#Drought/#Snowpack news: SE #Colorado has been hit hard

US Drought Monitor March 13, 2018.

From AgInfo.net (Maura Bennett):

Intensifying drought is worrisome for Colorado winter wheat growers and for those in the southern half of the Great Plains.

The wheat conditions are worst right now in Oklahoma where 72 percent of the crop is rated very poor to poor according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.

“I will also add to that that 13 percent of the Winter Wheat in Oklahoma is currently jointing and thus beginning to demand more moisture.”
And conditions are similar in neighboring states.

“Southwest Kansas, Southeast Colorado, Eastern New Mexico and Northern Texas. A lot of those areas in the Southern Plains have not experienced meaningful precipitation since early October.”

From Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Bill Vogrin):

Reservoirs full along Arkansas River in anticipation of spring release

Despite a dry winter and below-average snowpack, water levels remain high in lakes along the Arkansas River managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, causing the closing of some roads, fishing and picnic areas and even a boat ramp.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation attributes the bounty of water at Lake Pueblo State Park and John Martin Reservoir State Park to above-average runoff the previous four years in the Arkansas River Basin.

In addition, cities that own storage in the lakes filled their accounts in preparation for future drought conditions, pushing lake levels unusually high. Then a wet spring and summer on the eastern plains in 2017 caused agricultural water users to leave water in storage, further compounding the high water situation.

At Lake Pueblo State Park, the most-visited park in Colorado, high water levels have closed motor vehicle access to most shore areas including: Southfishing, ​N-1, Sailboard and North Picnic. Visitors can walk into the areas, but vehicles are not allowed.

Park Manager Monique Mullis said the best place to access the shoreline reasonably close to parking is in the day-use areas in Juniper Breaks Campground.

“Just remember to use the parking spaces and not a campsite,” Mullis said. “Only occupy a campsite if you have a valid camping pass.​​”

Even the South Ramp is closed due to high water, although the South Marina remains open.

“The South Ramp should reopen no later than April 16,” Mullis said. “We hope the water will go down quickly enough to get it open sooner – perhaps in late March.”

For now, the only place to launch is from the North Ramp, Mullis said.

She noted that CPW has no control over the water in Lake Pueblo, which is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation. The bureau built Lake Pueblo in 1970-75 as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas water diversion, storage and delivery project. It provides West Slope water to upwards of 1 million Front Range residents, primarily in southeastern Colorado. It also serves an important role irrigating farms in the region.

“We do not anticipate water levels to rise enough to close the North Ramp,” Mullis said, noting water would have to climb another 1½ feet to jeopardize it.

Lake Pueblo’s water level is measured by elevation. On Monday, its water level was 4,887 feet elevation and a Bureau of Reclamation official believes it may have peaked. The dam spillway is at 4,898.7 feet.

“The water level would have to reach 4888.5 feet for the North Ramp to be in jeopardy of closure,” Mullis said. “The highest it has ever been is 4888.3 feet in 1996. We will be in uncharted territory if it ​gets up that high.”

It’s a similar story downstream at John Martin Reservoir State Park near Lamar. The flood control and irrigation dam was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and opened in 1948. It is so full that water has closed several roads around its expanding shoreline, which typically stretches 22 miles.

“If we get much higher, we’ll have another county road closure,” said Dan Kirmer, park manager at John Martin. “But our park boat ramps are still accessible.”

In fact, the Corps has been releasing water intermittently from the reservoir with flows as high as 60 cubic feet per second during the winter, Kirmer said, with much smaller ongoing releases around 5 cfs. As a result, water levels have remained around 3,849.44 feet elevation, just below the maximum conservation pool of 3,851.87 feet.

“We still are a little below July 2015 levels, which were the highest I’ve seen it,” Kirmer said.

Regardless of the high water, John Martin ramps, campgrounds, picnic areas and other infrastructure are not affected, he said.

“On March 15, when the boat inspection stations for aquatic nuisance species resume operation, our park boat ramps will reopen,” Kirmer said. “Everything will be open.”

March 15 is a big day for another reason at both parks. It’s the first day agricultural users can begin “calling” for their water to be released from storage in the lakes, which could ease some of the pressure and cause levels to begin dropping.

The next key day in the world of water is April 15 when each lake must get down to “flood control” levels to ensure each has enough capacity to handle any flood waters that could occur from a quick snowmelt or heavy spring rains. There could be a significant release of water from both lakes to reach the flood control level.

Waldo Canyon Fire. Photo credit The Pueblo chieftain.

From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):

The weekly update of the U.S. Drought Monitor was released Thursday and it shows drought conditions continuing to expand across Colorado.

Specifically, the extreme category (D3) drought showed the most growth, expanding from 9% to 13% of the state.

Extreme drought conditions are now showing up on the far southeast plains in addition the much of southwest Colorado.

According to the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins this is the largest area covered by extreme drought since before the 2013 floods.

Prior to the record floods, Colorado experienced two extremely dangerous and deadly fire seasons in a row.

Roughly 250,000 acres burned in Colorado with hundreds of homes lost to the flames in 2012.

It was a similar story in 2013 with approximately 200,000 acres and hundreds of structures lost to wildfires.

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is optimistically predicting about 61 percent of the long-term average streamflow on the Rio Grande, or about 395,000 acre feet, while the National Weather Service forecast is 39 percent of the long-term average at 255,000 acre feet. To some extent Cotten’s office is splitting the difference for a preliminary annual index flow for the Rio Grande of 350,000 acre feet or 54 percent of the long-term average.

Cotten said there is a big discrepancy between the NRCS and Weather Service forecasts, and he would like the NRCS forecast to be more accurate but believed the Weather Service’s forecast was probably going to be closer to the truth this year.

Likewise on the Conejos River system the NRCS forecast is 190,000 acre feet or 60 percent of the long-term average while the National Weather Service prediction is less optimistic at 140,000 acre feet or 44 percent of the long-term average. Again, somewhere in between is the Division of Water Resources’ preliminary annual index forecast of 170,000 acre feet or 54 percent of the long-term average.

Based on the division’s preliminary forecasts, the obligation to downstream states to meet Rio Grande Compact requirements will be 86,000 acre feet on the Rio Grande and 30,000 acre feet on the Conejos River system.

That water can be accounted for during the winter season, Cotten reported, meaning there should be no curtailments during the irrigation season to make those obligations. “We really shouldn’t owe much at all,” he said.

“That is the good news on that part, but it’s good news because it’s so bad,” Cotten added. There will be no curtailments because there will be no water.

“There’s a potential if we do go above that a little bit we will have some delivery obligation,” Cotten said. “Even if we go with NRCS numbers, it will be fairly low on both systems.”

It’s still not as bad as the drought year of 2002 when the index flow on the Rio Grande was 150,000 acre feet, Cotten added.

Some parts of the basin are in worse shape than others, Cotten explained, with generally less moisture in the northern part of the San Luis Valley than in the southern part, also less on the east side, Sangre de Cristos, than on the west, San Juans.

“It’s definitely not looking good for anybody but especially on the east side,” he said.

Even more bad news is the precipitation outlook for this spring (March through May), which is predicting below-average precipitation, Cotten said. By mid-summer, around July, the forecast calls for “equal chances” of average precipitation, he added.

“They’re calling for an average monsoon time period,” he said. “Hopefully later in the summertime we will get a little bit of moisture.”

With the warmer weather and lower forecasts, the water division office has permitted irrigation seasons to begin early in several parts of the Valley. The presumptive season dates are April 1 to November 1. The district permitted irrigators to begin drawing water in the drainage areas of Trinchera Creek on March 12 and La Garita, Carnero and Culebra Creeks on March 15. Several others will start next week.

“In the next few weeks we should have pretty much everybody on,” Cotten said.

The annual interstate Rio Grande Compact meeting this year will be held at the Texas capitol complex in Austin, Texas on Thursday, March 29. Cotten said the engineer advisors for each state met last week in Albuquerque to go over the compact accounting for 2017. The states do not all adhere to the same accounting method, but it appears Colorado ended 2017 with a debit of 300-400 acre feet, Cotten explained.

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