#Runoff news: The Cucharas River is swollen with rain and snowmelt

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas)

Sandbags were delivered to the [Town of La Veta] Tuesday, and emergency crews worked all night to keep bridges clear of debris, said Larry Sanders, emergency manager for Huerfano County. The level of the river is between 70 and 80 percent of capacity, and more rain is expected Wednesday, he said.

Sanders deferred to La Veta Mayor Doug Brgoch for information relating to evacuation plans should the situation worsen. Brgoch was unavailable for comment, however, as he was out of the office assisting with sandbag efforts.

Sanders said the latest figures he has indicated the river was running at 220 cubic feet per second; the normal reading is less than 20 cfs.

@NOAA: U.S. had 2nd wettest, 11th warmest April on record

Here’s the release from NOAA:

“April showers bring May flowers,” or so the saying goes.

Perhaps a more appropriate description this year might be, “Heavy April showers bring record flooding.”

All that rain helped shrink the drought footprint for the contiguous U.S. to the lowest level since the nationwide Drought Monitor program began in 2000. It also caused loss of life and extensive property destruction in many communities.

Climate by the numbers

Last month, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 53.8 degrees F, 2.7 degrees above the 20th-century average. The month ranked as the 11th warmest April in the 123-year period of record, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Much-above-average temperatures spanned the East, with record warmth in the Mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valley.

The average precipitation total for April was 3.43 inches, 0.91 inch above the 20th-century average, making it the second wettest April on record. Much-above-average precipitation fell across the Northwest, Central Plains, Mid-Mississippi Valley, Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic.

Year to date

The year to date (January through April 2017) average temperature was 43.7 degrees F, 4.5 degrees above the 20th-century average. This was the second warmest January–April, behind 2012. The total year-to-date precipitation for the Lower 48 states was 11.46 inches, 1.99 inches above average, making it the fifth wettest YTD period on record.

More notable climate events

  • Record warmth across the Mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valley: Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and Washington, DC each had their warmest April on record.
  • Heavy rainfall caused widespread flooding: Record precipitation was observed in parts of the Northwest, Southern Plains and Mid-Atlantic. North Carolina had its wettest April on record. Rains caused widespread flooding in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley and contributed to numerous landslides in the West.
  • Drought shrunk to lowest extent since 2000: On May 2, 5 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought. This was the smallest drought footprint since the Drought Monitor began in 2000. Despite improvement in many areas, drought worsened in the Southwest and across parts of the Southeast where several large wildfires burned in Florida and southern Georgia.
  • April saw substantial tornado activity: During April there were more than 200 preliminary tornado reports across the U.S. Large tornado outbreaks occurred in the Central and Southern U.S. in early and late April; these were responsible for eight deaths in Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas.
  • Winter reluctantly left Maine: Caribou, Maine, had at least 12 inches of snow on the ground for 132 consecutive days through April 10, a new record.
  • Alaska dried out: Alaska saw its eighth warmest and second driest April on record with 0.92 inch of precipitation. Abnormally dry conditions covered one-third of the state.
  • The spring 2017 #Colorado Ag Water Alliance newsletter is hot off the presses

    Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

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

    Grand Valley Water Users Association; Conserved Consumptive Use Pilot Project (CCUPP)

    A report from the Grand Valley Water Users Association (GVWUA) examined the process and lessons learned from a “Water Bank” created and administered by the GVWUA. For 2017, 10 voluntary irrigators in the Association will be paid to conserve consumptive use water. A total of 1,252.2 acres will be involved in the program, and participants are being paid $356 to $623 per acre depending on the method of conserved consumptive use. The report goes into detail about the issues of budget, timing, negative impacts, and marketing. You can read the entire report here.

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

    West Drought Monitor May 2, 2017.

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

    #Snowpack/#Runoff news: McPhee releases reach 4,000 cfs in the Dolores River

    Photo via the Sheep Mountain Alliance

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Justin Criado):

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation just finished a controlled, peak release from the McPhee Reservoir that reached 4,000 cubic feet per second over the past weekend. The ramp down began Sunday, starting at 800 cfs per day until Thursday, May 11.

    “This is a really exciting time on the Dolores River because of a combination of high carry over storage in McPhee Reservoir and a good snowpack has resulted in a fairly large managed release from McPhee Reservoir,” said Celene Hawkins of the Colorado Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “Every seven to 10 years it happens that we’ll have as much water in the system that we’ll have this year. It’s a really important opportunity to manage those flows for the ecology downstream of McPhee Dam.”

    She added that 4,000 cfs is the fastest the river has flowed since 2005. As of Monday, the river was at about 3,400 cfs, she said.

    As the nature conservancy’s Western Colorado Water Project Manager, Hawkins is monitoring the impacts of the release throughout the whole river system. She is also the co-chair of the Dolores River Native Fish Monitoring and Recommendation Team, which aides the Dolores River Conservancy District.

    “We’re doing a lot of monitoring around the release and particularly around this larger peak release to better understand what’s feasible within existing water supplies,” she said.”

    Hawkins led a flyover tour of the Dolores River — from the McPhee Reservoir in Dolores to Bedrock in the West End of Montrose County — Monday afternoon. The LightHawk volunteer flight left from Durango’s Animas Air Park and was piloted by Jim Grady, who flew a pair of curious journalists around in his 1953, red-and-white Cessna 180.

    Hawkins explained there are three monitoring sites: one in the Dove Creek region and two in the Slickrock area of the Gypsum Valley and near Bedrock. Monitoring includes analyzing the impacts the release has had on downstream ecology, including vegetation and animals. The monitoring isn’t a simple process, Hawkins said, as it will take multiple years to fully collect data and turn it into practical action items, if necessary. She added there are some immediate results of the release such as plains being flooded from the excess water, and later down the system, receding waterlines as a result of the ramp down.

    “A big purpose of that release was to do sediment flushing and habitat maintenance,” she said…

    “I was on the river during the peak release. It was the highest I had seen it,” said Hawkins, who traversed the river between Bradfield and Slickrock. “It felt like a celebration. People were looking out for each other.”

    During the flyover, the Dolores River curved and curled through the Earth’s patchwork quilt of forest, farmland and free-living.
    Rafters and kayakers could be spotted in almost every area of the river, appearing more like multicolored specs than anything else…

    Organizations like the nature conservancy and the Dolores River Conservancy District work with various stakeholders, including recreational groups like the Dolores River Boating Advocates (DRBA).

    “DRBA has been working really hard on the release this year; both communication to boaters and also communication with water managers to help shape the management of the release,” Program Coordinator Amber Clark said.

    Hawkins added farm irrigation systems will most likely not be affected by the release.

    “We have worked very closely with the water managers and the water users out of McPhee Reservoir to make sure that they will have their full supplies this year,” she said.

    The flight lasted just over two hours and featured more than just views of the raging Dolores. Houses and barns looked like mini Monopoly pieces with their red and green roofs. At one point, several elk could be seen bathing in an isolated lake just south of Bedrock. Aerial views of the Ponderosa Gorge and Paradox Valley revealed several changes in colors throughout the rock walls; from tans to browns to reds, including greens from the area’s flora.

    Grand Mesa: GOCO funds 6th grade science camp

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Katie Langford):

    An outdoor science camp on the Grand Mesa that has served hundreds of local sixth-grade students will continue beyond its pilot phase, thanks to a $20,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant.

    The Outdoor Wilderness Lab, or O.W.L., is a science camp developed by Bookcliff Middle School teachers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife and finished a five-year pilot phase last week. Every year, a group of Bookcliff Middle School sixth-graders are selected to spend a week at O.W.L., to experience science and the outdoors by getting their hands dirty.

    That could mean learning about water quality and fish populations by wading through creeks or natural ecosystems by hiking through the forest.

    Bookcliff teacher and program organizer Greg Weckenbrock said the grant funds will help all 200 Bookcliff sixth-graders attend the camp next year. Currently, 45 students are selected to attend through a lottery system.

    This year’s camp finished on Friday with a science fair displaying what the students learned throughout the week. Weckenbrock said for many students, it’s the first time they’ve spent a significant amount of time in the wilderness.

    “Sometimes I can’t get them to sit still for a minute in my class, but out here they’re totally engaged,” he said. “They begin to take ownership of the camp and ownership of their education. We provide them an experience that they can hook what they’re learning on to, and if the learning is meaningful and authentic they’re going to hang onto it. That’s the whole goal.”

    Weckenbrock said he was surprised to receive the grant.

    “I was elated, because this has really in some ways been a labor of love,” he said. “I was shocked and extremely excited, and then immediately started thinking about next steps. It’s a tremendous success and there’s more work to be done.”

    Weckenbrock and other O.W.L team members, including Bookcliff teacher Spencer Powell, want to expand the program to provide an outdoor science camp experience for every sixth-grade student in School District 51.

    “We’re really proud of O.W.L. It’s a great program and we hope to expand it in the long term so every sixth-grader in the Grand Valley can experience it,” Powell said.

    Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background