The latest briefing from the Western Water Assessment is hot off the presses

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


  • A wetter-than-normal April and early May led to a bumpy snowpack trajectory through the peak(s) and into the main melt season, and as of May 11, SWE is above normal in all areas except northwestern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, and southern Utah. The highest, wettest Snotel sites in the region appear to have just peaked, among them Grand Targhee (WY) and Snowbird (UT), both at about 60″ of SWE, well above normal.
  • With very large snowpacks and the melt well underway, daily streamflows in northern Utah and western Wyoming rivers are at high (>90th percentile) or record-high values, with yet higher flows and flooding potential on tap with upcoming warm, sunny weather. An elevated risk of flooding in these basins, as well as in the Arkansas basin in Colorado, will persist for several weeks.
  • The May 1 NRCS spring-summer runoff forecasts changed only slightly from the April 1 forecasts at most points. The regional picture is still tipped towards above-average runoff, though with a clear gradient between the much-above-average (>130%) volumes expected in northern and central Utah and most of Wyoming, and the more variable but closer-to-average volumes elsewhere. Forecasted Lake Powell April-July inflows have slipped again, to 123% of average per NRCS, and 120% of average per NOAA CBRFC.
  • April saw mostly above-normal precipitation for the region, with central and western Wyoming, far northern Utah, and southeastern Colorado coming out very wet, while central and southern Utah and western Colorado were on the dry side. Statewide, Wyoming yet again was the winner, in the 93rd percentile for precipitation, with Colorado in the 72nd percentile, and Utah in the 53rd percentile.
  • Drought conditions have markedly improved since early April, so that the region now has less drought coverage than at any time since August 2009. There was reduction of drought in southeastern Colorado and northeastern Wyoming, though some degradation to D0 in southeastern Utah. D1 or D2 conditions now cover only 2% of Colorado (down from 22%), 0.1% of Wyoming (down from 9%), and 0% of Utah.
  • The tropical Pacific remains on the warm side of ENSO-neutral conditions, though with some cooling in the last few weeks. The ENSO forecast models call for neutral conditions to continue, but with the chances of transition to El Niño conditions rising to ~50% by late summer and fall.
  • Fort Collins: Possible ballot initiative about Poudre River through town

    Poudre River Bike Path bridge over the river at Legacy Park photo via Fort Collins Photo Works.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    The group [Save the Poudre] is considering asking Fort Collins voters to require the city to “actively oppose and work to stop” new water projects that would reduce the river’s flow through Fort Collins, according to a city memo.

    Save the Poudre, which has fought the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, and its Glade Reservoir for more than a decade, might soon start the process of getting an initiative on the November ballot that could change city water policy.

    Secretary Zinke Announces $23.6 Million for Water Reclamation and Reuse Projects and Studies

    Water reuse via

    Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

    Bureau of Reclamation Funding Goes to Six Authorized Projects, Thirteen Feasibility Studies and Four Research Studies in California, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke today announced that the Bureau of Reclamation awarded $23,619,391 to communities in seven states for planning, designing and constructing water recycling and re-use projects; developing feasibility studies; and researching desalination and water recycling projects. The funding is part of the Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse program.

    “This funding provides essential tools for stretching limited water supplies by helping communities reclaim and reuse wastewater and impaired ground or surface waters,” said Secretary Zinke. “These tools are just part of the toolkit for bridging the gap between water supply and demand and thus making water supplies more drought-resistant. In addition to this funding, Reclamation is actively supporting state and local partners in their efforts to boost water storage capacity. ”

    Title XVI Authorized Projects are authorized by Congress and receive funding for planning, design and/or construction activities on a project-specific basis. Six projects will receive $20,980,129. They are:

  • City of Pasadena Water and Power Department (California), Pasadena Non-Potable Water Project, Phase I, $2,000,000
  • City of San Diego (California), San Diego Area Water Reclamation Program, $4,200,000
  • Hi-Desert Water District (California), Hi-Desert District Wastewater Reclamation Project, $4,000,000
  • Inland Empire Utilities Agency (California), Lower Chino Dairy Area Desalination and Reclamation Project, $5,199,536
  • Padre Dam Municipal Water District (California), San Diego Area Water Reclamation Program, $3,900,000
  • Santa Clara Valley Water District (California), South Santa Clara County Recycled Water Project, $1,680,593
  • Title XVI Feasibility Studies are for entities that would like to develop new water reclamation and reuse feasibility studies. Thirteen projects will receive $1,791,561. They are:

  • City of Ada Public Works Authority (Oklahoma), Reuse Feasibility Study for the City of Ada, Oklahoma, $136,193
  • City of Bartlesville (Oklahoma), Feasibility Study to Augment Bartlesville Water Supply with Drought-Resilient Reclaimed Water, $150,000
  • City of Garden City (Kansas), Strategic Plan for Reuse Effluent Water Resources in Garden City, Kansas, and Vicinity, $65,368
  • City of Quincy (Washington), Quincy 1 Water Resource Management Improvement Feasibility Study for Comprehensive Wastewater Reuse and Water Supply Project, $150,000
  • El Paso Water Utilities – Public Services Board (Texas), Aquifer Storage-Recovery with Reclaimed Water to Preserve Hueco Bolson using Enhanced Arroyo Infiltration for Wetlands, and Secondary Reducing Local Power Plant Reclaimed Water Demand, $150,000
  • Kitsap County (Washington), Feasibility Study for a comprehensive water reuse project at the Kitsap County Kingston Wastewater Treatment Plant, $150,000.
  • Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (California), Pure Water Project Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, $150,000
  • North Alamo Water Supply Corporation (Texas), Feasibility Study of Energy-Efficient Alternatives for Brackish Groundwater Desalination for the North Alamo Water Supply Corporation, $90,000
  • Oklahoma Water Resources Board (Oklahoma), Feasibility Study of Potential Impacts of Select Alternative Produced Water Management and Reuse Scenarios, $150,000
  • Soquel Creek Water District (California), Pure Water Soquel – Replenishing Mid-County Groundwater with Groundwater with Purified Recycled Water, $150,000
  • Valley Center Municipal Water District (California), Lower Moosa Canyon Wastewater Recycling, Reuse, and sub-regional Brine Disposal Project, $150,000
  • Washoe County (Nevada), Northern Nevada Indirect Potable Reuse Feasibility Study, $150,000
    Weber Basin Water Conservancy District (Utah), Weber Basin Water Conservancy District Reuse Feasibility Study, $150,000
  • The Title XVI Program will provide funding for research to establish or expand water reuse markets, improve or expand existing water reuse facilities, and streamline the implementation of clean water technology at new facilities. Four projects will receive $847,701. They are:

  • City of San Diego (California), Demonstrating Innovative Control of Biological Fouling of Microfiltration/Ultrafiltration and Reverse Osmosis Membranes and Enhanced Chemical and Energy Efficiency in Potable Water, $300,000
  • City of San Diego (California), Site-Specific Analytical Testing of RO Brine Impacts to the Treatment Process, $48,526
  • Kansas Water Office (Kansas), Pilot Test Project for Produced Water near Hardtner, Kansas, $199,175
  • Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (California), Pure Water Project Las Virgenes-Truinfo Demonstration Project, $300,000
  • Reclamation provides funding through the Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Program for projects that reclaim and reuse municipal, industrial, domestic or agricultural wastewater and naturally impaired ground or surface waters. Reclaimed water can be used for a variety of purposes, such as environmental restoration, fish and wildlife, groundwater recharge, municipal, domestic, industrial, agricultural, power generation or recreation.

    Since 1992, Title XVI funding has been used to provide communities with new sources of clean water, while promoting water and energy efficiency and environmental stewardship. In that time, approximately $672 million in federal funding has been leveraged with non-federal funding to implement more than $3.3 billion in water reuse improvements.

    #Drought news: E. plains wet over the past week, statewide wetness this week

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


    The Midwest continued to be inundated with heavy rains from southern Kansas through Missouri and into southern Illinois and Indiana. Amounts associated with the Midwest rains were generally in the 1-3 inch range, with locally higher amounts. Much of the eastern United States was wet over the last week; many areas recorded above-normal precipitation and the rains kept temperatures below normal, with departures of 10 degrees or more over the Midwest. Over the weekend, heat returned to the Southwest with several days of temperatures above 100 degrees F while most of the western half of the United States had above-normal temperatures with departures of 6-8 degrees above normal in the Dakotas and northern Rocky Mountains. Much of the West and Plains were dry for the week, with just scattered thunderstorms in the Rocky Mountains and rains along the coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest…

    High Plains

    Much of the region was drier than normal this week, with only portions of eastern Colorado and southern Kansas recording above-normal precipitation. Temperatures were warmer than normal over most of the region, with departures of 6-8 degrees above normal in the Dakotas. Colorado had abnormally dry conditions removed from the southeast portion of the state, and the moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions in the northern portion of the state also improved. Abnormally dry conditions were introduced over much of northern South Dakota and expanded in southern North Dakota. The short-term dryness in this region has helped to progress agricultural work, but may become an issue without some needed rains…


    Most of the region was warmer than normal for the week, with departures of 4-6 degrees above normal quite common. Dryness over the last 30-90 days over western New Mexico and southeastern Arizona resulted in the expansion of moderate drought in the area. Some of this area has not had measureable precipitation in the last 70-80 days, and this lack of precipitation along with recent triple-digit heat has caused drought to develop…

    Looking Ahead

    Over the next 5-7 days, much of the central Plains, Midwest, and Northeast are targeted for rain, with the greatest amounts over the Mid-Atlantic and New England. From southern Georgia into Florida, below-normal precipitation is expected while much of the Southwest remains dry. The Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains are also expected to receive precipitation. Temperatures during this time will be cooler than normal over the West while much of the Plains, Midwest, and Southeast will be 3-6 degrees above normal. Cooler than normal temperatures are expected over the Northeast with above-normal precipitation.

    The 6-10 day outlooks show that the probabilities of below-normal temperatures are greatest over the West, while Alaska and the East are dominated by above-normal chances of warmer than normal temperatures. The greatest chances of below-normal precipitation are along the eastern seaboard and Southwest while above-normal precipitation chances are greatest over the Great Basin, northern Rocky Mountains, and into the High Plains.

    The exquisite edge of snow and spring #runoff in the #Colorado Rockies — The Mountain Town 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 The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    It’s edge season in the Rocky Mountains. It can rain or snow on any given day in May. But on the first Friday, when we drove from Denver west on I-70 to Edwards for a business meeting, the Continental Divide sparkled with sunshine dancing off the residual snow of winter. Everywhere it looked like I feel after a good night’s sleep, stretching my way into a new day.

    How very different it was in the spring of 1983. I was working in Winter Park that year and living in Granby. Mid-winter had been relatively mild. Then, after the lifts closed in April, the snow came on in earnest. Andy Miller, until recently a reporter for our newspaper, the Winter Park Manifest, had gone to the Arctic Circle with explorer Will Steger. Returning to Fraser late in the month, he reported that he had seen more sunshine in the Arctic than we had seen in the Fraser Valley.

    I recall little melting of snow until the second week of June. Then, there were ponds everywhere. A majority of the water in the Colorado River lies in these mountain headwaters, mostly in Colorado, at an elevation of 9,000 to 11,000 feet, or roughly the same band as where ski areas are found.

    A paddle-boarder drifts down the Colorado River [May 2017] near the entrance to Burns Hole. Photo/Allen Best

    At Kremmling, where it picks up the Blue, the Colorado River spread widely before thrashing its way down Gore Canyon, which drops more than 300 feet in three miles, the steepest drop of the river’s 1,450-mile journey from Rocky Mountain National Park to its final denouement near Yuma, Arizona, according to a U.S. Geological Survey document I read decades ago. The amount of snow and then runoff took water managers by surprise. The surge of water that summer nearly took out Glen Canyon Dam, just upstream from the Grand Canyon.

    This is a very different year. After heavy snows in early winter, March and April were exceptionally mild, even hot. The evidence of heat was all around. The aspen forests on the hillsides above Eagle-Vail, where I used to live, were nearly all leafed out, weeks earlier than I remember. The color of an aspen grove putting on its clothes for summer is sublime. That shade of green upon first leafing is hesitant and delicate, tiptoeing instead of striding, flirtatious rather than a full-on hug. It’s infatuation instead of commitment. In this edge season, aspen groves are the innocence of first love.

    We had allocated the afternoon to wandering, but were caught up for awhile in our indecisiveness. We had good cause, including nostalgia, to go in several directions of our earlier lives. “You make a decision,” I told Cathy, but she couldn’t, any more than I could. This indecisiveness can momentarily be maddening, but it’s part of the process, part of the journey. If you know where you’re going, you will only go to where you know. Luckily for me, and perhaps for her, too, Cathy and I dance well when in our vagabond mood. In this way of rambling, unsure of where we want to go, we end up where we want to be.

    That proved to be the case on this trip. We drove north with Steamboat vaguely in mind. At McCoy, whimsy led me to leave the paved highway for the graveled River Road. Stopping near Burns, where the great river is joined by Catamount Creek, we watched two stand-up paddleboarders navigate down the river. At the BLM put-in, two guys were drinking beer at the picnic table, remarking upon the providence of agreeable weather. Three young guys drove up and scrambled down the bridge’s rock rip-rap with their fishing poles.

    Egeria Creek [May 2017] flows into the Yampa River. Photo/Allen Best

    Dropping mydrawers to change from the khaki dress pants of my business meeting into more comfortableblue jeans, I had a sense of being watched. A critter—I think a marmot—was watching me warily from the protection of a plastic discharge tube about 10 feet away. I studied the northern edge of the river, lined by yellow sedges from last year’s growing season and, just a little higher, the red of willows. This is what I had come to see: the mighty Colorado River, not so far from its origins.

    Returning to the highway, we followed the route of the explorer John Charles Fremont on one of his four expeditions to the west, topping over a divide to see the broad expanse of Egeria Park.

    Egeria Park is a hard place to make a living, hard to get out of your mind once you’ve been bitten. The Yampa River originates here, sandwiched by the Gore Range on the east and the Flat Tops on the west. It’s a place of big ranches, broad meadows, and white-faced cows. From Toponas, I drove a graveled county road through this pastoral heaven, wisps of remnant snow soon appearing along Egeria Creek. I had been on this road once before, 26 years ago, but I wasn’t sure where it would take us. We continued past a few ranch headquarters and then, far up the valley, now getting close to the forested flanks of the Flat Tops, the road veered southwest.

    “Shouldn’t we be turning around?” Cathy asked. “It’s 6 o’clock.”

    The Yampa River—whose water ultimately flows into the Colorado River—begins in spongy meadows such as were found below this snowdrift [May 2017]. Photo/Cathy Casper

    “Just a bit further,” I said, now on a mission.

    We stopped just shortof a snowbank lingering in the road. Rounded drifts observed the north-facing hillsides. Leaving the car and the road, we picked our way through the gradual slope below the snowbank. The grasses of last year, now brown, were matted down, but between the stalks were glimmers of yellow, marsh marigolds. This is where I had wanted to go, the edge I wanted to see and hear, mountain snow becoming water. I wanted to smell the air at this edge, feel the wet on my feet, maybe even dip my tongue to taste this spring runoff, this edge between winter and summer.

    Yampa River headwaters, May 2017. Photo credit Allen Best.

    This and a million other places like it are where the river starts, the massive thing we call the Colorado River. Here the land is merely wet underfoot, but below it becomes a rivulet, and then a stream and, below us, Egeria Creek. Egeria Creek flows into the Yampa River, which takes a sharp left at Steamboat Springs before splashing past the yellow canyon walls of Dinosaur National Park for its rendezvous with the Green River. The Green flows through more canyons and hundreds of miles more before joining the Colorado River downstream from Moab in Canyonlands National Park. That’s where this water underfoot was going.

    Unless it got diverted to irrigate a hay meadow. Or maybe cool the boilers in a coal plant.

    What we didn’t hear was the sound of motorcycles, their mufflers removed, ostensibly in the interest of safety but more truthfully to satisfy the Narcissistic ego’s drive for affirmation of importance. No planes droned overhead, their passengers oblivious to the wonders below, focused instead on getting to a place. True, we had made noise in our journey to find this place. Our existences are compromises.

    Photo credit Allen Best.

    In a further compromise, we continued up the road, unobstructed except for the lingering partial snowbank, to the divide. From there we could see across three or four river valleys—the Colorado, the Eagle, the Fryingpan and the Roaring Fork—to Sopris, at the west end of the Elk Range. To the north were mountains of the Park Range near the Wyoming border. The water from this divide flowing southward had the more direct route to Canyonlands National Park. The water flowing north into the Yampa had the longer journey.

    Then we turned around and returned down the gravel road, past the white-faced cows and their calves, prancing in the hay meadows, and then onto the highway. We were about three hours from the city, a world away.