#Snowpack news: Big snow today in SW #Colorado

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 12, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

Thousands of feet below [Sandia Peak], the Rio Grande Valley is dusty and dry. To the west, Mount Taylor should be a hulking white mass this time of year. Instead it’s just a deeper shade of blue than the sky. Along Sandia Crest, what snow there might have been has blown back from the edge.

“We’re up at just a little bit above 10,000 feet and in the world of weather this is high altitude,” says Jones, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. “This time of year we should be not on bare ground as we are today, but [standing in] several feet of snow.”

The lack of snow in New Mexico’s mountains will have implications for farmers and cities in the spring and summer. And certain tree populations in many of the state’s mountain ranges, including the Sandias and Jemez Mountains, are already experiencing large-scale dieoffs. Drought and warming temperatures have weakened ponderosa pines and some conifers, which make them even more vulnerable to insect outbreaks. And communities should be preparing for wildfire season.

“We are standing at the driest start to any water year on record in the observational period, which goes back to the late 1890s,” Jones says. “There is no one alive today that’s seen it drier for any start to a water year.”


A water year begins October 1, and helps meteorologists, water managers, tribes, and various agencies plan. Jones says that New Mexico’s snow accumulation season typically begins in late October. From there, snowpack is supposed to build through early spring. Jones says that storms may still hit the Sandias and other mountains in New Mexico this spring—and this weekend’s storms brought one to six inches to places like Gallup, Santa Fe and Angel Fire. But new snow won’t likely make up for the existing deficit.

“We would basically need two and a half times our normal precipitation for northern New Mexico into southern Colorado to even bring us back to where we should be this time of year,” he says. “When you think about it, that’s just a tremendous deficit to overcome.”

It would be “pretty unprecedented,” he says, to get that much snow between now and early April.

On the last day of January, the National Weather Service even issued a Red Flag Warning for most of eastern New Mexico. These warnings alert people to critical fire weather patterns and usually start in the spring. It was the sixth they issued in January.

Winds increase fire danger and whip up dust storms. They also dry out soils and whisk snows away before they can melt and make their way into streams and rivers.

That’s a problem as New Mexico’s springs become warmer, earlier.

“As we’ve seen for the last several years, we’re not getting as much snow—and it’s warmer and so we’re melting that snow much earlier,” says Jones. Instead of snowmelt peaking in May and June, when farmers need that water for their fields and orchards, the waters are churning in late February or March.

And of course, people are already worried about fire season.

“This is a pretty scary year,” says Tom Swetnam, regents’ professor emeritus of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona, where he directed the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. “I’m very worried about this year, which is shaping up to be an extraordinary drought year.”


Overlaid onto cycles of drought is long-term warming. As the Earth continues warming, droughts aren’t just dry. They’re also warmer than they used to be in the past, Swetnam says. “Now, when we flip into a drought mode on a yearly or seasonal basis, on top of that, the magnitude of the drying is exacerbated by warming,” he says. “It makes it even more intense.”

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The snowpack at nearly a quarter of the federal government’s 200 monitoring sites around Colorado measured at the lowest or second lowest snowpack ever recorded, according to Brian Domonkos, supervisor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service snow survey.

In southern Colorado river basins, the federal data through Feb. 7 showed snowpack in the Rio Grande River basin measured 33 percent of normal. In the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins, snowpack measured 35 percent of normal.

Northern Colorado fared wetter. Survey crews measured snow depths in the South Platte River basin that serves as a main source for metro Denver and northeastern farm fields at 93 percent of normal, and in the North Platte River basin at 88 percent of normal. The snowpack in the upper Colorado River basin that also is a key source of water for booming Front Range cities measured 79 percent of normal.

At this point with traditional winter passing, recovery to near-normal snowpack would require a major shift in ocean-driven weather patterns.

Temperatures also play a role. On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a bulletin noting that the average U.S. temperature in January was 2.1 degrees higher than the 20th Century average. Colorado ranked among nine western states where temperatures in January were much warmer than average…

However, Denver Water officials who supply water to 1.4 million people, said recent storms in mountains above its reservoirs brought snowpack at those locations to normal or better for this time of year.

“Denver Water is cautiously optimistic regarding snowpack,” spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said. “The next few months will determine the water available to us during spring runoff. It’s still too early to speculate on snow totals for the year because we often see good snow accumulation in March and April.”

Northern Water officials echoed that assessment.

“Obviously, we would rather be above average heading into February,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said. “However, our two biggest water-producing snowpack months are ahead of us in March and April. The next three months will prove critical. We’ve seen years turn around completely in the spring with those good, heavy, wet snows that add to water supplies once they melt.

“Is there concern? Yes, especially for those in southwestern Colorado where the numbers are much worse,” he said. We like to see snow everywhere in the mountains this time of year.”

A few years ago when mountain snow stayed at record-low levels in California and Nevada, water shortages and droughts hit hard. California officials ordered urban water use restrictions. Here in Colorado, state officials leave water supply planning and drought response largely to the discretion of local governments and utilities.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

On Saturday, a winter storm brought much-needed snowfall to the high country in Southwest Colorado. Purgatory Resort reported 6 new inches of snow within the past 24 hours. Two SNOTEL gauging stations at Cascade Creek, near Purgatory, reported 3 to 6 inches of new snow.

At Coal Bank and Molas passes, SNOTEL stations also recorded 4 to 8 inches of snow above 9,000 feet. Silverton reported 4 inches of new snow, Telluride 8 inches and Ouray 10½ inches.

Wolf Creek Ski area reported 4 inches of new snow.

Elbert County growth fueled by sweet spot in the Denver Basin Aquifer system

Denver Basin aquifer map

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Water watchers concerned

There’s also worry about how much water the development would need, and whether that water will truly stay in Elbert County.

The county is in what some residents call a “sweet spot.” There are four major aquifers under the county: Dawson, Denver, Fox Hills and Arapahoe. No other county on the Front Range sits on all four. The Denver Basin, which includes the four aquifers, is the major water supply for the south metro Denver area, and reaches all the way to Colorado Springs to the south and Greeley to the north.

Virtually all of the water providers in the south metro area are looking for ways to save the rapidly diminishing water in the Denver Basin aquifers, which do not respect county lines. That’s meant millions of dollars spent to find other water sources.

And Colorado history is replete with examples of water rights in rural eastern plains counties or those surrounding towns being sold to urban interests, which adds to the wariness of Elbert residents.

Elbert County plans to tap the aquifer to satisfy its projected growth. Last year, a company hired by the county conducted a rural water supply study that would project water demands for the Independence project and another near Kiowa, the county seat, up to 2035 and 2050. Will Koger of Forsgren Associates told those gathered at a community forum that the two developments would require about 9,000 acre-feet per year by 2050, or about 3.2 billion gallons per year.

There are alternatives available, too, Koger said, noting that agricultural land that is developed for residential use will also provide water and the water rights that go with it to satisfy those developments.

That didn’t sit well with some of those at the forum, who pointed out that tapping the aquifer means pumping nonrenewable groundwater, and that could affect wells, the primary source of water for just about everyone in Elbert County.

The county has little in the way of options, with little surface water available from streams or rivers, according to an April 2017 presentation from the state Division of Water Resources.

But the demand for aquifer water is low compared to the available supply, Koger told the audience, and the developments would tap less than 1 percent of what’s available.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Independence project question whether the issue of water is about the development or if it’s about selling water to next door Douglas County. They point to a map included in the Forsgren presentation that they said shows a proposed one-way pipeline that goes from the Independence site to Rueter-Hess Reservoir in Douglas County.

The development schematics includes a proposal for six special districts that would manage the water, which strikes Richard Brown and other concerned residents as odd. The six districts, according to a water and sanitation proposal developed for the county, would be contained within a small section of the development that would not include any homes. One district is an “overlay” that would control the rest.

The developer, Craft Companies, and its owner and board would be the only voters in those districts, according to the water and sanitation proposal.

2017 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests — Colorado State Forest Service

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

Executive Summary

Each year, the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) prepares a report on the health of Colorado’s forests to inform Colorado’s General Assembly, citizens and other stakeholders. The report provides an overview of current forest conditions, the forces shaping them and some of the actions being taken to address related challenges. This year, the publication also o ers a special section describing ways in which the state is dealing with millions of standing dead trees, as well as how it is managing those forests at continued risk of insect mortality.

Native forest insects and diseases are important to the ecology of all of Colorado’s forests, often setting the stage for the replacement of older trees with younger, more vigorous ones. However, these same organisms can impact the benefits society derives from forests, including wildlife habitat, recreation, timber production and watershed protection. Regular monitoring for the damage caused by forest insects is a fundamental aspect of forest management, and in Colorado the primary source of this information is an annual aerial forest health survey conducted cooperatively by the CSFS and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Rocky Mountain Region.

Based on the 2017 survey, spruce beetle was Colorado’s most widespread and damaging forest insect pest for the sixth consecutive year. A total of 206,000 acres with active infestations of this bark beetle were observed in high-elevation Engelmann spruce forests, with nearly a third of these acres not previously infested. Counties most significantly impacted by spruce beetle in 2017 included Gunnison, Fremont, Hinsdale, Saguache and Chaffee. Mature Douglas fir trees also continued to be attacked and closely related bark beetle – impacting a total of 14,000 acres in many of the same counties, and several others in the central and southern portions of the state.

Besides the impacts of these bark beetles, in 2017 western spruce budworm defoliated 252,000 acres of Douglas fir, white fir and spruce in Colorado, with the most heavily impacted areas including the Sawatch, Mosquito and Culebra ranges; Sangre de Cristo Mountains; and the Tarryall Mountains in Park County. White fir continued to be attacked and killed by fir engraver beetle in Ouray and Archuleta counties, though tree mortality occurred on fewer acres than in 2016. And damage caused by a complex involving western balsam bark beetle and several species of root-decaying fungi continued to be ubiquitous, causing tree mortality on 50,000 acres of high-elevation subalpine fir throughout the state. Emerging, or currently more
localized, insect and disease threats also exist in Colorado’s forests. The exotic pest emerald ash borer (EAB), first detected in Colorado in 2013, continues to spread in the urban and community forests of Boulder County, and in 2017 was detected for the first time within the City of Lafayette. A needle cast fungi a effecting lodgepole pine forests on Vail and Monarch passes caused localized areas of premature needle drop, and a rapidly increasing outbreak of roundheaded pine beetle in Dolores County continues to a effect more acres of ponderosa pine each year – with more than 10,000 cumulative acres impacted since 2012.

The Gunnison Basin has been dealing with the state’s most serious bark beetle outbreaks, in part due to prolonged drought conditions. Several programs and methods currently are being employed to deal with this growing concern, including the Western Bark Beetle Program, the use of pheromone treatments to repel attacks on susceptible trees, and use of the Good Neighbor Authority to allow state contracting procedures to be used for management efforts on federally owned lands.

Nearly 3.4 million acres of Colorado’s pine forests have been impacted by the mountain pine beetle since 1996, and another 1.78 million acres of Engelmann spruce have been affected by a similar forest insect, the spruce beetle. Together, these bark beetles have caused widespread tree mortality on roughly one-fifth of Colorado’s forestland over the past two decades. But the problem of dead and dying trees in the state’s forests also offers an opportunity: standing dead trees can hold value for years, and currently are being utilized by wood products businesses in efforts that support forest management efforts.

The CSFS and its partners are working with sawmills and forest products businesses statewide to seize this opportunity. Colorado has more than 100 sawmills, ranging in size from small mobile operations to large-scale permanent facilities, and an estimated one-third of these mills use beetle-killed trees as part of their wood supply. Several specific areas and programs related to meeting the challenges of dead trees are addressed in this year’s report. More than a decade after the mountain pine beetle epidemic moved through Grand County, dead trees from over 30,000 acres of private and state land have been sustainably harvested and processed into valuable wood products. And cooperative efforts between the CSFS and its partners are providing opportunities to derive value from Colorado’s standing dead trees, including research with Colorado State University to determine how long wood remains usable after being killed by beetles or fire. A primary focus of these efforts has been at the site of the 2013 Black Forest Fire.

In locations throughout Colorado, CSFS and USFS e orts also are providing access to capital to support the state’s sawmills. These efforts not only help enable forest management, but create jobs in places like the San Luis Valley, where a new mill now employs almost 50 full-time workers from the surrounding area. Besides the need to address dead trees on the landscape, the need to manage forests with a focus on healthy trees – especially those at higher risk for future insect and disease concerns – remains an ever-present priority. To better deal with ongoing forestry challenges, the CSFS is proactively realigning its organizational structure, with changes beginning in 2018. All CSFS field offices will remain open, and the agency restructure will provide enhanced opportunities to fulfill the CSFS Five-Year Strategic Plan to foster healthy and resilient forests.

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

The report examines the impacts of widespread infestations of bark beetles. The insects have killed roughly one-fifth of Colorado’s forests in the past 20 years. The trend continued in 2017.

More than 200,000 acres of Colorado’s high-elevation spruce forests were infested with spruce bark beetle last year. Another beetle that attacks Douglas firs impacted 14,000 acres in the southern part of the state.

Temperature and precipitation can affect forest insects. According to the Colorado Climate Center, the average temperature in the state has increased two degrees since the 1980s. Water temperatures are also warmer. The report says these factors contribute to insect and disease outbreaks.

The state forest service report also focuses on dealing with the dead trees. Colorado has more than 100 sawmills, but that’s not enough to harvest and process all the beetle-kill wood.

There are several programs in the state to minimize impacts of bark beetles, including using pheromone treatments to repel the insects.

@UN_Water: Say hello to the IIWQ World Water Quality Portal

In central Wisconsin water moving into Lake Puckaway from the Fox River, collected on the right is relatively clear. As water moves through the lake it becomes more and more turbid. The main cause of this turbidity is algae followed by resuspension of sediment from wave action and the activities of Common Carp. Photo credit: Lake and wetland ecosystems.

Here’s the release from UN Water:

Water quality affects human health, as well as ecosystems, biodiversity, food production and economic growth.

The IIWQ World Water Quality Portal, which was developed in the framework of UNESCO-IHP’s International Initiative on Water Quality (IIWQ), is a pioneering tool to monitor water quality using Earth Observation. The Portal addresses an urgent need to enhance the knowledge base and access to information in order to better understand the impacts of climate- and human-induced change on water security.

It aims to provide water quality information, facilitate science-based, informed decision-making for water management and support Member States’ efforts in implementing the Sustainable Development Goal on water and sanitation (SDG 6), as well as several other Goals and Targets that are linked directly to water quality and water pollution.
Access the IIWQ World Water Quality Portal.