Rifle “State of the River” meeting, May 11, 2017

Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District

Here’s the release from the Middle Colorado Watershed Council via The Colorado River District:

Rifle State of the River

6-8pm Thursday, May 11, 2017 at the Ute Theater in Rifle, CO

The Colorado River District and the Middle Colorado Watershed Council are pleased to host the Rifle State of the River on May 11th at the Ute Theater. The State of the River is an opportunity for the community to come together and learn more about the Colorado River and provide information for those dependent on the water.

Presentations will include a snowpack and climate report for our region and information about current and expected operations for the regional reservoirs, which greatly affect flows in the Colorado River.

A key presentation will be by Scot Dodero, president of the Silt Water Conservancy District, who will talk about the Silt irrigation project and its challenges. Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, will address basin-wide challenges facing the Colorado River and Lake Powell.

An emerging topic of interest to the agricultural community will be the water banking-fallowing experiment being undertaken by the Grand Valley Water Users Association in Mesa County. Water Users president Mark Harris will talk about this experiment to pay producers to not irrigate.

“This annual spring event has become a favorite for water managers and members of the public to talk about the state of the Colorado River and what kind of water year we can expect,” explained Laurie Rink, Executive Director of the Middle Colorado Watershed Council.

NOAA: Assessing the U.S. Climate in April 2017

Photo credit: Katie Klingsporn

Click here to go to the NCEI website:

The contiguous United States had its 2nd wettest and 11th warmest April

The average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 53.8°F, 2.7°F above the 20th century average during the month of April. This was the 11th warmest April on record for the Lower 48 and warmest April since 2012. Much-above-average temperatures spanned the East, with record warmth in the Mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valley. The year-to-date average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 43.7°F, 4.5°F above average. This was the second warmest January-April, behind the record of 44.7°F set in 2012.

The April precipitation total was 3.43 inches, 0.91 inch above the 20th century average, making it the second wettest April in the 123-year period of record. Much-above-average precipitation fell across the Northwest, Central Plains, Mid-Mississippi Valley, Great Lakes, and Mid-Atlantic. The year-to-date contiguous U.S. precipitation total was 11.46 inches, 1.99 inches above average. This was the fifth wettest January–April on record and wettest since 1998. Based on the U.S. Drought Monitor, 5.0 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, the smallest drought footprint reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor since its inception in 2000.

See all April 2017 and year-to-date U.S. temperature and precipitation maps.

This monthly summary is part of the suite of climate information services NOAA provides to government, business, academia, and the public to support informed decision-making.

April Temperature

  • Locations from the Mississippi River to East Coast were much warmer than average. Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia each had their warmest April on record. The average April temperature for Washington, D.C. was also record high at 63.8°F, 1.8°F warmer than the previous record set in 1994. Reliable temperature data for D.C. date back to 1872.
  • Near- to below-average temperatures were observed across the Northwest, Great Basin, Northern Rockies, and Northern Plains. For the third time this year, the Washington state monthly averaged temperature was below average.
  • The Alaska statewide average temperature was 29.9°F, 6.6°F above average. This was the sixth warmest April in the 93-year record for the state. Above-average temperatures spanned Alaska during April, with much-above-average temperatures across the southern third of the state.
  • April Precipitation

  • Above-average precipitation was observed across a large portion of the nation, including much-above-average precipitation in the Northwest, Northern Rockies, Central Plains, Mid-Mississippi Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Great Lakes. Record precipitation was observed in parts of the Northwest, Southern Plains, and Mid-Atlantic. North Carolina had its wettest April on record with 6.75 inches of rain, 3.22 inches above average. Below-average precipitation was observed in parts of the Southwest and Northern Plains.
  • Several storm systems impacted the Southern Plains and Mid-Mississippi River Valley in late April with the precipitation continuing into May, resulting in widespread flooding across the region. At the time of this report’s release, at least five fatalities were attributable to the flooding with significant impacts on agriculture.
  • During April there were over 200 preliminary tornado reports, continuing an active tornado year. Large tornado outbreaks impacted the central and southern U.S. in early and late April resulting in eight tornado-related fatalities in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas.
  • Alaska had its second driest April on record with 0.92 inch of precipitation, 0.97 inch below average. Only April 1932 was drier with 0.84 inch of precipitation. Record and near-record dry conditions were observed across the central and eastern parts of the state. April is climatologically the driest month of the year for Alaska.
  • According to the May 2 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 5.0 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down 9.2 percent compared to the March 28 values. This is the smallest drought footprint reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor since its inception in 2000. Drought improved across the Great Plains, Mississippi River Valley, interior areas of the Southeast, and Northeast. Drought worsened in the Southwest and across parts of the Southeast where several large wildfires burned in Florida and southern Georgia.
  • Year-to-Date Temperature

  • Above-average temperatures spanned the nation with only the Northwest being colder than average. Forty states were much warmer than average during January–April with 14 states record warm. Record warmth stretched from the Southern Rockies to Southeast and Midwest.
  • Year-to-Date Precipitation

  • Above-average precipitation spanned most of the West into the Great Plains and Great Lakes. Seven states in the West, three in the Great Plains and two in the Great Lakes had year-to-date precipitation totals that were much above average. Idaho had its wettest January–April on record with 15.17 inches of precipitation, 5.42 inches above average, and 0.12 inch above the previous record set in 1904. Below-average precipitation was observed in the Northern Plains, Northeast, and Southeast.
  • Extremes

  • The U.S. Climate Extremes Index (USCEI) for the year-to-date was more than twice the average and the highest value on record. On the national scale, extremes in warm maximum and minimum temperatures, one-day precipitation totals, and days with precipitation were much above average. The USCEI is an index that tracks extremes (falling in the upper or lower 10 percent of the record) in temperature, precipitation, and drought across the contiguous U.S.
  • The full U.S. report will be released on May 11.

    You can’t learn about water without getting a little wet – News on TAP

    At the Children’s Museum, the kids are launching geysers, playing with water jets and creating a thunderstorm.

    Source: You can’t learn about water without getting a little wet – News on TAP

    Dog, don’t take your water for granted – News on TAP

    When it comes to water efficiency, cats may not rule, but dogs definitely drool.

    Source: Dog, don’t take your water for granted – News on TAP

    #Snowpack/#Runoff news: Melt-out continues, unsettled weather statewide this week

    From Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    March and April failed to deliver their usual snowpack punch this year in Colorado, but most river basins have above-normal peak snowpack levels thanks to storms in earlier months.

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service said in a news release last week that March and April, “typically the two wettest and most pivotal months of the year in the mountains of Colorado” for snowpack, produced 76 percent of their typical precipitation this year.

    But snowfall that was nearly twice the average amount in December and January assured generally decent peak snowpack levels before melting began this year, with southern Colorado amounts ranging from 120 percent to 130 percent of usual peak, the service said.

    It said that only the North Platte River Basin peaked below the normal amount, while the Upper Rio Grande Basin and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins reached their greatest peaks since 2008.

    Poor snowfall combined with melting in March and April contributed to the state’s snowpack level falling to below average, at 95 percent of normal, as of the start of this month. That’s down from 108 percent as of April 1, 139 percent on March 1 and 156 percent on Feb. 1.

    By Thursday, however, the state number had rebounded to 104 percent thanks to storms that rolled in last week.

    As of Friday, the Upper Colorado River Basin snowpack stood at 103 percent of normal, and the Gunnison River Basin was at 114 percent, the highest of any basin in the state. The combined Yampa and White River basins had the lowest amount, at 90 percent of normal.

    “In general, snowpack contribution to water supply should be near normal across the state,” the conservation service said.

    It said the Yampa/White basins and parts of the South Platte Basin have potential for below-normal streamflows, but elsewhere streamflow forecasts are largely near normal, with the exception of the Gunnison, where a number of locations are predicted to flow at nearly 140 percent of average.

    Reservoir storage continues to remain strong in Colorado, at 112 percent of average as of the start of the month. Overall storage in the Gunnison basin is 126 percent of average, while storage in the Colorado River basin is 113 percent of average.

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service said storage levels in Colorado this year and last year have been some of the highest in more than a decade, and reservoirs are in a good position to provide water this summer.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map May 7, 2017 via the NRCS.

    #ColoradoRiver: 24th annual Summit County State of the River meeting recap #COriver

    Brad Udall via CSU Water Institute

    From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

    [Brad] Udall, a distinguished climate researcher, was on hand as the keynote speaker for the 24th annual Summit County State of the River meeting hosted by the Blue River Watershed Group and Colorado River District. The yearly gathering to discuss the season’s snowpack, local reservoir operations and health of the headwater region’s water bodies was highlighted by Udall’s research on how rising temperatures are a contributing factor to significant reductions in river flows.

    The study, conducted with Jonathan Overpeck, a renowned hydrology expert and the director of the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment, points to climate change today producing below-average flows out of the Colorado River. From 2000 to 2014, it resulted in 19 percent less water than the 100-year average, despite relatively consistent precipitation levels, as also ultimately occurred during the most recent winter after some slow beginnings.

    “As many of you know, we started out the year in a very poor way and all of a sudden it went like gangbusters in almost the whole Rocky Mountain region in December into January,” said the Colorado River District’s Jim Pokrandt. “Then the spigot turned off.”

    Those massive snowfalls in December and January created hope of an especially strong water year, but an abrupt drop-off thereafter soon resulted in below-average totals approaching April. As of May 1, snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin was only just ahead of a typical year following disappointing precipitation in the months of March and April. The late-April snowstorms rescued what would have otherwise been a below-average snowpack.

    Across the state, totals are now in line with average years, but it’s a matter of arguing over what could have been. Udall thinks his research definitively shows the culprit.

    “It doesn’t take a lot to figure this out,” he said. “It’s due to higher temperatures. This does not bode well for the future.”

    Colorado recorded its hottest March on record based on 123 years of data, at almost 9 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal. Whether you believe it comes down to the unseasonable heat — or what may be causing it — the fact is the snow rarely arrived to Summit County during that month.

    The science is more complex than warmer temperatures simply preventing precipitation from transforming into snow, though conditions also need to be right for that to happen. The hydrologic cycle dictates that the atmosphere holds on to 20 percent more water for every 5 degree increase in temperature. Evaporation, where liquid is turned into vapor, is taking place as the thermometer rises as well. A similar process happens with plant life that prevents water molecules from ever touching the ground, and — also combined with a lengthening growing season due to climate change — eventually less water is forming in our major waterways.

    That all said, these types of water levels on the Colorado River are not unprecedented, with the 15-year drought between 1953-67 as a similar period. Those lower flows were based on a lack of precipitation, though, not heightened temperatures as they are presently. Add in growing demands on the river in what several speakers last week called “a pretty good water year,” with precipitation historically flat as well as swelling populations, and suddenly we’re staring down the subsequent depletion of a stock used in Colorado for drinking, recreation, crop irrigation and export to several other western states rooted in federal law.

    “We’re in a long-term situation where demand on the resource exceeds the supply,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District.

    Udall remains optimistic we can still dig our way out of this hole, to put water levels on crucial western rivers like the Colorado back where they should and need to be. It will require a concerted effort, he said, to reduce greenhouse gases through a paradigm shift away from past methods that are outdated, and by way of current technologies. The longer we wait, he added, the bleaker our water future will be.

    “It’s warming,” Udall said of the climate in his closing remarks. “We’re the cause. It’s serious. We’re sure, and we can fix it.”

    Book review: “Where the water goes” — @JFleck

    From InkStain (John Fleck):

    There is much to like in Where the Water Goes, David Owen’s new book about “life and death along the Colorado River”, but the thing I liked most was the bemused charm with which Owen himself confronts western water’s absurdities, which must be embraced, but which are easily taken for granted.

    Here he is in Denver conference room a Continental Divide removed from the Colorado River Basin itself, introduced to (and introducing us to) the strange distinction between “paper water” and “wet water” that underpins much of western water discourse. Water lawyer Kent Holsinger is our guide, describing the cattle ranch near Walden, Colorado, on which he grew up:

    A stream crosses the ranch, and the Holsingers draw water from it, but their right to do so isn’t based on the fact that their property is adjacent to its banks, as it would be in the East. “Water law in Colorado and most states in the West is based on the doctrine of ‘prior appropriation,’” he said. That doctrine holds that the first person to make “beneficial use” of water gains the right to use that quantity for that purpose forever.

    I was amused to note that Amazon has categorized Owen’s book in “General Western US Travel Guides” (where it happily is the #1 New Release). But on reflection, the choice made sense. Structure in a narrative like this is always a great challenge, and some of our best books about rivers (think Fradkin’s River No More as one shining example) have used the “headwaters to sea” device. Here Owen deploys it effectively, taking us along on his travels as he follows the Colorado’s twisting path from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez. I never would have called this a “travel guide”, but on reflection could see it serving solid road trip duty.

    By itself, the travelogue is delightful – his side trip into the RV culture of Quartzite on the desert Colorado’s Arizona bank left me full of writerly admiration. Who has travelled the Lower Colorado in winter and not pondered the strange immensity of the human experience spread across the great snowbird RV parks? This is the charm of Owen’s writing, the slightly self-deprecating way he invites us along as he visits interesting people and places, learning new things along the way.

    But within the geographical structure, Owen is doing something more subtle, leading us through the ways in which society and river interact as we go through the complex motions of moving water out of the river channel and doing with it what we do. By the book’s end, he’s easily and gently laid a foundation that allows a discussion of the hard stuff, as he leads us through the effect the global food market has on Larry Cox’s Imperial Valley farm, and therefore on the Colorado River’s water:

    “Even on the citrus we grow – lemons for export have to be different sizes from lemons for domestic. Then we’ve got fancy grade, choice grade, standard grade. We put up thirty-two different packs, between lettuce and broccoli and mixed lettuce and sleeved romaine – and it’s okay, but you kind of feel like a poodle jumping through hoops.”

    Ultimately the hard stuff includes the recognition that the Colorado River’s problems really are hard, not amenable to easy “rewrite the Law of the River” or “abandon prior appropriation/Imperial/Las Vegas” narratives, and it is to Owens’ credit that he ably sums up this no-easy-fixes reality.

    Even water nerds who think they know everything about the Colorado River me will likely learn stuff they didn’t know, but you’re not the book’s primary audience. Y’all should pick it up. But really, Where the Water Goes is a water book for everyone else.