#Drought news: Some D1 (Severe Drought) erased in El Paso County #monsoon

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


Areas of low pressure brought heavy to excessive rainfall to many parts of the U.S. during this past drought week (August 14-21). Some storms brought more rainfall to already inundated areas such as the Northeast, but some activity occurred over drought regions badly in need of moisture, including the Central and Southern Plains, the Midwest, and the South. Other areas, especially along the northern tier of the country, continued to dry out amid a combined lack of rainfall and anomalously high temperatures. Some areas of northern Michigan and Wisconsin averaged daily maximum temperatures 6-8 degrees F above their typical average for this time of year…


Drought has plagued this region, but heavy, and in some instances, extremely heavy rainfalls, (ranging from 1 to 6 inches or more) brought much needed relief as most areas saw vast improvements or, at the very least, no degradation. In extreme northeastern Arkansas, several counties experiencing D2 conditions received 6 or more inches of rain over the past week. In facet, enough rain fell over the state that widespread 1-category improvements were made. Many stations received record rainfall for the month of August, including Long Pool (12.35 inches), Clinton (12.41 inches), and Murfreesboro (12.11 inches), leading to much improved conditions across the state, with no primarily drought and only lingering long-term dry conditions. Similarly, Oklahoma saw drought conditions fade as heavy rains fell, bringing normal conditions back to a large swath of the state stretching from the northwest to the southeast. Conditions also improved in Louisiana, northern, and western Texas, while dryness spread in southeastern Texas…

High Plains

Similar to the Midwest, the northern tier of the High Plains saw conditions continue to dry out over this past week, exacerbated by high temperatures in some areas. Mercer County, North Dakota, for example, saw temperatures reach 104 degrees F on two days and 10 consecutive days of upper 90s. Crops have been impacted as soil moisture is depleted, with very dry topsoil and subsoil. There are reports of corn burning and severely stressed soybeans, among other impacts. As such, areas of abnormal dryness (D0), moderate drought (D1), and severe drought (D2) were expanded in various parts of the state. Eastern Montana saw an expansion of D0, including along the North Dakota border. Nebraska and Kansas, on the other hand, were the recipients of heavy rainfall events, which led to improvements across their drought regions. Although rainfall was 2-6 inches in several inches in places, long-term dryness persists across parts of the regions and thus was not adequate to erase all drought. However, two category improvements (D3 to D1) were made in southeastern Kansas, for example, as the rain did vastly improve conditions there. In Colorado, D1 was reduced in El Paso and Douglas Counties, which received 1 to 4 inches of rain over the past few weeks, improving conditions there….


Most of the West continues to experience dry conditions and drought, with dozens of wildfires burning record acreage; however, while conditions remain poor, no areas required further degradation this week. The only change made this week occurred in far eastern New Mexico, where rainfall was 1 inch or more above average for the week. This allowed for 1-category drought improvements of extreme drought (D3), severe drought (D2), and moderate drought (D1)…

Looking Ahead

Over the next week, beginning Tuesday August 28, up to 2 inches of rain is forecast for western Colorado and western New Mexico, where extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4) drought conditions prevail. No rain to less than half an inch are forecast for most of the remainder of the West. Between 0.1 and 2 inches are forecast for most of the rest of the U.S. at this time. Looking further ahead at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) 6-10 day Outlook (August 26-30), the probability of dry conditions are highest in the Plains, with a bullseye over western Oklahoma, while wet conditions may occur along the northern tier of the U.S., the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. During this period, below-average temperatures are expected in the West while above-average temperatures are forecast for the eastern two-thirds of the country, particularly stretching from the Midwest to the Northeast. Looking two weeks out (August 28 – September 3), above-average temperatures are expected across the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. and stretching across the southwestern U.S./Mexico border. Below-average temperatures are expected over most of the West. The probability of above-average precipitation is highest over the North and Northwest with the highest probability of dryness expected over western Oklahoma.

@USBR: Water Managers Partner to Preserve Middle #RioGrande Flows

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Mary Carlson):

In response to ongoing severe drought, the Bureau of Reclamation and partnering water management agencies have reached several agreements intended to keep the Middle Rio Grande wet through the Albuquerque reach for the remainder of this year.

In 2018, Reclamation set aside $2 million to lease water from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s San Juan-Chama Project supply to preserve flows through the Middle Rio Grande. Both entities will work closely to ensure continued Rio Grande flows through Albuquerque this summer and fall. San Juan-Chama Project water is diverted across the continental divide from the Colorado River basin. The City of Santa Fe is also partnering on this operation to help mitigate water loss impacts to the Rio Grande near Santa Fe.

“This is an extremely dry year with one of the lowest snowpacks on record,” said Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office Manager Jennifer Faler. “In an effort to effectively balance water needs within the Middle Rio Grande, we’ve joined forces with key water management entities to reach these very important agreements at a critical time.”

Although a historically low spring runoff resulted in some parts of the San Acacia reach drying in the beginning of April, actions taken by the agencies should keep much of the Middle Rio Grande flowing later this summer and fall.

“As water supplies run low in northern reservoirs, it’s important for the public to understand that this agreement is essentially what’s keeping water flowing in the Albuquerque reach of the Rio Grande,” said Trudy E. Jones, Albuquerque City Councilor and Chair of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s governing board.

The leased water will help maintain flows from Cochiti Dam to downstream of Isleta Diversion Dam when the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s irrigation storage is exhausted, which could be late this week or early next week. Reclamation will seek additional funding in 2019 for continued leasing.

The Six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos, which have the most senior water rights in the Middle Valley, are also participating in extending available water supplies. The Pueblos, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and Reclamation agreed to use water stored in El Vado Reservoir that would normally be reserved for ensuring a supply for Pueblos to meet district-wide irrigation demands in exchange for a reserved amount of MRGCD’s San Juan-Chama Project water for late season needs.

“Because of the unusually dry conditions, the Pueblos wanted to cooperate with other agencies this year, and agreed to use our senior water rights to stretch available water supplies for everyone, to the greatest extent possible,” said Governor James Richard Bernal, Pueblo of Sandia. “Long-term solutions to water supply shortage issues and protection of senior rights to water need to be identified.”

Releases of San Juan-Chama Project water will supplement the very low natural Rio Grande flow and will include water released to ensure that the Pueblos can continue to irrigate. Without adequate rains, MRGCD will divert required flow to first meet the most senior water users on the lands at Cochiti, Santa Domingo, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Sandia, and Isleta Pueblos and then for non-Pueblo irrigators as conditions allow.

“The fact that the agencies and the Pueblos worked so well together to judiciously store and use both Rio Grande and trans basin San Juan-Chama water in a historically dry year speaks to the importance of optimizing reservoir operations and irrigation diversions to extend in-river flows well beyond what the 2018 natural runoff would have provided,” said Mike Hamman, CEO of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

Audubon New Mexico is also participating in water operations this summer. Audubon has leased 990 acre-feet of San Juan-Chama Project water that is being released from Abiquiu Dam in support of the proposed operations in cooperation with all water management agencies.

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

Under the one-time lease, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will pay the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority $2 million for 20,000 acre feet of water stored in Abiquiu Reservoir. The water will be used to keep the river flowing from below Cochiti Dam, through Albuquerque and downstream of the Isleta Diversion Dam.

During the meeting, John Stomp, chief operating officer of the water authority, assured board members it has that water to spare…

The agreement between the federal government and the water authority notes that the $2 million should be used for implementing the city’s 100-year water plan.

After a poor snow season in the mountains, the Middle Rio Grande started drying in early April, when it normally runs high with snowmelt. Monsoon rains have sporadically revived river flows this summer, but a long stretch still dried from the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge north toward Socorro. The river also dried near the Pueblo of Isleta.

“The Bureau of Reclamation stepped up to the plate, as did Santa Fe and the water authority, and we’re joining forces,” Stomp said. “We’ve all been working together to try to keep the river wet and stave off litigation, take care of endangered species and protect the river—that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Under the federal Endangered Species Act, water managers must ensure two rare species, the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow and the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, don’t move further toward extinction. In the past, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mandated minimum flow requirements through the Albuquerque reach of the river. In 2016, the agency updated its 2003 plan for the silvery minnow. Now instead of following flow requirements, Reclamation is supposed to try to manage the river to improve fish densities.

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District will soon be out of irrigation water, and Stomp said MRGCD “did its part” to try and benefit river flows as much as possible this year. And the City of Santa Fe is helping mitigate water losses to the river near the city.

Reclamation spokeswoman Mary Carlson said the Rio Grande would have dried through Albuquerque earlier this summer if everyone hadn’t cooperated.

She said MRGCD and the pueblos coordinated water movement with Reclamation, and she commended efforts by the water authority, too. “This lease agreement between Reclamation and the water authority is a tremendous effort on the part of both parties to keep the Albuquerque reach wet through the rest of this very dry year,” she added.

The water being leased is stored in Abiquiu Reservoir and comes from tributaries of the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River. That water is piped through tunnels to the Chama River, which flows into the Rio Grande in Española. The San Juan-Chama Project was built decades ago, and before Albuquerque built its drinking water project, 110,000 acre-feet of San-Juan Chama water supplemented the native flows of the Rio Grande each year.

MRGCD officials estimate the district will cease regular deliveries to most irrigators within the next week. Most of its stored water in El Vado Lake has been depleted, about two months before the typical end of irrigation season.

Once the lake’s storage reaches a particular threshold, MRGCD will enter “Prior and Paramount Operations,” which means it can only meet the irrigation needs of about 8,800 acres of pueblo lands, which have the most senior water rights in the valley. That includes the pueblos of Kewa, Cochiti, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Sandia and Isleta. Because the pueblos preceded any of the valley’s other communities, when Congress passed an act in 1928 supporting the irrigation district’s creation, it noted that the water rights to those pueblo lands are “prior and paramount to any rights of the district.”

MRGCD officials and Reclamation’s Carlson have both noted the pueblos worked to help the district and water managers this year.

In a statement, Pueblo of Sandia Gov. James Richard Bernal also spoke to the need for cooperation this year, and for long-term solutions. “Because of the unusually dry conditions, the Pueblos wanted to cooperate with other agencies this year, and agreed to use our senior water rights to stretch available water supplies for everyone, to the greatest extent possible,” he said. “Long-term solutions to water supply shortage issues and protection of senior rights to water need to be identified.”

“The deal means another 7,500 shares of water will be leaving Bent County in the future…And that’s a step toward drying up that county” — Jay Winner

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

A water-sharing agreement between Colorado Springs Utilities and an Arkansas Valley water management group would give that city access to an additional 2,100 acre feet of Arkansas River water a year — an agreement that concerns some regional water users.

That would be in addition to the 50 million gallons of Arkansas River water that Colorado Springs gets each day through the Southern Delivery Service pipeline from Lake Pueblo.

“The deal means another 7,500 shares of water will be leaving Bent County in the future,” argued Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District. “And that’s a step toward drying up that county.”

According to news reports, what Colorado Springs has done is buy 2,500 shares of water from Arkansas River Farms, a Littleton-based agriculture company. That purchase makes it a member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association.

That’s a nonprofit group of Arkansas River water users. Essentially, it has the job of seeing that water pumped up from groundwater wells is replaced into the river.

The deal that Colorado Springs wants approved calls for a shared use of its 2,500 shares of water between the management group and the city. Over a 10-year-period, the city would have the use of that water for five years, with the management group getting it the other five years.

City officials have said the shared-use plan would help guarantee Colorado Springs has additional water supplies in drought years.

A spokesman for the water management group said the deal would require Colorado Springs to pay for additional storage near Lamar for those years when the city is using the water.

Officials with Colorado Springs Utilities have fended off complaints that this might dry up areas in the Arkansas Valley by noting that the water management group would share authority over the water.

Winner said it is likely his organization, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District, will intervene when the question comes before a state water court for approval. That is likely to be a few years away, he acknowledged.

The next step for the water-sharing plan is to get the approval of the Fort Lyon Canal Co. The water management group has been buying water from that company for its augmentation program and Fort Lyon currently doesn’t allow its water to be routed to cities.

The second step is to get approval from the state water court, which will review any deal to ensure that no other water rights are damaged.

A look at a draft water banking bill proposed in #Wyoming

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

From Wyofile (Angus M. Thuermer Jr) via the The Gillette News-Record:

The draft bill discussed by the committee would limit water banking to the Green River and Little Snake River drainages, Wyoming’s Colorado River tributaries, a restriction many legislators opposed. It states that water may be banked “for any beneficial use including use for drought contingency planning and use for water compact security.”

One goal is to help ensure that the state can meet water-supply obligations under the Colorado River Compact that says Wyoming and other upper-Colorado basin states must let certain volumes flow downstream. Delivering the owed water could, without banking, require reducing irrigation or other uses in the upper basin — a prospect that’s increasingly worrisome given a 16-year drought period between 2000 and 2015.

Under the bill, water could be placed in a bank or reservoir for up to 10 years by a person with a valid water right. But “no person shall acquire any new or enlarged water right through the use of the water banking program,” the draft states (see below).

In addition to making storage for drought and compact compliance, the bill should include another provision not yet articulated, Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) said. That would be to allow banked water to be used for endangered species conservation.

Hicks told committee members a water banking bill would also allow Wyoming, among other things, to account for water it conserves. Today, for example, the state gets no credit toward its compact obligations for water that Wyoming ranchers leave in the stream via a pilot program to increase late-season river flows by paying ranchers not to irrigate after haying season.

Once that conserved water leaves Wyoming, it becomes “system water” available to other states and users, he said. Consequently, it can’t be “shepherded” to Lake Powell with Wyoming’s brand — for release past the Lees Ferry gauge with credit to the state…

“The reason [the conserved Wyoming water] is system water [is] we haven’t shown a beneficial use … we can’t claim it,” Hicks told members of the Select Water Committee and Water Development Commission in Gillette on Friday. “Once we establish a water bank and establish a beneficial use to that water, it’s no longer system water. That water now belongs to the State of Wyoming.”

Hicks didn’t immediately convince all members of the committee and commission the bill is necessary. Cheyenne attorney Karen Budd-Falen, whose family owns a ranch near Big Piney in the Green River drainage, appears to be among the commissions skeptics. Her family participated in the pilot conservation program that’s now in its fourth year.

In 2018, the pilot program is anticipated to conserve 14,617 acre feet in Wyoming and generate $2.2 million to users who temporarily forego a portion of their annual diversions, according to information from the Wyoming State Engineer’s office — all without water banking legislation.

Budd-Falen said she understands some ranchers don’t like the program, funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and municipal water providers. But it made sense for her ranch, she said.

“The money was good and we’re cutting hay anyway [and not irrigating], so why not get paid,” she said. “I don’t know why we need a water banking system to do what we’re doing this year. We don’t have any storage to put the water anywhere.”

Hicks said a water banking bill would allow Wyoming “to “track the trickle” that irrigators conserve through such programs. “Then you get into shepherding,” he said, whereby Wyoming can get credit for its contribution to flows at Lees Ferry.

For Wyoming, the biggest benefit could be the claiming of unappropriated water, Hicks said. “This gets to the whole ability of the State of Wyoming to exercise our full rights under the Colorado [River Compact] or any other compact,” he said…

Such uncredited outflow happens at a rate of at least 400,000 acre feet a year, he suggested.

“What it potentially allows us to do,” Hicks said of a water bank, “is take that 400,000 acre-feet that currently leaves Wyoming. We’re now going to color that,” or give it Wyoming’s brand, he said. “We’re going to put it in Fontenelle Reservoir or any other basin down the road that we want to.

“It would allow us to claim that water in the water bank and claim that use,” Hicks said. The water in the bank would be held by the State of Wyoming. Anybody in the Colorado River drainage could come to Wyoming and say they need to acquire so many acre feet, Hicks said.

“If we had 50,000 acre feet … and we had an agreement with Bureau of Reclamation to deliver it to Lake Powell, that would be $10 million to the state of Wyoming,” Hicks said. He used a value of $200 an acre foot to calculate the value, saying he’s heard that price is “very close” to what ranchers in the pilot conservation program are receiving.

But Budd-Falen questioned whether new state government claims like those Hicks described could leave others short-changed.

“That makes me nervous,” she said of the state claiming a beneficial use for previously unappropriated water. “If the State of Wyoming goes out and starts tagging the unappropriated water … if I need a new water, where do I get my new water?

“I hate having it designated as a beneficial use because that means somebody else that comes in … that needs that water … can never get it,” Budd-Falen said. She supports Wyoming keeping control of its unappropriated water, she said, but, “I’m not convinced for the need for water banking for a beneficial use.”

Others questioned whether the draft bill contradicted one of its intended purposes. It states that the legislation would allow no person to claim a new or expanded water right, yet Hicks said he sees it as allowing Wyoming itself to claim a new beneficial use.

Budd-Falen also said the maximum 10-year transfer of water rights into a bank would make such rights unusable for endangered species preservation, contrary to Hick’s goal. “You cannot cut off an endangered fish’s water after 10 years,” she said.

The committee and commission also debated whether the bill should apply only to the Colorado River drainage — meaning the Green River and Little Snake Rivers in Wyoming — or statewide. A consultant to the Legislative Service Office that drafted the bill recommended it apply only to the Colorado River drainage. Lawmakers appeared to favor a statewide application.

Hicks brought the bill to the Select Water Committee as a courtesy, he said, because its members had attended a meeting on the topic with the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee in Pinedale in June. That committee is sponsoring the draft bill and will formally consider it in September.

Meantime, lawmakers suggested complexities in the potential legislation be hammered out by a subcommittee, “We could cause quite a little bit of harm if it wasn’t put together and discussed thoroughly, ” Sen. Curt Meier (R-LaGrange) said.

Hicks agreed. “Everybody in the Colorado River basin is talking about this,” he said, “so we’ve got to get it right the first time.”

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

“If you can imagine, literally, the #YampaRiver getting to the point that all the water has been taken out of it, is frightening and monumental. It never has happened” — Erin Light #drought

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer Erin Light delayed a call on the river, which would curtail users according to the doctrine of prior appropriation. The delay comes as water managers wait to see if increased flows in the upper Yampa reach Dinosaur.

The Yampa River has never been placed on call.

“The last pumps on the river were sweeping the river,” Light said of her Tuesday visit to the lower Yampa. “If you can imagine, literally, the Yampa River getting to the point that all the water has been taken out of it, is frightening and monumental. It never has happened.”

The Colorado Division of Water Resources places a call on a river when water rights owners do not receive the amount of water they have a legal right to. When a call is in place, some water users are forced to reduce or stop their use in order to send enough water downstream to fulfill the older water right.

Though reservoir releases have boosted flows in the upper Yampa near Steamboat Springs and Craig, it’s not clear if or when that water reaches the state line. Water managers aren’t positive that the gauge measuring flows at Deerlodge Park in Dinosaur National Monument has been providing an accurate reading.

On Tuesday, flows at Deerlodge Park fell to about 35 cubic feet per second. On Wednesday, it was up to about 70 cfs. Historically, the river flows at 351 cfs on the same date.

“It’s very extremely dynamic what we’ve got going on here,” Light said. “Obviously the rains affect everything. As much as we love the rain, it makes it difficult to see what’s going on in the system and what effects it’s going to have, but the reservoir water that was in the river before is now being reduced.”

The Colorado Water Trust has been releasing reservoir water to increase flows for aquatic habitat and recreational use. Tri-State Generation and Transmission added a significant boost in flows with released reservoir water to maintain power generation at Craig Station. As weekend rain has increased flows, the organizations have slowed their releases.

“They only have so much contract water, and they have to manage and budget that contract water for times when it’s critical for their purpose,” Light said.

Last week, total releases from Stagecoach Reservoir jumped from 65 cfs to 125 cfs, Light said. This fell back to 70 cfs Wednesday. Releases from Elkhead Reservoir between Hayden and Craig were also reduced, from 75 cfs to 25 cfs.

“The reservoir water and the rainwater has hit Craig, and it has hit Maybell, but it’s just not getting to Deerlodge,” Light said. “I’m hoping it will.”

The first to be curtailed are those that do not have a water right or do not have a measuring device on their water intake. Then, users with the newest water rights are curtailed, followed by those with older rights…

Light said the fact that, if it occurs, this would be the first call on the Yampa, and that has made her and the water users on the river “very cautious.”

“We’re very hesitant about this scenario,” Light said. “Who wants to be the one that’s been tagged as being the first one to actually request administration by our office?”

Green River Basin

@COWaterCongress summer meeting day one recap #cwcvail18

Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.

From The Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

George Brauchler is in the persuasion business — he’s a lawyer, after all. On Wednesday, Aug. 22, he made the case for his candidacy for Colorado attorney general to a mostly full room at the 60th annual Colorado Water Congress at the Hotel Talisa…

Wednesday, Brauchler talked about his background and his philosophy about how the state’s top law enforcement officer should do that job…


Speaking to a group of people focused on water rights, Brauchler said part of his job is protecting the state’s water rights from federal interference. Another part is negotiating when it comes time to talk about multi-state compacts, such as the one governing the Colorado River.

Brauchler said he’s gained a keen appreciation of how water rights are viewed in different parts of the state. Speaking in Delta recently, Brauchler said he was asked about prosecuting victims of theft. The punchline, as most longtime Western Slope residents know, is “Denver’s stealing our water.”

As he’s traveled the state, Brauchler said he’s come to believe that areas outside the Interstate 25 corridor between Pueblo and Fort Collins increasingly see themselves as part of a “second Colorado.”

In a conversation after his presentation, Brauchler said he’d like to bring some of his office’s resources to those other parts of the state. He questioned why so many state offices have to be “a horse and buggy ride” away from the state capitol.

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