Rio Grande Roundtable meeting recap

Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Proposed water projects in the San Luis Valley literally span from one end of the Valley to the other — dam improvements at Mountain Home Reservoir southeast of Fort Garland to a pipeline at the Mineral County Fairgrounds in Creede.

Both projects are receiving funding through the Valley-wide water organization the Rio Grande Roundtable, which heard requests for funding on Tuesday for five future projects and approved funding requests for two projects that had already made presentations to the roundtable, including the Mineral County project.

The roundtable board approved a request for $9,190 for the Mineral County project, which involves piping water from a recently replaced historic ditch head gate under reclaimed (capped and vegetated) mining-contaminated soil to the Mineral County Fairgrounds. Zeke Ward, who presented the request, said piping the water was more economical and would require less maintenance than a new ditch, which would have to be lined.

Ward said there are many benefits to the project including preserving a historic water right and benefitting the environment. He said it is not a big project but is important in getting water from the headgate to the land that needs to be irrigated.

Ward said the approximately $9,200 from the roundtable funds would be matched by about $1,500.

A much larger project that was approved on Tuesday was a funding request for $64,480 in basin-allocated funds for a three-year water education proposal. The Rio Grande Watershed Conservation & Education Initiative, directed by Bethany Howell, is taking the lead on educational and outreach efforts that range from web site content to video vignettes. For example, six video vignettes on water topics are proposed to be completed in the next three years. The funding will also be used to update and maintain a web site, produce newsletters and produce educational articles.

The other projects that were presented on Tuesday were previews, with the actions on funding them to occur at the next meeting in January.

The Trinchera Irrigation Company is seeking $50,000 from funds allocated to the Rio Grande Roundtable and $822,438 from statewide funds towards a $993,863 project to make necessary dam repairs at Mountain Home Reservoir. The roundtable has supported feasibility and design phases on this project in the past, consultant Nicole Langley reminded the roundtable board when she gave the presentation on Tuesday on behalf of the Trinchera Irrigation Company. The current funding request will go towards implementation of those designs.

Langley said the 1905-constructed Mountain Home Reservoir has provided irrigation and recreational uses for a long time and is still functioning, but the state engineer has some safety concerns about the current gate valves. One is in poor condition and the other two have never been used and have deteriorated over time.

Another important aspect of Mountain Home Reservoir operating to its full capacity, Langley added, is that it is also a state wildlife area under an agreement with the Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

She added that the Trinchera Irrigation Company is seeking other support such as Louis Bacon Moore Foundation and Great Outdoors Colorado via the Town of Blanca.

Two of the projects involve funds for conservation easements. One of the conservation easements is proposed on the Lazy EA Ranch along Pinos Creek near Del Norte. The total cost of the easement will be $202,951, and Colorado Open Lands is seeking $36,213 from the Rio Grande Roundtable, with other funding including $101,000 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), $15,000 from Colorado Open Lands and approximately $50,738 from the landowner match, depending on the land appraisal. The plan is to get the conservation easement in place by next September, Judy Lopez told the Roundtable board.

Lopez, who is a conservation project manager with Colorado Open Lands, explained that a conservation easement on this piece of property is important for protecting it from development. She said there is just a narrow band left along the river corridor for farming and ranching. Encompassing 80 acres of flood-irrigated pasture, the property is used for hay production, is a corridor for wildlife and encompasses wetlands.

The land was originally homesteaded in 1849 and has a water right of 1.4 cubic feet per second.

RiGHT (Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust) is seeking funding for another conservation easement, this one on the Paulson Ranch in the Monte Vista area near Swede Lane and the Rio Grande. There are other conservation easements in the area, RiGHT Director Nancy Butler explained, making this conservation easement a good fit. The 180 acres that would be under conservation easement encompass senior water rights, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher habitat and wetlands.

RiGHT is seeking $18,000 from the basin-allocated funds and $157,000 from statewide water funds administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The total project is estimated at $405,000, with $100,000 to be sought from the Gates Family Foundation and $130,000 in landowner contribution, depending on the final appraisal.

Another project, seeking $46,000 from the basin-allocated funds and $300,000 from the statewide pot, as part of a half-million-dollar total project, is the “Conconco to the Confluence” project upgrading the Richfield diversion and diversions on the Conejos. This project will help correct some of the sedimentation problems. Nathan Coombs, SLV Water Conservancy District director, said sedimentation at the Richfield diversion, for example, is a big problem because the area is so flat. Irrigators are not able to use their water rights, he explained.

This project will also correct inconsistent measurements at the Conconco gage, which is not currently functioning properly, a problem not only for irrigators but also for Rio Grande Compact compliance.

Probably the most “dynamic” project presented on Tuesday was a project presented by Kevin Terry, Trout Unlimited, to use dynamite to fell trees around the Spruce Lakes in the Weminuche Wilderness area. Terry explained that two reservoirs, seven miles in from the Continental Divide, are clogging up with dead spruce trees, with more trees near the lakes threatening to cause further problems.

This is a problem not only for the water rights associated with the reservoirs but also for fish habitat.

Terry said since the lakes are in an area designated as wilderness, the tools that are permitted to be used there are limited. So far the efforts used to remove the dead trees have included large horses pulling the logs out of the reservoirs and using handsaws to cut down dead trees.

Trout Unlimited is working with the Forest Service and the owners of the reservoirs on what may be a more efficient and innovative manner of taking down the trees that threaten the lakes. They will use explosives to fell about 430 trees near the reservoirs. When it is finished, it will look like winds took down the trees, Terry explained.

The project will cost about $84,000, with the request for basin allocated funds being about $65,500. Half of the cost is for the explosives themselves, Terry explained.

Eagle River Watershed Council restoration projects update

The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

From the Eagle River Watershed Council via The Vail Daily:

The Eagle River Watershed Council recently completed two riparian habitat restoration projects in collaboration with Vail Resorts’ EpicPromise. The Watershed Council worked with more than 160 volunteers from Vail Resorts to complete projects that restored and enhanced degraded riparian areas, which can cause diminished in-stream water quality and reduced wildlife habitat.

At the Edwards Eagle River Restoration Site, more than 100 EpicPromise volunteers helped install nearly 5,000 willow transplants along areas of the Eagle River that have experienced degradation due to undirected social trails and bushwhacking. Educational signage was also installed reminding riverside residents not to disturb these critical riparian plants by trampling them. The new willow plantings will help create wildlife habitat and improve water quality.

The Watershed Council used the help of more than 50 Vail Resorts volunteers for a second project, which was funded by the Colorado River District and the Forrest & Frances Lattner Foundation. The volunteers helped the Watershed Council improve a stretch of habitat along the Eagle River just outside of Eagle-Vail by planting 200 native trees and shrubs.

This area was selected for restoration because of significant impacts associated with storm water runoff from a recreational bike path, U.S. Highway 6 and Interstate 70. The establishment of a healthy riparian area will improve water quality by filtering sediment and pollutants that would have otherwise entered the Eagle River.

More information on other volunteer opportunities with Eagle River Watershed Council can be found in the organization’s monthly newsletter or online at

Transportation is the Biggest Source of U.S. Emissions — Climate Central #ActOnClimate

Graphic credit Climate Central

From Climate Central:

The busiest travel day of the year brings a renewed focus on transportation, and for the first time since the 1970s, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from transportation have eclipsed emissions from electricity generation as the top source of greenhouse gases.

The change comes as U.S. electricity generation relies less on coal and more on renewables and natural gas (a less carbon-intensive fossil fuel). Transportation emissions have also declined from a peak in 2008 due to steadily improving fuel economies, although there has been a small uptick recently as a result of a drop in gas prices. The projected growth in electric vehicles suggests decreases in CO2 transportation emissions are on the horizon. Even when accounting for how electricity is generated, an electric vehicle emits less carbon dioxide than a comparable gasoline car in a majority of U.S. states.

A typical gasoline-powered passenger car emits 20 pounds of carbon dioxide for each gallon of gas burned, or about a pound for each mile traveled, and both electric and hybrid vehicles can cut back on those emissions. A recent Climate Central report, Climate Friendly Cars, shows which cars are the most climate friendly in each state. The rankings are based on the type of engine and the method in which electricity is generated in each state.

From 2011 to 2016, the number of plug-in electric vehicles sold each year in the U.S. increased by a factor of eight. Projections for electric car sales vary among organizations, but all indicate a substantial increase in plug-in electric car sales in the coming years.

Traveling longer distances with electric vehicles is getting easier, as the number of publicly available charging stations has tripled since 2012, with 35,000 in place through 2016. And for those in a hurry, the number of fast charging stations, which can charge a battery most of the way full in about 30 minutes, has also tripled in that same time, with more than 5300 installed. However, America is playing catch up to China, which had 17 times more fast chargers than the U.S. at the end of 2016.

Coyote Gulch’s Leaf connected in the parking garage in Winter Park, August 21, 2017.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through November 20, 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.

Here’s an explainer about forecasting snowfall in a La Niña winters from NOAA:

This is a guest post by Dr. Stephen Baxter who is a NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC) meteorologist and does applied research on subseasonal-to-seasonal climate variability. In particular he specializes in understanding how the middle-to-high latitude circulation is influenced by the tropics versus other processes. He also has a lot of opinions on Siberian snow cover and the role of the western tropical Pacific in forcing seasonal climate over North America.

Recent cold air outbreaks over the north-central and northwestern U.S., along with record cold on Veterans Day in parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, should have people excited about (or dreading) the upcoming winter. My colleagues and I at the Climate Prediction Center have just issued our final outlook for the upcoming “meteorological winter,” that is, December through February. Right now, our official outlook covers only temperature and total precipitation, with the latter combining both liquid and frozen precipitation. However, what about the frozen stuff? What about snow?

Because many people remember winters that were either exceptionally snowy or not snowy at all, we get a lot of questions about what the winter forecast portends for seasonal snowfall accumulation. In many parts of the country, snowfall also has major economic and societal ramifications, including water resource management and winter tourism, among others.

Snow Way!

Tackling this problem is not easy, though. Part of the issue boils down to the technical difficulties of snowfall measurements—a real “problem child” as Deke Arndt (NCEI) puts it. The other issue is related to the difficulties with prediction. As many people in the Northeast corridor are aware, snowfall with any given storm system is a function of the dreaded rain-snow line that separates air masses that are below or above freezing.

For any given storm system, the exact boundaries between rain and snow can be hard to predict even days in advance. Luckily, at CPC, we aren’t trying to predict specific events, but the climate instead. We take a step back and see how seasonal temperature and precipitation forecasts might play a role in determining seasonal snowfall accumulation.

In regions that receive a large percentage of their cold-season precipitation in the form of snow, increased seasonal precipitation is intuitively related to increased snowfall accumulation. In more temperate areas that receive a relatively small percentage of frozen precipitation, temperature becomes important. Anomalously cold temperatures are, more or less, a necessary condition for snow in those areas. Therefore, a region with a relatively cold winter may find itself on the cold side of storm systems more often.

In more mountainous areas, where temperature varies as a function of elevation, colder systems result in snow falling at lower altitudes and more total snowfall coverage over a given region. This is where the long-term warming trends, recently discussed by Tom, become important over western North America. Drier and warmer climate signals will generally result in lower snow coverage.

Because a La Niña Advisory was recently issued, we will take a look at how La Niña, in general, affects snowfall across North America. This analysis is part of a broader effort at CPC to better understand and potentially predict seasonal snowfall, made possible in part by a new snowfall dataset (1).

La Niña = Skiers Delight over the Northern United States

In a nutshell, La Niña is associated with a retracted jet stream over the North Pacific Ocean. The retreat of the jet stream results in more blocking high pressure systems that allow colder air to spill into western and central Canada and parts of the northern contiguous U.S. At the same time, storm track activity across the southern tier of the U.S. is diminished under upper-level high pressure, which also favors milder-than-normal temperatures. The storm track is in turn shifted northward across parts of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes (2).

Based on climate analysis (3) from this new snow dataset, we see that La Niña favors increased snowfall over the Northwest and northern Rockies, as well as in the upper Midwest Great Lakes region. Reduced snowfall is observed over parts of the central-southern Plains, Southwest, and mid-Atlantic.

Snowfall departure from average for all La Niña winters (1950-2009). Blue shading shows where snowfall is greater than average and brown shows where snowfall is less than average. figure based on analysis at CPC using Rutgers gridded snow data.

This La Niña footprint is pretty intuitive. Given the northward shift of the storm track, relatively cold and wet conditions are favored over the northern Rockies and northern Plains, resulting in the enhancement of snowfall. Warmer and drier winters are more likely during La Niña over more southern states, and this is exactly where seasonal snowfall tends to be reduced (4). The more vigorous storm track and slight tilt toward colder temperatures over the northern tier of U.S. during La Niña modestly increases the chance of a relatively snowy winter.

Snow and Strength

We can break up the snow pattern further and look at the weakest and strongest La Niña events. Splitting La Niña events into strength reveals some interesting differences worth investigating further. In this preliminary analysis below, there is a suggestion that weaker events are snowier over the Northeast and northern and central Plains on average.

Snowfall departure from average for weaker La Niña winters (1950-2009). Blue shading shows where snowfall is greater than average and brown shows where snowfall is less than average. figure based on analysis at CPC using Rutgers gridded snow data.

On the other hand, stronger La Niña events (see below) are snowier across the Northwest, northern Rockies, western Canada, and the Alaska panhandle. Also, there is a tendency toward below average snowfall over the mid-Atlantic, New England, and northern and central Plains, which is not seen during weak La Niña.

Snowfall departure from average for weaker La Niña winters (1950-2009). Blue shading shows where snowfall is greater than average and brown shows where snowfall is less than average. figure based on analysis at CPC using Rutgers gridded snow data.

Overall, stronger La Niña events exert more influence on the winter climate pattern over western North America. Weaker events appear to be associated with more widespread above-average snow over the northern United States. Because a weak La Niña means that the forcing from the Pacific is weaker than normal, it may imply other mechanisms (e.g. Arctic Oscillation) may be at play and is worth further investigation.

The predictability of seasonal snowfall may be somewhat similar to precipitation in that one or two big events can dramatically affect the seasonal average. Thus, in general, the expected prediction skill is likely to be lower than for temperature. However, because temperature also plays an important role in snowfall, some predictability is likely nonetheless. And like for seasonal temperature and precipitation, knowing the state of ENSO is a pretty reasonable place to start.


(1) This new dataset is documented in Kluver et al. (2016) “Creation and Validation of a Comprehensive 1° by 1° Daily Gridded North American Dataset for 1900-2009: Snowfall” in the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology. The dataset for this analysis goes up to 2009, so we are going to look at winters from 1950-51 to 2008-09. Total cold season snowfall accumulation from October through April is used here.

(2) This is consistent with the temperature pattern: the storm track is enhanced where the temperature gradient is stronger than normal.

(3) Here we are using composite analysis to show snowfall. In this case we take just the La Niña years between 1950-51 and 2008-09 and compute the mean. For the strength composites, we divide the 18 La Niña winters between 1951-2009 into weak or strong cases. The median ONI value used to split them is -0.95°C during December-February (DJF) average. We need to be cautious drawing too many conclusions based on the large reduction in our sample size. Composites also emphasize variance: regions with more year-to-year variability will have higher amplitude composite signals.

(4) The areas in the South that favor below-average snowfall during La Niña are most evident where the snowfall climatology is reasonably high. That is where the signal is most likely to come through the noise.