#Snowpack news: Gallery of #Colorado data from the NRCS shows Gunnison and SW basins dropping out of the average range

#Drought/#Snowpack news

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map November 16, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

In south central Colorado, extreme drought was replaced with severe conditions in western Las Animas and southern Huerfano counties. Slivers of several north central counties saw abnormally dry conditions overtake moderate drought.

Drought was unchanged across the remainder of the state, including southwest Colorado, which continues to suffer under exceptional drought – the worst category…

Early snowpack gives some reason for hope. Snow water equivalent levels for Front Range mountain areas, along with the Sangre de Cristos and Mosquito Range in the central part of the state are above normal for this time of year according to the National Drought Mitigation Center…

Overall, 17 percent of Colorado was drought-free or abnormally dry, both unchanged from the previous week. Eleven percent of the state was in moderate drought, down one point. Severe drought is impacting 21 percent of Colorado, up from 20 percent one week ago. Extreme drought dropped one point to 21 percent, and exceptional drought was unchanged at 13 percent.

From the Craig Daily Press (Lauren Blair):

In the midst of record-breaking heat and drought this year, Craig residents have been blissfully buffered from the water worries of the rest of the county and the state. Even as the Yampa River turned to a trickle by the time it reached Dinosaur National Monument, the City of Craig had all the water it needed.

The reason for this has a lot to do with water rights and good planning on the part of Craig’s forefathers…

The Yampa River is Craig’s main source for drinking water. Some of the city’s water rights date back as early as 1883, according to Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. Situated right next to the river, the water treatment plant diverts the water it needs through an intake structure. Even with this year’s historically low flows, “there were never any issues drawing water into the plant,” Sollenberger said.

And while the main source is the Yampa, Craig has even more water stored as a backup at Elkhead Reservoir, constituting more than a two year’s supply.

“With our senior water rights coupled with backup emergency storage at Elkhead… we’re pretty secure,” Sollenberger added.

In the 20 years he’s been on the job, Sollenberger said he has never had to draw any water from Elkhead. The reservoir reliably refills each spring with runoff from the 205-square-mile basin that drains into the reservoir (though a string of bad snow years could change that). This year, the reservoir is only slightly lower than usual at about 14 feet below capacity compared to a more typical 12 feet at this time of year, Sollenberger said, though it can look dramatically lower because of the exposed shoreline.

At a time when water worries are skyrocketing statewide, conservation is a hot topic in many municipalities, but Craig is not alone in enjoying water aplenty.

“Water use anywhere in Colorado is really locally oriented,” said Jim Pokrandt, Director of Community Affairs for the Colorado River District. “Craig is not unique in that they have great water rights and didn’t have to ask residents to cut back. And you have to remember that they’re in the water-selling business too, so the less water that gets used, the less they make. That’s the case with everybody.”

West Drought Monitor November 13, 2018.

Carbondale: Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit recap

Mount Sopris and Hay Park via the @EcoFlight1 Wildlands set.

From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Thomas Phippen) via The Aspen Times:

The day-long conference featured student presentations, discussion periods where students talked to each other and the adults in attendance, and speakers including Christa Sadler, author of recent book “The Colorado” about nine eras of human interaction with the Colorado River.

The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Program hired Sarah Johnson with Wild Rose Education to organize the event. Johnson began coordinating with teachers last spring to get the students to think about projects. During the fall, Johnson went to the schools to work with the students on the projects and teach basic river science.

“I facilitate a process where the kids get to understand that the things they care about are important,” Johnson said in an interview. “It’s not about what teachers care about, it’s about what students care about. What they care about and are curious to know more about, they can research, and form an opinion that’s based in evidence.”


Sixth graders at Glenwood Springs Middle School visited Mitchell Creek Fish Hatchery to collect samples of insects that live on or near the water, some of which are extremely sensitive to water pollution. The students found about seven species of macroinvertebrates, but the most common was the stonefly, which is extremely sensitive to pollutants and cannot survive in dirty water.

GSMS uses the Expeditionary Learning model. Researching river health through macroinvertebrates helped students get outside the classroom and learn about an important topic.

“I think it was really fun to be outside and do something active. I think that hands-on activities are more important than others,” GSMS sixth grader Max Mazur said.

The students concluded in their presentation that the river was healthy, but as student presenter Damien Christie said in the presentation, macroinvertebrates “can help us understand our rivers and ecosystems, they can show us that the environment is changing, and they can help us monitor climate change.”


A group of seventh graders at GSMS studied how restaurants affect the Colorado River, and the eighth graders made a video about climate change.

Coal Ridge High School juniors Aidan Boyd and Erin Flaherty presented an overview of the arguments for and against developing the South Canyon area near Glenwood Springs. They sampled the water of the creek and found dangerously high levels of E. coli and potentially harmful alkalinity.

Various proposals for South Canyon development include incorporating the natural hot springs into a resort and providing camping amenities, boosting tourism and allowing for the river to be cleaned up. But other groups wish the land to remain as open space…


The summit brought together students from Coal Ridge, Glenwood Springs High School, GSMS, Aspen High School and Carbondale Middle School. But the event was not just for middle and high school students.

Through EcoFlight, a conservation advocacy group that organizes flights throughout the West to examine watershed areas from above, students from Colorado Mountain College, Colorado State University, Colorado Mesa University, Adams State University and Western Colorado University shared perspectives from a three-day trip.

During the trip, the students met with farmers and local officials, Native American groups and conservationists, organized by EcoFlight program coordinator Michael Gorman…

Jonathan Williams, who studies environmental policy at CSU, found himself ready to step into an advocacy role after the three-day trip.

He was familiar with the Colorado River area after years as a river guide, but after “seeing it from above, and talking to the communities, in relatively quick succession,” Williams said he found that all the pieces came together and were pushing him to pursue conservancy…

CMC photography major Sarah Cherry said the trip gave her a concrete basis for pursuing conservation through art…


The thrust of the Youth Water Summit was to connect students and young adults to river issues, but the message was not one of strict conservation. The discussions ranged from what local politicians can do to improve water use to how community members and students can advocate for river health…

One potential shortcoming with events like the water summit and programs like EcoFlight, one audience member pointed out, is that participants tend to already be interested in environmental causes.

Petroteq Energy has begun oil sand production west of Rangely #ActOnClimate

Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — via the BLM

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Petroteq Energy, formerly MCW Energy Group, has built a facility at Asphalt Ridge outside Vernal and is using what it says are benign solvents to produce oil from oil sand deposits. The company says its approach uses no water, produces no waste or greenhouse gas and doesn’t require high temperatures.

It is working to ramp up production to the plant’s capacity of 1,000 barrels a day.

The company said this month it received a small-source exemption from the Utah Division of Air Quality for its facility, allowing it to begin sales. It said in a news release that it got the exemption because the plant’s estimated emissions are less than the level for which a permit is needed, “further confirmation that Petroteq’s process is an environmentally conscious method of oil extraction.”

Oil sands are also known as tar sands or bituminous sands, and contain a heavy oil also described as asphalt or bitumen.

Petroteq says its leases have 93 million barrels of estimated oil resource. Eastern Utah is home to the largest oil sands resources in the country, with resource estimates running as high as 32 billion barrels…

Petroteq’s project is at Asphalt Ridge, which the federal Bureau of Land Management has reported has been the target of oil/tar sand exploration and development efforts as early as the 1920s, when Vernal paved its streets from Asphalt Ridge deposits.

Work there included a plant that used hot water to extract oil in the 1930s. Hot water also is used in Canadian tar sands development that also incorporates tailing ponds. “Our ‘Asphalt Ridge’ asset has (from time to time) caught the attention of major oil companies going back 70 years. But nobody has been able to unlock its resources in a financially sound and environmentally friendly manner until the Petroteq team and its proprietary technology came along,” David Sealock, Petroteq’s chief executive officer, said in a recent news release announcing the company’s start of commercial production.

The company says its focus is on development and implementation of proprietary technologies for environmentally safe production of heavy oil from oil sands, oil shale and shallow oil deposits. Northwest Colorado and northeastern Utah are home to world-class deposits of oil shale, rock containing kerogen-like hydrocarbon deposits.

The efforts of companies like Petroteq continue to be criticized by groups including Utah Tar Sands Resistance, which says on its website, “The production of tar sands in Utah is a story of false claims and impossible promises with a long history of failed companies, bankruptcies and name changes.”