Historically dry winter means Lake Mead may be closer to shortfall than people think

Arizona Water News

Dry RockiesLAKE MEAD SHORTFALL AS SOON AS 2019? DON’T WRITE IT OFF

A Q&A WITH THE ADWR DIRECTOR ABOUT POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES OF AN HISTORICALLY LOW SNOWPACK IN THE ROCKIES

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve had some beautiful warm, sunny, dry days of late.

And weeks. And months. The entire Southwest, in fact, has experienced one of the warmest, driest winters on record. For golfing and hiking and living the outdoor lifestyle, that’s great, of course. But, alas, there is an unsettling flip side to all this fair weather.

That dark flip side is the possibility of an unprecedented lack of snowpack runoff in the Colorado River system. Forecasts are calling for a continuation of the dry weather into the fast-approaching spring.

Winter – typically the Southwest’s season for accumulating snowpack in its mountain regions, which provides runoff into reservoirs like Lake Powell and Lake Mead – is nearing its…

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#LaNiña: #ENSO neutral conditions expected in the next few months

From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

ENSO-neutral, colloquially known as “La Nada,” is the midpoint between El Niño and La Niña, and occurs when temperatures are near average in the Pacific Ocean.

Although La Nina is on the way out, it will “continue affecting temperature and precipitation across the United States during the next few months,” the Climate Prediction Center said Thursday.

“La Niña will decay and return to ENSO-neutral during the Northern Hemisphere spring 2018,” the prediction center said. “The forecast consensus also favors a transition during the spring with a continuation of ENSO-neutral conditions thereafter.”

The “in between” ocean state of ENSO can be frustrating for long-range forecasters. “It’s like driving without a decent road map — it makes forecasting difficult,” said climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The ENSO cycle primarily affects U.S. weather in the fall, winter and spring, and less so in the summer. It can impact the Atlantic hurricane season, however, with El Niño favoring fewer storms and La Niña favoring more.

As for what all of this means for our spring weather here in the U.S., the outlook from the prediction center generally favors dry, warm weather across the southern tier of the nation, and cooler, wetter weather across the northern tier.

@CWCB_DNR: The latest “CWCB Confluence” newsletter is hot off the presses

Dolores River watershed

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

Collaboration in the Dolores River Watershed (Celene Hawkins):

About one year ago, I was backcountry skiing into some of the highest elevations of the Dolores River watershed near Lizard Head Pass. I was appreciating the above-average snowpack that Mother Nature blessed the basin with, which covered the always-spectacular beauty of the San Juan Mountains.

Over the course of 2017, I got to visit and revisit that snowpack as it melted and flowed down the upper portions of the Dolores watershed, filled McPhee Reservoir (where it would serve important municipal, industrial, agricultural, and Tribal uses), and provided enough water for a rare and large managed release from McPhee Reservoir into the lower Dolores River.

Because the Dolores River watershed has experienced so few recent years of abundant water, the abundant 2017 water year provided cause for local and regional celebration. Local farmers had full supplies of water from the Dolores Project to support their agricultural operations, recreational users of the Dolores River below McPhee Dam enjoyed a whitewater boating season of 63 days, and the entire ecology of the Dolores River benefitted from the longest and highest flows experienced in a decade.

Yet, now, in January 2018, I’m watching one of the driest and warmest early winters in recent history, reflecting on local water work in 2017. The bigger and more interesting story in the Dolores River watershed is not one about the snowpack or water supplies, but is instead one about collaborative water and resource management work in the watershed.

Collaborative work can take a significant amount of time and resources from already-taxed governmental agencies and non-profit groups. Collaborative work around water and watershed management requires a delicate balance of a proper respect for important private property interests in the use and delivery of critical water supplies, and the ability to find creative solutions and projects to protect the wider public and resource management interests, as well as private industry, that rely on the same river and watershed. On the Dolores River, water managers; federal, state, local, and Tribal governmental agencies; non- profit groups; local industry; private citizens; and others are working throughout the watershed to address important and often difficult water and natural resource management challenges.

Two major collaborative efforts on the Dolores River saw significant growth and success in 2017, and it is worth celebrating now and continuing to watch and support in 2018.

The Upper Watershed—Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative

In 2015, Firewise of Southwest Colorado and the Dolores Water Conservancy District launched a new effort to form a collaborative network in the Dolores River watershed to address community wildlife and post-fire risks at a watershed scale. This new collaborative effort recognizes that droughts, beetle infestation, and a perennially longer fire season are all setting the stage for a broad-scale natural disaster in the forested upper Dolores River watershed. The potential for such a natural disaster puts at risk community lives, property, and public and natural resources (including the water in McPhee Reservoir that supports cities, farms and ranches, industry, and rural areas in the Montezuma Valley).

Momentum for establishing and growing capacity in the Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative (known by the charming acronym of the “DWRF Collaborative”) has been tremendous over the last two and a half years. By the end of 2017, over 40 different public and private entities were participating at some level in the collaborative.

Some example partners include: the Dolores Water Conservancy District, Montezuma and Dolores counties, the towns of Dolores and Dove Creek and the City of Cortez, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, San Juan National Forest, Colorado State Forest Service, Tres Rios BLM, representatives of the local timber industry (including Aspen Wall Wood, Findley Logging, Montrose Forest Products, and Stonertop Lumber), conservation organizations (including Mountain Studies Institute, San Juan Citizens Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, and Trout Unlimited), and private citizens.

The DWRF Collaborative has also successfully garnered resources to support capacity building within the organization, including the impressive coordination work of Rebecca Samulski, Assistant Director for Firewise of Southwest Colorado. She says, “The stakeholders continue to show up each month and share the workload. It is inspiring to see the conversations that continue after each stakeholder meeting, then to hear about the efforts that have emerged among participants because the DWRF Collaborative has gotten them in a room together.”

The group has already undertaken an impressive mix of “on the ground” forestry and fire- adaptive treatment projects, planning work, and engaging on key issues in the upper Dolores watershed. In 2016 and 2017, the DWRF Collaborative implemented forestry and fire- adaptive treatment projects near Joe Moore Reservoir (Lost Canyon tributary) and on Granath Mesa, which sits directly above McPhee Reservoir and the Town of Dolores.

The DWRF Collaborative has allowed the San Juan National Forest to establish Good Neighbor Authority projects with the Colorado State Forest Service (bringing additional capacity and resources to accomplish cross boundary projects on private lands and adjacent national forest lands).

The DWRF collaborative has also completed modeling of wildfire risk and post-fire flooding and erosion risk that will inform a Watershed Wildfire Protection Plan with a better understanding of how wildfires are likely to affect key community values (such as public safety, structures, infrastructure, and water resources) and how to target future treatment projects.

Finally, the DWRF collaborative has launched into key local issues in the Dolores River watershed through professional background presentations to the stakeholders and working groups. These efforts include engagement and support of the local timber industry to explore opportunities that will make forest restoration for watershed protection more cost effective.

An emerging bark beetle epidemic in the Dolores River watershed is another key issue that the collaborative is developing local strategies for, such as an identification and management workshop series to launch in 2018.

Below McPhee Dam—Dolores River Native Fish Monitoring and Recommendation Team

Water managers and diverse groups of stakeholders have been engaged in collaborative work on the Dolores River below McPhee Dam for more than a decade. For example, the Dolores River Restoration Partnership (a public-private partnership) has been working hard and successfully since 2009 to restore the riparian corridor of the Dolores River below McPhee Dam. They have worked to control invasive plant species and restore riparian vegetation.

Since the Dolores River Dialogue (DRD) re-initiated discussions about the Dolores River downstream ecology in 2004, water managers and a large and diverse group of stakeholders have been working to address some of the toughest land, resource, and water management challenges facing McPhee Reservoir and the Dolores River below McPhee Dam.

In 2017, the Dolores River Native Fish Monitoring and Recommendation Team (M&R Team), tasked with monitoring changes to the downstream river ecology, really stepped up to provide guidance and monitoring work on the largest managed release from McPhee Reservoir in more than a decade. The M&R Team was formed during a multi-year, science-driven collaborative planning process around the needs of the sensitive, native warm-water fisheries in the Dolores River that resulted in the finalization of the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan for Native Fish (2014) (“2014 Plan”). Both the 2014 Plan and the M&R Team’s work to help implement opportunities identified in the plan are guided by the DRD purpose statement, which is “. . . to explore management opportunities, build support for and take action to improve the ecological conditions in the Dolores River downstream of McPhee Reservoir while honoring water rights, protecting agricultural and municipal supplies, and the continued enjoyment of boating and fishing.”

Because the 2014 Plan was finalized in the middle of a tough span of especially dry years on the Dolores River, the M&R Team was not able to use the 2014 Plan to help guide the management of any significant releases of surplus water from McPhee Dam for ecological and other purposes for several years. However, in 2017, the combination of an above-average snowpack in the San Juan Mountains in the Dolores River basin and good carry-over storage from 2016 in McPhee Reservoir provided water managers and the M&R Team with the opportunity to shape the largest managed release of surplus water from McPhee Dam in more than a decade.

Armed with the 2014 Plan (and a diverse team that includes the Dolores Water Conservancy District, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Tres Rios Field Office, Bureau of Land Management, San Juan National Forest, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Dolores, Montezuma, San Miguel, and Montrose counties, American Whitewater, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and San Juan Citizens Alliance) the M&R Team was able to help water managers begin to make decisions about how to plan for the large managed release as early as February of 2017.

Sample hydrographs and ecological targets developed in the 2014 Plan were adapted for use with the specific forecasting for the Dolores River Basin’s 2017 water year to help shape a release plan that included a “peak flow” release of 4,000 cfs to support fish habitat maintenance on the Dolores River. Recreational and conservation interests from the M&R Team (American Whitewater and The Nature Conservancy), Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Dolores River Boating Advocates all worked closely with the Dolores Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation to assist the water managers with necessary adjustments to the release plan as the water managers addressed a wildly-fluctuating forecast and runoff pattern on the Dolores River in the spring of 2017.

In addition, flow hypotheses and measurable benchmarks from the 2014 Plan allowed members of the M&R Team to set up and deploy field monitoring along the Dolores River below McPhee Dam. Armed with years of scientific research and the 2014 Plan, Colorado Parks & Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy were able to develop an ecological monitoring plan and pull together a collaborative group of researchers to set up monitoring sites on the river within a few weeks of the first M&R Team meeting and notification from the Bureau of Reclamation about the potential magnitude of the 2017 managed release. American Whitewater and the Dolores River Boating Advocates launched a boater survey to evaluate recreational use of the Dolores River below McPhee Dam. Colorado Parks & Wildlife also deployed several fish monitoring crews on the Dolores River during the managed release, including undertaking a challenging fish survey in the remote Slickrock Canyon (which had last been surveyed in 2007) that provided important information on the status of the sensitive, native warm-water fisheries in that stretch of the river.

The collaborative research team is continuing to work on analyzing the results of this monitoring work over the winter of 2017-2018 to provide information to the M&R Team and water managers that may help inform future releases and other management efforts on the Dolores River.

“In 2017 we finally had the snowpack we needed to conduct and monitor a large managed release. In addition to the snowpack, mother nature also provided March warming driving early release, declining forecasts and wide temperature swings.

The fact that all ecological and water supply goals were met is due to the flexibility of the researchers working closely with reservoir managers. We shared in the responsibility for keeping all constituencies informed. Providing large and extended ecological releases with the assurance that all water obligations would be met and McPhee reservoir filled could only happen with this level of cooperation. Having this level of information and communication in managing and assessing a multiple- objective release was a water manager’s dream.” — Mike Preston, General Manager, Dolores Water Conservancy District.

Collaboration into 2018 and Beyond

The grim SNOTEL report for southwestern Colorado (sitting at 36 percent of average and just 21 percent of what we had in 2017 as of the end of January) and the current spring forecasts have many water managers and interests planning for a year of “famine” in 2018, after the relative water “feast” that occurred just a year ago in 2017. The increasing uncertainty around snowpack, water availability, and the timing of runoff that we are experiencing in southwestern Colorado, as well as other drivers of wildfire risk, will continue to be powerful motivators for collaborative work in the Dolores River watershed.

I look forward to supporting these continued collaborative efforts, through feast and famine, in this iconic Colorado watershed.

Out with the wood, in with the new – News on TAP

Engineers and operators removed portions of two old 8-foot-diameter wooden pipes.

Source: Out with the wood, in with the new – News on TAP

#ColoradoRiver: Many eyes are focused on the #CO, #UT and #WY #snowpack and the SW #US #drought #COriver

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 8, 2018 via the NRCS.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

Lake Powell, which straddles Utah and Arizona, is expected to get 47 percent of its average inflow because of scant snow in the mountains that feed the Colorado River, said Greg Smith, a hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Smith said there is only a 10 percent chance that enough mountain snow will fall during the rest of the winter and spring to bring inflows back to average. It was the seventh-worst forecast for Lake Powell in 54 years…

Lackluster runoff into Lake Powell this spring is not likely to have an immediate impact on water users because most reservoirs upriver from Powell filled up after last winter’s healthy snowfall, said Marlon Duke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Powell, Mead and other reservoirs…

This winter’s snowfall in the mountains that feed the Colorado has been far short of average overall but varies widely. Along the Green River, a Colorado River tributary in Wyoming, the snowpack is 110 percent of average. Along the San Juan River in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico, it’s 32 percent of average.

One reason is a strong winter weather pattern steering big storms away from the Southwestern United States and sending them north, said Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s state climatologist and an associate professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University.

Another reason is exceptionally warm temperatures across much of the Southwest, he said.

About 90 percent of the Colorado River’s water comes from snowmelt in the region known as the Upper Colorado River Basin, a large swath of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and smaller sections of Arizona and New Mexico.

The river system has been stretched thin for years because of a prolonged drought interrupted by occasional snowy years. Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, has dropped to 41 percent of capacity. Lake Powell, the second-largest, is at 56 percent.

Some climate scientists say global warming is already shrinking the river. A study published last year by researchers from the University of Arizona and Colorado State University said climate change could cut the Colorado’s flow by one-third by the end of the century.

#Snowpack/#Drought news: The latest briefing is hot off the presses from the Western Water Assessment

Water Year 2018 precipitation as a percent of normal through February 7, 2018.

Click here to read the current briefing (scroll down):

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

  • After another month of sub-par precipitation and unusually warm temperatures, moderate to severe drought conditions have settled in across nearly all of Utah and most of Colorado. At this stage of the season, the near-record-low snowpack in many basins makes very low spring-summer runoff a likely outcome, while recovery to near-average conditions is extremely unlikely.
  • The snowpack in all Utah basins except for the Bear River and the northern Uintas, and in all Colorado basins south of I-70, is at near-record low conditions, with 30-55% of normal SWE. The Yampa-White appears better off at 75% of normal SWE, but this is still an unusually low value for that basin. The Colorado River headwaters, South Platte, and North Platte are closer to normal levels. Wyoming’s snowpack remains in good shape overall, with above-normal SWE in the northwest basins grading to somewhat below-normal SWE in the southern basins.
  • The seasonal runoff forecasts issued for February 1 by NRCS and NOAA show an increasing number of points in Utah and Colorado with less than 50% of average runoff expected, especially in the southern halves of the two states. Only a few forecast points in Utah, and about a third of those in Colorado, are expected to have more than 70% of average runoff. Forecasted runoff for Wyoming is generally above average or near average.
  • Weak to moderate La Niña conditions are continuing, with a transition back to ENSO-neutral conditions likely by late spring. Historically, weak to moderate La Niña events carry increased odds for below-normal March-May precipitation for Utah and Colorado, which is reflected in the CPC seasonal outlook for that period.
  • January brought overall below-normal precipitation and very warm conditions for Colorado and Utah, and near-average precipitation and warm conditions for Wyoming. The November-January period was the warmest on record for both Colorado and Utah (since 1895). This record warmth is reflected in the short- to mid-term EDDI maps, which show unusually high evaporative demand since November.
  • Since early January, drought conditions have worsened in northern and central Utah, and in southern and northwestern Colorado, while easing in northeastern Colorado. As of February 6, 94% of Utah is in D1 or D2, and the remainder in D0; in Colorado, 72% is in D1 or D2, and 27% in D0; and in Wyoming, only 5% is in D1, and 24% in D0. This drought footprint (D1 or worse) is the largest since early September 2013 in Colorado, and since April 2015 in Utah.
  • US Drought Monitor February 6, 2018.