2017 was a year of historic floods in the south, wildfires in the west, and a shocking spillway failure at Oroville Dam. Now dismal snowpack in southwestern Colorado foretells a rough summer for irrigators, recreationalists, and water managers. How are our communities preparing for the worst? What lessons can we learn from others around the state and the nation?
At the 36th Annual Water Seminar on Friday, April 6, experts will discuss just that: how wildfire impacts to water supplies, the state’s response to emergencies such as the 2013 front range flooding, the western slope’s risk in the context of Colorado River obligations and drought, as well as avoiding devastating infrastructure failure, among other related topics. Hear an interview about the seminar with Executive Director Bruce Whitehead. The full program will be posted here shortly.
In the meantime, you can reserve your seat for $45 using the online ticket below or call 970-247-1302 before April 4. Walk-in registration may not be available if advance registration reaches capacity. Cost at the door will be $50. The seminar opens for breakfast and registration at 8:00am, with the full program starting at 8:30am.
The American Water Resources Association (AWRA) is hosting a free water court mock trial on April 19th at the Blake Street Tavern in Denver.
The theme of this year’s trial is a change of water rights from agricultural to municipal use. Our panelists will represent municipal, agricultural, and environmental interests as they discuss the complex interactions between population growth, climate change, food security, habitat, and more. Though water rights are a notoriously complicated matter, we are offering this simplified water court trial as an illustrative opportunity for students and young professionals to really grasp the concepts and meet some of the players. Immediately following the mock trial is an opportunity for you to network within the water community. We hope you will decide to join us!
Attached is a flyer with more information; feel free to share it with anyone else that may be interested. Please note that this is a popular event with limited seating, so we encourage you to register [awracolorado.org] early, at least by the registration deadline of April 12th.
We would also like to mention that memberships are available at a very low cost for students- only $5 for the opportunity to be part of a great organization! More information below…
From the University of Colorado at Boulder (Trent Knoss):
CU Boulder researchers have created a map of the Northern Hemisphere showing how location and humidity can affect precipitation, illustrating wide variability in how and why different areas receive snow or rain.
32 degrees Fahrenheit is commonly considered to be the air temperature threshold for rain versus snow, thus informing meteorological forecasting and climate simulations. The new findings, however, show that coastal areas have a cooler threshold for rain, meaning that even temperatures below freezing might not produce snow. Inland and mountainous areas, meanwhile, are likelier to see flurries even when temperatures are several degrees above freezing.
“In Denver, Colorado, it might be 40 degrees and snowing. But in Charleston, South Carolina, it could be 28 degrees and raining,” said Noah Molotch, Director of the Center for Water Earth Science & Technology (CWEST) at CU Boulder and a co-author of the study. “This study shows these fine-grain differences on a hemisphere-level scale for the first time.”
The research, which compiled nearly 18 million precipitation observations spanning over 100 countries and four continents across the Northern Hemisphere, was published today in the journal Nature Communications.
The ability to differentiate rain from snow has important ramifications for Earth’s hydrologic cycle and water management, especially in drought-stricken areas of the American west. Winter snowfall is estimated to provide water storage for one billion people worldwide while climate warming could increase the amount of future rain-on-snow events, raising the risk of flooding.
“Snow and rain differ greatly in the ways they affect climate,” said Ben Livneh, an assistant professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and a co-author of the study. “Snow acts as a water reservoir and reflects incoming sunlight, whereas if the same amount of precipitation falls as rain, that can dramatically change water resource management decisions.”
To date, land surface models have typically predicted rain and snow based on a single, consistent air temperature threshold: snow below it and rain above it. But the CU Boulder researchers found that the threshold is not static and that relative humidity and surface pressure play an important role as well.
“The rain-snow air temperature threshold is primarily a function of relative humidity and methods incorporating humidity and elevation are more likely to predict rain and snow correctly,” said Keith Jennings, a graduate researcher in CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) and the lead author of the study. “If you just use 32 degrees Fahrenheit across the board, your estimates will be wrong in lots of places.”
The continental U.S. had the most rain-snow variability of any country included in the study. Some of the coolest northern hemisphere thresholds were observed in the southeastern United States while the Rockies and intermountain West had some of the warmest thresholds.
The new study could inform the future of climate and land surface modeling as researchers look for ways to predict snowfall versus rainfall more accurately, especially in areas crucial for freshwater, agriculture and biodiversity. Future research will look to improve the map and simulations by incorporating even more meteorological data points from around the world.
“The great thing about this research is that anyone can observe these variables right in their own backyard,” said Molotch. “The topic lends itself well to future citizen science.”
NASA and the National Science Foundation provided funding for the research. INSTAAR graduate researcher Taylor Winchell also co-authored the study.
Here’s the link to the Coyote Gulch post with the link to the paper and a 9News article.
In a recent analysis, scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say the chub’s five distinct populations throughout the Colorado River watershed in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona are stable enough to reclassify the fish as threatened rather than endangered.
Humpback chubs all but disappeared as large dams began filling the Colorado River’s tight canyons, controlling flows and changing water temperature. The fish thrives in rapid, turbulent flows, which were tamed as dams went up throughout the watershed since the 1930s…
[Tom] Chart says efforts to better manage dams, releasing water to mimic seasonal high and low flows, have provided more habitat. The agency also attempts to control and kill non-native fish like small mouth bass that feast on the humpback chub…
The largest population of humpback chub, found at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers in the Grand Canyon of Arizona, is a stable group of about 12,000 adults according to USFWS estimates. Another 3,500 are in the Colorado River’s Westwater Canyon in Utah, plus 500 in Black Rocks in Western Colorado, near the Utah border. Other populations are found in Utah’s Cataract Canyon and Desolation and Gray Canyons. A previously documented group in Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument haven’t been seen there since 2004.
The fish is not completely out of the woods just yet, Chart cautions. A full recovery of the humpback chub in the Colorado River will require more population monitoring, continued flow management from dams and coordinated kills of nonnative fish.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service, which monitors the moisture stored in the snow at remote measuring sites across the mountainous West, reported Tuesday that the 69 inches of standing snow at a measuring site at 9,400 feet elevation on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass contained 16.3 inches of water, representing 69 percent of the median snowpack — water content of the snow — measurement for the date.
As of March 6, snow survey supervisor Brian Domonkos said it would take 200 percent of normal snowfall through the end of April to make up Colorado’s deficit in snow moisture…
The die is set, and Colorado will see below-average streamflows this summer.
The Conservation Service also reports that in South Routt County, on the headwaters of the Yampa River at the Bear River measuring site, the snow wasn’t nearly as deep as on Rabbit Ears, but the 9.6 inches of water stored in the 33 inches of snow was 103 percent of median.
In North Routt, there is a significant gap between two snow-measuring sites just a few miles apart on opposite sides of the Continental Divide.
At the Lost Dog site, at 9,320 feet, on the west side of the Continental Divide, the 73 inches of snow on the ground contained 52 percent of median snowpack. At the Zirkel measuring site at 9,340 elevation on the east side of the Divide, the 60 inches of snow represented 101 percent of median.
Those numbers are rosy compared to the Southern Colorado Rockies, where the snowpack in the Upper Rio Grand Basin is 53 percent of median in the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins is just 54 percent of median.
Earlier this month, on March 19, we reported that Colorado Springs Utilities has the equivalent of three years worth of water stored in its reservoirs, a good thing considering how dry it’s been.
That abundance has led Utilities to predict its customers are unlikely to be placed under mandatory water restrictions this summer.
While something of a relief for all you horticulturists out there, the prospect of unlimited sales could mean the biggest year ever in water sales for Utilities. Since 2013, the department has seen water revenues increase by nearly a third…
So feel free to flood your pansies, trees and lawns. But if you want to keep your water bill in check, look into low-water landscaping and methods to have a beautiful yard without guzzling water.
Click here to view a list of Colorado Springs Utilities Water Wise Landscaping Classes.
More than just a coating of snow, some branches show a little bend with the weight of the most recent snowstorm in Southern Colorado. It is a sign of higher water content.
“I really do enjoy the science of it,” said News 5 follower and amateur weather tracker, Carl Ingram. The Woodland Park resident is faithful at testing for water content. Most of this year’s snowstorms have had little. “This entire winter has been very, very minimal water per snow. I’ve seen up to four inches of snow with .1” of water melting out of it.” This latest storm is an improvement. Ingram measured nearly a quarter inch of water from the snow. “This is the most water in one event that we’ve had since January 1st.”
High water content snow is important because water from snow is slowly absorbed into the ground as opposed to rain where more of it runs off toward streams. Water from snow helps lower fire danger. It is also the main source of Colorado’s water supply.
Streams of funding will become important to keep streams of water flowing in Colorado in the coming decades, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s top water adviser said.
“We are looking at the appropriate revenue streams,” said John Stulp, the governor’s adviser. “One of the key questions is: How do you build certainty that new methods don’t dry up agriculture?”
Stulp, whose home base is a farm-ranch operation in Prowers County, will speak at the 2018 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 11-12 in La Junta. This year’s forum is dedicated to the issues facing the Lower Arkansas Valley. Water lawyer David Robbins, who defended state interests in the Kansas v. Colorado speaker will open the conference, while Stulp will offer closing remarks.
Colorado’s Water Plan, completed in 2015, calls for $3 billion new state investment in water projects from 2020-50, or about $100 million annually. Much of Stulp’s time, working with the state Interbasin Compact Committee, has been spent figuring out just how to do that.
“We looked at 110 possibilities, then narrowed that to about 12. About four of those rose to the top,” Stulp said.
Those ideas included:
An excise tax on water activities, including recreation.
A tap fee on all water users’ bills.
A bottle fee on beverage containers.
A one-time tap fee on new construction.
In addition, a bill introduced late in the 2017 legislative session proposed a 0.1 percent sales tax to fund water.
“None of the ideas have been implemented,” Stulp said. “It’s been a very general discussion.”
Funding also is a very real issue at present. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has borrowed $10 million from its construction fund to fund Basin Roundtable projects that formerly would have been funded through mineral severance fees, which were curtailed by a court decision. Roundtables have been more selective in choosing projects that adhere to the Water Plan.
“I think it’s been a good refresher for the roundtables to look at their Basin Implementation Plans, and decide which projects to fund at the local level, and which to take to the state level,” Stulp said. “The Arkansas Basin Roundtable has been very active, and has come up with good ideas for the valley, and to take back to the rest of the state.”
Next month’s water forum at Otero Junior College in La Junta will include a series of presentations on agriculture, municipal water supply, environmental concens, water quality and watershed restoration. For information, go to the Web site: http://arbwf.com
FromColorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
This year there just wasn’t enough money in the coffers to fund the state water plan at $10 million, which it received last year. For the 2018-19 fiscal year, it’s slated to receive only $7 million. The drop in funding comes just as the water plan’s chief cheerleader, Gov. John Hickenlooper, is headed into the last eight months of his term in office.
Severance taxes are paid by oil and gas and mineral companies when they take those resources out of the land, known as severing. Those revenues pay for some of the divisions in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), including the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and are known as Tier I funding.
Tier II dollars, which also come from severance taxes, pay for continuing projects such as water and agriculture-related programs, clean energy development, soil conservation, wildlife conservation, invasive species control and low-income energy assistance.
But the decline in severance tax revenues due to lower oil and gas activity, combined with the state losing a lawsuit filed by oil giant BP over property tax deductions, has wiped out a substantial portion of what the state has to fund those operational activities…
The Joint Budget Committee stepped in with a bill, House Bill 1338, to transfer just under $30 million in general fund dollars (income and sales tax) to ensure those DNR divisions and projects keep going. That bill is one of 17 bills, referred to as “orbitals,” that go hand-in-hand with the Long Appropriations Bill, House Bill 1322. Orbitals are included to ensure sure the budget is balanced.
The House Appropriations Committee approved HB 1338 Tuesday morning, prior to the House breaking into its separate caucuses for a JBC presentation on the budget, and to determine what amendments would be offered when the House debates the Long Bill Wednesday.
What’s left of the severance tax money will fund a variety of projects contained in Senate Bill 18, the annual CWCB projects bill. But with less money to work with, the water plan came out with less money than it got last year.
The $7 million for the water plan includes $3 million for storage work; $1 million for agriculture-water projects; another $1 million for grants that would put into action strategies for conservation, land use and drought planning; and $1.5 million for environmental and recreational projects. Who gets what will be decided by the board of directors for the CWCB.
The CWCB projects bill also includes $8 million to take care of “Republican River matters.” Half of those dollars will go to Nebraska, due Dec. 31, to pay off a settlement for alleged violations of an interstate compact.
Laying the Groundwork: Lead by Example Practice what you preach.
You’ll never convince anyone to conserve water if you aren’t doing it yourself. Start with the basics: install aerators on faucets, use a low-flow showerhead, turn off faucets when brushing your teeth or lathering up, use WaterSense rated appliances, plant native plants in your yard, etc. (Need more suggestions? Check out this complete guide to water conservation.)
Engage with others.
In addition to conserving water in your own home, it’s important to become part of the community. If you have a homeowners’ association, attend the meetings when possible and if it interests you, become a part of the board. If you don’t have an HOA, look for other ways to get involved. Organize playdates for kids, invite neighbors over for dinner and socializing, or go out on a walk through your neighborhood in the morning or evening to meet others.
Seek out allies.
As you get to know those around you, find other like-minded individuals who you think would also be interested in helping your community reduce its water consumption. Having a small group of individuals who are aligned with your vision will be a valuable resource as you take the next steps.
Starting Outreach: What to Teach Others Give people a reason to save.
Reducing water conservation really begins with education. First and foremost, people need to understand why they need to conserve water. Many people simply don’t think about it. They turn on the faucet and out it flows. If you approach it from a cost-savings perspective, many people are more engaged. Most people want to save money, and conserving water is a simple way to do that. The Groundwater Foundation also publishes a lot of helpful information about water consumption and how to conserve it within our communities. You may find some helpful resources there to share with friends and neighbors.
Provide entry-level strategies.
You’ll also want to teach others how to conserve water. It’s best to start with the easiest ways first. Things like stopping faucet leaks and turning off the faucet when brushing teeth. Most people don’t have too much difficulty taking these steps. These small changes don’t disrupt their routine much and they’re quick habits to build.
Encourage others to challenge themselves.
Next, move on to things people may find a bit more difficult, like shortening their showers and installing aerators and low-flow showerheads. These are changes that can cost a small amount of money and, in some cases, cause some minor inconvenience. Some individuals will find these harder to implement, but with some work, they can get done.
Finally, teach others how to do larger projects, like xeriscaping. Lawns are easily one of the largest consumers of water in many homes. As the Irelands showed, making a change in what plants you use can substantially reduce your community’s water consumption.
Widening Your Influence: How to Teach Others Choose a monthly focus.
Coming up with ideas of what to teach may not be too difficult — how to get that information to them, however, can be far more challenging. If you do have an HOA, you probably have some type of newsletter. This can be a vital asset in helping your community conserve water. Work with your HOA board to come up with a plan. Each month, share one item to focus on. As the month goes by, look for ways to remind people of this month’s focus.
Start an in-person conversation.
You could also invite people over for a community gathering in your home or a nearby park. With an intimate gathering, you can take a few minutes to talk about ways to conserve water in your neighborhood and invite people to share their own suggestions. With a gathering like this, having a few other like-minded individuals in attendance can really help.
Host an event.
You could also hold small workshops and invite others to participate. This is particularly effective when it comes to gardening and xeriscaping. For some, these are daunting tasks, but with a helpful neighbor to lead them along, many people will be more willing to make the change.
If you’re particularly handy, you could also offer to install showerheads and aerators for your neighbors. Many people simply don’t have the tools or know-how to do these tasks. Offering to do it for them may push them to take that first small step.
Encouraging your community to conserve water can feel like a monumental task. But if you’ll take it one step at a time and look for small ways to encourage others, you just may wake up in five years having saved millions of gallons of water.