Black History Month: In their own words (Part II) – News on TAP

Read how these Denver Water employees are inspired and grounded by their African-American cultures.

Source: Black History Month: In their own words (Part II) – News on TAP

#Snowpack news: South Platte Basin drops to 91% of normal despite recent snowfall

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 23, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Independent (Colton Branstetter):

Low snowpack in Southwest Colorado could affect spring runoff and the local economy if levels do not rise.

The Southwest corner of the state’s snow water equivalent is 54 percent of normal, according to recent data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Snow water equivalent measures how much water is in the snowpack and is the standard for keeping track of snowpack, John Andrew Gleason, lecturer of geosciences at Fort Lewis College, said.

A potential downside of the snow water equivalent measurement is that it uses a 30-year moving average, Gleason said. As the years get drier, what is considered normal is drier too.

The Snowpack

The snowpack for 2018 is very low, Gleason said. Currently, the snowpack is lower than in 2002, the driest year on record in southwest Colorado and when the Missionary Ridge Fire happened.

The snow year is already halfway over, Gleason said. However, March and April is when this region generally gets the most snowfall, he said.

“The best thing that could happen is that it’ll snow,” he said

A heavy, wet snow is the best type of snow for the snowpack because it compacts and contains lots of water, he said.

A low snowpack and warm spring can lead to problems during the rest of the year. A colder spring is ideal so that the snow doesn’t melt off too fast, Gleason said.

Warm spring weather has been occurring earlier in the year, Julie Korb, a professor of biology at FLC, said. This dries out vegetation and leads to dangerous wildland fire conditions in the summer and fall, she said.

“In 2002, one of the reasons we had such a bad fire season here was the low snowpack and very little runoff,” Gleason said.

Dust, which decreases the reflectivity of snow, increases the rate of snowmelt in the spring, Gleason said.

As the snow melts and uncovers more exposed ground, there is more potential for wind picking up and carrying dust onto the snow, Gleason said.

Another possible problem is water supply. Reservoirs are currently close to normal, but water managers will drain the reservoirs in preparation for spring run off, Gleason said. It could be a problem if the runoff doesn’t fill the reservoirs back up, he said.

Low snowpack also increases avalanche danger because the snowpack is unstable. This was seen in the January avalanche death of a FLC alumnus, Gleason said.

La Niña

Low snowpack this year can be attributed to the La Niña weather pattern. La Niña years happen when water is cooler in the Pacific Ocean, which sends storms more north of Southwest Colorado, Gleason said.

La Niña years are normal or drier than normal for the Durango area, Gleason said. We are also in the second La Niña year in a row, and the second year tends to be drier, he said.

The perfect storm for this area is a low-pressure storm that sits above us rather than moving east too quickly, Gleason said.

“If you see rains in Los Angeles, and the winds are out of the southwest, that usually will predict a pretty big storm for us,” he said.

Local Economy

The Animas River could see lower flows, impacting rafting and water sport tourism in the summer, Tim Walsworth, Business Improvement District executive director, said.

It is hard to keep track of economic effects of warm winters in real time, Walsworth said. The best indicator of downtown patronage is sales tax, which isn’t immediately available.

Current sales tax figure are only available from last November, he said.

Winter is already a slower time of the year for Durango, Walsworth said.

January and February are usually the slowest tourism months in downtown, Theresa Blake Graven, public relations consultant at the Durango Area Tourism Office, said.

“We’re in a bit of a different situation here in Durango because we’re not like Crested Butte that’s completely dependent on skier tourism,” Graven said. “We have a lot of other stuff going on,” Graven said.

Polar express train bookings were up 10 percent over last year, Christian Robbins, marketing manager at the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad said.

The railroad estimates that 70 percent of the 33,000 passengers come from outside of the area, which leads to money being spent in Durango from lodging and other hospitality, Robbins said.

Downtown Durango’s peak activity occurs in July, and the second-best month is in December, Walsworth said. The winter festival Snowdown can bring needed business to town at the beginning of February, he said.

Snowdown was originally created to bring more more business into town during the slow winter months, Graven said. However, Snowdown tends to bring a more local crowd rather than people from out of town, she said.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

[February 20, 2018] A western shift of a high-pressure ridge over the Pacific Ocean is allowing more storms to reach Southwest Colorado, according to the National Weather Service.

The ridge has been blocking winter snowstorms from the northwest from reaching Colorado, but two weeks ago, it moved out of the way, said meteorologist Megan Stackhouse, with the weather service office in Grand Junction…

On Tuesday morning, towns across southwest Colorado woke up to a fresh blanket of snow from Monday’s storm. Dolores registered 4 inches, Cortez had 2 inches, Mancos had 2.7 inches, and Farmington got 1 inch.

Ski areas are celebrating. The Hesperus ski area received 6 inches of fresh powder. In the past 24 hours, 9 inches of snow dumped onto to Telluride, which has seen 2 feet of new snow in the past seven days. Purgatory reported 10 inches yesterday’s storm, with a total of 33 inches of new snow in the past seven days.

Snowpack for the Dolores Basin is gaining ground because of the recent storms, and reached 50 percent of average as of Feb. 20. That is up from 40 percent of average on Feb. 12.

Governor’s Forum on Agriculture recap

Colorado Convention Center Solar Power System

From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:

Hickenlooper, speaking to an audience at the 27th annual Governor’s Forum on Agriculture this week, said that the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office met with representatives from recreation offices and outdoor recreation companies from eight states, and the result was something called the Colorado Accord. It’s a nonpartisan effort to work on issues related to clean air, water and public land – areas the trade association strongly supports and part of the reason the trade show moved to Colorado, he said.

This accord is the start of an opportunity for Colorado to be a national leader in outdoor recreation, Hickenlooper said. The companies involved are small – around 10 to 15 employees.

“They don’t want to live in the cities or their businesses to be in the cities,” he said. “These are companies that are naturals for smaller communities … . This is a chance to build a relationship between farms and ranches and outdoor recreation. If you want more jobs in your towns, there will never be a better chance.”

The governor also addressed the ongoing negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the importance of maintaining partnerships with Canada and Mexico, which are NAFTA partners. The renegotiation of the 22-year old agreement hasn’t gone as quickly as he would like, Hickenlooper said.

“Our relationships with Canada and Mexico need to remain strong,” given that more than half of Colorado agricultural exports go to those two countries, he said, adding that NAFTA has the potential to do so many good things for Colorado, and that he has talked with officials from both countries.

“They just want a deal,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper said he recently spoke with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and their positions align on several issues, such as the need for better and faster negotiations with South Korea, China and India on agricultural trade; about volatility in the labor market for ag, and for a more balanced approach on agricultural regulations.

One of the state’s highest priorities for global exports, he said, is to open up Asia. “There’s an insatiable appetite for beef and pork” in South Korea, China and Japan, and the U.S. needs a fair deal with those countries.

Hickenlooper also made a push for a long-term funding solution for the Colorado water plan. Last month, the governor said he favored a change in how the state collects severance taxes on oil and gas, saying, among other things, that Colorado has the lowest severance taxes on oil and gas in the region.

A court case two years ago with oil giant BP dramatically reduced the amount of severance taxes the state can collect, which has been used in the past to mitigate oil and gas activities in rural communities and to pay for water projects around the state. The state had to take money out of its general fund to pay for the property tax deductions the court decided BP was owed. After that, the state’s share of severance taxes dropped from around $150 to $200 million per year in 2016 to about $25 million last year, Hickenlooper said.

Without a structural change in how severance taxes are levied, he warned, severance taxes could come to an end. “But let’s get a referred measure on the ballot” that will provide a fair tax structure for oil and gas, he said. “It’s a social contract with the state of Colorado. If it were presented properly,” voters would not walk away from it.

That didn’t fly with Senate President Pro tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, who was in the audience and is president of the board of the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program, which hosts the annual agriculture forum. Sonnenberg disputed the governor’s claim that Colorado has the lowest severance taxes in the region.

Sonnenberg told Colorado Politics that “we have robbed $400 million from severance taxes” to cover budget shortfalls, including $100 million to pay BP for the lawsuit. “We need to figure out how not to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Sonnenberg added. “If we truly want to do something about severance tax, maybe we add all energy: wind, solar, nuclear and hydroelectric.”

Colorado to pay Nebraska $4M in Republican River settlement

North Fork Republican River via the National Science Foundation.

From the Associated Press (Grant Schulte) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The settlement announced Thursday requires Colorado to make the payment by Dec. 31, 2018. Colorado officials did not admit to violating the Republican River Compact, and legislators in that state must still approve the funding.

The agreement seeks to resolve disagreements between the states over Colorado’s past use of water. The Nebraska governor’s office says it will allow both states to continue to work cooperatively.

The settlement bars Nebraska from suing Colorado for alleged violations on or before Dec. 31, 2013.

It was signed by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson as well as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

The Republican River’s South Fork near Hale, Colorado, with the region’s seemingly endless fields. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Jeffrey Beall

From The Courthouse News Service (Ted Wheeler):

Subject to approval by the two states’ legislatures, the payment is due by Dec. 31, with the money earmarked for surface water projects that will bolster water management plans in the basin, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said in a statement.

“This settlement provides funds that could be used in the Republican River Basin within Nebraska and creates additional opportunities for cooperative water management between the states,” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts echoed the sentiment of cooperation: “Nebraska and Colorado can now continue to focus on providing their water users with greater certainty and to pursue other collaborative opportunities to benefit their shared economies.”

The 452-mile-long Republican River originates in the high plains of Colorado and cuts across sections of western Nebraska and Kansas. The Republican River Compact of 1943 allocates river water for the three states, with 49 percent going to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado.

The river basin has been a frequent subject of litigation, including a 2014 Supreme Court judgment that ordered Nebraska to pay $5.5 million to Kansas for its own excessive water use upriver.

Colorado officials said the threat of more litigation and its associated costs was a driver in the new settlement. Coffman said the agreement “avoids the costs and uncertainty of litigation and furthers the principles of the compact.”

The region has been relatively free of major drought in recent years, which has helped states stay in compliance despite exponential growth in the number of irrigation wells. According to the United States Drought Monitor, the Republican River Basin region is drought-free or abnormally dry, the least severe drought rating.

But the threat of drought and overuse of groundwater has kept agriculture officials and farmers on edge for years. Nebraska farmers have been suing the state over groundwater for years, in what has become a near-annual tradition.

Steve Nelson, the president of Nebraska Farm Bureau, welcomed the new agreement.

“We applaud the collaborative efforts of both states to address past issues and to work together, putting both parties’ interests on a better path for shared water use,” Nelson said.

Western water law, immensely complicated by decades of litigation in multistate jurisdictions, is further complicated by “use it or lose it” allocations that often discourage conservation.

From The Yuma Pioneer:

The Republican River Water Conservation District’s “compact compliance pipeline” continues to pump ground water into the North Fork of the Republican River near the Colorado/Nebraska state line.

The pipeline first started operating for compact compliance in January 2014. It is part of Colorado’s effort to come into compliance with the Republican River Compact, a 1942 agreement among the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, concerning water rights along the Republican River.

A stipulated agreement among the three states requires Colorado to send a minimum of 4,000 acre-feet through the pipeline each year. The Republican River Compact Administration groundwater model approved by the three states is used each year to analyze and determine how much more water above the minimum needs to be delivered each year.

Approximately 11,000 acre-feet was delivered into the North Fork in 2017.

The final portion for 2017 was delivered from October through December after the irrigation season was completed.

The pipeline continues to operate as Colorado delivers the 4,000 acre-feet minimum prior to the upcoming growing season.

RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel said the estimate of how much above the minimum will need to be delivered in 2018 will not be made until September.

Various factors figure into how many acre feet need to be delivered each year — such as the amount of groundwater pumping throughout the Republican River Basin with the amount of precipitation and where it falls within the basin. The more rainfall in Colorado’s portion of the basin can actually increase the state’s obligation to the downstream states.

Daniel noted the state has not had any problems meeting its obligations using the pipeline. Water for the pipeline comes from a series of wells located north of Laird that were purchased by the RRWCD as part of the pipeline project.The appropriation for all of the water rights has been designated to 15 wells within the pipeline project. Currently eight wells are connected and delivering water into the pipeline. In the near future, as the need to off-set depletions and deliver additional water increases, the remaining seven wells will be added to the pipeline system.