#TX v. #NM and #Colorado at US Supreme Court — January 8, 2018

Map of the Rio Grande watershed, showing the Rio Chama joining the Rio Grande near Santa Fe. Graphic credit WikiMedia.

From SCOTUSblog (Ryke Longest):

On January 8, the Supreme Court will hear an original jurisdiction dispute among three states that share interests in the flows of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo del Norte: Texas, Colorado and New Mexico. The congressionally approved Rio Grande Compact of 1938 apportioned water rights among these states. In 2014, the Supreme Court granted Texas’ motion for leave to file a complaint and the court’s appointed special master, A. Gregory Grimsal, has been working through preliminary matters since then. The United States filed a complaint in intervention against New Mexico as well. The upcoming argument focuses on the first interim report by the special master, which considered a motion to dismiss filed by New Mexico against the state of Texas and the United States and motions to intervene filed by an irrigation district and a water improvement district. On October 10, 2017, the court denied New Mexico’s motion to dismiss Texas’ complaint and denied the intervention motions by the two local water entities. The exception of the United States and the first exception of Colorado to the first interim report of the special master were set for oral argument, and those matters will be before the court on Monday, January 8, as part of an interstate-apportionment double header.

From KVIA.com (Kate Bieri):

New Mexico political and agricultural leaders will travel to Washington, D.C. for oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado on Monday.

The litigation at hand involves a decades-old dispute among states in the southwest: Water…

In 2008, EBID and its sister district in El Paso entered into an operating agreement that provided El Paso with extra water to make up for those impacts of pumping here in the Mesilla Valley, Faubion said. Texas sued New Mexico in 2013, alleging a violation of that agreement.

“Texas made it clear at the time that if they challenged the operating agreement, that Texas would feel obliged to go to the Supreme Court, and that is exactly what happened and that is exactly why we’re here where we are today,” Faubion said.

“This is a huge issue that could affect states all across the nation,” said Samantha Barncastle Salopek, General Counsel for the Elephant Butte Irrigation District.

Barncastle told ABC-7 that this could be a precedent-setting case because the federal government has moved to intervene in the dispute among states.

“What the United States has said is that they have enough of a federal interest in this contract, that even though they have not signed on to it, they’re not a party to the contract, they should still be allowed to come into this case and litigate as though they were a party to the contract,” Barncastle said.

Las Cruces city officials would not comment on the case because of pending litigation.

Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full

#Drought news: Severe #Drought (D2) was expanded over large portions of the Four Corners, N. #NewMexico

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


During the 7-day period (ending Tuesday morning), bitterly cold, mostly dry weather prevailed across the nation. However, light to moderate showers were observed along the central Gulf Coast, while moderate to heavy rain and mountain snow were reported in the nation’s northwestern quadrant. At the end of the period, a moderate to deep snowpack extended from the interior Northwest across the northern Plains into New England. The overall trend toward drought intensification persisted from the Four Corners to the southern Plains and south-central U.S., while modest reductions in drought intensity and coverage were made in northern Montana…

High Plains

Extreme cold gripped the region, accompanied by much-needed moderate to heavy snowfall. Temperatures for the period averaged 25 to 35°F below normal from eastern Montana into the Dakotas and northern Nebraska. There were no changes made to the drought depiction in central and eastern portions of the region, while reductions in Abnormal Dryness, Moderate Drought, and Severe Drought (D0-D2) were made in northwestern Montana to account for the favorable start to the Water Year and the easing of long-term moisture deficits; 12-month precipitation climbed to near-normal levels in western Montana, but was still less than 50 percent of normal in the lingering Extreme Drought (D3) areas…


Drought intensified in the Four Corners, while heavy snow brought welcomed drought relief to northeastern portions of the region. Across Montana, Abnormal Dryness to Severe Drought were trimmed along the Canadian border to account for the favorable start to the Water Year and subsequent easing of long-term moisture deficits; 12-month precipitation climbed to near-normal levels in western Montana, but was still less than 50 percent of normal in the lingering Extreme Drought (D3) areas. While no changes were made to the Pacific Coast States, the poor start to the current Water Year was raising concerns over drought resumption from the Cascades southward into central and southern California. In particular, 90-day precipitation has averaged less than 40 percent of normal from central Oregon southward into central California, and less than 10 percent from the southern San Joaquin Valley into southern portions of Nevada and Arizona. Severe Drought (D2) was expanded over large portions of the Four Corners region, coincident with much-below-normal precipitation totals over the past 6 months (30-65 percent of normal). Farther east, Moderate Drought (D1) expanded across northern portions of New Mexico and environs, where short-term dryness (10-40 percent of normal over the past 90 days) was most pronounced…

Looking Ahead

A rapidly-intensifying storm system near the Atlantic Seaboard will produce wind-driven snow from parts of the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast. Substantial snow- and wind-related impacts are expected in New England, as well as coastal cities such as Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina. In the storm’s wake, late-week temperatures will again plunge across the Midwest and Northwest. However, temperatures will rebound to above-normal levels by Sunday in all areas west of the Mississippi River. In the middle and lower Mississippi Valley and environs, some rain or freezing rain could precede the warmer weather. Elsewhere, periods of rain and snow will affect northern California and the Northwest, while dry weather prevails across the central and southern Plains. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for January 9 – 13 calls for above-normal precipitation across much of the nation, with drier-than-normal weather confined to the nation’s southern tier save for the Southwest. Colder-than-conditions will linger in the upper Midwest, while near- to-above-normal temperatures prevail elsewhere, with the greatest likelihood of abnormal warmth from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast.

Take a trip back in time. Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data for early January over the past few years.

Early January 2018 #ColoradoRiver streamflow forecast is sobering #COriver

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 4, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Las Vegas Review Journal (Henry Brean):

The National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center predicts the river will flow at about 54 percent of its average volume during the key runoff period from April to July…

There’s still plenty of time for conditions to improve. The river basin tends to accumulate much of its snowpack in January, February and March…

Lake Mead ended 2017 almost 2 feet higher than a year ago, as use of Colorado River water by Nevada, Arizona and California hit its lowest level since 1992.

According to preliminary accounting figures from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the three states consumed a combined 6.7 million acre-feet from the river last year, driven by wet conditions in California and widening efforts to curb use in Arizona…

That left enough water in Lake Mead to keep it more than 7 feet above the trigger point for a federal shortage declaration, which would mean mandatory cuts for river users in Nevada and Arizona.

Colorado River author and expert John Fleck said the reduction in consumption is impressive considering the population in the areas served by the river has grown by about 7 million people since 1992.

“It’s a sign that we are succeeding in using less water in the Lower Colorado Basin,” said Fleck, director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. “It’s critical that we’re learning to do this, because this isn’t enough. … We’re going to have to do it more.”


California was able to cut its river use by more than 440,000 acre-feet last year, in large part because of huge snow accumulations in the Sierra Nevada mountains that helped refill the state’s drought-depleted reservoirs and above-average precipitation elsewhere that reduced water demand.

Fleck said Arizona cut its river use by almost 360,000 acre-feet mostly to stave off more substantial, mandatory cuts in the future. “Arizona has been cranking down their use to try to avoid a shortage,” he said.

Nevada used about 239,000 acre-feet of its 300,000 acre-foot allocation in 2017, an increase of roughly 2 percent over the previous year.

Bronson Mack, spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, water use in the valley went up slightly last year because of increased economic activity and the addition of more water customers. Hotter, drier weather also may have played a part, he said…

Federal projections released last month called for Lake Mead to finish 2018 roughly 4 feet lower than it is now but still safely out of shortage territory. In light of Wednesday’s ugly — but early — river forecast, the projections for the lake are almost certain to get worse.

From Slate (Geoff Fox):

What is it about snow that makes it so tough to pin down?

Though temperatures at ground level are important, the critical numbers for assessing snowfall are much higher up in the atmosphere. We’re looking for ice crystal growth, which happens when the air is wet enough and cold enough—sometimes down to -20° Fahrenheit, though the biggest snow growth happens at somewhat warmer temperatures.

The ice crystals start small, but as they collide they grow, until finally they’re large enough and heavy enough to fall to Earth. Snow is water plus air—air being very important. It’s the fluff factor, the reason an inch of water can be 5 inches of snow or 30 inches or something in between. The snow liquid ratio, or SLR, is different for every storm (high SLRs are good for skiing, bad for snowballs). And that’s what we’re trying to predict—how much liquid is going to produce how much snow.

Most snowstorms are driven by low pressure systems hundreds of miles across. Around the low, warm air rises and cools. That causes water vapor in the air to condense and form clouds. Liquid droplets come next until gravity and temperature begin to dominate. For those who live in snow belts there’s a second method to produce snow, the lake effect. Assessing these two methods of snow production should allow you to get a good idea of how much snow to expect, but often your final estimate is really the combination of two estimates.

The process is very exacting, intricate even. When temperatures are cold enough and the wind properly aligned through the atmosphere, lake effect snow produces narrow bands of intense snow that are extremely hard to predict. For example, I drove from Buffalo to Erie, PA one winter’s day. Downtown Buffalo had flurries, but as I headed into the “Southtowns,” conditions became dicey. The snow rate was a few inches an hour. And then, a few miles later along Lake Erie’s shore, the snow stopped, clouds parted, and the sun came out. My trip back saw the exact same conditions in the exact same places. Nothing had moved.

Marquette, Michigan is a good example of how this makes forecasting more difficult. Not only does Marquette get your run-of-the-mill winter storms, they also get lake effect snow. Lake effect there has an SLR in the 30 to 40:1 range, meaning that one inch of liquid equals 30-40” of snow. The larger storms that pass through are 10 to 15:1. Figuring out how this hybrid storm is going to combine includes a lot of room for error. Luckily, Marquette averages around 17 feet of snow per year—lots of time to practice.

So we forecast the amount of water, then how that water will act as it drops. Most of the time the atmosphere warms as the flakes fall…but not always. What starts in the clouds as snow can fall as sleet, rain, freezing rain or even grauple (snow flakes pocked with rime ice). The form it falls in obviously changes how much snow ends up on the ground.

When and how you measure snow affects the final total, too. Officially it’s measured off the ground on a ‘snow board,’ usually a large piece of plywood. Snowflakes fill gaps in the snow pile as they fall. Measuring every hour, without giving the snow time to settle will give a higher amount than measuring every six.

Over the years forecasts have improved. There are fewer busts. One reason we’ve gotten better is through improved computer modeling: We can now look at the atmosphere a little more finely. The grid points and time steps are closer together. The mathematical integration of physics is better honed.

From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

There are multiple important mountain locations contributing to southern Colorado’s water supply. Right now snowpack on Pikes Peak is just less than 30% of what’s considered normal for this time of year. Sources closer to the continental divide are better, but also very low. The Arkansas river basin at about 50% and the Upper Colorado River basin just above 65%.

The numbers are benchmarks at about half way into the snowpack season. It is typical to get heavier water dense snowstorms in January, February and March, but some long term forecasters are seeing some indicators of a storm track with lower snow totals.

A major buffer preventing immediate concern is the current level of our reservoirs. A couple of very wet years before now, have filled reservoirs. For Colorado Springs, storage is enough for three years.

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

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

Pueblo West look back at 2017

From the Pueblo West View (Christine Ina Casillas):

Water leak detection

The Pueblo West Metropolitan District hired some new crew in 2017 to help with water leak detection.

These two new staff members will be responsible for water leak detection and repairing the leaks along the 430 miles of potable water lines that run underneath Pueblo West.

Because shale rock formations, just under the ground surface in Pueblo West, many leaks can go undetected for long periods of time, said Jay-Michael Baker, communications and engagement manager with the Pueblo West Metropolitan District.

The water lost in a leak can follow these formations for hundreds of feet in some cases, and then only reach the surface in drainage ditches out of sight of the everyday operations staff and most residents.

“In one recent case the water from a main line leak found its way into the sewer system,” Baker said.

“This leak was discovered when treatment operators observed extra flow in a lift station. Their tip helped the leak detection crew locate the source of the leak.”

Since the leak flowed into the wastewater treatment system, it not only increased the cost of the lost water, but it also increased the cost of treating the extra water.

Detecting and repairing this leak saved the District a significant amount of money.

“I am very pleased with the work of the entire Collection and Distribution department,” said Scott Eilert, director of Utilities for Pueblo West.

“Particularly Rusty Ethredge, department manager, and Ben Gomez, who has taken the lead on the leak detection crew.”

The leak detection crew has located and repaired 10 significant leaks since last October.

The leak detection crew is credited with saving the District 480,685 gallons of treated water; enough to serve the average use of three single family homes for an entire year, Baker said.

“It is impossible to know exactly when a pipeline began to leak so we calculate the lost water from the date and time the leak was located until it was fixed,” Baker said.

Since the leak detection crew came in to service in October 2016, the approximate cost savings to the District for leak detection has been in the tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

In addition to the District’s recent water conservation plan, Pueblo West is conducting telecommunications and energy audits this year to identify waste, and decrease inefficiency.

Operating with a lean budget, any cost-savings that Pueblo West Metro management staff can find improves the quality of services provided to residents, he said.

Because the Pueblo West Metropolitan District looks for ways to increase efficiency and prevent waste within the district, finding solution through regularly reviewing processes and weak points is highlighted, he said.

The District’s water conservation plan, approved by the Colorado Conservation Board in August 2012, ranked leak detection as a high priority, Baker said. In response to this recommendation, the Pueblo West Metro Board approved two new full-time positions dedicated to leak detection for the 2016 budget year.

Water rate hikes

When Pueblo West residents opened their water bill from the September billing cycle, they said they were aghast at the price hike.

Some said it was a significant enough increase that they called the Pueblo West Metropolitan District with concerns about water leaks.

Officials with Pueblo West Utilities held a community meeting on Nov. 29 to answer questions from the public about the water rate increases and about the five-year water and wastewater rate plan.

Residents questioned where and how the water fees applied to their monthly bills and costs associated with sewer charges and leaks.

Kim Swearingen, deputy director of utilities for Pueblo West, said the bill period begins around the 10th of the month, give or take holidays, and go through a 31-day cycle.

For example, she said, the water bill would begin on Oct. 10 and end on Nov. 11. The data from the reading would be analyzed by Nov. 26 and the bill would be sent out and due in December for the October billing cycle.

“It’s almost like a three-month (billing) cycle but it only looks at that 31-day billing period,” she told residents during the meeting on Nov. 29.

The Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors will hold a final public hearing on Dec. 12 to approve a Water and Wastewater rate increase that will take effect Jan. 1.

The increase is part of a long-range comprehensive financial plan that was first initiated in March 2016 and partially funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

The plan recommends a five-year phased implementation that accounts for five years of operations and maintenance costs and a 10-year capital improvement plan.

The 10-year capital improvement plan lays out all long-term infrastructure needs for the Utilities Department.

The intent of the plan is to ensure the Utilities Department has sufficient revenues for the ongoing functions of the water and wastewater enterprises.

Inflation-induced increases in operating and maintenance costs, aging infrastructure, and long-term planning were all factors covered in the long-term financial plan.

The Utilities Department presented the increases to the Board of Directors at over a half dozen Board Meetings over the past two years.

Scott Eilert, director of utilities for Pueblo West, offered examples of projects to receive funding include: a gravity sewer main that serves Tract 220 and the large lot on the northwest corner of Highway 50 and McCulloch Boulevard, a lift station and force main at States Avenue Industrial Park, the rebuild of a pressure zone on Tract 251, a two million gallon water tank on the north side, and wastewater treatment plant upgrades, in addition to dozens of smaller capital projects.

On Sept. 1, the first phase of the rate increase went into effect resulting in an increase of approximately 4.6 percent for an average single-family monthly bill for both water and wastewater.

On Jan. 1, the second rate adjustment will take place with an estimated increase of 4.7 percent for an average single-family monthly bill.

The remainder of the plan adjustments are intended to take effect on Jan. 1 of each year through 2021 after the public hearing.

The water and sewer Plant Investment Fees saw a one-time increase on Sept. 1 and the district does not anticipate adjusting the PIF again within the five-year plan, Eilert said.