#Snowpack/#Drought news: Winter heat bakes the SW #US

Screenshot of the NRCS interactive SWE map for major sub-basins on January 29, 2018.

From the Desert Sun (Ian James) via USA Today:

An average January, February or even March day in Temecula tops out at 67 or 68 degrees, according to AccuWeather.

Cantú has worked previously for the California State Water Resources Control Board and until last year was general manager of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority. She now leads the Los Angeles-based group Water Education for Latino Leaders.

She’s been following the news about the lower-than-average snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies and seeing the warmth trigger the early bloom in her garden left her feeling concerned about the possibility of another severe drought around the corner.

“It tells me we really need to get back to talking about water conservation and water-use efficiency,” Cantú said.

Californians coped with the most severe drought in the state’s modern history from 2012 through 2016. Gov. Jerry Brown declared the emergency over in April 2017 after one of the wettest winters on record refilled reservoirs across the state.

This week, snow sensors across the Sierra Nevada show the snowpack at just 30% of average for this time of year.

“We have every indication that we’re likely to still be in a drought, in spite of a normal year last winter in Northern California,” Cantú said. “People kind of had a false sense of reprieve and that’s very fleeting.”

“We really need to buckle down” and step up conservation efforts again, she said.

The amount of snow on the ground is also far below average across the Colorado River Basin, where a 17-year run of mostly dry years has left reservoirs at alarmingly low levels.

Climate scientists and managers of water agencies describe the situation as a “snow drought,” driven in part by winter temperatures that are well above the long-term average.

“We can have a decent amount of precipitation in a year and still be in a snow drought,” said senior research associate Laura Feinstein at the Pacific Institute, an Oakland, Calif.-based think tank that focuses on water issues. “Even if we get a similar amount of precipitation, more of it falls as rain rather than snow and runs off relatively quickly.

“And we don’t have that long-term storage to get us through our summers and falls like we used to,” she said.

West Drought Monitor January 23, 2018.

The latest “Water Matters” newsletter is hot off the presses from the @COWaterTrust

Rancher Bill Fales stands next to his headgate on the Crystal River.

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

Crystal River Project

We are thrilled to announce a pilot agreement between Cold Mountain Ranch and Colorado Water Trust designed to increase flows in the Crystal River during drier years.

Cold Mountain Ranch owners, Bill Fales and Marj Perry, will voluntarily retime their irrigation practices in exchange for compensation to leave water in the Crystal River when the river needs it most. The project provides a model that could be replicated on other rivers in need.

Thanks to a very long list of partners, this three-year agreement came out of the Crystal River Management Plan. It is designed to improve the health of the Crystal River in partnership with agriculture, as we work to keep farms and ranches productive while restoring water to thirsty rivers. To quote our Board Member, Dave Taussig, “We want green fields and blue waters.” Let’s make it happen!

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

The best $14 million Denver ever spent – News on TAP

As we reflect on Denver Water’s first 100 years, we can’t help but be excited for the next.

Source: The best $14 million Denver ever spent – News on TAP

“Dust Up: The Growing Problem Affecting Snowpack and Water Supply” — @H2ORadio

Senator Beck Basin, May 2013. Photo credit: Jeffrey Deems via H2ORadio.com.

From H2ORadio Science (Click through to listen to the show):

Mountain snowfall around the globe is an important source of water. In the spring it melts and flows into rivers and reservoirs for cities and farms to use. But there’s been a growing problem that’s sweeping in and causing snowpack worldwide to melt faster.

“It looks apocalyptic,” says Jeff Deems, a research scientist at the University of Colorado. With “a big orange-red sky, it really does look Martian.”

He’s describing dust storms—layers of windblown particles that are landing on mountain peaks and leaving them coated with a dark layer of sand and soot. As anyone who has sat in a car with black upholstery on hot summer day will attest, black objects absorb more heat than lighter ones, so by the darkening the snow, it’s melting it faster.

Deems explains that “If you put dust on the snowpack, which enhances the absorption of that solar radiation, then that just pushes on the gas pedal for snowmelt.” In a recent study looking at the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Deems and lead author Tom Painter of NASA found that the amount of dust on mountain snowpack will control how fast rivers rise in the spring regardless of air temperature. And the more dust there is, the faster the runoff.

Denver Residents Benefit from a “Cool, Connected Westwood” — #HealthyTreesHealthyLives

Westwood neighborhood Denver Google Maps January 30, 2018

From the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition:

Guest post from the Colorado State Forest Service in coordination with the Western Urban and Community Forestry Network’s #HealthyTreesHealthyLives social media campaign. Explore the hashtag #HealthyTreesHealthyLives on social media to learn more.

We are privileged in Colorado to have a diverse array of partners who work together to preserve, renew and enhance our community forests, which promote health and well-being in communities across the state. A couple of exciting partnerships in the Denver area involve the Colorado Tree Coalition, The Park People, The Trust for Public Land, Groundwork Denver, Westwood Unidos, University of Colorado Community Engagement Design and Research Center, and Denver Parks and Recreation.

The Colorado State Forest Service Urban & Community Forestry Program and the Colorado Tree Coalition have long supported the efforts of The Park People (TPP), including $26,500 in grant support over the years to TPP community forestry programs. TPP is a Denver non-profit that has helped plant trees in key areas of the city for 30+ years. TPP’s Denver Digs Trees program helps residents cultivate greener, healthier, more livable neighborhoods and has provided more than 50,000 free and low-cost trees to Denver residents. Denver Digs Trees is a powerful example of community in action – fueled by residents and volunteers who plant and steward trees. The 50,000 trees planted through the program represent more than $52.3 million in community benefits.

The Park People is a part of another partnership supporting healthy trees and healthy lives: the Cool Connected Westwood project is a coalition of organizations active in the Westwood neighborhood of southwest Denver. Westwood is faced with economic and environmental challenges, including one of the city’s highest poverty rates and historically limited access to parks and tree canopy cover. Westwood is also a place of strong cultural identity (both Latino and Vietnamese) and home to vibrant community organizing.

During summer 2017, partners engaged in a neighborhood-based, green infrastructure pilot project. The project focused on tree planting and incorporated youth job training, community science, and innovative approaches for resident engagement.

By autumn’s end, 245 new trees stood tall in Westwood. These trees will beautify the neighborhood, improve walkability, build neighborhood pride, and foster a sense of safety. They will also increase the neighborhood’s climate resilience as they grow, intercept precipitation and slow the movement of water to reduce flooding during storm events; and help cool individual homes and the neighborhood at large, helping to moderate temperatures and reduce heat-related illness and death.

Every community deserves to have a healthy forest, and we’re proud of organizations and individuals working to support trees in Colorado, throughout the country, and across the world.
To learn more, please contact Keith Wood with the Colorado State Forest Service and Kim Yuan-Farrell with The Park People

#Snowpack news: High hopes for February

Screenshot of the NRCS interactive SWE map for major sub-basins on January 29, 2018.

From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

February will tell us a lot about a couple of things.

The first thing is whether there’s any chance of getting even sort-of caught up with the area’s annual snowpack.

The second thing is whether there’s any chance of getting even sort-of caught up with visitor numbers.

Both of those things are intertwined, of course. Snowpack is essential for water for the coming spring, summer and fall. Snowpack is also essential to bring snow-riding visitors…

“Without (a strong) February, I don’t know if we can catch up,” [Chris Romer] said. Those numbers may tell lodging and other businesses if there’s still high demand or if owners and managers need to adjust their revenue and expenses — staffing and purchasing — to adjust.

February’s snowfall will also tell us a lot about the water year to come.

Andrew Lyons, a forecaster in the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, said a ridge of high pressure — either over California’s Pacific coast or in the desert Southwest — has for the past few months been forcing storm tracks to the north of Colorado.

The northern part of the state has done better regarding snowfall, Lyons said. Still, virtually the entire state is in some form of drought on the U.S. Drought Monitor — from “abnormally dry” to “moderate drought.”

As is usually the case in years when a La Nina pattern is established in the Pacific Ocean — even like this season’s weak pattern — Southern Colorado has borne the brunt of the dry conditions.

Assistant State Climatologist Becky Bolinger said “there’s almost zero chance” that the San Juan Mountains will catch up to anything resembling normal snowfall this season.

Still, reservoir storage around the state is in good shape to weather a one-season drought.

But water supplies in the Eagle River Valley are dependent more on streamflows than reservoir storage. The good news, Bolinger said, is that snowpack figures at higher elevations tend to be stronger than those at lower elevations.

The highest-elevation measurement site for the Eagle River is at nearby Fremont Pass, located above 11,000 feet. The snowpack there is currently at just more than 100 percent of the 30-year median snowfall amount.

Still, the current outlook is sobering for the entire Colorado River basin.

According to the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center the forecast for stations at Eagle and Gypsum is for spring runoff to be roughly 66 percent of the 30-year medians.

There’s still time to make up ground in terms of snowpack, Bolinger said — March and April are the snowiest months. Still, she said, a lot of snow is needed.

Lyons said historical patterns lean toward more snowy patterns in March and April. But, he said, the longterm outlook is for lower-than-average precipitation and warmer-than-average temperatures.

#Wyoming legislative committee hopes to add $40 million to budget for dam on the Little Snake River

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

From Wyoming Public Media (Melodie Edwards):

Last week, lawmakers on the Select Water Committee agreed to put $40 million in their budget to build a new dam in southern Wyoming, but only if all the money for the project is identified first. The total cost of the dam is estimated at $80 million dollars.

Water Development Office Director Harry LaBonde says with more droughts expected in the future, more irrigation water is needed for about 25 different ranches along the West Fork of Battle Creek in south-central Wyoming.

“When you get to August, flows are low and so the irrigation purpose of this project would be to provide these late season irrigation flows so that they could continue to irrigate and enhance their grass hay crops,” said LaBonde.

Battle Creek flows into the Yampa River in Colorado and the hope is that state would help fund the project…

Water Development Office Director LaBonde said, with more droughts likely, Wyoming needs to provide for its irrigators. He said now is a good time to build dams.

“I will say also that with regards to the President’s infrastructure bills that are being proposed, there’s also potential for a component of federal funding for this project.”

LaBonde says the reservoir will also provide recreation opportunities and habitat for the imperiled Colorado cutthroat trout.

The project is one of Governor Matt Mead’s 10-in-10 water projects, an effort to build ten new water storage projects in ten years. Four others around the state are also moving forward including Middle Pioneer Reservoir and an enlargement of Big Sandy Reservoir, both in Sublette County on the Green River, a main branch on the Colorado River. Also, two dam projects in the Bighorn Basin in northern Wyoming have been funded for construction costs, including Alkali Creek Dam and Levitt Reservoir.

The Little Snake River as it passes under Wyoming Highway 70 near Dixon. Photo credit: Wikimedia