would be located.