Join the Barr Milton Watershed Association, Water Education Colorado, Metro Wastewater Reclamation District and the Colorado Stormwater Council on June 5th or June 6th for a fun and interactive day learning about the history of the Sand Creek Waterway and efforts to reclaim it. Explore this waterway by bicycle along with citizen leaders, scientists, planners and water managers. To register for the June 5th date, click here. To register for the June 6th date, click here…
When we think about Colorado waterways, our minds often wander to the larger rivers that traverse the state, like the Arkansas, Rio Grande and Colorado Rivers. However, our smaller, local waterways also play a significant role in providing important ecosystem benefits, as well as water to communities and industries, and habitat areas for wildlife. Join the Barr Milton Watershed Association, Water Education Colorado, Metro Wastewater Reclamation District and the Colorado Stormwater Council for a fun and interactive day learning about the history of the Sand Creek Waterway and efforts to reclaim it. Explore this waterway by bicycle along with citizen leaders, scientists, planners and water managers.
Register today – space is limited. Both the June 5 (morning) and June 6 (afternoon) bike tours are exactly the same.
Sure, it’s late May, and normally by now the mountain snows have all but wrapped up for their annual three-month-or-so summer hiatus. But in a typical year, snowpack hangs around well into June, and sometimes even into July and August. In southern Colorado, there’s virtually no snow left, even on peaks, and further north, there’s barely a third of the snow you’d typically expect this time of year.
The drought has gotten so bad in southern Colorado that several counties have been declared disaster zones by the United States Department of Agriculture, making those areas eligible for emergency financial assistance. Conditions in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado are at the highest level of drought, according to the United States’ official drought monitor.
The drought in the south began with an absolutely horrendous winter. Purgatory Ski Resort, near Durango in the San Juans, saw only 125 inches of snow this season, less than half of the 260 inches it averages. Telluride saw only 171 inches in the 2017-’18 winter, also only about half of the 309 inches it normally sees in a full winter. A bit further north, Crested Butte only saw 145 inches compared to the 300 inches or so it typically sees in a winter.
Particularly for the hardest hit areas of southern Colorado, half of the snow means half of the spring snowmelt. A quick scan through statewide stream flow levels already shows below average water discharge through most of Colorado (there are localized exceptions), thanks to a warm May that’s already melted off much of the meager snowpack.
What does this all mean? For starters, camping season is already feeling the pinch of burn bans for much of the southern half of the state. Barring big summer rains, these are unlikely to be lifted anytime soon.
The biggest concern will be the possibility for wildfires this summer. We’ve written extensively about the looming danger of a dry winter and how that can help fuel a nasty summer. With a quick melt and the snow water tap already running dry in much of the state, we’ll need steady rain to keep the ground moist enough to avoid fires. Heat waves, such as the horrific 2012 one that helped start the Waldo Canyon Fire, and gusty, dry winds can set the stage for dangerous fire conditions.
Conditions are even nastier in southern Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Flagstaff, Arizona, saw one of its worst winters on record, picking up just 38 inches of snow for the season, a fraction of the 101.7 inches it averages. Taos Ski Area in New Mexico saw 78 inches of snow, significantly less than the 300 inches it would see in an average year. Albuquerque already has water restrictions in place this summer.
Recent rains have helped in the Denver area and northern parts of the state. Year-to-date precipitation in Denver is around three-quarters of an inch below average, which is a deficit, but not a huge one. On the eastern plains, Akron has seen more than double its typical May rainfall, helping ease some of the worst drought conditions in Colorado’s breadbasket. Reservoir levels are above average, and a wet June could help ease drought conditions.
The California-Nevada Drought Early Warning System (CA-NV DEWS) May 2018 Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar is part of a series of regular drought and climate outlook webinars designed to provide stakeholders and other interested parties in the region with timely information on current drought status and impacts, as well as a preview of current and developing climatic events (i.e. El Niño and La Niña). The webinar took place at 11 a.m. PT, Tuesday May 29, 2018.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that farm operations in areas eligible for the Farm Service Agency emergency loans have until January 2019 to apply for loans to help cover losses related to the drought.
Since April, La Plata County has been listed in an “exceptional drought” – the most intense category of drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
As of Tuesday, a weather station at the Durango-La Plata County Airport has recorded 1.41 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1, nearly 4 inches below the historic average of 5.38 inches in that same time period…
Nearly all of Colorado, with exception to the northeast corner of the state, is listed in some form of drought.
The USDA designated seven counties as “primary natural disaster areas” because of drought: Alamosa, Archuleta, Conejos, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mineral and Rio Grande.
Eleven counties were not deemed natural disaster areas, but farm operations in these counties can apply for emergency assistance: Chaffee, Costilla, Delta, Huerfano, La Plata, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray, Pitkin, Saguache and San Juan.
The news release said Rio Arriba, San Juan and Taos counties in New Mexico also qualify.
It’s unclear why Dolores, Montezuma and San Miguel counties, which are also in the exceptional drought category, were not included on the list. Calls to USDA spokeswoman Latawnya Dia were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The USDA said each loan application is considered on its own merits, “taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.”
The Farm Service Agency has other programs to help farmers recover from the impacts of drought, the news release said. Interested farmers and ranchers should call their local USDA office for further information.
The disaster declaration covers Alamosa, Archuleta, Conejos, Gunnison Hinsdale, Mineral and Rio Grande counties. All but Gunnison County are served by the Upper Rio Grande River. Gunnison County is served by the Gunnison River.
But the NRCS map shows pretty much all of southern Colorado is in bad shape because of drought.
The USDA is also making disaster assistance available to farmers and ranchers in 11 counties contiguous to those in the declaration area: Chaffee, Costilla, Delta, Huerfano, La Plata (Durango), Mesa (Grand Junction), Montrose, Ouray, Pitkin (Aspen), Saguache and San Juan.
The declaration means farmers and ranchers are eligible for emergency loans and other disaster assistance from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Those applying for emergency assistance have eight months from May 25, the date of the declaration, to apply for loans to cover actual losses.
The USDA has other financial assistance available that does not require a disaster declaration, including emergency loans for livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish; operating loans for farm ownership; and a tree assistance program. More information on those programs is available from the USDA.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 40 percent of Colorado, primarily the south and southwest, is in extreme or exceptional drought. Only the northern part of the state, served by the North Platte River, and northeastern Colorado, served by the South Platte, have so far been spared from drought. It’s a dramatic turn-around from a year ago at this time when only 6 percent of the state was in drought.
It’s unusual to have a drought declaration this early in the year, according to Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown. “Typically we will have enough moisture to get into growing season,” but that’s not happening this year, he told Colorado Politics. In those drought areas, winter wheat didn’t even come up this season. “It’s been bone-dry,” Brown said.
Brown also pointed out that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue heard first-hand about Colorado’s drought problems when he toured the state two weeks ago.
The council voted 5-2 to allow city staff to negotiate, with Councilmembers Ross Cunniff and Bob Overbeck against, and those in agreement largely arguing it couldn’t hurt anything. City staff would need to go to council to approve any final deals.
“We need to be in the game and to negotiate and look out for Fort Collins’ best interests,” Mayor Wade Troxell said.
The agreement to negotiate doesn’t affect the city council’s overall negative disposition toward the Northern Integrated Supply Project. NISP would lead to the creation of two reservoirs, the Glade to the northwest of the city and the Galeton near Greeley. It would divert nearly 40,000 acre feet of water from the Poudre River. Fort Collins Water Resources Engineer Adam Jokerst noted for comparison that the city typically treats about 25,000 acre feet of water a year, about half of which is from the Poudre.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
The renewed negotiations come as U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch scheduled an August trial in the lawsuit on May 22, the day after the state’s lead attorney in the case was reportedly fired for a reason the Colorado Attorney General’s Office won’t discuss.
That lead attorney, Margaret “Meg” Parish, first assistant attorney general in the Natural Resources & Environment Section, wrote at least two scathing letters to the EPA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in recent months, calling the EPA’s action “shocking and extraordinary” and expressing “deep concern and disappointment” that the agency unilaterally reopened settlement talks without consulting co-plaintiffs. Besides the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), those include Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
The move was particularly alarming, she noted, because the state and EPA signed an agreement not to communicate with the city without the presence of the other.
Some who couldn’t comment on the record due to confidentiality rules labeled the latest moves “pure politics” in an era when the EPA’s reputation is pivoting from protecting the environment to serving polluters…
EPA’s reopening of negotiations has sown suspicion among co-plaintiffs who already distrust the city due to sewage discharges, raging stormwater flows and sediment in Fountain Creek that befoul the creek, threaten levees and block irrigation headgates interfering with raising crops.
The possibility of a settlement was suggested to voters last fall when Mayor John Suthers campaigned for passage of stormwater fees, saying their adoption would help the city end the lawsuit, filed by the EPA and CDPHE in November 2016 after the city flunked compliance inspections in 2013 and 2015 for its MS4 permit (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System). The lawsuit alleges ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act, saying the city failed to force developers to install proper storm drainage infrastructure, gave waivers to others and didn’t adequately inspect and monitor its waterways. The city spent only $1.6 million a year on those tasks from 2011 to 2014, a pittance considering the city’s drainage needs are estimated at $1 billion.
Approved by voters in November, the fees go into effect July 1 and replace general fund money used to satisfy an April 2016 deal the city made with Pueblo County to spend $460 million over 20 years on stormwater. The agreement grew from Pueblo County’s demands after the city adopted stormwater fees in 2007 and abolished them in 2009 and came as the city activated its $825-million water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir.