#Snowpack news: Not much of a bump from the recent snowfall

From The Alamosa News (Ruth Heide):

With a basin-wide snowpack sitting at 31 percent of normal and the National Weather Service calling for dry conditions in coming months, “It’s not looking real great for us right now,” Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said during a water meeting in Alamosa on Tuesday.

“We are a little bit lower than 2002 at this point,” he said. That was one of the San Luis Valley’s worst drought years.

However, Cotten said that last year looked about the same until storms came in December to boost levels. “We could get something like that happening again,” he said, adding that a storm was supposed to be coming in on Wednesday…

Although the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley) is not the worst in terms of snowpack right now — the San Juan Basin is lower at 27 percent of normal — the snowpack as of Tuesday morning was only 31 percent of normal in the Rio Grande Basin. The basin with the highest snowpack on Tuesday was South Platte with only 82 percent of normal…

The current annual flow forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers are 54 percent of the long-term average, Cotten told members of the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday. The preliminary annual flow for the Rio Grande at Del Norte is 345,000 acre feet, or 54 percent of the long-term average and about half of what the river produced in 2017 (690,500 acre feet), while the NRCS is currently predicting an annual flow on the Conejos River system of 165,000 acre feet, also 54 percent of the long-term average and significantly below the 2017 total of 439,6000 acre feet.

The only upside of those lower numbers, Cotten added, is that less would be required to be sent downriver to comply with the Rio Grande Compact. Of the currently predicted 345,000 acre feet on the Rio Grande, the state would only owe 85,000 acre feet to downstream states, and curtailment during the irrigation season would likely be nil.

The same would be true on the Conejos River system, with no curtailment necessary during the irrigation season if the current prediction of 165,000 acre feet holds. The state would have to send 27,500 acre feet downstream to meet compact obligations, “which can be met without curtailment on the Conejos,” Cotten said…

Cotten said Colorado ended 2017 in the black as far as Rio Grande Compact accounting on the Rio Grande, with about 1,850 acre feet credit, while the Conejos River couldn’t keep up with its increased obligation due to higher flows and ended the year with about 3,050 acre feet in debt.

“The Compact allows that,” Cotten explained. “It’s not a problem. You can go into debt and make it up the next year.”

The Conejos experienced an above-average year for the first year in a long time last year, Cotten said, at 143 percent of normal. It has a higher obligation to the compact than the Rio Grande and had to send 51 percent of its annual flow downstream, or 222,800 acre feet of the total 439,600 acre feet.

The Rio Grande also experienced an above-average year in 2017 at 108 percent of normal, which was the third year in a row for an above-average year on the river, Cotten said. Its obligation to the compact was 29 percent, or 199,800 acre feet of the total 690,500 acre feet.

On a legal note, Cotten said the trial over the groundwater rules/regulations will begin with opening arguments on January 29 and is currently scheduled for four weeks. He said five or six objectors are still in the case. The case will revolve around groundwater rules promulgated by the state engineer for water users in this basin. The case will present its arguments first, Cotten explained.

Chief District/Water Judge Pattie Swift will preside over the case, which will be heard in the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s building at 8805 Independence Way in south Alamosa.

From The Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

With Wednesday’s storm possibly followed by a quick hitter on Friday, and possibly followed by another the middle of next week, this Colorado winter might begin at least looking like a Colorado winter.

“An active pattern might be setting up by the end of next week,” said Mike Meyers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via the The Santa Fe New Mexican:

A small amount of rain fell over the state’s largest metropolitan area Wednesday, ending one of the longest dry spells in recorded history. Albuquerque had logged more than three straight months without any measureable precipitation — a stretch that threatened to break records that had been set decades ago…

So just how much rain was measured Wednesday morning? Only three-hundredths of an inch, or less than one millimeter.

The recent dry spell marked the fifth longest on record, according to the weather service. The record of 109 days was set in 1902.

While the moisture is welcomed, water managers and environmentalists are most concerned about snowpack levels in the mountains along the New Mexico-Colorado border that feed the Rio Grande basin.

A recent forecast issued by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows Rio Grande flows at various spots in Northern New Mexico could range from 15 percent to 24 percent of average this year. It’s early in the winter season, but it still marks a dry start to things.

The most recent federal map that tracks drought shows much of the American Southwest is dealing with conditions that include moderate to severe drought. Every square mile of neighboring Arizona is affected, while it’s dry across New Mexico but for a sliver of its southeastern border with Texas.

Jen Pelz with the group WildEarth Guardians said it appears from January’s stream-flow forecast that 2018 could be similar to the lean years earlier in the decade where the Rio Grande’s flows were less than half of average.

From The Albuquerque Journal (Ollie Reed Jr.):

“The outlook from late winter through spring is below-average precipitation,” said Kerry Jones, a meteorologist with the Albuquerque office of the National Weather Service. “The odds are tilted that way. It’s not good.” Wednesday’s rain, 0.03 inch recorded at the Albuquerque airport by midafternoon, broke a city dry spell that had stretched to 96 days without measurable precipitation, the fifth-longest such period since 1891. The longest such period is 109 days in 1902.

Although there wasn’t much measurable precipitation at the airport, the storm left wet streets and plenty of puddles around the city.

“If we had not had (Wednesday’s) precipitation, we could have given that longest stretch a run for its money, maybe even broken it,” Jones said. While Wednesday’s moisture is welcome, Jones said, it’s not much help.

“We would need unprecedented wetness, almost equivalent to the dryness we have experienced, to make up the ground we have lost,” he said.

At the start of 2017, slightly more than 4 percent of New Mexico was experiencing some degree of drought. At the start of this year, 46 percent of the state, mostly in the extreme north and in the west, had some level of drought. And Jones said the condition of mountain snowpacks, the source of spring runoffs that feed the state’s streams and rivers, is dismal.

“Up north, most basins have snowpacks that are at from zero to 6 percent of median,” he said. “Up on the state border, some basins are at 15 percent of median.”

He said a gauge at Bobcat Pass, an area just below 10,000 feet between Red River and Eagle Nest, is indicating that location’s lowest measurement since 1980.

The latest Intermountain West Climate Briefing is hot off the presses

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled January 11, 2018 via the NRCS.

Click here to read the briefing:

The latest monthly briefing was posted [January 10, 2018] on the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard. The highlights, also provided below, cover current snowpack and drought conditions, seasonal runoff forecasts, December and annual precipitation and temperature, and ENSO conditions and outlooks.

  • A winter drought is developing across Utah and Colorado, with very low precipitation and poor snowpack conditions accompanied by very warm temperatures and unusually high evaporative demand. It is unlikely that the snowpack will recover to average conditions by spring, and very low spring-summer runoff is increasingly likely, especially in southern Utah and southwestern Colorado.
  • The snowpack in both Utah and Colorado is at a near-record-low for early January, with statewide SWE at around 50% of normal, and many individual basins in southwestern Colorado and southern Utah well below 50%. Wyoming is faring much better, with above-normal SWE in the northwest basins grading to below-normal SWE in the southern basins.
  • The first official seasonal runoff forecasts, issued in early January by NRCS and NOAA, call for below-average (70-89%) or much-below-average (<70%) April-July runoff for nearly all forecast points in Colorado and Utah, with many points expected to see less than 50% of average runoff. Forecasted runoff for Wyoming is generally above average or near average.
  • La Niña conditions are more firmly entrenched and expected to persist through the winter, with a transition back to ENSO-neutral conditions likely by late spring. Historically, weak to moderate La Niña events are associated with below-normal March-May precipitation for Utah and Colorado.
  • December saw much-below-normal precipitation and very warm conditions for Colorado and Utah, and near-average precipitation but very warm conditions for Wyoming. Calendar year 2017 was the 3rd-warmest on record for both Colorado and Utah, with near-normal annual precipitation in both states, while Wyoming had its 7th-warmest year on record despite much-above-normal precipitation.
  • Since early December, drought conditions have emerged or worsened for nearly all of Colorado, southern and western Utah, and parts of southern Wyoming . As of January 2nd, 61% of Utah is in D1 or D2, and another 29% in D0; in Colorado, 33% is in D1 or D2, and 60% in D0; and in Wyoming, only 2% is in D1, and 23% in D0.
  • #Drought news: D1 (Moderate Drought) expanded over most of E. #Colorado

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


    Dryness continues over most of the country with only isolated areas of above-normal precipitation for this week. The “snow drought” over much of the mountainous western United States is catching more attention, but there is time to make up the poor start to the current water year. Portions of California and coastal Washington did have good precipitation for the week, along with areas of southern Louisiana, east Texas, and southern Mississippi. A significant winter storm brought precipitation to many areas along the east coast from Florida to Maine, but this did not reach too far inland. Over the last 60 days, extensive areas of the country have recorded below 25 percent of normal precipitation, from the Southwest into the central Plains and Midwest as well as in the Southeast and into the Mid-Atlantic. Cold air has also dominated much of the Midwest and eastern United States, with departures from normal temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic 15-20 degrees below normal…

    High Plains

    A dry week for the region, but also a very cold week, with most of the eastern portions of the region recording temperatures 5-10 degrees below normal. Dryness over the last 3 months has been a concern, even during the fall and winter months. Moderate drought conditions were expanded over all of eastern Colorado, western Kansas and more of central Kansas. Severe drought was also expanded over southwest Kansas while a new area of extreme drought was introduced along the Oklahoma border where less than 10 percent of normal precipitation has been recorded over the last 90 days…


    The story over the region has been the slow start to the current water year with the lack of both rain (in the lower elevations) and snow (in the upper elevations). The anomaly has been the northern Rocky Mountains in that the wet pattern over the last several weeks has allowed for a full category improvement to the drought status over Montana with all areas of extreme drought being removed this week. In the central Rocky Mountains and Four Corners regions, drought conditions continued to intensify, with moderate and severe drought expanding over Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and southern Wyoming. Abnormally dry conditions were introduced into Oregon, northern California, and western Idaho this week in response the dryness. Heavy rain at the end of the period brought the first significant rainfall to southern California and portions of the desert Southwest this winter, bringing with it mudslides and flooding as the rain saturated areas burned earlier…

    Looking Ahead

    Over the next 5-7 days, precipitation is widespread over much of the contiguous United States, with all but areas of the Southwest expecting to record some precipitation. The Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains are anticipated to have significant precipitation with liquid amounts of 3-4 inches along the coasts of northern California, Oregon, and Washington as well as over much of northern Idaho and western Montana. Significant precipitation is also anticipated over the Ohio River Valley and into the Mid-Atlantic, where 1.50-2.50 inches of liquid precipitation is forecast over widespread areas. Cooler than normal temperatures are anticipated over most areas east of the continental divide with departures of up to 15 degrees below normal while the western areas are anticipated to be warmer than normal with departures of 5-10 degrees above normal.

    The 6-10 day outlooks show that the trend of warmer over the West and cooler over the East will likely continue. Temperatures have the greatest chance of being below normal over the Mid-Atlantic into the Southeast and above normal over the Southwest. Precipitation chances are projected to be greatest over the Great Basin and Pacific Northwest as well along the Mississippi River Valley. Drier than normal conditions are anticipated to mainly be over the areas of west Texas and southern New Mexico as well as along the coastal regions of the Southeast, with higher than normal chances of dry conditions along much of the east coast.

    Dillon’s Frosty: The fairest of them all – News on TAP

    Colorado’s snowpack numbers are the worst they’ve been in 33 years, but Denver’s water supply is still in good shape.

    Source: Dillon’s Frosty: The fairest of them all – News on TAP

    Efficiency is the new conservation – News on TAP

    After a successful 10-year conservation plan, our focus turns to water efficiency. Here’s a look at what that means.

    Source: Efficiency is the new conservation – News on TAP

    Fort Collins Utilities’ water treatment plant is changing treatment process

    The water treatment process

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Fort Collins Utilities is changing some of its procedures after breaking two state water quality rules last month.

    The associated incident happened Dec. 14 and lasted 18 minutes, from 8:41 to 8:59 a.m. Water users were never at risk as a result of the incident, which involved a malfunction in the water treatment system, water resources and treatment operations manager Carol Webb said.

    The malfunction involved a portion of the system that adds lime to water to prevent pipe corrosion. Though lime is a safe and state-approved drinking water additive, the system added too much lime to water on Dec. 14, causing a spike in turbidity, or cloudiness.

    The overfeeding of lime caused water midway through the treatment process to spike to 2.5 times the mandated maximum cloudiness. The state enforces turbidity requirements because high turbidity can interfere with disinfection and offer a medium for microbial growth. Turbidity can also indicate the presence of disease-causing organisms in water, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    By the time the water reached users, its cloudiness was below state-mandated levels, but the turbidity spike in the combined filter effluent is still considered a violation because the state requires monitoring of water quality at several stages throughout the treatment process.

    Fort Collins Utilities also failed to notify the state of the turbidity spike within 24 hours, which elevated the issue to require public notice. The city didn’t immediately notify the state in part because the department has never before experienced a situation like this one, water production manager Mark Kempton said.

    The department is reviewing its training procedures and considering changes to automated alarms to prevent future violations, utilities staff said. They also said they plan to get to the bottom of the treatment malfunction to avoid a recurrence.

    2017 = 3rd hottest year on record for #Colorado #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    From TheDenverChannel.com (Robert Garrison):

    The state experienced the third hottest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The annual temperature in Colorado for 2017 was 2.2 degrees above the 1981-2010 average.

    Some regions of the state saw even warmer temperatures.

    Last year was the hottest year for western Colorado, where record books documented the warmest average and minimum temperatures in 125 years.

    NOAA also said that 2017 was the 82nd wettest for Colorado. The state’s annual perception was .20 inches above average.

    But the annual perception numbers Colorado experienced last year is a trend that appears to have slowed in the new year.

    Some parts of Colorado are currently seeing record-low snowpack levels, creating concerns about water supply. This season’s lack of snow is also having a significant impact at ski resorts.

    Colorado was not alone in experiencing warmer than average temperatures.

    The weather agency said that 2017 was the third hottest year for the Lower 48 states with an annual temperature of 54.6 degrees — 2.6 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

    CCA’s Ag Water NetWORK hosts webinar on new ag water leasing tool

    Photo by Havey Productions via TheDenverChannel.com

    From the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association via The Fence Post:

    Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Ag Water NetWORK has created an online tool that helps agricultural water right holders assess the potential of leasing their water rights for other uses. The supporting webinar describes the features of the lease screening tool, which generates a description of a water right’s lease potential based on user-inputted information about the water right, including location, seniority, acres irrigated and other criteria. Both the webinar and the lease Decision Support Tool are available at https://www.agwaternetwork.org/.

    The state water plan, released in 2015, calls for more water storage, conservation and alternative transfer mechanisms (ie. ag water leasing) to help minimize ‘buying and drying’ of irrigated farm land in Colorado. Under a lease program, farmers are compensated for sharing a portion of their irrigation water with municipal, industrial or other water interests to help them meet their respective water needs. Ag water right holders retain full ownership of their water rights and land. Irrigated fields may be fallowed or deficit-irrigated to ‘free up’ consumptive use water for temporary leasing.

    An ag water right holder can use the Decision Support Tool to find out the key considerations of an ag water lease and how suitable his or her water right(s) might be for leasing.The Ag Water NetWORK website includes a map which also shows locations around the Colorado where leases are occurring.

    Colorado’s population of 5.4 million could nearly double to 10 million by 2050 according to the state water plan. The plan estimates that as much as one-fourth of Colorado’s irrigated agricultural land could be lost through the purchase and transfer of water rights from agriculture to urban areas. Such large-scale dry-up of irrigated agriculture would have permanent adverse economic, environmental and food security impacts.