@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through May 29, 2017 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current summary. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Asphalt core dam design for Chimney Hollow

This graphic, provided by Northern Water, depicts Chimney Hollow Reservoir, located southwest of Loveland, after it is built.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

When Chimney Hollow Reservoir is built, the dam will be one of the first in the United States with an asphalt core — a method developed in Germany in the 1960s and used widely in other countries.

The reservoir, located southwest of Loveland, will have one large and one small dam, allowing it to hold 90,000 acre-feet of water for 13 providers, including the city of Loveland.

The large dam will stand 350 feet tall — the largest built in Colorado in nearly 50 years and the tallest ever in Larimer County — and will span about 3,000 feet, or about half a mile…

The traditional type of dam used in the United States, including others in Larimer County such as Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir, have an impermeable core of clay that is surrounded by rocks…

In the design of this project, engineers considered that option, but realized that there was not enough clay on site, so instead they chose an asphalt core, which is said to be safer and stronger, explained Joe Donnelly, assistant project manager with Northern Water.

An independent panel of experts reviewed the different options and agreed that was the best fit, noted Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water

Dams with asphalt cores are widespread in Europe, including in Norway, Austria and Germany, as well as in Canada, but there has not yet been one built in the United States.

A project in Arizona with an asphalt core dam is expected to start about the same time as Chimney Hollow, but because it is smaller (about half as tall), construction will not take as long, and it likely will be the first completed in the United States, Donnelly said.

Chimney Hollow’s two dams will become the second and third.

The largest dam at Chimney Hollow will be 1,000 feet wide at the bottom, tapering up to 30 feet wide at the top, Donnelly explained. The asphalt core, he said, will be 4 feet wide in the center of the dam.

Surrounding the core will be rock to provide the sturdiness and strength, 12 million cubic yards that will be mined on site from the land that, in about six years, will be covered with water.

#Runoff news: South Platte River running high

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Higher-than-usual snowpack in the Colorado high country and a relatively wet May have irrigation reservoirs filled to the brim and ditch companies running full blast. The conditions also illustrate the need for more water storage in the South Platte River basin.

The Colorado Division of Water Resources’ May report won’t be out for another day or so, but the April report already showed reservoirs nearly brimming. A month ago the North Sterling Reservoir was at 95 percent capacity and Prewitt was at 86 percent. Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District and Prewitt Reservoir, said Tuesday both reservoirs are full…

According to the SNOTEL report, the May 30 reading showed that the snowpack contained slightly more than 10 inches of water equivalent. The peak this year was in the first week in April with about 16 inches of water. The beginning of snowmelt season had brought that down to under 10 inches in early May before a late winter blast two weeks ago boosted the snowpack some.

While the news seems good for this year – rainfall in the upper basin areas, especially in the Denver metroplex, swelled the South Platte to a little more than 3,000 cubic feet per second, while snowmelt has maintained that level – it underscores the need for additional water storage in the basin.

Frank pointed out that the South Platte River Storage Survey is under way and researchers are looking for places to put more water when it’s available, as it is this year.

“Since 2009, almost every year, we would have been able to store some water,” Frank said.

But if the high-level solution is easy, the practical aspects make it a much more complicated issue. For one thing, although on-stream storage – that is a dam across the South Platte – isn’t out of the question, it’s probably not a near-term solution.

“If we could dam the river, we probably could store 300,000 acre feet of water a year in times like this,” Frank said. “But the permitting process, with the environmental impacts and the economic considerations, are much, much longer than off-stream storage.”

And the off-stream sites that could be gravity fed already have been or are being developed, he said. That leaves pumping water out of the river “uphill” to a basin for storage. And that, Frank said, opens up another set of questions.

“Right now you probably could pump 2,000 cubic feet per second out of the river, but how often would you use that size of a pump?” he asked. “Even if you just pumped 500 cubic feet per second, you could pump 1,000 acre feet a day. The North Sterling holds 75,000 acre feet, so it would take 75 days of pumping at that rate just to fill a reservoir the size of North Sterling. This water that’s going past us, it’s not going to last 75 days. We have maybe two or three weeks.”

What makes more sense, Frank said, would be a series of pumps filling a series of smaller basins. And there’s still the question of where to locate the reservoirs.

“It’s all about location, optimization, where the demand is … it gets really complicated,” he said.

The storage study is supposed to be completed in November and will look at a variety of storage methods and will suggest a handful of sites that could be developed.

@RepDLamborn’s help with @EPA Fountain Creek lawsuit not welcome by all

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

Pueblo County Commission Chairman Terry Hart said Lamborn has played no role in the years of negotiations between Colorado Springs and county officials over stormwater controls, adding: “He should stay the heck out of it.”

Lamborn, from Colorado Springs, told a Denver newspaper last week that he’s spoken to new EPA Director Scott Pruitt twice about dropping the agency’s 2016 lawsuit that claims the city isn’t adequately monitoring Fountain Creek for contaminated stormwater runoff…

Lamborn argues that recent agreements between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County calling for $460 million in stormwater improvements is proof the lawsuit is unnecessary.

Hart countered that Lamborn is ignoring the importance of the lawsuit in forging a better relationship between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and that city’s council.

Hart said Suthers’ support for spending $460 million over 20 years is a fragile commitment between Pueblo County and the current leadership in Colorado Springs.

“The threat of that lawsuit was critically important in our reaching an intergovernmental agreement with Colorado Springs,” Hart said Tuesday. “We joined that lawsuit to protect our interests and right now, Colorado Springs is doing a good job of honoring its commitment. But the lawsuit would nail down the agreement to withstand the political winds that blow back and forth.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also is a party to the lawsuit, as is Pueblo County.

State health officials confirmed Tuesday they joined the suit because of very real concerns that Colorado Springs continues to violate water quality standards.

“We believe that these significant violations need to be corrected in order to protect the state’s water quality,” the department said in a statement.

If Lamborn is hoping to use political clout to stop the lawsuit, Pueblo County officials are looking for help in the nation’s capital, too.

Hart said the county sent letters of concern in April to Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and the state’s two senators, Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner.

Hart said the issue then was urging continued congressional support for EPA enforcement.

WWA and NIDIS Webinar: Decision Making in the Face of #Drought by Western Range Livestock Producers

Click here for all the inside skinny. Click here to register.

Boxelder Basin Regional Stormwater Authority has a cash flow problem

Boxelder creek watershed

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

The Boxelder Basin Regional Stormwater Authority is seeking permission to make interest-only payments in 2017 on three loans it has from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, or CWCB.

The authority, which is made up of the city of Fort Collins, the town of Wellington and Larimer County, has a cash-flow problem.

It owes $588,728 by the end of the year to the John W. Day Family Partnership as the final payment on a $1.67 million settlement finalized in April that ended legal wrangling over a flood-control project the authority built east of Interstate 25 and south of County Road 52.

The authority doesn’t have the resources to pay the settlement and the principal on its CWCB loans this year, said Gerry Horak, president of the authority board and member of the Fort Collins City Council.

It will be able to make interest and principal payments in the years to come based on revenue projections, he said.

Putting to rest the dispute with the Day Family Partnership was critical for the authority, Horak said. The court fight could have gone on for years with no guarantee the authority would prevail.

“This was all about cost avoidance,” he said. “To not settle would have been insane.”

The authority wound up owning the 62-acre site that makes up its East Side Detention Facility, or ESDF. The project is designed to dramatically restrict flows on Boxelder Creek during a 100-year flood event, which is defined as having a 1 percent chance of occurring.

Changing the flows would remove numerous downstream properties from the creek’s 100-year floodplain and potentially open them up to development. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure also would be protected from damaging floods.

Sites downstream include the areas around the interchanges of I-25 with Mulberry Street and Prospect Road. The reduced floodplain also would benefit the town of Timnath and its plans for development, said Stan Myers, district manager of the stormwater authority.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is reviewing the modeled impact of the authority’s projects on flood flows and is expected to revise its map of the floodplain in 2018.

The balance on the CWCB loans, which helped fund construction of three authority projects, is $8.8 million. The authority has proposed paying $240,620 in interest and deferring $484,030 owed in principal.

The restructured loans would be paid off in 14 years as originally planned. With stormwater fees coming from new developments in the authority’s service area, the loans might be paid off earlier than scheduled, Myers said.

When the loans are paid, the authority will be dissolved. Boxelder members are negotiating how facilities built by the authority will be operated and maintained after it ends…

In addition to the ESDF, the authority made $5 million in improvements to and around Clark Reservoir north of Wellington. The project took hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses in Wellington out of the Coal Creek floodplain.

The authority also built a crossing structure of the Larimer-Weld Canal for Boxelder Creek that will be maintained by the ditch company.

The county is open to taking responsibility for Clark Reservoir and the ESDF, Blomstrom said. But details, such as setting up funds to cover ongoing maintenance costs, have yet to be negotiated among the authority’s members…

Properties in unincorporated Larimer County in the authority’s service area are charged annual stormwater fees based the type of property and the amount of impervious surface, such as parking lots and rooftops, it has.

In 2017, the fee on a residential property is $66, up from the $60 that was charged since the district began.

The authority has been controversial from its inception, with many residents saying it was not needed. But officials said with the history of flooding within the Boxelder Creek Basin, which stretches from southern Wyoming to the Poudre River, flood-control was needed to protect people and property.

Horak said the CWCB is willing to restructure its loans to Boxelder on the condition it receives legal assurance the governing board has the authority to change conditions of the loan.

Wellington officials aren’t sure about that, according to a letter sent to the CWCB by a Longmont law firm representing the town. The letter states modifying the loan agreement would result in $104,734 in additional interest.

The authority’s members – not its board – would have to approve the restructuring the loan, according to the letter from attorney Jeffrey Kahn.

Wellington officials did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

Myers said Wellington officials have expressed several concerns regarding what they see as escalating costs for the Boxelder authority and have sought a cap on how much the town would contribute.

With its spike in residential development, Wellington contributes about 40 percent of the authority’s annual $1 million budget.

The town has withheld its allotment for 2017 until its issues can be addressed, Horak said.

#Runoff news: Boating season mostly over for the Dolores River

Mcphee Reservoir

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

By midnight May 23, flows will ramp down to 600 cubic feet per second, hold for 24 hours, then drop to 400 cfs after midnight on May 24. From there the river will drop to 200 cfs, then 75 cfs by Sunday May 28.

“Spring runoff forecasts have steadily dropped with the drier-than-normal weather,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “It is time to fill the reservoir.”

Curtis said there is a chance that early hot June weather could bring down the remaining snowpack very quickly, which could force a mini whitewater spill of boatable flows for four to six days in June…

A solid winter snowpack allowed for the reservoir to fill for farmers and provide for 52 days of whitewater boating below the dam. In mid-May, 4,000 cfs of flushing flows were released for 72 hours to benefit river ecology, including sediment clearing and channel scouring, which improves native fish habitat. There were seven days of optimal flow releases of around 2,000 cfs.

A year-in-review meeting is being planned by reservoir managers, boaters, and environmental groups to evaluate the season.

Bass flush
A plan by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to flush out small-mouth bass opens up a slight window for kayakable flows later in the summer.

In mid July, biologists want to use part of their reserved fish pool in McPhee reservoir to release 400 cfs for 3-4 days and disrupt the bass spawn. The bass are a threat to the flannelmouth and bluehead suckers and roundtail chub, preying on their young and competing for food sources.

#Runoff news

Meadows were greening up in Colorado’s Egeria Park by early May [2017] even as snow held on in the Flat Tops. Photo/Allen Best

From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):

As of May 29, all eight major river basins across the state had a snow-water-equivalent well above 100 percent of normal, with the South Plate River basin running over 200 percent of normal.

It’s unclear if flooding will become a concern because it largely depends on how fast we warm up in the days ahead. A slow and gradual warm up during June would be ideal to minimize flood potential.

The forecast for flooding also depends on any future rain or snowfall.

In addition to the melting snow some rivers on the Eastern Plains remain high due to heavy runoff from recent rainfall.

#Colorado Front Range topography sets up ideal conditions for hail

Hail Wheat Ridge May 8, 2015. Photo credit TreeRootCO.

From The Denver Post (John Ingold):

Topography creates updrafts, keeping stones aloft longer

The largest hailstone ever recorded in America spent close to an hour aloft in a cloud growing to the size of a small volleyball, then plunged to earth at more than 100 mph, struck the ground in South Dakota weighing nearly 2 pounds, left a divot, was scooped up by a local rancher and placed in a freezer, melted a bit during a power outage, was packed in dry ice and driven cross country, and finally arrived at a lab in Boulder where Charles Knight, one of the nation’s premier authorities on hail, added it to a research collection that also included the two previous record-setting hailstones.

Even by Knight’s high standards, though, the golf ball-sized hail that hammered the western metro area earlier this month was something to behold.

“Large hail is pretty rare this close to the Front Range,” said Knight, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “It’s really pretty rare anywhere.”

But when the clouds twirl just right, Colorado’s unique geography and climate are capable of producing spectacular amounts of hail.

The state resides in what meteorologists call “Hail Alley,” a swath of land that also includes parts of Nebraska and Wyoming that is frequently bedeviled by hail. Areas of the Front Range and Eastern Plains can see 10 or more days of severe hail per year, on average. A study published last year by the National Insurance Crime Bureau ranked Colorado second nationally, behind Texas, for hail loss claims between 2013 and 2015.

And if it sometimes seems like hail is nature’s way of betraying you, there’s a reason.

The science of hailstone formation reveals that you have been told a lie your whole life: Water – really, really pure water – doesn’t necessarily freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It can, in fact, stay in liquid form at temperatures down to almost minus 40 degrees, a phenomenon that scientists call “supercooled water.”

It’s these tiny droplets of supercooled water, suspended in clouds towering as much as 9 miles above the ground, that start joining together to form hail. But first they need an instigator because supercooled water, Knight said, “doesn’t know how to start forming molecules into ice crystals.”

The instigator could be a fleck of dust that changes a droplet’s structure or a speck of water that freezes spontaneously at a colder elevation, said Andrew Heymsfield, a hail expert and colleague of Knight’s at NCAR. Either way, once there is an ice particle in the cloud – what scientists call a “hail embryo” – it exerts a kind of chemical peer pressure on other droplets, pulling them in, turning them into ice and gradually building up a hailstone…

The Front Range’s topography turns out to be a perfect petri dish in which to create hail.

Hailstones don’t form or grow very big without massive amounts of air billowing up from below. These updrafts keep the embryonic stone aloft long enough to gather up water into an ice ball, and the stronger the updraft, the bigger the stones can grow. Heymsfield said hailstones can spend a half hour forming in clouds, with the absolute largest in the strongest updrafts taking close to an hour.

Mountainous areas – such as Colorado’s Rockies – promote these updrafts by acting as elevated heat sources that pump warm air from the ground high up into the atmosphere. These storms might at first loom over Colorado but they also carry out onto the plains to the east, sucking in more moisture as they go.

Updrafts, though, only go so far in forming hail. The air needs to stay cold enough closer to the ground for the hail to actually fall as ice instead of melting on the way down.

This is why, Heymsfield said, some of the biggest hail comes from storms not in warm southern states like Florida that can produce huge thunderstorms but in comparatively cooler South Dakota and Nebraska. On May 8, the day the hailstorm struck the metro area, the temperature in Denver topped out in the 70s. The day the record hailstone fell – on July 23, 2010, near Vivian, South Dakota – the high temperature barely crested into the 80s, well below average for the date.

Fountain voluntary watering restrictions start June 1, 2017

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

Fountain leaders expect mandatory watering restrictions to be implemented later this summer, and they want residents to voluntarily begin conserving water Thursday.

The announcement comes as Fountain continues grappling with the presence of toxic chemicals in the Widefield aquifer – a key source of water for the community…

Fountain last pulled from the aquifer in October 2015 – a decision that dropped the city’s water capacity by about 20 percent. Since then, the city has relied more heavily on the Pueblo Reservoir and conserved water during hot summer months.

The chemicals, called perfluorinated compounds, have been used for decades in a firefighting foam at nearby Peterson Air Force Base, and for years were flushed into Colorado Springs’ sewer system and Fountain Creek. They have been linked to a host of ailments, including certain cancers, low birth weight and high cholesterol.

City officials have been working with Air Force officials to install granular-activated carbon filters on at least two wellheads. But that’s taken longer than expected, and multiple water district managers have lamented the Air Force’s response to the crisis.

Fountain’s first filter won’t likely be ready for use until July, and the second not until August, Mitchell said. As a result, the city may not be able to meet water usage demands on the hottest of summer days, Mitchell said.

City officials want residents to get in the habit of conserving water soon.

On Thursday, voluntary watering restrictions begin in the city and continue through Sept. 30…

Along with installing Air Force-supplied filters and asking residents to conserve water, city officials are upping their use of surface water from Pueblo and working with private contractors to design separate filters for other wellheads.

Mitchell also is working with Colorado Springs Utilities to create redundancies in its water system.

Stiffer penalties will accompany any mandatory watering restrictions implemented in Fountain. Residents will receive a warning for the first violation, a $50 fine for the second and a $100 fine for the third.

Security Water and Sanitation Districts also instituted voluntary watering restrictions.

The water district’s manager, Roy Heald, said he doesn’t expect to use the Widefield aquifer this year, because Security is paying a premium to Colorado Springs Utilities for more water from the Pueblo Reservoir.

RIGHT’s May ENews is hot off the presses

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

Click here to read the newsletter from the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust. Here’s an excerpt:

Monte Vista Middle School’s Seventh Graders at La Garita Creek Ranch for Conservation Day!
The entire seventh grade of Monte Vista Middle School participated in Conservation Day at the soon-to-be conserved La Garita Creek Ranch in Saguache County a couple of weeks ago. Students had the opportunity to learn about atlatls, water flows, archaeology, bugs and fish, the importance of conservation, and so much more! Check out our Facebook page for more photos of this fun day.

38th Annual Martz Summer Conference, June 8-9, 2017 #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Click here for all the inside skinny about the event.

The Navajo Nation is negotiating for water rights and access to Navajo Generating station facilities

From The Arizona Republic (Ryan Randazzo):

The Navajo Nation will earn $110 million in lease payments over 35 years if the deal is approved, as the owners will be required to monitor the land after the facilities are removed. But the deal includes other financial benefits for the tribe.

The Navajo Nation has identified several pieces of the operation it wants to keep when the plant closes, according to the legislation. They include the railroad between the plant and coal mine, valued at $120 million; the lake pump facility and electrical switch yard, valued at $41 million; and access to major transmission lines leading from the plant, which SRP values at about $80 million.

The access to the power lines would allow for solar or wind projects on the reservation to get their power to market.

The tribe hopes to negotiate with the state to acquire 50,000 acre-feet of water from the lake annually once the power plant no longer uses that allotment.

If the Navajo Nation Council approves the deal by July 1, any amendments the tribe makes will have to be considered and approved by the plant owners.

River management in the anthropocene — @JFleck

Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

“A lively debate, provocatively labeled ‘conservation in the Anthropocene,’,” my University of New Mexico colleague Ben Jones and collaborators wrote last year, “has been taking place over what conservation, and related notions of naturalness and preservation, means where large natural systems are increasingly inter-connected or coupled to human systems.” In particular, Jones et al. were interested in the Colorado River and Glen Canyon Dam, and the proper incorporation of the range of communities and values that must be incorporated in decision making regarding the dam and its relationship to the larger “coupled human and natural system.”


When I was deep into work on my book, a friend over beer was quizzing me about where I in was in the project, what I was writing about. The friend, a law professor, was doing what law professors do I guess, that sort of Socratic questioning that ultimately led me to the realization that while I said I was writing a book about the Colorado River, what I was really writing was a book about what happens with the water once we take it out of the Colorado River. It was a striking realization, with which I ultimately made peace, and it was an important insight both for the book and for how I think about the river and my work going forward.

Biello’s NYT piece, a review of David Owens Where the Water Goes, goes full Anthropocene on this point:

The people of the Western states, in collusion with the federal government, have opted for irrigation, power and sprawling cities in the desert like Los Angeles and Phoenix. The glass of Colorado River water is either half-full or half-empty, depending on whether you think water woes bring out the cooperative side of people, or the litigious. As Owen discovers on his journey, both are true — lawyers and legislators make a good living adjudicating claims, but owners of water rights also often work it out among themselves without drying anybody out. This is a system that muddles through on a blend of threats and collaboration, with the underlying understanding that everybody must win or everyone will lose, as the longtime water reporter John Fleck explores in his illuminating recent book “Water Is for Fighting Over.” It remains to be seen what the likely shortfall of rain and snow brought by global warming will do to this already fraught series of arrangements.

The river here is defined now by our decisions to take water out of it, and by the “fraught series of arrangements” with which we try to manage the problems that are upon us now that the Colorado seems to be running short. It is simply impossible to think of the Colorado absent those fraught arrangements and the implications for the “irrigation, power and sprawling cities in the desert like Los Angeles and Phoenix”. It is in fact a coupled human and natural system, deeply coupled.

#Runoff arrived about a month early this year — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Peak runoff has come and gone in many places of the West, weeks if not a full month earlier than the long-term average. It comports with a trend.

In northwest Colorado, the snowpack in the Yampa River drainage around Steamboat Springs, typically peaks on about April 10. This year, reports the Steamboat Today, the snowpack peaked March 12.

In Idaho’s Wood River Valley, the winter’s snows melted in a hurry in early May. The flood in Ketchum, at the base of the Sun Valley ski lifts, was regarded as the largest in 101 years of recorded history.

What was notable, says the Idaho Mountain Express, is both the volume of water and the runoff in early May.

Oregon State University climate scientists John Stevenson told the Express that it’s “really difficult to judge any one year” to be a result of rising global temperatures.

“That’s one of the challenges we run into in the science world where people say, ‘Oh, it’s climate change.’ We’re not at the point where we can take any one random event and say it’s climate change.”

That said, his 2015 study concluded that the point each spring when half of the water year’s streamflow had run off was occurring an average 1.9 days earlier per decades.

But more extreme events are happening with greater frequency, said Mark Davidson, director of conservation initiatives with The Nature Conservancy. He pointed out that the Big Wood River has had two 100-year floods in the last 15 yeas.

What caused the early-May flooding in the Sun Valley area? Hot temperatures, 6 to 13 degrees warmer than the normal average temperatures during the early days of May as compared to the last several decades.

In Colorado, Aspen officials continue to discuss how to make the city more resilient in the face of long-term climate change. Decades ago, the city filed for water rights on two creeks, including the potential for building dams. That’s not popular in Aspen, and so the city commissioned a study about whether the old mines in Aspen and Smuggler mountains could be used to store water in lieu of dams.

The $15,000 answer: yes, it can be done, but it would be costly and without precedent in Colorado. The better option seems to be aquifer recharge, to be tapped in time of drought. But it also comes with some risks.

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

It’s all about the Harriman, baby – News on TAP

At 144 years old, Harriman Reservoir is older than the state of Colorado — and it’s still going strong.

Source: It’s all about the Harriman, baby – News on TAP

National Dare Day is June 1 and we triple-dog dare you – News on TAP

Step outside of your comfort zone with these 9 water related dares.

Source: National Dare Day is June 1 and we triple-dog dare you – News on TAP

#Drought ebbs across most of the US, lowest level in two decades

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view the September 25, 2012 US Drought Monitor to the one from May 23, 2017.

From Climate Central (Andrea Thompson):

After years of intense, record-setting drought across the U.S., particularly in the Great Plains and California, the country is now experiencing its lowest level of drought in the 17 years since the U.S. Drought Monitor began its weekly updates.

Less than 5 percent of the U.S. was in some stage of drought as of May 4, the most recent update, compared to the 65 percent mired in drought in September 2012.

“I have been an author of the U.S. Drought Monitor since 2005 and we have had very few instances where there was so little drought, and to see the changes we have in the last year, especially out West, it does astonish me,” Brian Fuchs, of the U.S. Drought Mitigation Center, said in an email.

The last time drought levels across the country were this low was in July 2010, when 8 percent of the U.S. was in drought — then came a remarkable period of deep, damaging drought that led to billions in crop and livestock losses, spurred major water restrictions, and helped fuel terrible wildfires.

The ups and downs in drought could be linked to some of Earth’s natural climate cycles that can usher in relatively wet and dry periods. But climate change is likely to play a role — and probably already has — as higher temperatures lead to increased evaporation and therefore worse drought conditions.

The epicenters of drought were in the central and southern Plains states from 2011 to 2013 and California from 2012 to this winter. At the peak of its drought, more than half of California was experiencing “exceptional” drought conditions, the highest category. At the end of September 2011, more than 85 percent of Texas was in this category.

Both droughts were fueled by a combination of dry weather and repeated, sizzling heat waves. The exceptional heat that blanketed much of the central and eastern portions of the country in 2012 boosted it to the hottest year on record for the U.S., while California experienced back-to-back record-hot years during its drought.

That heat is probably the clearest link between climate change and droughts, as rising global temperatures fueled by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere tilt the odds in favor of record heat and away from record cold.

Studies have pointed to the role of climate change-fueled heat in California’s drought, and droughts in the future, no matter where they happen in the U.S., are likely to be more intense than those of today because temperatures will be higher on average.

Less clear, though, is how climate change might impact the atmospheric patterns that can lead to prolonged dry periods. During California’s drought, a persistent area of high pressure kept storms from bringing rains and snow to the parched state. While research has suggested this has been happening more often, it’s unclear if the reason is linked to global warming.

Perhaps the clearest regional signals of climate change increasing drought are in the already arid Southwest, where droughts are expected to happen more often, last longer and be more intense than in the past. There is also some suggestion of more consecutive dry days for the Southern Plains, which could make it easier for that region to tip into drought.

And for the West Coast — which depends on its winter snowpack to provide meltwater that keeps reservoirs topped up through the dry summer months —warming could mean more water falls as rain instead of snow, throwing a wrench in the current water storage systems and making dry summer conditions more likely.

The warming climate will also interact with Earth’s natural climate cycles, such as the El Niño-La Niña seesaw that can lead to wetter or drier conditions in parts of the country, as well as longer-lasting cycles like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.

It is a recent switch in the phases of these two cycles that may have tipped the country from deep drought to normal conditions, said Victor Murphy, climate services program manager for the National Weather Service’s Southern Region. Studies have shown, he said, that certain phases of these cycles are connected to larger drought footprints in the U.S. and the opposite phases to less drought.

For the time being, overall drought levels in the U.S. are likely to hover around the current level, Fuchs said. Some areas, such as Florida, are likely to come out of drought as the summer wet season kicks in. Others, such as Georgia and parts of Texas, may see drought develop or deepen in the coming weeks.

Report: State of the Poudre — @fortcollinsgov

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

Executive Summary
The purpose of this first State of the Poudre River (SOPR) is to provide a description of the current health of the Cache la Poudre River (Poudre) from approximately Gateway Natural Area to I-25. The Poudre is a complex natural system that has been altered by nearly two centuries of human influence. This has resulted in dramatic changes to the physical structure of the river, water quantity and quality, floodplain, forests, and wildlife communities. The human footprint continues to expand, placing additional pressure (or stresses) on the river ecosystem and the natural processes that sustain it. This river health assessment provides the City of Fort Collins with a new tool to track trends and benchmark progress towards its vision of sustaining a healthy and resilient Cache la Poudre River.

While the Poudre flows 126 miles from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte near Greeley this study focuses on a 24-mile reach from the lower canyon through Fort Collins. The study area was divided into four zones (Canyon, Rural, Urban, and Plains) and further into 18 study reaches based on natural changes on the landscape and human influences.

Overall Grade: For the 24-mile study area the Poudre River received an overall grade of C. This grade indicates the even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem.

The framework for this baseline assessment includes nine indicators of river health which are informed by 25 indicator-specific metrics. Collectively these provide a thorough evaluation of how well the system is functioning. Metrics grades are developed by collecting and incorporating many types of data, which were then translated into an A-F grading system. Indicator and metric numerical scores and their corresponding letter grades were calibrated to categorical definitions relating to degree of functionality or impairment.

Recommended ranges developed for each metric (as established in the River Health Assessment Framework, City of Fort Collins, 2015) and were developed based on the City’s concept of working towards a functioning river ecosystem. The recommended ranges consider the contemporary real- world context and reasonable expectations for future change and the potential for improvement. They should, however, be used as a guide and aspiration rather than a directive. Also, when interpreting results for a comprehensive scientific assessment such as this, it is important to consider that uncertainty and variability exists across scientific disciplines, data sources, and river reaches. The methods and grading guidelines provide an explicit description of the analytical approaches used and can help the reader understand this variability.

This report is structured to allow the reader to understand the project approach (Sections 1 and 2) followed by identification of potential influences, or stressors, on river health in Section 3. The health assessment scores (Section 4) reveal the ramifications these anthropogenic stressors are having on ecosystem condition. Results indicate there is considerable variability across aspects of river health as scores vary widely (from A to F) at smallest unit of measurement (metrics scores by reach). In Section 5, the focus shifts to an overview of river health, describing the link between stressors and degree and type of impairment for each of the four zones. Poudre River health indicator grades for each zone are compared to the ranges recommended in the City’s Poudre River Health Assessment Framework (2015)—to highlight areas where there is the greatest gap between the City’s goals for the river and today’s conditions. This section also includes an analysis of the causes of impairment and explores which problems are tractable to practical solutions. Section 6 looks toward the potential future applications and improvements for the project.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

In their first-ever health assessment of a 24-mile stretch of the Poudre River, a group of Fort Collins water experts awarded the river an overall grade of a C.

In other words, the river is functional, the assessment’s authors said. But it could, and should, be better.

City officials aspire to a B grade for the river, which would mean the assessed stretch is considered “highly functional.”

The report was put together by a group of ecologists and resource managers from the city’s natural areas and utilities departments, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and several consulting firms. The goal was to develop a tool city officials can use to benchmark progress toward a healthier river.

The study focused on the Poudre from the lower canyon near Gateway Natural Area to Interstate 25 and used an A-F grading system. The spotlight was on six key indicators of river health:

  • Flows, the primary driver of river health
  • Sediment, a natural component of rivers that can be harmful if amounts are too much or too little
  • River channel, including shape, width and depth
  • Water quality
  • Aquatic life
  • Riparian corridor, including riverside forests, wetlands and grasslands
  • The overall grade of C “indicates that even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system-wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem,” the report states.

    The river’s lower canyon zone fared better than the urban, rural and plains zones, scoring an overall B-minus with high marks for riparian corridor health, water nutrients and land and channel erosion. The canyon zone scored poorly on habitat connectivity and water temperatures, the latter because warming water temperatures represent risks for aquatic life.

    The river’s urban zone earned a C grade with high marks for water nutrients, trout population and land erosion. The urban zone failed in riparian corridor health, habitat connectivity and river flows.

    Overall, river flows were an issue for most of the 24-mile stretch.

    “The Poudre is characterized by major changes in flow volumes and timing,” the report states. “Reductions have significantly altered peak and base flows, the effects (of) which are exacerbated the further one travels downstream. Diversions also cause unnatural fluctuations in flow volume, which likely affects critical habitat and reproductive needs of fish and insects in the river.”

    Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic Tournament targets smallmouth bass and northern pike

    Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

    From WesternSlopeNow.com (Rebecca Hykin):

    The four native fish involved with the program are the Colorado Pikeminnow, Bonytail, Humpback Chub, and Razorback Sucker. As these unique fish are found only in this part of the world, the Colorado River Basin, the decline is due to the loss in habitat and several non-native fish species preying on them, including Small Mouth Bass, Northern Pike, and Walleye.

    “The fish that we’re trying to remove compete for resources with the native fish as well as they are predatorial fish and they’ll eat the native fish as well,” said Tory Eyre, Aquatic Biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

    These non-native fish are coming into these native fish habitats from reservoirs overflowing and from a way that is a bit more unorthodox.

    “People are moving live fish from one body of water to another and that is illegal on the West Slope of Colorado, and when we have folks that are doing that, it results in a lot of our time and dollars to try to eradicate those species from areas in places that we don’t want them to be,” said Lori Martin, Senior Aquatic Biologist with CPW.

    Eyre explained the various instinctive recover efforts helping to save these native fish, “we propagate fish so we raise fish in hatcheries and stock them. We alter habitat [and] try to alter flows. Then our involvement is with the non-native removal.”

    Eyre added, “We placed gill nets in the backwaters that are a certain mesh size that targets the Northern Pike and we try to catch them in while they are entering the backwater to spawn.”

    CPW has also worked with other program partners to install spillway screens in reservoirs at Elkhead and Highline Lake State Parks to prevent non-native fish from escaping into the Yampa and Colorado Rivers.

    “It allows us to stock warm water fish that are okay with the recovery program into Highline Lake and the purpose of it is to keep those fish in the lake and not allow them to get in the Colorado River,” said Alan Martinez, Park Manager for Highline Lake State Park.

    However, those with the initiative have been running into a small issue as the recovery program is controversial for some people. Eyre explained, “Small Mouth Bass and Northern Pike are sport fish…people like to catch them.”

    As this is upsetting to some anglers, CPW has been working with the program’s agencies, and with anglers, to address their frustrations.

    “We’re trying to provide opportunities for anglers for similar species in waters or areas where there is no interaction with native fish,” said Martin.

    To encourage involvement by the angling public, CPW is sponsoring the Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic Tournament from June 24-July 2 in Craig.

    “The aim is to have anglers help us remove small mouth bass and northern pike so we that can better provide a compatible sport fishery that’s in line with endangered fish recovery efforts downstream,” said Martin.

    With all of the efforts in helping to reduce the non-native fish to increase the native fish populations, CPW officials say some improvements with some species have already been made in some locations along the Western Slope.

    “This is kind of our one chance to recovery these species. They’re not found anywhere else, so if they’re gone, then they’re gone, and they’re gone forever,” said Eyre.

    Elkhead Reservoir

    Will the @EPA reconsider the Fountain Creek lawsuit?…@RepDLamborn pow wows with @EPAScottPruitt

    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

    From the Associated Press via the The Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    The Denver Post reports that Lamborn has spoken twice with EPA chief Scott Pruitt about the suit, which was filed in 2016 by the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    Pueblo County joined the suit this year.

    Colorado Springs insists it is investing $460 million with other municipalities over the next two decades to address the problem…

    The EPA declined to comment.

    [Stormwater] in Colorado Springs flows into Fountain Creek and south to Pueblo, where it joins the Arkansas River. The Arkansas is heavily used by agriculture in southeast Colorado.

    The EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment filed suit in 2016, alleging water quality violations.

    Lamborn said he’d like to get the Colorado state agency to abandon the suit. But Dr. Larry Wolk, the department’s executive director and chief medical officer, said the agency believes “these significant violations need to be corrected in order to protect the state’s water quality.”

    “It’s not just the EPA, but it’s also the state of Colorado that filed the lawsuit,” said Jane Ard-Smith, chair of the Sierra Club’s Pikes Peak chapter. “The EPA doesn’t go around suing willy-nilly. We’ve seen a history of [stormwater] violations, so I would hope that the congressman would see the value of enforcing clean water laws.”

    R.I.P. Gregg Allman

    Gregg Allman, San Francisco, 1973. Photo credit Neal Preston.

    From USA Today via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    Rock musician Gregg Allman – whose work with the Allman Brothers Band set the stage for Southern rock, jam bands and influenced several generations of players – has died at age 69.

    A statement on Allman’s official website says the musician “passed away peacefully” at his home in Savannah, Georgia.

    Mr. Allman’s work and life is entwined with his brother Duane, with whom he founded the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. Two years later, Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident, but the band soldiered on, and reached new peaks with the 1973 album “Brothers and Sisters,” which featured signature songs “Ramblin’ Man” and the instrumental “Jessica.”

    Still, the band found their greatest success as a live act, performing for massive crowds in the 1970s and – like the Grateful Dead – influencing a future wave of concert-focused “jam bands.”

    Throughout their five-decade run – which included a few brief hiatuses – Mr. Allman was a constant presence, and his Hammond organ and soulful lead vocals defined their sound as much as his late brother’s limber guitar lines once did.

    Lawmakers lament they “don’t have more influence” moving state water plan forward — @COindependent

    James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

    From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

    Two sessions have passed since Gov. John Hickenlooper rolled out Colorado’s first statewide water plan, yet lawmakers have made little progress toward the plan’s main goal – averting a massive state water shortfall in 2050.

    The single biggest achievement in water policy these past two sessions is a feel-good law allowing Coloradans to use rain barrels to collect rain and snowmelt to water their gardens. Although the barrels carry some symbolic importance in a state whose water supplies aren’t keeping up with needs, the amount of water they collect toward solving Colorado’s water woes is the statistical equivalent of a drop in the bucket.

    Lawmakers’ broader inaction underscores the limits of their authority on water policy and of their ability to put in place meaningful efforts – or at least a priority list for those efforts – to stave off a water crisis. Although the legislature has allocated $15 million to implement the water plan, some members complain their involvement is limited mainly to “writing the check,” without input into how, specifically, money might be spent other than on writing more water reports and holding more water meetings. Several admit they have no idea where the plan’s priorities lie or how, specifically, Hickenlooper expects it will be put into action.

    Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican and farmer from Sterling and one of the General Assembly’s leading agriculture and water advocates, complains that lawmakers “do not have enough influence on the direction of the water plan.”

    Rep. Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins, a Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock and Energy Committee, has run a half-dozen bills that specifically address water plan issues, some successfully, some not. She points out that a published guide on moving forward, put out by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), said that most goals of the water plan would be accomplished by the executive branch, with a limited role for the General Assembly.

    “That’s what they think,” she laughed.

    The Colorado Water Plan was initiated with much fanfare by Hickenlooper in May 2013 and finalized in November 2015. It seeks to address an alarming problem: Projections that, by 2050, the state will face a water shortfall of at least one million acre-feet per year.

    An acre-foot of water is about 326,000 gallons of water. If not addressed, the one million acre-foot supply-demand gap would cut across all water uses in the state: affecting at least two million residents as well as recreational, environmental, industrial and agricultural water uses.

    The swelling water deficit is born of several factors. One is growth and projections that the state’s population will jump from about 5.4 million residents this year to as many as 10.3 million by 2050.

    Another factor is climate change. A 2014 report commissioned by the CWCB points out that average annual temperatures in Colorado have risen by 2 degrees between 1977 and 2006. A hotter climate increases the potential for drought in southern Colorado, and could also reduce the annual spring runoff from the mountain snowpack, which affects all of Colorado as well as some of the downstream states both east and west that rely on water that originates here.

    An increasing reliance on water by Colorado’s oil and gas industry also factors in, as do demands by conservationists and recreational users to stop bleeding our rivers dry.

    But the biggest factor in terms of actual water use is that farming and ranching interests, which use 80 percent of the state’s water, are motivated under the state’s “use it or lose it” water laws to continue antiquated and even wasteful water practices out of fear of losing their senior water rights.

    The water plan identifies the size of the projected water shortage – drawn from a 2010 study that is being updated – but doesn’t offer a roadmap for addressing it, other than stating how much water the state needs to save through storage and conservation projects to meet its 2050 needs. It doesn’t spell out just who’s responsible for those savings: the executive branch, the legislature, or public-private partnerships.

    Hickenlooper’s administration has passed responsibility for charting the specific courses mainly to nine local, grassroots groups, known as basin roundtables, that include officials from water utilities and representatives of agricultural, industrial, recreational and environmental groups. The nine roundtable groups are centered around the state’s eight major waterways plus the Denver metro area. Each assessed how much water they would be short in the coming decades, broken down by recreation, environmental, agricultural and municipal needs.

    The roundtables – with the South Platte River and metro Denver groups working jointly – each came up with plans that outline what they will do to meet the projected water shortages in their areas. Their wishlists for local water projects form the bulk of specifics within the 540-page statewide plan. But there is no greater design, no set of master priorities on which spending decisions can be based.

    That leaves lawmakers scratching their heads when it comes to water policy and budgeting.

    The legislature’s efforts on water fall to a joint interim committee, known as the Water Resources Review Committee, that meets every summer. The bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers – including the chairs of the Senate and House agriculture committees – starts its annual review of state water issues each August. Members then sponsor water-related legislation either as a committee or on their own.

    In the past two years, water committee members have sponsored most of the 35 water-related bills proposed at the Statehouse. Of those, the vast majority deal with managing the state’s Byzantine laws on water rights. Roughly 15 were to varying degrees intended to address some of the nebulous goals laid out in Hickenlooper’s water plan.

    Related: Path forward is murky in Hickenlooper’s final water plan

    By far the most noteworthy among those 15 were the 2016 and 2017 annual water projects bills, which were written by CWCB staff and earmarked state funding for a variety of water projects. The 2016 bill put up $5 million to implement the water plan, but didn’t specify how that money would be spent. That line item became a bone of contention for some lawmakers, especially those on the Joint Budget Committee who tend to take a dim view of spending money without specifics on where it’s going.

    The 2017 projects bill set aside another $10 million for implementing the state water plan, plus another $10 million more to the basin roundtables to pay for local water projects. The 2017 projects outlined how the $5 million from 2016 would be spent. That money will go to the CWCB for statewide projects, such as improved water supply forecasting, a grant program on agricultural water transfers, statewide training to water providers on water loss, and grants to water agencies that are developing http://cwcb.state.co.us/legal/Documents/Policies/17FeasibilityStudySmallGrants.pdf for future water storage projects.

    The $10 million in 2017 for implementing the plan includes $1 million to update a 2010 study that provided the initial projections for the state’s projected water deficit – estimated in 2010 to reach about one million acre-feet per year by 2050. That estimate is now considered low, and could possibly be as much as two million acre-feet annually.

    Another $2 million will pay for water projects that serve multiple purposes (such as recreation and environmental needs). Another $1 million will develop long-term strategies on conservation, land use and drought planning. Another $3 million will help facilitate the development of water storage systems. Some $1 million will pay for water education, $1 million for “technical assistance for agricultural projects” and $1 million for watershed health (more about that later).

    The $10 million for the CWCB’s 2017 costs for implementing the water plan and the $10 million for the regional roundtable groups will come from severance tax revenues that will be transferred into the CWCB’s construction fund. The rest comes from that construction fund, a revolving loan account that dates back to 1971 and makes low-interest loans for water projects throughout the state. Its revenues come from interest earned on outstanding loans, the fund’s cash balance, and federal mineral lease revenues.

    The 2017 projects bill, which Hickenlooper signed into law on Tuesday, puts $10 million from the CWCB’s construction fund into a new loan guarantee fund that would help with regional water projects in which multiple water utilities are involved.

    Another $5 million will pay for a watershed restoration program. Watersheds are areas of land from which rain or snowmelt route toward a common waterway, including the surface water from streams, rivers and reservoirs as well as groundwater found in underground aquifers. The water plan says healthy watersheds are crucial for environmental needs such as improving fish and wildlife habitats or reducing the impact of soil erosion, and for recreational purposes such as rafting and angling. Colorado’s watersheds match up with the nine river basins, and then are further subdivided by local waterways in each of those basins. The $5 million for watersheds is intended to advance the water plan’s goal to improve the health of 80 percent of those watersheds by 2030.

    In addition to the annual projects bills in 2016 and 2017, lawmakers have over the past two sessions sought measures to do the following:

    Improve forest health. A 2015 report by Colorado State University says healthy forests are key to providing clean water. But when the health of those forests decline, through wildfires or disease, for example, the quality of water flowing through them and on to waterways also declines. “Forests are our largest reservoir,” says Republican Sen. Don Coram of Montrose, sponsor of a 2016 bill that directs the Colorado State Forest Service and CWCB to document the nexus between the state water plan and forest management as a way of protecting the state’s water resources. That report is due July 1.

    Study possibilities to store water from the South Platte River: The General Assembly commissioned a report in 2016, and it’s due to lawmakers this December. Without waiting for that report, the water committee this year sponsored a bill to increase the capacity of reservoirs along the South Platte through dredging. The stand-alone bill sought $5 million in funding, but, in the end, the 2017 projects bill set aside $3 million for storage, including dredging the South Platte’s reservoirs.

    Help streamline state permitting for water projects. Water storage projects take years, even decades, from start to finish, and much of that is tied up in regulations. Sonnenberg says that at the state level a storage project gets caught in a circular trap. First, a proposed project goes to the state Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which has authority on water quality issues. Then it heads to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for review on mitigating wildlife issues. After that, it heads back to CDPHE, but by then much has changed.

    Lawmakers tried to set up a “one-stop shop” for water projects permits a couple of years ago. That didn’t work, so in 2016 they found a backdoor way to address the problem by telling the governor to hire someone to do it. Hickenlooper quickly put into place his water czar, former Ag Commissioner John Stulp. Under the law, the director of water project permitting coordination (yes, that’s the title) should work to speed up permitting for water projects financed by the CWCB’s construction fund or those required to obtain water quality certification from the CDPHE. Yet Stump said that so far, there hasn’t been a great need for his assistance in moving the permit process along. The water project closest to completion, the Windy Gap Firming Project southwest of Loveland, got its final federal approval earlier this month and is expected to begin construction of a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir known as Chimney Hollow in 2019. The projects bill includes a $90 million loan to the Northern Water Conservancy District for construction of Chimney Hollow.

    There are two other storage projects in the pipeline, and the permitting assistance is available as needed, Stulp said.

    Among the other water plan-related bills in 2016 and 2017:

    • Successful legislation to continue a pilot program that would allow farmers and ranchers to temporarily lease their water rights to municipal water utilities.
    Bills to require local governments to incorporate water conservation goals, including those found in the state water plan, into local community master plans, particularly when new development is being considered. Those bills failed two years in a row at the balking of local governments who don’t want to be told what to do.

    Sonnenberg, the water committee chair, looks toward hearings in August with an eye on building more water storage. He lives just a few miles away from the South Platte River whose water flows east to Nebraska for free. As many farmers and ranchers see it, dams and reservoirs need to be built to capture that water and save it for future use within Colorado.

    Most municipal water districts and industrial users agree on the need for more storage. But conservationists and recreational water interests oppose that view, saying and flows need to stay in rivers – regardless of state lines – to keep them and their habitats healthy.

    Sonnenberg has been particularly critical of CWCB and Hickenlooper’s administration for not taking a clear position on water storage and how it should figure in the water plan. He also criticizes CWCB for not welcoming lawmakers’ input on the water plan in general.

    “We had to run a bill just to get the CWCB to listen to us” about the water plan, Sonnenberg grumbled.

    That 2014 law reiterated that the General Assembly is responsible for water policy and that the CWCB has authority to implement that policy. The law also sent the water committee around the state in the summer and fall of 2014 to gather input from citizens on what the water plan should look like. The committee then sent that input to the CWCB for consideration in the water plan, as well as its own recommendations strongly urging a clearly defined set of priorities and specific steps the state needs to take to meet its water needs mid-century.

    From lawmakers’ perspectives, the final version of the plan doesn’t reflect their input.

    Disappointed with the plan’s progress, Sonnenberg says, “The CWCB has not had conversations with the legislature other than to (say) ‘pass our projects bill, sit down and shut up.’ That communication has to change.”

    Fellow committee member Sen. Matt Jones, a Louisville Democrat, is similarly concerned about efficacy of the plan, but for different reasons. His water worries are about conservation and river health – issues for which he says the plan lacks “a cohesive recommendation.” Progress on those issues has been very slow, he said, and certainly not fast enough to compete with increasing strains on the state’s water supply caused by population growth.

    Jones has pushed a bill for the last two years that would require developers to submit plans for water conservation in their proposed developments. Despite bipartisan sponsorship and even without opposition from homebuilders, the measure twice has failed to make it out of the Senate.

    He is especially frustrated that Colorado’s legislature hasn’t pushed the conservation side of the water plan. He notes that the state hasn’t updated its conservation statutes since 1991.

    The water plan “is very aggressive on conservation planning, and the legislature should meet that need by pushing even harder to make it happen,” Jones said. Without such a push, conservationists say, the plan remains more of a statement of values than a call for action.
    “The targets are there, and it has a lot of aspirational goals, but it’s not a defined implementation plan” that specifically says what needs to be done and who’s responsible for doing it, says Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress.

    Kemper says the clock is ticking toward 2050 and that the water plan needs clearly articulated priorities from the General Assembly no later than the end of this year. The water community, including local and county governments, water districts, and hundreds of individuals and organizations interested in water issues, also hasn’t set its priorities yet, either. Kemper expects that will happen when the Water Congress meets in August.

    Bart Miller, who directs a program promoting healthy rivers for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates, says the progress so far has mainly been on the funding side – in particular the dollars coming out of the two projects bills in 2016 and 2017 – but that those amounts are too small to quench state water needs. Although, as Miller sees it, water projects from the Northern Water Conservancy District and Denver Water and under way to help meet the plan’s storage goal of 400,000 acre-feet, the goal of conserving another 400,000 acre-feet has seen far less progress.

    Miller sees a lack of clear milestones as one of the plan’s bigger shortfalls. “It should be able to say where you need to be by 2020 if you’re working toward 2030 or even 2050,” he says.

    CWCB has balked at setting such milestones and has been trying to lower expectations about the speed of the plan’s implementation. Nowhere was this more obvious than at a Joint Budget Committee meeting in December, when CWCB finance chief Kirk Russell told lawmakers only half-jokingly that, “I’m glad the question wasn’t ‘Are you done yet and why not?’”

    Feature photo of James Eklund, then head of the CWCB and Gov. John Hickenlooper, holding up a copy of the state water plan for its November, 2015 rollout. Photo by Marianne Goodland.

    Water supply, Front Range development, and tap fees

    From The Denver Post (Aldo Svaldi):

    Embedded in the price of every new home and apartment built along the northern Front Range are some of the highest water infrastructure costs in the country.

    Some factors behind those high costs are intractable: a scarcity of available water and the fact that most Coloradans live on one side of the Rocky Mountains and obtain their water from the other.

    But another contributor is the upfront fees local utilities charge to connect water and sewer lines to homes and other buildings. In and around Denver, a chorus of developers, water-efficiency advocates and others say, those charges can add thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs to houses, apartments and condominiums.

    Those higher costs, known as impact or tap fees, quietly get passed on to consumers in the form of heftier new-home prices and apartment rents…

    “Developers want least cost, and we want the most adequate supply,” said Cindy Marshall, manager of treated water planning at Denver Water. “There is a place we can meet in the middle.”

    Denver Water, the largest water provider along the northern Front Range, uses these long-standing models, which require a water connection to be big enough to handle every water-related appliance simultaneously without a critical loss in pressure…

    The Metro Wastewater District, which is separate from Denver Water, charges $92,600 to connect a building with a 2-inch tap versus $22,240 for a building with a 1-inch tap…

    Colorado has a complex system of water rights, which adds to costs. Also, the bulk of residents in the state live east of the Continental Divide, while the bulk of the water supply is to the west, necessitating expensive diversion projects.

    The latest “THE CWCB CONFLUENCE” newsletter is hot off the presses @CWCB_DNR

    Crystal River near Redstone via Wikipedia Commons

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

    CWCB Projects Bill Approved and Signed By Governor Hickenlooper
    The General Assembly approved the CWCB Water Projects Bill, which provides $164 million for implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan, water storage, watershed health, flood control programs, monitoring of streams, water supply forecasting, Federal cost sharing grants, preserving agriculture, feasibility studies, water loss control methodology training, and other programs and projects. Included in this, is $30 million for a Loan Guarantee Fund that will provide financing options for regional project participants.

    This also includes $25M for Water Plan Implementation Funding, which breaks down into $10M for WSRF supplemental funding; $5M for the Watershed Restoration Grant Program; and $10M for Water Plan Implementation Grants/Funding. Read more about it in the May Implementation Fact Sheet.

    #Runoff/#Snowpack news: The Yampa River has likely peaked for season

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    Even though the river where it flows through downtown has already peaked for the season, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, is projecting the final push of the spring runoff will continue into the first few days of June.

    The river, which was flowing at below 1,000 cfs the morning of May 24, had already jumped to 1,250 cfs by midday May 25 and is projected to go even higher June 1 to 3 when it will be flowing above 1,550 cfs just in time for the 37th annual Yampa River Festival.

    However, hydrologists at the Forecast Center report the river won’t climb as high as it did shortly after 2 a.m. May 14, when the flow peaked at 2,030 cfs for the season. That compares to a peak flow of 3,880 cfs on June 9, 2016.

    Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, suggested Thursday the below-average peak flow in the Yampa correlates with mountain snowpack that peaked atypically early.

    “Across the entire Yampa, White and North Platte, snowpack peak was just about a month earlier than normal,” Wetlaufer said. “There were slight resurgences, but it never reached that peak again.”

    Typically, Wetlaufer said, snowpack — a term that refers to the amount of water accumulated in the settled snow — peaks in this region on about April 10. This year, snowpack in the mountains peaked March 12…

    The Yampa at Deerlodge Park in Moffat County, just above Dinosaur National Monument, was flowing in 4,350 cfs late this week with a boost from the Little Snake River, which drains the northern portion of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Areas, and was flowing at 1,350 cfs.

    The Green River, just before it flows out of Utah and into Moffat County, was flowing at 7,100 cfs, as Flaming Gorge Dam operators counteracted high inflows generated by unusually heavy snow in Northwest Wyoming this winter…

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service reports that the 8 inches of snow water equivalent — water stored in the remaining 18 inches of snow — on the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass May 25 was just 58 percent of median, but that has grown from just 34 percent of median on May 17.

    Those figures are even more significant above 10,000 feet on Buffalo Pass where the snow is still 90 inches deep, and the 44.8 inches of water there is 93 percent of median for the date.

    Wetlaufer said the benefit of a late surge in snowmelt could be amplified if it also comes with rainfall on the valley floor. That would boost soil moisture, he said, which in turn would satisfy the demands of vegetation and allow more of the snowmelt to make its way into the streams and river.

    Metro Wastewater Reclamation District Opens New $417 Million Facility

    Photo credit Kuck Mechanical Contractors, L.L.C.

    Here’s the release from the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District:

    The Metro Wastewater Reclamation District today celebrated the grand opening of its Northern Treatment Plant. Planned since 1982, the new $417 million facility is one of the most advanced in the western United States.

    Designed to protect the South Platte River and support rapid community growth, the facility is capable of cleaning 24 million gallons per day and will eventually serve up to 750,000 customers across Aurora, Brighton, Commerce City, Thornton, unincorporated Adams County and Denver.

    “By investing in critical infrastructure, we are investing in the future of the communities where we live and work,” said Catherine Gerali, District Manager of the Metro District. “Completion of the Northern Treatment Plant ensures safe, reliable and cost-effective water reclamation for the 1.8 million Coloradans who rely on the essential public service we provide.”

    Under Budget and on Schedule
    Construction of the Northern Treatment Plant was completed on schedule and the $417 million total program cost was nearly $60 million less than original budget estimates. This includes design and construction of the treatment facilities and a nearly seven-mile pipeline that uses gravity – not pump stations – to transport flow to the plant.

    “This is one of the largest progressive design-build municipal water projects ever delivered in the U.S.,” says CH2M Chairman and CEO Jacqueline Hinman. “The innovative delivery process allowed for the greatest level of collaboration with all project stakeholders, while maintaining a keen focus on safety. We applaud the Metro District’s foresight in delivering a technologically advanced treatment facility that will make a great difference in our community, protect our environment and preserve critical water supplies for our growing region.”

    A Legacy of Environmental Stewardship
    The Northern Treatment Plant strengthens the Metro District’s more than 50-year track record of environmental stewardship. The new facility features the latest proven water reclamation technologies to protect the South Platte River, alongside onsite resource recovery for energy generation and agricultural applications.

    “Protecting the environment is the very reason for the Metro District’s existence,” Gerali added. “We were formed in 1961 to clean up the South Platte River and the Northern Treatment Plant strengthens our more than 50-year legacy of environmental stewardship.”

    A Community Resource
    The Northern Treatment Plant provides community amenities with opportunities for public recreation and education. The facility includes more than a mile of riverside trails and seating around a wetland area. Ultimately, these trails are designed to serve as a connection with a regional trail system that is envisioned to extend from Wyoming to New Mexico. The new facility’s Administration Building includes educational exhibits to inform visitors about how water reclamation protects the South Platte River and benefits the environment.

    Facts & Figures

  • The Metro District is the largest water reclamation provider in the Rocky Mountain West, serving about 1.8 million people in a 715 square-mile area.
  • The Northern Treatment Plant is one of the most advanced facilities in the western United States and will eventually serve up to 750,000 customers
  • Every day the District collects and reclaims about 130 million gallons of wastewater – enough to fill nearly 200 Olympic-size swimming pools.
  • For nine months out of the year, roughly 90% of the water in the South Platte River comes from the outfalls of the District’s Robert W. Hite Treatment Facility.
  • The District makes enough energy onsite to power approximately 40% of its Robert W. Hite Treatment Facility using gas produced during the treatment process – that is enough energy to power roughly 5,000 homes.
  • The District owns and operates a 52,000 acre farm in northeast Colorado. We pioneered wastewater resource recovery for agriculture and have grown crops at our METROGRO Farm for 30 years.
  • For more information, please visit the Metro District’s website at http://www.MetroWastewater.com.

    #Runoff news: Snowmelt Causing High Flows on the Rio Chama — @USBR

    Map of the Rio Grande watershed, showing the Rio Chama joining the Rio Grande near Santa Fe. Graphic credit WikiMedia.

    Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Mary Carlson):

    Flows on the Rio Chama are on the rise as the most robust spring runoff since 2005 continues in northern New Mexico.

    The Bureau of Reclamation is currently releasing 3,000 cubic feet per second from El Vado Reservoir into the Rio Chama in an attempt to keep up with the snowmelt and is moving water at the request of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. The safe channel capacity for this stretch of the Rio Chama is 4,500 cfs.

    Reclamation is being proactive with the release to ensure there is adequate room to safely store the additional water that will be coming into the reservoir as there is still a considerable amount of snow at the higher elevations. As of this week, 25.8 inches of snow-water was being reported at Cumbres Trestle, which is the highest point on the contributing watershed. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s May forecast, there is still approximately 100,000 acre-feet of water to come into El Vado before the end of July.

    The higher flows will provide great opportunities for recreation this Memorial Day weekend, but the public should use caution as water levels are higher and flows are faster than what has become the norm on the Rio Chama in recent years. Recreationists and those traveling along the Rio Chama between El Vado and Abiquiu should exercise extreme caution.

    Those heading out for recreation on or near rivers and reservoirs throughout New Mexico should be aware of changing conditions and fluctuating water levels.

    Castle Rock Water recognized as industry leader for the second year in a row

    Castle Rock and Pikes Peak. Photo credit VisitCastleRock.org

    Here’s the release from Castle Rock:

    Whether it’s paving the way with a long-term water plan, rising to the challenge of having the best tasting water in Colorado, or setting an example for conservation – Castle Rock Water is a leader in the water industry. For the second year in a row, the department is being recognized for its efforts.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment awarded Castle Rock Water the Gold Award in the Pursing Excellence Program for the department’s push to go above and beyond regulatory compliance. In 2015, Castle Rock Water was the first water provider in Colorado to receive the Gold Tier.

    The award noted the Town’s steps to be a leader in the industry and share best practices with other organizations. The department was also recognized for its operational procedures for source water protection measures, treatment goals and distribution components.

    Additionally, the department was recognized for four other actions:

  • Large meter audit – this audit examined the 5 percent of customers that make up 30 percent of consumption
  • Lateral arm well placement – this plan involves the innovative use of horizontal arms for vertical well production; horizontal arms doubles the production of vertical wells
  • Valve and hydrant maintenance program – with this program in place, repair and emergency budgets are easier to estimate; additionally, customers are better informed of outages
  • Chemical optimization – continually analyzing the chemical solutions used for water treatment to ensure the highest quality water and lowest treatment costs
  • “Castle Rock Water’s faithful commitment to the environment extends to our staff, our customers and to the community in which we operate,” said Castle Rock Water Director Mark Marlowe. “We take our motto, be water wise, to heart, and are committed to being a leader among the water industry.”

    To find out more about everything happening with Castle Rock Water, head to http://CRgov.com/water, or check out the new conservation website http://CRconserve.com.

    @ColoradoWater “State of the River” meetings #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey
    Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
    Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Fountain: Water restrictions update

    From KOAA.com (Lura Wilson):

    Summer’s almost here, and the city of Fountain is still without it’s backup groundwater supply.

    The Air Force has offered up two filtration units to the city, after the EPA found elevated levels of PFC’s–a man-made, cancer causing chemical–in water sources used by the Fountain community, among others.

    “When these filtration units come online, we’ll have access to some of our groundwater and be able to remove the PFC’s from it,” said Utilities Director Curtis Mitchell.

    But that could take several months to get the first unit up and running–meaning city water customers may have to cut back on water use, starting late June…

    The mandatory restrictions, which are part of a plan approved by city council this week, will look what they had in place last year.

    “It will limit use to two days a week for outdoor watering–and it depends on your even or odd address,” said Mitchell.

    Unlike last year, the city will be enforcing these mandatory restrictions this time around. The first violation is just a warning. The second will be a $50 fee, and the third will cost you $100…

    The city also recommends you start adjusting sprinkler times now, ideally between 7 p.m. and 10 a.m.

    Aspinall Unit operations update

    Aspinall Unit dams

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The May 15th forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 825,000 acre-feet. This is 122% of the 30 year average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 681,000 acre-feet which is 82% of full. Current elevation is 7502.4 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft.

    Based on the May 1st forecast, the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow target is listed below:

    Black Canyon Water Right

    The peak flow target is equal to 6,427 cfs for a duration of 24 hours.

    The shoulder flow target is 831 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25.

    The May 15th forecast of 825,000 af is now in the Average Wet category and the Aspinall Unit ROD flow targets have changed. Based on the May 15th forecast, the flow targets are listed below:

    Aspinall Unit Operations ROD

    The year type is currently classified as Average Wet.

    The peak flow target is 14,040 cfs and the duration target at this flow is 2 days.

    The half bank-full target is 8,070 cfs and the duration target at this flow is 20 days.

    The spring peak operation has reached peak release level. The release increase made this morning, May 24th, should result in the first day of flows > 14,000 cfs at the Whitewater gage, arriving by the afternoon of May 25th. Today, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon have reached 11,500 cfs. The current rate of release is planned to continue through Sunday, May 28th. At this time it is projected that there is additional water that needs to be released from the Aspinall Unit to prevent overfilling at Blue Mesa Reservoir, therefore the peak release is continuing to meet more than the 2 day duration target.

    #AnimasRiver: Heavy metal concentrations meet standards #GoldKingMine

    This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

    Two studies conducted in response to the Gold King Mine spill show levels for heavy metals in the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation meet water quality standards set by tribal and federal environmental agencies.

    Karletta Chief, a hydrology professor at the University of Arizona, has been leading a research team to study heavy metals in the San Juan River since fall 2015.

    The study — a collaboration between the university, Tó Bei Nihi Dziil, Northern Arizona University, Diné College, Fort Lewis College and the Navajo Nation Community Health Representatives program — is also examining sediment and human health…

    For the study, the group focused on lead and arsenic because exposure to both over a long period can be harmful to humans, she said.

    Chief explained that 288 water samples were collected from the river, irrigation canals and wells located in Upper Fruitland, Shiprock and Aneth in November 2015, March 2016 and June 2016.

    The study used drinking water standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and water standards for animals and plants were screened using standards set by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Chief said levels for arsenic and lead were within the standards for drinking water and for plants and animals.

    The group is waiting for results for sediment tests. Information from health assessments conducted on 123 participants could be released in the fall, she said.

    San Juan River Dineh Water Users Inc. CEO Martin Duncan said after listening to the report that people want to know if the river water is safe to use for irrigation.

    “We need to find out if the water is safe now,” Duncan said.

    In response, Chief said results show the levels do meet water quality standards for agricultural purposes.

    The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency also has been monitoring heavy metal levels in the river since the spill.

    Results from the study were presented by Steve Austin, a senior hydrologist with the Water Quality Program under the tribe’s EPA.

    Austin said the program has collected water and sediment samples from 10 locations along the river and from the Fruitland and Hogback canals, which supply river water to farms on the reservation. Samples were collected from August to October 2015 and in March 2016 to April 2017.

    Those samples were measured using the tribe’s surface water-quality standards from 2007, which also received approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

    “For water quality, none of our irrigation standards have been exceeded since 2013. We don’t see an issue with irrigating from the San Juan River,” Austin said.

    Austin said the only time the concentration of heavy metals has exceeded standards for irrigation use was when the Fruitland canal reopened. But levels subsided after the canal was flushed.

    He added that program officials will continue monitoring the river, and they are waiting for results for fish tissue testing.

    Recent precipitation erases #drought in #Colorado

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


    Soaking precipitation occurred from central portions of the Rockies and Plains into the upper Midwest, mainly from May 16-18, and in parts of the Southeast starting on May 20. Drought-affected areas of the Southeast, including portions of Alabama and Georgia, experienced substantial relief, with rain still falling when the drought-monitoring period ended on May 23. The drought-easing effects of any rain that fell after 8 am EDT on Tuesday, May 23, will be reflected on next week’s map. Farther west, late-season snow (locally 1 to 3 feet) blanketed the northern and central Rockies, while streaks of heavy rain largely arrested drought development in the south-central U.S. Areas that remained stubbornly dry included parts of the north-central U.S. and Florida’s peninsula, although significant rainfall developed in the latter region after the monitoring period ended on May 23…

    High Plains

    A stripe of heavy precipitation from the central Rockies into the upper Midwest erased pockets of abnormal dryness (D0) in Nebraska and reduced coverage of dryness and moderate drought (D0 and D1) in Colorado. Rain also trimmed D0 coverage in the eastern Dakotas. However, precipitation mostly bypassed the remainder of the Dakotas, leading to further expansion of D0. In addition a new area of moderate drought (D1) was introduced in the vicinity of the Missouri River. On May 21, South Dakota led the entire northern U.S. in topsoil moisture rated very short to short (29%), as well as rangeland and pastures rated very poor to poor (19%), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture…


    Concerns in the West remained minimal, with less than 5% of the 11-state area covered by moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D2). Further, storminess across the central Rockies and environs led to further reduction in the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1), mainly in Colorado. On May 18-19, Cheyenne, Wyoming, was blanketed with 14.3 inches of snow, while snowfall ranged from 1 to 3 feet at several locations in the central Rockies. Farther south, however, warm, dry, windy conditions necessitated an eastward expansion of D0 across southern New Mexico. On May 21, topsoil moisture in New Mexico was rated 55% very short to short, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On the same date, rangeland and pastures were rated 29% very poor to poor in Arizona, up 14 percentage points from a week ago, and 23% very poor to poor in New Mexico. Near Globe, Arizona, the Pinal fire—started by lightning on May 8—has burned more than 3,500 acres of timber and chaparral in rugged terrain…

    Looking Ahead

    A storm system in the vicinity of the central Appalachians on Thursday will drift northeastward, reaching coastal New England by May 26. Meanwhile, a low-pressure system will cross southern Canada, with a disturbance along the storm’s trailing cold front affecting the nation’s mid-section during the Memorial Day holiday weekend. On Friday, soaking rains will end across the Northeast, while showers and thunderstorms will develop from the northern Intermountain West into the lower Midwest. Rain will quickly spread eastward and return to parts of the southern and eastern U.S. during the weekend. Elsewhere, mostly dry weather during the next 5 days will be limited to just a few areas, including California and the Southwest.

    The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for May 30 – June 3 calls for the likelihood of below-normal temperatures from the central and southern Plains to the western slopes of the Appalachians, while warmer-than-normal weather should prevail along the Atlantic Seaboard and across the northern High Plains and much of the West. Odds will be tilted toward near- to above-normal rainfall across most of the country, but drier-than-normal conditions can be expected from the Pacific Northwest into the upper Midwest.

    Click on the gallery below to take a look back through time to August 2016 and the start of the recent drought in Colorado.

    Is doing good deeds locally enough when Antarctica threats to melt? — The Mountain Town News

    Photo credit the City of Aspen.

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    In 2008, Boulder-based photographer James Balog spoke at Telluride Mountainfilm, the festival held every Memorial Day weekend. Even then, Balog was camping out amid the world’s melting glaciers to produce the 2012 film “Chasing Ice.”

    “When do you think we will have our Pearl Harbor moment?” he was asked. In other words, when would the United States—and the world, for that matter—accord the risk of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions the seriousness it deserved.

    Balog identified several possible Pearl Harbors but paramount would be melting of the West Antarctic ice shelf. “That will be the major oh-shit moment,” he said.

    That oh-shit possibility verging on probability was precisely the point of a recent story in Rolling Stone by Jeff Goodell, himself a Mountainfilm speaker in the past. In the article, “The Doomsday Glacier,” Goodell focused on fresh evidence of the rapid melting of Thwaites Glacier. It’s one of the largest glaciers on the planet and also key to what happens on the West Antarctic ice shelf.

    “When a chunk of ice the size of Pennsylvania falls apart, that’s a big problem,” Goodell explained. “It won’t happen overnight, but if we don’t slow the warming of the planet, it could happen within decades. And its loss will destabilize the rest of the West Antarctic ice, and that will go too. Seas will rise about 10 feet in many parts of the world; in New York and Boston, because of the way gravity push water around the planet, the waters will rise even higher.”

    If global warming won’t push sea shores to Colorado, there’s plenty to worry about amid the mountains and plains. A conference last Friday in Aspen was devoted to what local towns, cities and counties can—and should—do in the absence of more forceful action at the state, federal and international level.

    Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron hatched the conference, motivated by his participation on several panels at the December 2015 Paris climate talks. His comments had elicited invitations to speak in South Korea, Thailand and Dubai. People had heard of Aspen, and he told them about the things a small —if admittedly exceptional—small town can do.

    Returning home, he resolved to use the influence of Aspen to help create a new organization to spur broader action within Colorado. An existing organization, Colorado Communities for Climate Action, consists of what might be called the usual suspects: ski and university towns plus Denver and a few others. It lobbies at the state Capitol for policies that make a difference.

    The new organization, called the Compact of Colorado Communities, aims for bottom-up action but within a broader coalition. Think of more conservative suburban cities, and even a farm town or two. The key alliance is with the Association of Climate Change Officers. The approach is to integrate consideration of climate and greenhouse gas reductions deep into the operations of local governments. Climate change, the thinking goes, must extend beyond one or two elected officials and the city’s sustainability officer.

    Twenty-seven towns, cities and counties sent representatives to the conference. Under terms of the compact, if the boards, councils and commissions of those jurisdictions confirm the continued participation, that will mean 10 from each entity will participate in on-line training in climate-action work provided by the Association of Climate Change Officers.

    “That will mean 300 people in the state of Colorado who understand what climate action looks like and how they can incorporate climate solutions into their days-to-day jobs,” said Ashley Perl, Aspen’s climate action manager, after the conference. It will mean that finance managers, city managers, town engineers, land-use planners and other staff members will benefit from the training.

    Even in Aspen, she said, climate action will fall short without proper training integrated deeply throughout the city staff. “It will not be for lack of ideas. It won’t be for lack of funding. It will be lack of staff capacity,” she said.

    Daniel Kreeger, executive director of the Alliance for Climate Change Officers, Aspen climate action manager Ashley Perl, and Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron.. Photo credit the City of Aspen.

    Earlier, at the conference, the case was made for what former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter called “upward movement.” Fort Collins, Colorado’s fourth largest city, was a case study. The city has specified the goal of carbon neutrality by mid-century. Mayor Wade Troxell talked about “scaling up practical solutions” and the need to articulate additional benefits of climate action, such as saving money from improved energy efficiency.

    “If it’s too top-down, that’s not good,” Troxell advised. “It has to make sense from a lot of different perspectives in your community.”

    But were they not all missing the boat? That challenge came from Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones. She cited the evidence of efforts in Boulder County to tame greenhouse gas emissions. They had not really moved the needle, she said. What made a difference were Colorado’s renewable portfolio standard and the federal fuel efficiency standards.

    “There are two things not in our local control,” she said. “If we really want to save the planet, in addition to doing all the great stuff at the local level, we really have to band together and work on policy change.”

    Advocates of local action stood their ground.

    “I think the answer is we need to do both at the same time,” answered Ashley Perl, Aspen’s sustainability manager. “But we can’t speak if we don’t have a soap box to stand on,” she added. “Who will listen to us if we haven’t done this work in our local communities?”

    Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute, also pointed out that local jurisdictions have primacy over buildings. Because of the long lifetimes of the built environment, this sector poses the greatest challenge for greenhouse gas reduction.

    “It will take a long, concerted effort to work on that, but that is within your wheelhouse,” he said. Local governments also have much control over transportation, Udall said.

    Ritter earlier in the day had noted that transportation has overtaken the power-generation sector as the leading source for greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. “It’s kind of getting away from us,” he said. And Udall said that was another area where local governments could make a difference.

    Photo credit the City of Aspen..

    Aspen’s Perl, who organized the conference for Skadron, said the crowning moment came at the conclusion of the conference, when representative jurisdictions signed the compact. At that point, the day went from being yet another climate conference to one that will produce “something that is meaningful and lasting.”

    People lingered for an hour afterward instead of hastening to get on the road.

    And she also noted the comments of one of Colorado’s smaller towns—either Minturn or Manitou Springs—who suggested a new welcome. There was, she said, a wider diversity of people that was “as refreshing for those us who are always in the room—but perhaps also refreshing for those who aren’t always invited to be in the room.”

    For a video of the conference and some of the PowerPoint presentations as well as other materials, go to: https://accoonline.org/colorado Photos courtesy of the City of Aspen.

    #Colorado Dept. of Agriculture has funding for farm hydropower projects

    Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine

    From the Colorado Department of Agriculture via The Fence Post:

    The Colorado Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service are seeking applicants for on-farm agricultural hydropower projects. The total amount of available assistance for this round is $1,200,000. The funding is available to Colorado agricultural irrigators with appropriate hydropower resources.

    The funding is part of the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Within RCPP, the Colorado irrigation hydropower program provides funding to agricultural producers to help them add hydropower to new or existing irrigation systems.

    “The program addresses water quantity, water quality and energy resource concerns,” said Sam Anderson, CDA’s energy specialist, “by helping farmers upgrade outdated and labor-intensive flood-irrigation systems to more efficient pressurized-irrigation systems using hydropower, or retrofit existing sprinkler systems with a hydropower component.

    “Half a dozen projects have already been completed across Colorado, and this year we hope to fund more than a dozen new installations,” he said.

    “This program helps farmers by putting their irrigation water to work, creating electricity that lowers their power bills,” Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown said. “We are very proud of this program and how it gives producers a way to cut their costs and use their resources efficiently.”

    The overall hydro program is funded and assisted by 14 agencies and groups, collectively contributing $3 million to the effort for project funding and technical assistance for Colorado agricultural producers.

    CDA is currently accepting applications for the next round of RCPP irrigation hydro projects. Applicants must be eligible to receive funding from the NRCS EQIP program. For more information and to submit an application, visit the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s ACRE3 hydropower website: http://www.colorado.gov/agconservation/hydro-navigation-guide or contact Sam Anderson at (303) 869-9044 or http://CDA_hydro@state.co.us. The application deadline is June 23, 2017.

    #ClimateChange and the Arkansas River

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    From KRCC.org (Dana Cronin):

    The Arkansas River supports economies in Colorado from Leadville to La Junta and beyond. With base industries including tourism and agriculture, southern Colorado depends on the river’s yearly flows. But climate researchers expect declines in those flows over time, leaving the Arkansas River and its dependents at risk of facing a future with less water…

    The river’s upper reach supports a booming tourism economy, while agricultural interests dominate the lower basin in Colorado.

    [Bill] Banks says snowpack mostly determines a good or bad water year, but there are other factors that can come into play as well…

    According to researchers, increased temperatures and earlier spring runoff are already occurring and will continue with climate change. Boulder-based Brad Udall studies the connection between climate change and water resources at the Colorado Water Institute, which is part of Colorado State University.

    “There are a whole series of implications that come out of global climate change that directly tie to our water resources, and the two again, they’re joined at the hip,” Udall says. “I say climate change is water change.”

    Udall released a study this year on the effects of climate change on the Colorado River. He says his findings can be directly applied to the Arkansas because of the close proximity of their headwaters. Udall says climate change will bring increasing temperatures, which will likely affect stream flow.

    “What we predict is that by mid-century, the Colorado River could lose up to 20% of its flow based on temperature influences, and by end of the century up to 35% if we continue to emit greenhouse gases as we currently are,” he says. “And I think those numbers are probably valid for the Arkansas as well.”

    Researcher Jeff Lukas is with the Western Water Assessment out of the University of Colorado Boulder. He’s the lead author of a 2014 report, Climate Change in Colorado [.pdf], which looks at how climate and water are connected in the state. The report also examines precipitation, which Lukas says is much more difficult to predict than temperature. He says snow and rainfall could possibly increase as the century unfolds, which could create more runoff, but he says it’s hard to tell.

    “My message for the Arkansas and the other basins in Colorado is, we might get bailed out by more precipitation, but we shouldn’t count on that, and we should expect a future with less annual runoff and prepare for that,” says Lukas.

    And even though precipitation predictions are hazy, Lukas says some climate models show southern Colorado’s water basins, including the Arkansas, at a higher risk of becoming drier because of their desert environments.

    “The northern basins in Colorado, particularly in the northwest, so the Yampa and also to some extent the South Platte basin in the northeast, show somewhat wetter outcomes for future runoff than the southern basins, the San Juan, the Rio Grande, the Arkansas,” he says.

    Colorado Water Institute’s Brad Udall says climate change is causing desert environments like in New Mexico and Arizona to creep northward, which could lead to further drying in the lower Arkansas River basin.

    “It’s the lower river where there’s 400,000 irrigated acres that contribute a billion and a half dollars to the economy from agricultural production,” Udall says. “That’s the area where I think one has to worry about what happens.”

    Udall says the effects of climate change could put pressure not only on agriculture, but also on municipalities and the environment. He says this is a basin-wide issue that all stakeholders should take part in mitigating.

    “This is really a question of governance, it’s a question of how do we allocate a precious resource,” he says.

    As for his part, Udall is currently working on developing a series of online classes for Colorado State University on climate change and water tailored to the agricultural community.

    @ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through May 22, 2017/

    Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

    Rising Global Temperatures and CO2

    From Climate Central:

    In 1895, Svante Arrhenius first calculated the impact that increasing carbon dioxide could have on Earth’s temperature. Since then, scientists have further refined their understanding of the greenhouse effect and the role our rising carbon emissions are having on it. From the first Earth Day in 1970, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen 24 percent. And because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries, the impacts of our emissions today will linger long into the future.

    Chief among the impacts is the rise in the global temperature. That’s why countries around the world have agreed to limitthat warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures.

    @USBR: President Proposed $1.1 Billion Fiscal Year 2018 Budget for Bureau of Reclamation

    Crystal Dam, part of the Colorado River Storage Project, Aspinall Unit. Credit Reclamation.

    Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Dan DuBray):

    President Donald Trump proposed a $1.097 billion Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) budget for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. The budget supports the Administration’s and Interior’s goals of ensuring the efficient generation of American energy, provision of secure water supplies, varied use of resources, celebration of America’s recreation opportunities and fulfilling commitments to tribal nations.

    “President Trump promised the American people he would cut wasteful spending and make the government work for the taxpayer again, and that’s exactly what this budget does,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Working carefully with the President, we identified areas where we could reduce spending and also areas for investment, such as addressing the maintenance backlog in our National Parks and increasing domestic energy production on federal lands. The budget also allows the Department to return to the traditional principles of multiple-use management to include both responsible natural resource development and conservation of special places. Being from the West, I’ve seen how years of bloated bureaucracy and D.C.-centric policies hurt our rural communities. The President’s budget saves taxpayers by focusing program spending, shrinking bureaucracy, and empowering the front lines.”

    As the nation’s largest wholesale water supplier and second-largest producer of hydroelectric power, Reclamation’s projects and programs are an important driver of economic growth in the western States. Its mission is to manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public. Reclamation manages water for agricultural, municipal and industrial uses, and provides flood risk reduction and recreation for millions of people.

    “President Trump’s budget for Reclamation shows his strong commitment to our mission of managing water and producing hydropower in the West,” Acting Commissioner Alan Mikkelsen said. “Reclamation’s infrastructure needs are also high in priority to keep dams safe for the public they serve.”

    Reclamation’s expenditures are offset by current receipts in the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund of $41 million, resulting in net discretionary budget authority of $1.056 billion. The budget proposal for permanent appropriations in FY18 totals $97.5 million.

    The proposal for Reclamation’s Water and Related Resources account of $960.0 million provides for five major program activities: Water and Energy Management and Development ($313.7 million), Land Management and Development ($44.2 million), Fish and Wildlife Management and Development ($153.0 million), Facility Operations ($296.0 million), and Facility Maintenance and Rehabilitation ($153.2 million). The funding proposed in Reclamation’s FY18 budget supports key programs important to the 17 Western States.

    It emphasizes Reclamation’s core mission of reliable water delivery and hydropower generation to address the water demands of a growing population in an environmentally responsible and cost-efficient manner; and to assist states, tribes and local entities in solving water resource issues. It also emphasizes the operation and maintenance of Reclamation facilities in a safe, efficient, economic and reliable manner — ensuring systems and safety measures are in place to protect the public and Reclamation facilities.

    The budget also supports water rights settlements to ensure sufficient resources to address the requirements of legislation passed by Congress to settle litigation. The request includes amounts for specific Indian water rights settlements that support tribal nations, including the newly enacted Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement.

    The FY18 budget will continue to support and emphasize activities designed to prevent and combat the infestation of quagga and zebra mussels across Reclamation states. These invasive species are rapidly reproducing and have infested multiple operational areas of Reclamation facilities, impacting pumping capabilities for power and water operations, blocking water intake structures and affecting the ecosystems by feeding off existing algae resulting in a shift in native species and a disruption of the ecological balance. Research is continuing to find ways to impede the quagga and zebra mussels’ populations. Increased funding in FY18 will support Reclamation mussels’ activities framework established in the Quagga–Zebra Mussel Action Plan (QZAP) for Western U.S. Waters. This work is being pursued in close cooperation with the Western Governors Association, and includes a focus on working with states and tribes to keep invasive mussels from infecting the Columbia River Basin in the Pacific Northwest.

    Reclamation’s dams, water conveyances and power generating facilities are critical components of the Nation’s infrastructure. Effectively managing these structures is among the many significant challenges facing Reclamation over the next several years and beyond. Reclamation’s FY18 budget reflects a very deliberate approach to addressing mission priorities.

    Tribal Nations – Within Water and Related Resources in FY18, Reclamation is requesting a total of $151.3 million to support tribal nations’ efforts and initiatives. To meet Interior’s trust and treaty obligations, Reclamation’s budget request sets Indian water rights settlements among the highest priorities. In FY18, $98.6 million is requested for the Indian water rights settlements authorized under several legislative statutes, including the Claims Resolution Act of 2010, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 and the newly enacted Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016. This includes funding of $67.8 million for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, $12.8 million for the Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement, $8.0 million for the Aamodt Litigation Settlement, and $10.0 million for the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement. The funding for the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement represents Reclamation’s first contribution towards meeting its required contribution of $246.5 million by January 2025. In addition to requesting funding consistent with current activity, these settlements will draw on available mandatory funding to continue project activities. In FY18, the discretionary funds are requested within Water and Related Resources, as opposed to a separate appropriations account as requested in prior years.

    Funding to support tribal nations is also included within a number of projects, including the Mni Wiconi Project for the required tribal operation and maintenance ($13.5 million), the Nez Perce Settlement within Columbia and Snake River Salmon Recovery Project ($7.1 million), the San Carlos Apache Tribe Water Settlement Act ($1.6 million) and the Ak Chin Indian Water Rights Settlement Act ($16.2 million).

    Other aspects of the FY18 budget proposal include:

    Central Valley Project Restoration Fund – This fund was established by the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, Title XXXIV of P.L. 102-575, Oct. 30, 1992. The budget of $41.4 million is expected to be offset by discretionary receipts totaling $41.4 million, which is the maximum amount that can be collected from project beneficiaries under provisions of Section 3407(d) of the Act. The discretionary receipts are adjusted on an annual basis to maintain payments totaling $30 million (October 1992 price levels) on a three-year rolling average basis. The budget of $41.4 million for the CVPRF was developed after considering the effects of the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act (P.L. 111-11, March 30, 2009) which redirects certain fees, estimated at $2 million in FY 2018, collected from the Friant Division water users to the San Joaquin Restoration Fund.

    Dam Safety Program – The safety and reliability of Reclamation dams is one of Reclamation’s highest priorities. The Dam Safety Program is critical to effectively manage risks to the downstream public, property, project, and natural resources. The budget of $88.1 million for the Safety of Dams Evaluation and Modification Program provides for risk management activities at Reclamation’s high and significant hazard dams where loss of life or significant economic damage would likely occur if the dam were to fail. The budget also includes preconstruction and construction activities for several ongoing and planned Dam Safety modifications. In addition, funding is included in the budget for Interior’s Dam Safety Program, which Reclamation oversees.

    Desalination and Water Purification Research Program – This program supports desalination research, development and demonstrations for the purpose of converting unusable waters into useable water supplies. The FY18 request of $2.9 million supports new and continued projects in the three funding areas: laboratory scale research studies, pilot-scale testing projects and full-scale testing projects. Funding also supports the operation and maintenance of Reclamation’s Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility, which supports testing of pilot-scale and full-scale testing projects, as well as potentially supporting work from Cooperative Research and Development Agreements that are in development, including one focused on produced waters from oil and gas extraction activities.

    Science and Technology Program – The FY18 request at $11.1 million supports continued science and technology projects, water and power technology prize competitions, technology transfer, and dissemination/outreach activities addressing critical water and power management technical obstacles in water management, hydropower generation, infrastructure management and environmental compliance. The S&T Program also continues to develop improved methods for monitoring, detection and control of invasive mussels that continue to spread in the West, infesting Reclamation dams, power plants, and facilities of other water providers.

    The Site Security program – The budget will continue Reclamation’s ongoing site-security program at $26.2 million, which includes physical security upgrades at key facilities, guards and patrols, anti-terrorism program activities and security risk assessments.

    WaterSMART Program – The President’s proposed budget for Reclamation calls for $59.1 million for the WaterSMART Program — Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow — to assist communities in optimizing the use of water supplies by improving water management. The WaterSMART Program components include: WaterSMART Grants funded at $23.4 million; Basin Studies Program, $5.2 million; Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Program, $21.5 million; Water Conservation Field Service program, $4.0 million; Cooperative Watershed Management program, $1.75 million; and the Drought Response program, $3.25 million.

    The Bureau of Reclamation, throughout the 17 western states, is committed to helping meet the many water and power challenges of the West. Reclamation’s water and hydropower projects and activities throughout the western United States are a foundation for essential and safe water supplies, providing renewable hydropower energy and sustaining ecosystems supporting fish and wildlife, recreation and rural economies.

    To view Reclamation’s budget request, see http://www.usbr.gov/budget.

    Loveland hopes to mitigate algae blooms in water supply

    Green Ridge Glade Reservoir

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Craig Young):

    Employees of the city department that fielded 600 complaint calls last fall about the smell and taste of Loveland’s tap water told the City Council on Tuesday what they have done to avoid a repeat this year.

    The unpleasant “earthy, musty flavor,” which was caused by a bloom of a particular algae in Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, was particularly bad in 2015 and 2016, city water quality analyst Tim Bohling told the council during its study session.

    Hot weather at the end of the summer helps the anabaena microorganism grow profusely, he said, and Loveland Water and Power wasn’t able to use the copper sulfate algaecide it formerly used because of new water-quality standards from the state health department.

    The hydrogen peroxide-based powdered algaecide the department threw at the anabaena in the place of the copper sulfate seemed to work at first, Bohling said, but it eventually turned out to be ineffective.

    “As we know and experienced, anabaena is a very, very extreme odor and taste producer,” he said.

    Bohling said the city hired a consultant to look at the problem from a number of angles.

    The potential fixes included using sound waves to kill the algae and send it to the bottom of the reservoir and adding oxygen to the water, but the staff settled on buying simple solar-powered devices that mix up the water to disrupt the growth of the algae.

    The anabaena is unusual in that it can adjust its depth in a lake to a level that is ideal for its growth, he said, and using the Medora SolarBee mixers defeats that ability.

    For $202,000, the department bought four of the mixers, which should just handle the 160 surface acres of the reservoir when it’s full, Bohling said.

    Among its other strategies to fight the problem, Loveland Water and Power will look at adjusting the level from which it pulls water from the reservoir to find the sweetest-tasting spot, he said.

    The department also will conduct a $30,000 study in August, when algae start to bloom, on the best way to use powdered activated carbon in the water treatment plant to fight the smell and taste problems on that end, he said.

    Several council members thanked the Water and Power staffers for their presentation and for their approach to dealing with a problem that has caused so much public concern.

    #Runoff news: Big expectations for the Arkansas River this season

    From KRDO.com (Katie Spencer):

    “We’re definitely looking at high water this year,” said Dennis Wied, the owner of Raft Masters.

    Wied said he has high expectations for this season.

    “This is going to be one of those epic kind of years where the real high water enthusiasts will be out in numbers,” Wied said.

    Water flows are about 1,200 cubic feet per second in the Arkansas River right now, but rafting officials say they’re expecting that to grow three times as the snow continues to melt.

    Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph May 22, 2017 via the NRCS.

    @DenverWater is running water in the @COHighlineCanal after headgate replacement

    Highline Canal Denver

    From TheDenverChannel.com (Connor Wist):

    Water is flowing through parts of the 71-mile High Line Canal for the first time since May 2015. Denver Water is sending water down the canal from the South Platte River after replacing a 130-year-old diversion dam in Waterton Canyon.

    In 2015, Colorado experienced a high spring runoff that destroyed the dam sitting 1.5 miles up the canyon. The wooden structure built between 1880 and 1883 washed away in the runoff. Denver Water successfully replaced the High Line Canal diversion structure in 2016.

    Denver Water typically only runs water to the canal, with an 1879 water right, periodically from April to October. The water runs depend on the availability of South Platte River water and demand from irrigation customers. With the new dam complete, Denver Water is able to send water to the canal once again with the current conditions…

    The High Line Canal starts in Douglas County at Waterton Canyon and runs to Green Valley Ranch in northeast Denver. The path of the canal falls within one mile of hundreds of thousands of residents.

    #Runoff news: The Arkansas River is waking up

    Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

    From the Arkansas River Outfitters Association via PR Newswire:

    This is the third year in a row that Colorado snowstorms preluded a strong boating season. Snowpack piled up this year to 120% of average in parts of the state…

    Peak flows on Colorado’s rivers begin in late May and last until the third week of June. Difficult sections of whitewater during this time attract active and adventurous paddlers willing to get wet and paddle hard.

    With more than 150 miles of Colorado’s best whitewater, the Arkansas River from above Buena Vista through Salida to Cañon City offers trips suitable for most people any time of the season.

    Rafting during high water in Browns Canyon National Monument delivers faster-moving water and big waves as rocks become covered and create hydraulic river features…

    For information about current water levels and booking a Colorado whitewater rafting adventure, contact an Arkansas River outfitter at http://www.ArkansasRiverOutfitters.org.