#Drought news: Aspen Enacts Mandatory Water Restrictions

West Drought Monitor August 16, 2018.

From the Associated Press via USA Today:

Extremely low water levels have forced the city of Aspen to declare a stage 2 water shortage for the first time in history.

The Aspen Times reports Aspen City Council approved the move Monday. Aspen Utilities Portfolio Manager Margaret Medellin says she anticipates stage 2 restrictions to remain in effect indefinitely.

Under the restrictions, Aspen water customers must not water lawns more than three days a week and no more than 30 minutes per sprinkler zone per day.

Restrictions also include no watering native areas more than two days a week and no watering lawns between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

From News Deeply (Emma Penrod):

Large reservoirs have buffered urban areas in the Southwest from the worst of the year’s dry conditions, but rural farmers and ranchers are bearing the brunt of water shortages and the economic fallout.

Farmer Scott Sunderland runs the numbers on his smartphone and the outlook is bleak. He needs $250,000 just to pay the taxes and debts he owes on the 700-acre farm he’s managed for more than three decades. If he’s lucky, he’ll have $220,000 by the end of the season.

“If the drought holds on another year,” he said, “we’re going to have to start liquidating … But once you start down that road, it’s almost a dead end.”

Chester, an unincorporated community in central Utah, has been hit by “exceptional” drought conditions, the most severe rating issued by the United States Drought Monitor. For much of the southwestern U.S., this past winter has marked one of the driest periods in recorded history.

Population centers in the West have been relatively insulated from the disaster, protected by large reservoirs capable of storing water for multiple years. But rural towns and the farmers and ranchers who populate them have been devastated. In many cases, struggling farmers have already been pushed off more fertile lands by urban development. Now, some of the remaining ones hope to sell out and scrape together enough cash to retire, while others have already begun to look for new jobs.

“It’s hard to paint a picture because a lot of the time when people talk about drought, you just shower less and water your lawn less,” said Cassidy Johnston, a rancher in Capitan, New Mexico. “In town, yeah, your lawn may be yellow, but here, you may have to move and sell the business your family has had for generations.”

A Regional Crisis

More than half the western U.S. is currently experiencing some level of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Sparsely populated areas in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona in particular are grappling with dry conditions of historic proportions – many small irrigation companies are reporting water shortages the likes of which have not been seen since the 1970s.

This isn’t necessarily because these areas got less snow over a disastrously dry winter than some of the surrounding environs, said Troy Brosten, a Utah-based hydrologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service. The main issue is the lack of water storage in some remote areas.

Despite the lack of snowfall this past winter, Brosten said, larger reservoirs started the year with plenty of water left over from last year. These reservoirs are still mostly full, so the areas that draw from them haven’t experienced actual water shortages.

But some smaller reservoirs only have capacity for enough water to last about one year, Brosten said. They rely on each year’s snowpack to provide the following summer’s irrigation water. This year, there simply wasn’t enough snow to replenish their reserves.

Many farmers are increasingly reliant on these smaller reservoirs and water systems, said Kate Greenberg, who oversees western chapters of the national Young Farmers Coalition from her office in Durango, Colo. Farmers who once held senior rights in more secure reservoirs have, in some cases, opted to escape pressure from urban development by selling their lands and moving their operations further afield. The situation has been exacerbated by government policies to encourage water managers to secure water for urban growth by buying out farms, Greenberg said.

This was the fate of the Sunderland family farm, which was originally located in Lehi, Utah – a city that in a few short years has been completely transformed by the arrival of several big-name software companies, including Adobe.

The family knew that the new property in Chester was “drier country” when they moved more than 30 years ago to avoid being crowded out by development, Scott Sunderland’s brother Edwin said. But they were willing to take the risk so they could expand their operation and hopefully increase their earnings potential.

But compared to even a decade ago, Scott Sunderland added, Chester’s water doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to.

Chester doesn’t have access to a full-sized reservoir, but gets its water from a series of pipelines and storage ponds, said Edwin, who now manages a small portion of the family property. They started the season, he said, with about half their total water capacity. By July 4, the water was gone.

From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

Last Friday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife began releasing cooler water from Lake Avery in an ongoing effort to keep coldwater fish in the river alive as tough, drought conditions persist.

Trout have adapted to thrive in water temperatures between 50-60 degrees. According to CPW, some sections of the White River have exceeded 70-plus degrees consistently since early June. In addition, water flow in portions of the river have been running at or below the 25th percentile of the historical median in recent weeks.

When flows are low, water is susceptible to warming quickly and dissolved oxygen levels drop, leading to significantly stressed fish. They gather in residual pools and become easier to catch. Even if returned to the water immediately, stressed fish hooked under these conditions could quickly perish.

In addition to the water release, CPW has implemented a voluntary fishing closure between 2 p.m. and midnight on both north and south forks of the White River, from the boundary of the National Forest through the main stem down to the bridge at Rio Blanco County Road 5, west of Meeker.

CPW has implemented additional voluntary fishing closures across the region, due to similar conditions.

The White River within Rio Blanco County is renowned for excellent fishing, drawing thousands of anglers from across the world to catch the large rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout that typically thrive in these waters.

“It’s a great place to fish, but the White River fishery is also a critical resource that local residents depend upon for their livelihoods,” said deVergie. “Whether you run a hotel, a restaurant or an outfitting business, everyone up here has a vested interest in conserving this important natural resource.”

Since the voluntary closure went into effect last week, deVergie says he has seen excellent cooperation from the public. He stresses it could be a while before things improve.

“Now that we have a little more flow in the river, we are asking irrigators to leave as much of it as they can in the river for the benefit of the fish,” said deVergie. “Until we get some moisture, the release is one of the last remaining options we have to help prevent extensive fish mortality in the White River.”

Through an agreement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, CPW can release water from Lake Avery to help the Board meet their instream flow right of 200 cubic feet per second. The goal is protecting aquatic life in Big Beaver Creek downstream of Lake Avery, and the White River downstream to the confluence with Piceance Creek.

The terms of the agreement allow for releasing 20 cfs up to 120 days. CPW will monitor water-quality conditions and fish to gauge the effects of the additional water, adjusting the release from Lake Avery as conditions warrant.
Due to similar climate conditions at the time, CPW released water from Lake Avery in 2012. Per the terms of the agreement, the agency can release water from the reservoir only one more time prior to 2022.

CPW recommends honoring all voluntary closures, fishing at higher altitude or fishing early when it’s cooler. Anglers should consider using barbless hooks, land fish quickly and release them quickly. Wet your hands before handling and let them go immediately, preferably without removing them from the water.

For more information about conditions on the White River, contact CPW’s Meeker office at 970-878-6090.

For general information about fishing in Colorado, visit the CPW website.

From The Durango Herald (Jennifer Oldham):

In the state known as the “mother of rivers,” the third–warmest and driest period in more than a century is wreaking havoc on waterways that provide the economic lifeline for rural communities and high–alpine habitat for Colorado’s signature fish, the greenback cutthroat trout.

The extremes of temperature and precipitation – too much of one, too little of the other – have grounded rafting companies in places that usually offer white-knuckle rides. With water barely lapping over jagged rocks, some outfitters have moved operations to rivers fed by reservoirs higher up in the parched Rockies.

“Boats can get piled up and people can get hurt if they flip, and guides were having to use their backs to pull the rafts off of rocks,” said Alan Blado, owner of Liquid Descent Rafting, which is based about 40 miles west of downtown Denver. “We didn’t want them to get injured.”

[…]

Summer 2018 came after a rough winter in which some areas received 30 percent of what once was typical snowpack. A warm spring thawed drifts early, causing rivers to peak in May, weeks before the busy summer season. Severe to exceptional drought now covers two–thirds of Colorado, and some of the worst wildfires in state history have broken out.

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