The Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002 and the Gold King Mine spill in 2015 brought home just how painful disruptions in the water cycle from drought to human-made hazards can be.
Cathy Metz, director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Durango, voiced that message Friday before about 200 people at the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s annual Water Seminar at the DoubleTree Hotel.
Both the 72,000-acre fire and the spill that tinted the river orange with mine wastewater put the brakes on the whitewater rafting and river recreation economy, which, she said, was estimated in a 2006 study to bring in $19 million annually to Durango’s economy…
Even after the blaze, which destroyed 56 homes and killed a firefighter, the watersheds got hit again after rains funneled debris from the denuded burn area into streams, creeks and rivers.
She noted the snowpack this year remains dangerously similar to conditions in 2002.
On Friday, snowpack in the Dolores, San Miguel, Animas and San Juan river basins was at 44 percent of the 30-year average, according to Colorado SNOTEL.
In August 2015, the city again suffered a blow to its water economy when an Environmental Protection Agency subcontracted crew breached the Gold King Mine, sending 3 million gallons of mine wastewater laced with heavy metals into the Animas River.
“The thing we learned from the spill,” Metz said, “is that this had been occurring for a hundred years, but we didn’t pay attention to it because it wasn’t obvious to us.”
The spill, painful as it was, led to action to begin cleaning the legacy of 19th-century hard-rock mining in the San Juan Mountains that still threatens Southwest Colorado’s watersheds.
A Superfund site, Bonita Peak Mining District, has been established to begin cleanup of mine waste…
Lake Nighthorse, the latest enhancement to quality of life in Southwest Colorado, also directly depends on the health of the water cycle, Metz said.
Recreation on the reservoir, which is about 2 miles southwest of downtown Durango, is expected to generate $12 million annually for Durango’s economy, she said. On Sunday, opening day, she said, the lake attracted 800 people, overburdening the parking lot.
Reclamation Issues Snowmelt Forecast for North Platte River Basin
MILLS, Wyoming — The Wyoming Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation has prepared the April snowmelt runoff forecasts and operating plans for the North Platte River Basin. “We anticipate the North Platte Basin water contractors will have a full water supply this year,” said Wyoming Area Manager, Carlie Ronca.
The April forecasts indicate the spring snowmelt runoff will be below average. Total April through July runoff in the North Platte River Basin above Glendo Dam is expected to be 715,000 acre-feet (AF) which is 78% of the 30-year average.
As of March 31, 2018, storage content in the North Platte Reservoirs amounts to 2,190,053 AF, which is 132% of the 30-year average. The total conservation storage capacity of the North Platte Reservoir System is approximately 2.8 million AF.
Current releases are 2,700 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Seminoe Reservoir through the Miracle Mile, 1,000 cfs out of Gray Reef, and the release out of Guernsey Reservoir is expected to begin on April 23. Based on current projections, for the months of April, May, June, and July the releases out of Seminoe Reservoir are not expected to exceed 3,000 cfs, flows out of Gray Reef are expected to be in the range of approximately 1,000 to 3,000 cfs and releases from Guernsey will be in the 3,000 to 5,300 cfs range. Pathfinder Reservoir is not expected to spill this spring.
For most of the season, the snowpack, from Tahoe to the Rockies, the source of almost all of Las Vegas’ water, was well below average. Since snowpack typically peaks around April, the dynamic set up March as a make-or-break month for water supply.
Water managers hoped for a turnaround similar to a “Miracle March” in 1991 that brought so much late-season snow it ended a massive California drought. This year, what Mother Nature brought water managers depended on what part of the state they were watching.
With cold snowstorms through March, the water picture around Tahoe and many parts of Northwest Nevada improved considerably, enough that some hydrologists have been calling it a “Miracle March.” From Tahoe to the Great Basin in Eastern Nevada, snowpack started the month of March near historical lows and ended the month closer to the average.
That said, the results, even in Northern Nevada, were varied. There are still many basins, especially outside of the Reno-Tahoe area, with snowpacks that remain well below average. Still, 2018 could have been much worse, said Jeff Anderson, who surveys Northern Nevada snow for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services…
Southern Nevada and the Southwest were not as lucky.
Not only did the region, at the edge of the Colorado River Basin, remain abnormally dry but with only a few exceptions, little snow fell on much of the basin…
By the end of March, things had improved, especially for the basins around Tahoe. In fact, many of these basins saw significant increases in snowpack in March — the Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Carson and Walker basins saw increases of more than 39 to 45 percent of snowpack…
The answer might seem counter-intuitive. But despite a dry year — snowpack remains lower than average in almost all of the basins — Nevada’s short-term water outlook is solid for many users, Anderson said. Because last year was such a good hydrological year, ample water is stored in reservoirs throughout the state…
The lower-than-average snowpack will have the most immediate effect on water users that are not connected to the reservoir and draw their water from streams. For instance, streamflow forecasts for the lower Humboldt River, according to Anderson’s report, range from 35 to 55 percent below the average.
The key word is forecast. Nothing is set in stone. There could be more snow and other factors, such as rain falling on snow, could affect how much water ends up in streams.
And it’s important to note, said Dan McEvoy, a climatologist at the Desert Research Institute and Western Regional Climate Center, that while there was recovery, 2018 was still a dry year…
Despite the hopes of many water managers in the seven states served by the Colorado River, snowpack in the Colorado River Basin did not improve much in March. Flows into Lake Powell, the first large reservoir that captures and stores Colorado River runoff is expected to be 43 percent of the average, according to a federal forecast released April 4…
When there is low runoff into Lake Powell, federal water managers can reduce the amount of water that flows into Lake Mead, which would increase the likelihood of a shortage. Water managers across the West are still in the process of negotiating a difficult deal that would help stabilize Lake Mead, which runs at a deficit. Even in good hydrological years, more water leaves the lake than enters the lake. Nevada is ready to sign on, but the process is being slowed by internal conflicts within Arizona and California.
A cutback in Central Arizona Project deliveries in 2019 is considered highly unlikely at best. But shortage risks increase dramatically in the following years, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says.
Federal forecasters predicted last week that the spring-summer runoff into Lake Powell will be only 43 percent of normal this year. That’s due in part to a poor winter snowpack season and an expectation that the next two months’ weather will be about normal.
If the forecast pans out, it will be the sixth worst runoff into the lake from the river’s Upper Basin over 54 years of record-keeping.
The odds of a normal runoff season are only 3 percent today, said Greg Smith, a hydrologist for the federal Colorado Basin River Forecast Center…
Last year, spring-summer runoff into Powell was 114 percent of normal, following three years of runoff exceeding 90 percent. The high runoff provided the river enough water to survive this year’s very low runoff with minimal chances of shortage for 2019.
But overall, river flows have generally declined steadily since 2000. Lake Mead has dropped from nearly 1,214 feet in elevation at the end of 1999 to 1,082 feet at the end of 2017.
That’s due partly to continuing drought, and partly to a structural deficit between the amount of water people take from the river and what nature provides, state and CAP officials have said. A shortage will happen if Mead drops below 1,075 feet at the end of a year…
CAP manager Chuck Cullom offered a more optimistic picture. Because of continued conservation by water project users, “we expect to avoid shortage in 2019 and likely in 2020” if the weather and river runoff are favorable, he said in a written statement. Project officials expect to conserve up to 180,000 acre feet of river water this year.
The low runoff forecast comes after CAP and Arizona Department of Water Resources officials have been at odds for well over a year over how to manage the lake and river. Their disagreements dimmed hope for a three-state Drought Contingency Plan agreement to force additional conservation of river water beyond what’s already planned. Gov. Doug Ducey’s efforts to secure more state authority to conserve more water in Lake Mead have so far gone nowhere in the Legislature.
FromThe Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy) via Windsor Now:
The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service snowpack report for March, released Thursday, shows forecast streamflows between 30-70 percent of normal across the state. That’s persistently low precipitation throughout the winter — 65 percent of normal for the state…
Weld County farmers and Front Range municipalities that rely on Colorado River transbasin diversions will be in better shape, as the Colorado River Headwaters and the South Platte River basins show forecasts for precipitation 80-100 percent of normal…
Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said municipalities served by the Colorado Big Thompson transbasin diversion should be in good shape. Werner said much oft that credit goes to the large amounts of water in storage. Norther Water, for example, is at 25 percent above normal…
All but the Rio Grande Basin show higher than normal reservoir storage reserves, with the South Platte at 108 percent of normal.
Not without good reason, the nation’s media have been focusing on the dramatically thin snowpack of the Upper Colorado River Basin, which portends a meager amount of runoff into the Colorado River system.
As of April 2, the basin snowpack stood at just 72 percent of normal, heralding a runoff season that may be the sixth driest in the 55 years that Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell have been in place to capture the runoff.
On average, the in-flow into Lake Powell is 7.1 million acre-feet per season. Although the figure may change, this year’s projection currently stands at less than half that amount – 3.1 million acre-feet.
Bad news? Oh, yes. But where Arizona’s renewable water supplies are concerned, the 2018 story gets still worse. As opposed to the Colorado River system, the in-state river systems are setting records.
The Salt River Project is reporting that, according to provisional data for runoff in the Salt and Verde reservoir systems, the January – March runoff totals are “the lowest amounts on record dating back to 1913.”
Water Year precipitation for the State’s two major watersheds (Oct. 1 – Mar. 31) stood at just 2.88 inches, a figure that unsurprisingly graded out as “Well Below Normal.”
As a result, runoff in the watershed has been extremely poor. SRP data indicate that runoff into the Salt and Verde reservoirs in March stood at just 14 percent of median – the second-lowest amount on record.
In the wake of a December – February snowpack season that produced next to nothing in the two Arizona watersheds, three small storms after mid-March produced a snow-water equivalent of just 22,000 acre-feet, most of it at the highest elevations of the region.
Overall, total watershed streamflow this runoff season (January -May) is forecast to be near the lowest on record, which stood at 106,000 acre-feet in 2002.
SNOTEL data produced by the Natural Resource Conservation Service depict snowpack values as high as 40 percent of normal and as low as zero percent of normal.
If you seek to frolic in the snow in Arizona, you’ll be hard-pressed to find white stuff for your skis: According to satellite data, just 0.3 percent of the watershed had snow coverage as of April 1.
If winter in Arizona proved dry, early spring doesn’t hold out much hope for moisture here, either. Reports indicate that Arizona should anticipate warmer, drier weather through the first half of April, at least.
Image Source: Gunnison River, Curecanti NRA by Tony Fernandez
Turns out it takes more than just luck to keep water flowing through Colorado’s rivers. Colorado’s instream flow program has protected streamflow conditions and provided flexible use options to water right owners for over 44 years. With its creation in 1973, the instream flow program gave the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) the unique ability to hold instream flow rights—water rights with the sole purpose of preserving the natural environment by remaining in streams or lakes. Since 1973, the program has contributed to the preservation of more than 9,700 miles of stream and 480 natural lakes by acquiring water rights and appropriating them for instream use.
As administrator of the instream flow program, the CWCB receives recommendations for water rights to be appropriated to specific lakes or reaches of stream. The CWCB then reviews these recommendations by conducting…
A federal judge has centralized four of the lawsuits stemming from the Gold King Mine spill for hearing before a federal court in Albuquerque against the wishes of the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.
Three of the suits were already seated in New Mexico, including those brought by New Mexico, residents of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation. The fourth suit was brought by the state of Utah, which hoped to delay a decision on running all of the lawsuits through the same federal judge.
The New Mexico residents, part of the McDaniel lawsuit, told the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation they supported the centralization, according to the panels order issued Wednesday.
“Given the apparent complexity of the factual issues, as well as the potential for significant tag-along activity” centralization is warranted, federal Judge Sarah Vance, chair of the panel, wrote in the order.
The lawsuits target Environmental Restoration LLC, the company working on contract with the Environmental Protection Agency at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo., in 2015 when the mine’s containment system burst and flooded the Animas River with more than 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater, including more than 500 tons of heavy metals.
The company sought to have all of the lawsuits streamlined through one jurisdiction.
But New Mexico and the Navajo Nation had hoped “informal coordination and cooperation” would suffice to keep the lawsuits moving…
The order says the four lawsuits will be heard before Chief Judge William P. Johnson’s federal court in Albuquerque in order to streamline the lawsuits by avoiding “duplicative, complex discovery” and “eliminate the potential for inconsistent ruling on sovereign immunity, government-contractor immunity, and other issues.”
Colorado’s legislature has approved legal action against the company and federal government, but an official lawsuit has not been filed.
Researchers from University of Wyoming, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Canadian Light Source conducted experiments at the CLS on the fine dust that is deposited to the Rocky Mountains to learn more about how the alpine lakes could be affected by climate change. They looked specifically at phosphorus in dust and how it is made available to the organisms in the cold lakes and streams, because phosphorus is one of the major limiting nutrients, and its availability could affect the functions and properties of alpine lake ecosystems.
Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for all life forms and the lack of it is one of the reasons the aquatic life of these alpine lakes is limited. Because phosphorus is not readily available from surrounding watersheds, aeolian dust (dust that is blown by the wind) becomes an important source of phosphorus to alpine lakes and can substantially affect aquatic ecosystems. Much of the dust deposited to the Rockies is generated from the Colorado Plateau Desert, where high aridity and recent land-use changes promote wind erosion of soils to produce dust. Dust emission is expected to increase from the warming and drying deserts and plains of the American West. Such additional dust will likely deliver phosphorus concentrations to mountain ecosystems beyond amounts documented for recent decades.
Using the SXRMB beamline at the CLS, the researchers were able to characterize the type of phosphorus in the dust and dust-source soils on the Colorado Plateau. Their work showed that the phosphorus in the dust is mainly bound to calcium. This form of phosphorus is unstable and will dissolve in acidified lakes. Considering the increasing dust input due to changes in the climate and land use and the acidification of these alpine lakes, this study suggests that the alpine lakes may not be limited in phosphorus in the future. An accumulation of phosphorous could result in more algal growth in alpine lakes. Such growth can decrease available oxygen for fish. This would adversely impact population of alpine lake fish, such as trout that require cold, well-oxygenated water, environmental conditions maintained only in oligotrophic lakes.