Pueblo: The 16th annual Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, February 21, 22, and 23

Credit: Cattleman’s Ditches Pipeline Project II Montrose County, Colorado EIS via USBR.

From the Ditch and Reservoir Alliance via The Julesburg Advocate:

The 16th annual Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance will offer a spectrum of informed presentations about agricultural water uses and issues Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, February 21, 22, and 23, 2018 at the Pueblo Convention Center, 320 N. Main St., in Pueblo, CO.

Themed “Your Water, My Water, and Who Has the Rights” the conference features keynote speakers, expert panels and informal discussions in an open, collaborative setting that encourages learning about all aspects of agricultural water.

On Wednesday, February 21 st , DARCA offers a bus tour focused on innovative solutions for agricultural sustainability. The Farming and Water Resources in the Arkansas River Valley Tour will hear from speakers and visit operations focused on irrigation efficiency, soil health, alternative transfer methods, the Super Ditch, infrastructure improvements, water quality and more.

Kevin Rein, Division Engineer with the Colorado Department of Water Resources will begin the conference with Thursday’s keynote address, while retired Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs will deliver the Friday keynote.

Rein will address the conference’s theme by providing an overview of the State’s administration of the many different types of water rights and their uses. Justice Hobbs will present his version of the history of Colorado water and law.

Following the Thursday keynote, a seasoned panel of attorneys will discuss water rights and uses within a decree. Discussion points will be how to resolve disputes between shareholders, transferring shares, transferring rights, expansion of uses, easements, urban encroachment, and return flow impacts to ditches and what to do about it.

Doug Kemper, Executive Director, Colorado Water Congress will explain current legislative efforts with a focus on impacts to agricultural water.
Outgoing State Climatologist, Nolan Doesken and incoming State Climatologist, Russ Schumacher will tag team a report on climatic conditions throughout the state.

Greg Felt, water conservancy district board member and Chaffee County Commissioner, will be the luncheon speaker. Felt will address an overview of the different types of water uses as understood by Colorado water professionals, e.g., augmentation water, native water, trans-mountain water and so on.

Concurrent sessions will begin Thursday afternoon. A session on efforts to address invasive species, urban encroachment and chemical use and the impacts to water quality and infrastructure. A concurrent session will feature agricultural projects that embody sustainability and beneficial water use.

The next afternoon sessions will focus on a Rio Grande basin study that suggest that self-imposed well-pumping fees played an important role in offering incentive for farmers to slash water use and a session on how the use of drones in agricultural applications is the way of the future.

Friday’s morning will open with a look at the history and the future of the Colorado Big Thompson and the Fryingpan-Arkansas projects.

Concurrent sessions on Friday will explain how a Lease-Fallowing Water Accounting Tool currently being used in the Arkansas Basin may have applicability for use in other basins. A second session will address whether “Don’t fix it until it’s broken” is a good infrastructure management practice or if it can end up costing a lot more in the long run.

Following will be a session on a marijuana grower’s perspective on acquiring water and how those water rights are administered by the State. The parallel session will cover financial resources provided through Colorado’s Water Plan that are available to fund reservoir and canal improvements, to develop or improve water storage and to improve efficiencies.

The Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance has established itself as the definitive resource for networking, information exchange, and advocacy among ditch and reservoir companies, irrigation districts, laterals, and private ditches. With an expected attendance of 120 people representing various agricultural water users throughout the state. The conference offers an educational opportunity ripe with knowledge and diverse perspectives.
Sponsorships are welcome and include free registration and an exhibit space in the busy exhibitor hall.

Visit http://www.DARCA.org for more information.

For more information:
Jean Van Pelt, DARCA Conference Manager – darcaconference@gmail.com 719-251- 2845
Mannie Colon, DARCA Board Member – m.colon@colonorchards.com 719-240- 6359

@ColoradoStateU: Research team monitors snow melt that feeds Colorado streams and rivers

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):

When it snows in Fort Collins, Alyssa Anenberg heads west to Lory State Park, but not to snowshoe or ski. Instead, the Colorado State University graduate student gathers information about how nutrients move through the soil after snow falls and eventually melts.

Anenberg, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Watershed Science, is part of a team monitoring snowpack, soil moisture and streamflow at different elevations across the state. Their goal is to determine how melting snow affects the flow of rivers and streams, which has an impact on agriculture, recreation and Coloradans’ everyday lives.

John Hammond, who is working on a doctorate in Earth Sciences through the Warner College of Natural Resources, said the team is monitoring conditions at 11 watersheds across the state. In addition to on-the-ground tracking, researchers use satellite information from NASA and snow monitoring information from the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s SNOTEL network.

“It’s surprising how few people realize so much of their water supply depends on mountain snowpack,” said Hammond. “Snow isn’t just about recreation. It’s about everybody’s livelihood and it’s a very important resource for water used at home and in agriculture.”

Over the long haul, states like Colorado have measured high-elevation snowpack and used the measurements to forecast water supply. The CSU team is studying snowpack at middle and low elevations, where the snow does not last as long.

“These areas sometimes contribute large amounts of water to streamflow, but they aren’t measured by SNOTEL or other organizations,” said Stephanie Kampf, associate professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, who oversees this research in the Natural Resource Ecology Lab at CSU. “Predicting water supply is not just about high-elevation snow. Low elevations with mixtures of snow and rain also matter, and we need a better understanding of how much water they produce.”

To date, researchers have identified a few trends, including one that may not sound too surprising.

“Overall, we see that low snow years give us less streamflow,” said Hammond. “In Colorado, it’s typically drier. If you have a small input from a small snow event or rainfall, it might only partially wet the soils.”

What’s the solution? Hammond said one option is to change the way reservoirs, dams and ditches are managed. At the same time, reservoir management is complex.

“Reservoirs are only so large, and they’re managed for multiple objectives, including municipal water supply, recreation, irrigation and flood control,” he said. “If snow melt occurs earlier, by a few weeks or months, you’d have to store that water for a longer period. Management objectives can be in competition with each other.”

#Snowpack news: “…we are thinking about #drought every day” — Ed Warner

Westwide SNOTEL February 11, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):

A weak-but-effective La Niña pattern has been pushing western storms north of the Interstate 70 corridor, a situation which blesses the ski slopes of Steamboat but leaves Powderhorn with a curtailed schedule.

A small bump in precipitation in January brought the statewide snowpack to 64 percent of median as of Feb.1, but even that for the moment doesn’t much brighten the outlook for summer flows in the Gunnison River…

With the Gunnison Basin reporting at 49 percent of median, there already is an undercurrent of concern about water supplies this summer…

Last year, there was some early fretting about possible drought and it wasn’t until well past mid-December that the snows arrived. By January snow levels were waist-deep and the runoff proved to be one of the highest in a decade.

We’re already a month past that schedule this year, but what is the new normal?


Lake Powell, according to Greg Smith with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, is at 56 percent of capacity with inflow projected at 47 percent of average during the runoff season.

These estimates indicate the reservoir may release more water downstream (8.23 million acre feet as part of the Colorado River Compact) than it receives.

The Bureau of Reclamation releases water from Blue Mesa through Crystal Dam in the late fall to reach a predetermined elevation to minimize winter icing problems upstream of the reservoir.

Once that level is reached, release levels into the lower Gunnison river usually stabilize for the rest of the winter.

Recent cutbacks in Crystal releases has the Gunnison (as of Thursday) at about 678 cfs, which is close to as low as the Bureau wants to reach.

But if the snowpack doesn’t start to grow, the bureau may be faced with further cuts in Crystal releases to save summer irrigation water.

During the recent Aspinall Unit Operations meeting in Montrose, someone in the audience turned to Ed Warner, manager of the BuRec’s office in Grand Junction, and asked if his team had started thinking about drought contingency operations.

Warner shifted slightly in his seat and said, “I’d say in response to that that we are thinking about drought every day.”

From The Summit Daily (Allen Best):

…in Colorado, ski areas just a few hundred miles apart have dramatically different situations. Summit County was close to average, even before this week’s snow. Snow helped southwestern Colorado, where Telluride on Tuesday reported 12 inches of snow in 12 hours.

But as of late January, local river drainages in the San Juan Mountains were just 34 to 36 percent of average. Farther north, near Grand Junction, the Powderhorn ski area cut back its operations to Thursday through Sunday, to better conserve snow…

California has it tough, too. At Phillips Station, south of Lake Tahoe, hydrologists last week found just 13 percent of average snowpack, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. Only twice since record-keeping began in 1946 has there been less snow: 2014 and 1963. No skis were necessary to get to the site; boots were sufficient.

The problem lies off the shore of California in the form of what climate scientist Daniel Swain of the California Weather Blog calls the “strong, persistent, broad and anomalous ridge of atmospheric high pressure.” Several years ago he coined it the “ridiculously resilient ridge.” Go to WeatherWest.com.

In a Feb. 1 posting, he reported a snow drought across most of the mountainous interior of the American West caused in part by below-average precipitation but more importantly by above-average temperatures.

It’s been sizzling in Southern California. Daytime temperatures have soared above 90, overnight lows stayed above 70. In the Sierra Nevada, the temperature range was different, but the band of temperatures was also anomalous.

Swain predicts that the ongoing warm and dry spell will likely melt what little snow currently exists below about 8,000 feet in elevation.

Base elevation of Northstar is 6,330 feet; Squaw Valley 6,200 feet; Heavenly 6,255 feet. Mammoth is at 9,000 feet, although the town center is 7,500 feet.

Swain warns against expecting the atmospheric high pressure to dissipate before mid-February — and maybe not then. “It’s still possible that a robust storm sequence in late February (or another “Miracle March”) could bring a remarkable turnaround in short order. But while that possibility remains on the table the odds are long.”

In New Mexico there are already questions about potential for forest fires. If past is prelude, this could be a tricky year.

Dr. Ellis Margolis, a research ecologist, has studied tree rings and photographs of aspen stands, which commonly appear after major blazes, in assembling a history of fires in the Taos area during the last 400 years.

He found that about 90 percent of the fires broke out in spring and early summer, usually in a drought year. Often the drought year or years had been preceded by wet conditions in prior years, which likely promoted the growth of surface fuels that helped the fire to spread.

From NBC11News.com (Megan McNeil):

People like Connell need to measure the snowpack [on the Grand Mesa] monthly to see how much potential water the City will get from the watershed. They take a pole that weighs 19 pounds and push it into the snow until it hits the ground. It collects snow, and then they weigh the pole with the snow on it.

That tells them how much water they can expect from snow levels. 18 inches of snow makes about four inches of water.

That’s where the northernmost point of the watershed is sitting, and that’s not a lot.

“Since I’ve been up here, in eight years this is the worst, like for example last year at this time, January 1, we had 56 inches right up there at towers,” said [Slade] Connell.

Now, the towers is at 22 inches…

The watershed is currently at 24 percent of its normal snowpack. Some areas have only 4 inches of snow.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

…the Denver office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service projected Wednesday that streamflows in the combined Yampa and White rivers this summer are likely to be in the range of 50 to 69 percent of average.

The forecast is based on snowpack in the region as of Feb. 1, so there’s still a chance for the snowpack to grow. But Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor Brian Domonkos said it would take a significant reversal in the weather patterns to turn snowpack levels around…

The Yampa/White basin snowpack is 70 percent of median and just 55 percent of last winter’s snowpack as of Feb. 1, according to the Conservation Service. But in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, snowpack is just 34 percent of median. It’s an indication that flows in the Four Corners region will be scant this summer, including on the San Juan River, a popular river trip destination for families in Steamboat Springs.

[Brian] Domonkos reported that landmarks in the Southern Colorado Rockies like Wolf Creek Pass and Red Mountain Pass in the San Juans typically have 5 to 6 feet of standing snow in early February but currently report only 2 to 3 feet.

“What’s more concerning is the considerable number of mid- to lower-elevation monitoring sites that have little to no snow,” he said.

Close to Steamboat, the Tower snow measuring site, at 10,500 feet elevation, typically has some of the deepest snow in the state. The snow there on Feb. 4 was 59 inches deep with snow water content that represented 66 percent of median for the date. It’s the high elevation snow in locations like Buffalo Pass that feeds streams that support the Yampa River well into July.

Near the bottom of Buffalo Pass, the Dry Lake measuring site showed a snow depth of 36 inches with a snow water equivalent that was 72 percent of median.

One of the river drainages in the state projected to have stronger flows this summer is in North Park, just across the Continental Divide and the Park Range from Steamboat Springs, where the mountain snowpack that feeds the North Platte River is a respectable 82 percent of median.

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Rob Story):

Of the eight main watersheds measured by NRCS, only the Upper Rio Grande (at 33 percent of normal) is currently drier than here in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river drainages, where mountain snowpack remains a meager 35 percent of normal.

In year-to-date precipitation, though, the Four Corners region is Colorado’s most parched, having welcomed only 29 percent of normal rain and snow compared to 64 percent statewide…

While most of Colorado currently is classified as “abnormally dry,” the Western Slope is significantly worse. According to the Department of Agriculture’s drought monitor, the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan watersheds officially moved from “moderate drought” to “severe drought” on Jan. 2.

In its January summary, NRCS reported Colorado’s snow water equivalent was the second lowest on record…

It’s too early for meteorologists to determine how hazardous the 2018 forest fire season might be. But the numbers look ominous: On Monday, local basins contained less than half the snowpack they did at this time in 2002 — a notoriously dry year that saw massive fires rage all over the West, including the 31,300-acre Burn Canyon fire near Norwood…

As locals know all too well, the southwestern corner of the state has witnessed far less precipitation than northern Colorado. The drought has forced Powderhorn ski area (near Grand Junction) to reduce operations, opening only Thursday through Sunday, to preserve snow. The resort’s current base depth is 16 inches — about 25 percent of its February average.

Meanwhile, Colorado Ski Country USA, which represents 23 resorts, recorded 13 percent fewer visits at its member operations from the beginning of ski season through Dec. 31.

@NOAA: Day Zero approaches in Cape Town

From NOAA:

According to city officials, Day Zero is coming for Cape Town. The exact date it will arrive depends on the latest calculations; as of February 6, 2018, Day Zero was projected to occur on May 11, 2018. That’s the day the taps might well be turned off for the roughly 4 million residents of South Africa’s second-largest city. Cape Town officials have blamed multiple factors in the water shortage, but one of the principal culprits is poor precipitation, and the problem has persisted since 2015.

These monthly maps show precipitation as a percentage of the 1961–1990 base period. Below-normal precipitation amounts appear in shades of brown, and above-normal amounts appear in shades of blue-green. The darker the color, the greater the departure from average.

Low precipitation amounts appear in shades of brown. Higher amounts appear in shades of blue-green.

Most of South Africa receives the bulk of its annual precipitation during the South African Monsoon, which coincides with the start of the Southern Hemisphere summer (December through February). Cape Town’s location along the coast gives it different seasonal precipitation patterns; it receives most of its rainfall in June, July, and August. Except for slightly above-normal precipitation in July 2016 and June 2017, Cape Town experienced below-normal moisture in the two rainy seasons leading up to the current severe drought.

Low precipitation amounts appear in shades of brown. Higher amounts appear in shades of blue-green.

Although Cape Town typically gets the bulk of its rain between June and August, precipitation at any time would help. Unfortunately for Capetonians, the final months of 2017 remained mostly dry, except for a respite in November 2017.

Climate.gov has previously reported the poor precipitation in southern Africa, and the marked drop in water levels at Theewaterskloof Reservoir, the largest reservoir supplying Cape Town. As of February 6, 2018, the dams supplying the city are at 25.5 percent of capacity. Once those dams drop below 10 percent, city officials explain, the remaining water will become impractical to extract.

Hoping to prevent Day Zero from actually arriving, Cape Town officials are looking for alternative sources of water, and limiting current water usage among city residents, currently 87 liters (23 gallons) or less. (You can calculate how many times you can flush a toilet with that amount of water here.)

If Day Zero does arrive, The Economist reports, residents will have to line up for much less water: 25 liters (7 gallons) per person per day. In the meantime, health officials worry that extreme measures to conserve water might risk disease outbreaks. Even in drought, you need to wash your hands.