Steamboat Springs: Stage 2 watering restrictions remain in place

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

From Steamboat Today:

With the Western Slope under a NOAA heat advisory, the four water districts in Steamboat Springs will continue mandatory stage 2 water restrictions for the remainder of the summer.

“Conditions continue to dry out in our region, and we’re seeing hotter temperatures across Colorado, and in many cases, record temperatures for many areas,” said Frank Alfone, with Mount Werner Water, in a news release.

“As a community, we were able to get a jump on what’s shaping up to be a very hot and dry summer with the early implementation of Stage 2 in May. We appreciate everyone’s cooperation and their support as we head into the heart of summer.”

As part of stage 2 restrictions, home and property owners are allowed to water based on the last number of their street address. Even address numbers water Sunday, Tuesday and Friday, while odd addresses are set for Monday, Thursday and Saturday. There is no watering Wednesday…

In an effort to help reduce use of treated water, the city of Steamboat Springs Parks and Community Service Department is now using non-potable water for irrigation in several parks. Drawn from the river and other sources, non-potable water systems are utilized in Ski Town, Emerald, Memorial, Howelsen, West Lincoln and Heritage parks.

Western Governors approve policy resolutions @westgov


From the Western Governors Association:

Western Governors formally approved five policy resolutions on: Workforce Development; Species Conservation and the Endangered Species Act; National Forest and Rangeland Management; Western Agriculture; and State Wildlife Science, Data and Analysis at the Western Governors’ Association 2017 Annual Meeting in Whitefish, Montana.

The five new policy resolutions formally approved include:

  • Workforce Development: To meet current and future workforce development challenges, Western Governors are committed to identifying innovative approaches that connect western citizens in need of career advancement opportunities to western business sectors with employment vacancies to be filled. The Western Governors’ Association is ideally situated to collect and disseminate workforce development information (such as best practices, case studies and policy options) to enhance workforce development in the West. This resolution directs WGA to pursue a workforce development initiative that leverages the region’s best thinking to help bridge the gap between prospective workers and western employers, now and in the future
  • Species Conservation and the Endangered Species Act: Western Governors applaud the principles and intent of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Governors believe that targeted, legislative, regulatory, and funding refinements could improve the operation of the ESA. The Governors also recognize that much can be accomplished by working collaboratively with federal partners and that the ESA can only be reauthorized through legislation developed in a fashion that results in broad bipartisan support and maintains the intent of the ESA to protect and recover imperiled species. This is an amendment to WGA Policy Resolution 2016-08, incorporating year-two Species Conservation and ESA Initiative principles by reference.
  • Pawnee Buttes. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.
    • National Forest and Rangeland Management: Western Governors support sound forest and rangeland management policies that maintain and promote environmental, economic and social balance and sustainability. The Governors support programs intended to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health and resilience, and believe the federal landscape should be focused on environmentally-sound forest and rangeland management practices that also provide sustainable economic opportunities for local communities. Western Governors encourage collaboration as a tool to achieve community-supported and durable land management outcomes.
    • Western Agriculture: Western Governors support a broad array of funding, education, research, and conservation programs that enable farms, forests, and rangelands to be important contributors to the economies and quality of life in western states. The Governors encourage responsible management of federal lands in the West, given that western states include more than 75 percent of our national forest and rangeland ecosystems. Western Governors encourage integrating these policies into legislative action as Congress considers the 2018 Farm Bill.
    • State Wildlife Science, Data and Analysis: Western Governors direct U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to utilize state wildlife data, analysis and expertise as principal sources in development and analysis of science serving as the legal basis for federal regulatory action to manage species and habitat. The Governors support efforts to provide statutory exceptions to Freedom of Information Act disclosure for state wildlife data and analysis in instances where publication of state data provided to federal agencies would be in violation of existing state statutes.
    Credit: TechCrunch

    Oil & Gas folks find 129,000 underground oil and gas pipelines <= 1,000 feet (300 meters) of occupied buildings

    Photo credit Croft Production Systems.

    From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission ordered energy companies to identify and test all pipelines near occupied structures after a natural gas explosion killed two people and injured a third in April…

    The data reported to the state by Friday showed more than 7,700 pipelines had at least one end inside a city or town.

    The house that exploded was within 200 feet (60 meters) of the gas well, and the pipeline was severed about 10 feet (3 meters) from the house, officials said. The well and pipeline were in place several years before the house was built.

    Anadarko Petroleum, which owns the well, said it would permanently shut it down.

    The pipelines are known as flow lines and connect wells to tanks or other collection points. A well can have multiple flow lines of varying lengths. Some carry petroleum from the well to a separator, which removes water and divides oil from the gas. Other lines carry the water, oil and gas from the separator to tanks.

    Many are 1 or 2 inches (2.5 or 5 centimeters) in diameter…

    Oil and gas companies reported 128,826 flow lines within 1,000 feet of buildings, although a few companies included lines up to 1,500 feet (460 meters) away, said Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

    About 113,000 of the pipelines are in use.

    The purpose of the inventory is to see whether any inactive lines still protrude above the ground, where they might mistakenly be put back in use, Stuart Ellsworth, engineering manager for the commission, said in an interview.

    “My goal is to get rid of this guy,” Ellsworth said, pointing to a diagram showing the above-ground section of a flow line, called a riser. “I do not want the opportunity for an error.”

    Since 2001, the commission has required companies to disconnect and purge flow lines when they are abandoned. They also have to be cut off 3 feet below the surface and sealed at both ends.

    Ellsworth said the owners of abandoned pipelines identified in this year’s inspections will have to comply with that rule, even if the lines went out of use before the rule was enacted.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper and some lawmakers suggested after the April explosion that Colorado could compile a map of all flow lines. Ellsworth said the data the state is collecting now is not enough to create a map because it shows only the end points of a flow line, and the path from one end to the other is not always a straight line.

    #ActOnClimate: States and cities are forming a kind of parallel national government around #climatechange

    Map credit

    From Vox (David Roberts):

    Since Trump gave the world the finger over Paris, more than 1,400 companies and institutions, 200 cities, and a dozen states have committed to meet the carbon targets the US originally pledged there.

    There’s been so much activity that it can be difficult to track all the new initiatives and groups. There’s the US Climate Alliance, representing 12 states and about a third of the US population. There’s We Are Still In, representing nine states, hundreds of cities, and thousands of businesses and institutions of higher learning. There’s Climate Mayors, with 338 US mayors representing 65 million constituents. And probably more I’m missing.

    Just this week, at the US Conference of Mayors in Miami Beach, Florida, US mayors of 1,481 cities signed a unanimous resolution calling on Trump to rejoin the Paris agreement, implement the Clean Power Plan, and help build electric vehicle infrastructure.

    All of this action was more or less symbolic until earlier this month, when yet another coalition, as yet unnamed — consisting of three governors, 30 mayors, and more than 80 university presidents, led by ex-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg — began negotiating with the UNFCCC to have their contributions officially counted alongside other nations in the Paris agreement.

    It’s not clear if that effort will come to anything. There is currently no formal mechanism in the Paris agreement to account for subnationally determined contributions (SNDCs, a spin on nationally determined contributions that I just made up). And the Paris agreement is nonbinding anyway, so even if this coalition’s SNDCs end up formally included and reported, it will still mostly be symbolic. There’s no legal authority holding states, cities, and institutions to these commitments.

    Still, it’s notable that the US subnational climate diaspora — mostly Democrats, but more than a handful of Republicans too, especially at the city level — is spontaneously organizing itself.

    #ActOnClimate: Humans need to come together quickly to fight #GlobalWarming

    Yes, there is still lots of ice in Antarctica, but it’s melting faster than ever. bberwyn photo.

    Here’s a report from The Guardian (Fiona Harvey). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Avoiding dangerous levels of climate change is still just about possible, but will require unprecedented effort and coordination from governments, businesses, citizens and scientists in the next three years, a group of prominent experts has warned.

    Warnings over global warming have picked up pace in recent months, even as the political environment has grown chilly with Donald Trump’s formal announcement of the US’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement. This year’s weather has beaten high temperature records in some regions, and 2014, 2015 and 2016 were the hottest years on record.

    But while temperatures have risen, global carbon dioxide emissions have stayed broadly flat for the past three years. This gives hope that the worst effects of climate change – devastating droughts, floods, heatwaves and irreversible sea level rises – may be avoided, according to a letter published in the journal Nature this week.

    The authors, including former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, argue that the next three years will be crucial. They calculate that if emissions can be brought permanently lower by 2020 then the temperature thresholds leading to runaway irreversible climate change will not be breached.

    Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, under whom the Paris agreement was signed, said: “We stand at the doorway of being able to bend the emissions curve downwards by 2020, as science demands, in protection of the UN sustainable development goals, and in particular the eradication of extreme poverty. This monumental challenge coincides with an unprecedented openness to self-challenge on the part of sub-national governments inside the US, governments at all levels outside the US, and of the private sector in general. The opportunity given to us over the next three years is unique in history.”

    Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, added: “The maths is brutally clear: while the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence [before] 2020.”[ed. emphasis mine]

    Ten Years The State Engineer Dick Wolfe Celebration — Greg Hobbs

    Greg Hobbs was one of the guests at the celebration of Dick Wolfe’s retirement as State Engineer hosted by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources at the Governor’s Mansion’s Carriage House. He sent in this short poem and gallery of photographs.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

    Ten Years The State Engineer Dick Wolfe Celebration

    Invite Dick Wolfe to his farewell party,
    you’d expect somewhere out there
    along a Colorado creek

    A water commissioner on the other end
    would be holding up a cell for

    The Mother of Rivers dialing-in
    to say, “Well done, my
    faithful friend!”

    Greg Hobbs 6/28/2017

    Adiós Dick, it has been my great honor knowing you. I really appreciate your support for Coyote Gulch over the years. Keep on trucking. Here’s a quote from that blues guitarist we both loved. I think he could be talking about your service to Colorado:

    “I don’t like to feel that I owe anything. I like to feel that I pay my own way — there’s no free lunch. And when people give me all these great compliments, I thank them but still go back to my room and practice. And a lot of times I say to myself ‘I wish I could be worthy of all the compliments that people give me sometime.’ I am not inventing anything that’s going to stop cancer or muscular distrophy or anything, but I like to feel that my time and talent is always there for the people that need it.” — B.B. King, from an interview on Slate.

    Photo: The commissioners of the Republican River Compact Administration sign the long-term resolutions on August 24, 2016: (from left) Commissioner David Barfield, Chief Engineer, Kansas Department of Agriculture; Commissioner Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources; Commissioner Jeff Fassett, Director of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources, via Governor Hickenlooper’s office.

    Southwestern Water Conservation District annual Water Seminar presentations are now online

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    Click here to view the presentations. Click here to go to the website:

    Thanks for talking water with us!
    It’s never too late to say thank you for attending the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 2017 Annual Water Seminar! Just under 200 people gathered in early April to discuss the current funding needs for water-related projects in the state.

    Missed the seminar this year? Fortunately, many of the speakers have generously shared their presentations; click on the button below to view them online. You can also read a short summary of the event in the Durango Herald, “Water conference explores financial solutions.”

    Mark your calendars for the 2018 Annual Water Seminar on Friday, April 6, again at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango.

    Every Drop Counts: What You Can Do to Save Water in the West — @Water4Colorado #conservation

    From Water for Colorado (click through to view the videos and learn some tips for lawn care):

    Modern conveniences have made it easy to forget how much water we’re using and where that water really comes from. This makes it even more difficult to grasp how your water usage habits can have a long-term impact on the collective water supply.

    With a predicted water deficit of 560,000 acre-feet (one acre foot is 326,000 gallons) in Colorado by 2050, water conservation efforts in states that rely on the Colorado River for their water supply have never been more important. Though some states such as Colorado and California have adopted laws that encourage the installation of more water efficient toilets, faucets, and showerheads, these small adjustments are just the first step in preserving the water supply for the long-term.

    While water conservation efforts have historically focused primarily on water usage inside the home, the current conversation around water conservation is shifting its focus to water usage outside of the home. Continuously running your sprinklers may be healthy for your lawn, but it’s not so great for the long-term health of our water sources like the Colorado River. Although most of the water used indoors eventually makes its way to a water treatment plant where it is recycled and ultimately repurposed, the same cannot be said for water that is used outdoors. The gallons of water you’re spraying on your lawn and driveway, unlike the gallons going down your drain, don’t make their way to a treatment plant and cannot be recycled. Rather, this water is absorbed into the ground, only to later be evaporated into the air.

    To make a lasting, impactful difference everyone must do their part in order to save our water. Luckily, there are a few simple lawn care changes that not only save water but can even help keep lawns healthier.

    The June 2017 e-Waternews is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

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

    Chimney Hollow Reservoir receives final approval
    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently signed a final Record of Decision and approved a 404 Clean Water Act Permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project. This decision paves the way forward to construct Chimney Hollow Reservoir following a 14-year federal permitting process that began in 2003. Chimney Hollow Reservoir will be located in the foothills immediately west of Carter Lake in southern Larimer County. It will store up to 90,000 acre-feet of water behind a 350 ft. tall dam, which will be one of the first constructed in the United States with an asphalt core. For further information please click any of the links below.

    Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

    @AuroraWaterCO Prairie Waters Project wins national award

    From the U.S. Water Alliance website:

    At the US Water Alliance, we bring together public, private, and community leaders to advance One Water solutions—holistic and integrated water management strategies that improve economic, environmental, and community outcomes. While the challenges facing our water future are great, our capacity for innovation and problem-solving is even greater. There are inspiring examples across the country of sustainable and integrated water resource management. That is why we annually award the US Water Prize to organizations that are leading the way with creative One Water solutions…

    Aurora Water
    Prairie Waters

    Aurora, Colorado is facing the water supply problems of many cities and regions in the arid west—a changing climate alongside a growing population. To combat these issues and secure the area’s water stability, Aurora Water worked with regional partners to create the Prairie Waters system, a innovative system that recapturing and recycling water to provide drinking water and drought insurance for the region. Using a multi barrier treatment process that includes both naturally-existing systems and state-of-the-art purification systems, Prairie Waters provides an additional twelve million gallons of clean, safe and dependable water each day. The Prairie Water program will help meet Aurora’s complex water needs for decades to come and can be a model for other regions experiencing changes in their water supply needs.

    From (Sarah Schueler):

    Aurora’s Prairie Waters system has won the U.S. Water Prize from the U.S. Water Alliance.

    The system was given the honor for its environmentally friendly and sustainable approach to water development.

    The aware panel also said the Prairie Waters system can be a model for other regions experiencing changes in water supply needs.

    Accepting the award at a ceremony in New Orleans on Tuesday night was Marshall Brown, the director of Aurora Water.

    @EPA proposed repeal of #WOTUS exacerbates environmental political polarization

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

    From (Peter Marcus):

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said this week that the administration will repeal the so-called Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS. The rule, enacted under the Obama administration, clarifies regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act to protect streams and wetlands.

    Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, successfully pushed a measure through the House Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday to prohibit the departments of Agriculture and the Interior from requiring the transfer of water rights as a condition of any land-use permit. The bill also requires that future directives from the departments be consistent with state water law.

    Tipton said he became concerned over federal attempts to manipulate federal permit, lease and land management processes to circumvent state water law and “hijack” privately held water rights. He pointed to a U.S. Forest Service attempt to require a transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government as a condition for granting permits on National Forest System lands…

    Concerns raised over repealing WOTUS

    The WOTUS announcement by the Trump administration on Tuesday left environmental groups on edge. They say repeal of the rule “turns the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency on its head.”

    “Instead of safeguarding our drinking water, the Trump administration is proposing to stop protecting drinking water sources for 3.7 million Coloradans,” said Garrett Garner-Wells, state director for Environment Colorado. “It defies common sense, sound science, and the will of the people of Colorado.”

    The group said the 2015 rule restored federal protections to 73,000 miles of Colorado’s streams, which feed waterways such as the Colorado River and, in some cases, provide drinking water.

    The Obama administration took action on small bodies of water after confusing and complex guidelines resulted from Supreme Court decisions. Polluters escaped fines for violations because of uncertain jurisdiction. But ranchers and farmers worry that even small ditches and ponds on private property could be subject to federal regulation, raising costs and overall compliance burdens.

    The Trump administration’s reversal on the rule was expected after Trump in February signed an executive order directing the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review the regulation, a move the president described as “paving the way for the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

    “The previous administration used the vague language in the WOTUS Rule to harm local communities – including ranchers, farmers, and small business owners,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs. “I look forward to a revision of this rule that will empower local landowners instead of giving power solely to the federal government.”

    “Farmers and ranchers across Colorado will now be free from Washington bureaucrats who want to regulate every small body of water on their private property,” added U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Greeley.

    Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner also applauded the action, saying, “The harmful impacts of the EPA’s Waters of the United States rule on Colorado’s farmers, ranchers, and small business owners cannot be overstated. Colorado’s agriculture community is already facing hardship and it is welcome news that this over burdensome regulation will never go into effect.”

    But Kristin Green, water advocate for Conservation Colorado, said repealing the rule will put Colorado at greater risk of pollution and development on precious lands.

    2017 has been hot so far across the U.S. #ActOnClimate

    State temperature ranks for January through April 2017. Red states were record warm for the year to date. Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

    From Climate Central (Andrea Thompson):

    For a swath of states from New Mexico over to Florida and up to Ohio, 2017 has been the hottest year on record through April. For the Lower 48 as a whole, the year is the second warmest in records going back to 1895.

    Several states in the mid-Atlantic had their hottest April on record and a few Southeastern states were near-record warm, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data released Monday.

    The average temperature for the contiguous U.S. through April was 43.7°F (6.5°C), 4.5°F (2.5°C) above the 20th century average, NOAA said. This put the four-month period behind only 2012, which saw major heat waves and drought across much of the central part of the nation.

    The exceptional heat of February is what’s keeping 2017 so high in the rankings, Jake Crouch, a NOAA climatologist, said in an email. With eight months left, though, it is unclear whether 2017 will stay warm enough to ultimately beat 2012 as the hottest calendar year for the Lower 48…

    Fourteen states along the southern tier of the country and up the Ohio Valley are record hot for the year so far, with another 17 states having a top 5 warmest year through April. Numerous cities in those states, including Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Miami and Charleston, S.C., are also running record hot so far in 2017, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center. Only the Pacific Northwest had temperatures at or below average for the year.

    During April, the eastern half of the country was the center of warmth, with the West Coast running closer to average. North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio all had their hottest April. Several other states surrounding that area had a top 5 warmest April.

    Two natural climate patterns, called the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation, were in phases that tend to bring warm conditions to the eastern U.S., Crouch said. The phases of those patterns have just switched, bringing the much cooler conditions of the last couple weeks.

    But rising global temperatures have also titled the balance in favor of more record heat. April was the 29th month in a row where heat records outpaced cold records in the U.S., the longest such stretch in the books and 10 months longer than the previous record stretch. Of the five longest such streaks, four have occurred since 1998 (in a stable climate, record heat and record cold would be roughly even over time).

    Global temperatures are rising because of the continued release of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The most important of those gases, carbon dioxide, recently passed the threshold of 410 parts per million at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii for the first time in recorded history.

    Global temperatures for April will be released next week by both NOAA and NASA, but through March, 2017 was the second hottest year on record. It trailed behind only the record heat of 2016, which was the third record-hot year in a row.

    From NOAA (click through to follow their links):

    National Overview:

    Climate Highlights — 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.
  • Locations from the Mississippi River to East Coast were much warmer than a

  • verage. 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.
  • The contiguous U.S. average maximum (daytime) temperature during April was 65.9°F, 2.4°F above the 20th century average, the 20th warmest on record. Above-average maximum temperatures were observed across the Southwest and Southern Plains and locations from the Mississippi River to East Coast. Twenty-two states had much-above-average maximum temperatures with maximum temperatures for Delaware and Maryland record warm. Below-average maximum temperatures were observed in the Northwest.
  • The contiguous U.S. average minimum (nighttime) temperature during April was 41.7°F, 3.0°F above the 20th century average, the sixth warmest on record. Above-average minimum temperatures were observed for most locations across the country, with the exception of the Northwest, Great Basin, and Northern Plains. Much-above-average minimum temperatures were observed across the East, where 15 states from South Carolina to New Hampshire were record warm.
  • During April there were 3,126 record warm daily high (989) and low (2,137) temperature records, which is more than three times the 962 record cold daily high (749) and low (213) temperature records.
  • Based on NOAA’s Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index (REDTI), April 2017 was zero and ranked as the lowest in the 123-year record for April, due to much-warmer-than-normal temperatures across the densely populated Midwest and Northeast.
  • Precipitation

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Climate Highlights — year-to-date (January-April)


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The contiguous U.S. average maximum (daytime) temperature during January-April was 54.6°F, 4.2°F above the 20th century average, the third warmest on record. Above-average maximum temperatures were observed across the Southwest and from the Great Plains to East Coast. Thirty-six states had much-above-average maximum temperatures with maximum temperatures record warm for nine states across the South and Midwest. Below-average maximum temperatures were observed in the Northwest.
  • The contiguous U.S. average minimum (nighttime) temperature during April was 32.7°F, 4.9°F above the 20th century average, the second warmest on record. Above-average minimum temperatures were observed for most locations across the country, with the exception of the Northwest. Forty-one states has much-above-average minimum temperatures with 18 states record warm.
  • Precipitation

  • 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.
  • 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 second highest value on record. The January-April USCEI in 2012 was slightly higher. 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 United States.
  • Regionally, the was record high for the Southeast, second highest for the Northeast, Upper Midwest, Ohio Valley, and South. In each of the regions above, extremes in both warm maximum and warm minimum temperatures were record or near record high. In the Southeast, the spatial extent of drought and one-day precipitation totals was much above average. In the Northeast, one-day precipitation totals were much above average. In the Upper Midwest, the spatial extent of wetness and days with precipitation was much above average. In the South, one-day precipitation totals were much above average. The West had its third highest CEI due to extremes in warm minimum temperatures, the spatial extent of wetness, one-day precipitation totals, and days with precipitation
  • […]

    High Plains Region: (Information provided by the High Plains Regional Climate Center )

  • The wet pattern that has been a primary feature since March continued in places like Wyoming, Kansas, and eastern Colorado during April. As a result of the wetness, mountain snowpack continued to increase throughout the month and is expected to peak later than normal in the Missouri River Basin. Continued wet conditions also nearly eliminated drought in Kansas and eastern Colorado and vastly improved topsoil moisture as well. However, storm systems that passed through the High Plains toward the end of the month caused devastating impacts, particularly to agriculture and livestock.
  • Heavy rain and snow, sub-freezing temperatures, and high winds accompanied a couple of storm systems that came through in late April. These conditions killed cattle in Colorado and especially put calves at risk. The long-term presence of drought conditions and early emergence put a stressed winter wheat crop at additional risk for damage in western Kansas. Losses are projected to be greatest in southwestern Kansas where the crop was at a critical growth stage and the greatest impacts occurred. Even in areas that did not sustain sub-freezing temperatures, prolonged cold and wet conditions caused diseases to emerge, such as wheat stripe rust and leaf rust. Besides winter wheat, corn that had already been planted was put at risk in north-central and western Kansas where soil temperatures took a dive. While it appears that southwestern Nebraska may have escaped damage to winter wheat from these storms, the heavy snow may have damaged the alfalfa crop. Damage will be assessed in May after temperatures rise and the snow melts.
  • An excessive northern Plains snowpack caused flooding in North Dakota during April. Major flooding occurred in Devils Lake, the Pembina River, and the Souris River. Although April was not a particularly wet month in the northern Plains, excess soil moisture from last fall was preventing producers from getting into the fields. Cool and wet conditions in late April slowed planting of sugar beets in North Dakota and corn in North Dakota and South Dakota.
  • After a very warm March, April’s temperatures were closer to normal throughout the region. Temperatures ranged from about 2.0 degrees F (1.1 degrees C) below normal to 3.0 degrees F (1.7 degrees C) above normal. Areas experiencing the greatest warmth included southwestern Nebraska through western Kansas, as well as eastern Kansas. However, the region did not experience the record-breaking warmth that occurred in February and March.
  • The biggest story of the month in regard to temperatures was several potentially damaging freezes throughout the region. While freezes are common in the area during April, the early emergence of plants due to late winter/early spring warmth put them at risk for freeze damage. With the exception of southeastern Kansas, most of the region had a freeze during April.
  • Prolonged freezing temperatures occurred in conjunction with the late-April storm system that impacted much of the region. In particular, the swath of snow that fell throughout central Nebraska and western Kansas held maximum temperatures down into the 30s. The following locations experienced their lowest maximum temperatures on record for April 30th: Grand Island, NE (tie); Dodge City, KS; Garden City, KS; and Ulysses 3NE, KS (COOP). In Dodge City, the high temperature was only 37.0 degrees F (2.8 degrees C), which crushed the previous record by 6.0 degrees F (3.3 degrees C), set in 2004 and 1893. Minimum temperatures were also quite low in some places, and areas of western Kansas sustained sub-freezing temperatures for 12-24 consecutive hours, likely causing freeze injury to winter wheat.
    Precipitation varied across the High Plains during April. Wet conditions were present throughout much of Wyoming, Kansas, and southeastern Colorado, as these areas received greater than 200 percent of normal precipitation. Heavy rain and snow that fell during the month led to several top 10 records for wettest April in these locations. Meanwhile, dry conditions prevailed across much of the Dakotas, but the dryness was not record-breaking.
  • Two storm systems that brought rain and snow to the region toward the end of the month contributed to much of the wetness experienced by a large part of the region. One system came through on the 25th-26th, bringing snowfall to the Rockies of Wyoming and Colorado, as well as South Dakota. According to the National Weather Service office in Aberdeen, South Dakota, Aberdeen received 1.8 inches (5 cm) of snowfall on the 26th, which was the most snow to fall there that late in the season since April 1994. In fact, a tornado drill was held on the 26th while snow was on the ground in Aberdeen!
  • A second, more impactful storm system moved through the region from April 28th-May 1st. This potent system produced heavy precipitation across parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, and southeastern South Dakota. This same system spawned tornadoes across the South and Midwest and caused deadly flash flooding in Missouri and Arkansas. A band of heavy snow fell across central Nebraska and western Kansas, with some areas receiving as much as one to two feet (30-61 cm), resulting in several locations setting records for top 10 snowiest April. Because this storm system also impacted the region on May 1st, more details on records will be provided in the May climate summary.
  • While this system helped eradicate drought conditions across the central and southern Plains, it caused many negative impacts, particularly for agriculture and ranching. According to agronomy specialists at Kansas State University, snow covered approximately 40 percent of the wheat acreage in Kansas. Heavy snow in the western part of the state knocked winter wheat to the ground, causing stems to break. Damage will be assessed in May after the snow melts and the wheat stands back up. Meanwhile, in Baca County, Colorado, hundreds of cattle were lost or killed due to deep snow and blizzard conditions.
  • Another wet month allowed snowpack to continue to build in the Rockies of Wyoming and Colorado. Once again, the Wind River Range in Wyoming received precipitation that exceeded 300 percent of normal for the month. Temperatures were near normal in both states during April, which helped keep the snowpack in place. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) above Fort Peck Dam was 107 percent of average at the end of April, which was a 13 percent increase from the previous month. Snowpack greatly increased between Fort Peck and Garrison Dams, as SWE went from 129 percent of average to 155 percent of average during the month. The Missouri River Basin mountain snowpack normally peaks near April 15, but given the increase in SWE in both reaches, snowpack will peak late this year.
  • Major improvements in drought conditions occurred during April, as beneficial precipitation fell across drought-stricken areas in the High Plains. Regionwide, all severe drought (D2) and extreme drought (D3) were removed by the end of the month on the U.S. Drought Monitor map. The area in drought (D1-D4) in the region decreased from 17 percent to 4 percent, and the area experiencing drought or abnormal dryness (D0-D4) decreased to 20 percent.
  • The biggest improvements occurred throughout Kansas. Most of the state received at least 150 percent of normal precipitation, while precipitation exceeded 300 percent of normal in western portions of the state. As of the end of March, nearly half the state was in drought, but it was drought-free by the end of April and only 12 percent of the state was experiencing abnormally dry (D0) conditions. Portions of eastern Colorado and western South Dakota experienced relief in drought conditions as well. Reports state that regionwide, April precipitation has helped grasslands recover in drought-stricken areas.
  • Despite recent precipitation and improving conditions, the impacts of drought are still being felt across the parts of the region. Drought conditions during the past six months have caused the winter wheat crop to suffer in Colorado and Kansas. Additionally, ranchers in Kansas are still dealing with the impacts from devastating wildfires in March, which included the loss of cattle and miles of fence, and many are culling herds and buying costlier feed.
  • […]

    Western Region: (Information provided by the Western Region Climate Center)

  • Temperatures were near normal across most of the West this month, with some areas of above normal temperatures along the far southern boundary of the region. Precipitation was variable across the West, though with generally wetter than normal conditions across the northern half of the region and drier than normal conditions across southern portions of California, Nevada, and Arizona.
  • The first half of April saw a continuation of the very active storm track that has persisted throughout the cool season. Portions of northern California, notably along the I-80 corridor and in the Sierra Nevada, experienced over 200% of normal precipitation. Sacramento received 3.36 in (85 mm) precipitation, 258% of normal. In the Feather River basin, Portola observed 5.76 in (146 mm), 420% of normal and the second wettest April since records began in 1915. At some higher elevation Sierra Nevada stations, April snowfall was sufficient to eclipse previous snowpack records. At 8801 ft (2683 m), the Mt. Rose Ski area SNOTEL recorded its largest highest snow water equivalent value on record at 94 in (238.8 cm), surpassing the previous record of 87.1 in (221.2 cm) set in May 1995. SNOTEL observations began at Mt Rose in 1979. Areas in and around the Washington Cascades logged over 200% of normal precipitation this month.
  • Wenatchee recorded 2.15 in (55 mm), 467% of normal and the second wettest April since records began in 1959. Above normal precipitation also occurred in areas of western and central Montana, where Great Falls observed 3.58 in (91 mm), 252% of normal, the 3rd wettest April since records began in 1937. Further south, in northeastern New Mexico, Clayton reported 3.33 in (85 mm), 354% of normal and the 10th wettest April in a 122-year record. Above normal rainfall prompted improvements in drought conditions for eastern New Mexico this month. The Sierra Nevada, Cascades, Great Basin ranges, and northern and central Rockies continued to report above normal snowpack values at the end of April, ranging from roughly 125% to over 250% of normal. The southern Rockies reported near normal snowpack with SWE values, roughly 85-110% of normal.
  • Drier than normal conditions dominated far southern California, southern Nevada, and much of Arizona this month, not uncommon for the spring season. San Diego, California, recorded only 0.01 in (0.3 m), 1% of normal and tie for 5th driest April since records began in 1939. Both Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona, recorded no measurable precipitation this month, as in many other years in their records. Only 3.8% of the West is currently denoted as having moderate drought conditions or worse; most of this area is in southern California and southwestern Arizona.
  • Temperatures were slightly (0-4 F/0-2 C) cooler than normal from the Rocky Mountains westward, with the exception of southern portions of California, Arizona, and New Mexico. These areas reported temperatures +2-4 F (1-2 C) above normal. In Los Angeles, California, temperatures averaged to 67.8 F (19.9 C), 4.7 F (2.6 C) above normal, the 4th warmest April since records began in 1877. Phoenix reported an average temperature of 75.3 F (24.1 C), 2.6 F (1.4 C) above normal and the 8th warmest April in an 85-year record. Areas east of the Rockies were generally within 2 F (1 C) of normal with scattered locations reaching 2-4 F (1-2 C) above normal.
  • April was warmer and drier than normal across Alaska. Stations north of the Arctic Circle experienced the greatest temperature departures from normal; Kotzebue reported an average temperature of 24.3 F (-4.3 C), 11 F (6.1 C) above normal. This was the 3rd warmest April since records began in 1897. In the southern part of the state, Anchorage observed an average temperature of 40.4 F (4.7 C), 3.6 F (2 C) above normal and the 4th warmest April in a 66-year record. April is typically a dry month in Alaska, and this year was no exception. Anchorage received 0.4 in (10 mm), which was 85% of normal. Kodiak was the only long-record station with above normal precipitation at 7.35 in (187 mm), 127% of normal. The breakup of ice on various Alaska rivers typically occurs in April, and this year’s breakups were within a few days of normal. Further south, above normal temperatures were observed at most reporting stations across the state of Hawaii; departures from normal were typically 1-2 F (0.5-1 C). Hilo recorded an average April temperature of 74.2 F (23.4 C), 2 F (1 C) above normal and the 6th warmest since records began in 1949. Precipitation was variable across the state, though most stations on Oahu and several on Maui reported above normal rainfall. Kahului recorded 7.77 in (197 mm), 501% of normal and the 4th wettest April in a 113-year record. Much of Big Island observed drier than normal conditions; 5.08 in (129 mm) of rain fell at Hilo, 44% of normal. The leeward side of the Big Island saw a small area of drought improvement, while abnormally dry conditions were introduced across the rest of the islands. Central Maui and western Molokai were classified as moderate drought this month.
  • April 6-8: Strong late season storm impacted West Coast: High winds (60+ mph/97 kph) downed trees and power lines in northern California and western Oregon, causing temporary power outages for thousands of households. One death was reported in Oregon due to a falling tree. Heavy rainfall associated with this storm initiated a landslide near Oakland, California, destroying three homes. Snowfall of 12+ in (30 cm) was observed in the Sierra Nevada.
  • April (all month) landslides cause/threaten damage in West: Saturated soils due to the above average wet winter have primed western soils for landslides. A series of large landslides caused closure of Highway 101 in Mendocino County, California. In Washington, geologists are tracking a slow-moving landslide near Oso. This event prompted temporary closure of a state highway and officials have recommended evacuation for several homes.
  • @COWaterPlan implementation: “Goodbye to the carrot method. Bring out the stick” — Jim Martin

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Boulder Daily Camera (Jim Martin):

    This is a call for action: We need a real Colorado water plan, and we need it now. Between the state’s rapidly increasing population and rising global warming, it’s projected that Colorado will run out of water by 2050.

    Predictions say by then, the state’s population will have grown from 5.5 million now to 10.3 million, and there’ll be a statewide water shortage of over 1 million acre-feet per year. One acre-foot equals about 323,000 gallons, enough to cover Mile High Stadium between the end zones with one foot of water or to supply four families for one year.

    Yes, the state spent $6 million to create a water plan in 2015, checking in at 540 pages of whatever. No, it did not offer a plan. All it did was give us general ideas, but no specific way forward.

    What is it going to take for us to take this issue seriously? How do we convince our state government to stop toweling off and get back in the game? Goodbye to the carrot method. Bring out the stick. Here are some ideas for conserving more water:

    I recommend that all Colorado residents demand action from the state’s leadership to pass legislation that requires mandatory water conservation. We lag behind other Western states in this, particularly Nevada, California and Arizona. Make it easy for all Colorado residents to learn about practicing more efficient water use, just as the state did when it promoted the expansion of recycling practices…

    Front Range residents forget about the rest of the state. But know that some of its regions, particularly the southeast, experience drought nearly every year. It gets little attention because it doesn’t happen in the Denver metro area. Drought can be caused by inadequate snowpack and rainfall, and rising temperatures. Why do you think our TV weather forecasters put up graphics about reservoir levels?

    Have you heard of greywater? It’s the mostly clean wastewater produced by baths, sinks, washing machines and dishwashers, plus “green infrastructure,” with stormwater runoff used to irrigate natural vegetation. In Colorado, new homes are allowed to recycle gray water, but it’s not allowed for existing homes. Let’s reverse that and allow existing homes to recycle greywater.

    It’s going to cost money, but let’s line ditches with state-of-the-art materials, such as synthetics that don’t crack. There’s so much water seepage from ditches, and that water never joins the state’s supply. Lining ditches with synthetic materials can reduce, if not eliminate, seepage.

    Farmers, instead of flood irrigating, need to look at irrigation at the ground level. That makes water use more efficient by putting it right into the root system of plants, etc.

    We have too much Kentucky bluegrass, exploiting our unrealistic expectations of Colorado’s semi-arid climate. We should not expect to maintain the lush grass lawns and landscaping that many of us grew up with back in our native states. We should encourage more xeriscaping, and perhaps put a 15 percent cap on how much of one’s landscaping can be grass and plants.

    Make it mandatory to teach about water conservation starting in middle school. Show students that we can meet the difficult challenge of maintaining a healthy water supply.

    Sterling water wins First Runner Up from #Colorado Rural Water Association

    Reverse Osmosis Water Plant

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Sara Waite):

    Association, an organization that provides training and resources for small Colorado communities.

    The city was one of seven entries in the organization’s water taste test and received first runner up.

    Tuesday night, Sterling Mayor Dan Torres officially presented the award to the employees at the water treatment plant. He noted that the recognition comes from an outside agency that is unbiased. “To me that means more than anything else,” he said.

    City Manager Don Saling also lauded the water division workers, saying the award “says something about the great quality of product that they produce.”

    He added that those who complain about the taste of Sterling’s water likely live in homes with old pipes that affect the water quality. “I think they (the employees) do a great job,” he said.

    Boaters taking advantage of McPhee Reservoir with closures on other SW #Colorado flat-water

    From The Cortez Journal:

    McPhee Reservoir is seeing increased use this summer because of decreased opportunities for motorized boating on other Southwest Colorado reservoirs that have been closed to guard against the introduction of aquatic nuisance species, according to the San Juan National Forest.

    And to accommodate boaters during the July Fourth holiday, the inspection station for the House Creek boat ramp will extend its hours to 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Tuesday, the forest said in a news release.

    The inspection station at the more crowded McPhee boat ramp will remain open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. All other access points to McPhee Reservoir have been gated to prevent uninspected boats from entering the reservoir.

    McPhee is one of a few reservoirs in Southwest Colorado with mussel inspection stations that allow for motorized boating, public affairs specialist Ann Bond said in the news release.

    The McPhee boat ramp has seen an 85 percent increase in inspections this summer from last year, Bond said.

    “Because of the increased usage, parking areas and boat ramps are experiencing congestion, especially on weekends,” she said. “The U.S. Forest Service urges visitors to use parking areas and ramps as efficiently as possible to lessen congestion.”

    The Forest Service encourages boaters to prep their craft before launching to reduce time at the ramp and to follow traffic signs to ensure safety for all visitors. Boaters who park vehicles without trailers are asked to use overflow parking areas to leave the larger parking areas available for trailers. Weekday users will find less crowded conditions.

    Weekend users are encouraged to use the House Creek boat ramp, which is often less crowded.

    Inspection stations are working smoothly, with previously inspected boats carrying documentation and tags moving through the process within 10 minutes. Boats that have not been cleaned, drained and dried – and require decontamination procedures – are urged to enter inspection stations during weekdays, because the decontamination process takes more time.

    For more information, contact Tom Rice at 970-882-6843.

    @EPA and the State of #Colorado release proposed plans for environmental cleanup at the Eagle Mine Superfund site

    Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Jennifer Chergo):

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) today released two Proposed Plans for environmental remediation at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site. Both Proposed Plans focus on further reducing heavy metal contamination created by nearly one hundred years of mining activity at the site.

    “The cleanup proposals represent both EPA and CDPHE’s commitment to protect human health and the environment at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site,” said Acting Regional Administrator Deb Thomas. “These plans also highlight EPA’s commitment to bringing contaminated lands back to health and reuse.”

    The Eagle Mine Superfund Site is located in Eagle County, Colorado. The site is defined as the area impacted by past mining activity along and including the Eagle River between the towns of Red Cliff and Minturn. Mining activities at the Eagle Mine began in 1879 and continued until 1984. EPA listed the site on the National Priorities List (NPL), commonly known as the list of Superfund Sites, in 1986 because of the mine metals discharge, uncontrolled mine waste piles and the close proximity of the population to the mine and associated features. To better manage the site, EPA divided it into operable units (OUs). OU1 focuses on protecting surface water by reducing metals loading from the site to the Eagle River. OU2 focuses on potential human health risks from contaminated soils in the abandoned company town of Gilman. OU3 focuses on soil remediation necessary to protect human health due to planned future development by the current landowner.

    EPA issued a final Record of Decision (ROD) for OU1 in 1993 and a final ROD for OU2 in 1998. Over the years, all required environmental cleanup work has occurred at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site under a number of state and federal directives. Response actions at the site addressed the major sources of metals contamination to the Eagle River, including the old and new tailings pile, rex flats and various roaster waste piles near Belden. In 2001, EPA declared all cleanup construction activities complete at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site, except for ongoing operation and maintenance of remedial features like the water treatment plant. Remediation conducted to-date resulted in significant improvement in water quality and reduction in risk to human health and the environment. Continued operation of the existing remedy, including drawdown from the mine pool and treatment at the water treatment plant, is required to maintain this condition. Contaminant concentrations in surface water and groundwater have decreased, and the aquatic ecosystem continues to show signs of recovery.

    In 2009, water quality standards established by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission specifically for the Eagle Mine site became effective. Water quality monitoring in the Eagle River revealed that the water quality standards for cadmium, copper and zinc are not attained in March and April of most years. In response, the Proposed Plan released today for OU1 describes a number of alternatives designed to further reduce metals loading to the Eagle River. The preferred OU1 alternative includes the collection and treatment of groundwater from Belden and at the mouth of Rock Creek.

    The Proposed Plan for OU3 presents cleanup alternatives focusing on soil remediation necessary to protect human health should future development occur. EPA created OU3, after a developer purchased a large portion of the Eagle Mine Superfund Site in 2004 with plans to develop the property into a private, residential community. The preferred alternative includes a combination of the following elements for areas at OU3 proposed for development: placing a soil exposure barrier; grading the site; placing institutional controls and conducting monitoring; and/or demolishing structures.

    @CWCB_DNR: June 2017 #Drought Update

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

    May was characterized by wet and cool conditions, particularly in southeast Colorado. The first 20 days of June were a drastic change characterized by hot temperatures and little rainfall. In most parts of the state, streamflow forecasts throughout the summer season are projected to be near normal to above normal and reservoir storage remains high. These conditions leave municipal suppliers generally feeling comfortable with current levels of supply and demand in their systems.

  • After an early peak snow accumulation across the state, snow has melted out in most areas.
  • Reservoir storage statewide remains high at 109% of normal.
  • After receiving 132% percent of average precipitation in May at Snotel stations, June precipitation to date statewide is only 30% of average as of June 21.
  • Long-term forecasts for the summer season are not suggesting any major departure from normal conditions across Colorado.
  • Per the June 20 U.S. Drought Monitor, only 6 percent of Colorado is classified as abnormally dry (D0), the same as last month, with no other drought classification area in the state.
  • @EPA, U.S. Army Move to Rescind 2015 #WOTUS

    Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

    Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

    The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Army, and Army Corps of Engineers (the agencies) are proposing a rule to rescind the Clean Water Rule and re-codify the regulatory text that existed prior to 2015 defining “waters of the United States” or WOTUS. This action would, when finalized, provide certainty in the interim, pending a second rulemaking in which the agencies will engage in a substantive re-evaluation of the definition of “waters of the United States.” The proposed rule would be implemented in accordance with Supreme Court decisions, agency guidance, and longstanding practice.

    “We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” said Administrator Scott Pruitt. “This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public.”

    This proposed rule follows the February 28, 2017, Presidential Executive Order on “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.” The February Order states that it is in the national interest to ensure that the Nation’s navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the States under the Constitution. To meet these objectives, the agencies intend to follow an expeditious, two-step process that will provide certainty across the country.

    The proposed rule would recodify the identical regulatory text that was in place prior to the 2015 Clean Water Rule and that is currently in place as a result of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s stay of the 2015 rule. Therefore, this action, when final, will not change current practice with respect to how the definition applies.

    The agencies have also begun deliberations and outreach on the second step rulemaking involving a re-evaluation and revision of the definition of “waters of the United States” in accordance with the Executive Order.

    “The Army, together with the Corps of Engineers, is committed to working closely with and supporting the EPA on these rulemakings. As we go through the rulemaking process, we will continue to make the implementation of the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program as transparent as possible for the regulated public, ” said Mr. Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

    For the pre-publication Federal Register Notice and additional information:

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

    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through June 26, 2017 via the Colorado Climate Center.

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

    #Colorado outdoor recreation industry = $28 billion per year economic impact

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

    From The Denver Business Journal (Monica Mendoza):

    Outdoor recreation in Colorado is a $28 billion-a-year industry with more than 70 percent of the state’s residents participating every year.

    That’s according to a report today from the Outdoor Industry Association, a Boulder-based trade association and title sponsor of the twice-a-year Outdoor Retailer trade shows.

    Their report says that 229,000 jobs are tied to the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado, and all of that recreating contributes $2 billion in state and local tax revenue…

    The report, which was completed by Florida-based Southwick Associates, says that the 229,000 jobs tied to the outdoor recreation industry meant $10 billion in wages and salaries.

    The firm tracks annual spending by Americans in pursuit of outdoor recreation in 10 activity categories, including camping, fishing, bicycling, water sports, hunting and snow sports. It will release reports on all 50 states July 26 at the summer Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah…

    Across the country, outdoor recreation in a $887 billion industry creating 7.6 million jobs, according to Southwick Associates.

    Outdoor recreation is a powerful economic sector, said Luis Benitez, director of Colorado’s Office of Outdoor Recreation. In comparison, the oil, gas and mining sector had 58,000 jobs in Colorado…

    The report was commissioned to increase advocacy for government programming on outdoor recreation.

    For example, in Colorado, the report is calling on lawmakers to develop and plan urban areas in a way that means every citizen can get outside and recreate within 30 minutes of their home and support policies that encourage people to start an outdoor recreation business.

    Edwards said the state-by-state reports are meant to jumpstart discussions with policy and lawmakers in hopes that outdoor recreation is top of mind when doing urban planning or renewal and when recruiting new businesses to the state.

    U.S. Supremes pass on #NM #GoldKingMine lawsuit against #Colorado #AnimasRiver

    The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

    From The Albuquerque Journal (Dan Boyd):

    While Colorado’s attorney general cited the ruling as proof the lawsuit should not have been filed, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas indicated the legal fight may not be over yet.

    “The Supreme Court’s ruling only limited the venue in which the state of Colorado can be sued for the harm done to New Mexico children, families and businesses,” AG’s office spokesman James Hallinan said.

    The lawsuit, filed roughly a year ago, alleged Colorado was too lax in its oversight of groundwater contaminated by decades of mining and should be held responsible for the fallout of the Gold King Mine spill.

    The U.S. Supreme Court, on an 8-1 vote, denied a motion to hear the case. The nation’s highest court did not provide a reason for its decision, but has also opted not to intervene in other recent interstate disputes, including a 2016 lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado’s legal marijuana laws…

    In addition to the lawsuit against Colorado, New Mexico has also filed a lawsuit in federal court against the EPA and the owners of the Gold King Mine that seeks more than $136 million in damages. That amount would include money to pay for economic losses the state attributes to the mine spill, specifically in the tourism, recreation and agriculture sectors.

    From (Peter Marcus):

    The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the state Environment Department announced last year that it filed a complaint against Colorado with the U.S. Supreme Court. It sought damages and demands that Colorado address problems at draining mines in southwest Colorado.

    Former New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn alleged that his water quality researchers rejected assertions from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado environment officials that the Animas River quickly returned to safe pre-event conditions after the August 2015 spill of toxic heavy metals.

    Flynn and attorneys for his department at the time suggested that Colorado is liable for the incident, which spilled 3 million gallons of sludge into the Animas in Durango, turning it a mustard yellow color. The spill fouled rivers in three Western states with arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

    The EPA acknowledged fault in the spill, in which sludge flowed into creeks and rivers during restoration work at Gold King. The flow headed into the San Juan River in New Mexico and Utah…

    The Supreme Court was an appropriate venue for the case against Colorado, as it involved two states suing each other. But the high court declined to hear arguments in the case, though it did not issue an opinion explaining the decision. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said they would let the lawsuit move forward.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    New Mexico’s petition to hold Colorado responsible for the Gold King Mine spill nearly two years ago was denied Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

    “Because it was the EPA and not Colorado that caused the Gold King Mine disaster, I have said from the beginning that New Mexico should not have sued Colorado in the Supreme Court,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said in a prepared statement.

    “Now that my office has won the Supreme Court case, I hope the conversation can focus on the EPA and its promise to take full responsibility for its actions.”


    In its lawsuit, New Mexico claimed the Gold King spill was the “coup de grâce of two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price.”

    The complaint specifically called out a decision reached by the state of Colorado and Sunnyside Gold Corp. to shut down a water treatment plant in favor of placing bulkheads at the entrance of the American Tunnel, Sunnyside’s drainage point.

    It’s believed among most researchers familiar with the Animas watershed that the bulkheads caused the mine pool of the Sunnyside Mine to back up and cause other mines to discharge acidic water, namely the Gold King.

    Regardless, Coffman, in response to the filed complaint, said she tried to resolve the matter without litigation, calling New Mexico’s lawsuit against the state “unfortunate.”

    “It’s unclear to me how suing Colorado furthers the states’ mutual goal of holding the EPA to its promise to ‘take full responsibility’ for turning our rivers yellow,” she said…

    “The Supreme Court’s ruling only limited the venue in which the State of Colorado can be sued for the harm done to New Mexico children, families and businesses,” James Hallinan, spokesman for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, said in an emailed statement.

    “Attorney General Balderas will continue to fight for economic, social and environmental justice until New Mexico is compensated appropriately by all parties responsible for the horrific impacts of the Gold King Mine Spill.”

    The Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss New Mexico’s petition is the latest lawsuit to fail in the long line of litigation in the wake of the spill.

    On Jan. 13, the EPA rejected $1.2 billion in claims of damages from private businesses and individuals, citing federal law that encourages “government agencies to take action without the fear of paying damages in the event something went wrong while taking the action.”

    To date, the EPA has spent more than $29 million in response to the Gold King Mine spill, with most of those funds used to stabilize the mine adit and mitigate ongoing acid mine drainage through a temporary water treatment plant, Amy Graham, an agency spokeswoman said Monday.

    A total of $3.7 million has been awarded to state, tribal and local governments for emergency response costs, and another $2 million was provided to states and tribes for water quality monitoring, Graham said.

    From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

    The problem of toxic waste from abandoned mines flowing into rivers isn’t limited to just the Gold King Mine.

    In Colorado alone, more than 200 abandoned mines collectively leak over a million gallons of wastewater every day. The pollution includes things like heavy metals, arsenic and sulfuric acid.

    Last week, the Denver Post reported that EPA officials are trying to stop contamination of the Animas River from the abandoned Red and Bonita Mine, which currently discharges 300-gallons per minute of wastewater into the Animas River…

    There are more than 15,000 abandoned mines across New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

    According to that agency’s website, “The numbers of abandoned mines in the state are so numerous that one can only guess at the quantity. Some of them are small and not considered dangerous. Others are extremely dangerous.”

    James Hallinan, spokesman for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, emailed a statement:

    “The Supreme Court’s ruling only limited the venue in which the State of Colorado can be sued for the harm done to New Mexico children, families and businesses. Attorney General Balderas will continue to fight for economic, social and environmental justice until New Mexico is compensated appropriately by all parties responsible for the horrific impacts of the Gold King Mine Spill.”

    @WaltonFamilyFdn Commits $35 million to America’s Great Rivers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Here’s the release from the Walton Family Foundation (Justin Kenney):

    $35 million investment will support urgent restoration priorities in the Colorado River Basin and Mississippi River Delta

    The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) announced investments totaling $35 million to support the restoration and long-term health of the Colorado River Basin and the Mississippi River Delta. These investments are part of a larger five-year strategy to preserve healthy, flowing rivers and sustain the farmers, fishermen, businesses, families and wildlife that depend on them.

    “The Colorado and the Mississippi are two of our greatest rivers, and they and the communities that depend on them are under serious threats,” said Rob Walton, board member and chair of the environment committee for WFF. “We are at a critical inflection point – the decisions made in the next few years will determine the long-term environmental and economic viability of both of these regions.”

    Grants included in the investments announced today will support coalitions that include National Wildlife Federation, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana in the Mississippi River delta; American Rivers, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in the Colorado River basin; and Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society in both regions.

    Colorado River Basin

    WFF has dedicated $20 million over the next two years in an effort to create a more flexible, effective water management system in the Colorado River Basin and improve the overall health of the Colorado River. The lower basin was recently named the most endangered river in the nation by the conservation group American Rivers. The Colorado River is indispensable to the prosperity of the Southwest. It provides water to almost 40 million people in several of the country’s fastest-growing cities. It irrigates more than 5 million acres of farmland, with agriculture and animal production from counties served by Colorado River water resulting in upward of $5 billion in sales.

    “Water management is an important and pressing issue for the state of Arizona, and one that has been a top priority,” Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said. “It impacts our economy, our quality of life, our environment and our ability to continue to grow and thrive. This significant investment will amplify and expand efforts underway along the Colorado River.”

    “Coloradans know the importance of protecting our precious rivers and streams. Water is essential to our western way of life,” said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. “The Walton Family Foundation’s investment aligns with the goals of the Colorado Water Plan in ensuring water security, promoting sustainability, supporting agriculture and more. This investment is an example of the collaboration necessary to find pragmatic solutions to these issues and make sure these rivers are healthy for generations to come.”

    In the face of drastic water shortages, policymakers, water managers and others in the region agree about the urgent need for water management reform. The foundation’s efforts focus on channeling this shared urgency to achieve important agreements that address ongoing water shortages and provide long-term solutions for the benefit of people and the river.

    In the Lower Colorado River, WFF-funded efforts support:

    Renewing the binational Colorado River agreement between the U.S. and Mexico to improve water management in both countries,
    Ensuring California meets it commitment to fund and achieve mitigation to the shrinking Salton Sea, and
    Partner with Arizona to manage its scarce water resources through pro-active conservation programs.
    In the Upper Colorado River, WFF-funded efforts support:

    Securing long-term public funding to protect and improve river health and secure the reliability of Colorado’s water supply, and
    Advancing the development of an Upper Basin market-based water bank program that benefits rivers.
    Core to all of this work, the foundation supports on-the-ground restoration of river health in “proof point” tributaries including the San Pedro River, Verde River, the Escalante River, the Gila River and the Colorado River Delta.

    What others leaders are saying about the importance of a sustainable Colorado River:

    Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

    “Water is one of our most important resources out here in the west, but it’s a limited one. The time is now to secure our water future, and it will take collaboration and innovation to protect assets like the Colorado River Basin and the livelihoods of the Coloradans it supports. Investments in the health, resiliency and sustainability of our precious water resources ensures our water security and the future of the Colorado River.”

    Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, Gila River Indian Community

    “Working on a sustainable Colorado River is fostering a cultural, spiritual, and meaningful awakening of our culture. This announcement is welcome news at a critical juncture in the effort to protect the Colorado River and secure our water future.”

    Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton

    “Forward-thinking partnerships are essential to continuing the long-standing Arizona tradition of advancing smart water policy. The Walton Family Foundation’s significant and meaningful commitment to Colorado River system conservation shows how we can work together to safeguard against climate change and the continued drought that is directly impacting Lake Mead.”

    Mississippi River Delta

    WFF will dedicate approximately $15 million over two years to support restoration projects that will stem the devastating land loss crippling the coast of Louisiana, where every hour a football field worth of land disappears into the Gulf of Mexico. The loss of wetlands and coastal habitat has left the region vulnerable to storms and rising sea levels.

    “New Orleans is a coastal city whose future depends on fixing decades of damage due to the cutting of canals, subsidence, and erosion,” said Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu. “We’re at an even greater risk due to sea level rise. Repairing what has been lost is not just important for Louisiana, but our country’s economy and security depends on our ports to transport goods, our seafood to eat and our oil and gas to fuel the nation. Together, we can build a better future for our coast, our people and the nation.”

    The combination of bipartisan support for science-based solutions and funding for restoration means the region is ripe for meaningful, lasting change. The foundation’s investments will capitalize on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by supporting three core efforts:

  • Advance priority restoration projects and programs from the recently approved Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, with a target construction date of 2020;
  • Protect and maximize available restoration funds, develop innovative funding mechanisms and ensure funds are spent on restoration projects; and
  • Address future challenges through advances in science, modelling and mapping capabilities.
  • These efforts will ensure meaningful restoration of wetlands, oyster reefs, barrier islands and other coastal habitats that sustain the region’s critical seafood and tourism industries, and protects the city and port of New Orleans from devastating storms. The coast is home to a $34 billion tourism industry and 40 percent of all seafood harvested in the lower 48 states comes from the Gulf.

    About the Walton Family Foundation and its Environment Initiatives

    At the Walton Family Foundation, we believe that conservation solutions that make economic sense stand the test of time. We work to achieve lasting change by creating new and unexpected partnerships among conservation, business and community interests to build durable solutions to important problems.

    Through its environment initiatives, the foundation is investing in two of the most important conservation issues of our time: restoring the health of the oceans through sustainable fisheries and preserving functioning rivers and the quality and availability of fresh water they provide. This work spans four initiatives: Oceans, Colorado River, Mississippi River and Coastal Gulf of Mexico. Learn more at:

    From The Denver Post (Ethan Millman):

    This initial investment represents the first of what the foundation said will amount to more than $100 million by 2020. The foundation has also pledged $15 million to support the restoration of the Mississippi River Delta…

    “The Colorado River basin is arguably one of the most important in the country, if not in the world,” Rice said. “And we use more than the river provides. We need to figure out how to do more with less water.”

    The $20 million will be allocated toward different groups across the upper and lower river basins, including advocacy organizations such as American Rivers and the National Wildlife Federation.

    Ted Kowalski, Colorado River initiative lead for the Walton Family Foundation , said helping sustain the river is crucial to supporting both the environment and the economy.

    “If you look at the last 17 years, we’ve seen a remarkable drought,” Kowalski said. “It’s the longest and worst since the turn of the 20th century. It’s one of the worst we’ve ever seen. If we were to see a drought like 2012, the reservoirs would continue to decline.”


    While the region would take a huge economic hit, Kowalski said the environmental cost would be worse, and work in the region should be about preventing these problems rather than combating them head on.

    “The environment would be the biggest loser,” Kowalski said. “We want to hold hydrology not in the throes, but in advance of this crisis.”

    Hydropower in canal called energy ‘game-changer’ – News on TAP

    First-ever use of turbines in shallow waterways holds promise to generate sustainable electricity.

    Source: Hydropower in canal called energy ‘game-changer’ – News on TAP

    Upper Ark board meeting recap

    Cottonwood Creek photo credit

    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors addressed two Water Court cases during the May board meeting, an ongoing case to change the use of irrigation water rights in Coaldale and a new filing by the town of Buena Vista for a plan of augmentation for McPhelemy Pond.

    The Coaldale case, 2016CW3055, involves Hayden Creek water rights associated with the CB Ranch, which was purchased by Security Water and Sanitation District.

    The Upper Ark district has filed a statement of opposition in the case, and Security has filed its preliminary engineering report, proposed decree, proposed water accounting and a revegetation proposal.

    In preparation for the district’s response to the filings, Chris Manera, district engineer, has begun a consumptive use analysis.

    Manera reported that he is examining return flows from historic irrigation that provided water for approximately 150 acres of alfalfa crops.

    An accurate determination of these return flows will be a key factor in this case since Security is required to replace return flows to avoid injury to other water rights.

    District Manager Terry Scanga said the San Isabel Land Trust would like to work with Security so that some the historically irrigated land can continue to be used for agriculture, which would prevent the types of problems experienced by the dry-up of other ranches in the Upper Arkansas Basin.

    He reported on a meeting with Security and the land trust to discuss the possibility of leasing some of the water for that purpose and said both parties are interested in continuing discussions.

    Board members voted to allow district staff to facilitate those discussions.

    Kendall Burgemeister, attorney for the district, reported that Security has lost the use of well-water sources due to contamination in the aquifer, making the Hayden Creek water rights more critical to the city’s water supply.

    Scanga said another possibility would be for the land trust to acquire other sources of water to keep some of the land irrigated.

    In Water Court filing 17CW3022, the town of Buena Vista’s proposed augmentation plan to replace water from evaporative water losses from McPhelemy Pond, would involve exchanges on Cottonwood Creek and use of Cottonwood Reservoir water for augmentation.

    Since the Upper Ark district owns Cottonwood Creek water rights and operates Cottonwood Reservoir, board members voted to get into the case to ensure that its water rights and operations are not negatively affected.

    According to Buena Vista’s Water Court filing, the amount of water to be augmented is 1.37 acre-feet annually.

    In Case 96CW17, the town has a conditional decree for an appropriative right of exchange to allow the town’s purchased Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water to be stored in Cottonwood Reservoir.
    As part of its recent filing, Buena Vista also seeks to include augmentation for McPhelemy Pond as an additional use of that water.

    At the meeting district directors also:
    • Welcomed new board member Dennis Giese, who was appointed to fill the Division 3 seat, corresponding to Chaffee County School District R-31, which was vacated when Frank McMurry resigned.
    • Received a detailed presentation from Manera about the efficiency of the DeWeese Irrigation System and potential improvements to increase water storage potential and improve the exchange potential on Grape Creek below DeWeese Reservoir.
    • Heard a report from Scanga about meetings of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and the Colorado Inter-Basin Compact Committee, including the next phase of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which will examine how existing projects can meet future water demands.
    • Approved an increase in the district education budget from $10,000 to $25,000 to fund a new website and an educational video.
    • Heard a report from the Resume Review Committee, responsible for reviewing Division 2 Water Court filings.
    • Learned that a “mutually beneficial” agreement with Poncha Springs was reached concerning the Friend Ranch water.
    • Learned that Chaffee County officials entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the town of Buena Vista for source water protection.
    • Received a legislative update from consultant Ken Baker, who reviewed legislation taken up in the 2017 legislative session.

    Park County, et al., purchase augmentation water for Fairplay Beach reservoir

    Fairplay photo credit

    From The Fairplay Flume (Lynda James):

    The closing on 10.05 acre feet of augmentation water from Lone Rock H2O took place June 19.

    Purchasing the water was a collaborative effort between the Park County, Fairplay, the Headwater Authority of South Platte and the two water conservancy districts in the county.

    The districts had an option to purchase the 10 acre feet from Lone Rock.

    HASP will own and manage the augmentation water for the Beach…

    Of the 10.05 acre feet, 9.618 acre feet were purchased to augment evaporative losses from the Fairplay Beach reservoir and remaining 0.435 acre foot was purchased by the county for $6,600.

    The Beach parcel is owned by the Town of Fairplay, but the water in the reservoir is jointly owned by Fairplay, Park County and the Upper South Platte Water Conservancy District.

    Several decades ago, the three entities joined together to build the reservoir for recreational purposes, and at that time, augmentation water was not required. Today it is required.

    After Water Commissioner Graver Brown determined that 9.618 acre feet of augmentation were needed, the USPWCD asked the Center of Colorado Water Conservancy District if it would agree to using the Lone Rock option to purchase augmentation water for the Beach.

    The Center agreed and then the USPWCD applied for a Land and Water Trust Fund grant to purchase the Lone Rock water. That grant was approved by the county.

    The purchase price was $13,000 an acre foot.

    The entire process has taken more than two years and June 15, the commissioners signed warranty deeds and several other documents related to the purchase.

    Waldo Canyon fire scar restoration update

    Waldo Canyon Fire

    From the Associated Press via the The Denver Post:

    The Forest Service picked this valley as a place to send heavy equipment and fight against the flooding that caused havoc below in the months after the fire. Five years later, the images of cars floating away in Manitou Springs remain unforgettable. Here in this sparse forest, water runs controlled thanks to those excavators, which stacked logs to form dams and sculpted the channel, filled with flow-slowing objects such as rocks and charred branches.

    And all along it, willows were planted with the design of further stabilizing the banks. Also, the willows could provide shade. Perhaps with cooler waters, plant and animal habitats will make a suitable home again…

    The hydrologist based in Colorado Springs calls this “a pilot site” — the beginning stage for a recovery tactic that could work at riparian areas across the scar. Along with the 2,000 willows planted last month in Waldo Canyon itself, thousands more seedlings could be spread in the barren landscape beyond.

    The site showcases other revegetation trends across the scar: the erosion-mitigating grasses that RMFI planted over wiped-out hillsides, accompanied by the Forest Service’s dump of mulch from a helicopter. And Shipstead expects other human action here: biocontrol by releasing bugs which crave the invasive weeds that took root after the fire.

    The group steps over the plant henchmen remaining — the spiky thistle and fuzzy mullien. They continue their willow count silently, nervously, it seems…

    Five years after the devastation, land managers maintain a hopeful narrative. The Forest Service calls the burn scar 70 percent revegetated — a figure that does not allude to the return of the previous conifer-covered state, but to a transformed one.

    The area is taking on a look it likely had centuries ago, says Pikes Peak District Ranger Oscar Martinez. Mother Nature has “reset the clock,” he says, by pulling up the aspens that long lay dormant beneath the now-destroyed pines and firs that dominated for generations in forest time. Also covering the slopes now are tangles of scrub oak; they, like aspens, were eager to make their presence known soon after the conifers departed…

    A fire of Waldo Canyon’s magnitude heats the ground to a point of hydrophobicity, where instead of water being absorbed, it is repelled. Further complicating the conifers’ return is the forest’s unique soil — “calling it a soil is kind of a generous term,” Martinez says. Conservationists call Pikes Peak granite “kitty litter,” for its pebbly, porous condition, which rain had no problem moving in the days after the burn, washing the sediment into the canyon and piling it up to heights of grown men.

    That phenomenon made portions of the Waldo trail disappear along its 7-mile loop. The Forest Service continues to take questions as to when the trail will reopen, and land managers say people should refine their questions, considering the trail no longer really exists. Realignment seems more than likely…

    Back at the recovery site, the willow count continues. Reflecting on the restoration here and at areas across the scar going forward, RMFI’s Peterson wonders about human’s role. “We can jump-start the process,” she says, “but nature is smarter and stronger. Nature will always find a way.”

    The Eagle River Watershed Council scores $90,000 from @USBR

    Eagle River Basin

    Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation:

    Bureau of Reclamation Acting Commissioner Alan Mikkelsen announced that Reclamation has awarded $664,754 to seven entities to implement watershed management projects. The funding will be used for projects that enhance water conservation, improve water quality and ecological resilience, reduce water conflicts, and advance goals related to water quality and quantity.

    “Cooperative watershed groups bring together diverse partners to address water management needs in their local communities,” Mikkelsen said. “The projects announced today will help restore watersheds and reduce water conflicts that were collaboratively developed within their communities.”

    These are the first projects selected under Phase II of the Cooperative Watershed Management Program…

  • Eagle River Watershed Council, Inc., will receive $90,000 for a total project cost of $1,363,500 to improve instream flows in Abrams Creek, southwest of Eagle, Colorado. This project is being completed in conjunction with Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Buckhorn Valley Metropolitan District.
  • Opinion: Conservation easements are an investment in soils

    Saguache Creek

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Tamera Minnick):

    Soils are vital to ecosystem health. In the U.S., we learned this the hard way in the 1930s Dust Bowl. Extreme drought was just one of the drivers of the Dust Bowl. The effects were magnified by economic, policy and land management decisions during the prior decade.

    At the end of World War I, European agriculture was in disarray and American agriculture benefited. During a few years, wheat prices were high and borrowing money was easy. The result was 5.2 million acres of marginal agricultural lands plowed to grow wheat. In retrospect, we now appreciate that these lands should have stayed as native grass.

    Once that soil was destabilized by plowing and left bare in the drought, it blew. And blew. People died of dust pneumonia — not caused by a bacteria or virus, but from the dust itself.

    In 1935, Dr. Hugh Bennett, a soil scientist, prescribed protecting and revegetating these marginal lands with grasses. When government agencies insisted that soil was a resource that could not be exhausted, Bennett replied, “I didn’t know so much costly misinformation could be put into a single brief sentence.” The main problem with Bennett’s ideas, like today, was that he had to persuade Congress to fund them.

    Congress was stubborn, but Bennett rescheduled a hearing for an afternoon in which he knew that a big duster had formed and was headed for Washington, DC.

    As the meeting began, success appeared unlikely. It suddenly grew dark. The dust storm blew in and turned day to night. Funding was approved. This was the inception of what would become the Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Today, most farmers have easy access to an NRCS office.

    NRCS strives to decrease erosion by aiding farmers in adopting techniques such as low- or no-till plowing, contouring with the landscape, using buffer strips around water, and planting shelterbelts.

    Building on this success, President Ronald Reagan implemented the Conservation Reserve Program in 1985. The intent was to take marginal land, mostly land at risk for erosion, out of crop production and plant native grass. The federal government pays rent to farmers for providing this public service of stabilizing these marginal lands.

    The CRP has decreased erosion, improved wildlife habitat, and enhanced water and air quality, all while keeping the land in private ownership.

    One of the deficiencies of the CRP is the short-term nature of the contracts. For 15 or 20 years, erosion is controlled, soil organic matter gradually accumulates, wildlife populations rebound, and sites stabilize. But there can be sudden changes.

    For instance, in 2007, crop prices increased dramatically. Many marginal lands were put back into crop production. In one year, many of those public goods, paid for by taxpayers, were eliminated.

    In the late 1990s, a new conservation tool was developed — conservation easements. With conservation easements, the right to develop the land is relinquished and, in return, the owner usually is accorded significant tax credits.

    One similarity between the CRP and conservation easements is that entering into either one is voluntary. The landowner makes a personal and economic decision that the program is the right thing to do with his or her private land. Additionally, the private land remains private.

    There are some major differences between conservation easements and CRP. Under conservation easements, many land uses are allowed, including continued crop production; these are described in a contract. Also, the easement is often held by a non-profit (like our own Mesa Land Trust). The result of an easement is a substantial tax credit (which in Colorado can be transferred to others). Finally, the easement is permanent, not just a 10- or 15-year contract.

    That last point is important. At Colorado Mesa University, my colleagues, students, and I have reported that it may take our fragile western soils 50 years or more to recover to a healthy functioning status following damage (and much longer if topsoil is lost to erosion). Permanent conservation easements assure public investments will not be lost with short-term fluctuations in commodity prices.

    Another reason that conservation easements are in perpetuity? In order to gain the federal and Colorado tax credits, the easement must be permanent.

    Mesa Land Trust is phenomenally successful in our county. There is widespread support, and they have helped landowners protect, in perpetuity, over 66,000 acres. Much of this is important wildlife habitat outside of the valley, while some insures that agriculture thrives in the valley and that we have buffers between our towns to preserve the rural character of our area.

    Conservation easements are a modern tool based on our improved understanding of the science of how ecosystems function. Their perpetual nature guarantees the public’s return on this investment.

    Tamera Minnick, Ph.D., is a professor of environmental science and technology at Colorado Mesa University where she has taught soil science and sustainability. She recently renewed her membership with Mesa Land Trust. Much of the Dust bowl information came from Timothy Egan’s “Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.” Email

    Blue River advocates hope for a return of Gold Medal status in the reach below Dillon Dam

    Blue River

    From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

    It’s lower down the gushing waterway’s span, however, on a 19-mile stretch north of Silverthorne toward Green Mountain Reservoir, that state officials said the gold medal tag had to be pulled this past March. While perhaps no shock to those who best know the area’s waters — many already avoid that segment for lack of comparative success — the local emphasis has been on exploring if regaining that billing as one of the state’s top fishing destinations is even possible.

    “When we removed that gold medal designation, it got the attention of a lot of people, which was part of my intention,” said Jon Ewert, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Part of it is truth in advertising, and the other effect is that it would draw some attention to that stretch of the river.”

    To possess a gold medal, a waterbody needs to offer 60 pounds of trout per acre and a dozen fish at least 14 inches or longer in that same space. But through some mix of unnatural streamflows, insufficient bug populations for fish to eat and temperature variability, those 19 miles have produced no better than half those quantity requirements since as far back as 2001.

    A regional stakeholder group has been meeting quarterly to trade data and hypothesize what may have ultimately turned the tide on the classification. So far it’s still uncertain.

    “It’s a great mystery,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, who is a member of the quarterly Blue River meetings. “There are a lot of possibilities and one is that it’s a water quality issue, but no one has identified that, and there’s been some effort to see if there’s something in the water that we’re not aware of that’s bad.”

    What is clear is that the number of rainbow and brown trout that used to populate the segment are no longer there, and those that remain are underweight.

    “Fish, they just don’t thrive there,” added Stiegelmeier. “And they get pretty beat up, because they’re caught and released, caught and released.”

    Water quantity, meaning outflows from Denver Water-managed Dillon Reservoir, are almost certainly a factor in all of this, but how to overhaul that is even trickier. Based on annual snowpack and peak periods of melt, the agency pushes water out into the Blue River to avoid overflow, but is also unable to lend more than present totals so it can still meet the demands of Front Range water needs.

    In a related quality issue, what is funneled out is often colder than ideal temperatures for fish because it originates from lower in the reservoir, rather than at various depths as with more modern dam designs. Trout thrive at between 54 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit, and what comes out of Dillon Reservoir is typically closer to about 46.

    Discussions persist about possibly retrofitting Dillon Dam, which opened at the end of 1963, with an updated, staged-release structure like that of Grand County’s Wolford Reservoir. That project, completed in 1995, includes a tiered system that can combine water from three different depths to better manage temperature downstream.

    The primary obstacle, though, is that such a renovation could cost up to $10 million, and no one knows yet from what source the funding might arise.

    That’s if it would even help address the challenges in the Blue River at all.

    “It’s definitely an idea that has merit, but the problem is it’s millions of dollars in an infrastructure project that nobody’s stepping up and volunteering to pay for,” Ewert explained. “And number two, it’s essentially an experiment because we don’t know for sure if that would be the fix. We’re certain that it wouldn’t hurt it, but … it’s a pretty expensive experiment.”

    Eventually restoring the gold medal fishing label for the entirety of the Blue River is the group’s goal. Doing so by artificially stocking the deficient stretch is another alternative, but officials note that does nothing more than simply reinstating a name — and at unsustainable costs — rather than straightening out what’s really going on.

    “We could do it by just dumping a bunch of fish in there, but that’s really not economically responsible,” said Ewert. “What we want it to do is be a more productive fishery and improve the potential of it, and in the course of accomplishing that it should meet gold medal standards. We have to pool all of our information and figure out what information we’ve got, and is it pointing us in any certain directions before we can figure out what we can do to help this stretch of river … and it’s going to take time.”

    Remembering when all of Colorado seemed to be on fire — The Mountain Town News

    Smoke from a fire on the western flanks of the Flat Tops, around Trappers Lake, created an eerie late-afternoon scene along Interstate 70 near Dotsero, east of Glenwood Canyon. Photo take in July or perhaps early August 2002. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Three giant forest fires raged in Colorado 15 years ago…What did we learn from them?

    Fifteen years ago…I went sightseeing, as did Colorado’s governor. We both returned home deeply impressed, maybe even spooked.

    From Denver, I had driven to Camp Hale, between Vail and Leadville, then hiked up Resolution Mountain. It stands 11,905 feet, modest by Colorado standards but high enough to get a commanding view of the landscape south and west. My companion, Cathy, remembers being unsettled by the type of clouds we could see from the summit.

    Then-Gov. Bill Owens had a higher, broader purview from his seat in an airplane. Two major forest fires had started the afternoon before, and while we were on the mountain and the governor was presumably in the air, yet a third major fire started.

    Returning to Denver, Owens told reporters: “It looks like all of Colorado is burning today.” He took crap for that observation. Colorado was not all on fire! It will keep tourists at home! But if not literally true, all of Colorado figuratively was on fire.

    It had been a dry winter, and April bellowed hot winds. The three fires that the governor saw that day had started almost simultaneously. On June 8, a Saturday, a fire from an underground coal seam underlying the western part of Glenwood Springs caused dried vegetation on the ground to catch fire. It was a hot and windy day, and the flames roared and then leaped across railroad tracks, the Colorado River, and Interstate 70. It eventually burned 12,200 acres but, more importantly, raced through a city.

    Hayman burn area via The Denver Post

    That same day, in central Colorado, a Forest Service employee—perhaps ironically a fire prevention technician—burned letters in a campground of what she said was a romance gone sour. She left and the flames spread, becoming the 138,000-acre Hayman Fire. One woman died of an asthma attack provoked by the smoke, and five firefighters died in a car wreck en route to Colorado to help fight the flames. As The Denver Post’s John Ingold noted in 2012, Barton’s story was widely disbelieved. She served five years in prison.

    Missionary Ridge Wildfire Complex Map via GSC Map Gallery.

    In southwest Colorado yet a third fire, called Missionary Ridge, north of Durango, began on June 9, the day I climbed the mountain. That fire eventually burned 70,500 acres. No cause of ignition was ever determined.

    Denver that month was often smoky. I remember the sinister light that left streets looking scenes from a sci-fi movie about some future, dystopian civilization. Sunshine filtered through smoke has a disturbing orange tint, kind of like our current president’s dyed hair. It leaves you vaguely out of sorts, kind of like that first blush of sickness, say the onslaught of flu, when you don’t feel quite right but just can’t explain it. That’s what June 2002 felt like as the Hayman and other fires raged.

    Drought was the major story. Dendrochronologist, or tree-ring, experts, concluded that it had been the driest runoff in 150 to 300 years, depending upon location. The Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon had a peak that was almost inconspicuous. Downstream farther, Lake Powell plummeted, leaving a giant bathtub ring. Flows into the reservoir were 25 percent of the long-term average and the lowest since the dam had been completed in 1963.

    But the fires also renewed the conversations about our rights and our responsibilities when living in a fire-prone landscape. Arguably, Glenwood Springs could have done very little or nothing to have insulated itself from the fire. But Missionary Ridge and Hayman both resulted in loss of homes built in what is called the wildland-urban interface. You know: the cabin sitting out in the forest, away from the aggravations of town or city life. But ponderosa pine forests burn every few decades.

    The late Ed Quillen, writing in The Denver Post, captured at least a portion of the discussion by calling this the stupid zone.

    Did we learn from 2002? Yes, and perhaps no. In the decade that followed, there were other major fires, particularly along the Front Range. Most significant were two giant fires in another hot, dry year decade later, in the hot, dry year of 2012, we had giant forest fires at Colorado Springs and west of Fort Collins. Hundreds and hundreds more homes burned.

    The larger story is more nuanced. As humans we are very, very forgetful. Six years after a big fire, maybe sooner, the memory of the devastation recedes. People decide it’s OK to build houses in places where fire occurred because — well, hey, it’s pretty and it’s away from the city. (If I had the money, I might be tempted to live in such places myself).

    But in Summit County, Vail and Steamboat Springs, there was additional reminder. The drought further weakened aging forest of lodgepole pine, making them more vulnerable to an epidemic of bark beetles that spread a fungus that kills the trees. These places always were vulnerable to forest fires, if infrequent. But whole hillsides of rust-colored needles made the risk that much more susceptible.

    Vail modified building codes to slowly phase out the shake-wood shingles that made houses more vulnerable. The town also began thinning forests along its periphery, creating something of a moat. Breckenridge shifted its regulations. Instead of penalizing people who removed trees from their property, aggressive efforts were launched to reward creation of defensible space, to lower the risk of fire spreading to homes.

    A scene in Summit County, between Farmers’ Corner and Summit Cover, overlooking Dillon Reservoir, both pre-treatment and afterward.

    Other work has been done by water agencies in cooperation with federal and state land agencies. Denver Water, for example, pledged $16.5 million, a figure matched by the U.S. Forest Service, for thinning of forests in its collection areas. The city’s Cheesman Reservoir was heavily clogged by sediment resulting from the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire and then again the Hayman Fire. In February 2017, the city renewed its $16.5 million commitment to the program, called From Forests to Faucets. Work—now including the Colorado Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service—will include projects in both Summit and Grand counties. Roughly 50 percent of Denver Water’s 1.4 million customers get supplied by water diverted from these two counties. Other water agencies, such as Aurora, have similar programs in forested areas from which they draw water.

    In May, Breckenridge and the Forest Service announced a memorandum of understanding regarding “treatment” of forested lands in the area along the Blue River where the town draws its water.

    Unlike the frequent fires of lower-elevation ponderosa pine forests, fire only rarely visited high-elevation spruce-fir forests rarely in centuries past. The last giant fire in the Fraser Valley, for example, occurred about the time that British emigrants were trying to establish a colony at Jamestown, in the early 1600s.

    How might warming temperatures change the fire regimes? It’s clear enough that 2002 and 2012 should be viewed as harbingers of what is likely to come. But that’s another story, and I welcome you to see what experts had to say on the subject at a workshop held during March in Aurora.

    CPW begins spawning operations for cutthroat trout lineage rescued from the wildfire ravaged Hayden Creek watershed

    Aerial photograph of Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery. Photo via Western State Colorado University.

    CBS Denver:

    The first batch of semen and eggs have been harvested from 158 unique cutthroat trout that now thrive the Roaring Judy Hatchery in Gunnison.

    They lived near Canon City a year ago.

    In July of 2016, The Hayden Pass Fire started from a lightning strike. In days, with the help of strong winds and dry conditions, it evolved into a 26-square-mile event that forced the evacuation of 140 homes…

    Workers from Colorado Parks & Wildlife and the United States Forest Service made what was called “a desperate dash” to Hayden Creek. They waded into the water, temporarily immobilized the fish with a small electric shock, and netted them.

    Nearly 200 fish were caught.

    They may be the last survivors of a specific species of cutthroat first discovered in the late 1800s.

    Ichthyologist David Starr Jordan collected a pair of trout specimens in 1889 from Twin Lakes, near Leadville, according to the CPW. Today, those specimens reside at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

    In 1996, CPW biologists discovered the Hayden Creek cutthroat contain unique genes matching those of the museum specimens.

    Of the nearly 200 trout rescued from the creek, 36 were sent to Newlin Creek near Canon City in hopes they would reproduce naturally.

    The other 158 were taken to the Roaring Judy Hatchery where, June 12th, spawning operators began.

    Seth Firestone, hatchery manager, said roe was stripped from 10 female cutthroat and mixed with milt from 10 males the first day. Action continued June 19 and the staff is hopeful for more success the week of June 26…

    U.S. House set to take up Rep. Scott Tipton’s water rights legislation

    Copper Mountain snowmaking via

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    The Water Rights Protection Act, H.R. 2939, will be heard Tuesday in the House Natural Resources Committee.

    Tipton’s previous efforts to pass the measure — prompted by the experience of new ownership at Powderhorn Mountain Resort — have passed the House only to become stymied in the Senate.

    This time, “I’m cautiously optimistic” that the bill will pass both houses, Tipton said, noting that it has support from Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., as well as Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming.

    The measure would require federal agencies to recognize state water laws and prohibit them from requiring ski resorts to surrender state water rights in exchange for leases to operate on federal lands.

    The Forest Service required the new owners of Powderhorn Mountain Resort to surrender water rights they obtained when they took over the resort to get permits to operate the ski area.

    “It’s important to codify this” as directives requiring Agriculture and Interior department agencies to obtain water rights and exercise control over groundwater remain on the books in those agencies and can’t be halted without congressional action, Tipton said.

    The Water Rights Protection Act would “recognize the longstanding authority of the states relating to evaluating, protecting, allocating, regulating, permitting, and adjudicating water use.”


    “We need to be able to give certainty and stand up for state law, private property rights and the priority-based system” of water law, Tipton said.

    #ColoradoRiver: “Our family’s irrigated meadows and livestock operation depend on it” — Paul Bruchez @HighCountryNews

    Here’s a look at a collaboration effort to improve the Colorado River near its headwaters from Paul Bruchez writing in The High Country News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado River runs through the heart of my family’s ranch near Kremmling, Colorado, where I live and work, so we have firsthand knowledge of the importance of water. Our family’s irrigated meadows and livestock operation depend on it, and it’s the common currency of both our local agriculture and recreation economy…

    A few years ago, I saw an opportunity to fix our irrigation problems while also improving river and wildlife habitat. My family’s ranch is in one of the most intact traditional agricultural communities remaining in Colorado. Like most ranchers, we’re independent folks. In a pinch, though, we know we can count on each other, so when those of us on the land got together to talk about the river, we agreed on the need for action, and we started looking for partners.

    We applied for some grants, and 11 private ranches along with the Bureau of Land Management and a group called Irrigators of Lands in the Vicinity of Kremmling, or ILVK for short, received funding for a pilot project to restore a riffle-pool structure on a stretch of the river. It was an exciting start. But given the scale of the problems, we needed to think bigger.

    We gradually added a variety of partners, including Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, the Colorado Basin Roundtable and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Grand County Government, Northern Water, Denver Water, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Upper Colorado River Alliance, the Colorado River District and other river stakeholders.

    All of them helped us to see new opportunities and think bigger.

    These partners were working to build the Windy Gap reservoir bypass and restore habitat immediately downstream of the reservoir. For our part, the ILVK partners put together an ambitious proposal for restoring a significant stretch of the Upper Colorado River in our valley. All of these were pieces in the larger puzzle of restoring the Upper Colorado River.

    Last December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recognized that big vision, awarding the partners $7.75 million under its Regional Conservation Partnership Program. That money will help build the bypass and move forward with the ILVK project, improving irrigation systems and reversing the decline in water quality and fish habitat in the headwaters of the Colorado River.

    Under the plan, the ILVK group will install several innovative in-stream structures designed to improve water levels for irrigation while enhancing critical river habitat by rebuilding riffles and pool structure. Our efforts will have greater impact in concert with our partners’ river projects upstream. A crucial piece will involve restoring approximately one mile of the Colorado River’s former channel currently inundated by Windy Gap Reservoir. This ambitious bypass project will reconnect the river — for the first time in decades — and improve riparian habitat in the headwaters area. An additional project, the Colorado River Habitat Restoration Project, will improve the river channel downstream of the reservoir.

    Together with our ILVK Project, these projects, when fully implemented, will directly benefit more than 30 miles of the Colorado River and 4,500 acres of irrigated lands. They will also make available up to 11,000 acre-feet of water to improve the river during low-flow conditions.

    #Runoff news: Low-head dam hazards

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Alicia Stice):

    In the past 10 years, more than 15 people have drowned on the river from various accidents. Lopez’s death was the first in years involving a low-head dam.

    These [weirs] dot rivers across the country, including in Fort Collins, where there is one low-head dam every 1.5 to 2 miles along much of the Poudre.

    In Colorado, there is no agency in charge of overseeing safety at these dams. Instead, the Division of Water Resources has a team charged with overseeing the risks associated with large dams at sites such as Horsetooth Reservoir that could pose a hazard if they failed, Colorado Division of Water Resources Dam Safety Chief Bill McCormick said.

    “I think these are some of the most dangerous type of structures we have in the country because most people are unaware of the dangers,” said Bruce Tschantz, a Knoxville, Tennessee, water resources engineer who has studied low-head dams extensively. “People tend to overestimate their ability to overcome the current and underestimate the dangers.”

    General currents upstream and downstream from a low-head dam. Graphic via Bruce a. Tschantz

    In much of the country, low-head dams have been in place for more than 100 years to serve now defunct mills. In Colorado, many of these dams are still active, diverting water into irrigation ditches for agricultural use. While the structures are old, the danger is relatively new.

    “The problem of safety around them is more a recent phenomenon as people are using the rivers more,” McCormick said.

    The dams slow water upstream and divert it away from the main channel. The water that flows over them creates a rapid on the downriver side that mimics the hydraulics of a washing machine. The water can force victims underwater and spin them around, making it nearly impossible to swim back up to the surface.

    “These structures are often very deceiving,” said Kenneth Smith, Indiana Department of Natural Resources assistant director…

    Simple engineering solutions can make low-head dams built today much safer by breaking up the flow of water as it moves over the dam. Solutions could include a set of concrete stairs or large rocks on the downstream side of the structure. In many cases, those solutions could be added to existing dams, but that can be costly, and it can be difficult to track down the owners of these century-old structures.

    Poudre Fire Authority has been in discussions about what might be done to make sure people know about the dangers of the dams, including the possibility of installing signs along the river warning people of where they are.

    When farmers must pay for groundwater, they cut use by a third — @CUBoulderNews

    Every March, thousands of Sandhill cranes stop in #GreatSandDunes National Park & Preserve on their way to their northern breeding grounds. The fields and wetlands of #Colorado’s San Luis Valley provide excellent habitat for these majestic #birds. With the dunes and mountains nearby, they dance and call to each other. It’s one of nature’s great spectacles. Photo @greatsanddunesnps by #NationalPark Service.

    From the University of Colorado — Boulder (Lisa Marshall):

    With record high temperatures scorching the Southwest this week, farmers were quickly reminded of the severe droughts that threatened their crops and livelihood in recent years. How will they manage increasingly scarce water when drought comes again?

    A new CU Boulder-led study suggests that self-imposed well-pumping fees can play an important role, incentivizing farmers to slash use by a third, plant less thirsty crops and water more efficiently.

    “When we talk about groundwater crises arising all over the world, the knee-jerk reaction among policymakers is often to ask, ‘What can government do?’ not ‘What can farmers do?’,” said Krister Andersson, director of the Center for the Governance of Natural Resources at CU and co-author of the paper in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists. “This study shows that there exists a good alternative to top-down regulations—that self-organized efforts can have a huge impact on how much water farmers use.”

    The study centered around a novel initiative in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where several hundred farmers voted to self-impose a fee on groundwater—which is typically free and largely unregulated—beginning in 2011. The move came after a historic drought in 2002 and subsequent dryer-than-average years left the region’s aquifer depleted and some farmers worried that the state might begin shutting down wells, as it had in other areas.

    Historically, farmers have relied primarily on surface water from streams and run-off, but as population growth and climate change have strained supplies, agriculture has grown increasingly reliant on water pumped from underground.

    The new fee, now at $75 per acre foot of water, is among the first in the nation. About 700 farmers who manage 170,000 acres are subject to the fee. Proceeds are used to help local irrigators buy supplemental surface water or to pay them to let their acreage go fallow, or unused, in dry years.

    As part of a National Science Foundation grant aimed at assessing self-organized water conservation programs, CU Boulder researchers have spent years in the San Luis Valley Basin meeting with stakeholders and collecting data.

    “With this study, we have been able to offer validation that what they are doing is working,” said co-author Kelsey Cody, a graduate research assistant in CU Boulder’s environmental studies program.

    The study drew upon five years of data from farmers inside and outside the fee district before and after it was implemented. It found that farmers subjected to the fee pumped 32 percent less water per year on average. Some switched to less water intensive crops. Others upgraded to more water-efficient irrigation equipment. Notably, some did not reduce their water use at all and instead opted to pay extra.

    “This is because a fee does not prescribe what one can and cannot do; it just forces the irrigator to consider the cost of the water itself,” notes lead author Steven Smith, who did the research as a doctoral student at CU Boulder and who is now an assistant professor of economics at Colorado School of Mines.

    The authors stress that while the study confirms that irrigators are using less water and changing their farming practices, more research is necessary to determine how the fee has impacted them financially and whether the fee has caused the aquifer to recharge. Another study is in the works.

    Despite wetter weather in the past year, the participating irrigators intend to keep the fee in place, and other nearby districts are moving to implement a similar one, said Cleave Simpson, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which helps facilitate the fee.

    “We are cautiously optimistic about it.”

    As lawmakers in California, Texas, and other states ponder ways to regulate groundwater use, the researchers hope what’s happening in the San Luis Valley can serve as a lesson. The authors stress that a self-imposed groundwater fee may not be appropriate for all agricultural areas, but as the state looks for ways to conserve groundwater, it could be one effective tool.

    “The punchline here is that irrigators are far more responsive to these price mechanisms than was previously believed,” said Smith. “Through their adoption, they may be able to induce a lot of conservation.”

    U.S. House passes bill to streamline water project permitting

    Barker Meadows Dam Construction

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    H.B. 1654, introduced in April by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., would make establish the federal Bureau of Reclamation as the lead agency for permitting water storage projects and coordinate the interests of all federal agencies in the permitting process. It also would coordinate information among federal, state and local governments to reduce redundant requirements in the process.

    Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District headquartered in Sterling, said the permitting process has long needed to be made more sensible.

    “Streamlining the permitting process, making one Federal agency … the lead agency, setting timelines and encouraging data sharing between agencies would definitely help shorten the amount of time to get a permit without jeopardizing the permit requirements,” Frank said Thursday. “Also, it would also cut down both the costs for permits and the inflated construction costs caused by the long delay for projects hung up in the permitting process.”

    Frank said the bill is especially timely for northeast Colorado because of the South Platte Storage Survey that is to be finished in November. He said that, while the bill won’t change any of the requirements that projects have to meet, it will “give us a yes or no a lot sooner so we’ll know whether to go forward.”

    Asked specifically whether the bill would improve the Narrows Project’s chances of being built, Frank said it probably wouldn’t.

    “The Narrows has many issues that still have to be addressed,” he said. “This (bill) won’t affect any of that, but it would let us know sooner whether we should try to go forward with trying to address those issues.”

    Earlier in the week Colorado Water Congress had sent a letter supporting the bill to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Ohio, who is Speaker of the House, and Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asking for their support for the bill.

    In the letter CWC Executive Director Douglas Kemper pointed out that the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project has taken 15 years to get permitted and will cost an estimated $400 million when it’s finally built. One-fourth of that cost, Kemper said in the letter, is cost inflation as the costs of materials and labor have gone up over time…

    Although the bill could have a significant positive impact on water storage projects in the South Platte Basin, potentially saving millions of dollars in construction costs for vital water storage projects in the basin, three of Colorado’s seven representatives voted against it.

    In what appeared to be purely party-line votes, Representatives Diana DeGette of Denver, Jared Polis of Boulder and Ed Perlmutter of Lakewood, all Democrats, voted against the bill. The state’s Republican contingent – Mike Coffman of Aurora, Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs, Ken Buck of Greeley and Scott Tipton of Cortez voted in favor. Of Colorado’s seven congressional districts, only Tipton’s and Lamborn’s districts are completely outside of the South Platte Basin.

    As for the House leadership to whom the Colorado Water Congress wrote asking for support of the bill, Ryan voted against it and Pelosi did no cast a vote.

    Testing the efficacy of cloud-seeding

    Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

    Here’s an in-depth report from Sarah Scoles writing for Popular Science. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    TTHE GROUP SET UP ITS BASE IN IDAHO FROM JANUARY 7 TO MARCH 17, with the resources to do around 20 seeding sessions. Every day they would determine, via their own ­weather balloons and outside forecasts, whether the clouds saturated with super-cooled ­water would form at the right temperature and height over the mountains.

    Josh Aikins, Friedrich’s graduate student, was a key member of the mountain radar group. He’d snowmobiled only once before, when he was a teenager on vacation in Vermont. But he quickly got the hang of sliding up to the Packer John Mountain radar site, at 7,000 feet of elevation—even when the snow was so new and light that the machine meant to float atop it instead sank down and needed to be dug out. Aikins had fallen in love with snow as a kid when the Blizzard of ’96 blanketed the Mid-Atlantic. The snow drifted into banks that reached over the roof of his family’s York, Pennsylvania, home. He graduated from Penn State with a degree in meteorology but knew he didn’t want to be a weatherman. “I’m a T-shirt and shorts guy,” he says.

    When the SNOWIE team decided to try for a seeding run, Aikins and the other radar-runners packed up a week’s worth of food and clothes into the vehicles; ­given that they were purposefully driving up the mountain during storms, they never knew how soon they’d be able to get back down. One time the 10-mile ride was so challenging, it required seven professional snowmobilers to help them out.

    Each time they arrived at their site—a mountaintop with a radar system atop a big truck and an old camper as their luxury accommodations—Aikins would fire up the generator, warming up the radar and the camper. “We had a bunch of computers that we didn’t want to start up cold,” he says, because some electronic components won’t function well in that condition. They’d stash their clothes and food in the camper and dig out the drift-covered porta-potties.

    Then they would scan with the radar and watch what the weather was doing. When the seeding started, they’d search for changes in reflectivity that suggested the electromagnetic waves were bouncing off an area of newly formed ice particles.

    Aikins remembers well the day of the first signal. “We saw these linear bands coming through the area,” he says, referring to the radar readout. “It didn’t look natural.” He sent an email to the command center, asking if the planes were out. They were. “We could see the seeding in real time. We could see the path of the flares.”

    In his public field report of that flight, principal investigator Geerts wrote ­impassively of their finding: “Possible seeding signature…two bands of higher reflectivity aligned with the seeding aircraft, drifting with the wind and dispersing over time.”

    Put simply: They got it.

    AIKIS AND GEERTS SOUND PRETTY STOIC ABOUT THAT FIRST FINDING, considering it was exactly the gold they’d gone West seeking. But that’s probably because, as Friedrich says, everyone was —and still is—suspicious. They haven’t fully analyzed the data. Their results haven’t undergone peer review and been published in an academic journal.

    But their online reports note three instances where snow formation could be linked to their activity. The second time, Rauber wrote, “The seeding signatures were unmistakable and distinct, with the lines mimicking the seeder flight track.” They started to believe maybe the signatures weren’t a coincidence—and they wanted more. Soon enough, they were rewarded.

    “The remarkable thing was not that we saw it,” says Friedrich, “but that we were able to repeat it multiple times.”

    Rauber, who’s worked in seeding without certain results for decades, cops to his excitement. “Honestly, the first time we saw this, I was giddy,” he says. “I was almost dancing around in the room.” Think of it from “the perspective of an old cloud seeder,” he implores. He labored throughout the ’70s and ’80s, trying to see a signal those Coke-bottle glasses just couldn’t bring into focus. And now it’s like he’d had Lasik surgery.

    Of SNOWIE’s data, Derek Blestrud—a meteorologist with Idaho Power and president of the North American Weather Modification Council—said, “What we got was well above and beyond what anybody imagined.”
    Even though the team captured those zigzags, they still have a lot of work to do before they can tell the world exactly how—and how well—cloud seeding might work. Depending on who you ask, they’ll be ­digging into data for four to six years, although they aim to get the ­whiz-bang results out within 12 months. “We have more data than any of us ever dreamed of being able to collect,” French says.

    The plane alone scooped up 25 gigabytes of data on each of its 18 flights, gleaned from the radar and laser systems, as well as from its direct temperature, pressure, and water-vapor probes. The scientists will sort through that and ground-based research, and do some interpretation and analysis on local machines at their universities and at the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colorado. That will give them a rudimentary understanding of what the gigabytes signify: the physics of how snow forms and falls naturally in the mountains, how burning bits of inorganics alter them, the impact on weather as a whole. As French puts it, they’ll have 100 pieces of a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

    To get the complete picture, they’re gonna need a bigger box—a supercomputer. The National Center for Atmospheric Research has a new one named Cheyenne, with 5.34 petaflops of capacity. It’s the 20th-fastest calculator on the planet. Cheyenne will show how well the physical observations—from the planes, the radars, and the real world—match up with the predictions. And based on how well they do or don’t, the SNOWIE team and other scientists can then tweak the predictors to better see which weather is the most fertile for modification.

    This isn’t just about Idaho. SNOWIE will figure out the underlying mechanisms that determine how clouds come to form, evolve, and drop snow—whether seeded or not—down to Earth. “It should apply anywhere,” says Geerts. After all, physics is physics, on Earth as it is in heaven, as it is where the two meet.

    How to tell if we’ve had a good runoff season – News on TAP

    3 critical factors influence the amount of water flowing into our reservoirs from mountain snowpack.

    Source: How to tell if we’ve had a good runoff season – News on TAP

    #Colorado needs big commitment to #conservation during implementation of @COWaterPlan

    Photo credit Susan Greene.

    From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

    Without the conservation ethos embraced by other states, Colorado will run out of water in 2050.

    There’s nothing like a drought to turn everyone’s attention to water conservation.

    Colorado’s last major drought was from 2001 to 2002. It wasn’t the length of the drought that was striking, but the extreme lack of rain and snowpack – so bad that one writer referred to it as a 300-year event.

    That drought triggered discussions on how Coloradans should conserve water, as well as new laws that eventually led to the formation of statewide roundtables – groups representing water providers, cities, towns and counties, as well as environmental, recreational and agricultural users – that focused on Colorado’s water future.

    “There was tangible willingness of ordinary people to listen to what we were trying to say about water use,” says Russ George, a former Speaker of the House from Rifle who currently serves as chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state agency charged with coming up with Colorado’s first statewide water plan.

    But that was then – a two-year surge in Coloradans’ water conservation consciousness that waned when snow and rain levels started returning to normal. Though Colorado has proven in the past that it can save water, it has yet to embrace, long-term, many of the tools that have framed a conservation mindset in neighboring states to the southwest. The ethos is born of the kind of thirst that Colorado hasn’t experienced for 15 years. But that thirst is looming over the next three decades, driven both by climate change and population growth. The state’s population is expected to grow from about 5.5 million in 2016 to as many as 10 million people by 2050.

    Colorado’s first statewide water plan, released in 2015, was spurred by that looming shortage. Chief among its talking points is conservation, the idea that at least part of the solution to the state’s future water woes lies in encouraging everyone to use less water. When Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered the creation of the water plan in 2013, he famously said that “every conversation about water has to start with conservation.”

    Just a few months later, however, he vetoed a bill championed by conservationists to leave more water in the Colorado River. The bill, aimed at requiring agriculture to move to more water-efficient irrigation, drew opposition from the farming and ranching community and from water providers. Conservationists called Hickenlooper’s veto “a failure to lead.” Hickenlooper said that deciding to veto the bill was a “close call,” but added that the lack of consensus that divided the water community would have made implementing the policy too difficult.

    The water plan sets a lofty goal for conservation. It calls for cities, towns and businesses statewide to cut annual usage by some 400,000 acre-feet of water, enough to supply water to about eight million people per year. But, the plan lacks a clear, measurable path forward to achieve it.

    John Stulp, the state’s water czar who was instrumental in helping put the plan together, said the conservation target is a “stretch” goal, meaning it’s aspirational rather than a hard and fast number. He also pointed out that the goal didn’t come from the water plan itself, but rather from water providers. It’s up to those providers, he said, to figure out how to conserve that water. Colorado’s local control laws often block the state from telling local governments what to do. That, Stulp said, applies to water, too.

    Becky Mitchell, who leads water supply planning at the CWCB, said the state is taking more of a carrot approach in working with local governments on conservation. Since 2010, a state law has required that water providers develop water efficiency plans. Some 95 percent of water utilities and companies are doing so annually (the other 5 percent, very small water providers, aren’t required to develop those plans). The data collected from these plans will help the state in its water supply planning for the future, according to the CWCB website.

    Two years into the process of implementing the water plan, Stulp said it’s still too early to come up with definitive conservation numbers that water providers would have to meet. He’s hoping that the data from the water efficiency plans will help the CWCB come up with those numbers.

    Stulp pointed to Greeley as an example of where the planning is headed. The town has been analyzing water use for every property, based on square footage. Every property, be it a home or business, is then assigned a water budget. Enforcement of water use is then done through tiered water rates. “Water hogs will pay considerably more for going outside the boundaries,” Stulp said.

    Reaching the statewide conservation goal won’t be easy. “The water providers will have to push hard,” Mitchell said.

    But even as the CWCB says that water providers have to take the lead on conservation, some in the water community say they want more leadership on the issue from the governor’s administration as well as from the General Assembly.

    “We need some leadership from the state, and strengthening conservation and water efficiency requirements would be one step,” said Jim Lochhead, executive director of Denver Water, the biggest municipal water supplier in the state.

    Democratic Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville says the time has come to update the state’s water conservation laws, and he’s most interested in adding statutes that apply to developers and land-use planning.

    Colorado’s looming water shortage is projected to be about one million acre-feet of water per year. A family of four, on average, uses about a half-acre foot of water per year, or about 163,000 gallons of water per year. So a million acre-foot shortage would impact virtually every Coloradan and in every way of life: farmers, city dwellers, businesses, oil and gas drillers, environmentalists, birders, anglers, rafters, kayakers and everyone else who values the health and vibrancy of Colorado’s rivers.

    Some 86 percent of water in the state is used by agriculture, the state’s number two economic driver. Yet the plan doesn’t include a conservation goal (agriculture prefers to call it “efficiency”) for the farmers and ranchers. The plan notes that setting strict conservation requirements for the agricultural sector would be tricky because it could have consequences on water rights under Colorado water laws. It also notes that water use by agriculture is expected to drop into the low 80th percentile due to agricultural water rights being bought by municipal and industrial users.

    James Eklund, who headed the CWCB until this spring, said that setting a goal for agriculture wasn’t necessary because agriculture is already pretty efficient in its water usage; most water either goes to the crop or it goes back into the water source (a stream or ditch) to be used by the next farm in line for that water.

    Those tasked with meeting the municipal and industrial conservation goals so far face a losing battle to stop growing water-hungry Kentucky blue-grass lawns in the semi-arid West.

    Coloradans’ prickliness about grass was the subject of a recent news report about a hateful postcard sent to a resident of Harvey Park in southwest Denver whose lawn hadn’t been cared for and which drew a nasty response from an anonymous neighbor. While most of the comments expressed sympathy for the family with the unwatered lawn, one comment also showed that fervor to keep lawns green in semi-arid Denver wasn’t isolated to that one postcard. Brad Klafehn of Harvey Park noted that he had let his lawn die in preparation for xeriscaping, which earned him similarly nasty postcards telling him to either water his grass “or get out of the neighborhood.” Even after xeriscaping, neighbors filed complaints with the city of Denver for the next five years over his “unkempt vegetation. The inspector knew what we were doing and never cited us,” Klafehn said.

    Denver’s conservation efforts
    Denver Water serves 1.4 million customers in Denver and eight other Front Range communities – about one out of every four Coloradans. It reduced its water usage by 22 percent between 2002 and 2016 through conservation efforts. Centered around its Use Only What You Need campaign, average consumption is about 165 gallons per person per day, down from 211 gallons prior to the 2002 drought. The utility is cited as a model for getting water customers to conserve.

    Denver Water is shifting its focus from conservation to water efficiency. Lochhead said that many of its customers are doing a pretty good job limiting water use, whether by using more efficient water fixtures or reducing outdoor water use, which is Denver Water’s biggest consumption during the summer. The next step, he said, is a water efficiency plan, currently under a public comment period, that will “target those customers who aren’t being as efficient,” and which will direct Denver Water’s conservation efforts into the next five years.

    Lochhead said the idea is not to rip up lawns – a measure pushed in the California’s recent drought – but to show people that “landscaping can be beautiful and highly water-efficient at the same time.”

    But there are obstacles that need to be overcome in order to move forward, including a disconnect between land-use planning and water utilities.

    As Lochhead sees it, state law is “soft” on rigor for water efficiency.

    “County and municipal governments approve development plans that may not be the most water efficient, and then turn to the utility and say, ‘provide water service to this development,’” he said. “We can’t dictate development. We have to try to work with our customers.”

    The CWCB’s Mitchell said her agency is working to bridge that disconnect between land use and water utilities. The agency recently held a series of webinars, attended by more than 300 people working on land-use planning, as well as some homebuilders, to encourage that municipalities’ zoning codes and landscape requirements take water conservation into account. As a local control state, Colorado can’t mandate zoning codes for local communities, but Mitchell said state government can serve as an advisor to city and county governments. “Those are the folks who make that successful,” she said.

    Lochhead’s wish list includes more use of “graywater” – the mostly-clean water that comes from baths, sinks, washing machines and dishwashers – and “green infrastructure,” which which uses stormwater runoff to irrigate natural vegetation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, stormwater runoff in urban areas “carries trash, bacteria, heavy metals, and other pollutants from the urban landscape,” and heavy rains can “cause erosion and flooding in urban streams, damaging habitat, property, and infrastructure.”

    Lochhead said that the state Department of Public Health and Environmental could move forward on regulations that would approve new technologies on reuse and recycling of rainwater, graywater, and blackwater, meaning water that comes in contact with human waste. Those technologies are already in use just about everywhere except Colorado. In Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas, for example, graywater can be used without a permit, depending on how much is needed per day.

    In the meantime, Denver Water is redeveloping its 6th Avenue and I-25 operations complex to make it the most sustainable water site in the state. The facility, which will have its own wastewater treatment system, will be a model for demonstrating highly efficient irrigation. Eventually, the water district hopes to irrigate the entire administrative complex with rainwater.

    Where Colorado lags, Las Vegas and Phoenix lead
    Efforts to increase conservation through legislation has had only limited success.

    In 2014, Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango and Democratic Sen. Mary Hodge of Brighton pushed for a bill that would require local governments to approve plans for new construction only if the municipality also adopts a resolution limiting the amount of irrigated grass on residential lawns to 15 percent of total acreage. The Colorado Association of Homebuilders strongly objected, and lawmakers backed off. The bill was watered down into a recommendation that the legislature’s water resources committee come up with a list of best practices that could be turned into “reasonable” legislation that could lead to “measurable conservation of municipal water used for outdoor purposes.” Even with that watered-down language, the bill drew opposition from a few water utilities who deemed such efforts unnecessary.

    In 2015, the General Assembly passed a bill, signed into law, requiring CWCB, with $50,000 in state funds, to set up training programs for local governments on land-use planning that incorporates water conservation practices.

    All one needs to do is look at communities in perpetual drought to see what tools might be lacking.

    Phoenix “is built for drought,” according to that city’s water utility. Water conservation is promoted as a lifestyle in the city, and “we encourage customers to think about water every time they use it,” according to the website of a city now in its 15th year of drought.

    Phoenix’s Water Use it Wisely program – now a national model for conservation – developed more than 100 ways for people to conserve water. They included tips such as washing fruits and vegetables in a pan of water instead of under running water, or putting ice cubes dropped on the floor into a plant instead of dumping it down the sink. Another idea, not allowed in Colorado, would allow a plumber to reroute plumbing so that graywater can be used for landscaping. That’s only legal in Colorado for new development, not existing homes. The city is also setting up “savings accounts” for water, Bracken said. That’s a system for reclaiming wastewater by putting it back into underground aquifers, treated, with the hope that, in a decade, it will be reusable, although not for drinking purposes.

    Conservation efforts there have reduced per-person water consumption by 25 percent since 1994, down to about 101 gallons of water per day per person and about 158 gallons per day for business and commercial uses (compare that to Denver Water, at 165 gallons per day). And that’s with a population increase of about 340,000 people during that same time period.

    In Las Vegas and surrounding communities in Clark County, Nev., residents and businesses used on average about 123 gallons of water per day in 2016, down 38 percent from 2002, during a time when that area’s population increased by about 600,000 residents, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

    Water conservation has been the rule rather than the exception for Clark County since 1991, with what water officials there call record-breaking results: 1.4 billion gallons of water saved by businesses, another one billion gallons saved by residents, and 181 million square feet of grass removed. The water authority also has mandatory watering restrictions, limited to watering twice a week during the summer, and on car washing. Golf courses that use more than they’re allotted can be hit with heavy surcharges, up to nine times their normal water rates. Golf courses also have to submit water use reduction plans. Even the resorts (think the Bellagio, with its famous fountains) reuse water multiple times before the water heads off to treatment and then to Lake Mead.

    The water authority also has in place what Colorado has for years been trying to do through legislation: a partnership with home builders to build “water smart homes” with water-efficient landscaping and plumbing fixtures. Entire neighborhoods can be certified as water-smart under the program. “A Water Smart Home may save as much as 75,000 gallons of water each year compared to homes built in the 1990s,” the agency boasts.

    The authority strictly enforces turf restrictions. No new turf is allowed in the front yards of single-family homes. Period. Building codes also limit the amount of grass that can be grown to 50 percent of side and backyards, or 100 feet, whichever is greater. Grass isn’t allowed at all on commercial developments, with exceptions only for schools, parks and cemeteries.
    For those willing to give up what they already have, the Southern Nevada Water Authority offers rebates for conversions to water-smart landscaping.

    Turf rebates are also offered in southern California where, in the midst of a four-year drought, Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015 announced statewide conservation targets to reduce urban water use by 25 percent from 2013 use levels. Water conservation needs to be a way of life in California, according to an executive order Brown issued last year.

    During the peak of the drought, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Southern California’s largest water utility, responded by reducing its water deliveries to its 26 member agencies, including water service to Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The 15 percent reduction required communities that hadn’t enacted water conservation efforts to either crack down on outdoor watering or pay as much as four times more for their water.

    “Met,” as the agency is known, also expanded its turf removal rebate program from $20 million to $450 million, “funding the largest single investment in water conservation incentives in the nation’s history.” The program was expected to remove 175 million square feet of lawns, but actually removed only 35 million square feet. An audit later blasted the program for poor planning and oversight and cost overruns.

    Brown announced this spring that the state was no longer in drought, although the US Drought Monitor reported this month that more than 10 million people in southern California are still affected by drought conditions.

    California, Arizona and Nevada all have experienced population increases over the past few decades, and water agencies there have passed policies requiring growth to pay for growth. That comes mainly in the form of tap fees in which municipalities or water agencies charge developers fees to hook up a new home or business to a water line. Those fees can be reduced for homes that use low-water landscaping.
    Denver and Aurora both have adopted this conservation tool, changing their tap fees in the past decade from a flat rate for a new home, no matter how big, to one based on the size of the home and the amount of water its residents are expected to use.

    “Tap fees have a lot going for them,” said Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy program at the University of Colorado School of Law. “It imposes the new cost of development on the new arrivals, and if the tap fees are high enough, it would discourage builders from building in communities that are short on water.”

    But tap fees also have been lowered in order to encourage development, rather than encourage water conservation. A couple of years ago, a developer cited a decision by the Colorado Springs City Council to lower its tap fees as an incentive to build, not as an incentive to conserve water. Two years later, another builder cited the city’s tap fees, nearing $18,000, as a cost to consider for those wanting to live in the city.

    However, at least a couple of Colorado cities are tying their tap fees to both growth and water conservation. In Fountain, the fees are part of an incentive program that allows for lower tap fees when a home is built with a lawn with water conservation in mind. A 2012 report by the Alliance for Water Efficiency, co-authored by the city of Westminster, notes that water conservation efforts have kept tap fees lower for new development, since conservation in that city has produced less wear and tear on wastewater treatment facilities.

    Increased water conservation among downstream Colorado River states is important to Colorado, which is bound by multi-state compacts with Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California to keep the river full. The river already is overtapped, required to provide more water than it produces. The southern states have first priority on river water, and a longstanding treaty with Mexico gives that country the right to a significant amount of water, as well. The more that’s done downstream to conserve river water, the lower the risk of what’s called a “call” on Colorado to lower its water use.

    Agricultural conservation
    Seemingly the most obvious sector that should embrace water conservation is the sector that uses the most water: agriculture.

    Like in Colorado, the vast majority of California’s water – 80 percent – goes to agriculture. But, unlike Colorado, agricultural conservation hasn’t been left out of the Golden State’s policy-making.

    By the time its drought started around 2012, California already had a water management plan in place for agriculture, dating back to 2009. That initiative requires agricultural water suppliers to submit water efficiency plans based on the number of irrigated acres. In 2015, 53 water providers with 25,000 acres or more were required to submit those plans; water districts of 10,000 to 25,000 acres also submitted plans; and smaller districts had financial assistance from the state to develop their own plans.

    For example, a plan submitted by the Browns Valley Irrigation District, one of the state’s oldest agricultural irrigation companies with more than 1,500 agricultural customers, showed that it has been building pipelines to move water rather than using unlined ditches, which lose water through seepage and evaporation. More than 20 miles of ditches have been abandoned thanks to those efforts. California makes available about $30 million per year for grants to agricultural water providers for water conservation efforts. The money comes from a voter-approved initiative, passed in 2014.

    The Colorado water plan’s chief attempt to glean agricultural water savings is a goal that agriculture transfer 50,000 acre-feet of water to cities and towns, but as an effort to find water for thirsty cities, not as part of the plan’s overall water conservation goal. The plan notes this is to accommodate population growth, but getting farmers to adopt some of these new methods has been a slow starter.

    Colorado’s lack of reliance on conservation from a sector that’s consuming most of the state’s available water stems from a couple of reasons. The first is a legal one based on fears Colorado farmers and ranchers have about losing their water rights. Colorado’s byzantine system of water laws ties the amount of water allotted in part on historical consumption. If a farm or ranch doesn’t use all of its water right, the amount of water they’re entitled to can be cut. That becomes a disincentive to decrease water use through conservation.

    A second reason is recognition that Colorado farmers and ranchers are already working to improve water efficiency. George, who formerly headed Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, pointed out that Colorado agriculture has been moving from flood irrigation, where crops are irrigated by flooding fields, to sprinkler systems.

    Flood irrigation is the oldest and cheapest but least efficient way to irrigate crops. According to the US Geological Survey, in 2000, about two-thirds of all crop irrigation in Colorado was done with some form of flood irrigation, and the last third with sprinkler systems. Drip irrigation systems, with below-ground piping, applies water slowly and more directly to the plant roots rather than from overhead, and that allows for more precise watering, which sometimes means less of it. Both of these methods (pivot and drip systems) are gaining ground in Colorado agriculture, George said.

    “There’s a general recognition that ditch linings, piping and sprinkler systems are efficient. All of that is good for everybody,” he said.

    An irrigation ditch lined only with earth or even concrete can lose as much as 50 percent of its water through seepage into the ground, according to the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. Modern linings include synthetic materials that don’t crack, unlike concrete. The CWCB has for at least a decade provided loans through its various funding sources, mostly money that comes from severance taxes, to irrigation companies and reservoirs to swap out less efficient earthen linings for concrete linings or more modern synthetic ones.

    Even with these changes, the Colorado Water Agricultural Alliance said in a white paper that “[t]here is a perception that if only farmers would do a better job of conserving water…we would have plenty of water to meet the anticipated gap. The reality is that while there are opportunities for agricultural water conservation, opportunities for producing significant amounts of transferable water for municipal uses are constrained by certain legal, physical, and economic factors.”

    Other ways farms and ranches could help meet statewide goals for water savings are being funded by the state Department of Agriculture, which for two years has helped farmers upgrade irrigation systems, using small hydropower, to save water and energy.

    Sam Anderson, the program’s director, said there are two different ways to use hydropower on the farm: Hydro-mechanical, which uses a hydraulic pump to run an irrigation system; and hydro-electric, which works in a similar fashion to the way a solar panel system works on a house, through a meter. Anderson explained that the both systems get their energy from the irrigation water as the water flows to the sprinklers. “Water efficiency is the goal of the program,” Anderson told The Colorado Independent.

    These programs, Anderson said, can cut water consumption by as much as half and still achieve the same crop yields. He noted that it’s a much more precise delivery of water, and is even good for water quality, since this type of irrigation is also more environmentally friendly, with less chemical and salt runoff. The ACRE3 program currently has four projects in place, another three ready to come online this year, and grants to fund 12 more this year and another 12 in 2018. These efforts are not included in the water plan.

    Bart Miller, who leads the Healthy Rivers Program at Western Resource Advocates, pointed out recently that many of the ditches and canals delivering water to Colorado’s farms and ranches are now approaching 80 to 100 years old. By lining them or improving headgates, which control the water flowing through them, “there would be a huge benefit to local streams” and agriculture would use only the water that’s needed, he said.

    Fillin’ Dillon: Reservoir hits 84-billion gallon mark – News on TAP

    Managing our biggest storage site is a balancing act of water needs, recreation and river flows.

    Source: Fillin’ Dillon: Reservoir hits 84-billion gallon mark – News on TAP

    Inspiring the next generation of water experts – News on TAP

    Two Denver Water pros take their knowledge into the classroom to teach conservation, water quality management.

    Source: Inspiring the next generation of water experts – News on TAP

    #AnimasRiver: Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site update

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    This summer will be the first full work season since the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site was declared last September, and the Environmental Protection Agency is wasting no time trying to figure out one of the biggest mysteries in the watershed: The American Tunnel.

    EPA hydrologist Ian Bowen said this week the agency plans to drill 500 feet into the San Juan Mountains to install a monitoring well between the second and third bulkheads on the tunnel…

    The American Tunnel, which travels about 11,000 feet, served as a transportation route for ore, as well as a deep drainage, from the vast Sunnyside Mine workings to facilities at Gladstone, north of Silverton.

    When Sunnyside Mine closed for good in 1991, attention turned to what to do with acidic discharges out of the American Tunnel. Sunnyside initially pulled the water into a treatment plant, but ultimately decided with the state of Colorado to install three bulkheads to stem the flow of acid drainage.

    But in recent years, researchers believe the Sunnyside mine pool behind the American Tunnel reached capacity and the water is spilling into other mine networks, such as the Gold King and Red & Bonita…

    The Animas River headwaters are broken into three drainages: Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and the Upper Animas.

    Rebecca Thomas, project manager for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, has previously said each drainage accounts for about a third of heavy metal loading in the Animas, causing a dead zone of aquatic life on the river from just below Silverton to the Bakers Bridge.

    But many people familiar with the basin say the EPA, which could see massive budget cuts under the Trump administration, should focus on the high-metal content waters of Cement Creek, where 13 of the 48 sites are located…

    Treatment options for the American Tunnel are a great unknown, Bowen said.

    Some have called for a complete draining of the tunnel, which could take decades and cost a lot of money to treat discharges. Others have suggested placing bulkheads on all the mines in the area.

    Bowen said the EPA first needs to understand the hydrology of the area. The new monitoring well that is expected to be installed by August will be a key tool in that effort because it will provide insight on how much water is behind the bulkheads, he said.

    “There’s strong indications that these systems are related, but there’s not enough evidence to say it’s immediately connected,” Bowen said.

    Sunnyside Gold Corp. has long contended there is no connection between the American Tunnel and any other mine networks in the area.

    The American Tunnel drains about 100 gallons of acid mine waste water a minute, which flows right by the EPA’s temporary treatment plant into Cement Creek.

    The temporary treatment plant only takes discharges from the Gold King Mine, which is now at about 620 gallons a minute. The EPA said it may consider treating other mine discharges upon further evaluation.

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    The second annual Conference on Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds with Emphasis on the Gold King Mine and Other Mine Waste Issues today at San Juan College also featured other people who have been monitoring conditions in the rivers.

    One challenge for scientists is identifying to what degree metals are naturally occurring in the river and which metals are coming from mines in Colorado.

    Kathleen Sullivan, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist, said heavy metals released into the river during the Gold King Mine spill likely are no longer in the sediments in the rivers.

    Sullivan said there are naturally high levels of aluminum and iron in the river because of the composition of the bedrock. She said the EPA looked at the ratio of arsenic and lead to aluminum or iron in the river to identify the plume released by the Gold King Mine spill.

    The ratio peaked while the plume was passing through the area…

    She said only a small fraction of the heavy metals released into the river during the spill reached Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona during the immediate aftermath of the spill in August 2015. The rest of the metal was deposited as sediment, but Sullivan said the EPA believes the metals from the Gold King Mine spill are no longer present in the sediment and now have been deposited in Lake Powell.

    Sullivan said the EPA believes the Gold King Mine metals deposited in sediments passed through New Mexico in low levels over three to four weeks during the spring runoff in 2016.

    To test that hypothesis, Sullivan said the EPA took samples during the spring runoff this year. She said the EPA expects to see lower ratios of lead to aluminum in this year’s samples.

    Sullivan said the metals in the plume of acid mine drainage were mainly picked up after the water left the Gold King Mine. She said the water exiting the mine picked up a large amount of metal from a waste pile outside the mine. Sullivan said the EPA is currently in the process of testing that pile.

    During a panel presentation, Bonnie Hopkins, an extension agent for New Mexico State University, said one of the biggest issues still facing the area is the public stigma associated with the spill.

    When Farmington’s Growers Market opened for the 2016 season following the Gold King Mine spill, only three vendors showed up to sell their products. She attributed the small number of farmers selling their products to the stigma surrounding crops grown using water from the Animas River.

    This year, the Growers Market saw improvement. Hopkins said 11 vendors brought crops to the first market of the season earlier this month.

    During a panel discussion, Sullivan said the acid mine drainage from the Gold King Mine is effectively being treated, although drainage from other mines needs to be addressed. She said samples from Cement Creek — which feeds the Animas River — show the water quality is improving.

    Steve Austin, a hydrologist with the Navajo Nation EPA, said community outreach is still needed to communicate that the river water is safe.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    EPA Superfund officials trying to stop toxic mine contamination of the Animas River headwaters are preparing to close an underground dam, aiming to block a 300 gallon-per-minute discharge equal to a Gold King Mine disaster every week.

    Shutting this Red and Bonita Mine bulkhead has emerged as a huge test on mountains here, where miners who penetrated fissures and groundwater pathways left behind the geologic equivalent of Swiss cheese…

    But turning a valve and closing that bulkhead could trigger toxic leaks elsewhere, potentially spreading harm along already-contaminated headwaters. The EPA’s latest water data show widespread aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron and zinc contamination from mining and natural sources at levels too high for fish to survive.

    EPA officials this week told The Denver Post — and assured local leaders — that the agency will use caution at the bulkhead, installed in 2004, and close it gradually next year while monitoring mountainsides for any new leaks. They’ve launched a data-gathering blitz, harnessing the local Mountain Studies Institute, to measure flows from dozens of mine tunnels and more than 97 mountainside seeps and springs.

    “As soon as we feel we have a good handle on what the baseline is, then we’ll close the Red and Bonita bulkhead,” EPA project chief Rebecca Thomas said. “We would do it as a test initially and build up water behind the bulkhead.

    “If we see a change we’re not comfortable with, if it is going to cause any further degradation of water quality, we’ll open up the bulkhead and drain it and treat it,” Thomas said in an interview.

    “We need to understand how water flows before we close it. There are a lot of underground connections. Some are man-made. Some are natural,” she said. “We want to test whether or not closure of the bulkhead would help us improve water quality by stopping continued flow from the Red and Bonita.”

    EPA hydrologist Ian Bowen said environmental gains could be big but emphasized unknowns. For example, the acid-metals muck draining from the Gold King, which is filtered before it mixes into the Animas, increased last year, reaching to 710 gallons per minute. The EPA can treat 1,200 gallons per minute at a plant below that mine.

    Bulkheads also were installed inside Kinross Corp.’s Sunnyside Mine and American Tunnel. EPA crews plan to drill behind those bulkheads to test the pressure of pent-up mine wastewater — to make sure they will hold. American Tunnel bulkheads still leak 100 gallons a minute, and the Mogul Mine, where a bulkhead was installed in 2003, leaks 150 gallons a minute more unfiltered muck into headwaters.

    Stopping the untreated Red and Bonita discharge would mark a first big fix in a Superfund cleanup following the Aug. 5, 2015, Gold King disaster, where an EPA crew accidentally triggered a 3 million gallon spill that turned the Animas mustard-yellow as it moved down the river and eventually reached the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.

    Installing more bulkheads to trap toxic mine muck inside mountains could mean taxpayers pay less for water cleaning at treatment plants built along headwaters.

    Colorado “agrees with EPA’s plan,” state health department spokesman Warren Smith said.

    Yet challenges loom. Mapping tunnels, fissures, seeps and springs increasingly occupies a legion of researchers and Deere & Ault engineering consultants tapped by the EPA. They anticipated in an April report that closing the Red and Bonita bulkhead would cause toxic overflows elsewhere. And EPA bureaucracy combined with uncertain funding from Congress has delayed a dozen or so other toxic mine Superfund cleanups around Colorado — let alone the tens of thousands of inactive mines contaminating water around the West.

    East of Silverton, above Creede, the EPA’s Superfund cleanup of the Nelson Tunnel and various old mines — declared a national-priority disaster in 2008 — has yet to move beyond studies of tunnels and groundwater.

    EPA officials on Wednesday said the agency “is evaluating the focused feasibility study for the (Creede) site and considering a range of alternatives for the proposed remedy” but that, because the EPA has not picked “a preferred alternative,” funds for cleanup aren’t available…

    EPA crews seem to be working at sampling water and investigating hydrology before closure of the Red and Bonita bulkhead, said Fetchenhier, who is a geologist. “We said: ‘Before you close it, we want the data gathered on every spring, every seep, every tunnel so that you have a baseline. Anytime you put in a bulkhead, there is a chance something could come out someplace else.’ ”

    EPA officials this week convened a forum in Silverton, an in-depth hydrology session with a brain trust of local scientists, mining engineers and others whose collective knowhow, federal officials said, exceeds the agency’s expertise.

    Downriver in Durango, La Plata County leaders acknowledged a strong interest in stopping contamination after decades of enduring the toxic legacy of mining — because clean water is crucial for residents of Colorado and other western states.

    #Drought news: No change in depiction for #Colorado

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


    A weather pattern change brought badly-needed, widespread showers and thunderstorms across the eastern half of the Nation, right after abnormal dryness (D0) developed in many areas of the Midwest and south-central Plains last week. This occurred after a wet May had alleviated many areas of drought – which was abruptly followed by dry and warm weather starting in late May into early June, a critical time for crop growth and development. In addition, heavy showers fell along the eastern Gulf Coast, providing additional improvement to Florida and southern Georgia. Unfortunately, little or no rain fell on most of the northern third of the High Plains and southern Plains, drying out conditions in Texas and Oklahoma and worsening the flash drought in eastern Montana and the western Dakotas. In the Southwest, although June is climatologically dry and warm, extreme heat late in the period, subnormal precipitation during the past 60-days, and some impacts was enough to expand D0 in Utah, central Arizona, and southern New Mexico. On Hawaii’s Big Island, some deterioration was made as field reports indicated worse conditions than expected while scattered showers in southwestern Alaska were not enough to improve low stream flow levels, thus D0 and D1 was slightly expanded there…

    High Plains

    While significant rains (1.5-3 inches) fell across northern and eastern North Dakota, northeastern South Dakota, and northern Minnesota (see Midwest) and provided some relief, little or no rain worsened conditions across eastern Montana, western and southern North Dakota, and the western half of South Dakota. Dry conditions during the past 30-days also allowed for a D0 expansion into central and southeastern Montana, northeastern Wyoming, and central and northeastern Nebraska (and into northwestern Iowa – see Midwest). Fortunately, cooler air finally filtered into the northern Plains as highs in the 90s and 100s degF during the previous week were replaced with 70s and 80s degF this period. With May-July normally the wettest time of the year in the northern High Plains (some areas typically receive half to two-thirds of their ANNUAL precipitation), a lack of adequate late spring and early summer rainfall can impact the region for the rest of the year.

    In northeastern Montana, most locations in nearly 20 counties have experienced 5-25% of normal precipitation since the end of April. Numerous locations have reported near- or record low precipitation since April 1, while temperatures for the past 30-days have averaged 1 to 4 degF above normal. The March-May period was the 14th warmest such period since 1895 for Montana, according to NCEI. While river flows remain normal across the state, northeast and eastern Montana are driven by dry land farming. The subnormal rainfall has been evaporated due to high winds and temperatures, with the Evaporative Stress Index at very high values for northeastern Montana. As for surface and root zone soil moisture, 95-98% of all Mays since 1948 have been wetter than this year in northeastern Montana, with percentiles dropping below the tenth percentile for wetness. The flash drought has quickly deteriorated crop conditions, with the June 9 forecast for winter wheat down 26% from the 105.35 million bushels produced last year, while June 18 USDA/NASS reported 37% of the spring wheat and 26% of pastures were in poor or very poor condition. Numerous field reports indicated poor or even no spring wheat emergence, and the ones that did emerge are stunted and badly need moisture. There has been little growth in pastures and ranges, and many were brown (dormant) with little or no dryland hay cut expected, impacting livestock feed and grazing. Accordingly, D3(S) was added to the driest areas where 2- and 3-month SPIs were D4, departures were greatest, and where impacts were the bleakest. D2 was expanded southward into southern Garfield County, while D1 was expanded westward and southward.

    In northeastern Montana, most locations in nearly 20 counties have experienced 5-25% of normal precipitation since the end of April. Numerous locations have reported near- or record low precipitation since April 1, while temperatures for the past 30-days have averaged 1 to 4 degF above normal. The March-May period was the 14th warmest such period since 1895 for Montana, according to NCEI. While river flows remain normal across the state, northeast and eastern Montana are driven by dry land farming. The subnormal rainfall has been evaporated due to high winds and temperatures, with the Evaporative Stress Index at very high values for northeastern Montana. As for surface and root zone soil moisture, 95-98% of all Mays since 1948 have been wetter than this year in northeastern Montana, with percentiles dropping below the tenth percentile for wetness. The flash drought has quickly deteriorated crop conditions, with the June 9 forecast for winter wheat down 26% from the 105.35 million bushels produced last year, while June 18 USDA/NASS reported 37% of the spring wheat and 26% of pastures were in poor or very poor condition. Numerous field reports indicated poor or even no spring wheat emergence, and the ones that did emerge are stunted and badly need moisture. There has been little growth in pastures and ranges, and many were brown (dormant) with little or no dryland hay cut expected, impacting livestock feed and grazing. Accordingly, D3(S) was added to the driest areas where 2- and 3-month SPIs were D4, departures were greatest, and where impacts were the bleakest. D2 was expanded southward into southern Garfield County, while D1 was expanded westward and southward.

    In the Dakotas, western areas typically receive over two-thirds their annual precipitation during April-July, so a lack of adequate late spring and early summer rains are critical to dryland farming and livestock grazing and cuttings of pasture and range grasses. Similar to northeastern Montana, southwestern North Dakota and northern South Dakota have seen the lowest precipitation as compared to normal since April, with deficits of 3-6 inches at 60-days and 4-8 inches at 6-months. Temperatures have also averaged well above normal the past few weeks, and combined with strong winds, have evaporated much of the soil moisture much quicker than expected. Where recent rains have fallen (mainly in the eastern sections), some recovery of the crops and pastures have occurred, but winter wheat fields and other small grains that were planted early are much drier than corn, soybean, or later planted fields. The long fall (or late freeze) the Dakotas had last year contributed to the depletion of soil moisture this spring as the depth of the frozen ground was much shallower than usual and thawed much earlier and quicker this spring. In addition, many of the current drought areas were in drought last year, had exhibited short-term recovery over the winter, but the deficits were never fully erased, thus the soil moisture profile was susceptible to rapid drying this spring. In the June 18 USDA/NASS report, South Dakota crops rated poor or very poor included: 64% spring wheat; 17% corn; 16% soybeans; 34% sorghum; winter wheat 50%; oats 36%; and pastures 49%. For North Dakota, it was: 24% spring wheat; 10% corn; 11% soybeans; 20% barley; 30% oats; and 54% pastures. Topsoil (and subsoil) moisture rated short to very short was 55% (55%) and 43% (38%) for South Dakota and North Dakota, respectively. Based upon the numerous tools at varying time periods (30-, 60-, 90-, and 180-days) and reported impacts, the D2 was extended westward into western North Dakota and southward in South Dakota, with D3 areas drawn for the worst indicators over the varying time periods. D0 was also extended southward into Nebraska as the past 30-days were very dry and warm which could lead to rapid soil moisture depletion if the weather doesn’t improve…


    With June a normally dry and warm month in the Southwest, it was not surprising that most of the region was rain free this week. But after a very wet winter season this year across the West (nearly every NRCS SNOTEL basin average precipitation since October 1, 2016 is above or much above normal), the past 3 months (March-May) have been drier than normal. The sudden end to the wet season, combined with a recent heat wave, has started to dry out the landscape quicker than usual now that the snow has mostly melted. Based upon ground observations of low stream flows, low SPIs, and increasing wild fires, D0 was added in central Arizona in eastern Yavapai and southeastern Coconino Counties. In Utah, short-term (60-days) SPIs were quite low in west-central and northeastern sections, leading to some D0 expansion in those two areas of the state. In southeastern New Mexico (similar to west Texas), short-term dryness and recent warmth has led to small deficits at 30- and 60-days, thus D0 was added where rainfall amounts were lower during the past 30-days. Additional areas will be monitored as the recent heat wave (June 20 highs reaching 92F in Flagstaff, 113F in Las Vegas, 115F in Tucson, 118F in Phoenix, and 125F in Death Valley) will quicken the drying of the Southwest. In contrast, the Northwest has been wet recently, with no dryness there. No other changes were made in the West…

    Looking Ahead

    During the next five days (June 22-26), the NHC guidance indicated that Tropical Storm Cindy (located in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico at 1 pm EDT Wed) will track north, then northeast, then eastward into southwestern Virginia by 7 am EDT Saturday. The WPC’s 5-day QPF forecasts the heaviest rains over and to the east of Cindy’s center, with 2-5 inches of rain expected in the lower Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys into the central Appalachians. Decent rains (2-3 inches) are also expected in the Texas Panhandle and across Wisconsin and Michigan. Little or no precipitation is expected in the northern Plains and from the Rockies westward, and only light amounts in the western Corn Belt, coastal New England, and parts of Florida. 5-day temperatures should average below-normal from east of the Rockies to the Appalachians, above-normal in the Far West, and near-normal along the East Coast.

    For the ensuing five-day period (June 27-July 1), odds favor above-median precipitation in western Alaska, the southern Plains, along the Gulf and southern Atlantic Coasts, and in the Great Lakes region and New England, with sub-median rainfall in eastern Alaska, the Northwest, and the Tennessee Valley. Chances favor subnormal temperatures in the eastern half of the Nation while above-normal readings are likely in southern Florida, west of the Rockies, and in Alaska.

    #Colorado #ColoradoRiver #runoff has peaked #COriver

    Lake Powell April 12, 2017. Photo credit Patti Weeks via Earth Science Picture of the day.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    …officials expect Lake Powell to rise to 65 percent full, but that relatively high level won’t last long as the inflow into the reservoir will be sent downstream to Lake Mead and Mexico.

    In all, Lake Powell is to release just under 9 million acre-feet of water downstream this year, or 7.5 million acre-feet to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River compact, and 750,000 acre-feet for Mexico under a 1944 treaty…

    The high-runoff year ultimately won’t buy much insurance for the upper basin states, said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    “It won’t make things worse,” Treese said. “We will continue to bump along about the 50 percent level” in Lake Powell.

    While 9 million acre-feet amounts to a third of the capacity of Lake Powell, water continues to flow into the reservoir throughout the year, though well short of runoff levels.

    The Bureau of Reclamation operates Lake Powell so as to keep enough pressure to generate electricity at Glen Canyon Dam. The dam’s eight turbines can produce up to 1,320 megawatts of electricity and the dam supplies power to 5.8 million customers.

    The spring’s high runoff isn’t operationally significant, James Eklund, the former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board who headed development of the Colorado water plan, said in an email.

    From a strategic perspective, however, “it underscores that even in what seemed like a banner water year, we’re still a long way from recovery from the last 16-year dry spell” and highlights the need to keep enough water in Powell high enough to generate electricity, Eklund said.

    From (Lena Howland):

    The Arkansas River is expected to reach flood stage by the end of the night. That means it will be hitting right at seven feet, just starting to spill over the banks.

    The National Weather Service in Pueblo says this is actually normal for this time of year and it’s something this area will see every spring.

    The higher water levels are coming from spring runoff from places as high up as Leadville. Local hydrologists say this is also a result of more water that was released from Pueblo Reservoir on Wednesday morning.

    “The Department of Water Resources is releasing water from the Pueblo Dam to match that flow coming in from up stream. This morning I believe they raised the flow several hundred feet per second, and that was just enough to push the Arkansas River at La Junta and at Avondale just above flood stage,” said Tony Anderson, a service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

    Minor flooding could start up as early as Wednesday night, but the good news is that it’s only expected to cause agricultural impacts. It’s not expected to affect any roads, homes or businesses at this point in time.

    Flood warnings are expected to last through Friday in Avondale and through Sunday in La Junta.

    Rep. Ken Buck wants streamlined water project approval

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    From My Windsor Now (Nate A. Miller):

    Rep. Ken Buck on Wednesday called for a streamlined process for federal approval of water storage projects.

    “In Colorado, water is tough to come by, which makes water storage a necessity. That’s why House Resolution 1654 is so important,” Buck said, according to a news release from his office. “We need to streamline the water project permitting process so that future projects like NISP don’t take over a decade to win a permit.”

    Buck, a Republican from Windsor, spoke on the U.S. House floor about HR 1654, the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act. This legislation places the Bureau of Reclamation within the Department of the Interior in charge of coordinating project permitting among state and federal governments on federal lands, allowing for a more streamlined process.

    Buck has pushed for federal changes to water project permitting since he entered Congress, especially in light of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a multi-county water storage effort that would impact most of northeastern Colorado. HR 1654’s reform of the permitting process would eliminate duplication in water project permitting, speeding-up a process that would otherwise take years, the release stated.

    No transmountain diversions from the Roaring Fork for 10 days or so

    A map of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, as submitted to Div. 5 Water Court by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

    From The Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

    Water management issues on the East Slope mean that the Roaring Fork River will continue to experience natural flows unaltered by diversions beneath the Continental Divide for another week to 10 days, a Pitkin County official said on Wednesday.

    On June 14, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. ceased transbasin diversions from Grizzly Reservoir to the South Fork of Lake Creek, which in the weeks prior had been running at about 600 cubic feet per second. With that additional water going down the Roaring Fork toward Aspen, water levels spiked dramatically, from around 300 cfs above Difficult Creek on June 14 to 800 cfs by June 16. The river appears to have peaked at 1,200 cfs above Difficult Creek on Monday.

    When the Fork is flowing near or above 1,000 cfs upstream of Aspen, water overtops the banks as the river meanders through the North Star Nature Preserve, creating what some are calling Lake North Star. Boaters this week have been able to float over what is normally acres of grassland between the highway and the foot of Aspen Mountain.

    While Lake North Star has been drawing more boaters, higher flows throughout the basin have officials calling on the recreating public to take extreme caution whenever they are in or around rivers.

    Rep. Scott Tipton reintroduces bill to protect water rights, uphold state water law — @RepTipton

    Photo via Bob Berwyn

    One thing I’ve learned over the years is that introducing a bill often doesn’t lead to an actual vote, let alone a law. Here’s the release from Representative Tipton’s office:

    Congressman Scott Tipton (CO-03) reintroduced the Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 2939), a bill that would uphold federal deference to state water law and prevent federal takings of privately held water rights

    “In recent years, the federal government has repeatedly attempted to circumvent long-established state water law by requiring the transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government as a permit condition for use of land owned by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management,” said Tipton. “These efforts constitute a gross federal overreach and violation of private property rights. My bill provides permanent protections for ski areas, farmers, ranchers, and others in the West.”

    In 2014, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) proposed the Groundwater Resource Management Directive, which gave the federal government jurisdiction over groundwater in a manner that was inconsistent with long-established state water law. The USFS withdrew the measure but has indicated a desire to issue a revised directive in the future. The Water Rights Protection Act would prohibit the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior from requiring the transfer of water rights as a condition of any land-use permit. The bill would also ensure that any future groundwater directives from the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior are consistent with state water law.

    Tipton’s bill has drawn praise from county commissioners and water conservancy districts across the Third Congressional District of Colorado.

    In a letter of support, the Dolores Water Conservancy District wrote, “The Water Rights Protection Act decisively addresses the elimination of risks and uncertainties related to federal taking of water. The clarification and direction provided by the proposed act will make management decisions, and work with our partners to make important water supply decisions, much more certain and secure.”

    The Garfield County Board of Commissioners wrote, “Garfield County, like many governments in Colorado and the west remains fiercely concerned over the continued challenge the federal government poses to the supremacy of Colorado water law. To that end, Garfield County places its full support behind Representative Tipton’s efforts.”

    The Water Rights Protection Act passed out of the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in both the 113th and 114th Congresses.

    Water is the most precious resource we have in the arid West, and how we manage and protect our water supply has implications on everything from growing crops to managing wildlife habitats. The Water Rights Protection Act is a sensible approach that would preserve the water rights of all water users and provide certainty that the federal government cannot take their rights in the future,” Tipton added.

    Here’s a look at the issues from Allen Best and The Mountain Town News.