#Drought news: SE #Colorado depiction improves

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


A wet weather pattern persisted across most of the nation, as the active Atlantic and Eastern North Pacific Hurricane Seasons continued. Hurricane Michael rapidly intensified just prior to slamming ashore in the Florida Panhandle, producing heavy rain across portions of the Southeast but causing fatalities as well as widespread, locally catastrophic damage to homes, businesses, infrastructure, and agriculture. Out west, moisture associated with Hurricane Sergio triggered additional moderate to heavy rain across the lower Four Corners Region. Abundant moisture associated in part with the remnants of Sergio also led to another round of heavy rain from Texas northeastward into the middle Mississippi Valley. Likewise, rain and snow afforded drought relief from the central and northern Rockies into the upper Midwest. The unsettled conditions continued across the southern U.S. after the period ended; any rain that fell after 12z Tuesday morning (8 am, EDT) will be incorporated into next week’s analysis…

High Plains

The overall trend toward improving conditions continued, with rain and snow on top of last week’s precipitation offering many of the region’s lingering driest areas additional much-needed moisture. In the Dakotas, moderate to heavy snow (nearly 6 inches reported at the NWS office in Grand Forks, ND, on October 10th) afforded a reduction to Abnormal Dryness (D0) to Extreme Drought (D3); two-week precipitation (liquid equivalent) has totaled 1 to 3 inches across the central and eastern Dakotas. Farther south, another wet week in Kansas pushed two-week totals to locally as high as 10 inches, supporting an additional reduction to the state’s Moderate (D1) and Severe Drought (D2). The western flank of this week’s rain added to the recent totals in southeastern Colorado, with 60-day precipitation surpluses of 1 to 4 inches supporting the reduction of D0, D1, and D2. Across the region, the recent rain and snow are helping to recharge water reserves and soil moisture while aiding pasture recovery and improving prospects for winter wheat establishment…


The favorable start to the 2018-19 Water Year continued, with rain and mountain snow reported across much of the region. Abundant moisture associated in part with the remnants of Hurricane Sergio led to 1 to 3 inches of rain in southern portions of California and Arizona, while precipitation amounts locally more than an inch (liquid equivalent) were noted from the southern Rockies northward into Montana and the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon. The recent rain and mountain snow led to notable reductions of Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate to Exceptional Drought (D1-D4) in Arizona and environs. Furthermore, additional assessment from experts in the field supported reductions to the drought intensity and coverage across eastern New Mexico as well as an adjustment (expansion) of Extreme Drought (D3) in central Utah. Coordination with local experts also supported a reduction of D0 and D2 in southern and northern Idaho, respectively, as impacts begin to subside due to the arrival of seasonably colder weather; furthermore, recent beneficial rain and snow in southcentral portions of the state (30-day precipitation up to 125 percent of normal) further supported the improvement. Despite the generally favorable start to the Water Year, however, areas from the Pacific Northwest southward into central California and the western Great Basin were mostly dry. In particular, Northwestern dryness remained particularly acute in the Cascade Range, with 6-month precipitation departures averaging 4 to 10 inches (locally more than 12 inches below normal)…


Another round of moderate to heavy rainfall — partly associated with remnants of Hurricane Sergio in the eastern Pacific — was responsible for additional widespread reductions of drought intensity and coverage. Much of central and eastern Texas was doused with 2 to 10 inches of rain, with amounts locally more than 12 inches from the Edwards Plateau to Lufkin. This rain fell on top of last week’s downpours, pushing 30-day totals to locally more than 20 inches. During the 7-day monitoring period, the axis of heavy rainfall (2-6 inches) extended east-northeastward across southeastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, northern Louisiana, into western Tennessee; widespread 1- and 2-category reductions were made to the drought analysis, and with more rain falling after the Tuesday-morning cutoff, additional reductions in the lingering Abnormal Dryness (D0) are likely…

Looking Ahead

Mostly dry conditions will prevail across the contiguous U.S., with the threat of additional heavy rain confined to Texas. Showers will accompany a strong cold front over the eastern third of the nation Friday into Saturday, but amounts will be generally light. This same front will bring sharply colder weather on gusty winds as well rain and high-elevation snow showers to the northeastern quarter of the nation. In contrast, high pressure will maintain mostly dry weather across the central and western U.S., save for lingering rain and snow showers over the Four Corners States. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for October 23 – 27 calls for near- to above-normal precipitation over much of the nation, with the greatest likelihood of wetter-than-normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest, southern Plains, and eastern Gulf Coast. Drier-than-normal weather will be limited to the Great Lakes and Northeast. Warmer-than-normal weather across the eastern half of the nation — save for warmth across the central and eastern Gulf Coast — will contrast with above-normal temperatures from the northern Plains to the Pacific Coast States.

Aspen officials finalize all agreements on Castle Creek and Maroon Creek dam cases — @AspenJournalism

The dam site of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, in the Roaring Fork River basin. Under conditional water rights held by the city of Aspen since 1965, a 155-foot-tall dam would be built in this location on Maroon Creek to store 4,567 acre-feet of water. The city of Aspen has reached agreements with 10 opposing parties in water court to move the water rights to other locations. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The city of Aspen announced Tuesday it has reached settlement agreements with all 10 of the opposing parties in two water court cases where the city was seeking to maintain conditional water rights tied to large potential dams on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.

Craig Corona, the water attorney for Larsen Family LP, signed the last of the settlement agreements with the city Oct. 11. The other nine parties in the cases had all signed agreements by August.

The city has filed all of the settlement agreements, or stipulations, with the Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs, along with a motion asking for a water court judge to approve them.

If the judge approves the stipulations as expected, it would mean that the issues raised in the cases by opponents, and the state, would not be contested in a trial setting.

Under the agreements, the city has agreed to walk away from the potential dam locations, roughly 2 miles below Maroon Lake in the Maroon Creek valley and 2 miles below Ashcroft in the Castle Creek valley, and instead pursue the right to store water in five other identified locations.

Those locations include the city’s golf course, the Maroon Creek Club golf course, which is partially on open space property owned by the city, the Cozy Point open space, the gravel pit in Woody Creek operated by Elam Construction, and a parcel of land next to the gravel pit purchased by the city specifically for future potential water storage.

A map prepared for the City of Aspen that shows the five sites in the Roaring Fork River valley where the city of Aspen is proposing to store up to 8,500 acre-feet in water, based on its conditional rights to store water in the upper Maroon and Castle creek valleys.

Moving the rights

The city’s conditional water storage rights on Castle and Maroon creeks carry a 1971 decree date and the city plans to file a new application with the state water court to transfer the rights to the new locations, with their 1971 priority date intact.

Under the agreements, the city could file for rights to store as much as 8,500 acre-feet of water in the new locations, without any opposition in water court from the entities in the Castle and Maroon creek cases.

However, parties outside of the two cases could still file statements of opposition in the city’s expected change case.

Under the agreements, if the city is not successful in moving the water rights, it cannot return and claim the water rights in their original locations on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.

The city filed its two diligence applications for Castle Creek Reservoir and Maroon Creek Reservoir in October 2016.

The city’s conditional water storage rights on Maroon Creek are tied to a potential 155-foot-high dam backing up 4,567 acre-feet of water below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks, in a pristine meadow within view of the Maroon Bells.

The dam and reservoir would have been on Forest Service land and would have flooded portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

On Castle Creek, the city has conditional rights to store 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam, mostly on private land but also flooding a corner of USFS property and the wilderness.

Margaret Medellin, a utilities portfolio manager with the city, said once the water court judge approves the signed settlements, the city will begin to study in earnest exactly how much water it feels it needs to store in the potential new locations.

And while the city would have six years to file its change case under the agreements, Medellin said she expects the city will file the application as soon as it is ready.

Two news releases, one from the city and one from the four environmental groups in the cases, were sent out Tuesday heralding the settlements.

“Throughout this process, City Council was acting in the best interest of its current and future water customers as part of prudent water management, Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said in the city’s release. “I am proud we were able to safeguard our future water storage needs while also collaborating to protect sensitive wilderness areas.”

And a release from the four environmental groups in the cases carried the subheadline, “Final agreement means Aspen will abandon plans to build dams on Maroon and Castle creeks.”

Medellin acknowledged, however, that a key next step still needs to occur for the city in the cases, and that’s approval by the water court judge of the signed agreements.

“We still need to hear what the judge has to say,” she said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in the Colorado River basin in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.

Maroon Bells reflected in Maroon Lake. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jennifer Talhelm, Will Roush, Matt Rice, David Nickum):

“This agreement is a huge victory for the Maroon Bells Wilderness and the Maroon and Castle creeks. The city of Aspen deserves tremendous credit for agreeing not to build these dams and instead pursue smart water alternatives that will enable the city to respond to future needs and to climate change, while preserving this amazing natural environment that draws visitors from all around the world,” said Western Resource Advocates President Jon Goldin-Dubois. “Communities throughout the Colorado River basin face similar dilemmas; Aspen is showing true leadership by demonstrating that it’s possible to find solutions that protect our rivers, preserve our quality of life, and enable future growth.”

“The signing of this final document means the end of conditional water rights that would have allowed dams to be built across Castle and Maroon creeks. The city of Aspen played a leadership role in working to find a set of solutions that will both protect Castle and Maroon creeks and ensure continued water for the citizens of Aspen,” said Will Roush, Executive Director at Wilderness Workshop. “Castle and Maroon creeks have tremendous ecological and community values, this is a moment to celebrate both the continuation of their free-flowing character and the partnership and collaboration with the city of Aspen that led to this outcome.”

“This is a significant victory for rivers in the Roaring Fork Valley,” said Matt Rice, Colorado River Basin Director for American Rivers. “We applaud the city of Aspen for working with the community to find more sustainable and cost-effective water supply solutions. Thanks to the hard work and persistence of so many people who love this special place, these creeks will forever flow free.”

“Sacrificing the places that make Colorado great is the wrong answer for meeting future water needs,” said David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “We appreciate the city of Aspen’s commitment to meet its water supply needs in ways that protect these much-loved valleys and creeks, and the wild trout that call them home.”

If built, the dams proposed on Maroon and Castle creeks would have flooded important wildlife and recreation areas in addition to portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, forever changing two of the most beautiful, visited, and photographed valleys in Colorado.

The plans were opposed by Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates, American Rivers, and Trout Unlimited, as well as several other parties, including Pitkin County and the U.S. Forest Service. This spring, after extensive negotiations, the conservation organizations signed agreements with the city, requiring it to relocate its water rights and abandon plans to build reservoirs with dams on Castle and Maroon creeks, regardless of whether it is successful in moving these rights to alternative locations. However, the agreements were contingent on the city reaching accord with other opposers in the case. Final agreement ending plans for a dam and reservoir on Castle Creek was reached in late summer. Today, the city announced a final settlement regarding the dam and reservoir on Maroon Creek.

The agreements commit Aspen to pursuing more river-friendly water storage strategies. The city will seek to move a portion of its water rights to a suite of more environmentally friendly water storage locations within and downstream of the city limits, including a site near the gravel quarry at Woody Creek. The city of Aspen played a critical role in helping find solutions to protect the two creeks while maintaining an important source of water for the community.

@NOAA: September 2018 and year to date were 4th hottest on record for the globe #ActOnClimate

From NOAA:

Warmth continued its steady march across the world last month, making for the fourth hottest September on record for the globe and the fourth warmest year to date, according to the latest analysis by scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

In fact, the 10 warmest September global land and ocean surface temperatures have occurred since 2003 with the last five Septembers (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) ranking as the five warmest on record.

Let’s take a closer look at highlights from our most recent report:

Climate by the numbers

September 2018
The average global temperature in September was 1.40 degrees F above the 20th-century average of 59 degrees. This was the fourth highest global temperature (tied with 2017) for September in the 139-year record (1880-2018). Last month was also the 42nd consecutive September and the 405th consecutive month with temperatures above average.

The year to date // January through September
The year-to-date average global temperature was 1.39 degrees F above the average of 57.5 degrees. This is the fourth highest on record for the January-through-September period (YTD) and 0.43 of a degree lower than the record high set in 2016 for the same period.

An annotated map of the world showing notable climate events that occurred in September 2018. For details, see the bulleted list below in our story and on the Web at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2018/09.

More notable climate facts and stats

  • Land and seas warming continued: The globally averaged land-surface temperature was the sixth highest on record for September and the fourth highest for the YTD period. The globally averaged sea-surface temperature was fourth highest on record for September and fourth highest for the YTD.
  • Record-warm continents: Parts of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia experienced record warmth. Temperatures were at least 3.6 degrees F above average across southern South America, Alaska, the southwestern and eastern U.S., much of Europe, the Middle East and parts of Russia.
  • Sea ice coverage remained smaller than average at the poles: The average Arctic sea ice coverage (extent) in September was 26.5 percent below the 1981-2010 average, the seventh-smallest extent for September on record. The Antarctic sea ice extent last month was 3.3 percent below average, the second smallest for September on record.
  • The latest “Freshwater News” is hot off the presses from @WaterEdCO

    Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

    Click here to read the newsletter from Water Education Colorado. Here’s an excerpt:

    Dozens of public water systems on state watch list for lead contamination (Jerd Smith)

    Forty small communities, school districts and day care centers serving 51,000 people statewide are being monitored by state health officials because of concerns about potential lead contamination.

    It does not mean that these entities are violating rules governing lead contamination, only that small amounts of lead have been detected in their water samples at some point, according to Nicole Graziano, a water quality specialist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    Once that occurs, under state and federal guidelines, water suppliers must embark on a rigorous sampling program that sometimes requires new water treatment and replacement of lead service lines.

    “If they’re on our list, it means they are active in our process, “ Graziano said. The rule has a long timeline, meaning that water providers can remain on the list for years as the problem is monitored, treated, and then monitored again to ensure treatment is working.

    The CDPHE regulates some 2,000 public water systems statewide. Roughly 1,000 of these are subject to the federal Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), Graziano said.

    Concern over the issue has risen dramatically since 2015, when Flint, Michigan, switched water sources, pushing millions of gallons of highly corrosive water through aging lead pipes, leading to a wave of contamination and a public health crisis.

    Under the LCR, more than 90 percent of samples must show lead levels of 15 parts per billion (ppb) or higher in order to trigger an action order. During the Flint crisis, lead levels of 27 ppb were found, with one sample registering 158 ppb, according to published reports.

    These numbers are concerning, according to public health officials, because lead isn’t considered safe at any level, particularly for children, and levels as low as 5 ppb can be dangerous. Treating lead and copper in water systems is a complex undertaking governed by the federal Lead and Copper Rule. Often these metals aren’t found in water once it leaves a treatment plant. But they can leach into the supply via corrosion as water passes through copper pipes as well as lead service lines in older homes and schools. To learn more about protecting your home or office from lead contamination here.

    By far the largest entity on Colorado’s watch list is Denver Water. The utility serves some 1.4 million customers in metro Denver and has been required to sample water from its customers’ taps, conduct extensive public education efforts on protecting against lead contamination, and change out thousands of lead service lines, which are major contributors to the problem.

    Earlier this year Denver Water, along with Aurora Water, the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District and the Denver Greenway Foundation, sued the state health department over a new requirement that it add phosphorous to its water treatment processes to reduce the potential for lead contamination. Denver Water has asked the state to use a PH-based protocol instead. Talks to settle the lawsuit are underway now.

    Dozens of small communities are confronting the same problem, often with limited resources and big fears that a new, likely tougher, set of federal lead regulations is coming in response to the crisis in Flint. A draft set of these new rules is set to come out early next year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    According to the CDPHE, the systems on its watch list serve more than 51,000 Coloradans.

    Among them is the scenic Idaho Springs, population 1,746. Lead showed up in its tap water more than a decade ago, according to Dan Wolf, manager of the town’s water and wastewater system.

    Since being directed by the state in 2008 to boost the PH levels in its water treatment system, lead and copper levels in routinely collected samples of its tap water have been negligible, according to state records.

    But the higher PH levels are causing problems with other aspects of the system, Wolf said. Increasing the PH, for instance, has created an organic reaction with the chlorine used for disinfection, resulting in a set of carcinogenic byproducts known as haloacetic acids (HAAs).

    “Lead is not a significant issue for us anymore,” Wolf said. “But treating for lead and copper is causing higher levels of disinfection byproducts.”

    In response, Idaho Springs has asked the state to allow it to operate at a lower PH level, a request the state hasn’t ruled on yet, Wolf said.

    Two other entities on the list, Elk Creek Elementary School in Pine and Bearly Tawl Day Care Center in Evergreen, have shown elevated levels of lead at some locations in their buildings in 2016 and 2017 respectively, and both are being closely watched. Subsequent tests at both facilities have shown lead levels well below the action targets, according to state records.

    Bearly Tawl did not return a call seeking comment. But Jefferson County Schools’ spokeswoman Diana Wilson said the school district has moved quickly to replace faucets and drinking fountains at Elk Creek and other schools to reduce lead levels and that all of its schools are now on a rotating sample schedule so that any elevated lead levels can be identified and addressed.

    Like hundreds of other school districts across the state and the nation, Jefferson County opted to use state grant money to test for lead.

    “We were concerned about the age of our buildings,” said Diana Wilson, executive director of communications at Jefferson County Public Schools. “Most of them are more than 50 years old.”

    In general, 50 years ago is when lead piping was outlawed, due to health concerns. Buildings constructed since then aren’t likely to have lead pipes, although some may contain copper pipe fittings.

    As drinking water concerns continue to echo across the state, some communities have opted to move forward and replace all lead service lines even though they are not on the watch list. Two years ago, the town of Paonia in Delta County, which relies on underground springs for its water, saw its water source reclassified under a new set of regulations designed to address concerns over groundwater contamination.

    The new classification meant it had to redo a significant portion of its water system, using bonds and grants. As part of that $4 million redo, it opted to go ahead and replace all of its lead service lines, according to Paonia Town Administrator Ken Knight.

    “In a lot of small communities, their infrastructure is at the end of its life expectancy. But the fact of the matter for us is that we are going to be in very good shape.”

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.