From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
…this shift since the start of the century toward greater aridity also is forcing, out of public view in government meetings and science labs, an unprecedented scramble to determine how much climbing temperatures — compared with Colorado’s near-record low rain and mountain snowpack — are driving that change.
Quantifying the impact of rising heat is crucial to anticipate future water supplies, state planners and utility officials say. And it may help resolve an intensifying conflict in which some water users embrace reservoirs as necessary, though destructive, to enable more population growth and irrigation agriculture — even as water conservation makes huge gains in Colorado.
Environmental groups reject the idea of creating new reservoirs and are fighting multiple Front Range projects. Colorado already has more than 2,000 reservoirs. And, they note, draining rivers kills already-stressed Western ecosystems.
“The reservoirs really pay off,” state water czar John Stulp said last week after the latest multi-agency Water Availability Task Force meeting. Yet rather than expand storage beyond current projects, Stulp and Gov. John Hickenlooper continue to emphasize a conservation approach of using existing supplies more efficiently…
As usual around the end of summer, Colorado farmers, ranchers, industries and city dwellers last week were drawing down the state’s existing reservoirs, such as Denver Water’s Lake Dillon, where siphoning through a 23-mile mountain tunnel to slake city thirsts and controlled releases to meet legal obligations downriver dropped the water level to 85 percent full, compared with the 91 percent norm in September.
The reservoir drawdowns are bigger in other parts of western Colorado, with the massive Blue Mesa Reservoir west of Gunnison only 39 percent full, reflecting the low stream flows and demands of 40 million people across the Colorado River Basin. The latest data show combined water storage in Colorado River reservoirs at 47 percent of capacity.
However, other major reservoirs in Colorado remain relatively full with surpluses from last spring and in-flow of water offsetting withdrawals. Northern Water officials said their reservoirs supplying high-growth Front Range cities and farming measured 111 percent of normal for this time of year. Similarly, the John Martin Reservoir in southeastern Colorado was at 140 percent and Pueblo Reservoir was at 125 percent of the norm. Recent rain on the Eastern Plains has enabled late planting of wheat.
Statewide, federal data show reservoir storage at 82 percent of normal for September, which is about half full. Few have gone dry.
But as reservoirs serve their purpose of minimizing suffering during dry times before refilling in spring, the low flows in rivers are changing the environment — and causing more damage in some places than the toxic drainage from metal mines. Southwestern Colorado’s Animas River, for example, has dwindled to a record-low trickle before it disappears in New Mexico. Tens of thousands of fish have died…
Conservation gains in recent years enabled population growth with more people and producers surviving on less water despite hotter, drier conditions.
But Colorado officials are trying to make sure a growth and development boom can continue. Taryn Finnessey, the state’s senior climate change specialist, oversees more-or-less continual monitoring of precipitation, stream flows and reservoirs…
The average temperature in Colorado has increased by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century. National Weather Service meteorologists also have measured a trend toward more days where highs reach 90 degrees or hotter. (In metro Denver, temperatures hit 90 or higher on 56 days so far this year, and four of the five years with the highest average temperature on record were after 2006.)
A widening body of research focuses on how much this increased heat, compared with precipitation, affects water levels in rivers — due to increased evaporation and transpiration from plants. A study released last month found that higher temperatures caused 53 percent of the overall 16 percent reduction of water over the past century in the Colorado River — three times more than previously believed.
“You have a greater atmospheric thirst because the air is warming. And plants use more water because it is warmer. And the plants have a longer growing season,” said study author Brad Udall, senior scientist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute.
“What is a surprise is the magnitude of the loss,” Udall said.
“We’re seeing, even in systems where we get average snowpack, less water flows because of the high temperatures. More evaporation is occurring,” said Ted Kowalski, director of the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River Initiative. “Even where we see average snowpack, we’re getting less water.”
Climate scientists anticipate continued increasing temperatures due to the unprecedented, rising global concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, which has led to carbon dioxide levels topping 410 parts per million.
Build more reservoirs?
The low flows in waterways raise questions about the viability of new reservoirs, even if there was a consensus to build them.
“Reservoirs are very handy when you have big swings between wet years and dry years. They no doubt are useful. The question is: Can building more reservoirs translate to having more water available year after year? In a lot of places, we don’t have the water flows to fill reservoirs. I’m skeptical,” said Douglas Kenney, director of the University of Colorado’s Western Water Policy Program and chairman of the Colorado River Research Group.
“You can build more reservoirs. But if you don’t have the water to put in, then it does no good. … There is certainly some logic to the argument that we need to be able to capture water in the really wet years so that we can get through the dry years,” Kenney said. “The reality is the West is just becoming drier.”
Hotter, drier conditions in the South Platte River Basin that Denver Water relies on have led to increased siphoning from Lake Dillon through the 10-foot diameter Roberts Tunnel under the Continental Divide. Recreational boating marina crews, noting that they have seen worse drawdowns, adapted by reconfiguring their docks. Denver Water officials said most of the drawdown is due to releasing water from the reservoir to senior water rights holders downriver.
Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead has encouraged conservation and efficiency but also favors significantly increased storage capacity strategically spread across mountain basins.
A current imbalance in where Denver draws water “underscores the need and importance of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project (in western Boulder County), which is in the final stages of approval after nearly 15 years of permitting,” Lochhead said. “When it is completed, Denver Water will have more flexibility throughout our system to react to year-to-year changes in snowpack levels, extreme weather swings and unbalanced conditions across the state.”
“A rough, dry summer”
Agriculture accounts for more than 85 percent of the water used in Colorado. Livestock producers have adapted to low flows by reducing or liquidating herds. Farmers lacking sufficient water have planted fewer crops and improvised to fulfill contracts…
Environmental advocacy groups raise concerns that too much alarm could whip up sentiments for building more reservoirs.
From The Pagosa Sun (J. Williams):
[ed. I could not find a deep link for the article]
Successive years of extreme drought conditions, combined with ongoing economic growth, have sent up red flags for Colorado River District (CRD) officials to alert residents that our water sup- ply is definitely in danger.
“It will continue to be a slow-moving train wreck if we do nothing,” said the CRD’s general manag- er, Andy Mueller, during last week’s statewide webinar for journalists and community leaders.
Statistics presented during the webinar show that reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin are drastically below normal levels, with no im- mediate relief in sight.
The CRD is comprised of 15 Western Slope counties cover- ing about 29,000 square miles of Colorado.
Although the CRD does not directly include Archuleta County and the southernmost part of the basin that encompasses the San Juan River and its tributaries, officials noted that anything involving 28 percent of Colorado’s agriculture and industry will definitely impact everyone in the western United States.
For example, the Colorado River directly feeds Arizona’s Lake Powell, the largest reservoir in America’s southwest. Due to extreme conditions, Lake Powell is now at levels less than 50 percent of where it was in the year 2000.
“We’re talking about a dwindling water supply that will affect millions of Americans,” said Mueller.
To that end, the CRD is working closely with the U.S. Department of the Interior to explore a number of contingency options in case water usage continues to rise while supply continues to decline.
Mueller said that the CRD is insistent, however, that, “We know we have risks ahead, but we do not want to sacrifice economic growth. And, we do not want to simply put the burden of water conservation on Western Slope agriculture [which accounts for over 65 percent of Colorado’s water usage]. Our job is to find creative and cooperative ways to grow without increased water usage beyond what we can safely sustain.”
Among ways the CRD has sug- gested improving Colorado’s agricultural water usage are numerous suggestions to improve irrigation systems to make our state’s farms and ranches more “water efficient.”
Some of the proposed ideas will require additional capital investment in state-of-the-art irrigation equipment. However, officials are quick to note that other suggestions will simply require a few adaptations to improve upon “the old ways” of doing things, such as better irrigation schedules and planting strains of crops that are better adapted to Colorado’s climate to require lower water needs.
It isn’t just the agricultural use that is concerning. Municipal water use taps in to about 25 percent of the state’s water supply and CRD officials point at several “commonsense practices” that munici- palities and consumers can use to stretch water resources.
Chris Treese, the CRD’s external affairs manager, said, “It is critically important that we all work to save water in our homes and in our day-to-day lives, especially since half of the water we use is typically in discretionary activities such as watering gardens and lawns, filling swimming pools and washing the car.”
Treese said he hopes that “Water can be conserved by just making some simple adjustments such as using automatic shut-off faucets when washing the car or implementing irrigation timers when wa- tering the lawn. And, just simply re-thinking what type of landscaping we really want around our homes that would give us all the beauty we want with Colorado-adapted plants instead of wall-to-wall Kentucky bluegrass that requires so much more water.”
Further conversation on the subject will continue at the CDR’s annual seminar titled “Risky Busi- ness on the Colorado River” on Friday, Sept. 14, in Grand Junc- tion. David Bernhardt, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, will be the featured speaker. Registration information is available on the CDR website at: http://ColoradoRiverDistrict.org.
Meanwhile, here are just a few examples from the CDR on the many ways we use water and how much is used in our everyday life where just some minor lifestyle modifications could make a big difference:
• Brush your teeth? — 2 to 5 gallons.
• Wash the car? — 50 gallons.
• Use the dishwasher? — 8 to 15 gallons.
• Flush the toilet? — 1.5 to 4 gal- lons (each flush).
• Take a shower or bath? — 17 to 24 gallons.
• Run the washing machine? — 35 to 50 gallons (each load).
Slowly but surely, cumulative lake levels are dropping, but Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) customers have still not seen any stage 1 mandatory drought restrictions.
According to a Tuesday press release by PAWSD District Man- ager Justin Ramsey, cumulative lake levels currently sit at 70.6 percent.
This is down from the 72.5 percent total from last week.
When the cumulative lake level percentage hits 70 percent, stage 1 mandatory drought restrictions will “limit outdoor irrigation to the hours between 9 pm and 9 am and trigger a Drought Surcharge of $7.68 per Equivalent Unit (an Equivalent Unit is a single family home),” according to Ramsey’s press release.
Ramsey noted in an interview with The SUN that PAWSD customers are close to those stage 1 mandatory drought restrictions.
“It’s inevitable, though,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey’s report notes that Hatcher Lake is 62 inches from full and Stevens Lake is 127 inches from full.
Lake Pagosa is 24 inches from full, while Village Lake is 8 inches from full and Lake Forest is 15 inches from full.
Diversion flows and water production
Currently, according to Ramsey’s press release, the West Fork has a diversion flow of 3 cubic feet per second (cfs).
The San Juan River has a diversion flow of 1.5 cfs, while Four Mile remains at zero cfs.
Last year, in the time frame of Aug. 24 through Aug. 30, the cumulative water production by PAWSD customers was 15.69 mil- lion gallons.
This year, in that same time frame, water production sits at 17.15 million gallons.
In that time frame last year, Hatcher Lake produced the most with 11.16 million gallons.
This year, Hatcher still produced the most out of the Snowball plant and San Juan River plant, but the total is only at 6.26 million gallons in this time frame.
Additionally, this year in that time period, the San Juan River has produced 5.84 million gallons of water.
Last year in that same time period, the San Juan River plant was not producing any water.
From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):
Even after the necessary triggers were met to enter stage 1 drought restrictions, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) board decided during a special meeting Tuesday to not enact stage 1 drought restrictions yet.
According to a press release sent to The SUN on Sept. 10 by PAWSD District Manager Justin Ramsey, cumulative available lake water for treatment and delivery sits at 69.7 percent.
The trigger for stage 1 mandatory drought restrictions is for the cumulative lake water levels dropping at or below 70 percent, according to the district’s drought management plan.
Stage 1 mandatory drought restrictions would “limit outdoor irrigation to the hours between 9 pm and 9 am and trigger a Drought Surcharge of $7.68 per Equivalent Unit (an Equivalent Unit is a single family home),” according to the release.
During the meeting, Ramsey explained that when the cumulative lake water levels hit, he met with Colorado Division of Water Resources Lead Commissioner Joe Crabb.
The call that had been placed on the Four Mile diversion had been anticipated being removed the middle of this month, Ramsey noted, but according to Crabb, one of the “unintended consequences” of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) call on the San Juan River was that the ranchers were scared by the call and now the Four Mile call is anticipated to be on until November.
“The concern is that when the CWCB did the call on there it just put the fear in them that their water is going to be pulled from them. So, they’re keeping the water and they’re just super saturating all their fields for the winter,” Ramsey said, noting this was just Crabb’s theory and it was not “set in stone.”
Usually by Oct. 1 the call is removed, Ramsey noted, stating, “this has never happened before.”
“And the scary thing about that is that’s about the time we start seeing freezing and so we lose that water,” Ramsey explained.
Board member Gordon McIver moved to enter stage 1 restrictions; however, board member Glenn Walsh, participating in the meeting by phone, raised some concerns.
“I’m not spooked by the 70 percent in the middle of September. I’d be much more spooked by, say, 85 percent on April 1,” Walsh said.
Walsh noted that he probably would not vote for PAWSD to enter into restrictions because he doesn’t see PAWSD saving any water.
This could look to PAWSD customers like PAWSD is just looking to make money rather than save water, Walsh noted.
PAWSD could stay in voluntary drought restrictions and keep a “close eye” on snow water equivalent and if it is a terrible season like 2002, PAWSD could potentially enter next year in stage 1 or stage 2 drought restrictions, Walsh suggested.
“If we go into drought restrictions every year, we’re just going to be making the case for a reser- voir,” Walsh said.
However, if PAWSD decides to implement the maximum amount of pumping to keep the highest levels it can at the reservoirs, Walsh explained that he wanted to make sure that PAWSD can cover those costs.
Late May is usually when PAWSD is cut off from Four Mile. This year, PAWSD was cut off April 12, which is the earliest PAWSD has ever been cut off, Ramsey noted.
Ramsey noted he hoped to turn the San Juan plant off this month be- cause of how expensive it is to run it.
Ramsey noted that PAWSD had paid $50,000 and $40,000 for electri- cal and chemical costs for the San Juan plant.
PAWSD Chairman Jim Smith noted that he had people ask him what PAWSD is going to do about the drought.
“I am still a little spooked simply because they’re going to wait so long to turn that on,” Ramsey said in reference to being able to use water from the Four Mile diversion.
Waiting until November scares Ramsey more than the lake levels being at 70 percent, he noted.
Board member Paul Hansen, also participating by phone, noted that he agreed with Walsh, suggesting a “wait-and-see policy.”
“I don’t think we should pull the trigger on it right away because it’s so late in the season,” Hansen noted.
Board member Blake Brueckner noted that he felt like it was a little too late in the season to go into drought restrictions.
The restrictions also help offsetting costs of the drought, Ramsey noted, adding that the $7.68 sur- charge could bring PAWSD $50,000 a month.
The Snowball plant costs about $600 for 1 million gallons of water, while the San Juan plant costs $6,000 for that same amount of water, Ramsey stated.
“Yeah, we might need extra money to cover that, but it shouldn’t go with the drought. Because if you start doing drought then people will go back to, ‘Oh well, we need more water storage then, if we’re going into drought,’” Brueckner said.
Ramsey noted that he hopes this situation is not the “new norm.”
“I’m patient. I don’t mind waiting a month,” Brueckner stated.
However, PAWSD Comptroller Aaron Burns pointed out that PAWSD had not budgeted for running the San Juan plant much longer than it already has been.
“I just don’t want to ignore the reality for, you know, of operating this thing,” McIver said.
The motion to enter into stage 1 restrictions failed via a 3-2 vote.
Smith and McIver voted for the motion, while Brueckner, Hansen and Walsh voted against it.
The item will be discussed again at the board’s Sept. 20 meeting.
After the formal vote, community member Al Pfister spoke.
“As a ratepayer, I would’ve appreciated that you actually implemented the stage 1,” Pfister said. Keeping PAWSD more economically balanced and educational purposes were reasons cited by Pfister for going into restrictions. “Regretfully, the only way you can talk to people is through their wallet,” Pfister said.
Walsh later suggested that the surcharge could be smaller or a lump sum to meet additional pumping requirements
“I’m not a punish-the-customer type of board member,” Walsh said. “I don’t think any of us are. I think our record shows that,” McIver responded.
Ramsey’s press release notes that Lake Hatcher is 67 inches from full while Stevens Lake is 129 inches from full. Last week, Hatcher was 62 inches from full while Stevens was 127 inches from full.
Lake Pagosa is 24 inches from full ,while Village Lake is 8 inches from full and Lake Forest is 15 inches from full. The totals for those three lakes remain unchanged from last week.
“And the reason for that is we’re pumping water into Forest Lake, so everything we’re pulling out of there at the San Juan Plant we’re basically replacing from the San Juan diversion,” Ramsey explained in an interview.
Lake Pagosa and Village Lake are being fed from Stevens Lake, Ramsey noted.
Last year, from Aug. 31 through Sept. 6, between the Snowball plant, Hatcher Lake and the San Juan River plant, water production was 15.69 million gallons. In that time period last year, Hatcher Lake contributed 84 percent of the water production with 13.24 million gallons. Snowball produced the other 4.76 million gal- lons last year.
This year, in that same time frame, water production is 17.15 million gallons.
Water production is much more spread out this year, with Snowball producing 5.39 million gallons, Hatcher producing 4.39 million gallons and the San Juan plant producing 6.87 million gallons.
Ramsey noted that the numbers were surprising because water production usually goes up in July and back down in August, but not this year.
“Our August numbers were actually 200,000 gallons less this August than last year, where last year our drop, I think their drop was like 3 million gallons,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey attributed these numbers to the lack of monsoon moisture.